The Doukhobor Connection


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Jim Currie

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Doukhobors are a Russian religious sect which have their origins in the Russian Caucuses. The sect lived in communes - shared everything and did not believe in formal education or state control. They were, I suppose, for want of a clear description: a sort of Christian/Socialist/Communistic/Anarchist group.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were forced into exile by Imperial Russia.
Most immigrated to Canada. Many boarded ships which carried them round the coast of Europe to the UK where they transshipped for the New World.
By far the busiest ports of entry during this migration were Halifax and Montreal.

In February 1912, the Gorelkin or Horelkin family, consisting of Father Aleksandr, mother Maria and 4 children set out for Canada to join relatives and members of the sect already in Saskatchewan,Canada. The identities of only one child is publicly known - Polly or Pelageya. She celebrated her 8th birthday on the 23rd February that year.
Polly lived to a ripe old age - she was still alive in Canora, Saskatchewan in 1998. All her life, Polly told the story of how her family were held back in Liverpool for 4 weeks by the Quarantine Authorities and that because of this, they missed the boat, lost their luggage and had to catch a later ship.
On the voyage across the Atlantic, the ship was stopped in ice. While stopped, Polly saw a near by ship letting off fireworks.

On her 94th birthday, Polly told the story again to the local press. reading this story, it is obvious that some slick reporter immediately made a connection to the Titanic affair and the part Californian played in it. The Canora Courier published the story complete with Titanic embellishment.

If we think about this: In 1912, Polly was a young girl on a great adventure. She was a member of a sect which did not encourage formal education. She could not speak, read or write English. If you log-on to the Doukhobor
Web site, it will immediately be clear that those people were hard working, devout Christians who believed in the principals of truth and the spirit of humanity. I find it hard to believe they were given to fantasy. It follows that I believe Polly did see some kind of 'fire works display'. Where was she when she saw it?

Subsequent interference with the original story places the Gorlekin family on the Californian which they boarded at Liverpool. Polly is also credited with have said that she was told by the crew that the captain of their ship was wakened but refused to do anything. Pretty good for a non-english speaking peasant girl with a Russian only speaking father!

The records of the Doukhobors show that this family did board Californian at Liverpool - where did this information come from?

On the basis of there's 'no smoke without fire', I suggest this tale requires verification - who knows? Perhaps Captain Lord was lying and he did have 6 passengers on that trip. Perhaps those passengers did not know the difference between Liverpool and London?
On the other hand, perhaps there might be a record of those people boarding another ship at that time? Now that would be a 'can of worms' as they say!

As an aside - the leader of the sect was named 'Lordly'.....

A well-worth visit is: www.doukhobor.org
The details are all there plus much, much more

Jim
 
Mar 22, 2003
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>>A well-worth visit <<

If you like to read fiction.

"Verigin recalls running around and playing on deck when the crew spotted flares on the horizon. Her father hoisted her up to his shoulder so she could have a better view...."

Yeh right! An 8 year old running around on deck in the freezing cold 3/4 of an hour past midnight? Tell me another one.
 

Jim Currie

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Hi Sam!

I was referring to the Doukhobor site itself and the history within it - not the published story itself. That was less a work of fiction- more like a re-hash of what was said at the Enquiries. One might ask: who wrote her script for her?

She recalled it as you say but she did so in Russian-not english! Are you suggesting the whole thing was a figment of her imagination (in Russian)?

As for her running about the deck in the middle of the night in the freezing cold? I take it you've never been to Russia in winter? Now that's cold! Actually, if you take time to read the history, you will find they went to Cyprus but found it too warm - even in winter. They chose the Canadian Prairies and BC because the climate there was nearer to what they were used to.
We don't know anything about how those people felt cramped below decks in an immigrant ship. Perhaps running about the deck was a way of getting lively, bored kids tired enough so they could sleep?

You may be pleased to know; since I wrote that last piece, I have traced the Gorelkins to Liverpool as the girl said - even found them as passengers leaving there for Canada but still have to narrow the search to the actual ship and date of departure. It certainly was not Californian. Once that's done then we can say for sure that Polly was recalling something that had nothing to do with Titanic and that someone had put the idea of it and Californian into her impressionable young mind.

I will keep you posted,

Jim.

PS her married name was Verigin - quite common among the Doukhobors.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello again Sam!

Latest up-date:

I have found the Horelkin family boarding the White Star Dominion Line TS Victoria at Liverpool on the 27th.April,1912 and heading for Montreal. So all those who maintain there was not another vessel near Californian can heave a sigh of relief! In addition: Young Polly seems to have got her age a wee bit mixed up - she wasn't 8 in 1908 but four in that year. At least that's what the passenger departure list tells me.
At the time wee Polly Horelkin nee Verigin was running around the deck in the middle of the night, Titanic had been lying on the sea bed for 12 days. Perhaps she saw another ship firing off rockets?

I think a note to the Doukhobor web-site and the Canora Courier might be in order!

Cheers!

Jim.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>I find it hard to believe they were given to fantasy.<<

Some would argue that religious belief of any kind is the ultimate fantasy, and such people may not be far off the mark either.

Be that as it may, if anybody wants to determine whether or not this charming story passed the smell test of actual history, they need to hit primary sources to

a) Find out what ship this was supposed to be,

b) Where this ship actually was on the night of April 14th to 15th 1912, and

c) Determine by credible documentary evidence whether or not this family was even on board that particular ship at the time if said vessel was even there in the first place.

Jim managed to do just that only to find out that there were holes in this tale big enough to drive an aircraft carrier through.

The moral of the story: Beware anecdotal evidence, especially if it's nearly a century old.
 

Jim Currie

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Well put Michael! That was exactly what I set-out to do.

After many years in the investigation (marine) business, I find that even the most insignificant or even downright fantasy-like evidence can often hide a little fact that is the missing last part of a giant jig-saw. Consequently, I never stick to 'the letter' or am completely satisfied until proof beyond a doubt is obtained. I am a firm believer in the old 'no smoke without fire' idea.
As a former seaman yourself, you will know that there is nothing like being cooped up in a ship in close contact with others to give you a very good idea of how other's think. The term 'seaman's yarn'comes to mind.

In Polly Verigin nee Gorelkin's story, the word 'truth' should not be confused with fact. I suggest that those journalists behind her written story have to answer to the family of old Polly.
By padding-out her story and making the direct connection with the Titanic, a myth has been created and , until now, perpetuated in good faith.
I swithered whether to contact the Boukhobor historians with my findings but then thought of the historians on this site who are constantly striving to discover additional facts, eliminate myths and get the Titanic story in proper perspective. I therefore have passed on my findings to them in order that they may amend their records accordingly.
Whether the Boukhobor historians will pass-on the latest revelations to the descendents of Polly or not, I do not know. Perhaps they might just decide to amend their records and let future generations of Gorelkins work it out for themselves. Otherwise the Gorelkin Clan have lost one of the family's claim's to fame. I'm sure we all had an old auntie who told of how, in days gone by, someone in the family was there when 'it' all happened.

The line has been drawn!

Regards,

Jim.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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>>I'm sure we all had an old auntie who told of how, in days gone by, someone in the family was there when 'it' all happened. <<

And they usually refer to them 'as those good old days.' I guess that's because most people tend to remember the good and try and forget about what was bad.

By the way, talking about a Russian winter, I've been in Minneapolis once when it was about -20F outside. Not fun at all walking off the plane. It hits you in the throat and lungs as soon as you take your first breath of air.

Let us know if they decide to fix their website with the truth.
 

Jim Currie

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Will do Sam!


Still remember those 'bad old days' - loved them!

Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, Hoppalong Cassidy, Gabby Hayes. Flash Gordon (the original) The Bowery Boys.
Mutual respect.
Kids with respect-(bashed into them by sadistic teachers (who could teach) and evil parents who tanned their backsides when they earned it.
When the 'goodies' always prevailed over the 'baddies'
When old ladies, young girls and kids could safely walk the streets and when honesty was indeed the best policy.

Still remember the war too!

There's a comedy side to it as well. We used to say our family was so poor that we could not afford meat - my Mum just took home the butcher's apron to wash it at the week-end and made stock for soup out of the laundry water.

Jim.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Whether the Boukhobor historians will pass-on the latest revelations to the descendents of Polly or not, I do not know.<<

Don't count on it. The "Stay The Course" mentality is hardly the sort of nonsense which politricksters have a monopoly on. If the story itself is a cracking good yarn, don't count on anything as trivial as "The Facts" getting in the way of toeing the line.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Your Mum made soup from the butcher's apron, Jim? Sheer bloody luxury! Our Mum had to make do with the greengrocer's apron. :)
 

John Clifford

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If the story itself is a cracking good yarn, don't count on anything as trivial as "The Facts" getting in the way of toeing the line.
Reminds me of what one of my teachers said: "If everybody who said their ancestors came over on the Mayflower was correct, there would have been 10,000 people on that ship!!"
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Sometimes this folklore turns out to have enough basis in fact to seem to have some truth at the bottom of it. My family has always had a vague idea that we spring (partly of course) from a liaison between a middle-aged childless Earl, and a servant girl. There was, indeed, such an earl, and when he died, he tried to leave much of his estate to his illegitimate son - but no chance in the 19thC. It all went to his nephew after a court case. However, he was very fond of his son and the girl, and gave them valuable stuff (long since pawned / sold), and one does feel for them all. It can't have been easy for them, or the earl's childless wife.

My more republican friends will be pleased to know that I am only one of scores in direct descent, and we all just plodded away as servants, and only got properly educated in the 20thC. Hearteningly, whatever brains we all possess seem to have filtered down through a series of frighteningly entrepreneurial grannies, great-grannies, great-great-grannies etc., none of whom had much connection to a toff.

So, boys, if you want successful children who can support you in your old age - marry a smart woman, no matter if she isn't beautiful, and have daughters. Research suggests this is true. I only have sons .....
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Still remember those 'bad old days' - loved them!

Me too! Gene Autry, of White Hat and "Here Comes Santa Claus" fame, did some great pornographic work over Mexican border radio during the early stages of his career:

which would be all but forgotten, now, had someone with a home recording device not captured a few performances for posterity. Border radio was great- companies which manufactured products that could not be legally advertised in the U.S. would construct a radio station two inches over the line in Mexico, then broadcast with enough (illegal in the US) strength to knock everything within a radius of several hundred miles off the air during transmission. My father recalls, fondly, that on cold clear winter nights you could occasionally pick up Mexican border radio in New York. Further south, where it was a constant presense, you'd be prepared for a lovely radio evening with Fred Waring and, instead, be treated to Gene Autry singing "Bye Bye Cherry" on a show promoting something which could not be legally advertised here.

Of course, back then people had devilishly compromised short term memories and an almost quaint will to believe* which assured that once Autry was a star, memory banks would be collectively purged of his earlier work. The flip side of that being if anyone HAD produced those recordings during Autry's heyday, there would have been a career ending public upheaval.

When those recordings surfaced, they had to be released as 'unknown cowboy singing in the style of Gene Autry,' because Autry was still alive, was willing to sue, and had far better lawyers than the niche-market companies which distributed the records. Upon his death, the mask was dropped: the songs are now available on his officially sanctioned box set!

*(in our community we had TWO serial killers who prayed on children 1915-1940. One, never caught, eviscerated children from the Italian community for over a decade, while the other, Albert Fish, who killed and ate children, may have killed over a hundred in a 'career' which ran 1890-1934. YET, old people STILL talk about the 1920s and how 'It was safe to let your children walk the streets' despite the presense of a pedophile cannibal in the community)

The actual past one turns up, when one starts digging, is so much more interesting than the sanititized one oral tradition passes down. The dozen or more surviving OUR DAUGHTERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL WHORES public safety films from 1939-1945 ("Wayward in a manless, fatherless, society" being a great line. If the society was manless, with whom were they having sex?) were not created for entertainment. Likewise, the film in which an overprotective harridan of a mother rages at her son's doctor "HOW CAN HE HAVE A VENEREAL DISEASE? HE never GOES WITH GIRLS!" is a classic of its sort. (The doctor reassures her that her son's homosexuality is an easily treated mental illness)

Occasionally, the real world crept into the garbage Hollywood churned out 1934-1965. In the morale boosting WW2 film THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU, the evil sister urges her pregnant younger sibling to 'do something' about the baby she was carrying ("Let's be honest, Janny. Dave isnt going to come back, and no man is going to want you with another man's child.") while both sisters were holding knitting needles. That particular prop, a common kitchen table abortionist's tool, would have telegraphed what was REALLY being said, to every adult in the theatre.

It makes it a lot easier to be optimistic about today's world, if one spends time exploring that of yesterday, since most of the problems of 2010 would have been VERY familiiar to a resident of 1939.
 

John Clifford

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>>Mayflower was correct, there would have been 10,000 people on that ship!!" <<

You mean, there weren't??????

Sorry to have to dispel that 'Myth', Mr. Standart.
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Yes, it can be a miserable job, but "someone's got to do it".
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To accomplish that feat, the Mayflower would have had to have been twice the size of an aircraft carrier.
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John Clifford

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And here I was ready to make a claim for bragging rights!
Well, we can still have the "Longevity Contest": between you, Ms. Hall, Mr. Baber, and Mr. Tiller.
The contest will be to see which one of you outlasts the others, in dealing with "The Pleasantries of 'E.T. Moderating'".
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That may be more fun that dealing with "Can certain 'chemical combinations' really cause my home improvement project to 'go up in smoke'??"
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Jul 9, 2000
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>>That may be more fun that dealing with "Can certain 'chemical combinations' really cause my home improvement project to 'go up in smoke'??" <<

That's one of those "Don't get me started" catagories right there. Compared to the silly jury rigs which people want to resort to in order to hook up a gas space heater, the Californian matter is positively non-explosive!
 

Simon Koncz

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The schooner Bonus struck ice on the 25/5/12, off Cp. St Francis. 47 45 N 52 45 W.
She was described as a partial loss.
 
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