Bellingshausen and the Russian Antarctic Expedition, 1819-21.

In an excellent overview of the Bellingshausen expedition, comprising both translations of relevant materials and commentary about the journey, Bulkeley’s Chapter 4, “Wanted on Voyage,” begins with an important section on Books and Instruments, telling us more about specific titles available on this trip than any other early voyage, with the possible exception of La Pérouse (q.v.):

p. 41-2: The list of books purchased in advance for both expeditions (Bellingshausen and Vasil’ev) included several Russian voyages (Sarychev, 1802; Krusenshtern, 1809; Lisyanskii, 1812; Golovnin, 1816; Rikord, 1816). A recent translation of Cook’s third voyage headed the foreign voyages (Kuk, 1805, 1810). A Kronstadt official explained that it had been necessary to buy new copies of Cook’s second voyage (Kuk, 1796-1800) because those in the Navy bookstore were missing their first parts. Other foreign voyages and expeditions included those of Anson, de Surville, Mendoza and Pagès. Most if not all were available in translation, for example (Uolter, 1789) for the Anson voyage. Other technical works included the Nautical Almanacs prepared by Academician Fëdor Ivanovich Schubert for 1819 and 1820, Baltic charts, manuals of navigation, hydrography and magnetism, and the signals codebook. The only atlas listed was the maritime one of the Baltic (Sarychev, 1809). One copy of each item was provided for each ship (A. Lazarev, 1950: 354-7). The allocation may seem ungenerous. But the commanders received another list of over 50 titles to choose from in the bookstore, apparently products of the translation programme although the details are unclear. Bellingshausen was also given a copy of the Baudin/Freycinet voyage by a member of the royal family (Péron and Freycinet, 1807-15).

The expeditioners were instructed to buy further books, maps and the British Nautical Almanac for 1821 in London. Bellingshausen mentions Dessiou’s Brazil Pilot (1818) and Purdy’s world map (1815) and he probably relied on the latter for the course of European expeditions, including Cook’s second. The presence of Purdy’s Tables (1816) can also be traced to Bellingshausen’s reports. Since he bought maps from the firm of Aaron Arrowsmith, Bellingshausen probably acquired the latter’s world atlas (Arrowsnith, 1817). He refers to Matthew Flinders Atlas of Australia, and probably bought his narrative also (Flinders 1814a, 1814b). And lastly he may have purchased Christopher Hansteen’s great compendium of magnetic research in Copenhagen (Hansteen, 1819). It was published there in the early part of 1819 and Bellingshausen later mentioned that he had taken estimates of the location of the Southern Magnetic Pole with him (Belov, 1966: 22). As for the option, in the Navy stores list, of installing ‘a bookcase to hold voyages and books of astronomy, navigation, physics, natural history…’ built to a design originally prepared for La Pérouse, we shall never know.

p. 54-55: Whether directly or indirectly, Bellingshausen probably derived his terminology from three sources. The first was Lomonosov’s study of what Russians called the ‘northern sea route’ (1952). Lomonosov was a man of humble origins himself and certainly listened to working people in the Arctic. The second was the government’s translation programme. Which included Cook, Phipps (1774), Coxe (1780), Pagès (1782) and possibly an account of the voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot. And third came recent British publicationson the subject. The paathbreaking Arctic research of the gentleman-whaler Rev. William Scoresby was receiving much acclaim when Bellingshausen visited London (Scoresby, 1818), and works by another whaler surgeon, John Laing, and the explorer John Ross, both of whom owed some of their terminology to Scoresby, were also available (Laing, 1818; J. Ross, 1819). A sensible man in Bellingshausen’s position would have purchased all three.

Since Phipp’s voyage was available in the Kronstadt bookstore, its descriptions of ice as fast, loose, packed, solid, firm or heavy may also have influenced Bellingshausen. [Goes on to make further speculations about Bellingshausen’s possible use of Phipps, Pagès, Cook, Scoresby, and Ross as sources of his own terminology of the ice.

p. 57: It is impossible to read the two men’s descriptions of the formation and growth of marine ice side by side without forming the impression that Bellingshausen had read Scoresby, if not during the expedition then between 1821 and 1824, when he was writing his book.

p. 87, in a footnote Bulkeley implies that Bellingshausen is copying from Captain Cook too closely to be coincidental, especially Cook’s denial of the possibility of there being a continent of Antarctica. Belinghausen did have a copy of Cook’s Second Voyage aboard ship.