Our Beautiful World
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.
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.
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
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
More about the two expeditions from The Danish Polar Center
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