Peter I's Employment of Foreign Experts

[excerpted from John Perry, The State of Russia under the Present Czar (London, 1716), pp. 1-7].

In the year 1698, his Czarish Majesty being then in England, making his observations of our arts in building and equipping out our fleets, among several artificers etc. whom he was then pleased to entertain, I was recommended to him by the then Lord Marquis of Carmarthen, Mr. Dummer (then Surveyor of the Navy), and some others, as a person capable of serving him on several occasions, relating to his new designs of establishing a fleet, making his rivers navigable, etc. After his Majesty had himself discoursed with me, particularly touching the making of a communication between the river Wolga (Volga) and the Don, I was taken into his service by his Ambassador Count Golovin, who agreed with me for the Salary of 300 l. sterling per ann., to be paid me, with my travelling charges and subsistence money upon whatsoever service I should be employed; besides a farther reward to be given me to my satisfaction at the conclusion of any work I should finish.

Soon after my contract was made, the Czar going from hence to Holland, took me along with him thither, and after I had made such observations as I had there an opportunity to do, I was sent directly to Mosco (Moscow), with orders for my being immediately dispatched from thence into the province of Astracan (Astrakhan), about a thousand wursts (versts or Russ miles) beyond Moscow, to survey a work, which his Czarish Majesty bad before designed, and another person been employed upon for the making of the above said communication for ships of war as well as trading vessels of burden, to pass between the Caspian and the Black Sea, by way of the said two great rivers, the Volga and the Don. The first of which rivers, after running between 3 and 4000 Russ miles through the Czar's country, falls into the Caspian Sea; and the other, after running near half as far, falls through the Palus Maeotis into the Black Sea.

The distance of which communication between the said two rivers is about 140 Russ miles by way of two other small rivers, the one called the Lavla, which falls into the Don; the other the Camishinka (Kamishinka), which falls into the Volga; up on these small rivers sluices were to be placed to make them navigable, and a canal of near 4 Russ miles to be cut through the dry land where the said two small rivers come nearest together; which work, if finished, would be of very great advantage to the Czar's country, especially in case of any war with the Turks or the Crim-Tatars (Crimean Tatars), or with Persia or any of the countries bordering on the Caspian Sea. A draught of which intended communication, I laid down.

The said work was first begun by one Colonel Breckell, a German, who was a colonel in the Czar's army, and who had the reputation of a very good engineer as to fortifications, and the like; but he very little understanding this business which he had taken upon him, and having unaccountably designed the canal, and the first sluice which he placed being blown up, that is having given way at the foundation, and the water taking its course underneath, at the first shutting of the gates, he therefore, upon his coming to Moscow the winter following, obtained a pass to be given as for one of his servants, whom he pretended to send for necessaries for the work, and himself went off with the said pass, and made his escape out of the country.

The Czar had advice of this whilst he was in England and therefore he was pleased to send me immediately forward to examine whether the work was practicable or not. Accordingly I went and surveyed it the same year. His Majesty was pleased to order me to take it upon me, and to begin the canal in a new place, that I proposed as more practicable for it.

Upon which work I was employed three summers successively, having demanded 30,000 men for it, but never had half that number, and the last year not 10,000 men given me, nor the necessary artificers and materials that were wanting, sufficiently provided. Of which I every winter, at my return to Moscow, gave a list into the Czar's own hand, setting forth the necessity of being better supplied with what was wanting. But the Czar having about this time lost the battle of Narva, and the war with Sweden being like to continue, which required more immediate supplies of men and money; in the latter end of the year 1701 I received orders to let that work stand still. I was sent to do another work, at Voronezh. And Kneaz Allexyeavich Gollittzen (Golitsyn), who had the government of the province of Astrakhan, where the work was situated, was displaced by the Czar from his command, for his having discouraged the work, and not having supplied me with the necessary men and materials; for which the said prince, upon his being displaced by the Czar, ever after became my irreconcilable enemy, and by his interest (being allied to the greatest families) influenced the next lord, under whose command I afterwards served, very much to my prejudice.

Besides the general dislike which most of the old boyars bad to all new undertakings which the Czar, by the advice of strangers, engaged in, beyond what his predecessors ever had attempted to do, one occasion which made the Lord Golitsyn particularly dissatisfied with the said work, was this: after the aforesaid Breckell had unskillfully fixed his first sluice, which upon the first trial of the waters gave way, fearing the dangerous consequence that might fall upon him in an arbitrary government, deserted as aforesaid, and afterwards writ a letter of complaint to the Czar against the said Lord Golitsyn, alleging that he had not been supplied with necessaries for the work, and particularly complained of the ill usage that he had received from the said Lord, who was then an enemy to the work, and who had struck him with his cane, and threatened to hang him. This happened whilst the Czar was abroad; and the Czar having accused the said Lord, on his coming home, as not having discharged the trust that was reposed in him, he thereupon became irreconcilable to the work, and made reflections upon it, as a thing impossible to be done by the hands of men. He represented it as burdensome to the country by the number of men that were employed in it, and used all his endeavors to have had it given over as impracticable, declaring it as his opinion that God had made the rivers to go one way, and that it was presumption in man to think to turn them another.