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Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Labor Issues

An undertaking the scale of Kherson’s required a large investment of manpower and resources and stands as a testament to the Russian Empire’s mobilizational powers. The Admiralty estimated in 1780 that it required 2,616 laborers to be divided among the following tasks.1

For the construction of six slipways:
150 carpenters, 50 masons, and 1020 assorted laborers for piledriving, stonebreaking, and clearing the sites.

For the construction of three ships and several ship camels:
1122 various carpenters, 24 joiners, 60 smiths, 40 sailmakers, and 150 common laborers.

The preoccupation with acquiring skilled laborers to build the fleet was a constant theme in Ivan Gannibal’s correspondence with the admiralty.2 He stressed that the numbers of workers being sent to Kherson were misleading as he would find many of them to be either lame or ill upon their arrival. Of some 104-odd woodworkers and foremen who arrived in Kherson from Taganrog in the autumn of 1780, he complained that no more than 40 turned out for work on a weekly basis. And of those 40, a significant portion were third-rate ignoramuses who ordered about the foremen.3 Furthermore, those hired by the Admiralty would stay no longer than the terms of their one year contract, returning home and being replaced by new workers who were just as ignorant as the first.
Gannibal was so strapped for labor that he even complained of being oversupplied. He had been sent the wood to build prams, but his laborers were hardly sufficient to cover the initial stages of the shipbuilding and other, more pressing, admiralty constructions.4 He only offered the hope that the prams might be built by the time Kherson's ships were sent to Glubokaia Pristan' to be armed and supplied.
While the Admiralty continued to send laborers to Kherson, attrition rates were high. Of the 618 people sent to Kherson by the Admiralty in 1781, 130 had either died or fled by the dawn of 1783 and accusations of incompetence were still rampant.5

1. "Vypiska iz spravki o stroenii v Khersone elingov i korablei, 1780 goda fevralia 14," Materialy dlia istorii russkago flota VI, 717. 
2. Ivan Gannibal, "Vypiska iz doneseniia Ganibala admiralteistve-kollegii, 1780 goda noiabria 17," ibid., 718.
3. Ibid.  
4. Ibid., 719. 
5. Ivan Gannibal, "Donesenie general-poruchika Gannibala grafu Chernyshevu, iz Khersona, 1783 goda ianvaria 26," Materialy dlia istorii russkago flota XV, 1. 

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