On April 17, 1890, the four sisters of the Community of the Sisters of Bethany with their chaplain, the Reverend A. S. Jervis, B.A., left London by the night mail and travelled via Calais and Paris to Marseilles. Here they took the steamer for Constantinople.
The weather for the most part was wet, cold and rough, but they were thankful that most of their first day on the sea (Sunday, April 20) was fine and that on Monday also they were permitted to have a Celebration of the Holy Communion at 7. "Had it been an hour later it would have been impossible, the wind rose high with a heavy sea."
After passing the Adriatic the scenery began to delight the Sisters. Thursday 24th. Passed Island of Pzara on the N., Anti-Pazara on the S. The former a beautiful range of mountains of all shades of colour, bright red sands in parts, running down to the deep coloured sea. The town of Psara exquisitely situated in the bay. As they came up on deck Cape Matapan stood out beautifully before them, the shades on the mountain beyond description lovely. Then through the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles till this stage of the journey ended at Constantinople. Here the party received great kindness from Mr. Thomson of Erenkeuy, and his family, being entertained and passing the night at his country house, and seeing much of interest both there and in Constantinople. St. Sophia with its ineffaceable stamp of Christianity interested the Sisters most deeply, this and much else crowded with memories of the early days of Christianity, was viewed under the kind and most able guidance of Canon Curtis.
Again embarking on the afternoon of Saturday, April 26, they had a prosperous voyage with picturesque companions and views, and could sketch and photograph occasionally as their steamer called at one picturesque town after another. At Batoum they began to experience the great kindness of M. Pobedonostzeff, Chief Procurator of the Most Holy Governing Synod of All the Russias, who, at the instance of Mr. Athelstan Riley, had not only arranged for the passage of the party [2/3] through Russian territory, but also taken every precaution that thoughtfulness could suggest for their comfort during their rough journey. From this point the Sisters shall tell their tale in their own words, except so far as the journal has had to be abridged and condensed.
"April 30. Arrived at Batoum 4 a.m. As we looked out of our port-hole the range of snow mountains which met our view in the early misty morning was beyond expression magnificent. The harbour was crowded with ships, the town, not so picturesque as the last three we have seen, full of life. We happily had arranged for a very early celebration, and well we had, for at a very early hour, 5.30, the police boarded us for our passports. A most kind old gentleman, Admiral Gravé, to whom M. Pobedonostzeff had telegraphed, soon arrived, and, after some delay with our luggage, his crew eight in number, in grand style rowed us ashore, and he saw us off by the 9.15 train from Batoum. We feel somewhat sorry to leave the steamer, where we had very much kindness from everyone. The station at Batoum was redolent of petroleum, our train was driven by it, sprays of oil being thrown on the flame, and a pipe of oil being laid along the line all the way to Tiflis. After about two hours we entered a mountain gorge with a most exquisite mountain stream, which we followed in serpentine fashion for many hours. Many rustic bridges over which we passed seemed as though they could hardly bear the weight of the train. American azaleas, oleanders, and rhododendrons scented the way, may and wild roses, though may-be somewhat mixed with petroleum. This was an express train, it stopped at or between every station, and snailed along the rest of the way, but for this we were only too thankful, considering the country we were passing through. At last an extra engine gave us a push behind, and we climbed up the side of the mountain till we looked down upon Tiflis seemingly miles below us in the distance. We then seemed to run down the line.
We arrived at Tiflis about 11.30 p.m., not knowing a word of the language, the stations being written up in unknown characters, no names being called out, and with the most unconcerned-looking officials. We wondered whether, after all, we should be silently carried on beyond our destination. However, as usual, things turned out for the best. M. Pobedonostzeff s influential kindness had prepared for us at the station the grandest soldierly officials with white gloves, who gesticulated to us, bowing. Two carriages and an omnibus waiting conveyed us to no mean hotel, where every member thereof seemed to be at our feet. For a time we felt there must be [3/4] some mistake, we were taken for some one else; but no, our passports were taken, they said they had been expecting us for some days. After a most sumptuous dinner, at 12.30 a.m in a private salon, we slept in still more sumptuous bedrooms.
May 1. St Philip & St. James.--Tiflis.--Two Sisters, with Mr. Jervis, went to the beautiful Greek Church of St. George, having been told that the liturgy was at eight o'clock. They found a few most devout people saying their prayers, but, to their disappointment, that even in the Cathedral no liturgy was said except on Sundays and great festivals. From Tiflis we telegraphed home, changed money, and did some shopping for the journey with some difficulty, as no one about could speak a word of French, much less English. At the hotel we wrote letters, and had our last good meal for several days. At midnight our train started for Akstafa; while waiting at the station we were literally hemmed in by a crowd of admiring enquirers, and felt as if we were wild beasts; at last they drew off George (the Assyrian deacon who had been sent from Urmi by Canon Maclean to meet us here, as a kind of courier) to ask him about our destination, etc. The scone was most amusing, and the bright coloured costumes charming.
Friday, 2.30 p.m. Arrived at Akstafa. George, who was supposed to be our interpreter (we don't think he knows any language) and courier, had forgotten to order our conveyance, so we had to wait two hours. At last our vehicles arrived, very broken-down dirty carriage's with a hood, four horses abreast with rope harness. For several hours we passed through nothing but flat (somewhat ugly) country, the horses going at full gallop. Between seven and eight we stopped for change of horses, and with the help of the samovar [Russian urn], a most delightful institution, we made some cocoa.
The scenery quite changed, and we shortly began to ascend the mountains, soon coming upon an exquisite view of a mountain stream richly wooded, among huge rocks, which seemed to form natural castles and fortresses. Here, notwithstanding the rain which just began, we took a photograph, and, a little later on, a sketch of the most fascinating cottage, situated above a bridge high up on the mountain, with the water flowing through down the hill. About two o'clock we again stopped to change horses in a quaint little village, the houses made of mud with flat turf roofs. Then on we went through the rain up the mountains at a tremendous pace, over stones and rocks. At about six we dashed into Charca simply covered with mud, and the friendly samovar helped us with cocoa and eggs. An Armenian officer, who luckily spoke French, arrived [4/5] just as we were going to start, saying he had orders from the Governor of Tiflis to meet us and provide us with an escort. George strongly objected, declaring an escort quite needless, and gave us a terrible business for two long hours, quarrelling with everyone, and understanding no one. However, Mr. Jervis insisted, and carried his point, and we at last started with four soldiers and the officer, who went to the first change of horses. Uniforms most picturesque, all different, mounted on beautiful horses, which they were delighted to show off in every way, at times pretending to fall, etc. Up the mountains we went full speed; the height seemed tremendous, till at last we were amid the snow, the trees like winter, yet cowslips in profusion. It was intensely cold, and we now saw the necessity of a guard, it was beginning to get dark, and we saw what might have been brigands. Soon we were all but amongst the clouds, looking down a fearful chasm, and across that to the hills beyond, on which thousands of cattle were grazing, forming the loveliest scene. Eight o'clock, at Selinovka, the road became still rougher, and we had to leave our carriages, and with all our luggage were packed like herrings into a spring-less diligence,
Before Elinovka we passed Lake Sevan, about 100 feet below us, and drawing up at the post-house, alighted in a farm-yard about a foot deep in mud. We found an empty room fairly clean, two wooden settles, a table, a mirror, and a complaint book! A samovar shortly arrived, and trout, for which the place is famed; it was said to be very good by those who had spirit to eat it. This we found was the only room; we gasped, and thought how useful were our Levinges [sleeping bags and mosquito nets], and were at least thankful we had no strangers. But was this to last? No, in about an hour violent shaking- of the door which we had fastened, and slowly but surely the room filled with women, children, and luggage endless. We, I think, bore it well, notwithstanding every window being shut at once. Mr. Jervis, most unconcerned, left his corner for the carriage in the yard, although it was freezing hard, and the landlord and George implored him to come in, saying there were so many wicked robbers about!
Saturday, 3 a.m. We were only too thankful to leave this resting place! The morning was lovely; for many miles of descent we wore still above the snow line and thick ice around us. Our first post, reached about ten, looked so dirty we would not get out, but photographed some of the interesting group of gazers from the diligence. We here had an instance of the magic of M. Pobedonostzeff's card--lots of [5/6] people before us had to wait for their fresh horses till we were provided with our full number. Later we rested two hours at Erivan, a large town in a flat country. Here we were met by the "Cancellator Gubernator," who, according to orders, wished to do all he could for us and gave us letters to further stations. Here we were able to get our luggage taken in a separate conveyance, which gave us much more room and comfort, for we hoped to travel through the night to save discomfort. Our start hence was beyond words amusing, an outrider, the smartest of soldiers, the postmaster's assistant with a horn, the horses in the luggage cart covered with bells. As we dashed out of the yard, tired as we were, we did not know what to do for laughing. At every village the horn brought out groups of enquiring gazers. The roads being very bad after a thunderstorm, and the rain incessant, we were obliged to stop some hours in the small room of a post-house in the plain of Aras. Starting before sunrise, we saw Mount Ararat standing out, seemingly quite close, and now passed through glorious scenery, mountains on either side all the way. We saw numbers of storks.
Sunday, May 4. Stopped two hours in the morning at Saradac, a Kurdish village, and Mr. Jervis read to us. We kept on passing by snow mountains and down indescribably steep rough roads; we were almost reduced to jelly. For our night's lodging we had a big room to ourselves, with the exception of two most uninviting-looking dog's.
Monday, 5th. Starting before sunrise, again in full view of Ararat, and well wrapped in our rugs, we began our longest stage, full gallop once more over partly dried up mountain torrents. No one could have imagined it possible for horses or vehicles to pass where we did. The horses clambered up and down without stumbling. The country was magnificent. The last two days we had driven about 75 miles each day. About five o'clock we reached Djulfa, the custom house. Thanks to our friend's card once more, all honour was shown us, and we were ferried over in a few moments to the island in the river which divides Russia and Persia. On the further side we found a more comfortable hotel. Turks smoking opium and pipes in the balcony, and often we heard audible praying in a room hard by. We were here several days before our time, but felt even this was no spot to wait in, and we were anxious to get to Urmi on Saturday. Here Kyavas, detestable conveyances, awaited us; they are a sort of basket hoisted up on a beast, and have green curtains to keep off the sun. So on Tuesday, amidst a shrieking, staring crowd, we moved off; but soon the Kyava, not too securely mended before leaving Urmi, [6/7] broke, and Sisters and Kyavas mingled on the rough ground; luckily no harm but a shaking, and that we were all pretty well used to. Two of us rode. This was our first really hot day and very little shade. There were mountains on either side of us some miles off, and snow in the distance. All that day we passed no house, and no one except one shepherd and one drove of camels. Our guide could give us no idea of the length of this stage; we had hoped for rest at sunset, but went on and on till it was nearly pitch dark, and our horses took us over wonderful places, they seemed quite to know their way, so we could but let them go-- through streams, up steep places, over the narrowest of plank bridges- the two Turkish men remaining with the Kyavas and baggage horses. At last, about eleven, we saw lights, and our horses carrying us through a liver three feet and more deep we were landed safely in a yard, and had to wait in a crowd till George, who had lost his way, appeared. We had some food, and tried to sleep in the most artistic of mud rooms, inches in water, the dirt beyond all description. The people very nice and Christians.
On Wednesday, when we started, they surrounded us, most anxious to possess something of ours, ring, veil, or cross, and offered us earrings and bangles. We passed through many mud villages, and arrived at Khoi, where we passed the night in a post-house, which was beyond all description dreadful.
Thursday, May 8. We heard the joyful news that the Consul's servant had arrived (had been to Djulfa and ridden all night to catch us) with the kindest note from Col. Stewart [H.B.M. Consul-General at Tabriz]. He made our journey bearable to Urmi. With his help, and Mr. Jervis' determination, we started at 6 p.m., horses having been promised at 2 p.m.! We rode through a large Bazaar and up a shady road, where we saw the Persian Consul in an English carriage, driving up and down to see the English, who had caused evidently much sensation. It was a delightful evening; we rode on through many small villages till we came to a most restful Post, the Consul's servant having gone on to got ready a samovar and lay down rugs, etc., for as. Then, after two-and-a-half hours of the most refreshing rest we had had for some time, we mounted at moonlight and proceeded through the plain of Salamas.
Friday, about ten o'clock, we came to a pretty village, our friend again going on before prepared our breakfast in a shady garden, and we rested for some hours under the trees; then reached Gavilan about 10 p.m. We had rested at several places, had a most tiring climb up a mountain, pass till we [7/8] reached a giddy height, and then came out on Lake Urmi. The flowers on the mountain side were most beautiful, we picked nearly twenty varieties.
Saturday, May 10. Started for Urmi at eight. About ten a large party met us from Urmi, with the scholars from Superghan on horseback, some eight in number. Every few minutes more of these arrived, all on horseback, rushing about like wild Indians, talking most of them broken English, telling us we should find Canon Maclean in about half an hour. At a village near we found him and Mr. Lang awaiting us, with luncheon all prepared. After a rest, and having received the most hearty of welcomes, we started for Urmi. On reaching the City, about five o'clock, hundreds of people met us, including the Bishop. We seemed almost bewildered. Our crosses were seized and kissed with the greatest reverence."
Here the Sisters' diary ends, though we have since heard that they are comfortably settled in their own house, and are gradually recovering from the fatigue and hardships of the journey.