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The Two Sieges of Sebastopol

posted Jan 10, 2012, 7:29 PM by Western Sonoma County Historical Society

Sebastopol recently was blessed with a second lithograph of the Siege of Sevastopol, depicting battle scenes from the Crimean War, 1853-1856, thanks to Charles and Deborah Eid, members of our Society.

The framed lithograph, in excellent condition, was purchased by the Eids while in Boston, Mass. approximately four years ago. After prodding from their son, knowing his parents lived in Sebastopol, California, USA that is. The Eids have donated it to the Western Sonoma County Historical Society Archives.

This is not the first Sevastopol-Crimea lithograph to come to Sebastopol. More about that later.

The Eid's lithograph is a perspective of a large slice of the Crimean peninsula despite the canvas size of 20" by 28". It shows all the sites of the Crimean War on May 10, 1855, with the sunken fleet at the entry to the Bay at Balaklava, and all the Russian fortifications, and the British and French battery positions. The print was sketched by Thomas Packer for London Prints of Stannard and Dixon, and undoubtedly offered for sale to patriotic Britishers in London shops. Someone has handwritten in "One pound, 10 shillings." The sketch shows Redan Fort and Malakhoff Tower, prominent Russian fortifications during the Siege laid down by the British and the French.

In case you ask, the war lasted over 2 years, and the British, French and Turks totally defeated the Russians. An important outcome was a treaty to open the Danube River to international shipping, a right maintained most recently in the break up of Yugoslavia into Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo, etc. Do these places sound familiar?

Now about the first lithograph to come to Sebastopol. Prior to the Eids' donation, an earlier gift to the community depicts just the sea battle between the British and the Russians, at the harbor at Balaklava. It was donated eight years ago by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pease, and in turn presented to the City by Dr. and Mrs. Horace Sharrocks. This long (21 feet by 1 feet wide) lithograph was in fair shape, but had suffered water damage (called "foxing" It was professionally restored thanks to seven local donors including the Sebastopol Rotary Club. The City Council then had no place for such a large historical feature to be displayed. They instead donated it to Analy High School. It now hangs just opposite the main entrance to the high school, as you walk down the interior ramp into the school offices. It is handsomely displayed in seven panels, mounted in thick wooden frames. A beautiful job has been done, along with appropriate historical plaques. (Should we include it in our upcoming centennial tours of Sebastopol?)

The Pease-Sharrocks lithograph depicts the sea encounter at Balaklava, showing the Russian fleet on Oct. 25, 1854. The Russians scuttled their own fleet at the entry to the harbor rather than fight the British. Did this block off use of the harbor by the Brits and the French? But the British still put the score down as a victory for themselves. Just what the orders were to this artist, one can only guess. Perhaps: "Show total victory!" Were the allies adept at war propaganda aimed toward the folks back home? I don't know. No "Life" magazine photographers were handy. Despite the easy naval success, 250,000 men died in the war.

The Pease-Sharrocks lithograph was prepared by Australian Lieutenant Townsend serving in the British Army. In the 1850s, military photography was still in its infancy. Painter-lithographers were more frequently employed to record battle triumphs. A dozen or more such artists were assigned this task by the British military, and it appears from the Eid's donation, that commercial enterprises were also adept at the war publishing game too. So there may be more similar lithographs in London (or Boston) used bookstores and antique malls.

So how do war pictures a half world away relate to Sebastopol, California? 1853 was after all just after the Russians had abandoned Fort Ross and sold off all their cattle and other goods to an American Swiss settler called Sutter.

Here's An Answer

The USA and all western nations benefited from the Crimean War, indirectly, due to improved logistics and medical practices. It is in this war that Florence Nightingale entered western history, bringing improved medical aid, field hospitals, doctors, nurses, corpsmen, for the first time. Before then, the seriously injured for the most part died in place! Florence Nightingale was enraged when she read of the battle reports of the wounded dying, and went out to the Middle East with Queen Victoria's blessing, with 38 nurses from religious orders, much to the annoyance of the British high command. Through her persistence and influence, and with the heavy support of the London Times, she established a nursing corps, field hospitals and insisted on sanitary conditions. She cut fatalities by a whopping, 2/3's. She became the "patron saint" of the enlisted men, who up until then were considered mere cannon fodder. At that time, "nice women" didn't help in hospitals. Florence Nightingale overcame all that. The wounded now had hope! In 1859 she put it all in writing, into a report to the British government: "Notes on Hospitals." Her recommendations were adopted by the English and most western nations including the USA. And you think one person can't change the course of history!

From the same war, this time from the French, we gained the knowledge of how to supply sanitary foodstuffs in large quantities to distant armies, through the use of "canned foods." Ever hear of "C-rations?"

These are our indirect connections to the year long Siege of Sevastopol. Not just the half joking bar fight that occurred between Jeff Stevens and Hibbs in front of Dougherty's store in Pine Grove, California - a fight that reminded the witnesses of some battle in a distant country.

We can be a little more proud of our town's historical connections. And now we are the possessors of two recordings of the war near Sevastopol, Crimea. Will someone find a third lithograph?

By Mel Davis
A Special Report