Esper Alexandrovitch Serebriakoff was born on December 7 1854, in Pavlovsk a Suburb of what is now St Petersburg, Russia. His father was Alexander Alekseevitch Serebriakoff and he had at least one brother who was older, Anatolii Alexandrovitch Serebriakoff. Nothing is known about his mother or any other siblings.
The family were well off, Alexander was a civil engineer. At that time in Russia people working for the state would be part of the military and hold a military rank, Alexander held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Nothing is known about Esper’s family life or schooling. However in 1998 the naval records of Esper were obtained from the Russian Naval archives in St Petersburg. Those records contain considerable detail about Espers service and promotion record.
The first document in the Russian naval records is a letter, apparently sent by Esper’s older brother, Anatolii, asking for Esper to be admitted to the naval cadet school in St Petersburg. The letter was sent on the 8th April 1870, Esper would have been just over 15 years old. His brother signed the letter as “Engineer Titular Counsellor”. Why Anatolii wrote the letter and not his father is not known.
However the next document in the records is signed by his father, Alexander. This letter asks that Esper be admitted as a cadet at sea and that he be allowed to seek promotion by way of examinations. That letter was sent on the 8th October 1872. Esper transferred on the 24th October 1872. The naval records indicate that he was placed as a midshipman on a cruiser called Varyag, and that his father was an Engineer Colonel of Communications.
During his time as a cadet Esper and his fellow cadets committed some offence for which they were locked up in the guard house. They were supposed to be kept in solitary confinement, but they apparently bribed the guard and they were allowed to meet with each other. One of Esper’s friends, Vladimir Lutsk lent Esper a book about social conditions in Russia and the prospects for change. This book appears to have had a deep effect on Esper and a significant influence on his future decisions.
Other parts of the documents show the subjects that Esper was taught, at the naval school, Algebra, Geometry, plane and spherical Trigonometry, History, Physics, calculus analytical and descriptive Geometry, navigation, astronomy and English.
Background – Family.
Esper’s father, Alexander, was born in 1818, he had an older brother Apollon who had been born in 1812. Both attended the Institute of the Corps of Communications Engineers graduating as engineers.
Alexander worked on the construction of the Blagoveshchenskii Bridge in St Petersburg and built the embankment of the river Neva from the Academy of Arts to the Mining Institute. From 1856 – 1864 he worked in the first district of communications, where the well-known N. Benua and A. Krakau served as senior architects. Through Benua, whose wife was the daughter of the great artist and sculptor E. Lanser, he became acquainted with the Lanser family, and rented a dacha from them in Pavlovsk. In this dacha his son Anatolii, who had also graduated as an engineer, became acquainted with Zinaida Aleksandrovich Lanser, sister of the owner, whom he married. Anatolii’s son Boris married a cousin Zinaida Evgen’evna Lanser, who as Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) is known as a very talented artist.
Alexander’s older brother Apollon, after serving in the army during the 1830-31 war with Poland, was appointed the chief engineer on the railway between Petersburg and Moscow between 1855 and 1865. He is buried at a town called Luban, on the rail line between Moscow and Petersburg. There is a memorial grave in the church and a Statue of him at the station.