Copyright 2000 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
This page is part of the Union County, OR AGHP
(1613 - 1779.)
Cape Horn Discovered by the Dutch - Theories for Effecting Direct Communication Between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or Between Western Europe and the East Indies - Russian and Siberian Voyages in the North Pacific, and Discoveries on the Northwest Coast of America.
Under the name of the Southern Company, in 1613, Isaac Le Maire, a wealthy citizen of Amsterdam, associated with himself Captain William Schouten, a native of Hoorn, an experienced navigator. From the States-General of Holland, they secured the privilege of making voyages of discovery. The proposed destination of their vessels was concealed from other merchants and the seamen employed. Schouten (Jacob Le Maire, a son of a partner, accompanying as supercargo) sailed from the Texel, June 14, 1615, in two vessels, the Eendracht and Hoorn. Both ships reached Port Desire in safety; but in careening the Hoorn was burned.
On the 13th of January, 1616, the Eendract sailed southward. On the 20th she passed the latitude of the Strait of Magellan. On the 24th, the easternmost point of Terra del Fuego was made, which Schouten named Statenland. On the 30th he passed the extreme southern cape of South America, and nominated it Horn, or Hoorn, in honor of his birthplace. On February 3d, the greatest southern latitude (fifty-nine degrees, thirty minutes) was reached. Standing northwest, on the 12th, the western outlet of the Strait of Magellan had been passed. This expedition had doubled the continent of South America by a newly discovered route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It had determined that vessels could reach the pacific Ocean without the delay or risk of the passage through the Strait of magellan. Spanish cities on the western coasts of Mexico, Spanish commerce upon the Pacific, had ceased to be exempt from armed cruisers of nations at war with Spain.
Whether any channel existed by which the voyage from European countries to the East Indies could be rendered less tedious and perilous, than by doubling the Cape of Good Hope or the South American continent, still continued the prominent problem in commerce and navigation.
The construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, between the Red Sea or Gulf of Suez, and the Mediterranean, thence through the Red Sea and Strait of Babelmandel into the ocean, though several times commenced, had as often been abandoned. Equally fruitless has been the project of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Abandonment of those schemes was succeeded by other theories for securing directness of communication, viz." first, from Europe to the Northwest, into the supposed open sea of North America and thence into the Pacific Ocean; second, sailing in a northeast direction into the open sea north of Europe and Asia, through which the North Pacific Ocean might be reached.
In the development of the latter theory, Russian navigators performed the most prominent part. By their voyages was demonstrated a continuity of sea north of Europe
and Asia into the Pacific Ocean, the separation from North America, and the distance between the Eastern and American continents. As early as 1647-8, voyages had been made from the Siberian town of Jakutzk (Yakoutsk, on the river Lena) to the northeastward of Siberia. The isthmus between the Arctic Sea and Gulf of Anadir (then called Tschukotzkoi Noss), had been circumnavigated and the peninsula of Kamtchatka reached. Müller, of the Royal Academy of St. Petersburg, asserts that in 1736 he inspected the records of the town of Jakutzk, and they established beyond doubt that such voyages had been made. The year 1636 marks the commencement of the navigation of the frozen sea eastward from the mouth of the Jakutzk or Lena river. The rivers Jana (Yana), Indighirka, Alasea and Kolyma were successively discovered. The first expedition of the two vessels, under the direction of Isai Ignatief, eastward from the Iolyma river (Kolimskoi) in the year 1646, found the sea full of ice, but a free navigable channel inshore, in which they sailed two days. In 1647, a larger party, in four half-decked vessels, made search for the mouth of the Anadir, but encountering too much ice returned. On the 20th of June, 1648, another expedition, commanded by Samoen Deschnew, rounded the eastern extremity of the land of Tchuktchi (East Cape of modern geography), reached the mouth of the Anadir, and the peninsula of Kamtchatka. As the Anadir river could be reached more expeditiously overland, the further prosecution of these Siberian voyages was abandoned.
In the early part of the eighteenth century (1711), northern Asia (Siberia) and Kamtchatka had been conquered and merged into the Russian Empire. Peter the Great, in the latter part of his reign, devoted his attention to the lately acquired provinces of Eastern Siberia. Scientific men at Petersburg urged that the question should be determined whether Asia and America were separate continents. Peter entered into the solution of the problem with great zeal. He drew up instructions in his own handwriting, and in person delivered them to Captain Vitus Behring, an officer of Danish birth, serving in the Russian navy, whom he had selected to command the expedition. The project of the Czar embraced an examination of the navigation of the whole north coast of Asia, to accomplish which he ordered two vessels to sail forthwith from Archangel to the icy sea. That expedition was barren of profitable result. One vessel was hemmed in by ice and disabled; the other was never heard of after leaving port. The purposes of the Czar as to northeastern discoveries fully appear in the instructions to Captain Behring:
"I. To construct at Kamtchatka,
or other commodious place, one or two vessels:
"2. With them, to examine the coasts to the north and towards the east, - to see whether they were not contiguous with America, since their end was not known:
"3. To see whether there was any harbor belonging to Europeans in those parts;
"4. To keep an exact journal of all that should be discovered, with which the commander was to return to St. Petersburg."
On the 25th of January, 1725
(but a few days after Behring had received his instructions), Peter the
Great died. On the 5th of February, Empress Catherine, his widow and successor,
and the Senate, confirmed Behring's appointment and approved the orders.
Behring, accompanied by the officers and crews for two vessels and shipwrights
and mechanics, who were to build the vessels, immediately left St. Petersburg,
traveling overland to Okhotsk, Siberia. At that place the first vessel
was to be built which was to transport the company and their supplies to
Kamtchatka, where the second vessel was
to be constructed. From thence the expedition was to sail. In midsummer of 1728 the two ships were ready for sea. The vessel built at Okhotsk was called the Fortuna. Behring's vessel, the Gabriel, was built at Kamtchatka, and accommodated a crew of forty men with necessary provisions for a year. Behring, in his journal, thus states his instructions: "I was ordered to inform myself, among other matters, of the limits of Siberia, and particularly if the eastern corner of Siberia was separate from America." Tschirikow and Spanberg, both of whom subsequently acquired great reputations, accompanied Behring.
The results of that voyage are thus briefly summed up by its distinguished commander: "On the 14th of July, 1728, we sailed from the river of Kamtchatka, tracing the eastern coast of Kamtchatka towards the north. On the 8th of august we arrived in latitude sixty-four degrees, thirty minutes north, and eight men came rowing towards us in a leather boat. They told us that all the mainland, at no great distance from us, extended towards the west. They said that there was a small island before us, to which we afterwards came. We named it the Isle of St. Lawrence. On the 15th of August we arrived to latitude sixty-seven degrees, eighteen minutes, but we went no farther, because it appeared to me that I had fulfilled the instructions which had been given to me; for beyond we could discern no land to the north, neither towards the east. And besides, if we had sailed farther, and had afterwards found a contrary wind, it would have been impossible for us to have returned in the same summer to Kamtschatka; and it would have been hazarding too much to pass the winter in a country where there is no wood, and in the middle of a people who are under no subjection or rule."
Behring and his officers, fully persuaded that they had ascertained that Asia and America were separate, returned to the river Kamtchatka, where they arrived on the 8th of September. Müller observes, in regard to this voyage: "Our officers frequently heard relations of the inhabitants of Kamtchatka, that were important enough to merit their observation; since, according to them, a country must be at no great distance towards the east, the discovery of which, and following its coasts afterwards, was their duty. They themselves had not observed such great and high waves, as in other places are common in the open sea; they had seen fir trees swimming in the sea, tho' they do not grow in Kamtchatka. Some men assured them that they had seen this nearly situated land, in clear weather, from the elevated coasts of kamtchatka."
In honor of this voyage, the channel of sea separating the two continents through which Behring sailed is known as Behring's Strait. Behring renewed his voyage on the 5th of June, 1729, laying his course more to the east; but adverse winds prevented his leaving the coast a greater distance than about 200 versts (I). Meeting no land he sailed back, and steered around the south promontory of Kamtchatka, the proper situation and form of which he described in his map, and returned by sea to the mouth of the river Bolschaia, whence he went to Okhotsk, on the 23d of July. He then returned to St. Petersburg, where he arrived March 1, 1730.
A Japanese junk had been stranded July 8, 1829, upon the coast of Kamtchatka. All of the crew except two were murdered by the Kossacks. The survivors found their way to St. Petersburg, and were the occasion of projecting a voyage to Japan. This wreck had established the fact that the sea adjacent to Kamtchatka was navigable through waters of an intermediate sea (the Pacific Ocean), to the waters surrounding Japan.
Russian verst is about two-thirds of a mile, or 1,167 yards.
While Captain Behring had been
engaged in this exploration of the Siberian coast, Col. Schestakow, chief
of the Jakutzk Kossacks, proposed to the Russian Empress:
1. To Reduce the Tchuktchi to submission to Russian authority;
2. To discover the extent of their country;
3. To undertake the discovery of the land opposite of their country;
4. To examine the Schantarian Isles.
With him was associated Capt. Dimitri Paulutzki of the Dragoons. He had 400 Kossacks under his command with authority to draw reinforcements from the Siberian garrisons. Arrived at Okhotsk he there found the ships Fortuna and Gabriel. A detachment in command of Ivan Schestakow was ordered to embark on the Gabriel with instructions to examine the Schantarian Isles, after which to proceed to Kamtchatka. Col. Schestakow, on the Fortuna, sailed for the Gulf of Penschina. She was cast away, and a number of her crew perished. Being reinforced, Schestakow started by land for Penschina with 150 men. His force was surrounded March 14, 1730, by hordes of the Tchuktchi, and he killed with an arrow. Those who were not slain sought safety in flight. Three days previous to the rout of Schestakow, he had sent orders to Krupischew, a Kossack officer at Taviskoi, to equip a vessel, sail around the south end of Kamtchatka, and coast northward to the sea of Anadir. Gwosdew, the surveyor, was instructed to accompany the voyage. In a vessel constructed from the wreck of the Fortuna, they put to sea. The knowledge of the results of the Schestakow expedition is very meager.
Müller observes: "We only
know that, in the year 1730, Gwosdew, the navigator, was actually between
sixty-five and sixty-six degrees of north latitude, on a strange coast
situated opposite, at a small distance form the country of the Tchuktchi,
and that he found people there, but could not speak with them, for want
of an interpreter. De Lisle relates that Captain Paulutzki arrived at the
Anadir Sea coast, in September, and about the same time the Fortuna
arrived with Gwosdew and Krupischew. That Paulutzki, on learning of the
arrived with Gwosdew and Krupischew. That Paulutzki, on learning of Schestakow's
defeat, ordered the Fortuna to sail to the river Kamtchatka, to take on
board the remainder of the provisions left there by Captain Behring, and
with them sail to the Tchuktchi coast" - these orders were executed in
the summer of 1731 - "at which time Gwosdew and Krupischew were on the
Tchuktchi coast, where they supposed was the Serdze Kamer ( a rock so named
from its shape having some resemblance to that of a heart). But they did
not meet with Paulutzki, nor did they learn any tidings of him. They remained
on the Tchuktchi coast till a gale of wind forced them from the point which
was the ne plus ultra of Captain Behring in his first voyage. They
then steered to the east, where they found an island, and beyond it a land
very large. As soon as they had sight of this land, a man came to them
in a little boat like those of the Greenlanders. They could only understand
from him that he was an inhabitant of a large country where were many animals
and forests. The Russians followed the coast of this land two whole days
to the southward without being able to approach it, when a storm came on
and they returned to Kamtchatka. by this navigation was completed the discovery
of Behring's strait." Captain Paulutzki made a land march against the Tchuktchi,
overcame them, avenged the death of Schestakow, and triumphantly marched
across the peninsula. He then attempted to execute the orders of Schestakow,
the ascertaining of the limits of Siberia. But after a four month's march,
finding the coast of the Icy Sea unexpectedly take a northerly direction,
he abandoned the further examination of the coast-line and turned inland
to Fort Anadir. The voyage of Krupischew and Gwosdew created great interest
in Europe. The proximity of America to Asia was regarded by the Russians
as a most valuable discovery.
On the 17th of April, 1732, the Russian government issued orders "to make voyages as well eastward to the continent of America, as southward to Japan, and to discover if possible at the same time, through the frozen sea, the north passage, which had been so frequently attempted by the English and Dutch." Behring, now a commander,- Spangberg and Tschirikow, captains, were assigned to the service. Müller volunteered to accompany as far as Siberia, to describe the civil history of that region, the manners, customs and traditions of that people. Professors Gmelin, Louis de Lisle de Croyere and Steller were of the scientific corps. While the vessels were being built for voyages to Northwest America, the coats of Kamtchatka and northwest Asia were thoroughly examined.
In 1738, Captain Martin Spangberg examined the Kurili Islands. In 1739, Spanberg, in the St. Michael, Walton, in the double shallop, the Gabriel and a small yacht, made the voyage to Japan. The building and fitting out of Spangberg's ship delayed the expedition to Northwest America. Two ships, the St. Paul and St. Peter, were built at Okhotsk for the voyage of discovery. The smaller vessel was designed for a crew of seventy men. The St. Paul was commanded by Behring, the St. Peter by Captain Alexer Tschirikow. In September they left Okhotsk to winter in Awatscha Bay. George William Steller, as physician and naturalist, and Louis de Lisle de la Croyere as astronomer, accompanied. They sailed from Awatscha Bay June 4, 1741. The vessels remained in company till the 20th of June, when they separated in a storm. Attempt to find each other having failed, each sailed easterly to reach the American continent. Müller writes:
"Nothing particular happened till the 18th of July, when the captain-commander (Behring), after having given orders for steering more and more northerly, got sight of the continent of America in fifty-eight degrees, twenty-eight minutes north latitude. Captain Tschirikow reached the same coast three days before, viz.: on the 15th of July, in fifty-six north latitude. The coast made by the latter was steep and rocky, and he anchored at some distance from the shore. To examine the country, as well as to obtain a supply of water, Tschirikow dispatched his mate with ten well-armed men. They rowed into a bay behind a small cape, but not returning to the ship after a lapse of several days, it was surmised that the boat might have been disabled. On the 21st of July, the boatswain with six men, including carpenters, together with necessary materials, were sent to their assistance. Neither boat returned. The next day two canoes approached from the land. Expecting the return of their mission companions, all were on deck to greet them. The Indians, as they proved to be, still a great distance off, seeing the Russians so numerous, ceased rowing, stood up, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Agai, Agai!' speedily returned towards the shore. Tschirikow had no more small boats and was unable to approach nearer the shore with the ship. A strong west wind arising, he was compelled to get clear of the rocky coast. He again stood inshore as soon as it was safe, to the place where his men had bone. But he never saw nor head anything of them. The officers held a council July 27th and resolved to return at once to Kamtchatka. On the 9th of October they entered Awatscha Bay. Of the seventy men with which they sailed twenty-one had died. M. de Lisle de la Croyere, who had been in a lingering condition, impatient to be landed, fell dead upon the deck on the arrival of the ship in port. Of the fate of the two crews nothing was ever definitely known (1).
(1) Chevalier de Poletica, Russian
Minister at Washington in 1822, in a dispatch to the American Secretary
of State, says that, in 1789, the Spanish ship San Carlos, commanded
by de Aro, found in the latitude fifty-eight and fifty-nine degrees, "Russian
establishments to the number of eight consisting in the whole of twenty
families and four hundred and sixty-two individuals. These were the descendants
of the companions of Captain Tschirikow, who were supposed till then to
Behring, in the St. Paul, neared the coast with the view of examining it, as also to secure a supply of water. He found that the country had terrible high mountains that were covered with snow He sailed towards it; but only small, variable breezes blowing, he could reach it no sooner than the 20th of July, when, under a pretty large island, not far from the continent, he anchored in twenty-two fathoms of water and a soft clayey bottom. A point of land which there projects into the sea they called St. Elias's Cape, on account of its being St. Elias day. Chitrow, the master of the fleet, and Müller, went ashore. Empty huts formed of smooth boards were found, in one of which was a small box of poplar and a whetstone on which copper knives had been sharpened. In a cellar to one was a store of dried salmon. Ropes and household furniture were scattered around. Appearances indicated that the natives had suddenly decamped on the approach of the Russians."
Behring's determination was to have followed the coast to the northward, but he found this impossible, as it soon commenced to extend southwest, and "they met with continual hinderances from the islands, which were very thick, almost everywhere about the continent." On the 30th of July Foggy Island was discovered. On the 29th of August they again made the continent, in fifty-five degrees north, and before it found a multitude of islands, between which they anchored. They were called Schumagin's Islands, the name of the first of the ship's company who had died upon the voyage and was there buried. Andrew Hesselberg, pilot of the expedition, was sent to one of the largest of this group in search of water. He returned with two samples, both of which were brackish. The water was almost exhausted; this brackish water might serve for cooking, and thus economize the small supply remaining. Adopted through necessity as better than none, a quantity was taken on ship, and to its use Steller attributed the diseases which afterward so grievously afflicted the crew. Again setting sail westward, a fearful storm was encountered, which continued seventeen days. Occasionally seeing land, but not daring to approach, tempest-tossed for many days, Behring, the gallant commander, hopelessly ill, many of the crew disabled with scurvy and other distempers, the supply of water about exhausted, and the ship almost entirely unfit for continuing the voyage, on the 31st of october they made an island, and (November 5th) secured an anchorage.
Abandoning all hope of reaching Kamtchatka so late in the season, they went into winter quarters. On the 9th of November Commander Behring was carried ashore upon a litter.
He daily grew worse; "the place
yielded little of antiscorbutic quality. The herbage that grew on the island
was hidden under snow; and, if that had not been the case, the Russians
in that part of the world were little acquainted with the value of vegetables
as antiseptics." The commodore died on the 8th of December. Müller
says: "He was a Dane by birth, and had made voyages both to the East and
West Indies. He was a lieutenant in the Russian service in 1707, and captain-lieutenant
in 1710. It is a subject of regret that his life terminated so miserably.
It may be said that he was almost buried whilst alive, for the sand rolling
down almost continually from the side of the cavern or pit in which he
lay, and covering his feet, he at last would not suffer it to be removed,
saying he felt warmth in it when he felt none in other parts of his body;
and the sand thus gradually increased upon him till he was more than half
covered, so that when he was dead it was necessary to unearth him to inter
him in a proper manner." In honor of Behring, the island where his remains
are entombed bears his name, - is his monument.
The St. Paul shortly afterwards went to pieces, but the material was carefully saved by the survivors and reconstructed into a small craft, in which they found their way back to Petropaulovski, on the bay of Awatscha. Before their departure from this island, so gloomy in its memories, thirty of the crew had been consigned to the grave. On the 27th of August, 1743, all that remained of the crew of the St. Paul reached Kamtchatka after an absence of fifteen months. During much of the time they had suffered the greatest privations. Compelled, while sojourning on Behring's Island, to subsist upon sea animals which there abounded, and to use the skins as a protection against the rigors of the climate, such skins as were preserved and brought by them to Kamtchatka were purchased by the Siberians with great avidity, at handsome prices. The misfortunes and necessities of Behring's crew demonstrated that the North Pacific coast was prolific in most valuable furs. That memorable voyage opened to commerce anew and important feature. It gave origin to the Russian fur trade, to the Russian establishments on the northwest coast, - to the Russian claim to Northwest America, which was limited on the south by the northern line of Spanish discoveries.