Baron von Krusenstern’s voyage around the world

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Although his name is more commonly reminiscent of other nationalities, Johann Adam von Krusenstern was Russian. Born in Estonia in 1770, he served in the Russian Imperial Navy as a cadet before joining the British Royal Navy in 1793. This  allowed him to travel the globe and visit, among other countries, India and China.

Convinced of the benefits of a direct commercial shipping route between Russia, China and Alaska, then a Russian colony, he received the support of Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who appointed him captain and provided him with two ships, purchased from the British in Hamburg, to aid the endeavour.

The ships set sail from St. Petersburg on 7 August 1803. Krusenstern would not return from his epic expedition until three years later, in August 1806.

As was customary for expeditions of this type, Krusenstern was accompanied by men of science, who collected samples of flora and fauna and drafted precise accounts of the different discoveries made en route. They were also joined by an ambassador entrusted with improving relations with Japan, a country that permitted just one Russian ship to dock each year.

The expedition sailed initially to the Canary Islands before crossing the Atlantic and eventually arriving at the Brazilian coast. Krusenstern subsequently passed Cape Horn and sailed up the Pacific before dropping anchor at the Marquesas Islands. There, he was fascinated by the inhabitants, with their slender figures, beautiful tattoos and the warm welcome accorded them, particularly by the women - this doubtless due to the fact that they believed that the Europeans' ships came from the clouds and the thunder was the product of their cannons.

He proceeded to sail to the Sandwich Islands, present-day Hawaii, where the two ships parted. Krusenstern set sail for the west on the Nadezhda, while the other ship, the Neva, departed for the east to explore the American coast.

The expedition approached the Japanese coast in October 1804:

"Arnold's chronometer, No. 128, and that by Pennington, which on this day did not vary a second from each other, gave us the longitude = 223°16' and Arnold's small chronometer, No.1856, = 223°30'45'', and by the mean of twenty calculations of the moon's distance from the sun which we observed the next day the error of No. 128 was only 2'. This near coincidence left us no doubt upon the rate of all our watches, and I waited with impatience to see the coast of Japan which we could now so correctly determine."

At that time, the Japanese did not enjoy a reputation for being a particularly welcoming nation, and Krusenstern learnt this to his cost. After docking in Nagasaki, all their weapons were confiscated and they were forced to remain on board the ship for a month. Among the passengers, was the ambassador, who had been bearing a number of gifts. The Dutch, who were already on the island and would have been able to serve as interpreters, also displayed scant willingness to help them. They were subsequently placed under house arrest for over four months, before ultimately being ordered to leave, ambassador and gifts in tow, and informed that no Russian ship would ever be permitted to dock in Japan.

The Nadezhda took over 18 months to reach St. Petersburg after a long, drawn-out voyage via Formosa, the China Sea and the Cape of Good Hope. Krusenstern thus became the first Russian captain to circumnavigate the world, and this without the loss of a single crewmember. He doubtlessly owed this to extremely well-prepared ships and his outstanding skill as a navigator, coupled with the excellence of his chronometers and the astronomer responsible for these, Dr Horner, who was, incidentally, Swiss by birth.

 

Bibliography:

Krusenstern, Adam Johann von, Captain,Voyage round the World(London, 1813).

 

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