The story of Boyarin and Belavin
Russians in Australia
On Wednesday 25 May (old style) 1870 whispers abounded in Hobart that a Russian invasion was imminent. The cause of the concern was the appearance of the corvette Boyarin at the mouth of the Derwent River. There was no need for panic of course, since Boyarin already docked few weeks earlier (9-15 May ) in Adelaide. Taking into account the fact that this happened 147 years ago and post services were slow, this can be easily explained.
Invasion was not the main mission of Boyarin. Obviously there was a reason why the ship docked. It is only known that the ship’s purser Grigory Belavin was seriously ill and Captain Serkov sought permission of the Colonial Governor to hospitalise Belavin in Hobart and remain in port for two weeks to replenish supplies and provide his crew with some shore leave. Permission was given. What followed was balls, dinners and a very pleasant stay indeed.
Captain Serckoff has paid a visit to His Excellency the Governor and the Hon. Mrs. Du Cane at Government House and seven officers of the Boyarin were honored guests at the Governor’s Ball on 25 May to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. ”At that time the ball-room presented an interesting appearance, which was heightened by the handsome uniforms of the officers of the Russian corvette Boyarin, Lieutenant Kochnkoff , and about six others.”
On Thursday 26 May at noon a considerable number of spectators assembled on the shore and witnessed the interchange of “national salutes”. The corvette saluted the British flag, which was hoisted at the main with 21 guns a compliment, which was immediately acknowledged by the Volunteer Artillery from the guns of the Queen’s Battery.
On Sunday 28 May 1870 the Russian Imperial corvette Boyarín was thrown open for inspection to the general public. About 2000 embraced the opportunity, so rarely afforded, of inspecting the internal arrangements of a foreign ship.
The visitors were afforded free access to every part of the vessel including the captain’s cabin. The men were stationed at the guns to show the mysteries of their construction and the officers were provided all the information in their power. The cannons were exposed to view, their mechanism explained and specimens of the shot, shell, and powder exhibited. The small arms, breech-loaders, and an improvement on the Russian needle gun were also shown to the visitors. The mode of charging and discharging explained, and specimens of the cartridge offered for inspection. The armory, the store rooms, the library, the officers’ cabins, and mess rooms were all visited.
No wonder. The Boyarin was the pride of the Kronstadt shipyards. She belonged to the Russian Squadron cruising in the Pacific, and was bound for Japan and the Russian positions in Siberia. It had a total displacement of 903 tons powered by a 200 horsepower engine, but capable of working up to 500 horse-power. She was armed with seven rapid firing cannons and four smaller cannons for close order work.
The biggest pride was its sailors. ”They are a fine body of men”, wrote local newspaper. Amongst them were Captain Serkov (Serckoff), Commander A. Balck, Lieutenants Kankewitch, Paymaster A. Birileff, Loman , L. Elagin, Count Nyrod, W. Linden, V. Kochukoff, Sub-Lieutenat J. Koznakoff, SIochulsky and Midshipman Baron E. Stackelberg and A. Ziloff, and Naval Cadet J. Baruntinskoy. They were gallant and spoke three languages including English and French. They were described as having ”unvarying urbane demeanor” and with ”excellent qualities which adorn them” and who ”throughout their stay gained a reputation for quiet and sober behavior.”
On 31 May the greatest order prevailed on deck of the ship. The sailors were all dressed in their best and looked very well indeed as they stood ranged on either side of the deck to meet the guests. His Excellency the Governor and the honorable Mrs. DuCane, accompanied by the Private Secretary, Mr. Chichester, paid an official visit on board the Boyarin. Later in the afternoon sailors visited the town – House of Assembly, the Legislative Council building, the Supreme Court house, Town Hall and then the Museum, the Custom House, the Hospital, the gaol, the Orphan School Asylum, and the Brickfields Establishment.
The following week proceeded with usual by now visits and dinners.
Gregory Belavin’s health continued to deteriorate and he died on 6th June 1870 of consumption without leaving the hospital. He was 30 years of age.
Serkov asked for permission to bury Belavin on shore. St David’s Anglican Cathedral was placed at the disposal of the Russians. The Hobart Garrison Military Band lead the funeral cortege . The Captain, all officers and some crew staff of the Boyarin and ”from two to three thousand of the general public” accompanied the body to the St. David’s Burying Ground. The coffin was taste fully ornamented, and at the head was inscribed in the Russian characters the name, age and rank of the deceased.
The 9th instant being the last day on which the Russian warship was open to visitors for inspection.
The Boyarin departed on Sunday 12th May. ”Her departure was no doubt witnessed with regret by the whole of our citizens and more especially so by those who during her stay in port formed intimate friendships with the officers.”
A suitable monument was later erected for Grigory Belavin on money left by the crew of ship. In 1972 when the Hobart City Council decided to remove the General Cemetery and create the St David’s park, the grave of Grigory Belavin was moved to the church property in Augusta Road, Lenah Valley. Today’s Belavin’s grave is located just to the left of the main entrance to the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and is considered to be the earliest known Russian Orthodox grave in Australia.
As a result of the expansive show of goodwill the Captain Lieutenant Serkov donated two mortars to the city of Hobart. At some point in later years the mortars were located at the Anglesea Barracks Officers Mess when that building was located at Beaumaris House on Sandy Bay Road. After the Department of Defense sold the property the two mortars were relocated to the Old Military Hospital at Anglesea Barracks which was being utilized as the Commandants residence. Then one of the mortars disappeared. The surviving mortar is now located in the Australian Army Museum Tasmania.
© Tsvetana Spasova, 2017
The article ”The Russian Corvette Boyarin”, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) Monday 30 May 1870 p 2 Article
The article ”Arrival of a Russian war steamer in Tasmanian waters”, Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899) Saturday 28 May 1870 p 5 Article
The article ”Internment of the Russian seaman”, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) Thursday 9 June 1870 p 2 Article
The article ” Visit of the Russian Imperial Corvette Boyarin ”, The Tasmanian Times (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1867 – 1870) Thursday 16 June 1870 p 3 Article
”The Russian Orthodox presence in Australia: The history of a Church told from recently opened archives and previously unpublished sources ” by Michale Alex Protopopov, 31 January 2005