After breakfast we complete our inspection of the factory under the able guidance of the director--who, lame though he is, displays an untiring energy that might shame many a stronger man--and the pleasant and well-informed analyst, Dr. Schmidt. After mastering as thorougly as our unscientific minds can do it the process by which the mineral oil is separated from the water, and the various consistencies of oil from each other, we depart well satisfied, in order to pursue our researches elsewhere. But these need not be described at length.|
I must not, however, leave unnoticed the factory of "Mirzoeff's Sons" in the town itself, which deserves mention if only for the sake of its well-kept laboratory, which might satisfy a Cambridge Professor of Chemistry. The director of the works is an inventor likewise, and he showed me an excellent temperature gauge of his own devising, as well as a glass tube containing alternate layers of clay and sand, as a kind of chart of the soil through which the borings are being carried.
One of the guests at dinner was an inventor of another kind, viz., M. Dmitrieff, the self-taught author of The Calendar of Illumination. While we were at table a friend of our host entered with the news that a compact had just been concluded with Austria by which the Baku petroleum might be sent through to Vienna without hindrance or delay--a piece of news eagerly seized by my obliging introducer, Dr. Panchenko, who is a leading contributor to one of the two daily papers which Baku possesses.
On the fourth day after our arrival we drive out to Balakhani to see the petroleum wells themselves. Of these no fewer than 58 belong to the firm of Nobel Brothers, the Rothschilds of Baku, who, if the Custom House register can be depended upon, must be exporting as much as all the other firms put together.
Despite the glorious sunshine above and the bright blue sea below, the whole landscape is desolate in the extreme, for king petroleum, like most other monarchs, announces his presence by desolation.
Along a "road," which is nothing more than a dusty, uneven ditch, we bump and jolt up and down in succession of bare parched ridges, freckled with tufts of that prickly tamrisk which met me at every turn three years ago in Afghanistan.
Yonder to the left lies a deep hollow, white with the leprous whiteness of a half-dried salt lake, such as one sees so often in the great deserts of Central Asia. Indeed, the whole scene is thoroughly Asiatic, and effect heightened by the wild figures in loose frocks snd high caps of black or brown sheepskin that come past every now and then, some striding barefoot through the dust, others perched on donkeys between two water jars or baskets of grapes, and others still in big cage-like native carts, while far in the distance half a dozen slowly moving camels add the finishing touch to the picture.
"Before we had our pipes laid down," says our chaperon, M. Pöhl, whose fluent English might well make any one doubt that he had really been born in Russia, "we used to send down our naphtha in casks, slung by those chains you see under the carts.
"Now, if you look out to the left you'll see our works at Balakhani, just like a row of sentry boxes." The comparison is a very apt one for the tall, windmill-shaped flankings which cover the various "fountains." We are soon in among them, winding between the box-like stone hovels of the Asiatic workmen, which, with their thick walls pierced by a narrow window-hole here and there, look like fortresses built by an army of dwarfs.
But the house of the Swedish manager himself is even more startling to Western eyes. All along the spacious veranda, which is almost as big as the platform of a railway station, the wall is painted with brightly colored frescoes in the most approved style of Persian art. On one side the Shah is seen enthroned in full Court dress, while three or four queerly dressed men are timidly offering him presents of fruit. In another place Rustam, the Persian Hercules, is slicing like a cucumber the poor Ak Deev (White Demon.) Further on, two men are wrestling with iron spikes attached to their knees, while the corners are filled up with dark-eyed Persian beauties in gay robes and saucer-shaped caps.
Mr. Sangren, the manager, is not at home when we arrive, but he is ably replaced by his colleague, who is also from "old Sweden," although he has not seen it for more than 20 years. With a briskness which many a younger man might envy, he marches us through the great jungle of hissing pipes, steaming caldrons, and clanking machines, halting at length before a row of objects very much like monstrous iron helmets hacked and split in some desperate battle.
"Those are just the caps through which the petroleum jets pass as they spurt up from the fountain," he explains, in fluent Russian, "and these that you have see have been broken by the friction of the sand which the jet has forced into them with a pressure of 100 pounds to the square inch.
"You'd hardly believe what power these jets have. You saw that big stone on Mr. Sangren's veranda, which you could hardly lift with both hands? Well, that was chucked up like a pebble by one of our fountains, which kept spouting for days and days in spite of all we could do to stop it. We heaped stones upon it and sacks full of sand, but it scattered them all over the place like a mitrailleuse and shook the very earth all round.
"Another time a fountain belonging to one of our neighbors caught fire and blazed away for eight days, so that you could read a letter here at midnight quite easily."
"What system of boring have you adopted here," ask I, as we turn away from our inspection of the thick, yellow streams which are rushing like gigantic beer taps from the gaping iron mouths.
"We have two--the Galitzin system, with iron rods, and the American system, with chains. The American is the quickest, but not quite so sure, because the chains are apt to get twisted. As to our tubes, we run down a 12½-inch first, then a 10-inch, and then an 8, which is our smallest bore.
"The petroleum lies very variably, for of two borers as close together as those two yonder the one may find plenty and the other none at all, but for the most part it lies nearest the surface up here on the hilltop, and the further you go toward the plain the deeper you have to bore.
"We have struck oil at 37 fathoms, but the general average is from 50 to 80, and once or twice of late we have had to go as deep as 100 or 103."
This last statement suddenly recalls to my mind the verdict just given by a noted Russian scientist, who, having made a personal inspection of the Baku wells, has declared against the exportation of the petroleum to foreign countries on the ground that the supply is by no means so inexhaustible as it is generally supposed to be. Can he be right, after all?
But our stouthearted conductor seems little troubled by any apprehensions of the sort. "It's only the higher deposits that we have touched as yet," says he, "there's plenty more down below. More than once, when one of our fountains seemed to be completely exhausted, we have only had to bore through the layer of sand immediately below it, and out sprang a second jet, finer than the first.
"No, I don't think we shall run dry just yet."
"Do you think it would pay an American capitalist to settle here and establish a factory of his own?" inquire I, as we turn back toward the manager's house.
"Well, it's rather hard to say positively; it might, or it might not. But I'll tell you what would pay to a certainty, and that would be for some American manufacturer who was skilled in making iron tubings and things of that sort just to settle here in Baku, and do that and nothing else.
"You see, the duties upon all imported articles of that kind are so crushingly heavy that if we could have our things manufactured on the spot by an experienced hand there would be a run upon them directly, and as for the iron and the fuel they're both ready to hand. That's what I should do if I were an American and wanted to make my fortune.
D. K. [DAVID KER]
The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1884 was equivalent to $23.90 in 2008.
The New York Times, February 18, 1902:|
2,000 DEAD AT SHEMAKHA
Details of the Great Earthquake Slowly Reaching Baku.
4,000 Houses Destroyed--Surrounding Villages Also Suffered--A Volcano in Active Eruption.
BAKU, Feb. 17--Details which are slowly reaching Baku from Shemakha, which is about seventy miles from here, show that 2,000 persons, mostly women and children, perished as a result of the earthquake last week, and that 4,000 houses were destroyed.
Thirty-four villages in the country surrounding Shemakha also suffered.
A volcano near the village of Marasy, eastward of Shemakha, has broken out into active eruption, and has added to the terrors of the neighborhood. A great crevasse has appeared, whence immense flames and streams of lava are being thrown out. The course of the River Geonchaika has been altered in consequence of its bed being dammed with earth dislodged by the earthquake.
Battalions of guards and detachments of sappers, with tents, have been dispatched to Shemakha to aid in the work of rescue...
Shemakha is a formerly important but latterly comparatively insignificant town in Transcaucasia, on the Zaglolavai, an affluent of the Peersagat, which falls into the Caspian Sea. On the high road to India, it is situated in a mountainous, picturesque country, covered with luxuriant vegetation, 2,230 feet above the level of the Black Sea, and has numerous ruins of large caravansaries, churches, and public buildings. Shemakha is the capital of the Khanate of Shirvan, and was known to Ptolemy as Kamachia. It was conquered by the Persians in 1501 under Shah Ismail I.
About the middle of the sixteenth century an English commercial factory was maintained at Shemakha by the traveler Jenkinson, who become Envoy Extraordinary of the Khan of Shirvan to Ivan the Terrible. In 1712 the town was sacked by the Lesghians, and eight years later by a certain Daghestan, Ala-ud-Daula, who was recognized later as the Khan of Shirvan. In 1724 the Khanate was taken by Turkey, and in 1742 Shemakha was taken and destroyed by Nadir Shah of Persia, who, to punish the inhabitants for their Sunnite creed, built a new town under the same name about sixteen miles to the west, at the foot of the main chain of the Caucasus. The new town was at times a residence of the Khan, but was finally abandoned. The old town was rebuilt under the rule of Mahmud Seyyid.
In 1795 Shemakha was captured by the Russians, who had been there once before, in 1723, but was shortly afterward abandoned, and Shirvan was not finally annexed to Russia until November 1805, after the voluntary submission of its last Khan, Mustapha.
In recent times Shemakha has suffered severely from earthquake. In 1859 the Governor's seat was moved to Baku because of a shock, and in 1872 a still more terrible shock occurred, from which the town never recovered. Before that year, there were 130 Armenian silk-winding industries there. In addition to the rearing of silkworms, Shemakha produced cotton, wheat, and rice, and maintained several tanneries and dyeing works.
The population of Shemakha is said to be about 22,000.
Some great earthquakes in the past were:
At Catania, Sicily, which in 1114 A.D. was overturned, and 15,000 persons were buried.
At Cilicia, Asia Minor, in September 1268, when 60,000 persons perished.
At Lisbon, in 1531, when 1,500 houses were overturned and 30,000 persons buried.
At Naples and the vicinity in 1626, when thirty villages were destroyed and 70,000 lives were lost.
At Lisbon in 1755, when an earthquake in eight minutes destroyed the greater part of the city, and 50,000 inhabitants lost their lives. Several neighboring towns suffered severely, and half of Fez, Morocco, was destroyed, with more than 12,000 Arabs.
In Charleston, S.C., 1886, when forty-one lives were lost and $5,000,000 worth of property was destroyed.
In Japan in 1981, when an earthquake killed 4,000 persons, injured 5,000 others, and destroyed 50,000 houses.