Monsieur de la Perouse
In this bay the French navigators first discovered the use of the circle of lead or bone, which these people, and the inhabitants of Segalien Island, wear on the thumb like a ring; it greatly assists them in cutting and strip. ping the salmon with a knife, which is always hanging to their girdle. Their village was built upon low marshy land, which must doubtless be uninhabitable during the winter, but on the opposite side of the gulf, another village appeared on a more elevated situation. It was seated at the entrance of a wood, and contained eight cabins, larger and better constructed than the first. Not far from these cabins, they visited three yourts, or subterranean houses. They were sufficiently capacious to accommodate the inhabitant of the whole eight cabins during the severity of the inclement season. On the borders of this village several tombs presented themselves, which were larger and more ingeniously fabricated than the houses; each of them contained three, four, or five biers, decorated with Chinese stuffs, some pieces of which were brocade. Bows, arrows, and the other most esteemed articles of these people, were suspended in the interior of these monuments, the wooden door of which was closed by a bar, supported at each end by a prop.
The women are wrapped in a large robe of nankeen, or salmon's skin, curiously tanned, descending as low as the ankle-bone, sometimes embellished with a border of fringe mannfactured of copper, and producing sounds like those of little bells. Those salmon which furnish a covering for the fair, weigh thirty or forty pounds, and are never caught in summer; those which were taken by the French visiters did not exceed three or four pounds in weight; but that disadvantage was fully compensated by the extraordinary number, and the extreme delicacy of their flavor.
On the 2d of August, La Perouse sailed with a light breeze. On the 19th Cape Troun was perceived to the southward, and Cape Uries to the south-east-by-east; its proper direction, according to the Dutch chart: their situation could not possibly have been determined with more precision by modern navigators. In the evening of the 6th, they made the entrance of Avatcha Bay, or St. Peter and St. Paul. The light-house, erected by the Russians on the east point of the entrance, was not kindled during the night; as an excuse for which the governor declared the next day, that all their efforts to keep it burning had been ineffectual; the wind had constantly extinguished the flame, which was only sheltered by four planks of wood very indifferently cemented.
The government of Kamtschatka had been materially changed since the departure of the English, and was now only a dependency of that of Ochotsk. These particulars were communicated to our navigators by lieutenant Kaborof, governor of the harbor of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, having a sergeant and forty soldiers under his command. M. de Lessops, who acted as interpreter, and who perfectly understood the Russian language, wrote a letter, in La Perouse's name, to the governor of Ochotsk, to whom La Perouse also wrote in French himself. He told him that the narrative of Cook's last voyage had spread abroad the fame of the hospitality of the Kamtschadale government; and he flattered him self that he should be as favorably received as the English navigators, as his voyage, like theirs, was intended for the benefit of all maritime nations.
The Kamtschadales are of an imitative genius, and fond of adopting the customs of their conquerors. They have already abandoned the yourts, in which they were formerly accustomed to burrow like badgers, breathing foul air during the whole of the winter. The most opulent among them now build isbas, or wooden houses, like those of the Russians: they are divided into three small rooms, and are conveniently warmed by a brick stove. The inferior people pass their winters and summers in balagans, resembling wooden pigeon-houses, covered with thatch, and placed upon the tops of posts twelve or thirteen feet high, to which the women, as well as men, find a ladder necessary for their ascension. But these latter buildings will probably soon disappear; for the Kamtschadales imitate the manners and dresses of the Russians. It is curious to see in their little cottages, a quantity of cash in circulation; and it may be considered as a still greater curiosity, because the practice exists among so small a number of inhabitants. Their consumption of the commodities of Russia and China are so few, that the balance of trade is entirely in their favor, in consequence of which it is necessary to pay them the difference in roubles. The Kamtschadales, says La Perouse, appeared to me to be the same people as those of the Bay of Castries, on the coast of Tartary; they are equally remarkable for their mildness and their probity, and their persons are not very dissimilar.
The approach of winter now warned our navigators to depart; the ground, which, on their arrival on the 7th of September, was adorned with the most beautiful verdure, was as yellow and parched up on the 25th of the same month, as in the environs of Paris at the conclusion of December. La Perouse therefore gave preparatory orders for their departure, and, on the 29th, got under way. M. Kasloff came to take a final leave of him, and dined on board. He accompanied him on, shore, with M. de Langle, and several officers, and was liberally entertained with a good supper, and a ball.