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A learned Epistle written 1581. unto the famous Cosmographer M. Gerardus Mercator concerning the river Pechora, Naramsay, Cara reca, the mighty river of Ob, the place of Yaks Olgush in Siberia , the great river Ardoh, the lake of Kittay called of the borderers Paraha, the Countrey of Carrah Colmak, giving good light to the discovery of the Northeast passage to Cathay, China and the Malucaes.

To the famous and renowmed Gerardus Mercator, his Reverend and singular friend at Duisburgh in Cliveland, these be delivered.

CALLING to remembrance (most deare Friend) what exceeding delight you tooke at our being together, in reading the Geographicall writings of Homer, Strabo, Aristotle, Plinie, Dion , and the rest, I rejoyced not a little that I happened upon such a messenger as the bearer of these presents, (whom I do especially recommend unto you) who arrived lately here at Arusburg upon the river of Osella. This mans experience (as I am of opinion) will greatly availe you to the knowledge of a certaine matter which hath bene by you so vehemently desired, and so curiously laboured for, and concerning the which the late Cosmographers do hold such varietie of opinions: namely, of the discoverie of the huge promontorie of Tabin, and of the famous and rich countreys subject unto the Emperor of Cathay, and that by the Northeast Ocean sea. The man is called Alferius being by birth a Netherlander, who for certaine yeeres lived captive in the dominions of Russia under two famous men Yacovius and Unekius, by whom he was sent to Antwerp to procure skilfull Pilots and Mariners, (by propounding liberall rewards) to go unto the two famous personages aforesayd, which two had set a Sweden Shipwright on worke to build two ships for the same discoverie upon the river of Dwina. The passage unto Cathay by the Northeast (as he declareth the matter, albeit without arte, yet very aptly, as you may well perceive, which I request you diligently to consider) is without doubt very short and easie. This very man himselfe hath travelled to the river of Ob, both by land, through the countreys of the Samoeds, and of Sibier, and also by Sea, along the coast of the river Pechora Eastward. Being encouraged by this his experience he is fully resolved with himselfe to conduct a Barke laden with merchandize (the keele whereof hee will not have to drawe over much water) to the Baie of Saint Nicholas in Russia , being furnished with all things expedient for such a discoverie, and with a new supply of victuals at his arrivall there, and also to hire into his companie certaine Russes best knowen unto himselfe, who can perfectly speake the Samoeds language, and are acquainted with the river of Ob, as having frequented those places yeere by yeere.

Whereupon about the ende of May hee is determined to saile from the Baie of S. Nicholas Eastward, by the maine of Joughoria, and so to the Easterly parts of Pechora, & to the Island which is called Dolgoia. And here also hee is purposed to observe the latitudes, to survey and describe the countrey, to sound the depth of the Sea, and to note the distances of places, where, and so oft as occasion shall be offered. And forasmuch as the Baie of Pechora is a most convenient place both for harbour and victuall, as well in their going foorth as in their returne home in regard of Ice and tempest, he is determined to bestow a day in sounding the Flats, and in searching out the best enterance for ships: in which place heretofore he found the water to be but five foote deepe, howbeit he doubteth not but that there are deeper chanels : and then hee intendeth to proceed on along those coasts for the space of three or foure leagues, leaving the Island called Vaigats almost in the middle way betweene Ugoria and Nova Zembla: then also to passe by a certaine Baie betweene Vaigats and Ob, trending Southerly into the land of Ugoria, whereinto fall two small rivers called Marmesia and Carah, upon the which rivers doe inhabite an other barbarous and savage nation of the Samoeds. He found many Flats in that tract of land, and many cataracts or overfals of water, yet such as hee was able to saile by. When hee shall come to the river of Ob, which river (as the Samoeds report) hath seventie mouthes, which by reason of the huge breadth thereof containing many and great Islands, which are inhabited with sundry sortes of people, no man scarcely can well discover, because he will not spend too much time, he purposeth to search three or foure at the most of the mouthes thereof, those chiefly which shall be thought most commodious by the advise of the inhabitants, of whom hee meaneth to have certaine with him in his voyage, and meaneth to employ three or foure boates of that Countrey in search of these mouthes, as neere as possibly he can to the shore, which within three dayes journey of the Sea is inhabited, that he may learne where the river is best navigable. If it so fall out that he may sayle up the river Ob against the streame, and mount up to that place which heretofore accompanied with certaine of his friends, he passed unto by land through the countrey of Siberia which is about twelve dayes journey from the Sea, where the river Ob falleth into the Sea, which place is in the Continent neere the river Ob, and is called Yaks Olgush, borowing his name from that mightie river which falleth into the river Ob, then doubtlesse hee would conceive full hope that hee had passed the greatest difficulties: for the people dwelling thereabout report, which were three dayes sayling onely from that place beyond the river Ob, whereby the bredth thereof may be gathered (which is a rare matter there, because that many rowing with their boates of leather one dayes journey onely from the shore, have bene cast away in tempest, having no skill to guide themselves neither by Sunne nor Starre) that they have seene great vessels laden with rich and precious merchandize brought downe that great river by blacke or swart people. They call that river Ardoh, which falleth into the lake of Kittay, which they call Paraha, whereupon bordereth that mighty and large nation which they call Carrah Colmak, which is none other then the nation of Cathay. There, if neede require, he may fitly Winter and refresh himselfe and his, and seeke all things which he shall stand in need of: which if it so fall out, he doubteth not but in the meane while he shall be much furthered in searching and learning out many things in that place. Howbeit, he hopeth that hee shall reach to Cathaya that very Sommer, unlesse he be hindered by great abundance of Ice at the mouth of the river of Ob, which is sometimes more, and sometimes lesse. If it so fall out, hee then purposeth to returne to Pechora, and there to Winter: or if he cannot doe so neither, then hee meaneth to returne to the river of Dwina, whither he will reach in good time enough, and so the next Spring following to proceed on his voyage. One thing in due place I forgate before.

The people which dwell at that place called Yaks Olgush, affirme that they have heard their forefathers say, that they have heard most sweete harmonie of bels in the lake of Kitthay, and that they have seene therein stately and large buildings: and when they make mention of the people named Carrah Colmak (this countrey is Cathay) they fetch deepe sighes, and holding up their hands, they looke up to heaven, signifying as it were, and declaring the notable glory and magnificence of that nation. 1 would this Oliver were better seene in Cosmographie, it would greatly further his experience, which doubtlesse is very great. Most deare friend, I omit many things, and I wish you should heare the man himselfe which promised mee faithfully that he would visite you in his way at Duisburg, for he desireth to conferre with you, and doubtlesse you shall very much further the man. He seemeth sufficiently furnished with money and friends, wherein and in other offices of curtesie I offered him my furtherance if it had pleased him to have used me. The Lord prosper the mans desires and forwardnesse, blesse his good beginnings, further his proceedings, and grant unto him most happy issue. Fare you well good sir and my singular friend. From Arusburg upon the river of Ossella, the 20. of February, 1581.

Yours wholy at commandement,

John Balak.

MASTER Anthonie Jenkinson in a disputation before her Majestie with sir Humfrey Gilbert for proofe of a passage by the Northeast to Cathaya, among other things alleageth this: videlicet, that there came a continuall streame or currant through Mare glaciale, of such swiftnesse as a Colmak told him, that if you cast any thing therein, it would presently be caried out of sight towards the West, &c.

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