28 August 2010

Images of Empires past...

Recently I came across an article with some photos of some of the more exotic locales of the Russian Empire, circa 1910. The photographer, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, used a series of color filters for his shots. The end result are some pictures that look like they could have been taken yesterday with a digital camera.

Some amazing pictures, which can be seen here.

The old Russian Empire was, and today's Federation is to an extent, an exotic mixture of Asian and European cultures.

The old European empires weren't formed for any altruistic reasons. Lands were conquered, natives subjugated, and resources harvested, all in the name of the Mother Country. In some ways, the period from 1600 to 1950 was a dark time for the less technologically-advanced societies that were overtaken by one nation or other, or passed around like cards as a result of wars between the Great Powers.

But in another way, it must have been a rather 'romantic' and interesting time for citizens of the established nations of Europe. How different it must have been for a citizen of the cools and damps of, say, Denmark, to have the fortune to travel to their possessions in the Virgin Islands of the Caribbean back in the 1800s, to experience the azure waters, green palms, and tropical vistas. What stories that citizen could tell to his fellows, back in those days before instant communication and knowledge, on a cold winter's night.

What a wealth of material anyone studying societies and cultures in the Universitet in St Petersburg back in the days of the Romanovs would have had, in the stew of peoples that formed the Russian Empire!

Perhaps the greatest empire in history was the British Empire, of course.

It's mind-boggling to think that at the turn of the last century, in those days of relatively slow (read leisurely) modes of transportation, a British citizen could literally go around the world and never leave the soil of Britain-never see a flag other than the Union Jack, never leave the protection of the scarlet jacketed Army and the ironclad protector of the seas, the Royal Navy. It isn't so astounding in these days of continent-spanning jets, but in the context of the day, the building of the Empire was an amazing achievement.

The things, places, and peoples that were part of the Empire....


The heights of Victoria Falls in East Africa...

...the great animal herds of the African savannahs in Kenya and South Africa...

...the remnants of the ancient empires in Egypt...

....the heights of the Himalayas in Darjeeling....

...the old cultures and natural wealth of India, which was in many ways the battery that kept the Empire running....


....the timber, furs, minerals, and wide-open spaces of the Dominion of Canada...


...the faraway tropical isles of the South Pacific...


...and the vast majesty of the Australian continent.


The hills and dales of the harsh Scottish Highlands...


....to the intrigues of the pivotal port of Aden, protector of the Suez Canal and gateway to India and the East...


...and the clear blue waters and trade winds of Antigua and the rest of the Caribbean.

An epic and wonderful trip it would have been, a Grand Tour of the British Empire around 1900. The stuff you'd see, the people you'd meet, the things you could do would probably fill a score of books. The places I showed were a mere fraction of the possessions that were shaded in red in the atlases of the day.

A bit of perhaps poetic waxing. Maybe it wouldn't have been that great to see. But I can't figure that it wouldn't.

yankeedog out.


  1. The sun never sets on the British Empire... until it did, of course.

    Travel was a bit of a bitch back then though, you were as like to make it to your destination as drown in a shipwreck or get scurvy.

  2. Those photos of old Russia were amazing.
    Saw a doco a few weeks back featuring some original color film footage from Europe shot during WW2. Funny how the colour makes it all seem so much more "real".

  3. Same as Drej. Blown away by the Russian one's. Priceless.

  4. Thanks YDog, the Russian photos are incredible.

  5. The British hemisphere was certainly in my opinion the rockingest hemisphere of them all.

  6. Doc-Well, by 1900 travel was fairly safe, if not extraordinarily swift. It would have been a journey to remember, though-especially if you were in the upper class.

    Drej, Moko, Bangar-The Russian pics are truly awesome in their clarity and sharpness. I've seen tons of pictures that were only 30-35 years old that didn't stand the test of time that well.

    Barnes-That's why the British Empire was voted 'World's Most Fantastic Political Entity' five years running, from 1899 to 1904.