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27 December

It's 1861 and Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin, having escaped from exile in Siberia, has just arrived at the house of A I Herzen in London.

December 27, 2009
3 min read

The leading anarchist made his escape by boat, travelling to London via America. In the course of his journey he met Frederick Pemberton Koe, an English clergyman who wrote at length about Bakunin in his diary.

‘The greatest passenger we have on board is a man named Bakunin. He was in ’49 member of the Provisional Government at Dresden and for eight and a half years after that was in a dungeon and the last four years has been in Irkutsk in exile. He has just made his escape and is now on his way to London to meet his wife who is gone home through Russia.

‘He is a remarkable man in many ways. He is the eldest son of a noble family which I expect means in our sense a gentleman’s family. He was in the Army but left it having as I hear led a most dissipated life. He became “fort revolutionaire” and finding he could do nothing in Russia went to France and Germany where he appeared on the revolutionary platform as aforesaid.

‘When the King returned to Dresden he was taken and condemned to death, but after being a year and a half in a dungeon he was delivered over the Austrians who put him into the dungeon of Olmütz where he was chained to the wall and had irons on his arms and legs. He was then handed over to the Russians who confined him first in the fortress of Petropavloffski at St Petersburg and then when it was apprehended that St Petersburg would be attacked he was moved to Schlusselburg about 50? miles from St Petersburg. He was then sent to Siberia. The Governor General was a relation of his and he accordingly enjoyed privileges which few could obtain. After this Governor General was gone Bakunin carried into execution his plan of escape.

‘ . . . I was talking to him today about his imprisonment. Austria was the only place where he was chained to the wall. In Saxony he was a year in prison. In Austria a year and a half(?) and Russia six years. In Siberia four years. At one time in Olmutz he thought all was over, that he could never do anything more so he tried to starve himself. He ate nothing for 14 days, but he drank water during that time and that kept him alive. At the end of that time he heard some soldiers outside his prison talking of the war then just begun between Austria and Prussia. This gave him hope and he resolved to live so he ordered some roast mutton and he had fasted so long he was able to eat it with the greatest relish.

‘We have much talk on various subjects. He is a man of mind and interests me much. He says he owes Austria in grudge for having imprisoned him – [But] It was perfectly natural, his great objects are a Slav Confederation and the destruction of Austria.’

(Extract from A Rediscovered Source on Bakunin in 1861: The Diary of F.P. Koe, presented by Robert M Cutler)

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