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The Amur River

The Amur River, Chinese (Pinyin) Heilong Jiang or (Wade-Giles) Hei-lung Chiang, Mongol Kharamuren, river of East Asia is the longest river of the Russian Far East, and it ranks behind only the Yangtze and Huang Ho (Yellow River) among China s longest rivers. Its headwaters rise in Russia (Siberia), Mongolia, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China in the mountains northwest and southeast of the point where their borders meet. The main river flows generally east and southeast, forming much of the border between China s Heilongjiang province and southeastern Siberia.

For ages, people moved along the Amur River, exchanging and mixing customs, beliefs, and artistic traditions. The Amur was the main route of communications connecting the forests of the Siberian interior, the Pacific coastland, and even the remote shores of the Arctic Ocean. Migrations of peoples from China and the Central Asian steppe brought agriculture, animal husbandry, metalware, and pottery to the gateways of of Siberia.

The Native people who inhabited the lower Amur valley were a mixture of various of Tungus and Manchu tribes from the interior, Nivkh, and probably Ainu migrants from Sakhalin Island and the Amur estuary. Except for the Nivkh, all Native peoples of the Amur valley speak closely related languages of Tungus-Manchu stock. They share the same general name for themselves, nani ("local people"), and a number of clan names and clan groups cross ethnic lines. Presently, those nations are known as: Nanai (pop. 12,000), Ulchi (pop. 3200), Udegai (pop. 1,900), Oroch (pop. 900), and Negidal (pop. 600). Another 1,500 Nanai and 4,000 Oroch live on the Chinese side of the Amur and along adjacent streams.

The river is generally divided into three sections: the upper, middle, and lower Amur. The upper Amur begins at the juncture of the Shilka and Argun and ends at the mouth of the Zeya (at the Siberian city of Blagoveshchensk), about 560 miles (900 km) downstream. The middle Amur extends about 600 miles (970 km) from the Zeya east to Khabarovsk. The lower Amur, from Khabarovsk to the mouth, also is about 600 miles (970 km) long.

  1. The upper Amur flows through a mountain valley between spurs of the Da Hinggan (Greater Khingan) Range to the south, which is covered by thick larch woods, and the pine-clad slopes of the Amarzar Range to the north. Near Albazino, Siberia, the mountains part, and the river enters open plateau country. The terraced slopes there indicate that the Amur cut through this region in the last few million years. Below Yermakovo the river enters a region of rocky precipices made up of complex layers of spontaneously igniting carbonaceous, clayey shales that continually steam and occasionally burst into flames.
  2. The middle Amur flows into the Zeya-Bureya Depression. The left bank rises gradually to the plain of the depression, while the right slope steep and high borders the Xiao Hinggan (Lesser Khingan) Range of China. Below the confluence of the Bureya River the plain narrows gradually, and near Pashkovo the river runs past spurs extending from the Bureya Range to the north. Farther on it flows along a narrow gorge through the Xiao Hinggan Range, its depth and speed increasing dramatically.
  3. Nikolayevsk-na-Amure, also spelled Nikolajevsk-na-Amure, English Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, city, Khabarovsk kray (territory), far eastern Russia. The city is situated at the head of the Amur River estuary. It was founded in 1850, but its importance as a Pacific port and naval base was overshadowed by the later development of Vladivostok and Sovetskaya Gavan, both with rail communications to the interior.

Furious Fighting at Amur


The Amur River basin originally was populated by hunting and cattle-breeding nomadic people. North of the river these peoples included the Buryat, Sakha (Yakut), Nanai, Nivkh (Gilyak), Udegey, and Orok, with various Mongol and Manchu groups south of the river. From this homeland, certain Manchu tribes conquered China and established the Qing (Manchu) dynasty in China (1644 1911/12), which ruled the entire Amur basin.

Although Russian explorers and traders began entering the area north of the Amur during the 17th century, the Treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), confirmed Chinese sovereignty over the entire basin. Despite the treaty, Russians and others from the west settled north of the Amur. Further Russian encroachment into the region occurred after 1850, and China ceded the lands north of the Amur (1858) and east of the Ussuri (1860) to Russia.


May 15, 1875, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The Advance of Russia in the Pacific.

The cession to Russia of the remainder of the Island of Saghalien, Sakhalin, or Upper Yesso marks another step in the slow but steady advance of that power on the Pacific. Geographically this latest acquisition is of little importance, nor is the telegraphic account of the matter altogether correct. The northern half of the island has been in the possession of Russia for several years, she having succeeded to the territorial rights of the former Chinese proprietors. The southern portion, which has been held by Japan, is that which has now been ceded.

Lying as this island does within six miles of the mainland, near the mouth of the Amur, and commanding the debouchement of that river, together with the important Russian colony of Nicolovayesk, it was absolutely necessary that she should hold the northern end of it, though her reasons for desiring the whole of the island, which is five hundred and eighty miles long, are not so easily explained, nor is the explanation likely to quiet apprehensions regarding the future of Japan.

Holding the entire island the Russians will soon be in a position to convert the Bay of Aniva, situated at its southern extremity, into a naval rendezvous and strong place; and from such a vantage spot they can, in a case of emergency, exert a very serious pressure upon Yesso, which lies close below. It is no longer possible to pretend that Russia has no aggressive policy in these waters, or that her movements do not threaten any independent powr. No one can study the history of her advance on the Pacific without perceiving that for two hundred and fifty years she has been pressing, with few intervals of respite, from Siberia toward the ocean, and that though she has in that period made more than one treaty relinquishing territory, she has always ended by absorbing all that had been relinquished, and by advancing still further. There is, indeed, something awe-inspiring in the calm, persistent, passionless advance of the great Northern power. It is like the progress of a glacier, but of a glacier endowed with a purpose.


It was in the year 1636 that a party of Cossacks who had been sent from Tomsk to the river Aldan to make the Tunguzians living there tributary, first informed the Russians of the existence of the Amur river. At this time the movement ocean-ward, which has been proceeding ever since, had already begun, though it was not until 1652 that the Moscow Government learned of the discovery, and sent an expedition to explore the river. The Amur then was the seat of tradition.

It was the Ultima Thvle, beyond which a wondrous region, rich in gold and silver, existed. It was the El Dorado of the period, and attracted its quota of daring and reckless adventurers. The first Russian expedition led to difficulties with the natives of Manchuria, which after several conflicts resulted in the Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed in 1689. By this pact the whole of the Amur was ceded to China. After this, however, the Russians gradually pushed their boundary outward, until in 1847 expeditions were fitted out in eastern Siberia to explore the Amur region. It was at this time that the principal existing colonies and forts were founded, and though the Crimean war temporarily checked the plans of Count Monravief, who was the projector of the later operations, the restoration of peace left him free to resume his colonization and fortification, which have proceeded ever since without interruption.

In 1858 the Amur regions were created into the Maritime Province of Eastern Siberia, and subsequently the Amur Province was separated from the Maritime Province. The Chinese at various times attempted resistance, but in vain, and today Russia has acquired in the neighborhood of the Amur a tract of territory larger than Great Britain, and by the recent cession of the Japanese half of the Island of Saghalien, she stands in a position of independent power on the Pacific.

There can be no longer any question of her purpose to build up there a new empire. For centuries she has yearned to be a maritime power, but the stern inclemency of her seaboard climate has condemned her to isolation in frozen seas, and has made all her efforts after naval supremacy futile. The Amur for the first time opened to her a free ard unfrozen ocean, and at the same time it presented advantages in the direction of settlement such as no other portion of her northern territories possessed. Between her and the enjoyment of these splendid openings for commerce, for ambition, for political power, there was only a feeble Chinese Government, and against such an obstacle the diplomacy of St. Petersburgh deemed itself competent to contend without calling in the aid of the sword.

The Russian conquests in Manchuria and along the seaboard of the Amur legion as far as Corea. have been won by that peculiar, evasive agent called moral pressure, represented in this particular case by Russian ships of war armed to the teeth, and disagreeably willing to employ the most radical methods of obtaining what they required. In the situation as it stands, however, there is room for thought, from the American standpoint. It has been the custom (and it was rather sharply complained of by Sir Rutherford Alcock) to regard Japan as in some special way under the protection of the United States, because of geographical propinquity. But, since Russia holds Saghalien and the Amur Provinces, she is nearer to Japan than any of the other powers, and there is some reason for suspecting that this fact is recognized, with all, or a good deal, that it implies, by the Japanese Government. For it has been observed by diplomatists at the Court ot the Mikado, during several years past, that Russia always gets her demands complied with more promptly than any other power, and this notwithstanding the fact that she keeps no agent at Yokohama. The Japanese have, no doubt, discovered that, while the Western powers always spend much time in negotiating, and dislike resorting to harsh measures, the Muscovite naval commanders appear to bear the loosest kind of commissions, and never wait to hear from their Government before executing threats.

Japanese Red Cross caring for enemy soldiers near the Amur River

Russia.Japanese Red Cross.

For good or for evil, however, Japan will henceforward be under the thumb of Russia whenever the latter may so choose, and if experience is worth anything it must be concluded that the Russian process of absorption has not yet reached its limits.

While in Central Asia the same polypus arms are wriggling forward toward Bokhara and Tashkend, threatening the Gate of India, and causing England to tremble for her Eastern Empire, they are being pushed as steadily forward on the Pacific, and are reaching out on the one side toward China, on the other toward Japan. In the case of any other Government than Russia it might be suggested that a desire for trade expansion was at the bottom of this policy of territorial aggrandisement. But Russia, almost alone among the nations, evinces no eagerness to dispute the palm of commerce with her neighbors, or if indeed her rulers entertain such an ambition they are content to devote generations to the opening up of the channels which are in the distant future to contribute to the enrichment of the Empire. Meantime Governments that do not cherish such far sighted aspirations may be pardoned if they feel somewhat doubtful conearning the pacific intentions of the Colossus of the North.

Sakhalin (Karafuto in Japanese) is a very long (c.a. 1000 km) narrow (200 km in its largest extent) island located between Japan and Russian Maritime Territory. It is separated from the Asian continent by a narrow strait.

In 1808, the Board of Directors of the Russian-American Company received permission from the Russian Government to found its own settlements on Sakhalin. In 1821, Emperor Alexander I granted new-privileges to the Russian-American Company and the southern cape of Urup is declared the extreme possession of the Russian Empire on the Kuril Islands.

During 1849, the Russian transport Baikal under command of G. I. Nevelskoy explored the mouth of the Amur River and its estuary. The southern entrance to the Amur estuary the straits between Sakhalin and the mainland is found by the Russian mariners and in 1850, G.I. Nevelskoy raised the Russian flag not far from the mouth of the Amur River and proclaims the Amur valley and Sakhalin a possession of Russia. The Russian-Japanese Treaty is signed in February 1855 in Shimoda stated that the boundaries between Russia and Japan passes between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu and Sakhalin remained unpartitioned between Russia and Japan.

The Sakhalin Region, in its present form, lies off the eastern coastline of mainland Russia, and includes the island of Sakhalin, the islands of Tyulenyi, Moneron, and the Kuril Islands. It is bordered by the waters of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, and the Pacific Ocean.

However, along with the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin is one of the territories disputed between Japan and Russia. Japanese explorer Mamiya Rinzo proved that Sakhalin should be an island and not a peninsula.

Dispute with China
A frontier dispute leads to fighting between China and Russia Russian peasants flee their village as Russian forces sail down the Amur to the relief of Blagovestchensk.

He circumnavigated the island to make a precise map and then crossed the strait to reach the Chinese trading post of Deleng at Amur River.

June 2, 1880, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.


From Peking no further news has been received about Chung How, and the alarming reports about the collision of Russia and Chinese troops in Ili and of the passage of the Amur by Chinese soldiers, remain, unconfirmed. It is said, however, that some distinct development of events is likely to be manifested in a few days' time.

H. B. M. gunboat Swinger received telegraphic orders on Wednesday night to proceed at once to Shanghai, and has left for that port. A large foreign fleet is now assembled in the Wangpoo river, ready for immediate service. It would seem that the Chinese orders for cannon, rifles and, ammunition sent to Europe are very large. The Shanghai, Nanking and Tientsin arsenals are working over time by express orders of Li, who has ordered new gun vessels, torpedo boats, etc., to be sent to China with all dispatch.

October 25, 1900, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Skirmishes Along Manchurian Road

St. Petersburg, Oct. 24. Skirmishes continue between the Russians and the Chinese at various points along the Manchurian railway. The Amur Gazette, which is published at Blagoventschensk, capital of the Amur government, asserts that the Chinese-bank of the Amur river will be offered to Russian settlers. It is reported that the construction of a railway between Blagoventschenslc and Tsitslkar haa been decided upon.

August 28, 1894, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Russia's New Penal "Hell."
Sakhalin, Death's Paradise, to Supplant Siberia as a Convict Colony.

Russia.Sakhalin. Japanese Version.

It has been decreed by the czar's government that Siberia is too good for oonvicts, and as soon as the new transSiberian railway has penetrated its gloomy depths it will be turned into a "paradise" for agricultural settlers and mining sharps, while nihilists and other refractory members of Russian society will In the future be accommodated on the island of Sakhalin, off the coast of Russian Manchuria, the eastern terminus of the tzar's possessions, north of Japan.

So horrible and revolting to civilized nations is Sakhalin that the czar only consented to its adoption as an open air prison after the assassination of Carnot and the discovery of the recent plots against his own life. The people and the convicts of Siberia never speak of the island other than "the hell of Sakhalin, " and its climate is said to be so much worse than that of Siberia as to rob this appellation of an exaggerated character, even in the mouths of these lost ones.

Russia.Sakhalin, Anton Chekov.

Heretofore Sakhalin has been pressed into service as an open air prison only in the most extreme cases, where capital punishment, by degrees, of course, was intended. Now that the exigencies of the great empire of the north demand the purification of Siberia all sentenced to deportation are carried off into the hellish wilderness without reference to the length of sentence, the nature of the crime or offenses they were accused of, without reference to sex or former status in society.

The governor of Manchuria has reported that a human being not born on the island cannot live more than a year there. There is no means of escape except in winter, when if a prisoner can manage to make his way 100 miles north form the prison it is possible to reach the mainland over the ice. The ice bridge is guarded. Still two or three prisoners have escaped by dodging behind masses of snow and ice, or, what is far more probable, by bribing officials.

The Shah of Persia

At the present moment the most interesting colonist of Sakhalin is Sophia Bluhstein. She first achieved criminal renown by pressing her attentions upon the shah of Persia (image right) during the latter's visit to St. Petersburg.

Sophia had avowedly no intention of adding his majesty to her list of admirers, bnt sought his acquaintance merely for the purpose of relieving him, if possible, of some of his diamonds. She was foiled in her efforts, but succeeded in having her private car attached to the shah's special train. For this piece of enterprise she was banished to Siberia for a year and while there organized a band of cutthroats and robbers, whose services she controlled on the continent after their terms had expired. She is said to bo the sharpest criminal living, and in sending her to Sakhalin the Russian government claims to have conferred a lasting benefit upon the wealthy classes.

St. Louis Republic.

August 28, 1905, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California

Destroy Guard Station
Rear Admiral Reports Bombardment on River Amur

By Associated Press.

TOKIO, Aug. 27, 2:30 p. m. Rear Admiral Kataoka has reported to the navy department that a division sent by him to the mouth of the river Amur, bombarded and destroyed two Russian guard stations, Zharef and Lazareba, which were situated south of the embouchure of the Amur and which had been recently reinforced.

Russia.Russia. RUSSIA. Baltic Provinces.
Caucasus, Georgia, Vistula (Poland), Livonia, Courland.
George Butler. 1888.

Provenance: "The Public Schools Atlas of Modern Geography" Edited with an Introduction on the Study of Geography by the Rev. George Butler, Published by Longmans, Green, and Co., London.
Please note that virtually all antique and vintage maps and prints have been extracted from books, atlases or newspapers and reproduced. This particular map measures 24.5x31.5cm/9.5x12.15 in. It is a folding map.

Folktales of the Amur: Stories from the Russian Far EastFolktales of the Amur. Folktales of the Amur.

Dmitrii Nagishkin, Darlene Geis

Thirty-one traditional tales from the far eastern part of Russia tell of life along the banks of the Amur River.

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I have a first edition and while I've parted with many things, never this! The art is alive. It is absolutely beautiful.

Illustrations can be viewed at Cizgili Masalli's blog

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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