A Superb Russian Map of the Americas, Made to Highlight the Explorations of Kruzenshtern and Lisyansky in the Pacific.
In Alaska, the map notes Lisyansky's landfall on Kodiak Island and at New Archangel (Новоархангелѣскъ, i.e., Sitka).
There are numerous toponyms in California and the Pacific Northwest, including labels for the port of San Francisco and San Francisco [mission]. Russian activity at Fort Ross is noted ("Россъ"). A British-favoring border in the Northwest is shown, with that territory labeled New Georgia ("Н. Георгія").
Vancouver Island is labeled "Квадра и Ванкувера или Нушка" (i.e., Quadra and Vancouver or Nushka).
The first Russian circumnavigation of the world: Krusenstern’s voyage (1803-1806)
Russian officials had avidly followed the news of circumnavigations performed by other nations, including those of George Anson, James Cook, and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. All of these had also enhanced the geographic and ethnographic knowledge the Pacific, an ocean which Russia bordered and which it saw as a possible location for imperial expansion. Russia also sought a Northeast Passage for trade with China.
In the late 1740s, Russian fur trading posts were established on the western coast of America, following in the wake of Vitus Bering’s expeditions. By the 1790s, some of these had become permanent settlements. Eager to protect and expand this trade, a circumnavigation was planned in 1787, but it was called off due to wars with the Turks (1787) and the Swedes (1788).
Over a decade later, Russia had become a major naval power and their sights turned again to the east and the Pacific. The newly-created Russian-American Company and Emperor Alexander I approved the plan for a circumnavigation and appointed as its leader then Captain-Lieutenant Krusenstern, who had returned to Russia in 1799 after six years with the British Royal Navy. While with the British, Krusenstern had visited North America, South Africa, the East Indies, and China. This experience, and his three written proposals suggesting a Russian circumnavigation, qualified him for the appointment.
The voyage was to ferry a diplomatic contingent to Japan in search of favored trading status. In this vein, Count Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov was appointed co-commander along with Krusenstern; he was also to be Russia’s ambassador to Japan. The ships were also to ferry supplies to and receive cargo from the settlers on the North American coast. The Nadezhda and Neva, renamed English ships purchased especially for the circumnavigation, departed Kronstadt on August 7, 1803, with Krusenstern in command of the former and Yuri Lisyansky in the latter.
The ships headed west to Copenhagen, Helsingor, and Falmouth, then entered the open Atlantic. They stopped at Tenerife and then Brazil before rounding Cape Horn. In the dangerous waters of the Cape, the two ships were parted. The Neva waited for Krusenstern at Easter Island, but the Nadezhda had already sailed to the Marquesas. Lisyansky joined Krusenstern there in May of 1804. They sailed together to Hawaii and then on to the Russian settlements in what is today Alaska.
In Alaska, Lisyansky came to the aid of Russian settlers at Sitka, who were besieged by Tlingit Indians. Krusenstern picked up a cargo of goods and delivered them to Kamchatka before continuing to Japan. He anchored in Nagasaki harbor for six months while negotiators tried to gain approval for a Russian Embassy on Japanese soil. The negotiations failed and the Nadezhda returned north to Kamchatka, where Rezanov departed to serve as Imperial Inspector and Plenipotentiary of the Russian-American Company in North America. Then, Krusenstern explored the coast of Sakhalin, trying to discern whether or not it was an island.
The ships reunited in Macao, where they spent three months selling furs and taking on tea. From China, the ships crossed the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and entered the Atlantic. Lisyansky sailed straight home, but Krusenstern stopped at St. Helena briefly. He sailed back into Kronstadt on August 19, 1806.
Legacy of the voyage
Not only was this the first Russian circumnavigation, it was also one of the first scientific voyages commissioned by the empire. The naturalists gathered many new and rare specimens, while the navigators made important advancements in oceanography. For example, Lisyansky proved the existence of equatorial counterflow in the Atlantic Ocean. Ethnographic descriptions, particularly those from the Marquesas, were pivotal for the study of Pacific peoples. Two men who served on the expedition, Otto Kotzebue and Bellingshausen, would later lead their own voyages: Kotzebue a circumnavigation and Bellingshausen, with Lazarev, the first successful Antarctic exploration.
Krusenstern and his men were excellent sailors who surveyed many places with more accuracy than previous attempts; these included Easter Island, the Marquesas, Sakhalin, Hokkaido, the Tsushima Islands, the west coast of Japan, and other locations. They also discovered passages through the Kuril Islands. Krusenstern relied on maps from fifteen different authors in various languages while at sea. His own maps are renowned for their accuracy and his latitude calculations deviate from modern data by no more than two angular minutes and in longitude by no more than four minutes—a monumental feat.