A learned Epistle written 1581. vnto the famous Cosmographer M. Gerardus Mercator concerning the riuer Pechora, Naramsay, Cara reca, the mighty riuer of Ob, the place of Yaks Olgush in Siberia, the great riuer Ardoh, the lake of Kittay called of the borderers Paraha, the Countrey of Carrah Colmak, giuing good light to the discouery of the Northeast passage to Cathay, China and the Malucaes.
Inclyto et celebri Gerardo Mercatori, domino et amico singulari in manus proprias Duisburgi in Cliuia.
Cum meminissem, amice optime, quanta, cum vnam ageremus, delectatione afficerere in legendis Geographicis scriptis Homeri, Strabonis, Aristotelis, Plinij, Dionis et reliquorum, lætatus sum eo quod incidissem in hunc nuncium, qui tibi has literas tradit, quem tibi commendatum esse valde cupio, quique dudum Arusburgi hîc ad Ossellam fluuium appulit. Hominis experientia, vt mihi quidem videtur, multum te adiuuerit in re vna, eaque summis à te votis expetita, et magnopere elaborata, de qua tam varie inter se dissentiunt Cosmographi recentiores; patefactione nimirum ingentis illius Promontorij Tabin, celebrisque illius et opulentæ regionis sub Cathayorum rege per Oceanum ad Orientem brumalem. Duæ naues ædificatæ in Duina fluuio ad patefactionem Orientalem. Alferius is est natione Belga, qui captiuus aliquot annos vixit in Moscouitarum ditione, apud viros illic celeberrimos Yacouium et Vnekium; à quibus Antuerpiam missus est accersitum homines rei nauticæ peritos, qui satis amplo proposito præmio ad illos viros se recipiant; qui Sueuo artifice duas ad eam patefactionem naues ædificarunt in Duina fluuio. Vt ille rem proponit, quamquam sine arte, apposite tamen, et vt satis intelligas, quod quæso diligenter perpendas, aditus ad Cathayam per Orientem procul dubio breuissimus est et almodum expeditus. Adijt ipse fluuium Obam tum terra per Samoedorum et Sibericorum regionem, tum mari per littus Pechoræ fluminis ad Orientem. Hac experientia confirmatus certò apud se statuit nauim mercibus onustam, cuius carinam non nimium profundè demissam esse vult, in Sinum S. Nicolai conducere in regione Moscouitarum, instructam illam quidem rebus omnibus ad eam patefactionem necessarijs, atque illic redintegrato commeatu, Moscouitiæ nationis notissimos iusta mercede asciscere: qui et Samoedicam linguam pulchre teneant, et fluuium Ob exploratum habeant, vt qui quotannis ea loca ventitant. Vnde Maio exeunte constituit pergere ad Orientem per continentem Vgoriæ ad Orientales partes Pechoræ, Insulamque cui nomen est Dolgoia. Dolgoia Insula. Hic latitudines obseruare, terram describere, bolidem demittere, locorumque ac punctorum distantias annotare, vbi et quoties licebit. Et quoniam Pechoræ Sinus vel euntibus vel redeuntibus commodissimus est tum subsidij tum diuersorij locus propter glaciem et tempestates, diem impendere decreuit cognoscendis vadis, facillimoque nauium aditu inueniendo: quo loco antehac aquarum altitudinem duntaxat ad quinque pedes inuenit, sed profundiores canales esse non dubitat: Insula Vaigats. deinde per eos fines pergere ad tria quatuorve milliaria nautica, relicta Insula quam Vaigats vocant, media ferè via inter Vgoriam et Nouam Zemblam: Sinus inter Vaigats et Obam vergens per meridiem. tum Sinum quendam pæterire inter Vaigats atque Obam, qui per Meridiem vergens pertingit ad terram Vgoriæ, in quem confluunt exigui duo amnes Marmesia atque Karah, Vel Naramsey et Cara reca. ad quos amnes gens alia Samoedorum accolit immanis et efferata. Multa in eo tractu loca vadosa, multas cataractas inuenit; sed tamen per quas possit Nauigari. Littus Obæ incolitubar Ostijs trium dierum itinere. Vbi ad fluuium Obam peruentum fuerit, qui quidem fluuius (vt referunt Samoedi) septuaginta habet ostia, quæ propter ingentem latitudinem multas magnasque concludentem Insulas, quas varij incolunt populi, vix quisquam animaduertat, ne temporis nimium impendat, constituit ad summum tria quatuorve tentate ora, ea præsertim quæ ex consilio Incolarum, quos in itinere aliquot habiturus est, commodissima videbuntur, triaque quatuorve eius regionis nauigiola tentandis Ostijs adhibere, quàm fieri potest ad littus proxime, (quod quidem sub itinere trium dierum incolitur) vt quo loco tutissime nauigan possit, intelligat.
Yaks Olgush locus super Obam fluuium duodecim dierum itinere a mari. Quod si nauim per fluuium Obam aduerso amne possit impellere, prima si poterit cataracta, eaque, vt verisimile est, commodissima, ad eumque locum appellere, quem aliquando ipse cum suis aliquot per Sibericorum regionem terra adijt, qui duodecim iuxta dierum itinere distat à Mari, quà influit in mare flumen Ob, qui locus est in continente, propè fluuium Ob cui nomen est Yaks Olgush, nomine mutuato ab illo magno Profluente flumini Ob illabente, tum certè speraret maximas se difficultates superasse. Referunt enim illic populares, qui trium duntaxat dierum nauigatione ab eo loco abfuerunt (quòd illic rarum est, eo quòd multi ad vnum duntaxat diem cymbas pelliceas à littore propellentes oborta tempestate perierunt, cùm neque à sole neque à syderibus rectionem scirent petere) per transuersum fluminis Ob, vnde spaciosum esse illius latitudinem constat, grandes se carinas præciosis onustas mercibus magno fluuio delatas vidisse per Nigros, puta Æthiopes. Ardoh flumen influens in lacum Kitthaym: de quo in itinere ad Boghariam scribit Antonius Ienkinsonus. Eum fluuium Ardoh illi vocant, qui influit in lacum Kittayum, quem Paraha illi nominant, cui contermina est gens illa latissimè fusa, quàm Carrah Colmak appellant, non alia certè quàm Cathaya. Illic, si necessitas postulabit, opportunum erit hybernare, se suosque reficere, resque omnes necessarias conquirere. Quòd si acciderit, non dubitat interim plurimùm se adiutum iri, plura illic quærentem atque ediscentem. Veruntamen sperat æstate eadem ad Cathayorum fines se peruenturum, nisi ingenti glaciei mole ad os fluuij Obæ impediatur, quæ maior interdum, interdum minor est. Tum per Pechoram redire statuit, atque illic hybernare: vel si id non poterit, in flumen Duinæ, quo mature satis pertinget, atque ita primo vere proximo in itinere progredi. Vnum est quòd suo loco oblitus sum. Carrah Colmakest Cathaya. Qui locum illum Yaks Olgush incolunt, à maioribus suis olim prædicatum asserunt, se in lacu Kitthayo dulcissimam campanarum harmoniam audiuisse, atque ampla ædificia conspexisse: Et cùm gentis Carrah Colmak mentionem faciunt (Cathaya illa est) ab imo pectore suspiria repetunt manibusque proiectis suspiciunt in coelum, velut insignem illius splendorem innuentes atque admirantes. Vtinam Alferius hic Cosmographiam melius saperet, multum ad illius vsum adiungeret, qui sanè plurimus est. Multa prætereo, vir amicissime, ipsumque hominem te audire cupio, qui mihi spospondit se in itinere Duisburgi te visurum. Auet enim tecum conferre sermones, et procul dubio hominem multum adiuueris. Satis instructus videtur pecunia et gratia, in quibus alijsque officijs amicitiæ feci illi, si vellet, mei copiam. Deus Optimus maximus hominis votis atque alacritati faueat, initia secundet, successus fortunet, exitum foelicissimum concedat. Vale amice ac Domine singularis.
Arusburgi ad Ossellam fluuium 20. Februarij 1581.
Tuus quantus quantus sum Ioannes Balakus.
To the famous and renowned Gerardus Mercator, his Reuerend and singular friend at Duisburgh in Clieueland, these be deliuered.
Calling to remembrance (most deare Friend) what exceeding delight you tooke at our being together, in reading the Geographicall writings of Homer, Strabo, Aristotle, Plinie, Dion, and the rest, I reioyced not a little that I happened vpon such a messenger as the bearer of these presents, (whom I do especially recommend vnto you) who arriued lately here at Arusburg vpon the riuer of Osella. This mans experience (as I am of dpinion) will greatly auaile you to the knowledge of a certaine matter which hath bene by you so vehemently desired, and so curiously laboured for, and concerning the which the late Cosmographers do hold such varietie of opinions: namely, of the discouerie of the huge promontorie of Tabin, and of the famous and rich countreys subiect vnto the Emperor of Cathay and that by the Northeast Ocean sea. Two ships built vpon the riuer of Dwina for the Northeast discouerie. The man is called Alferius Or Oliuer. being by birth a Netherlander, who for certaine yeeres liued captiue in the dominions of Russia vnder two famous men Yacouius and Vnekius, by whom he was sent to Antwerp to procure skilfull Pilots and Mariners, (by propounding liberall rewards) to go vnto the two famous personages aforesayd, which two had set a Sweden Shipwright on worke to build two ships for the same discouerie vpon the riuer of Dwina. The passage vnto Cathay by the Northeast (as he declareth the matter, albeit without arte, yet very aptly, as you may well perceiue, which I request you diligently to consider) is without doubt very short and easie. This very man himselfe hath trauelled to the riuer of Ob, both by land, through the countreys of the Samoeds, and of Sibier, and also by Sea, along the coast of the riuer Pechora Eastward. Being encouraged by this his experience he is fully resolued with himselfe to conduct a Barke laden with merchandize (the keele whereof hee will not haue to drawe ouer much water) to the Baie of Saint Nicholas in Russia, being furnished with all things expedient for such a discouerie, and with a new supply of victuals at his arriuall there, and also to hire into his companie certaine Russes best knowen vnto himselfe, who can perfectly speake the Samoeds language, and are acquainted with the riuer of Ob, as hauing frequented those places yeere by yeere.
The Island of Dolgoia. Whereupon about the ende of May hee is determined to saile from the Baie of S. Nicholas Eastward, by the maine of Ioughoria, and so to the Easterly parts of Pechora, and to the Island which is called Dolgoia. And here also hee is purposed to obserue the latitudes, to suruey and describe the countrey, to sound the depth of the Sea, and to note the distances of places, where, and so oft as occasion shall be offered. And forasmuch as the Baie of Pechora is a most conuenient place both for harbour and victuall, as well in their going foorth as in their returne home in regard of Ice and tempest, he is determined to bestow a day in sounding the Flats, and in searching out the best entrance for ships: in which place heretofore he found the water to be but fiue foote deepe, howbeit he doubteth not but that there are deeper chanels: The Island of Vaigats. A Baie betweene Vaigats and Ob trending Southerly. and then hee intendeth to proceed on along those coasts for the space of three or foure leagues, leauing the Island called Vaigats almost in the middle way betweene Vgoria and Noua Zembla: then also to passe by a certaine Baie betweene Vaigats and Ob, trending Southerly into the land of Vgoria, whereinto fall two small riuers called Marmesia and Carah Or, Naramsey and Cara Reca., vpon the which riuers doe inhabite an other barbarous and sauage nation of the Samoeds. He found many Flats in that tract of land, and many cataracts or ouerfals of water, yet such as hee was able to saile by. When hee shall come to the riuer of Ob, which riuer (as the Samoeds report) hath seuentie mouthes, which by reason of the huge breadth thereof containing many and great Islands, which are inhabited with sundry sortes of people, no man scarcely can well disouer, because he will not spend too much time, he purposeth to search three or foure at the most of the mouthes thereof, those chiefly which shall be thought most commodious by the aduise of the inhabitants, of whom hee meaneth to haue certaine with him in his voyage, and meaneth to employ three or foure boates of that Countrey in search of these mouthes, as neere as possibly he can to the shore, which within three dayes iourney of the Sea is inhabited, that he may learne where the riuer is best nauigabie. The place vpon the riuer Ob, where he was but 12. dayes iourney from the mouthes thereof and is called Yaks Olgush. If it so fall out that he may sayle vp the riuer Ob against the stream, and mount vp to that place which heretofore accompanied with certaine of his friends, he passed vnto by land through the countrey of Siberia which is about twelue dayes iourney from the Sea, where the riuer Ob falleth into the Sea, which place is in the Continent neere the riuer Ob, and is called Yaks Olgush, borowing his name from that mightie riuer which falleth into the riuer Ob, then doubtlesse hee would conceiue full hope that hee had passed the greatest difficulties: for the people dwelling thereabout report, which were three dayes sayling onely from that place beyond the riuer Ob, whereby the bredth thereof may be gathered (which is a rare matter there, because that many rowing with their boates of leather one dayes iourney onely from the shore, haue bene cast away in tempest, hauing no skill to guide themselues neither by Sunne nor Starre) that they haue seene great vessels laden with rich and precious merchandize brought downe that great riuer by blacke or swart people. M. Ienkinson in his voyage to Boghar speaketh of the riuer Ardok. They call that riuer Ardoh, which falleth into the lake of Kittay, which they call Paraha, whereupon bordereth that mighty and large nation which they call Carrah Colmak, which is none other then the nation of Cathay. There, if neede require, he may fitly Winter and refresh himselfe and his, and seeke all things which he shall stand in need of: which if it so fall out, he doubteth not but in the meane while he shall be much furthered in searching and learning out many things in that place. Howbeit, he hopeth that hee shall reach to Cathaya that very Sommer, vnlesse he be hindered by great abundance of Ice at the mouth of the riuer of Ob, which is sometimes more, and sometimes lesse. If it so fall out, he then purposeth to returne to Pechora, and there to Winter: or if he cannot doe so neither, then hee meaneth to returne to the riuer of Dwina, whither he will reach in good time enough, and so the next Spring following to proceed on his voyage. One thing in due place I forgate before.
The people which dwell at that place called Yaks Olgush, affirme that they haue heard their forefathers say, that they haue heard most sweete harmonie of bels in the lake of Kitthay, and that they haue seene therein stately and large buildings: and when they make mention of the people named Currah Colmak (this countrey is Cathay) they fetch deepe sighes, and holding vp their hands, they looke vp to heauen, signifying as it were, and declaring the notable glory and magnificence of that nation. I would this Oliuer were better seen in Cosmographie, it would greatly further his experience, which doubtlesse is very great. Most deare friend, I omit many things, and I wish you should heare the man himselfe which promised mee faithfully that he would visite you in this way at Duisburg, for he desireth to conferre with you, and doubtlesse you shall very much further, the man. He seemeth sufficiently furnished with money and friends, wherein and in other offices of curtesie I offered him my furtherance if it had pleased him to haue vsed me. The Lord prosper the mans desires and forwardnesse, blesse his good beginnings, further his proceedings, and grant vnto him most happy issue. Fare you well good sir and my singular friend. From Arusburg vpon the riuer of Ossella, the 20. of February, 1581.
Yours wholly at commandement,
Master Anthonie Ienkinson in a disputation before her Maiestie with sir Humfrey Gilbert for proofe of a passage by the Northeast to Cathaya, among other things alleageth this: videlicet, that there came a continuall streame or currant through Mare glaciale, of such swiftnesse as a Colmak told him, that if you cast any thing therein, it would presently be caried out of sight towards the West, &c.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51