Rimsky-Korsakoff -Refugee in a strange land

Nicholas Korsakoff never dreamed about living his retirement years in Australia.  This was simply not in his plans. I came across his story while browsing the Trove library.  It was ”popular” back in 1930, and not for a good reason, Nicholas Korsakoff died penniless in Sydney Hospital.  My investigation revealed an amazing story of despair and resilience.

From Australian newspaper articles and Nicholas wife’s naturalization records at National Archives of Australia I have learned that Nicholas Korsakoff (or Nikolay Valerianovich Rimsky-Korsakov, in Russian – Николай Валерьянович Римский-Корсаков) was born in 1858 in Kharkov gubernia.  He was a tall, big man, “giant” as newspapers called him, 6 foot 7 inches or 2 meters high.  During his teenage years he received a military education, as many in his family did, by graduating from Vilna Infantry School and served in Kharkov gubernia until 1904.

Nicholas fought in Russo-Japanese war (1905-1907) in Engineers regiment and progressed to a Colonel position in Russian Imperial Army per his wife’s story (Lieutenant in reserve indeed [1]).  For his achievements he received an Order of St. Stanislaus.  On his return from the war Nicholas decided to retire from Army, settled down in a beautiful home near Moscow and ”became a head of a big manufacturing concern and prospered”. This is how the Australian articles wrote back in 1930.

In truth, Nicholas had a “stormy past life”.  Much later I have discovered a very interesting article on internet written by historians of Irkutsk.  The article states that the archives of Irkutsk did not preserve information about his activities in the position of bailiff/officer of the court in Irkutsk.  But his service record states that in 1880 he was tried for “failure to appear on time for service for more than a month, assigning himself a uniform from a different regiment and marrying without the permission of his superiors.” [1]

Vilna district court sentenced Nicholas to deprivation of dignity and nobility and of all special and personal rights and privileges, exclusion from services and exile to Samara province. However, taking into account the mitigating circumstances, the court asked the Emperor for leniency.

Nicholas stayed in Kharkov gubernia after the trial until 1904 and went to fight in the Russo-Japanese war in 1905.  Year later Nicholas was appointed as a bailiff in Irkutsk, where the same year he married Sophia Pavlovna Faushtein of German descent. This was his second marriage.

article117471756-3-003Sophia Pavlovna was born in 1883 in Irkutsk.  She was much younger than Nicholas, 25 years junior to be exact.  Her father Pavel Petrovich Faushtein was a merchant of the 2nd Guild in Irkutsk.  He lived at Kazachaya street, house 11 and had a prosperous business as an employer of young chimney sweepers. (Address Calendar for Irkutsk, 1901, page 393).

Australian papers state that Nicholas retired to Moscow, where he had a share in engineering business but “he did not enter the business world’.  The family retired to the estate in Kharkov gubernia where they lead a simple life.

Country life was easy until the Revolution changed everything “..his home was wrecked. He and his family had to flee, starving and penniless”.  The family run to Shanghai and months later decided to move to Australia.

In a strange land

Korsakoff family arrived to Brisbane in 1924 with 20 pounds in pocket and no language skills.  They settled in Smithfield, Sydney, where Nicholas managed to buy chickens and open a small farm.  His wife became a laundress at David Jones to bring extra income into the family.  This was life far away from their imagination.  At Nicholas’s age, and he was 66 when came to Australia, the adaptation in a new country was difficult.  Language was hard to learn and, when Nicholas got sick and stayed at hospital, his younger daughter Tamara was acting as an interpreter.

Then “misfortune attended the venture” and in January 1930 their eldest daughter Jose died.  (NSW Registry of birth, death and marriages confirms the death of daughter Helen in 1929).

4 months later, on 14 April 1930 Nicholas Korsakoff followed her and died in Sydney Hospital.  Based on death record he was 73 which is in line with his birth year.

article169389877-3-001The mother and daughter moved to Glebe and then Moore Park and tried to survive.  Sophia eventually decided to become an Australian citizen and in 1932 submitted the papers, which helped me to solve their Russian origins and heritage.

Their daughter Tamara , at the age of 14, took the position of a head of the family after the death of her father.  Her skills in few languages helped her to settle much quicker than her parents.  She finished school and later married a Russian immigrant.

Nicholas’s wife Sophia died in 1935 and was buried at Smithfield cemetery.

Rimsky-Korsakoff connection

At first Nicholas’s surname did not attract any attention as he was mentioned as Korsakoff.  Only after reading the second or third article advertising his death I have learned about Nicholas’s aristocratic origins.

Nicholas Korsakoff was born a nobleman with a surname that became worldwide famous because of his “cousin”, the composer Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908).

Nicholas came from an aristocratic family of Rimsky-Korsakov with a long line of military and naval service.  Most men in the family were soldiers who served the country and the Tsar.

The family tree of the family has been researched to as far as 1500s and currently has nearly 600 people ( and this is the rough estimate as not everyone is entered in www.rodovid.org).  Unfortunately, the 20th century family relationships were lost after the Revolution of 1917. The family representatives, and there were so many of them, moved to France, America, China, Denmark and other countries.  There were few people, who stayed in Russia and were persecuted during Stalin’s purges.  Many died during the Blockade of Leningrad.

Famous cousin?

Sophia told an Observer newspaper on 29 May 1930 that Nicholas was a cousin of the famous composer.  Interesting and important statement but unfortunately not true.  Yes, Nicholas came from Rimsky-Korsakov clan but he was 10 times removed from his “cousin”‘ composer.

Famous brother!

But what Sophia forgotten to mention is that Nicholas’s blood brother was famous enough in Russia and France.

Nicholas had two brothers – Alexander, of whom there is no information on internet, and Vladimir.

Vladimir Valerianovich Rimsky-Korsakoff (1882 – 1933)( Владимир Валерианович Римский-Корсаков) graduated from the Petrovsky Poltava Cadet Corps in 1877 and from the Alexander Military School in 1879.  His first service was in Life Guards Pavlovsky Regiment.  Military career was definitely his destiny.  In 1887 he graduated from the Alexander Military Law Academy under the first category and served over the years as an assistant military prosecutor, military investigator and, at one time in 1903, as military judge.

He became well known personality in Moscow and in 1903 was able to secure a position as an inspector of classes and from 1904 to 1918 as a director of 1st Moscow Empress Catherine II cadet corps.

The Revolution came, the Civil War started and Vladimir Valeriyanovich went to fight in White Army.  Later he migrated to Yugoslavia and then France, where he became a Director of the Crimean Cadet Corps between 1920-1924 and a director of the cadet corps of Emperor Nicholas II (Villiers-le-Bel, France) from 1930-1933. He died November 8, 1933 in France.

Another Korsakoff in Australia

Browsing on internet and in National Archives, I saw another family member from Rimsky-Korsakoff family who came to Australia.  Her name is Svetlana Nikolaevna Rimsky-Korsakoff.  She was born in China in 1931, a daughter of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff (not our Nicholas), a high-ranking officer in the Czarist army, who  had been forced to flee to China had joined the Russian community in Harbin (Northwest China) after 1917 Revolution.

Here I go to BREM files and discover that a completely different branch from Rimsky-Korsakoff tree moved to China.  Svetlana moved to Australia in 1952 with her adopted father, Ivan Ivanovich Gaponovich, and later became a professor of Chinese at Australian National University (Canberra), a specialist in Dungan language and culture.

Again the journalists are trying to link her to the famous composer.  But was she?


Townsville Daily Bulletin ,  Thursday 17 April 1930

The Register News-Pictorial , Tuesday 15 April 1930

Advocate, Monday 19 May 1930

Photo of Tamara – The Truth, 20 April 1930 – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/169386974?

Photo of Sophia – Evening News 14 May 1930


Family tree at Rodovid


Article about Vladimir  Valerianovich Rimsky-Korsakov from Wikipedia



[1] http://irkipedia.ru/content/rimskiy_korsakov_nikolay_valeryanovich


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