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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Thaddus Bellingshausen

Thaddus Bellingshausen

1819 to 1821

Russia, having done so much in the Arctic, turned her attention to the Antarctic and organized an expedition which was placed under the command of Admiral Thaddeus Bellingshausen. Two sloops, the Vostok and the Mirni, were equipped, and Mikhail Lazarev, who had previously commanded the Suvorov, was appointed to command the Mirni.

The two ships sailed from Kronstadt on July 4,5 1819. After touching at Brazil, they sailed south into the Antarctic, where they stopped at the south Georgia and south Sandwich groups. After three months in the Antarctic, they sailed for Port Jackson, Australia, where they arrived on March 30, 1820. From there, they sailed to New Zealand, where Bellingshausen was impressed with the wood carvings of the Maoris.

Bellingshausen sailed north for Polynesia, encountering Oparo (Rapa) and Bow Island (Hao), where he stayed awhile. From Hao, he sailed west through the Tuamotu Archipelago. On July 8, 1820, he discovered a new atoll, which he named Moller Island (Amanu). Between Amanu and Tahiti, from July 8 to July 18, Bellingshausen encountered no less than ten more Tuamotuan atolls and carefully checked their latitudes and longitudes. These he named as follows: Moller (Amanu), Arakcheev (Fangatau or Angatau), Volonsky page 78(Takume), Barclay de Tolley (Raroia), Nigeri (Nihiru), Osten-Saken or Saken (Katiu), Tchitchagoff or Chichagov (Tahanea), Miloradovich (Faaite), Wittgenstein (Fakarava), Greig (Niau), and Lazarev (Matahiva). He called at Meetia and Tahiti, where he met Pomare II and stayed some days.

Continuing west, Bellingshausen discovered another island on July 30 which he named Lazarev (Matahiva), after his second-in-command. On August 3, he discovered an uninhabited atoll which he named Vostok, after his ship. On August 8, he discovered Rakahanga in the northern Cook group and named it Grand Duke Alexander Island. The inhabitants came out in canoes and challenged him to fight by throwing stones and spears at the ship. Still continuing west, Bellingshausen missed Samoa and entered the Fiji Islands, where he encountered the three islands of Mikhaylov, Simonov, and Ono. Here he met "King Fio," gave presents, received food supplies, and bartered for various native articles. The ships then sailed for Sydney, where they arrived in October 1820.

On October 31, 1820, the ships sailed from Sydney for the Antarctic, and they reached Macquarie Island on November 16. On January 10, 1821, a high island was discovered in latitude 68° 57′ S. and named Peter I Island. On January 17 another island was discovered and named Alexander I Land, which later explorations showed to be a large, high island. Bellingshausen's hope that he had discovered the land mass of Antartica was dispelled by the appearance of the small American fur-trader, Hope, under the command of Nathaniel Palmer, who had discovered the land earlier. Out of courtesy, Bellingshausen named the coast Palmer Land. The expedition returned via Rio de Janeiro and reached Kronstadt in August 1821.