Russians in Australia or Australians with Russian ancestry

 Not many people in Australia or in the world know that the first Australian who arrived and stayed in the country was Contantin Milcow, a horse-breaker from Moscow, who arrived on Atlas III, to serve a seven-year sentence for stealing bacon.  He was known to work around Sydney between 1816 and 1825.

Then there were few waves of migration to Australia which are explained in detail in the article by Mara Moustafine on

In this article I want to bring to your attention certain extracts from this article and books which will help you in your research and to understand the experiences and emotions of migrating to Australia at a certain point of time.

Nineteenth-century visitors

The first Russian ship to visit Port Jackson was the sloop Neva in June 1807.  Visits by Russian ships to Sydney became more frequent in the 1820s.  There was a warm welcome for the Russian corvette Rynda, which arrived in January 1888, with Russian Grand Duke aboard, to participate in Sydney’s centenary celebrations.

An early Russian visitor to Sydney was scientist and Pacific ethnographer Nikolai Mikluho-Maclay.  He lived in Sydney at various times between 1878 and 1886, married the daughter of former NewSouth Wales Premier John Robertson and was instrumental in the establishment of Australia’s first biological marine station at Camp Cove in 1881.  His descendants are still living in Australia.

Early Russian settlers in Sydney

Several men giving Russia as their birthplace were among the convicts who arrived in Sydney in the early 1800s. The earliest was Constantin Milcow mentioned above.  Many Russian seamen also jumped ship in Sydney in this early period.  They appear in local newspapers of the time usually as a result of drunken state, fights, stealing or death.

The 1881 census recorded 322 Russians in the colony of NSW. Their number grew to 1176 in 1891 (per State Records NSW) and 1536 by 1911.

First official wave of immigration

After the aborted Revolution of 1905 many Russian settlers came to Australia and settled in Brisbane.  They were of revolutionary belief and were fleeing justice.

Russian ANZACS

During the First World War around one thousand Russian born servicemen fought in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).  russian anzacsThey were the largest national group in the AIF after British, New Zealand and Canadian born servicemen. Besides ethnic Russians these Russian born Anzacs included members of a score of different ethnic groups who lived in Russia – Finns and Scandinavians, Estonians, Latvians , Germans, Lithuanians, Jews, Poles, Belorussians, Ukranians, Ossetians, Georgians, Tatarsm, as well as Western European nationals born in Russia or posing as Russian subjects at enlistment.

Their story is told in the book by Elena Govor “Russian Anzacs”. You can also do the search for all Russian servicemen in the database which is of great genealogical value at:


White Russians in Sydney

The second wave of Russian migrants, who arrived in the 1920s, was the so-called White Russians – loyalists of the Tsarist regime, who fled Russia in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and civil war. After the defeat of the White Armies in Siberia, most of them had crossed the border into Manchuria in northern China and later made their way to Australia via Japan. As Brisbane was the first port of call for the Japanese steamers in which they travelled, many of them settled in Queensland, though some ventured further south to Sydney.Valentina-my-little-Russian-Princess-212x300

The 1921 census recorded 1444 Russians in New South Wales. By 1933, their number had risen to 1624, an estimated three-quarters of them living in Sydney.

A prominent Sydney Estonian resident, Mrs Valentina Craig, has recently had her biography “Valentina, my little Russian Princess” published. Mrs Craig, now aged 92, fled the Russian Revolution as a child, immigrated to Estonia (her father’s birthplace) and then Australia in 1927.

Russians in post-war Sydney (1949–52)ss derna

With the arrival of several thousand Russian refugees from war-torn Europe in the aftermath of World War II, Sydney displaced Brisbane as the main centre of ethnic Russian settlement in Australia.

The 1954 census, which for the first time separated out the Ukraine and the USSR, recorded 5472 Russians living in New South Wales, 75 per cent in metropolitan Sydney. Most of the refugees had been taken to Germany as prisoners of war or forced labour, and ended up in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. The remainder were White Russian émigrés who had been living in Europe after fleeing the Bolshevik revolution.

The voyage of their life: the story of the SS Derna and its passengers” by Diane Armstrong.

In August 1948, 545 passengers boarded an overcrowded, clapped-out vessel “SS Derna” in Marseilles to face an uncertain future in Australia and New Zealand. They came from displaced persons camps in Germany, death camps in Poland, labour camps in Hungary, gulags in Siberia and stony Aegean islands. Amongst them were few Russian families: Mattusewich Vassily and Olga and their 8 kids, bishop Theodore Rafalsky and deacon Peter Grishaev (listed as Grisczajew).

“Sasha and Olga- a true tale of survival” by Eva Maria Chapman is another olga and sashabook of what it was to travel and live in post war Australia.

Russians from China 1950s– 1960s

The Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949 prompted thousands of ethnic Russians and Russian Jews, many of whose families had lived in China from the early 1900s, to seek refuge in Sydney.tarasov saga In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the majority came from the international settlements in Shanghai and Tientsin.  Among them were refugees evacuated from Shanghai to the Philippine island of Tubabao shortly before the fall of the Kuomintang government in 1949.  Like the DPs, this group initially had to work off two-year contracts.  Most then settled in Sydney.

Over half of the 14,000 people who arrived under the special humanitarian program for White Russians from China between 1947 and 1985 settled in Sydney.

The book “Tarasov Saga” by Gary Nash provides a full account of this migration. Historical fiction book (researched and based on true historical events) by Belinda Alexandra “White Gardenia” is another recollection.

Do not forget to research the State Records NSW (Archives in brief – guide 121) and National Archives in Australia in order to obtain the immigration ans census records of your ancestors.


1 thought on “Russians in Australia or Australians with Russian ancestry

  1. Lenore Lamont Zissermann Reply

    For those with a Harbin connection, I recently have published a memoir about the lives of my White Russian husband and his family while they lived in or near the city of Harbin, China (Manchuria) during the 1940s and 1950s. It is titled “Mitya’s Harbin: Majesty and Menace.” In addition to the true story, it includes: 29 photographs; a 47-page chronology of events, including agreements, migrations, treaties, wars, etc., relating to the activities of the Russians (and Soviets) in the region; extensive source notes; a bibliography of 178 items; and an index. The book is available on (where it can be purchased for the best price as a new book) and it also has a website which is: If anyone has any questions about the book, please feel free to email me at: Regards, Lenore Zissermann, MA, OTR/R

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