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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Vassili Golovnin

Vassili Golovnin

1817 to 1819

As a result of various rumors concerning the maladministrations, abuses, and cruelty of the officials of the Russian American Company in Alaska, the Russian Government decided in 1816 to send Captain Vassili Mikhailovitch Golovnin to investigate the matter. Golovnin had previously conducted surveys of the coast of Kamchatka, Alaska, and the Kurile Islands in 1807 to 1811 on the ship Diana. In July 1811 he had been arrested by the Japanese on Kunashiri Jima, the most southern of the Kuriles; and after he and his Russian companions had suffered imprisonment for two years, he had returned to St. Petersburg in 1814.

A sloop named the Kamchatka, built for the expedition to Alaska, had a cargo capacity of 900 tons for military and other supplies to be delivered to Kamchatka and ports on the Sea of Okhotsk. Golovnin was also to make surveys in the north Pacific and Bering Strait wherever they had not been made by Kotzebue in the Rurick. Golovnin selected a crew of 130, and among those who sailed with him were Litke and Von Wrangel who were destined in later page 76 Hawaiian Sailing Canoes off Niihau, Drawn by John Webber, Artist With Cook on his Third Voyage. page 77 years to continue Russian exploration. The Russian artist Tikhanov was also a member of the party. He painted a portrait of Kamehameha; but it was lost, which is a pity, for it would have added variety to that often copied Choris portrait.

The Kamchatka left Kronstadt on August 26, 1817, and sailed via Cape Horn to Kamchatka. Golovnin discharged his obligations by visiting the various Russian posts on the Asiatic and American sides and various islands in the Bering Sea and in the Aleutian chain. Having acquired information regarding the company, he sailed for the Hawaiian Islands.

He arrived at the island of Hawaii on October 18, 1818, and visited Kealakekua Bay and Kailua. He was visited by various chiefs and recorded much interesting information about the Hawaiians. Golovnin met Kamehameha at Kailua, where the king's sister had just died. Honolulu was visited, and the ship also anchored at Waimea Bay in Kauai. Golovnin found that Americans had influenced Kamehameha's mind against Russian settlement, but Scheffer had left the islands and the situation had calmed down. Golovnin was sincere in dissociating Scheffer's activities from the Russian government, and in his own writings, he refers to Scheffer as a foreigner.

From Kauai, Golovnin sailed west, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and anchored at Kronstadt on September 6, 1819.