In March 1807 Lachlan Macquarie began a difficult and arduous overland journey from Bombay to London via the Persian Gulf. It had been his intention to travel to Constantinople (Istanbul) via Baghdad, and then to sail home through the Mediterranean. However, the changing and volatile political landscape of the Ottoman Empire and Napoleonic Europe in the early C19th prevented him pursuing this route - and he was forced to choose the longer and more challenging route from Baghdad towards the southern frontiers of the Russian Empire via Persia.
After crossing the Zagros Mountains and meeting with officials of the Shah of Persia at Qazvin he, and his four travelling companions, sailed along the western shores of the Caspian Sea to the Russian port of Baku and then northwards to Astrakhan. Near the mouth of the Volga River they were forced to undergo a 25-day medical quarantine; then by boat and kibitka Macquarie travelled on accompanied only by his Indian-born manservant 'George'. After crossing the fertile Cossack lands of the Don River region they finally arrived in Moscow on 31 August where they were reunited with their three former travelling companions. On 6 September, after a 1500 mile overland journey from the Caspian Sea, they reached St. Petersburg on the shores of Gulf of Finland.
Here at the heart of the Russian Empire Macquarie discovered a metropolis so rich in cultural and architectural splendour that it far exceeded anything he had seen in all his travels in Britain, Asia, the Middle East and North America. For five days he explored the city and met with British and Russian officials. Finally on 13 September he and his companions departed from the Russian naval base at Kronstadt on board the Royal Navy warship HMS Calypso.
Macquarie sailed through the Baltic Sea to Denmark where he witnessed the aftermath of the British capture of Copenhagen, and after briefly visiting Sweden, he returned home to Britain carrying official despatches and diplomatic correspondence. On 17 October, after a journey of six (6) months and two days Macquarie finally reached London, having covered, by his own calculation, 6400 miles by sea and land — and accompanied at all times by his manservant 'George'.
Macquarie's experiences of Russian life and culture left a profound impression upon him. More importantly, it provided him with a measure of understanding that would prove invaluable in the period 1814-1820 when, as governor of NSW, he welcomed the officers and crew of five (5) different Russian ships at Sydney: Suvorov (1814), Blagonamerennyy (1820), Otkrytiye (1820), Vostok (1820), and Mirnyy (1820). These various vessels were undertaking Russian scientific expeditions to explore and map the Pacific Ocean as well as visiting the various outposts of European empire along its margins.
Imperial Eyes 1807 has been prepared by Robin Walsh, a research librarian at Macquarie University Library, and is based upon his study visits to St. Petersburg and the United Kingdom in the period 2005-2007, as well as from extensive examination of primary and secondary source materials held in Australian and overseas libraries and archives, as well as discussions with experts in early C19th British, Russian and Persian history. It is a bicentennial digital research projectis premised upon the notion that in 1807 all the warring states of Britain, Europe and the Middle East were watching each other's diplomatic movements, postures and intentions very closely. In a time of great political upheaval and new strategic aligments there was a need for eyes to be watchful and alert.
Imperial Eyes 1807 is an examination of key parts of Macquarie's 1807 journey, and is based largely upon the diary that was kept by him during his travels. This is an exploration of early C19th geography, history, international politics, cultural diversity and personal odyssey -- and all seen through the filter of Macquarie's imperial gaze.