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"Wanderer's" description of

A Stay in Tiflis in the late XIXth century

copied from his Notes on the Caucasus
(London: Macmillan & Co., 1883; p. 40 onwards)

wanderer avigdor notes on the caucasus london macmillan 1883


Walter Tschudi Lyall (1832-1903)

Born in Findon, Sussex in 1832, he was the eldest son of the Reverend Alfred Lyall and Mary Drummond, daughter of James Broadwood. Educated at Eton, he showed little aptitude for academic study, entering the military service after school, from where he obtained a HEIC cadetship in 1849 to the 6th Bengal Light Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army. With an adventurous spirit and a taste for the outdoor life he took to India immediately, and was instrumental in encouraging his two younger brothers to join him there. Both chose careers in the Indian civil service rather than the military service, ultimately leading to governorships of the North-West Provinces and the Punjab respectively, both also receiving knighthoods for their services.

Walter, however, was cut from a different cloth. While on leave in England he contracted a disastrous marriage to Mary Streeter, a farmer's daughter, and subsequently resigned his commission in 1855. Walter commanded a levy of 100 native soldiers during the Indian Mutiny in 1857. With the help of sponsors, he tried his hand at establishing a tea plantation in the Himalayan foothills in the 1860s. He was also a renowned game-hunter, nick-named 'the Bhagee', and explored in the Himalayas. He was described by General MacIntyre (Hindu-Koh p. 69) as "one of the best mountain-hunters, and about as cool a hand as I ever met, and quite a character in his way". His face was scarred under the eye by the claw of a man-eating leopard. He took part in the Umbeyla Campaign of 1863-4.

When the tea plantation failed he travelled extensively in Russia and Persia, abandoning his wife and causing the extended Lyall family much consternation. They used their collective influence and connections to find him a position in the diplomatic service. As a consequence he received an appointment as Acting British Consul to Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi in Georgia) in 1874. He was present during the Russo-Turkish Campaign of 1877, submitting an official report on it to the British government. He adopted the pen-name ‘Wanderer’ while in India, using it in published correspondence with various newspapers and journals.

Following his residency in Tiflis Walter was appointed as British Consul to French Guiana in February 1884, residing at Cayenne. In July of the same year he was appointed Consul for Texas and New Mexico, residing at Galveston. Here he was much involved in the sailing fraternity. His final appointment was to Santos, Brazil in 1891, where he served as British Consul for the provinces of Sao Paolo and Pirana until his retirement from the diplomatic service around 1893. He returned to England, where he died in 1903.

(N.B. This page, misled by the hand-written inscription on the title page above, initially credited the following notes to Elim D'Avigdor, who apparently also used the pen-name "Wanderer". Many thanks to Tony Anderson via Peter Skinner for pointing out this mistake. A B March 2017.)



Tiflis society—Public amusements—Baths—Manners and customs, etc.

Tiflis is a considerable town, partly European, partly Asiatic, built along the river Koura or Cyrus, in a hollow between barren hills. It is situated in about as inconvenient a position as could possibly have been chosen to construct a capital city in, more especially as there are fine open plains on each side of the river a mile higher up.

The reason of this is that certain hot mineral baths, situated in a narrow gorge, below steep mountains, being much appreciated by the Georgians and Persians, who, like all Northern Asiatics, detest cold ablutions, the original town formed itself around them.

To the original Asiatic town the Russians have added a European one,—much better built, by the way, than the majority of Russian cities chez eux, being largely planned by foreigners, and constructed by Greek and Persian masons. Tiflis, which already covers three or four times the area it did at the commencement of the century, is improving and progressing yearly. It has four fairly good hotels (French), two large clubs, a theatre, and racecourse, and three public gardens, besides numerous German beer gardens, and suchlike. It is already in communication by railway with the seaports of Poti and Batoum on the Black Sea, and will very shortly be linked with the Caspian.

The foreign element—as those great men our newspaper correspondents put it—is well represented, specimens of most, if not all, European and many Asiatic nations being always on hand.

In the cafés of the European portion the traveller will discover French, Italians, Germans, Austrians, Poles, civilised Armenians, Greeks, etc., and occasional Servians, Moldavians, Hungarians, Turks, and Syrians ; while in the caravansaries [sic.] of the native town he will, if he chooses to take the trouble and can talk Turkish, find no difficulty in unearthing representatives of most North Asiatics, Khorassans, Persians, Turkomans, Kirghiz, Kalmuk, and Nogai Tartars, and even occasional Khivans, Kokhandes, and Afghans. Of Europeans, next to Russians, Germans muster strongest, next come Poles, then French, Italians, and last English, who, though they have designed and executed most of the public works, railways, etc., are least common of any.

The society of Tiflis is composed of the staff of the Viceroy, on which officers of high family and rank are always to be found serving ; of the civil authorities, the governor, vice-governor, judges, municipal councillors, etc. ; of the local nobility (the Georgian princes and their families) ; of the officers of the general staff, most of whom are, professionally and socially, very superior men ; lastly, of wealthy contractors and merchants, chiefly Armenians, and the officers of the various line regiments.

As might be expected, there is not much "solidarity" in Tiflis society. People are friendly enough outwardly when they meet, and do not sit glaring at each other without speaking unless formally introduced (as Englishmen do in clubs and elsewhere) ; yet Russians somehow usually dislike Germans ; Germans dislike and affect to despise Russians ; both hate Armenians, and the feeling is reciprocated.

Poles, again, hate and despise Russians, Germans, and Armenians,—everybody, in fact, often including each other individually. Mahometans in the Russian service often keep aloof. The Georgians are, I think, the most tolerant, and on the whole get on best with everybody.

To foreigners, especially if matinal in their habits, Tiflis society presents the drawback of being too exclusively nocturnal.

Polite Russians—and Tiflis is Russianised—rise from 10 to 11 A.M., drink tea, smoke a cigarette or two, and go to their offices, where they do a great deal more smoking and chatting, and a little work, returning home about 2 or 3 P.M. to dine. After dinner—sometimes a lengthy affair—they sleep, many of them actually undressing and going to bed till 6 or 7 P.M., when they arise, and have evening tea, which, with smoking and talking to visitors who drop in, brings them on to 9 o'clock, when it is time to go out for the evening (either to a club or a private party), where dancing, conversation, and card-playing goes on always till 12 or 1 o'clock, often till 3 or 4 A.M. The upshot is that a foreigner who wishes to be "in the swim" must adopt Russian ways, and this, for a man who cannot sleep after 7 A.M. and is accustomed to breakfast early, and get through his work in the morning, means an entire change of habits.

Nor is this all, for much of the procrastination and dawdling of Russian officials is notoriously owing to their way of making amusement a primary and business a secondary consideration ; and this the intelligent foreigner will find is contagious.

The result is that few foreigners mix much with Russians ; those who do so often finding reason to repent having done so.

The above façon de vivre, strange to say, does not seem to interfere so much with military as with civil efficiency. Russian militaires are not much troubled with parades, discipline, or "duty" generally. Parades, if held at all, are arranged for the evening, or are held under the adjutant (almost always some hard-working officer without interest, not in "society," who does all the work of and virtually commands the regiment), while the swell colonel and his field-officers are flirting, card-playing, or asleep—it would be wrong to say "never putting on uniform," for Russian officers are rarely out of it, but never seeing the regiment except on field-days and gala occasions.

This peculiarity, by the way, of being perpetually in uniform, is one of the standing "shams" peculiar to Russia. Not only actual militaires, but all sorts of subordinates, doctors, telegraph clerks, railway employés, etc., who have nothing to do with the army, wear swords and showy uniforms ; all which, catching the eye of a "tourist," leads him to gather that Russians are a tremendously warlike lot, always in harness, devoted to their profession, etc., whereas the very reverse is nearer the mark.

However, to return to our moutons, viz. Tiflis society, clubs, and card parties. The clubs are in reality "casinoes," frequented by ladies, at which dancing goes on every evening, and at which occasional grand balls and big dinners are held.

The "swell" club is the Krojook [actually "Krujok", "little circle", on Rustaveli Avenue—A.B.] ; next comes the Armenian Club, which, to a stranger, is the more interesting of the two.

The Krojook is a public assembly room, frequented by people in good society (though not the crême), such as may be met anywhere with no particular cachet.

The Armenian Club is, on the other hand, a type du genre, where specimen cards of all the Asiatic races in the Caucasus, male and female, may be met and studied, and where Asiatic dances and music alternate with polkas, mazurkas, and waltzes.

Cards, supper, and drinking also go on, and much characteristic conversation and interesting information respecting the country is to be heard and acquired, to say nothing of any amount of pronounced flirtation with crowds of almond-eyed Georgian and Armenian beauties, naturally the great attraction to the younger habitués.

The German colony is a long wide street on the left bank of the Koura, leading to the Moostahid [now Mushtaidi, Geo. მუშტაიდი—A.B.] Gardens, the grand parade, the racecourse, and railway station.

It is used as an evening promenade for riding and driving. It is lined on each side by houses and gardens. This is a good place to see the aristocracy of Tiflis on a fine evening in spring or autumn ; in the summer they are all away at country houses or in the mountains.

A military band plays twice a week in the Moostahid Gardens, which is a well-laid-out pleasure-ground (in the Persian style) on the side of the river (it originally belonged to a Persian mufty or moostahid, hence the name).

A phaeton will take you there and back from the town for a rouble.

The museum at Tiflis is well worth a visit, especially for archæologists. The ethnological and natural history departments are also well represented.

The whole place is under the care of Professor Radde, a German savant of high attainments, research, and perseverance, who has travelled much in pursuit of science, not only in the Caucasus but in most parts of the Russian empire.

Literary men visiting Tiflis should make the acquaintance of the talented Professor Bergé, the Government historian, keeper of records, etc., a man of great and varied information, and one of the first Orientalists of the day.

The Asiatic town commences on the east side of the Erivansky Ploshad or square [now Freedom Square, Geo. თავისუფლების მოედანი—A.B.], in which are situated two of the principal hotels, the bank, general staff, and other buildings of note. In this square a daily market is held, which, however, except on Sundays, is over by 11 A.M., or thereabouts.

Leaving the square, you find yourself in the Armenian Bazaar, or quarter, a long narrow street, gradually descending to the river, in which are long rows of jewellers', silversmiths', furriers', armourers', and native tailors' shops, etc.

You can here purchase a complete Caucasian "rig out" either of the Lesghian or Tcherkess fashion : choga, alkaluk, shulwal, papak (or fur cap) [actually "chokha", "akhaluk", "sharval" and "papakh"—A.B.], and bashlik, all complete, with arms and accoutrements, sword, dagger, and pistol (which latter is best replaced by an English revolver), for about 100 roubles, or a £10 note, which, if you intend knocking about the country for any time on horseback (the best way of seeing it), is no bad get-up for the purpose, being the best yet invented for camping out and "roughing it" in—at least to my mind.

It will save your European clothes, which you can wear in the towns. You will never—i.e. if you wash your face and hands, which can generally be done—look dirty or untidy in it ; whereas you will look like a loafer after a week in the mountains in European ordinary costume ; while for sleeping in comfortably it is unequalled. Even to Alpine Club men the above costume would be valuable, kept in the baggage as a change at night ; and I am confident that if Messrs. Grove, More, or Freshfield revisit the Caucasus, and adopt my suggestion, they will thank me for the hint. You ought, however, if you wear it habitually, to talk Russian or Turkish.

While on the topic of dress I may add, for the information of travellers who may intend visiting the Caucasus, that the most effective equipment they can possibly take there, is, in addition to the usual travelling dress, either a uniform (if entitled to wear one), or a full-dress evening suit of superfine black, with everything to correspond, and a tall hat.

Every Russian official, notwithstanding his easy manner, is a martinet at heart in the matter of etiquette ; and in Russia, either a uniform or a dress coat is de rigueur in calling upon or visiting officials, even by invitation, the first time. They will pass over the omission, will assure you it is of no consequence, not expected of travellers, etc. ; but they nevertheless feel it, and will never be so cordial as if you had called in correct tenue. And they are, it must be admitted, logical from their point of view : it is the custom of the country, and though the official himself may not care about the infraction, putting it down to insular ideas, etc., his subordinates and domestics will (as he knows) look upon it as a sort of slight put upon him, and as a breach of the convenances, which feeling will not help the visitor.

Besides, they argue that if they were travelling in foreign countries they would carefully abide by the prevailing etiquette (as they indubitably would), and therefore naturally think Englishmen should not be above doing so.

It must not be supposed that I mean to inculcate the traveller's carrying a dress suit or uniform all over the country (up Ararat or Kasbek, for instance) ; but if he wants to make himself agreeable, he should certainly wear one when calling on dignitaries or accepting invitations to dinner, etc., in the towns—wherever, in fact, a portmanteau can be easily carried. It is just complying with this observances which will raise him in Russian estimation ; and on this the whole success of his journey may depend.

Beyond the Armenian Bazaar, and close on the river, which is here very deep, running between narrow scarped works of considerable height above it, and crossed by two bridges close together, is a sort of covered bazaar or bozestein, the great mart for piece goods and Manchester fabrics, passing through which you emerge on to the Tartar Maidan, the old Turkish market-place, beneath the ruins of the fortress, built by Mustapha Pacha in the sixteenth century, when Osmanli for a time ruled the Caucasus.

In the centre of the place is a long painted pole, used as a flagstaff. These poles (still used for the same purpose in our camps and cantonments in India) denoted in the immense Turkish and Tartar camps of former days the bazaar or market, forming landmarks in the wilderness of tents, baggage, camels, and arabas, to which the country people coming in with provisions could direct their steps.

Here the traveller can add a pair of "khoorjens" or carpet saddle-bags (all prices and qualities) to his equipment, and afterwards crossing the bridge to the Persian caravansary can buy a "boorka" or felt cloak (these are supposed to be the "chlamys" of the ancients ; without which he will find himself badly off in the mountains). Any amount of Asiatic saddlery, very good of its kind, is here available. A "nukta," or headstall and rope, is absolutely necessary, and a Cossack whip is advisable. A strong Asiatic bridle, ending in a long single thong and loop, will be found both more useful and more convenient than the European double affair.

Recrossing the river by the lower bridge, a few yards farther on, immediately below the Avlabar fortress prison (a sort of Bastille, on a precipice overlooking the stream), you pass the only mosque in Tiflis, an unpretentious building with a blue minaret, and, turning to the left, reach the regular "Tartar Bazaar," leading to the baths. Here is always a motley crowd, struggling and scrambling along the narrow street, which, in wet weather, is a slough of black mud. Extraordinary stinks assail the nostrils, and you are jostled by divers barbarians ; besides running a good chance of being knocked down by camels, mules, donkeys, etc., all heavily loaded and driven rapidly along. Strings of waggons, mounted travellers in batches, Cossacks, and post-carts also often crowd up the roadway, the sides of which are flanked by Persian eating-houses and cook-shops. After nightfall the unwary traveller runs some risk of having his saddle-bags cut from his saddle, this particular "little game" being a speciality of the Tartar Bazaar.

At the "Hummams" natural mineral springs of hot water, just not too hot to bear, a good bathroom with antechamber or dressing-room can be had for one rouble the hour (twenty minutes is quite enough for most people). Attendance—i.e. shampooing in orthodox fashion, is charged extra—as are soap and towels.

You engage the bath for the time above specified ; if you remain over it, you pay for another hour. Two people (or half a dozen, for whom there is plenty of room) pay no more than one. Cold fowls, bottles of wine, and other accommodation of cabinets particuliers can be procured by ordering and paying for the same.

There are divers curious historiettes connected with these baths, most of them, however, too Rabelaisian for print.

It was here that Lieutenant Z——, a Russian officer of high connections and good family, a few years ago killed a cabman for refusing to drive the lieutenant and two lady friends (also of high family, who had been to a ball, and afterwards visited the baths) to the Moostahid Gardens, where they proposed to pass the remainder of the evening (it was about 3 a.m.) al fresco.

The lieutenant was court-martialled for this breach of discipline, and condemned to Siberia, escaping, however, eventually, having influential friends, with a year's close arrest in the main-guard (where he used to give petits soupers) and degradation to the ranks. He, I believe, recovered from this latter infliction during the late war. (As did Lieutenant B——, the young man who snatched away a chair on which the late Emperor was leaning during a ball at St. Petersburg, making matters worse when he perceived his mistake by exclaiming : "Pardon, your Majesty ; I thought it was only some general or other. The Emperor, saying, "I will teach you to respect generals," ordered him to do duty as a private in the Caucasus ; in which position he, however, was socially and materially almost as well off as before, dining at the best hotels, attending balls, shooting- parties, etc., and well received everywhere, in the best society.)

I once heard a Russian officer, apropos of this "incident," insist that it was all the cabman's fault, and that the lieutenant was not to blame ; as thus, Z——, said he, very properly struck the cabman (for refusing to drive him, and for insulting the ladies who were with him, by using opprobrious language) with his fist. The cabman retaliated by brutally seizing Z—— and trying to throw him down. Z—— being in uniform, this was a gross outrage to the cloth, which he was justified in avenging on the spot.

After being duly steamed, soaped, shampooed, and soused with cold water (of which there is a cistern in each bath), the visitor can take a cup of coffee at a neighbouring Tartar dukan, where, if he talks Turkish or Russian, he may often hear of a good horse for sale ; or he may inspect the wine cellars, a street or two of which are adjacent to the maidan,—very uninviting-looking dens, containing, nevertheless, immense stores of superior local vintage ; or he may visit the Persian caravansary, and overhaul the carpets of divers makes from Daghestan, Khorassan, and Turkomania, which he will find there ; or the silversmiths' shops.

As might be expected from the heterogeneous population inhabiting the labyrinths of obscure dens and alleys, often quite underground, of the Asiatic town, stabbings, affrays, robberies, and abductions are by no means rare occurrences. There is, I believe, however, more "robbery with violence" outside Tiflis than in the town itself, which, all things considered, is efficiently policed.

There is generally a robber or two of mark in Georgia in addition to the Tartars and Toorks of the steppes, who, though not professionals, being often men of substance (though nomadic), as cattle-drovers, will make a coup now and then if the spoil is likely to repay the risk of the venture.

The last celebrated brigand was Tatoo Salokidze, who was hung at Tiflis in 1880. He was of good Georgian family, but being always "wild," took to the road, and had for several years "flashed the muzzle" on the routes between Tiflis and the frontier. He was at the head of a small band, and owned to twelve or fifteen deaths.

I once met him in a small dukan near the old Turkish fortress of Dzellal Oghli, in which I had put up for the night on my way from Alexandropol, just before the war. I had no idea, of course, at the time who he was ; and it was not till after his execution that, happening to purchase a photograph of him and one of his comrades, taken in jail, with fetters on, I recollected his stern, rather melancholy countenance.

I did not go to see him turned off.

Tatoo often came into Tiflis. In 1878 he and a "pal" killed a shopkeeper in the most fashionable street in the town, near the Grand Duke's Palace, about six o'clock in the evening, afterwards walking quietly off. For this murder two innocent men, who were arrested the same evening by the police for being mixed up with some trifling scuffle, were executed. Tatoo afterwards shot a policeman dead in the Tartar Maidan, who had attempted to arrest him as he was stepping into a public vehicle, afterwards driving coolly off. He was captured near Kars, I believe, while sleeping in a wine-shop.

With regard to the chance of being robbed while travelling in the Caucasus, I do not think that there is much danger,—certainly not more than in Sicily, Calabria, Albania, and other wildish countries where people travel ; but precautions are indispensable. It all depends, like everything else of the sort, upon how you go to work, and what sort of a man you are. I have myself travelled, often quite alone, all over the Western Caucasus and the southern provinces, also in Circassia, and have been twice to the Caspian, besides frequent journeys in the mountains and forests round Tiflis, and have never been attacked, though it was often prophesied that I should be. I took care always to be well mounted and armed, and (if in a likely place to be "bailed up") kept ready.

I believe that robbers, unless very "hard up," will not attack a well-appointed horseman who looks as if he could use his weapons (and this they can tell at a glance), guessing that he has probably little more than his horse and arms about him, and will not "part" easily. "Hawks," as the old proverb says, "winna pick out hawks' een."