The fate of the Kornilov House in Tobolsk

PHOTO: early 20th century view of the Governor’s House (left) where the Imperial Family were held under house arrest from August 1917 to April 1918, and the Kornilov House (right) where their servants and retainers were housed in Tobolsk

When Emperor Nicholas II and his family were sent into exile from Tsarskoye Selo on the morning of 14th August (O.S. 1st) 1917, they were not alone. They were accompanied by an enormous entourage of servants and retainers, all of whom followed the Imperial Family voluntarily into an unknown future.

The two trains[1] carrying the Imperial Family, their entourage of nearly 40 servants and retainers[2], plus trunks, suitcases and other personal belongings – all under the watchful eyes of Colonel Eugene Kobylinsky[3] and 330 soldiers – arrived four days later in Tyumen, where they boarded the steamer Rus, which transported them a further 200 miles northeast, a two day journey on the Tura and Tobol rivers arriving in the historic capital of Siberia: Tobolsk.

According to the diary of Nicholas II, after a delay of several days, the Imperial Family were moved into the former Governor’s Mansion[4] on 13th August (O.S.). The family occupied the second floor of the building, the first floor included a dining room and rooms for servants. According to Russian historian Peter Multatuli, the following servants also lived in the Governor’s Mansion: Terentiy Chemodurov, Anna Demidova, Alexandra Tegleva, Elizaveta Ersberg and Maria Tutelberg. Despite being the largest residence in Tobolsk, it was not large enough to house the Imperial Family’s entourage.

The former house of a merchant named Ivan Nikolaevich Kornilov, situated on the opposite side of the square, housed the remaining retainers of the Imperial Family, as well as some of the Guards. Each day the servants and retainers walked across the road to perform their services to the Imperial Family. No one was allowed to enter the Kornilov House without a special permit. 

Persons accompanying the Imperial Family – source: Russian historian Pyotr Multatuli:

1 – Adjutant General Count Ilya Tatishchev
2 – Marshal of the Imperial Court Prince Vasily Dolgorukov
3 – Lady in Waiting Countess Anastasia Hendrikova
4 – Court physician Dr. Evgeny Botkin
5 – French language tutor Pierre Gilliard
6 – Russian language tutor Catherine Schneider
7 – Tutor of Countess Hendrikova Victoria Nikolaeva
8 – Nursemaid Alexandra Tegleva
9 – Assistant to A. Tegleva Elizaveta Ersberg
10 – Kamer-Jungfer[5] Maria Tutelberg
11 – Lady in Waiting Anna Demidova
12 – Nicholas II’s valet Terentiy Chemodurov
13 – Chemodurov’s assistant Stepan Makarov
14 – Valet Alexei Volkov
15 – Footman of the Tsesarevich Sergey Ivanov
16 – Children’s footman Ivan Sednev
17 – Sailor-nanny of the Tsesarevich Klimenty Nagorny
18 – Valet Aloysius Troup
19 – Footman Tyutin
20 – Footman Dormidon
21 – Footman Kiselev
22 – Footman Ermolai Gusev
23 – Waiter Franz Zhuravsky
24 – Senior Cook Ivan Kharitonov
25 – Assistant cook Kokichev
26 – Assistant cook Ivan Vereshchagin
27 – Assistant cook Leonid Sednev
28 – Minister Mikhail Karpov
29 – Kitchen attendant Sergey Mikhailov
30 – Kitchen attendant Franz Purkovsky
31 – Kitchen attendant Terekhov
32 – Servant Smirnov
33 – Clerk Alexander Kirpichnikov
34 – Hairdresser Alexey Dmitriev
35 – Wardrobe Stupel
36 – Head of the Wine Cellar Rozhkov
37 – Servant of Countess Hendrikova Paulina Mezhants
38 – Servant of Catherine Schneider Ekaterina Zhivaya
39 – Servant of Catherine Schneider Maria

Later arrivals included source: Russian historian Pyotr Multatuli:

40 – English language tutor Charles Sydney Gibbs
41 – Doctor of Medicine Vladimir Derevenko
42 – Lady-in-waiting Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden
43 – Kamer-Jungfer[5] Magdalene Zanotti
44 – Room girl Anna Utkina
45 – Room girl Anna Romanova

Sophie Buxhoeveden: “Though I was allowed to stay at the Kornilov house with the other members of the Household for some weeks, I had ultimately to lodge in the town, though I could see the members of the suite every day; and while I lived in the Kornilov house, I was never once allowed to go out for a walk.”

On 26th (O.S. 13th) April 1918, Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, Dr. Eugene Botkin were transferred from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg. The following month, on 20th May, the four remaining children: Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana and Anastasia, along with Tsesarevich Alexei Nikolaevich joined their parents and sister in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg.

The Imperial Family and four faithful retainers were held under house arrest in the Ipatiev House, where they were subsequently murdered by the Ural Soviet on the night of 16/17 July 1918.

PHOTO: main façade of the Kornilov House as it looks today

PHOTO: side view of the façade of the Kornilov House as it looks today

PHOTO: rear view of the façade and entrance to the courtyard of the Kornilov House as it looks today

Following the transfer of the Imperial Family to Ekaterinburg, the remaining servants and retainers in the Kornilov House were free to leave. Many of them returned to their homes or started new lives in Tobolsk or elsewhere. A number of them, however, wanted to make the journey to Ekaterinburg with the hope of reuniting with the Tsar and his family. Their captives warned them that any one who went with the four Romanov children to Ekaterinburg would remain at liberty, at worse, they would not even be permitted to live in the same house with the Imperial Family but tossed in the local jail.

Despite the warning, a few of them made the journey to the Ural capital, and, sure enough were imprisoned and later murdered by the Bolsheviks. Among them were Prince Vasily Dolgorukov, Ilya Tatishchev, Ekaterina Schneider, Anastasia Hendrikova, Klimenty Nagorny and Ivan Sednev. 

As foreign nationals, Pierre Giliard and Sydney Gibbes were both set free. So were a number of others with no explanation and amid rumours that they had abandoned the Imperial Family, sold a few secrets and begged for their lives.

Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden attributed her unexpected release by the Bolsheviks to her “foreign” surname – it was Danish by origin – however, the even more foreign name of “Catherine Schneider” did not prevent the poor woman from being shot.

During the Russian Civil War, the Kornilov House became the headquarters of Vasily Blyukher’s 51st Division. Later, the building housed the State Bank. In 1993, the Center for Russian Culture occupied the former mansion. In November 2010, the Kornilov House underwent an extensive restoration, and today houses the justices of the peace and the Museum of the History of the Judicial System of Western Siberia.

PHOTO: a portrait of Emperor Nicholas II today hangs in the History of the Judicial System of Western Siberia Museum, housed in the former Kornilov House


[1] The trains in which the Imperial Family and their entourage travelled were disguised for security purposes as a Red Cross Train and flew a Japanese flag. The train made regular stops which allowed the August prisoners to roam the woods in search of flowers and berries, always taking their two dogs with them. As the train approached stations and large towns, the curtains of their private wagon were always drawn shut.

The train were considered a “luxurious vehicle for transporting prisoners”. The first train carrying the Tsar and his family was a comfortable wagon-lits of the International Sleeping Car, and including a restaurant car stocked with wines from the Alexander Palace’s wine cellar.

[2] Some sources claim that 45 servants and retainers went into exile with the Imperial Family, however, this author could only identify 39 persons. If we include the 6 persons who later joined them after their arrival in Tobolsk, then this number is correct.

[3] Eugene Stepanovich Kobylinsky (1875-1927) was born into a noble family in Kiev. In 1909 he became a lieutenant in the St. Petersburg Imperial Guard regiment. After Nicholas II abdicated the throne in February 1917, Kobylinsky became an employee of the Provisional Government. On 14th March [O.S. 1st March] 1917, he was appointed commandant of the Alexander Palace, where the Tsar and his family were being held under house arrest at Tsarskoye Selo.

[4] The Governor’s Mansion was an extensive two-storey house built in the Empire Style facing Platzparadnaya Square. It was one of the first houses in Tobolsk to have electricity and fresh water supply installed. The last governor who lived in the house was Nikolai Alexandrovich Ordovsky (1863-1950), who held the post from November 1915 until the October 1917 Revolution. 

Not only was Ordovsky a devout Orthodox Christian, he was also a monarchist who was dedicated to Nicholas II. Following the Tsar’s abdication he refused to accept it nor the new Provisional Government. Upon leaving the city for Petrograd, he said to one of his escorts: “I will not go to any of the members of the Provisional Government, because I served the Emperor, I fulfilled his will. I will not serve any other government” 

In 1918 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. As a former officer, he was included in the “Officer’s List” of those to be executed. Despite his poor health, he managed to escape both the prison and Petrograd. How he managed his miraculous escape remains unclear.

At the end of 1918 he managed to emigrate to Europe. In 1923, in Germany, he was ordained a priest and received a parish in Hamburg; later, having disagreed on some issues with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, he came under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Patriarchate. Already in Germany he was tonsured a monk with the name Nikon, then in Serbia he received the rank of hegumen and archimandrite. In 1945, he cared for Orthodox believers in displaced persons’ camps and was tonsured by Metropolitan Seraphim in the great schema with the name Nicodemus.

In 1948, while in Germany, he began to write voluminous memoirs about his life in pre-revolutionary Russia. Life in exile was full of wanderings, deprivations, loneliness. Nikolai Alexandrovich Ordovsky died in a hospital in Bavaria in 1950.

NOTE: The former Governor’s Mansion has survived to the present time and today houses the Museum of the Family of Emperor Nicholas II, which opened on 26th April 2018.

[5] In two cases – Nos. 10 and 43 – I have been unable to find the correct English translation of the positions of Kamer-Jungfer, therefore, I have left it in the original in italics.

© Paul Gilbert. 20 January 2023