VITUS BERING DISCOVERS THE “BERING” STRAIT 1728 (G2)
xxxxxIn 1728 the Danish seaman Vitus Bering, a member of the Russian navy, sailed through the strait -
xxxxxIn the early 1720s, Peter the Great of Russia, having opened up a window on the west, gave thought to expanding eastwards, anxious to seek out a possible land route to North America, and a sea route from Siberia to China. He appointed the Dutch explorer Vitus Bering (illustrated) as leader of the expedition. An experienced navigator, he had joined the Tsar’s newly formed navy around 1704. In July 1728 his two vessels, the Fortune and the St. Gabriel, set sail from the east coast of the Siberian peninsula of Kamchatka. After discovering St. Lawrence Island and the two Diomedes islands, he passed through the strait which separates Siberia from Alaska (now called the Bering Strait and arrowed on map below). Despite bad weather conditions, which prevented him from actually sighting the North American coastline, he returned convinced that the two continents were not joined. He was given a warm reception in St. Petersburg at the court of the Empress Anna, who had succeeded Peter in 1725.
xxxxxIn 1733 he was again at work in the Arctic, this time involved in the Great Nordic Expedition, mounted by the Russian admiralty. Over the next eight years this ambitious scheme, employing nearly 1000 men and led by Bering himself, surveyed and chartered large sections of the Arctic and Pacific coastline, despite the severe weather conditions. Quite apart from exploration along the Pacific coast, during this series of voyages over sixty maps and charts were produced of the Arctic coast and the Chukotka Peninsula alone.
xxxxxAsxpart of this grand plan, in June 1741 Bering in the St. Peter, together with Aleksei Chirikov, (1703-
xxxxxBy this time, the St. Paul, with half its crew lost through scurvy and the bitter cold, had managed to reach the safety of Avachia Bay. The following spring, Chirikov (illustrated) set out in search of Bering and, as it was discovered later, sailed very close to the wreck of the St. Peter. Soon after his return, however, a few survivors from Bering’s crew struggled back to Kamchatka, having built a makeshift boat. Their favourable reports as to the prospects of fur trading in Alaska and the Aleutians set the scene for the Russian claim to a vast area of the north-
xxxxxIn 1774, during the reign of Catherine the Great, Russian merchants formed a private company to trade in fur-
xxxxxIncidentally, as early as 1648 a Cossack named Semyon Dezhnev (c1605-
xxxxx...... Soonxafter Bering’s ill-
xxxxx...... The Aleutian Islands make up a chain of about 150 small islands, stretching out from the coast of south-
Bering: by the Dutch/Danish painter Abraham Wuchters (c1610-