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    Baron Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

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    (Felizia Seyd)


            Baron Eduard Vasilievich von Toll (1858-1902), Russian polar explorer,

    was born in Reval, Esthonia, on March 24, 1858, and educated at the University

    of Dorpat, where he studied mineralogy, zoology, and medicine. He was grad–

    uated early in 1882, and later that year left on a scientific expedition to

    Algeria and the Balearic Isles where he carried out geological and biological

    research. On his return, he accepted a post in the Mineralogical Department

    of the Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, which he retained until the end of

    1884. The Academy then placed him in charge of the geological research of an

    expedition to the New Siberian Islands and adjacent regions on the arctic coast.

    The expedition was under the leadership of the Russian naturalist Dr. Alexander

    Bunge, who had previously worked in the Lena Delta and was then wintering at

    Irkutsk, preparatory to additional survey work in the Yana valley in 1885.

            Toll joined Bunge in January 1885, and during the summer assisted in a

    geological survey of the Yana River and several of its tributaries. While in

    the Yana Delta, Toll discovered the remains of a huge mammoth on the Bor-Iuriakh,

    about 80 miles east-southeast of the delta. In May 1886, after a winter spent

    at Kazache on the lower Yana, Dunge and Toll left for Bolshoi Liakhovski, the

    southernmost of the New Siberian Islands, where Bunge remained for the summer,

    while Toll moved northward to Kotalnyi, Faddeevski, and Novaya Sibir islands.

    Toll's main work was on Kotelnyi, which he circled in forty days. He found that

    the larger northern end of the island consisted of Devonian deposits, while in

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard, Vasilievich von Toll

    the south triassic formations were developed. Studies were made of fossil ice

    and fossil animal and plant remains, as well as of the island's living flora

    and fauna. Some thirty species of flowering plants were collected.

            Toll's stay on Kotelnyi eventually gave rise to a renewed interest in

    the legendary Sannikov Land, as Toll reported land off Kotelnyi about 100 miles

    north of its northernmost point. He says: "On August 13th, 1886, I saw during

    quite clear weather from the mouth of the Mogur River [Sannikov River on Anjou's

    map] under 76° N. Lat. and in about 139° E. Long. the sharp outlines of four

    truncated cones like table mountains, east of which extended a low foreland.

    The mountains vividly recall the truncated basalt cones of Sviatoi Nos when

    viewed from the southern shore of the Great Liakhovski Island." Because of

    ice conditions, Toll was unable to reach the land, but he believed it to be

    real and identical with the land Yakov Sannikov had sighted in 1811.

            Toward the end of October, Toll rejoined Bunge on Bolshoi Liakhovski,

    whence the expedition crossed back to the mainland, reaching Kazache on Nov–

    ember 5th. The reports of the expedition subsequently appeared in the Bulletins

    of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, and in the Bulletins of

    the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, including Toll's valuable reports on

    the fossil ice-layers of the New Siberian Islands and on the Palaeozoic petri–

    factions of Kotelnyi Island. (See below under Publications .)

            After his return to the capital, Toll was appointed curator of the Minera–

    logical Department of the Academy of Sciences, and in 1889-90, he carried out

    a geologival survey in the Baltic territories on behalf of the Ministry of Agri–

    culture and State Properties. In 1892, the Imperial Academy selected Toll to

    investigate the reported discovery of mammoth remains on the Sanga-Iuriakh,

    about 150 miles northeast of the Yana Delta, and to explore parts of the lower

    Khatanga and Anabar rivers.

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

            Toll, accompanied by Lieutenant Shileiko of the Russian Navy, reached

    Yakutsk on the Lena in February 1893, the party driving their reindeer sledge

    thence northeastward across the Verkhoiansk Mountains to Verkhoiansk and

    farther into the Yana Delta. In mid-April, Toll reached the spot on the Sanga–

    Iuriakh (73° N.) where the mammoth had been reported, but judged the finds too

    insignificant for extensive excavations. In a quick revision of his plans, he

    moved northward to the New Siberian Islands to establish food caches for the

    Nansen expedition which was shortly expected in the area. Toll stored food at

    the island's northern and southern ends, while Shilciko renewed and completed

    the astronomical determinations and magnetic observations carried out on Kotel–

    nyi by Lieutenant Anjou in 1823. While revisiting Kotelnyi's north point, Toll

    again sighted what he believed to be Sannikov Land, but judged it now to lie

    nearer to 78° N. than 76° N. He suggested that, since Anjou in 1823 had failed

    to reach the land with sledges, boats be provided for the journey and that the

    prospect of wintering there be kept in mind. Crossing back to Bolshoi Liakhovski,

    Toll found embedded in what he calls rock-ice the remains of various fossil

    mammals and those of fossil insects, leaves of the willow and the birch, and

    entire trees of alder with their leaves, concluding that "the mammoth and its

    congeners were native to the region and also, that the forest-limit formerly

    extended to 74° N. Latitude, at least three degree further north than its pres–

    ent line." (See Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Dec. 31, 1894.)

            The return to the mainland was begun on May 7th, but was somewhat retarded

    by the swift advance of the summer. The party, nevertheless, reached the main–

    land (Cape Sviatoi Nos) in good health, thence traveling westward past the Yana

    and Lena deltas to the mouth of the Olenek River, where Toll set up camp, enabling

    Shileiko to carry out topographical surveys. Toll made excursions into the neigh–

    borhood, and during one of these found the graves of Pronchischev and his wife

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    who had died near the mouth of the Olenek in 1737. During September and

    early October, Toll and Shileiko worked on the lower Anabar and surveyed

    parts of the peninsula that projects northward between the Anabar and Khat–

    anga gulfs. The two explorers then separated for a few weeks, Toll returning

    to the Lena to fetch his New Siberia collections while Shileiko continued

    work on the Anabar. On November 4th, they met at Khatanga Village, thence

    traveling to Yeniseisk and ultimately to St. Petersburg, where they arrived

    on December 27, 1893.

            In 1895, Toll became a member of the Geological Committee of the Depart–

    ment of Mines in the Ministry of State Properties, without, however, abandon–

    ing plans for further and more extensive exploration of the New Siberian Islands,

    more particularly of Sannikov Land, which he believed to form part of an un–

    known archipelago in the Polar Sea. The original plan for this third New Siber–

    ian expedition was conceived in 1898 and called for a year's wintering on San–

    nikov Land which Toll hoped to approach from the east (Bennett Island) rather

    than from the south (Kotelnyi Island). In 1899, the plan was revised to in–

    clude two years' wintering, all in all. It was planned to spend the first

    winter on the east coast of Taimyr Peninsula, a region which was as yet little

    explored, and the second on Sannikov Land, whence Toll was to proceed eastward

    to Vladivostok, thus completing the navigation of the Northeast Passage. The

    expedition was sponsored by the Academy of Sciences and was generously financed

    by the President of the Academy, the Grand Duke Constantine. Their vessel was

    the Zarya , a Norwegian schooner with a displacement of 1,085 tons, which had

    been reinforced and adapted for sojourn in the Arctic by Colin Archer, builder

    of Nansen's Fram . Equipment and provisions were ample, and the staff was com–

    petent, including Lieutenant N. N. Kolomeitsov, hydrographer and master of the

    Zarya , Lieutenant A. Kolchak, oceanographer, Lieutenant F. A. Mattiessen, meteor-

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    ologist and geodesist, a Birulya, zoologist, F. Seeberg, astronomer, K. A.

    Vollossovich, geologist, and Dr. H. Walter, bacteriologist and assistant

    zoologist. In addition, there was a crew of thirteen, including N. Begichev,

    who later made a name for himself as the discoverer of Begichev Island. Every–

    thing augured well for a successful completion of Toll's mission, Tsar Nicholas II

    personally expressing interest in the expedition by inspecting the Zarya before

    her departure for the north.

            With expectations high, Toll left Kronstadt for Tromsö, Norway, in June

    1900, thence proceeding to Port Dickson in the Yenisei Gulf by way of North

    Cape, Murmansk, and Yugor Shar. The ship reached Dickson Island in mid-August

    and four days later was en route for Cape Chelyuskin. However, ice conditions

    in the Kara Sea proved more difficult than Toll had foreseen. The Zarya was

    caught in the ice in the Nordenskiöld Archipelago, and after weeks of hopeless

    maneuvering was forced into shelter in Colin Archer Bay, at the western entrance

    of Taimyr Sound, south of Taimyr Island. The vessel was frozen in here around

    October 1st and remained beset until the following August. Exploration of East

    Taimyr had to be abandoned, Toll deciding to survey part of Taimyr's northwest

    coast instead. A meteorological station was established on the ice close to

    the ship, and at some later date a magnetological observatory was built in Haf–

    fner Fjord. Geological and biological observations were carried out and surveys

    were made of the shores of Taimyr Gulf, of Prince Oscar Peninsula, and of several

    of the larger islands lying north of Taimyr Sound.

            The Zarya finally got free of the ice on August 25, 1901, and on September

    1st touched at Cape Chelyuskin, where the expedition erected a cairn and took

    time out for geological and oceanographic research. The ship then followed the

    coast to about 74° N., off Pronchishchev coast, whence Toll, on September 4th,

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    shaped his course for the New Siberian Islands. Toll hoped to sight Sannikov

    Land while passing north of Kotelnyi Island, but the Zarya was forced off her

    course by ice and fog and, to Toll's disappointment, passed north of the land's

    estimated position. Bennett Island was sighted on September 11th, but could

    not be approached because of a wide encircling belt of ice. Toll therefore

    doubled back to Kotelnyi Island and on September 17th entered Nerpichia Bay

    where the expedition was welcomed by Vollossovich and a relief party of ten,

    who had spent the summer establishing food depots in various parts of the New

    Siberian Islands. A week later the Zarya was frozen in, and preparations were

    begun to settle down for the winter. Shelters and meterological and astronom–

    ical huts were built on land, and hunting teams were despatched to various parts

    of the island to secure game. Mail was sent to the mainland, including Toll's

    extensive report to the Grand Duke Constantine, summarizing the scientific re–

    sults of the expedition to that date.

            The winter passed quickly, without apparent hardship. All were in good

    health except Dr. Walter who suffered from a heart ailment and, to Toll's great

    personal grief, succumbed shortly after Christmas. The party did not suffer

    from scurvy; meat was supplied by reindeer. Driftwood, too, was abundant and

    furnished fuel and building material. Natives, crossing the sea with reindeer

    sledges, brought mail from the mainland.

            In February 1902, Toll made a crossing to Aidshergaidach, a point on the

    mainland where Bunge had built a shelter in 1885, returning to Kotelnyi early

    in April. Shortly afterward he announced his intention of spending the summer

    on Bennett Island, which De Long had discovered in 1881, and which had never been

    surveyed. Plans for wintering on Sannikov Land seem by then to have been aban–

    doned. Toll's diaries are curiously silent on the point except for a short state–

    ment dated November 8, 1902, the day he left Bennett to retreat southward across

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    the ice. After commenting on the north-south flight of birds, observed from

    the northern end of Bennett Island, Toll adds" "As was the case with Sannikov

    Land last year, poor visibility prevented us from seeing the land where these

    birds came from."

            Toll, accompanied by Seeberg and two Tungus hunters, started for Bennett

    Island early in June, leaving orders that the Zarya , with Mattiessen in command,

    join him there with supplies at the end of the summer. The Zarya got free of

    the ice in July, but was beset off Belkovski Island and forced to return to

    Nerpichia Bay. An attempt to reach Bennett Island at the end of August was

    equally unsuccessful, ice blocking her advance through Blagoveshchenski Strait.

    Mattiessen finally took the vessel to Tiksi Bay in the Lena Delta, where lack

    of fuel forced him to abandon ship. The crew then returned to St. Petersburg


            Toll's ultimate fate was never ascertained. It is known that he continued

    to work on Bennett until early in November and then started south across the ice.

    His last message is dated November 8, 1902, and reads as follows: "Today we start

    for the south. We have provisions for 14 to 20 days. All are in good health."

            A rescue party under Lieutenant Kolchak, which reached Bennett Island in

    1903, found only Toll's abandoned camp and the notes, sketches, and collections

    he had left behind. The collections, consisting of four wooden cases and a large

    basket of bark filled with rock specimens, were rescued in 1913 by the Taimyr

    expedition under Lieutenant Boris Vilkitski, which made a short landing here in

    mid-August. The crew built a memorial to Toll on the northeastern shore of Ben–

    nett Island - a monumental cross bearing an inscription on a copper plate.

            Toll's personal account of the Zarya expedition is contained in his diaries:

    Die Russische Polarfahrt der 'Sarja' 1900-02 , published in 1909 by Emmy von Toll,

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    and in a number of preliminary reports on the expedition, which appeared in

    the Bulletins of the Academy of Sciences between 1900-02. (See under Publica–

    .) The full data of the expedition were never published and, so far as

    is known, still await classification and analysis.

            In general, the geological discoveries of the Zarya expedition brought a

    confirmation of Toll's earlier observations that the New Siberian Islands are

    structurally related to the adjoining continent land masses, to which they were

    formerly attached. Additional data concerning the geological age and the strati–

    graphy of the islands were furnished, and new contributions were made to the

    knowledge of their Tertiary and post-Tertiary flor and fauna. Toll apparently

    considered the New Siberian Islands an authentic museum of the pre-glacial and

    glacial aras, affording the widest possible scope for the study of layers of

    fossil ice and of fossilized animal and plant remains.

            Toll's diaries, more than his scientific reports, also permit an evaluation

    of Toll, the man, his plans and ambitions as well as his passing moods of hope

    or despair. Conscientious in the execution of his various missions and of un–

    bounded enthusiasm where his work was concerned, he nevertheless refused to let

    ambition or the need to establish a record take precedence over purely humane

    considerations. He was a kindly man who took a personal interest in the fate of

    even the humblest member of his crew. And he was generous in the evaluation of

    the native Siberian peoples, whom he considered "an honest, simple, kindly race,"

    endowed with great qualities and capable of the finest developments.

            Toll's literary output was not large but it renders a fair picture of the

    scope of his work. His publications include the following:

    1. "The Palaeozoic petrifactions of Kotelnyi Island and of the Tertiary deposits

    of New Siberia. Bulletins of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Series VII,

    vol. 37, no. 3. St. Petersburg 1889. (In Russian)

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    2. "Fossil ice of the New Siberian Islands, their relation to the remains of

    mammoths and to the glacial period." Journal of the Russian Geographic

    Society, Vol. 32, No. 1. St. Petersburg 1897. (In Russian) 3. "The distribution of the Cambrian and Lower Silurian in Siberia." Bulletins

    of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Series VIII, Vol. 8, No. 10. St.

    Petersburg, 1899. (In Russian) 4. "Project of an expedition to Sannikov Land." Journal of the Imperial Russian

    Geographic Society. Vol. 34. St. Petersburg, 1899. (In Russian) 5. "A sketch of the geology of the New Siberian Islands and the major tasks in

    the exploration of the Polar countries." Bulletins of the Imperial Academy

    of Sciences, Series VIII, Vol. 9, No. 1. St. Petersburg, 1899. (In Russian) 6. "Reports of the Russian Polar Expedition." Izvestia of the Imperial Academy

    of Sciences, St. Petersburg, 1900. Vol. XIV, No. 1; 1901, Vol. XV; 1902,

    Vol. XVI, No. 5; 1903, Vol. XVIII, No. 3; 1904, Vol. XX, No. 5. (In Russian) 7. Die Russische Polarfahrt der'Sarja' 1900-02 . Based on the diaries of Baron

    Eduard von Toll. Ed. by Baroness Emmy von Toll. Berlin, 1909. (In German)


    Hurlbut, C. "Geographic Notes." Bulletin of the American Geographical

    Society, Dec. 31, 1894.

    Ostrovski, B. G. Those who have passed away before their time . Leningrad,

    1934. (In Russian)

    Petermann's Mitteilungen . Vol. 33, Gotha 1887. (pp. 254 ffl).

    Vol. 34, Gotha 1888. (p. 44 ff.)

    Popov-Shtark, V. E. "E. Toll." Sovietskaia Arctica , No. 10. 1940.

    Starokadomski, L. M. Expedition of the Northern Arctic Ocean 1910-15 . Glavse–

    vmopput, Moscow, 1946. (In Russian)

    The New International Encyclopedia . New York, 1924.

    The Brokhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary . Vol. 33, St. Petersburg, 1901.

    Toll. E. v. Die Russische Polarfahrt der "Sarja ." Berlin, 1909.

    Vize, V. Y. "Polar Geophysical Station on Bolshoi Liakhovski." Arctic

    Institute. Leningrad, 1932. (In Russian)

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    EA-Biography. Seyd: Eduard Vasilievich von Toll

    Tolmachev, I. P. "A note on the Geography of Northern Siberia." Arktis , Heft 1,

    2. Jahrg., Gotha 1929.

    The Scottish Geographic Magazine . Vol. III, 1887, p. 481. Edinburgh, Scotland.

    Vol. 23, 1907, p. 653, Edinburgh, Scotland.


    Felizia Seyd

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