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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Russian Voyages

page 68

Russian Voyages

The Russians, the geographical boundaries of their country being what they were, had no initial incentive to become deep-sea mariners. As early as 1581, however, adventurous Cossacks had crossed the Ural Mountains and started the conquest of Siberia. Russian hunters and traders traversed thousands of miles in northern Asia toward the east in quest of better furs. Mostvitin, between the years 1639 and 1642, reached the Sea of Okhotsk and must have gazed on the western waters of the Pacific with as much, if less flamboyant, emotion as Balboa had when he looked upon its eastern waters in 1513. The progress south at the Amur was opposed by the Manchu Dynasty of China, and Russian exploration flowed north and east. Dezhnev crossed Bering Strait in 1696 without naming it. By the year 1700, the Russians held the entire northeastern part of Asia. Peter the Great encouraged these explorations and discoveries and, shortly before his death in 1725, authorized the First Kamchatka Expedition, which was placed under the command of Bering. The separation between Asia and America was definitely proved, and the strait which separates their nearest parts was named after Bering, one of Russia's most courageous explorers.

As the fur-bearing animals on the Asiatic side became depleted through wholesale slaughter, the hunters and traders pushed east along the chain of Aleutian Islands and reached Alaska. The small groups of Russian fur traders were organized into the Russian American Company in 1779. Shelekhov, the able manager of the company, early saw the advantages of communication by ship between the Baltic Sea and the Russian colonies on the northwest American coast. It was thus possible to avoid the long and expensive land transport of furs to China and Russia. By the land route, furs sometimes took two years to reach their destination, and the expense and delay of land transport for food and supplies from Russia resulted in great suffering and hardship for the colonies. However, Shelekhov's dream did not come true until after his death. In 1799 the Russian American Company received a monopoly charter from Tsar Paul, and the company, under its chief manager Baranov, established its headquarters at New Archangel in Sitka Sound only 500 miles north of Vancouver.

The realization of Shelekhov's dream and its association with Russia's first voyage around the world were due to Captain A. J. von Krusenstern of the Russian Imperial Navy. Krusenstern served in the British Navy from 1793 to 1799, during which period he realized the importance of the English trade with the East Indies and China. He saw what a similar trade would mean to Russia and determined to gain some practical experience concerning it. In 1797 he sailed on an English line-of-battle ship to the Cape of Good Hope and proceeded by frigate to India. From India, he went to Canton on a merchant-page 69man, to gain some knowledge of navigation in the China Sea. In Canton, he saw a small English vessel arrive from the northwest coast with a cargo of furs which sold for 60,000 piastres. Knowing that his own countrymen carried on a considerable trade in furs with China, he saw the advantage of bringing them directly to Canton by ship instead of by land from Okhotsk. He thus revisualized the scheme of Shelekhov which already had been put into effect by the American fur traders from Boston.

On his return to Russia, Krusenstern memorialized the Russian Minister of Commerce but without effect. However, a change of Government occurred and the new Minister of Marine, Admiral Mordwinoff, and the Minister of Commerce, Count Romanzoff, both approved of the plan to send two ships to the Russian posts on the northwest coast and, incidentally, to circumnavigate the globe. Count Romanzoff obtained the approval of the Emperor, Alexander I, and the first Russian voyage into the Pacific was planned under the command of Captain Krusenstern. Other Russian expeditions into the Pacific followed, the principal ones of which are listed below.

Date Voyager Ship Polynesian Islands Visited
1803-1806 Krusenstern Nadeshda Marquesas, Hawaii
1803-1806 Lisiansky Neva Easter, Marquesas, Hawaii, Lisiansky
1806-1809 Hagenmeister Neva Hawaii
1813-1815 Lazarev Suvorov Suvorov, Hawaii
1815-1818 Kotzebue Rurick Easter, Tuamotu, Tongareva, Hawaii
1817-1819 Golovnin Kamchatka Hawaii
1819-1821 Bellingshausen Vostok Rapa, Tuamotu, Tahiti, Vostok, Rakahanga
1819-1821 Lazarev Mirni Rapa, Tuamotu, Tahiti, Vostok, Rakahanga
1823-1826 Kotzebue Predpriatie Tuamotu, Society, Motu-One, Samoa, Hawaii