Egor Kovalevsky in East Africa
Egor Petrovich Kovalevsky (Егор Петрович Ковалевский) is known more as the leader of the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire.1 However, his contribution to the development of the eastern direction of Russian foreign policy was founded in very beginning of his many-sided activity.
In 1846, Kovalevsky accompanied Egyptian engineers to the Urals sent to Russia by Pasha Muhammed Ali2 to study mining, and in 1847 he traveled to Egypt to develop gold fields there. “... This task [was] assigned to him at the specific request of Muhammad Ali, who wanted to explore gold-bearing sands for use them wisely and competently. By appointing such a distinguished officer, who already managed similar businesses in Russia, the emperor3 has deigned to bestow great mercy upon Muhammad Ali, and we have no doubt that Pasha will be able to appreciate and to make available to Mr. Kovalevsky all necessary means, so he has successfully achieved the goal of his journey”.4 Kovalevsky took advantage of this trip to provide services to young Russian geographical society5, where he was adopted the same year: in 1847-1848, Kovalevsky conducted geographical and geological research in East Africa, upon the results of which he was one of the first to point correct geographical location of the heads of Bahr-el-Abyad river (White Nil)6. Kovalevsky described his African expedition in his book “Journey to the Inner Africa”7 («Путешествие во внутреннюю Африку»), published in 2 parts.
However, this book did not become the only monument of its author’s stay in the African continent. For the Russian Foreign Ministry, the official reports of Kovalevsky were much more significant, namely: “Summary of the expedition to Africa by E.P. Kovalevsky submitted to Chancellor K.V. Nesselrode”, note “Current political and commercial state of East Sudan and Abyssinia” and “Project of Russia’s trade with Egypt and the shores of the Black8 sea”. These documents reveal the depth of the research shown by our traveler, breadth of its plans to strengthen Russian presence in this region. Below are the excerpts from the above “Report” that are most important to highlight political aspect of Kovalevsky’s stay in East Africa.
“In late December 1847, I arrived in Cairo. Preparations for the expedition started actively. Muhammad Ali, for whom discovery of placer gold was a favorite idea of all life ... now focused all his hopes in me. During two weeks of my stay in Cairo, I have often visited Viceroy and, I think, enjoyed his special favour. He talked to me about barrage of the Nile, in which he was especially interested, strengthening of Alexandria, establishment of the cadaster and often asked my advice; he often chuckled at the intrigues of the British and French, who were busy about installation of the railway, and the others about a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, while Muhammad Ali decided not to allow either one or the other, and got rid of two warring parties by promises. With enthusiastic gratitude, he told about the mercy of the emperor who sent his officer to him to achieve his favorite goal, and often he told with pride to European consuls about his relation with the Russian court.
I went back to Alexandria the other way through the Nubian desert and Dongola. I have found Ibrahim Pasha to be the ruler of Egypt!9
I brought him gold produced in the factory that I have established; he poured it from hand to hand with obvious pleasure and showed his clear joy. Ibrahim Pasha has positive mind, but not so brilliant as his father; now he is trying in every way to promote himself, but people remember his cruelty, and accustomed to the Oriental splendor of its rulers, takes simplicity with which Ibrahim Pasha lives, for greed. I have to admit that greed has a great place here. It seems that the favorite idea of Ibrahim Pasha is deviation of Egypt from Turkey. He actively forms new troops and strengthens Alexandria.
Before my leave from Alexandria, Ibrahim Pasha instructed to request Your Excellency to inform the Emperor about deep gratitude, grace that he has to the Russian monarch. It was obvious from his words that from this side he is very afraid of the obstacles in execution of his plans.
From the foregoing, Your Excellency should deign to understand that no danger and deprivation, or even the disease not stopped me on my way. Knowing that attention of scientific world was constantly drawn to the expedition entrusted to me [as was shown by the reviewes of the journals and hopes of the ruler of Egypt, focused on me], I tried to maintain the dignity of the Russian and justify the choice of the authorities.
I take courage upon myself to provide the results that we have achieved in my expedition, already partly known to Your Excellency from my correspondence with Muhammad Ali and Ibrahim Pasha. Three gold-bearing placers were discovered, gold-washing factory was built and a fort near it, the natives were accustomed to the work of this kind, and as proof, the gold produced in my presence in the factory was brought by me to the ruler of Egypt. In terms of geography, a huge space in the country of blacks was discovered from the head of the Blue Nile to the White Nile, where no European ever was, despite the best efforts of the Geographical Society of London. Many elevations are measured barometrically and latitude of many points was defined by sextant. Map of previously unknown lands was made, collections in of many branches of natural science were formed and, finally, in spite of all the fears the Governor-General of Eastern Sudan, who has entrusted a troop to me, by penetrating so far into Africa, I showed the dangers and hardships that can be overcome by soldiers of Ibrahim Pasha, and he was extremely pleased with this”.10
In the above mentioned “Note”, Kovalevsky informs about the activities of “spiritual mission of the Roman propaganda” in Khartoum under the direction of Jesuit Rillo, who was not so much engaged in spiritual things, but in entrepreneurship, “Rillo bought a big house, is building another one, and engages colonists who he wants to settle along the White and Blue Nile”. But this “more political and commercial than religious enterprise”, ended sadly: Rillo died of fever in 1848, and the members of his spiritual mission were killed.11
Kovalevsky pays much attention to Ethiopia, which in the 40-s of the XIX century, according to the author, was “divided into a number of individual ownerships, independent from one another and warring between each other”. Everything related to Ethiopia in “Note”, has become even more interesting due to the fact that in his book, “Journey to the Inward Africa”, Kovalevsky writes little about this country. In “Note” he even outlines the history of penetrating to Ethiopia by European colonizers.
To establish trade between Russia and Egypt, Kovalevsky offered to organize regular shipping traffic between Odessa and Alexandria. According to him, the Black Sea postal ships sailing between Odessa and Constantinople, could cope with this task. However, this “Project” was opposed by Governor General of Moscow A.A. Zakrevsky, who believed that Russian goods will not be able to compete with the British and French ones. Zakrevsky believed that if the Russian merchants found trade with Egypt profitable, they would have already long established contacts with it. To trade with Egypt, just capital was not enough, knowledgeable people required who could devote themselves to this business. There were no such people at that time. Merchants who were not familiar with the region and its demand, did not dare to invest their capital in new business. Proposal of Kovalevsky to establish a trading house in Moscow for the African trade, according to Zakrevsky, was not noteworthy. The prevailing view was that remoteness of Moscow from the Black Sea ports in the absence of good means of communication will create great difficulties in trade of Moscow merchants with Egypt, so the “Project” of Kovalevsky was rejected.12
Nevertheless, the journey of Kovalevsky in East Africa has become an important event in development of bilateral political and economic relations, as well as enriched Russian and world geography.
Valsky B.A. New materials of E.P. Kovalevsky travel in Egypt, Eastern Sudan and western Ethiopia [Вальская Б.А. Новые материалы о путешествии Е.П. Ковалевского в Египет, Восточный Судан и Западную Эфиопию] // Countries and peoples of the East. [Страны и народы Востока] Vol.IV. Moscow. Publishing House of Science. 1965. 264 p.
Gornung M.B., Lipets Y.G., Olejnikov I.N. The history of the discovery and study of Africa. [История открытия и исследования Африки.] Moscow, 1973, p. 135-137.
Gusterin P. E.P. Kovalevsky - diplomat and orientalist [Ковалевский — дипломат и востоковед] // Questions of history. [Вопросы истории] 2008, №8.
Gvozdetskii N.A. Travel to Inner Africa [Путешествия во Внутреннюю Африку] // Nature. [Природа.] 1950, №5, p.76-79.
Tikhomirov V.V. Geology in Russia in the first half of the nineteenth century. [Геология в России первой половины ХIХ в.] Moscow, 1960, p.191-194.
Zabrodskaya M.P. Russian travelers in Africa. [Русские путешественники по Африке] Moscow, 1955, p.12-18.
1 Gusterin P. E.P. Kovalevsky - diplomat and orientalist [Ковалевский - дипломат и востоковед] // Questions of history. [Вопросы истории] 2008, №8.
2 Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) – the ruler of Egypt in 1805-1848. Reorganized the government of the state. Created regular army, led wars of conquest in Arabia and Eastern Sudan, as well as with the Turkish sultan. Took measures aimed at development of agriculture and manufacturing industry. Founded several secular schools that were preparing national human resourses.
3 His Imperial Majesty.
4 Instruction of V.P. Titov, the envoy in Constantinople, submitted to consul-general in Cairo A.M. Fok on December 12/24, 1847 in connection with the expedition of E.P. Kovalevsky in Africa. - In “Countries and Peoples of the East”. [Страны и народы Востока] Ed. IV. Moscow, 1965, p. 185.
5 Russian Geographical Society was founded in 1845.
6 Gvozdetskii N.A. Travel to Inner Africa [Путешествия во Внутреннюю Африку] // Nature. [Природа.] 1950, №5, p.76-79; Zabrodskaya M.P. Russian travelers in Africa. [Русские путешественники по Африке] Moscow, 1955, p. 12-18; Tikhomirov V.v. Geology in Russia in the first half of the nineteenth century. [Геология в России первой половины ХIХ в.] Moscow, 1960, p.191-194; Gornung M.B., Lipets Y.G., Olejnikov I.N. The history of the discovery and study of Africa. [История открытия и исследования Африки.] Moscow, 1973, p. 135-137.
7 First published in Saint-Petersburg in 1849.
8 That is “Red”. (Note of P.G).
9 Ibrahim Pasha (1786-1848) – Egyptian military leader and statesman, son of Muhammad Ali. Participated in creation of Egyptian army and navy, and economic reforms of his father. Gained fame after defeating the Wahhabis in Arabia (1816-1818). Commanded Egyptian troops that defeated Turkish armies during Egyptian-Turkish War (1831-1833). From 1847 - de facto ruler of Egypt. (Note of P.G.).
10 Valsky B.A. New materials of E.P. Kovalevsky travel in Egypt, Eastern Sudan and western Ethiopia [Вальская Б.А. Новые материалы о путешествии Е.П. Ковалевского в Египет, Восточный Судан и Западную Эфиопию] // Countries and peoples of the East. [Страны и народы Востока] Vol.IV. Moscow. Publishing House of Science. 1965. pp. 186-190.
11 Ibid. p. 183
12 Ibid. pp.183-184