Lucy Atkinson and the Basnins

A little addendum to my note below about Thomas and his relationship with Vasily Basnin who, by 1850, had become mayor of Irkutsk. Today I checked Lucy’s book, Recollections of Tartar Steppes, for any mention of the Basnin family. Sure enough, several references come up. The first, rather irreverent (but warm) mention is dated March 1852 and although not named, it is clear that she is writing about the Basnin family:

A most hospitable and amiable family here I have not yet mentioned, and still scarcely a Sunday passes but we dine with them; he is a merchant, and, besides, mayor of the town, we have given him the honourable appellation of ‘lord mayor.’ He is a very clever man, and, being a merchant, has had every opportunity of collecting valuable Chinese ornaments; he has also a splendid library, besides extensive hot-houses. He spends enormous sums of money in collecting plants, and (would you credit it?) he understands nothing about them! The only benefit he derives from his large outlay is to walk through his hot-houses after dinner, and smoke his cigar. Not one of the family has any real love for flowers. His eldest daughter is a clever girl, but with no taste for horticulture; she is, however, an excellent musician, and many a pleasant hour do we spend in hearing her play. The wife is no lover of flowers; indeed I do not know what she is a lover of: she belongs to the old school of Siberian wives, that is, she is literally, an automaton, seldom seen by visitors, and never visiting. I believe the old lady talks to me more than she does to anyone, and her confidence in me is great. This being the first winter her daughter mixes in society, she has begged of me to take charge of her.

Would you like to know how these hot-houses are managed? The mayor has a friend, a counsellor, who undertakes the whole arrangement, and I can assure you he does it well. The one likes to have the shrubs and plants from vanity, and, having a well-stocked purse, is able to gratify it; the other loves them for themselves, and, not having the pecuniary means of gratifying his passion, is able to do so by serving a friend, and thus they are mutually satisfied. But it is quite amusing to see the ‘lord mayor’ asking permission to cut his own flowers, or even to gather a strawberry.”

The second mention is in January 1853 from Barnaul in the Altai region, where Lucy mentions the difficulty of finding appropriate headwear for a ball to which she had been invited: “The last ball I was at I was a little troubled how to arrange for a head-dress: I had never bought one; what on earth should I have done with flowers whilst travelling? In Irkoutsk I managed capitally, as Miss Basnin sent me fresh flowers each time I went out, I was the only one so indulged. Here we cultivated some in our rooms, and I had used the last; what was to be done? I would willingly have gone without, but that could not be. A sudden idea crossed my husband’s mind, so I sent to Miss Annossoff for some ivy leaves, when he made me a beautiful wreath interspersed with red berries made from sealing-wax on the heads of pins, it really looked nice.”

So there you have it. Miss Basnin, probably Vasily’s daughter Lydia, regularly sent fresh flowers to Lucy every time she attended a social occasion in Irkutsk. The mention of flowers confirms it is the same family and at the same time confirms the closeness of the relationship. As she says, “I was the only one so indulged”.

Further confirmation of the close relationship between the Atkinsons and the Basnins can be found in Thomas’ diary for 1851, which contains the following note:

A list of our effects left in Irkoutsk 23rd May with Mr Basnin, the mayor:

  1. A view on the Altin Kool with frame and glass
  2. The General’s picture with paper etc
  3. Leather folio with two views and two unfinished.
  4. A large wood case with four views. Boxes, etc
  5. Ditto. With three views and paper laid down.

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