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Our Beautiful World

Vitus Bering

Vitus Bering was one of the world's famous explorers. In 1728, Bering discovered that Asia
and America are two separate continents, and in 1741 he was the first one to map the west
coast of Alaska. As Columbus tied together the world to the west, Bering tied it together
to the east.

Vitus Jonassen Bering was born in Horsens, Denmark, in 1681. He went to sea as a young
man and began a long career as a seaman. In 1703, Bering enlisted in the Russian navy.
He moved to Russia, where he got married and had children. Apart from a single visit to
Copenhagen in 1715, Bering never saw Denmark again.


To the most Serene Sovereign, the high and powerful, the Empress of all the Russia.:
A short relation of the Siberian Expedition upon which (I) was sent.
Of your Imperial Majesty the most humble servant and fleetcaptain, W.I.Bering.
On February 5 of the late year 1725 I received from her Imperial Majesty the Empress
Ekaterina Alexievna, of happy and well-deserving memory, the autographic instructions
of his Imperial Mejesty Peter the Great, of happy and well-deserving memory, a copy
of which is hereunto affixed.

(1.) There should be built on the Kamchatka [River], or at some other place adjacent,
one or two boats with decks.
(2.) With these boats [you are directed] to sail along the coast which extends northwards
and which is supposed (since no one knows the end of it) to be continouous with America.
(3.) And therefore [you are directed] to seek the point where it connects with America and
to go to some settlement uinder European rule, or if any European vessel is seen, learn of it
what the coast visited is called, which should be taken down in writing, an authentic
account prepared, placed on the chart and brought back here.

From The National Geographic Magazine, Vol. II, No.2, 1890.

The first Kamchatka Expedition, (1725-1730)
The Russian Zar, Peter the Great (1672-1725), sent out an expedition lead by Vitus Bering
to find out whether Asia and North America were connected.

The planning of the Kamchatka Expedition took almost four years, and on February 5, 1725,
five weeks before his death, Peter the Great signed Bering's orders, and the explorer finally
set sail. It took the expedition until 1728 to reach the Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka.

The expedition travelled throughSiberia and reached Kamchatka, where a camp wass set up
and ships were built. On the 13th of August 1728, Bering sailed round the north-east corner
of Asia, thus proving that there was water between Asia and America. The American coast
was hidden in fog, though. Bering returned to Sct. Petersburg with the news but was
criticised for not having actually seen the American coast.

Extract from the first expedition:
The vessel was provisioned (in Kamchatka) with everything needful for forty men for a year.
On the 14th day of July we went out of the mouth of the Kamchatka river into the sea, in
obedience to the autographic orders given me by his Imperial Mejesty Peter the Great,
as the map constructed for that purpose will show.

August 8th, having arrived in north latitude 64°30', eight men rowed to us from the shore in
a skin-boat, enquiring from whence we came and what was our business there. They said
they were Chuikchi, (Whom the Russians of these parts have long known) and as we lay to
they were urged to come to the vessel. They inflated some floats made of sealskin and sent
one man swimming to us to talk, then the boat came up to the vessel and they told us that
on the coast lived many of their nation; that the land not far from there takes a decided turn
to the westward, and they also said that at no great distance from where we were,
we should see an island. This proved true, but we saw nothing valuable upon it except huts.

This island in honor of the day we named St.Lawrence (see map below), but we were not
able to see any people upon it, though an officer was sent in a boat from the vessel on
two occasions to look for inhabitants.

On the 15th of August we arrived in the latitude of 67°18' and I judged that we had clearly
and fully carried out the instructions given by his Imperial Majesty of glorious and ever
deserving memory, because the land no longer extended to the north. Neither from the
Chukchi coast nor to the eastward could any extension of the land be observed.

The expedition returned to Kamchatka, and later arrived back in St. Petersburg on the
1st of March, 1730, (without having found America).

From The National Geographic Magazine, Vol. II, No.2, 1890.

The second Kamchatka Expedition, (1733-1743)
The second Kamchatka Expedition, the so-called Great Nordic Expedition, was the largest
expedition the world ever saw. It included 10.000 men all in all.

Beginning in 1733, Bering left St. Petersburg with 10,000 men - the largest expedition ever
mounted. But as time wore on, their resources were slowly depleted. Frostbite and scurvy
decimated the crew. Rarely did all of the men who set out to map the region's many river
valleys come back alive.

In 1738 Bering set up camp along the eastern Siberian coast, where he constructed two ships,
the St. Peter and the St. Paul. In 1739 Bering led his own voyage in an attempt to reach the
western coast of America. Captaining the St. Peter, he sailed east and reached Alaska on
July 17, 1741. Catching sight of a volcanic peak, he named the mountain Mount St. Elias,
the name it bears today.

On the way home his ship stranded on a small bare island. Bering and his crew had to spend
the winter on the island, living in driftwood huts that were dug into the sand. It was later given
the name Bering Island.
Partly from The Historical and archaeological Museum of Horsens
and from "Vitus Bering and the Great Nordic Expedition" at The Copenbhagen Post Online

Over 250 years ago, in November–December of 1741, dramatic events unfolded on a tiny
remote island in the storm-filled waters between Alaska and Siberia. Two Russian ships,
the St. Peter and the St. Paul, sailing as part of the great Russian polar expedition of 1724–1743,
were given the task of charting waters around the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands.

Because the ships’ crews suffered from scurvy, the ship’s doctor and naturalist aboard the
St. Peter – a German by the name of Georg Wilhelm Steller – went ashore along the southern
Alaskan coastline to gather plants that could be used to combat the disease. But because
few crewmembers followed Steller’s instructions, the men were continually plagued by illness.

Sailing once again, the ships were battered by storms over a period of several months.
At last the St. Peter anchored on the east side of a small unpopulated island in the Commander
Islands. There, in November of 1741, the ship was hurled up on the only stretch of beach
along a coastline otherwise dominated by rocky cliffs. The crew dug crude holes in the ground
for shelter, and lived off of sea otters, seals, and stranded whales. Thirty-one of the ship’s 77
men–weakened by fatigue and plagued by scurvy–finally succumbed to disease and starvation.
Among them was the Danish expedition leader, Vitus Bering, who died on 19 December.
Today, that small island bears his name–Ostrov Beringa.
From "Vitus Bering. A renowned Danish polar explorer", Danish Arctic Institute

Who was the first one to find the seaway between Alaska and Asia?

In 1648, x years before Bering's first Expedition, another russian expedition set off eastward
through Siberia. When they arrived Kolyma river they fit out seven small trading boats.
Three of these reached Bering Strait. One was wrecked there on East Cape, but the crew
was accommodated on the other two. Then the two got separated after hostilities with the Chukchi people, and only one lead by Simeon Deshneff finally reached Kamchatka.
The next year Deshneff constructed the trading post on the Anadyr river subsequently
known as Anadyrsk.

In 1711 an emissary named Peter Ilimsen Popoff was sent to East Cape by the Russians to induce the Chukchi to pay tribute. He failed, but brought back an account of islands beyond East Cape, and of a continent reported by the Chukchi to exist beyond these islands.

Now reports about these expeditions of  this period
came to sleep in the archives at Yakutsk.
About 1720 new explorers brought to attention to the Emperor Peter the Great.
He now drew up instructins for an expedition, but died in 1925 before the expedition could
set off. So the Empress ordered Fleet Captain Vitus Ivanovitsj Bering to take the command
of the expedition, with Lieutenants Martin Spanberg and Alexie Chirikof to be his assistants.

How did they navigate and find their exact position out there?
When Bering and his two cartographers left St.Petersburg in February, 1725 the astronomical
instrument in use by navigators was the Davis quadrant, in which the sun's altitude was measured
by sighting without a telescope or tube on the shadow cast by the sun from one projection of the
instrument upon another, the observer's back of course, being turned to the luminary.

The reflecting quadrant of Hadley was not invented until 1731 and telescopes were not used
on the instruments of navigation until somewhat later. There were no chronometers or reliable
watches or clocks for use in dividing intervals of time.

From The National Geographic Magazine, Vol. II, No.2, 1890

The excerpts from The National Geographic Magazine are based on:
"A Critical Review of Bering's Frist Expedition, 1725-30, Together with a Translation of His
Original Report upon it." By Wm. H. Dall.

More about the two expeditions from The Danish Polar Center
Click here

 0. Main menu
 1. Preface
 2. Where on Earth is Kamchatka?
 3. Animals - Wildlife
 4. Birds - Birding
 5. Flora - The Flowers
 6. Sealife
 7. Valley of Geysers
 8. The Volcanoes of Kamchatka
 9. The Forests of Kamchatka
10. The Indigenous People
12. Georg Steller

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