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  • The Exile, the Patron, and the PardonThe Voyage of the Dawn (1877) and the Politics of Punishment in an Age of Nationalism and Empire
  • Daniel Beer (bio)

On the afternoon of 19 November 1877, an unprepossessing 56-foot schooner, the Dawn (Utrenniaia zaria), anchored alongside the customs house on Vasil′evskii Island in St. Petersburg. An excited crowd of onlookers had gathered to catch a glimpse of the ship, her crew, and her cargo.1 The sailboat had just completed the first ever successful maritime voyage from the Enisei River in eastern Siberia, through the Kara Sea and the Barents Sea, around the northern coast of Scandinavia to Varde, and then by way of Christiana (Oslo), Stockholm, and Helsingfors (Helsinki) to the Russian capital. By common consensus in Russia and abroad, this was a prodigious feat of seamanship: a half-decked sailboat without a keel and with a crew of only five had navigated the ice floes and storms of the Kara and Barents seas, both barely charted and notoriously dangerous waters. The ship had already enjoyed a triumphal passage through coastal towns and cities of Norway, Sweden, and the Kingdom of Finland—where it had been enthusiastically received by crowds of well-wishers, its crew celebrated in the national press and treated to feasts in their honor.

Yet by the time the Dawn reached the Customs House on Vasil′evskii Island, it bore only four of the five crew members who had set out from the Enisei River on 9 August. Andrei Ivanovich Tsybulenko was absent, as Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti dryly noted, “for reasons beyond his control.”2 [End Page 5] Tsybulenko had been arrested that morning when the ship docked in the naval base of Kronshtadt following a tip off from the Russian consul in Christiana. Tsybulenko was, it had emerged, an exile from Eniseisk province, who had illegally made the passage from Siberia back to European Russian and was, therefore, a fugitive from justice. On orders from the minister of the interior, he was taken into custody and detained in the Kronshtadt fortress. The authorities intended to deport Tsybulenko overland back to Eniseisk province, where he was to remain in exile for the rest of his life. Yet by January 1878, Tsybulenko had been released from custody, had received an official pardon from Alexander II and awards and commendations from the influential Imperial Society for the Advancement of Russian Merchant Shipping (hereafter Society for Merchant Shipping) and the Ministry of Trade. This remarkable succession of reversals of fortune—from exile in eastern Siberia to member of a celebrity crew of intrepid seamen, prisoner of the state in Kronshtadt, then pardoned fugitive—stands at the intersection of the conflicting purposes of Siberian exile. Shifting official and public perceptions of the nature of the Siberian landmass itself underlay the twin and ultimately irreconcilable imperatives of punishment and colonization. From the middle of the 19th century, the established image of frozen, inhospitable wasteland, destined to act as a place of banishment for the empire’s criminals, would be subject to increasingly vocal and persuasive challenges. Leading figures in Russia’s scientific and entrepreneurial communities began to argue for a redefinition of Siberia as a rich economic colony, neglected by the state and crippled by the exile system but harboring a wealth of natural resources that were only awaiting exploration and development. Their arguments, with their implicit challenge to the very existence of Siberian exile, would be laid bare in the tale of Andrei Tsybulenko.

Colonization versus Punishment in Siberia

Officially, colonization and punishment were compatible, and their ostensible compatibility was embedded in the very nature of the exile system. The Speranskii reforms of 1822 had envisioned the eventual exiles’ and penal laborers’ conversion into disciplined and motivated settlers who would populate Siberia and bind it to Russia with their culture and their industry. As Andrew Gentes has demonstrated in a forensic examination of the exile system in the first half of the 19th century, however, the reality of the exile system—one of chaos and underfunding—made a mockery of such ambitions.3 Official disquiet was mounting about the costs, the inefficiency, [End Page 6] and the wholly brutalizing...