“Anglichanka” (“English lady”): the Story of a Rock
© Photo: Key to Baikal
January, 21

“Anglichanka” (“English lady”): the Story of a Rock

A specially protected natural monument of regional significance – “Anglichanka” Rock – is situat-ed in Selenginsky district of Buryatia. Now it is known as an observation deck with a picturesque view of the Selenga and Spassky Cathedral dated by the 18th century. However, in 1818-1841, Protestant preachers lived here. Key to Baikal explored how the life of the missionaries was con-nected with the rock, what kind of girl was wandering around it and what the London missionary society had to do with it.

Selenginsk Tower

“Anglichanka” (“English lady”): the Story of a Rock

Selenginsk, year 1832. The ethnographer and writer Orest Evetsky made a stop here on his way from Irkutsk to Kyakhta. He noticed two solid wooden houses surrounded by a fence a few miles away from the town on the opposite (left) bank of the river. This picturesque secluded place on the banks of the Selenga was a home to the people who have graduated from the best universities of Scotland - English missionaries. They came there to preach the gospel to the Buryat people.

As they arrived in Selenginsk, the families of Stalibras, Svan, Ramn and Yuille rented a house. Its former owner died, and local authorities wanted to open a post office here. The house had one floor, three rooms, a hallway and a kitchen. The porch overlooked the river, there were three windows on either side of the porch. A garden with trees and vegetables surrounded the house. Four years later, the Englishmen built one more house nearby and a publishing house for printing the translations of sacred texts.

To the East with a Sermon

The Englishmen came to the Russian depth of the country at the will of the London Missionary Society that wanted to open its representative office in Irkutsk. However, the first missionaries who arrived in Siberia, Edward Stalibras and Cornelius Ramn, found the city uncomfortable for activity. Selenginsk that was located not so far from Mongolia and China, the ultimate goal of the Protestant ecclesiastical mission, was much more suitable.

On March 26, 1818, the families of Ramn and Stalibras arrived in Irkutsk where they were warmly welcomed by the Governor-General of Eastern Siberia, Count M.M. Speransky. Later, he wrote to his daughter: “One cannot help but is surprised that these people with their wives decided to settle here in such a remote place among Buryats and Mongols, without knowing Mongolian or Russian. I was forced to write in English for Stalibras. They study Mongolian and understand it quite well already”. After a short stay in Irkutsk where the missionaries improved their Mongolian language and made preparations for the Trans-Baikal mission, they left for Selenginsk where the Yuille family and William Svan also arrived in January 1820.

The life in Selenginsk was difficult. The Englishmen were put to the test of severe frosts and endless floods depriving them of shelter and crops. However, the main difficulties were associated with the mission. To adapt the texts of the Bible to the speech of local residents, English missionaries had to study Russian, Mongolian, Manchu languages, compose their own dictionaries and grammar books. Sometimes they resorted to the help of one local person who translated English texts from Russian into Buryat, but the meaning of the sacred texts was considerably distorted. Besides, the sermons were not successful because of the nomadic way of life of the Buryats and religions already reigning on this territory: Buddhism, Shamanism and Orthodoxy. It turned out that the missionaries brought here the fourth religion, but the locals did not fully understand or need it.

In addition, the key reason for the inefficiency of the sermons was illiteracy of the local population. The pastors who arrived in Siberia realized that it was meaningless to talk about the philosophy of Anglican Christian Protestantism, if people could not read and write. For this reason, beginning from 1833, English missionaries not only translated the Bible, but also began to educate children. They built several schools where they taught the Law of God, Arithmetics, Russian grammar, and singing of psalms – all this was taught in Mongolian. The school opened by Sarah Stalibras taught girls to do needlework and crafts and educated them as resident tutors.

English ecclesiastical mission operated beyond Lake Baikal as long as Aleksandr I was alive. When his successor Nicholai I ascended the throne, he ordered to finish the activity of missionaries, explaining this by a change in the government policy. E. Stalibras and V. Swan did not wait for a positive outcome and went home to the Great Britain.

After the departure of his comrades, Robert Yuille called Roman Vasilyevich by the locals, changed occupation from missionary work to medical practice and lived like a rural peasant - growing bread and breeding cattle. By the way, years later, an iron sickle with the stigma of the English crown was found on the ruins of his estate: this object is now stored at the local Museum of the Decembrists. Yuille and his son Samuel continued to live in Selenginsk for another 8 years, after which they returned to Scotland.

The Legend of an Englishwoman, or It Was All the Fault of Typhoid Fever

Obviously, the residents of Selenginsk called the place where the missionaries lived “Angliya” (“England” in Russian), and the cliff rising above it was called “Anglichanka” (“Englishwoman”). According to the legend, the daughter of Robert Yuille jumped down from this cliff, because she was desperately in love with a young man who remained at home. They say that the ghost of the girl is still wandering around the rocks. In reality, the name of the cliff is associated with a less romantic story: Martha Covey, the wife of Robert Yuille, and their three daughters who died during the typhoid epidemic are buried at the foot of the cliff, in front of the missionaries' house. In our days, people are impressed by the spirit of history and make wishes on the rock. They believe that the “Anglichanka” cliff will make these wishes come true.

More Facts

Novoselenginsk is located close to the memorial rock; central transport routes pass through the town: the A340 highway from Ulan-Ude to Kyakhta and the railway from Ulan-Ude to Naushki. Pushkin’s great-grandfather Abram Gannibal was there, the Decembrists were exiled there. The Memorial Museum House of Decembrists is located in the house of Aleksei Startsev - the son of Nikolai Bestuzhev. The main item of the exhibition is the Life-Giving Cross from the Spassky Cathedral, carved out by the Cossack chief Diyatiev in 1690; the cross has survived three fires.

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