Some Excerpts from Frederick Burnaby's ''On Horseback through Asia Minor''


By Frederick Burnaby (1842 - 1885)

First published in 1878, this is the story of Frederick Burnaby's harrowing thousand-mile winter journey from Constantinople to eastern Turkey. War between Turkey and Russia threatened, and Burnaby was on a mission to discover whether the Turks could resist a potential thrust toward Constantinople by the Russian Empire. This entertaining account, a bestseller of its time, will appeal to armchair travelers, military history buffs, and anyone interested in the history of this fascinating and tumultuous region. British soldier and writer FREDERICK BURNABY (1842-1885) was a member of the Royal Horse Guards, and in 1882, he became the first balloonist to cross the English Channel alone. Three years later, he died from a spear wound sustained in battle in the Sudan. He also wrote A Ride to Khiva (1876).

“On Horseback Through Asia Minor” details how the brave Burnaby set off in the winter of 1876, convinced he could once again outwit the Czar’s secret police. This time Burnaby determined to ride 2,000 miles across Asia Minor undetected. Ostensibly he was going to observe the Turks away from European influences. However Burnaby needed only the barest of excuses in order to undertake one of the nineteenth century's most courageous equestrian journeys.

This book, which was published upon his return to England, details how Burnaby eluded Russian agents in Constantinople who had distributed his photo with orders to arrest him. Armed with a rifle, a small stock of medicines, and a single faithful servant, the equestrian traveler rode through a hotbed of intrigue and high adventure in wild inhospitablecountry, encountering Kurds, Circassians, Armenians, and Persian pashas. Through it all Burnaby succeeds in sharing with his readers all the dangers and delights of this timeless equestrian adventure travel classic!



Excerpt from CHAPTER XXII.

Osman Bey – A Circassian on Russian atrocities – pp. 130 – 133

…Several of the principal persons in the town now came to call upon me ; amongst others, a certain Osman Bey, a Circassian, and the chief of a large band which had emigrated from the Caucasus a few years previous. He was dressed in the Circassian style, with a sheepskin coat, tightly buckled round his waist, embroidered leather trousers and high boots ; a black Astrakhan cap surmounted his bronzed features. He was a fine tall fellow, and immensely popular with the inhabitants of Tokat.

After conversing for a little while about my journey, and the state of the roads between Tokat and Erzeroum [Erzurum-CW], he proposed that I should accompany him to his house, drink tea there, and be introduced to his relatives. The engineer came with us. After walking through some lanes, where the mud reached considerably above my ankles, we arrived before a square-built, whitewashed house. A solid wooden door, absolutely possessing a knocker – an article of luxury not known in Tokat, save to the richer inhabitants, gave admission to a small courtyard. This, in its turn, led to the apartments reserved for Osman Bey and the members of his family.

He had sent a servant on before, to say that he was on his way. About fifteen Circassian gentlemen were seated around the room.

‘‘We Circassians have heard a great deal of your nation,’’ said Osman Bey, as he mentioned to met o take a seat. ‘‘We once thought that England was going to help us to drive the Russians out of our country. However, you did not come; they outnumbered us, and they had artillery opposed to our flint guns. What could we do? We resisted as long as possible, and then, sooner than be slaves, came here.’’

‘‘If there is a war, shall you all go to the front?’’ I inquired.

‘‘Yes, every able-bodied man amongst us. We do not pat any taxes to the Sultan ; he gave us our land, and we owe him a debt of gratitude. Not only that,’’ continue the speaker, and at the same drawing a long, keen knife from his sash, and flipping his nail against the blade, ‘‘but we shall have an opportunity of cutting a few Muscovite throats!’’

‘‘I hope you will not kill the women and children!’’ I observed. ‘‘Nobody caress about the men ; but in Europe we have a horror of people who massacre women and children.’’

‘‘We shall do as the Russians do, and as they have always done,’’ observed my host grimly. ‘‘They have killed our old men, have cut to pieces pregnant women, and have tossed the children on the bayonets, whist the soldiers have satisfied their lust upon our wives, and burnt them to death afterwards? [*]

Well, if they do the same thing now, we shall follow the example set us, and shall continue doing so, until Englang or some other power interferes to save our countrymen from the devilish tyranny of these Muscovite butchers. Let me give you one instance of their cruelty. A few years ago the Russian authorities informed the Circassians that whoever wished might leave the Imperial dominions and go elsewhere. This was probably done to discover what natives were well disposed or otherwise to the Russian rule. There was no real intention on the part of the Government to allow any of its subjects to pass the frontier. Seven hundred families belonging to some villages near the town of Labinsky, thought that it was a boná fide permission. Leaving their district, they started for the Turkish frontier. A short time afterwards they were surrounded by Russian troops, cavalry and artillery, and ordered to return. The fugitives said that they had permission to leave Russia. The officer in command insisted that they should at once retrace their steps. The command was not immediately obeyed, the troops fired at the villagers, and then charged them with the bayonet ; only thirteen Mohammedans survived to tell the tale. All the rest, men, women, and children at the breasts, were cut to pieces.’’

‘‘Are these assertions really true?’’ I said to another Circassian.

‘‘We know it, to our cost,’’ he replied. ‘‘This is only one instance which Osman Bey has just given you, and which you have written down in your note-book; but there are many more equally horrible. The Russians have made a hell of our beautiful country. They are worse than the fiend himself.’’

‘‘Do your country-people like the Russians?’’ said Osman Bey.

‘‘Some do,’’ I replied ; ‘‘but they do not believe in these horrible cruelties which you have been just relating to me.’’

‘‘Well, then, tell them to travel through our country-that is, if the Russians will let them-to go to our villages and talk to the country people ; but not in the presence of Russians, as the poor sufferers would be afraid to speak, knowing well the fate which would await them when their questioners had departed. Let any of the people of England, who now sympathize with Russia, do this, and then let them form an opinion about the merits of  the case.’’

‘‘When you return to your own country will you publish what i have said to you?’’ said Osman Bey.

‘‘Yes, I said, ‘‘every line. Listen to what I have written, so that there may be no error.’’

And I translated to him my notes, the engineer aiding me in the task.

‘‘Are all your countrymen of one mind in their hatred of the Russians?’’ I inquired.

‘‘Unfortunately, no,’’ said Osman Bey. ‘‘The authorities have been clever enough to sow the seeds of dissension amongst our ranks. For example, the will often give the post of ‘stanishna’ (a local authority) in the different villages to a Circassian of a low degree. This gives him authority over our nobles. Ill-feeling is thus created between the two classes ; it is utilized by the Russians.’’

‘‘One of our number is doing his best to avenge himself on the Muscovites,’’ said another of the party, a good-looking young fellow, apparently about twenty years old, and Osman Bey’s nephew. ‘‘His name is Yonn Bek ; he has taken up his abode in the Farsa Shaguash mountain near Ekaterinograd, and kills the Russians whenever he can meet them. He has been pursued ; but he has depots in the mountain where he keeps provisions, and the Russians have never been able to trace him to his lair. The authorities have offered Yonn Bek a great many gold imprerials if he would leave the country, as the man has done so much mischief there : but Tonn declines, and says that if the Russians have not been able to capture him in eight years, and he has been able to do them so much damage, what will not happen to the foe when the war breaks out and he is joined by other men like himself?’’

[*]  This statement, coming from a Circassian, may be deemed by some people in England, like the Right Hon. Robert Lowe, M.P., who believe that Russia is the protector of the unprotected, and the refuge of those who have no other refuge, as hardly worthy of credence. Unfortunately for humanity it is confirmed, so far as the massacre of pregnant women and of children is concerned, by the offical report of a British Consul. [See Appendix VII.]  [at the book - CW]



Excerpt from CHAPTER XXIV

Osman Bey – A Circassian Feud – Will there be a rising in the Caucasus – If England were to help us p. 140

Soon afterwards I met Osman Bey, my acquaintance of the previous day. He was on the point of leaving for a Circassian hamlet in the neighbourhood. It appeared that a deud had arisen between the people of this village and another one in its vicinity ; the Bey was going there to calm, if possible, the angry feelings of the inhabitants.

He remarked that in the event of war breaking out between Turkey and Russia he should go to the Caucasus.

‘‘Will there be a great rising in that country?’’ I inquired.

‘‘It is very doubtful,’’ was the answer ; ‘‘our people have risen several times ;[*] no foreign power has assisted us, and the result is that we have been decimated by our enemy. My countrymen are afraid of doing anything, unless they feel certain that they will be aided in their attempt. If England were to help us,’’ he continued, ‘‘and could only one Russian port on the Black Sea, the Circassians would have confidence, and there would be a rising throughout the length and vreadth of our land.’’

[*] For statement made by Circassian on this subject, see Appendix X. [at the book – CW]



Excerpt from CHAPTER XXV

A very pretty girl – Tchflik – Complaints made against the Circassians pp. 146 - 147

Presently we passed a small Circassian village. Several good-looking women, coming to the roadside, offered chickens and geese for sale. One of the Circassians was a very pretty girl, and would have carried off the palm amidst many European belles. Her face was nor veiled. There was a great deal of expression in her large, dark eyes. They flashed excitedly as she sought to induce me to buy her wares.

‘‘I am tired of chicken,’’ I said ; ‘‘I should like a little meat.’’

‘‘There is no meat here,’’ replied the girl. ‘‘We ourselves live upon bread and eggs : buy some eggs.’’ And running back to a house, she brought out about fifty eggs ; the price being eighpence of our Money.

Now we came to Tchiflik, an Armenian village. Here there were thirhy houses ; and as six hours had sped by since we left Tokat, I determined to halt for the night, the more particularly as Mohammed’s horse showed unmistakable signs of fatigue.

The Armenian in whose house I stopped complained of his Circassian neighbours. Accordion to him, they had hazy ideas as to the difference between meum and tuum. Severeal cows belonging to the villagers had recently disappeared. It was strongly suspected that some Circassians were implicated in the robbery.


Excerpt from CHAPTER XLII

Pregnant women massacred -  How to frighten the mountaineers – Two Circassian chiefs – Their statement – The value of the Caucasus – the Circassians must be freed pp. 213 - 216

…The odd part of the matter was that I had not even dreamed of entering the Tzar’s dominions. I was not ignorant of the state of Russia. Mr. Schuyler had proclaimed to the world that several of the Tzar’s officals were corrupt. The scarcity of gold and the overwhelming paper currency proved the bankrupt state of the country. Every traveller could testify that many of the inhabitants of European Russia were drunkards  Major Wood in his book, the ‘‘See of Aral,’’ had declared that some of the conquerors in Central Asia were worse. These facts were well known throughout Europe. I had travelled in Russia myself. Then how could the Russian Authorities be so childish as to think that I, of all people, wished to revisit the empire? On second thoughts, I could only account for it by the sup- position that they were afraid lest I should travel through the Caucasus, and discover their method of dealing with, the Circassians.

A few years ago, a British Consul called attention, in an official Report, to this subject. From what the Circassians whom I had met during my journey had said, there was every reason to believe that the following manner of treating Circassian ladies is still sometimes resorted to by the Russian promoters of Christianity and civilization. Consul Dickson remarks, in a despatcli dated Soukoum Kalé, March 17th, 1864, ‘‘A Russian detachment captured the village of Toobeh, inhabited by about 100 Abadzekh, and after these people had surrendered themselves prisoners, they were all massacred by the Eussian troops. AMONG THE VICTIMS WERE TWO WOMEN IN AN ADVANCED STATE OF PREGNANCY AND FIVE CHILDREN.’’ [Typed in capitals by the author - CW]

Some people who call themselves Christians, and who sympathize, or for political motives pretend to sympathize with Russia, attempt to gloss over these facts by observing that the Circassians are a nation of freebooters, and that it is necessary to rule them with a rod of iron, and through their fears. So in order to strike terror into thieves and other malefactors, it is justifiable to murder pregnant women, and fire upon little children!

Amongst other ways of compelling the Circassians to submit to their conquerors was one so fiendish, that if proof were not at hand to confirm the statement, I should hesitate to place it before the reader.

In order to frighten the mountaineers and civilize them á la Russe, the Tzar's soldiers cut off the heads and scooped out the eyes of several men, women, and children; then nailing the eyeless heads on trees, they placed placards underneath them, saying, ‘‘Go now and complain to the Kralli of the English, and ask her to send you an oculist."

An Englishman, Mr. Stewart Rolland, of Dibden, Hants, has travelled in Circassia. He can authenticate my statement. One of these blood- stained placards is in his possession. He will show it to any one who wishes to see for himself a proof of Russian civilization.

It may be asked why these Muscovite gentlemen were so inveterate against Great Britain. The Circassians formerly were of opinion that England would help them against their foe. Some years ago* they actually sent two chiefs, to state their grievances to the people of this country.
These chiefs being asked why they counted upon England’s good offices, said, —

‘‘We have been told that the English nation is a great nation, and a nation that protects the distressed. Our wives and our children, our little ones and our old men said to us with groans and tears, ‘‘You must go to that nation, and get us help.’ And we replied, ‘‘We will go, and we will tell that nation that if they do not give us help, we shall become the slaves of Russia, or shall be destroyed by Russia. We grown men will not become slaves, but who knows what will happen to those who come after us ; and once enslaved, they will be an army in the hands of Russia to attack the great English nation.’’ The Circassian chiefs visited England in 1862. Some Englishmen thought that it would be dangerous to interfere with a strong power like Russia, for the sake of a few mountaineers. The assistance asked for was denied. The Russian authorities did not value the Caucasus so lightly as our English officials.

* See statements made by the Circassian Deputies, Appendices IX. And X. [at the book - CW]


Excerpt from CHAPTER LXIII.

The bridge made by a Circassian - Karakroot - The Circassian horsemen - The inhabitants - Their eyes and teeth pp.  324 - 325

We left Bash, and after a two hours’ march crossed the Araxes on a rickety wooden bridge. It had been made by an enterprising Circassian. There is a ford several miles down the stream, but the Circassian had thought that, if he were to maket his bridge, a great many passengers would prefer taking the short cut, and would gladly pay a few piastres for the privilege of crossing the structure.

We came to the village of Karakroot [Karakurt - CW], in which the Circassian lived. The sheik, a fine-looking man, informed us that here there were only twenty-five houses, but there were 1005 houses which belonged to people of his nation in the neighbourhood. In the event of war, the inhabitants of this district could muster 2000 horsemen. Thehouses belonging to these Circassians were far cleaner than any which I had seen in the Kurdish or Armenian villages. They were all built of wood, with wooded floors. A small enclosure, made of sharp-pointed stakes, surrounded each of the dwellings. There were quantities of buffaloes, cows, and sheep in some adjacent fields, and the grenaries were said to be well supplied with corn and barley.

The inhabitants were smart-looking fellows, and all of them dressed in their national attire-in tight-fitting sheepskin coats, with the wool worn inside, and buckled round their waists by a narrow leathern strap, studded with buttons ; broad leather trousers, stuffed into high boots covered their legs, and small Astrachan caps their heads.

For arms, the men carried long daggers in their waist-belts-many of the hilts being beautifully worked in silver.

There were several women and girls in the village. They did not conceal themselves, as is the custom of the Armenian or Turkish women. We had the opportunity of looking at their faces. I was under the impression that the Circassian girls were very fair. This is not the case ; they more resemble the Spanish belles, and have a clear olive complexion, through which you can discern the blur veins. One girl was very good-looking. She could now have been more than sixteen, and sat the the horse on which she was mounten with more grace and ease than any of her male companious.

The chief features in all these women are their eyes and teeth. The former are very large, and the latter small, well-shaped and white as pearls. Tooth powder is unknown in this district. How they preserve their teeth so perfectly is to a European an enigma.

You see men of from sixty to seventy years of age who have never lost a tooth, each one is as white as the purest ivory. The Circassians have another advantange, from a European point of view, over the Kurds. They do no sleep in their cow hovels. The stables are separated from the apartments reserved for the family.

We rode by several more Circassian villages, and after passing Gedjerharman, which is a nine hour’ march from Bash, came to a district inhabited by Turks and Armenians. The latter complained of their warlike neighbours the Circassians, and declared that a Turk had been killed the previous evening, in a quarrel with one of the mountaineers.