Russia’s March to the East

An April 1899 article form the Timaru Herald, based a journey through the Russian empire, and the railway from Merv to Kushka (Serhetabat in Turkmenistan).


Mr John W. Bookwalter, of Ohio, who has just returned to London from a two months’ journey through Russia, informed a press correspondent in an interview that he enjoyed unusual facilities for observing what is going on in that country. He travelled 17,000 miles to the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, to the end of the line reaching the frontier of Afghanistan, and to the end of the one penetrating China through Manchuria. Mr Bookwalter says :—

“Russia in three years has done more to open the doors of China than Great Britian and all the rest of the world has done in 50 years. No one who has not seen it with his own eyes can have the faintest conception of what Russia has done and is still doing in Central Asia. I have travelled over twelve hundred miles of railway which she was built from the Caspian Sea to Tashkend. in Turkestan ; over a branch of this line which runs to the northern frontier of India, and over another branch which goes from Merv to the border of Afghanistan. This last branch was not completed when I was there, but it will be open to traffic shortly. There are also Russian lines all along the Persian frontier and penetrating into that country, either completed or rapidly approaching completion. All the work on these lines has been done by soldiers, who in this way are not in Russia, as elsewhere, non-producers.

“All this tremendous Asiatic railway system is owned and operated by the Government. All the lines are admirably built and splendidly equipped. Why, I saw a bridge across the Amu-Daria, in Central Asia, at a point where the river is three miles wide, that cost 20,000,000 roubles, and is the greatest piece of engineering work ever accomplished. There is nothing like it anywhere else m the world, the celebrated Forth Bridge, near Edinburgh, Scotland, not excepted.

“Wherever I went I saw cities and towns springing up – such as Askabad, in Turkomania, for example, which already has 25,000 inhabitants. Near Merv the Czar is building a magnificent palace. New Bokhara, twelve miles from Old Bokhara, has 12,000 inhabitants. The Russian policy in Central Asia is not to bring the new and the old in too close a contrast, and so she builds her railway stations a few miles away from the old centres of population, thus forming newand entirely modern centres. Where do the people come from to inhabit these towns? Why, from European Russia. The Government is turning her surplus European population into Central Asia, just as the United States turned the surplus population of her Atlantic States into her great Western territories. What I have just seen in Central Asia is almost an exact reproduction of what I witnessed years ago in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, when the emigrants from the East were pouring into the West. No human power can stay the onward march of the Slav through Russia, which will be the feature of the twentieth century, just as the the march of the Anglo-Saxon through America has been the feature of the nineteenth.”
Source: Timaru Herald, Volume LXII, Issue 2916, 4 April 1899, page 4, accessible at the National Library of New Zealand