« PreviousContinue »
regions proved as attractive as the gold and silver of America were to the Spaniards. In the course of their expeditions, the Russians had traced the northern shores of Asia, to a considerable distance eastward from Europe, and they had formed establishments on those of the peninsula of Kamtchatka. But they had not yet, by their discoveries, afforded the means of determining whether Asia and America were united on the north into one continent, or were separated by a direct communication between the Pacific and the ocean north of Asia, called the Arctic or Icy Sea; nor, indeed, was it ascertained that the sea around Kamtchatka was a part of the Pacific, though it was generally believed to be so, from the traditions preserved by the natives of that peninsula, of large ships having been wrecked on their coasts.*
By these conquests the Russians had been enabled to secure, in addition to the other advantages, a commercial intercourse with China, which was carried on, agreeably to a treaty concluded in 1689, by caravans, passing between certain great marts in each empire. But the ambitious czar Peter, who then filled the Russian throne, was not content with such acquisitions; he was anxious to know what territories lay beyond the sea bounding his dominions in the east, and whether he could not, by directing his forces in that way, invade the establishments of the French, the British, or the Spaniards, in America. With these views, he ordered that vessels should be built in Kamtchatka, and equipped for voyages of discovery, to be made according to instructions which he himself drew up; while, at the same time, other vessels should proceed from Archangel, on the White Sea, eastward, to explore the ocean north of Europe and Asia, in search of a navigable communication, or north-east passage, through it from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Various circumstances prevented the execution of any of these projects during the lifetime of Peter. His widow and successor, Catharine, however, resolved to carry them into fulfilment; and a small vessel was, at length, in 1728, completed and prepared at the mouth of the River of Kamtchatka, on the north-east side of that peninsula, for a voyage of discovery, to be made agreeably to the instructions of the great czar.
The command of the expedition was intrusted to Vitus Bering, a Dane, who had been selected for 1728.)
* The particulars related in the present chapter are derived, principally, from the History of Kamtchatka, by Krascheninikof — the Account of the Russian Voyages from Asia to America, by Muller - and the Account of the Discoveries of the Russians in the North Pacific, by Coxe, the last edition of which, published in 1803, is the most complete work on the subject.
BERING's VOYAGE TO THE ARCTIC SEA.
the purpose by Peter, on account of his approved courage and nautical skill; his lieutenants were Alexei Tchirikof, a Russian, and Martin Spangberg, a German, each of whom afterwards acquired reputation as a navigator.
Bering was instructed, first - to examine the coasts north and east from Kamtchatka, in order to determine whether or not they were connected with, or contiguous to, America ; and next — to reach, if possible, some port belonging to Europeans on the same sea. With these objects he sailed from Kamtchatka River, on the 14th of July, 1728, and, taking a northward course along the Asiatic shore, he traced it to the latitude of 67 degrees 18 minutes: there he found the coast turning almost directly westward, and presenting nothing but rocks and snow, as far as it could be perceived, whilst no land was visible in the north or east. From these circumstances the navigator concluded that he had reached the north-eastern extremity of Asia, that the waters in which he was sailing were those of the Icy or Arctic Sea, bounding that continent on the north, and, consequently, that he had ascertained the fact of the separation of Asia from America. Being satisfied, therefore, that he had attained the objects of his voyage in that direction, and fearing that, if he should attempt to advance farther, he might be obliged to winter in those desolate regions, for which he was unprepared, he returned to Kamtchatka, where he arrived on the 2d of September. All his conclusions have been since verified; he, however, little suspected that he had, as was the fact, twice passed within a few leagues of the American continent, through the only channel connecting the Pacific with the Arctic Sea. When the existence of this channel was satisfactorily determined, it received, by universal consent, the name of Bering's Strait, which it still bears.
In the ensuing year, Bering attempted to reach the American continent, by sailing directly eastward from Kamtchatka ; but, ere he had proceeded far in that course, he was assailed by violent adverse storms, which forced his vessel around the southern extremity of the peninsula, into the Gulf of Ochotsk. He then went to St. Petersburg, from which he did not return to engage in another voyage of discovery until twelve years afterwards.
While Bering thus remained at the Russian capital, the existence of a direct communication between the sea which bathes the shores of Kamtchatka and the Pacific was proved, --- first, in 1729, by the wreck of a Japanese vessel on the coast of the peninsula, — and, ten years afterwards, by the voyages of two Russian vessels, under Martin Spangberg and William Walton, from Ochotsk, through the passages between the Kurile Islands, to Japan. Within the same period, also, the connection of the Pacific with the Atlantic, by the Arctic Sea, north of Europe and Asia, had been ascertained by means of expeditions, partly on land and partly on sea, along the northernmost shores of the continents; though all the attempts made then, and since, to pass, in one vessel, around those coasts, from Europe to the Pacific, have proved abortive. Moreover, a Russian commander, named Krupischef, had sailed, in 1732, from Kamtchatka, northward, as far as the extreme point of Asia, which had been reached by Bering in his first voyage; and he had thence been driven, by storms, eastward, upon the coast of an extensive mountainous territory, which was supposed to be, and doubtless was, a part of America. Thus the great geographical fact of the entire separation of Asia and America was supposed to be determined ; and all doubts as to the practicability of navigating between the Russian dominions, in the former continent, and those of Spain, in the latter, were dissipated.
These discoveries encouraged the empress Anne, who had succeeded to the throne of Russia in 1730, to persevere in endeavoring to extend her authority farther eastward ; and she accordingly commissioned Bering, in 1740, to make another expedition from Kamtchatka, in search of America. For this purpose, two vessels were built in the Bay of Avatscha, on the south-east side of Kamtchatka, which had been selected for the establishment of a marine depot; and scientific men were engaged, in France and Germany, to accompany Bering, in order that precise information might be obtained on all points connected with the seas and territories to be explored.
Before the preparations were completed, the empress Anne died; but her successor, Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, immediately declared her determination to prosecute the enterprise ; and, no delays being experienced, the vessels sailed together from the Bay of Avatscha, on the 4th of June, 1741. The larger vessel, called the St. Peter, was commanded by Bering; the other, the St. Paul, by Tchirikof, who had accompanied the Dane in his previous voyages. On leaving the harbor, they took an eastern course, and continued together until the 21st of the month, when they were separated during a violent gale, after which they never met again.
Of Bering's voyage, after his separation from Tchirikof, the only definite accounts are contained in the journal of Steller, the surgeon 1741.)
BERING'S VOYAGE TO AMERICA.
and naturalist of the ship, which was first published, in the original German, by Professor Pallas, in 1795. Before that year, all that was known on the subject was derived from a meagre and incorrect abstract of the same journal, in Muller's collections of Russian history. Steller is by no means precise on points of navigation and geography, in consequence of which very few spots described by him can now be identified, although the general course of the voyage may be ascertained.
From Steller's journal, we learn that Bering, after parting with Tchirikof, sailed south-eastward, as far as the 46th degree of latitude; and, not reaching America, he then altered his course to the north-east, in which he continued until the 18th of July, when land was seen ahead, nearly under the 60th parallel of latitude. The point first descried by the Russians was a mountain of such extraordinary height, as to be visible at the distance of more than eighty miles : on advancing towards it, other peaks, and then ridges, appeared, stretching along the coast, and into the interior, to the utmost limits of the view; and, on entering a narrow passage, between the main land and an island, where they anchored on the 20th, they perceived a strong current of discolored water issuing from it, which convinced them that a large river emptied into the sea in its vicinity. From these indications of the extensiveness of the territory, together with its geographical position, they concluded that they had, at length, reached the American continent; and the officers thereupon entreated their commander to pursue the discovery towards the south-east, in which direction the coast trended. But Bering was then enfeebled in mind, as well as in body, by severe illness, and was anxious to return to Kamtchatka ; in consequence of which, he resisted their entreaties, and, after a supply of water had been obtained from the island, they set sail for the west. None of the crew were allowed to go on the main land, lest they should be cut off by savages. On the island were found several huts, which seemed to have been recently abandoned, and various implements of fishing, hunting, and cooking, similar to those used by the Kamtchatkans; of the natives, however, not one was seen.
According to Steller, the name of Cape St. Elias was, much to his discontent, bestowed on this island, or some other in its vicinity, because it was reached on the day of St. Elias, agreeably to the Russian calendar. The old accounts of the expedition, however, state that Bering honored with the name of that saint the lofty mountain which had first attracted his attention; and, under this impression, Cook, when he explored the north-west coast of America, in 1778, applied the name of Mount St. Elias to a stupendous peak which he observed, rising from the shore, under the 60th parallel, believing it to be, as it most probably was, the same discovered by the Russians in 1741. Vancouver, who examined this coast minutely in 1794, was convinced that the place where the Russians first anchored is on the eastern side of a bay at the foot of Mount St. Elias, on the east, which is called Admiralty or Bering's Bay, on English maps, and Yakutat on those of the Russians. The current of discolored water, setting out from that part of the coast, was observed, in 1838 by Belcher.
After their departure from the island, the Russians continued sailing westward, occasionally seeing the land in the north, until the 3d of August, when, in the latitude of 56 degrees, they beheld a chain of high mountains, (those of the great peninsula of Aliaska, and the contiguous island of Kodiak,) stretching before them from north to south. Upon discovering this impediment to their progress, they turned to the south-west, in order to reach the 53d parallel, under which they were sure, from their observations in coming out, that they should find an open sea to Kamtchatka : but their course was so much retarded by violent opposing winds, that they had scarcely advanced sixty miles before the end of the month ; and, being then exhausted by fatigue and sickness, they anchored among a group of small islands, on one of which they remained ashore several days. There they first saw natives of America, who resembled the aborigines of Northern Asia in their features and habits, and were provided with knives, and other articles of iron and copper; although they appeared never before to have held any intercourse with civilized people. There, also, occurred the first death among the Russians, in commemoration of which, the name of the deceased sailor, Schumagin, was bestowed on the group The islands now so called are about ten in number, situated near the latitude of 551 degrees, on the eastern side, and not far from the extremity of Aliaska.
On quitting the Schumagin Islands, the Russians continued their course south-westward, and passed by other islands, which were those of the Aleutian Archipelago, extending westward from Aliaska, nearly under the 53d parallel. They were then assailed by furious storms, and were, for nearly two months, driven over the seas at random, while famine, disease, and despair, were daily lessening their numbers. “The general distress and mortality," says Steller,