1902 Encyclopedia > Geography > Russian Explorations in Siberia

(Part 39)

Russian Explorations in Siberia

But the most important Arctic work in the 18th century was performed by the Russians, for they succeeded in delineating the whole of the northern coast of Siberia.

Some of this work, indeed, was done at a still earlier date. The Cossack Deschneff made an extraordinary voyage, in the summer of 1648, from the river Kolyma, through Behring Strait to Anadyr, a performance which has never since been equaled. Between 1738 and 1750 the mates Manin and Steregogg made their way in small sloops from the mouth of the Yenisei as far north as 75º 15´ N. The land from Taumyr to Cape Chelyuskin, the most northern extremity of Siberia, was mapped by the mate Chelyuskin, who discovered the extreme point in May 1742.

To the east of Cape Chelyuskin the Russians encountered greater difficulties. They built small vessels at Yakiutsk on the Lena, 900 miles from its mouth, whence the first expedition was dispatched under Lieutenant Prontschicheff in 1735. He sailed from the mouth of the Lena to the mouth of the Olonek, where he wintered, and on September 1, 1736, he got as far as 77º 29´ N., within five miles of Cape Chelyuskin, which is in 77º 34´ N. Both he and his young wide died of scurvy, and the vessel returned.

A second expedition, under Lieutenant Laptieff, started from the Lena in 1739, but encountered masses of drift ice in Chatanga bay, and with this ended the voyages to the westward of the Lena.

Several attempts were also made to navigate the sea from the Lena to the Kolyma. In 1736 Lieutenant Laptieff sailed, but was stopped by the drift ice in August, and in 1739, during another trial, he reached the mouth of the Indigirka, where he wintered. In the season of 1740 he continued his voyage to beyond the Kolyma, wintering at Nijni Kolymsk.

In 1725 Vitus Behring, a Dane in the Russian service, received his instructions from Peter the Great a few days before the czar’s death. Two vessels were built for Behring at Okhotsk, and sailing in July 1728, he ascertained the existence of the strait between Asia and America which bears his name. In September 1740 Behring again sailed from Okhotsk, with Steller on board as naturalist. In June 1741 Commodore Behring named the magnificent peak on the coast of North America Mount St Elias, and explored the Aleutian Islands. In November the ship was wrecked on Behring Island; and the gallant Dane, worn out with scurvy, died there on the 8th of December 1741.

In March 1770 a merchant named Liakhoff saw a large herd of reindeer coming from the north to the Siberian coast, which induced him to start in a sledge in the direction whence they came. Thus the New Siberian Islands were discovered, and for years afterwards the seekers for fossil ivory resorted to them.

The Russian Captain Vassili Tchitschakoff in 1765 and 1766 made two persevering attempts to penetrate the ice north Spitzbergen, and reached to 80º 30´ N., and Russian parties twice wintered at bell Sound. But the result was the same as all others have obtained before and since; the Spitzbergen route is evidently not the way to the Pole.

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