Employees of G.I. Shelekhov museum ( Irkutsk region) Nadezhda Tulepova and Natalia Volkova visited the Commander Islands as a part of Baikal-Alaska expedition. The expedition started on May 30, 2017 and is consecrated to the research of Siberia, Far East and Alaska. The voyage is confined to 150 years after the purchase of Russian Alaska, which took place in 1867, and to the historic dates of all trade companies, which explored Far East.
A part of Baikal-Alaska expedition route. For details visit baykal-alaska.ru
One of the key pioneers of Alaska and North Pacific exploration period was Grigory Shelekhov, a merchant, born in Rylsk, who founded the first Russian – and the first non-aboriginal – settlement on Kodiak Island. In the middle of the 18th century Shelekhov arrived in Irkutsk – the then administrative, business and military center of Siberia and Far East. There merchants organized trade companies, participants of research expeditions, including marine ones, used Irkutsk as a starting point.
The team of Baikal-Alaska expedition divided their way into several parts. One part included Siberian rivers and North Pacific. The main vehicle is twin-hull boat.
Today there are no lifetime portrait of Grigory Shelekhov. Engraving by N.I. Kramskoy, 1871. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve.
«We crossed Baikal to arrive to Severobaikalsk. Then we traveled on land and by rivers to Yakutsk, where we changed the team. We used Lena river to get to small town of Aldan and later Maya river to come to Nelkan village. There we dismantled the float and went to Ayan – a village on the shore of Okhotsk Sea (Khabarovsky region). There we prepared the twin-hull boat for marine voyage and the team was divided. The marine crew went to Okhotsk and further to Magadan, across Shelekhov Strait to Kamchatka. The total length of the route is 11 000 km. We are going to cross Bering Sea to arrive in Anchorage (Alaska, USA). We decided to postpone it, though, because the weather didn’t let the boat from Okhotsk Sea for too long. May be the boat will stay in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for the winter,” said Nadezhda Tulepova.
In 1770s Grigory Shelekhov started hunting marine mammals – mainly sea otters and northern fur seals – and organized an expedition to the Aleutian Islands and Alaska shores in 1783. Three two-masted galliots – Michael I, St. Simeon and Anna the Prophetess and Three Holy Hierarchs – took part in the expedition.
Nadezhda Tulepova and Natalia Volkova during their presentation in the Commander Islands Reserve visit-center. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve
By prior arrangement the ships decided to meet each other near the uninhabited Commander Islands in case of bad weather, storm or other troubles. The arrangement was not in vain – during one of the storms in the Pacific Ocean near Kamchatka Michael I disappeared. The other two ships – St. Simeon and Anna the Prophetess and Three Holy Hierarchs, on which traveled Shelekhov, his pregnant wife Natalia and their two small children – anchored in one of the bays of the Commander Islands.
Sea weed was not an impediment for Shelekhov Museum employees. Photo by Shelekhov Museum
«Here on the Commander Islands the daughter of the Shelekhovs was born. Her name was Evdokia, but her parents called her Komandorochka among themselves.She became the first child to be born on the Commander Islands. We do not know for sure on which island exactly she was born. Shelekhov wrote little about the Commander Islands, though he spent the whole 1783-84 winter there, waiting for the lost galliot. He did not even write the bay, they chose to stay in. We can only assume, that the bay situated in the southern part of Bering Island, on its West coast. It is also known, that Shelekhov together with other crewmembers came ashore many times to have a walk and to replenish the stock of fresh water. It helped him to support his crew in good psychological and physical state,” said Natalia Volkova.
The third ship, which had been lost in a storm, traveled from one island of the Aleutian Chain to another for three years, where it crashed and was repaired. In 1786 it came to the shores of Kodiak Island – at the very same moment, when Shelekhov wanted to go back.
In the Komandor Bay. Photo by Shelekhov Museum
The Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve organized an excursion for Nadezhda Tulepova and Natalia Volkova, so that they could visit Komandor Bay, the place where ship St. Peter, headed by captain-commander Vitus Bering, crashed. The employees of the museum made a presentation about their fascinating life full of unexpected discoveries, about the life of Grigory Shelekhov and about the work of the museum. For more information visit the site of Shelekhov Museum.
Moreover, we have plans for further cooperation. Today we are working to create a museum in the visit-center of the reserve, which will tell visitors about the explorers of the islands and local trades. The materials of Shelekhov Museum may be very useful, because Shelekhov was the initiator of the Russian-American Company creation.
In 1828 this company transferred the first Aleutian settlers on Bering Island from the inhabited islands of the Aleutian Chain and founded Nikolskoye village, which exists today. It was the first settlement on the Commander Islands. The villagers hunted marine mammals, mainly sea otters, because of its precious fur. Today in Nikolskoye live about 700 people. Here stands the office of the Commander Islands Reserve. The village has its own school, hospital, kindergarten and other social and commercial organizations.
The head photo was taken during the presentation of Shelekhov Museum. Photo by the Commander Islands Reserve