Vladivostock, Russia, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Vallejo, California: Mostly 1904-1905. Various. The vernacular photographs in this archive, most of which were taken by Teresa M. Browne, a high school sophomore who would not graduate from Vallejo High until 1907, document the Russian Cruiser Lena’s stay in San Francisco. Its two letters describe the Lena’s subsequent voyage to Hawaii through the eyes of her much older Russian paramour, Lieutenant Pavel Yarovenka (Jarowenka). Other related ephemera and artifacts are also included.
This fascinating archive consists of
A photograph album titled “T. Browne / Lena / 1904-’05” with about 90 posed and candid photographs ranging in size from about 3.5” square to 5” x 7”. Most appear to have been taken by Teresa, who is pictured holding her camera in several. Some were taken by a crewmember before, during, and after the ship’s stay in San Francisco. Many are captioned in red ink on the photo, on the reverse, or on the page.
The photos include images of the ship, its crew,its officers, and their wives. Several show Lieutenant Yarovenka, Teresa’s much older paramour.
One photo shows officers fencing; one shows officers boxing, and one shows a crewmember in diving gear preparing to go over the side.
One photograph shows crewmembers lined up possibly to receive mail or passes for shore leave, and another shows a work detail of ten sailors scrubbing the deck.
A few show the watch in foul weather gear.
Some show Teresa with officers and wives enjoying themselves at or in houses in Vallejo.
Several larger images show the Lena shortly after its arrival and preparing to depart Mare Island.
A few of the photographs were probably sent later to Teresa by Yarovenka as they show scenes while the ship was in route to Hawaii, dog sledding in the Aleutians or Siberia, and one especially noteworthy image of a convict work detail from the infamous Sagalien (Sakhalin) Island gulag.
Seven of the album’s leaves have separated from the leather-tie binding, which although still functioning is torn and loosely tied. Most of the photos are in nice shape; some have folded or missing corners, and a couple are missing larger pieces.
Two letters and several greeting cards from Yarovenka including a three-dimensional Valentine’s Day display. The letters, both from Honolulu, profess Yarovenka’s undying love, heartbreak, and fervent desire to kiss the young high-schooler once more. More importantly, they describe the ship’s harrowing storm-tossed voyage to Hawaii and the Captain’s cowardice.
“I think you prayed of God very hard for my journey. . .. Near Curil (Kuril) Islands we had many storms and were near wreck . . . snow and hail and poor Lena was like a little box. She could not go forward but was full speed . . . we spoiled so much coal . . . we turn to Honalulu to teak coal and water. It is secret that you do not say this everybody. . .. We meeted new storm . . . more near wreck because rolling was so big. . .. Poor Mrs. Z. Z. never see so big swell and rolling and was . . . afraid to die. Little Rotmanoff’s dog Popu go madness and died. Captain G. lost his head and was look like mad man but today his is brave again. At ancor he always like this [a hand-drawn picture of a strutting peacock displaying its feathers] but in storm like this [a hand-drawn picture of a cowering chicken]. . .. Oh, dearest Tot, if you would know how I feeled when I waited to die at every minute . . . I prayed God all time for you, to be you happy and get you good life. . ..
“I have offer to stay in navy but I will not. . .. I will return back to you. . .. You are my life, my air and for you I will do all what you wish. . .. I will return in America on first steamer. . .. If the head of the Lena would not be stupid, I should be now in Vl and may be in 15-20 days would see you, but poor Lena without of commander . . . couldn’t bring me in Vl at time and now I feel angry and sorry with . . . them. . .. I think then more we will be mearry then sweeter we will kiss one other when I will meet you, Yes? . .. Well , good-bye – with all my love in 10.000 of kisses.”
A registered envelope with numerous postal routing handstamps and labels sent by Teresa to Yarovenko in Vladivostok that was returned as undeliverable in July 1906,
A separate cdv of Yarovenko in uniform and a larger photo of him in civilian clothes leaning against a tree in the woods.
14 calling cards: 13 from individual Russian naval officers, including Yarovenko, and one collectively from the Lena’s wardroom officers, which is inscribed “Good bye!” and dated 14 October 1905 just before the Lena departed Mare Island.
Five engraved invitations for shipboard events,
Tallies (long hat ribbons) from two Russian bezkozyrkas (sailor caps), one from the Lena and one from the Bokii, and
Two blank checks from the Vallejo branch of Bank of America.. Very good. Item #009673
In the spring of 1904, the Japanese Navy launched a sneak attack on Port Arthur (today Lushun, China) that bottled up most of Russia’s Pacific Fleet in the harbor where they were soon destroyed by a Japanese army that had surrounded the city. Only a small four-cruiser Russian squadron, based in Vladivostok, survived. One of those ships was the cruiser, Lena, a converted luxury transport. As the ship retained some of its luxury features, several officers were accompanied by their families, not an unusual practice at the time. The Lena, along with the rest of the squadron, set sail soon after the attack on Port Arthur and began to raid Japanese shipping, destroying three large transports including the Hitachi Maru which went down with over 1,200 men aboard.
In September 1904, the Lena appeared without warning in San Francisco Bay, and her captain requested permission to make repairs to the ship’s boilers. Outraged and alarmed, the Japanese consul and Japanese-American trading interests demanded that the Lena be turned back to sea. However, after an inspection by officials, the ship was allowed to remain for repairs with the stipulation that its armaments be removed. Newspapers reported that when the captain and his officers were notified that the ship and crew would be impounded for the war’s duration, they seemed quite pleased with the prospect.
The ship remained at Mare Island Naval Yard until the end of October 1905, when it ostensibly departed for Vladivostok. However, on 11 November, the Lena showed up unannounced in Honolulu. Eventually, U.S. officials surmised the captain had been informed that in the wake of the disastrous war, mutinies were running rampant throughout the Russian navy—the most famous being aboard the Potemkin—and that a revolutionary council had seized control of Vladivostok. To prevent mutiny aboard his ship—where half of the officers and all of the crew supported the revolution—the captain turned south and sailed for Honolulu.
Genealogical research indicates that Teresa M. Browne was most likely the granddaughter of John Mills Browne, a distinguished U.S. Navy physician who helped found Mare Island Naval Ship Yard at Vallejo and was subsequently stationed there for many years until he became the Navy Surgeon General in 1888. Local records indicate that Teresa graduated from Vallejo High School in 1907 so she would have been a high school sophomore in 1904 at the beginning of her relationship with Yarovenka.
As the granddaughter of an important Mare Island naval officer living in Vallejo, Teresa would certainly have been able to meet and befriend the interned Russian officers and their wives, perhaps she may even have done so as an unofficial hostess at the request of the Mare Island commanding officer as the photographs suggest that Teresa’s frequent and unlimited access to the Lena facilitated her friendships with its officers and their wives.
Alas, it appears that Teresa and Pavel never reunited.
In addition to the undeliverable mail, the last few dated items in the archive include a 1907 Valentine’s Day card to Teresa not addressed in Yarovenko’s hand,
a small opera guide dated 1909 that bears the initials, “T.M.B.”,
an invitation for “Miss Browne” to attend a dance aboard theUSS Maryland in September 1910;
an invitation for “Miss Tot Browne” and “’Daddy’ Browne” to attend a social function aboard the Maryland in October 1910;
a photograph of an older Teresa with a different man, dated “Santa Barbara, 1924”,
two photos of a young boy and elderly gentleman along with a gift card that reads “Dick from ‘Grand-paw’ Xmas 1924”, and lastly
a letter from a nun consoling Teresa upon her son Dick’s death at a young age.
For more information see: “Russian Cruiser Lena Reaches San Francisco, Surprising the World” in The San Francisco Call, 12 Sep 1904, numerous New York Times articles published between 12 Sep 1904 and 21 Nov 1905, “Mysterious Visit of the Cruiser Lena” in The Hawaiian Star, 11 Nov 1905, “The Mysterious Call of the Czar’s Cruiser Lena” in the Honolulu Sunday Advertiser, 19 Nov 1905, “Hitachi Maru Incident” at Wikipedia, “John Mills Browne – Surgeon General, U. S. Navy (1888-93)” in The Military Surgeon, Oct 42, “Dr. John Mills Browne” at Find-a-Grave, “Mare Island, Vallejo CA, Oct 2007” at Dan Vint’s Personal Website, “May Day on Mare Island”.
Copies of newspaper articles including all that were published in the New York Times will be included along with some biographical information about Teresa’s grandfather John Mills Browne and Mare Island Naval Yard.
A fine collection of photographs, correspondence, and artifacts documenting the repair and impoundment of a Russian warship at San Francisco during the Russo-Japanese made slightly spicy by the romantic involvement between its young high school compiler and an officer from the cruiser.
Unique. At the time of this listing nothing remotely similar is for sale in the trade, nor is anything similar found within an institutional collection per OCLC. Neither, has any similar material appeared at auction per the Rare Book Hub and Worthpoint.