An Englishman in St Petersburg

Once in Australia lived John Howard, and I am not talking about the former Prime Minister of Australia, but professor John Leopold Howard.  He was born in England in 1871.  At the age of 14 John moved with his parents to live in Russia.  He was educated in St Petersburg and later became a “lecturer in languages at St Petersburg University at Stannen Schule and Corps De Page”.  When the revolution came he fled with his wife and family to London in 1920 and later migrated to Western Australia in 1927, where he was a part-time professor in languages at Perth University.  Depression of 1930s hit John hard.  At the age of 62 he was one of 800 unemployed relief workers at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance.

This is a short story that was posted in Australian newspaper “The Northern Miner” in 1933 (1).  However there is so much more life experience behind it. My search begins.

“Once he supped with Russian nobility”,

states The Northern Miner on 16  December 1933.  What a big statement for someone, who was born in England “of working parents”.  How was that possible and where to find the proof?

I go to the address books for St Petersburg, which are freely available on internet and cover an extensive period. I look for “Howard” in Russian but am unable to find any references to his family. I use Google and type “Howard” together with “paper mill” (in Russian of course), since I know from the newspaper article that his father was “the first British owner of a paper mill”.

The second web result gives me an idea about where I went wrong.  Of course, I have incorrectly spelled the Russian version of John’s surname.  The family was known in St Petersburg as Goward (Говард) and not Howard.  Letter “H” sounds like “G” when pronounced in Russian.

It proves the golden rule of Russian ancestry research – know your ancestors’ surname in Russian.

Now I am looking for John’s family under letter “G” and straight away find his family in address books of St Petersburg.  I also venture into electronic database of St Petersburg archive and find a lot.

Apparently there was an extended Howard family living in St Petersburg – brothers Arthur, William, Kurtz, Ebenezer and Aleksandr Howard.  John’s father was Ebenezer, since John was recorded in 1912 address book as John Ebenezorovich Howard.  John was also living at Fontanka, 6, and working as teacher at Annenschule (incorrectly recorded in the article as University at Stannen Schule) and Imperial College of Jurisprudence.

Saint Anna German High School (in Russian Главное немецкое училище Святой Анны), usually known as Annenschule ( in Russian Анненшуле), was a school in St Petersburg founded in 1736 for children of the German population of the city. Its alumni included well-known people – ethnologistNicholai Miklukho -Maklai, jeweler Peter Faberge, poet and Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Brodsky. (2)

The St Petersburg archive gives more insight into John’s direct family.  Brother Dolon was a student at Imperial Petersburg University in 1914-1916, sister with initials A.E., who attended Mariinski female gymnasium in 1894 and brother, who was a student at Imperial Commercial College in St Petersburg in 1898.

There is also a file on John Howard himself for the period 1905 -1916 at Imperial School of Jurisprudence.800px-Imperial_School_of_Jurisprudence_SPB

The Imperial School of Jurisprudence was, along with the Page Corps (mentioned by John in the Australian article), the most prestigious school for noble boys in St Petersburg. Among the instructors were the leading lawyers of Imperial Russia. The graduates of the School of Jurisprudence include Ivan Aksakov, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his younger brother Modest Ilyich Tchaikovsky. (3)

As mentioned before the address where John lived in St Petersburg – Fontanka, 6- is the building of Imperial School of Jurisprudence, which stands today.

The file also records John as Court Councilor, which in Table of ranks imposed by Peter the Great, equalled to grade 7 and automatically gave John a nobility status. No wonder he “supped with Russian nobility”.   He was one ( assuming that he took Russian citizenship after 35 years of living in Russia). (4)

The claims to his father being “the first British owner of a paper mill” are not fully correct.  The family of Howards was, indeed, the owner of the biggest paper mill in Russia.  The factory was recorded in factories book in 1912 under the names of W. and K. Howard but founded much earlier (5).

Trinity-Kondrovskaya stationery factory of Howard (ТроицкоКондровская писчебумажная фабрика Говарда ) was founded in 1790.  It was located in Kaluga gubernia/province, Medynskiy uezd/county at villages Troitsk and Kondrovo. The factory had 4 self-printing machines and produced the various grades of paper: for mail writing, for book and newspaper printing, wallpaper, for piano notes, portraiture, envelopes, for smoking, for various products, packaging and wrapping. The factory in 1912 employed 1872 workers, most of whom had a flat from the factory. The factory had warehouses in Astrakhan, Perm, Odessa, Ekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, St. Petersburg, Kiev and Moscow.(6)

Anyone, who is interested in doing a further research on this factory, should write to Moscow Historical archive.  It is amazing but the archive was able to save the files of the factory in fund 352 for the period of 1878-1918.  

And this is just the beginning.  Wonder how much can be found about this family and where are the descendants of John Leopold Howard?



ONCE DINED WITH NOBILITY. (1933, December 16). The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1874 – 1954), p. 2. 




(5) “List of factories and plants in Russian Empire”, published in St Petersburg 1912, page 108



2 thoughts on “An Englishman in St Petersburg

  1. Maria Reply

    Hi Tana,

    Thought I would have a search for this family on the English website, but cannot see them or their migration. What a pity – interesting article.

    Many thanks for sharing this.

    • Tana Post authorReply

      Hi Maria. I was able to find his migration to Australia on The migration was not point of this particular research. I concentrated more on his life in Russia and it a very interesting one. Agree. Tana

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