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DEATH OF BERING.
“ increased so fast, that not only the sick died, but those who pretended to be healthy, when relieved from their posts, fainted and fell down dead; of which the scantiness of the water, the want of biscuits and brandy, cold, wet, nakedness, vermin, and terror, were not the least causes.” At length, on the 5th of November, they again saw land, which proved to be an island, in the latitude of 55 degrees; and on it they resolved, at all hazards, to pass the winter. With this view, they anchored in the most secure place which could be found, close to the shore, and, having landed their stores and other necessaries, they began the construction of huts out of sails and spars; but they soon had an abundant supply of materials from the wreck of their vessel, which was dashed in pieces on the island by the waves.
On the 8th of December Bering expired, worn down by sickness, fatigue, and disappointment, and thirty of the crew were consigned to their graves on the island before the ensuing summer. The survivors recovered their health, and obtained a sufficiency of food, by hunting the sea and land animals, which were found in great numbers on and about the shores. As soon as the mild season returned, they collected the pieces of the wreck, of which they made a small vessel; and, having provisioned it as well as they could, they set sail from the western side of the island on the 14th of August, 1742. Two days after, they made the coast of Kamtchatka; and, continuing along it towards the south, they, on the evening of the 27th, landed, forty-six in number, at the place in the Bay of Avatscha from which they had taken their departure fifteen months before. The island, on which they had thus passed more than nine months, is situated about eighty miles from the eastern shore of Kamtchatka, between the latitudes of 541 and 551 degrees, and has, ever since its discovery, been called Bering's Isle ; it consists entirely of granite mountains.
Such were the occurrences, and the unfortunate termination, of Bering's voyage.
Tchirikof, likewise, pursuing an eastward course, discovered land in the latitude of 56 degrees. It was a mountainous territory, with steep, rocky shores, extending on the ocean from north to south; and, the weather being unfavorable for approaching it, ten men were sent in a boat to make examinations. As these did not return, after some time, nor make any signal from the shore, six others were despatched in search of them, whose reappearance was also expected in vain; and Tchirikof was obliged, at length, to quit the coast without learning what had befallen any of them. In the mean time, the scurvy had broken out among his crew; and as the stormy season was approaching, he resolved to hasten back to Kamtchatka. His voyage thither was attended with great difficulties, and before the 8th of October, when he reached Avatscha, he had lost twenty-one men by sickness, including the distinguished French naturalist Delile de Croyere, in addition to the sixteen whose fate was undetermined. The land discovered by him must have been, agreeably to the account given of its latitude and bearings, the western side of one if the islands, named, on English maps, the Prince of Wales’s Archipelago, the inhabitants of which are remarkable for their fierceness and hatred to strangers. It is, therefore, most probable that the men sent ashore by Tchirikof were murdered as soon as they landed.
These discoveries of the Russians excited some attention in Europe, where they were made known, first, by the periodical publications of France, England, and Germany, and afterwards more fully, by the scientific men and historians of those countries. In 1750, a long memoir on the subject was read by the French geographer Delisle, before the Academy of Sciences of Paris, * wherein he gives the highest praise to the Russian navigators, and pronounces, as proved by their expeditions, “that the eastern portion of Asia extends under the polar circle, towards the western part of America, from which it is separated by a strait about thirty leagues wide; this strait is often frozen over, but, when free from ice, it affords communication for vessels into the Frozen Ocean."
The Russian government did not, however, consider the discoveries of its subjects as sufficiently important to justify the immediate despatch of other vessels in the same direction; and no further attempts to explore the North Pacific were made by its authority until 1766. In the mean time, accidental circumstances, connected with Beriag's last voyage, had drawn the attention of individuals in Eastern Asia to the islands seen by that navigator, on his return towards Kamtchatka; and the part of the ocean in which those islands lie had been thoroughly searched.
It has been mentioned, that the crew of Bering's vessel, during the period passed by them in the island, near Kamtchatka, had subsisted chiefly on the flesh of the sea and land animals found there. The skins of these animals, particularly of the black foxes and sea otters, were preserved by the men, and carried with them to Kamt
* Histoire de l'Academie Royale des Sciences, for 1750, p. 142.
VOYAGES OF RUSSIAN FUR TRADERS.
chatka, where they were sold at such high prices, that several of the seamen, as well as other persons, were induced immediately to go to the island and procure further supplies. In the course of the voyages made for this purpose, other islands, farther east, which had been seen by Bering and Tchirikof, were explored, and found to offer the same advantages; and the number of persons employed in seeking furs was constantly increasing.
The trade thus commenced was, for some time, carried on by individual adventurers, each of whom was alternately a seaman, a hunter, and a merchant; at length, however, some capitalists in Siberia employed their funds in the pursuit, and expeditions to the islands were, in consequence, made on a more extensive scale, and with greater regularity and efficiency.* Trading stations were established at particular points, where the furs were collected by persons left for that object; and vessels were sent, at stated periods, from the ports of Asiatic Russia, to carry the articles required for the use of the agents and hunters, or for burter with the natives, and to bring away the skins collected.
The vessels employed in this commerce were, in all respects, wretched and insecure, the planks being merely attached together, without iron, by leathern thongs; and, as no instruments were used by the traders for determining latitudes or longitudes at sea, their ideas of the relative positions of the places which they visited were vague and incorrect. Their navigation was, indeed, performed in the most simple and unscientific manner possible. A vessel sailing from the Bay of Avatscha, or from Cape Lopatka, the southern extremity of Kamtchatka, could not have gone far eastward, without falling in with one of the Aleutian Islands, which would serve as a mark for her course to another; and thus she might go on, from point to point, throughout the whole chain. In like manner she would return to Asia, and, if her course and rate of sailing were observed with tolerable care, there could seldom be any uncertainty as to whether she were north or south of the line of the islands. Many vessels were, nevertheless, annually lost, in consequence of
The islands discovered and frequented by the Russian fur traders were those called the Aleyutsky, or Aleutian, extending in a line nearly along the 53d parallel of latitude, from the south-west extremity of the peninsula Aliaska, across the sea, to the vicinity of Kamtchatka. Aliaska was, likewise, supposed to be an island, until 1778, when its connection with the American continent was' ascertained by Cook. The inhabitants of these islands were a bold race, who, for some time, resisted the Russians, but were finally subdued, after their numbers had been considerably reduced.
this want of knowledge of the coasts, and want of means to ascertain positions at sea; and a large number of those engaged in the trade, moreover, fell victims to cold, starvation, and scurvy, and to the enmity of the bold natives of the islands. Even as lately as 1806,* it was calculated that one third of these vessels were lost in each year. The history of the Russian trade and establishments on the North Pacific, is a series of details of dreadful disasters and sufferings; and, whatever opinions may be entertained as to the humanity of the adventurers, or the morality of their proceedings, the courage and perseverance displayed by them, in struggling against such appalling difficulties, must command universal adıniration.
The furs collected, by these means, at Avatscha and Ochotsk, the principal fur-trading ports, were carried to Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia, whence some of them were taken to Europe; the greater portion were, however, sent to Kiakta, a small town just within the Russian frontier, close to the Chinese town of Maimatchin, through which places all the commerce between these two empires passed, agreeably to a treaty concluded at Kiakta, in 1728. In return for the furs, which brought higher prices in China than any where else, teas, tobacco, rice, porcelain, and silk and cotton goods, were brought to Irkutsk, whence all the most valuable of those articles were sent to Europe. These transportations were effected by land, except in some places, where the rivers were used as the channel of conveyance; no commercial exportation having been made from Eastern Russia, by sea, before 1779: and, when the immense distances,t between some of the points above mentioned, are considered, it becomes evident that none but objects of great value, in comparison with their bulk, at the place of their consumption, could have been thus transported, with profit to those engaged in the trade, and that a large portion of the price paid by the consumer must have been absorbed by the expense of transportation. A skin was, in fact, generally worth, at Kiakta, three times as much as it cost at Ochotsk.
The Russian government appears to have remained almost entirely unacquainted with the voyages and discoveries of its subjects,
* Krusenstern's journal of his voyage to the North Pacific.
+ In the following table, each number expresses nearly the distance, in geographical miles, between the places named on either side of it:
St. Petersburg, 460, Moscow, 1500, Tobolsk, 1800, Irkutsk, 1550, Yakutsk, 600, Ochotsk, 1300, Petropawlowsk, on the Bay of Avatscha; Irkutsk, 300, Kiakta, 1000, Pekin.
VOYAGE OF KRENITZIN AND LEVASCHEF.
engaged in the fur trade of the North Pacific, until 1764, when the empress Catharine II. ordered that proper measures should be taken to procure exact information with regard to the islands, and the American coasts, opposite her dominions in Asia. This ambitious sovereign had then just ascended the throne, and was, or chose to appear, determined to carry out the views of Peter the Great for the extension of the Russian empire eastward beyond the Pacific.
Agreeably to the orders of Catharine, Lieutenant Synd sailed, in 1766, from Ochotsk, and advanced northward, along the coast of Kamtchatka, as far as the 66th degree of latitude; and, in the following year, he made another voyage in the same direction, in which he is supposed to have landed on the American continent. Very few particulars respecting his expeditions are, however, known, as the Russian government appears to have suppressed all accounts of them, for reasons which have been suggested, but which it is unnecessary here to repeat.
In 1768, another expedition was commenced, for the purpose of surveying the islands. With this object, Captains Krenitzin and Levaschef quitted the mouth of Kamtchatka River, in July, each commanding a small vessel; and, after cursorily examining Bering's Isle, and others near the coast of the peninsula, they stretched across to the Fox Islands, the largest and easternmost of the Archipelago, among which they passed the winter. Before the ensuing summer, nearly half the crews of both vessels had perished from scurvy; and, when the navigators returned to Kamtchatka, in October, 1769, they had done nothing more than to ascertain, approximately, the geographical positions of a few points in the Aleutian chain. It appears, indeed, that Krenitzin had employed himself exclusively in collecting furs, with which his vessel was laden on her arrival from her voyage. The only valuable information obtained by the Russian government, through this costly expedition, related to the mode of conducting the fur trade between Kamtchatka and the islands; upon which subject the reports of Levaschef were curious and instructive, and served to direct the government in its first administrative dispositions, with regard to the newlydiscovered territories.
The expedition of Krenitzin and Levaschef was the last made by the Russians in the North Pacific, for purposes of discovery or investigation, before 1783. In 1771, however, took place the first voyage from the eastern coast of the empire, to a port frequented