Aleksei Ilich Chirikov: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

Author Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Aleksei Ilich Chirikov

EA-Biography (Hans Johansen)


Aleksei Ilich Chirikov (1700? - 1748), the most outstanding of Bering's officers during both of his expeditions, was commander of the ship St. Paul, which in 1741 first reached the northwest coast of America.
About Aleksie Ilich Chirikov's (= Tschirikof) parentage and youth we find nothing in the numerous papers on Bering's expeditions. (In a small popular Russian book by E. Younga, 1941, we find, however, the rather unlikely statement that he was the son of one of the master carpenters who built the ships of Peter the Great.) He must have been born about the year 1700, as in 1716 he began his service in the Russian Navy. In 1721 he graduated with honors from the school for naval cadets, recently founded by the Naval Academy in St. Petersburg, and was given the rank of sub-lieuten– ant. After some years' service in the Navy he was made an instructor at the Naval Academy. In 1725 he was assigned to Bering's first Kamchatka Expedi– tion, with the rank of lieutenant.
All chroniclers of Bering's expeditions agree that not only was Chirikov the cleverest of Bering's collaborators, but also the most wympathetic. He is described as very intelligent, full of initiative, endurance, and courage, and besides was modest, sociable, and liked by everyone. It is highly charac– teristic that among the numerous complaints over the members of the expeditions

EA-Biog. Johansen: Aleksei Ilich Chirikov

that kept pouring in to St. Petersburg from Siberia, there was hardly ever anything about Chirikov, a fact that nevertheless did not stop him from giving the arch-enemy of the expeditions, the harbor-master in Okhotsk, Skorniakof Piasarif, a good hiding.
During Bering's first expedition Chirikov distinguished himself by the transports. It was also he who proposed to continue the voyage westward along the Siberian coast when the ship had sailed through Bering Strait. As is well known, Bering was later reproached for not having taken this piece of advice, and thus for not having proved that Asia and America are separate continents. After the homecoming to Petersburg, Kirikov was in 1730 made a lieutenant, and as early as 1733, a captain.
At the same time he was appointed second-in-command to Bering during the Great Northern Expedition. Here he set forth a series of proposals which materially improved the instructions and the very organization of the expedition. His greatest achievement, however, was his leadership of the second expedition ship, the St. Paul , from Kamchatka to the American coast, and back to Kamchatka.
Both ships wet out simultaneously, on June 4th, 1741, from Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka, steering their course southeastward in an attempt, according to instructions, to find the mythical Gama Land. They arrived as far south as 46° N. lat. without finding any land, and then altered the course toward northeast. During a gale on June 20, Chirikov's ship became separated from Bering's Vessel, the St. Peter , and thereafter he continued the Voyage on his own. At 55° 21′ N. lat. Chirikov reached the American coast on July 15th., that is 1 1/2 days earlier and about 3° farther south than Bering. It was near Cape Addington, west of the Prince of Wales Island. As there were no good anchorages, Chirikov sailed on northward along the coast. On July 17th,

EA-Bi ^ o ^ g. Johansen: Aleksei Ilich Chirikov

at 57° 50′, he sent out Fleet Master Abram Dementiev with 10 armed men in a boat to examine the coast and try to find a suitable anchorage. After waiting for a week, the emissaries still had not returned. On July 23rd a fire was sighted near the coast, and the following day Chirikov sent out 4 men under Boatswain Saveliev in the other smaller boat to investigate. This party did not return either. On the 25th, however, two boats with natives turned up, but did not venture near the ship. Whether Chirikov's 15 men had been killed by the natives or whether they had been swamped in the tidal rips so characteristic of this coast, remains a mystery.
After the loss of both boats, it was impossible to attempt a closer examination of the country. Therefore, on July 26th the St. Paul set course back toward Kamchatka.
During the voyage home they sailed, like Bering, first along the south coast of Alaska, and later along the Aleutians. On the 8th of September, at the island Adak of the Andreanof group, they had a clash with Aleutian natives, of whom Chirikov gave a good description in his journal.
The voyage was very difficult, as they could not renew their fresh– water supply, and thus could not make proper food. Continuous gales wore down the already diminished strength of the crew. The greater part were ill with scurvy, and many died — 21 men in all — among them both the officers Chikhschev and Plautin, also de la Croyere, the astronomer. Chirikov himself was lying ill from the 16th of September, and the ship was commanded by Fleet Master Ivan Yelagin. Finally on October 9th, after 4 months' uninterrupted voyage without any possibility for renewing the drinking water or other supplies, they reached Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka. Chirikov immediately sent a preliminary report on the voyage to St. Petersburg.

EA-Biog. Johansen: Aleksei Ilich Chirikov

Chirikov did not consider his task completed, and the following spring, 1742, he set out again to examine the westernmost of the Aleutians, which at that time he took to be a part of the American continent. He came to Attu and established it to be only an island. On June 16th he decided to turn back, as his health was again failing, and also his only officer, Flest Master Yelagin had fallen ill. On the way home they sailed close past the southern point of Bering Island without having the faintest idea that there on the island were the survivors of Bering's shipwrecked crew, together with Lieutenant Waxell, in the greatest distress. On July 1st, Chirikov arrived at Petropavlovsk, and in August sailed on to Okhotsk; from there he went to headquarters in Yakutsk. From here he sent Fleet Master Yelagin with the reports, logbooks, and charts to the Admiralty in St. Petersburg, and at the same time, owing to not having recovered from his illness, applied for being exempt from his service in the expedition. This was, however, not granted immediately, so he had to take care of the winding up of the expedition at Yensisk, until in 1745 Captain Sven Waxell took over.
After the homecoming to St. Petersburg, Chirikov was made a committee member of the Moskva Branch of the Admiralty. In 1746 he wrote a very important contribution regarding the utilization of the expedition's results, proposing, among other things, that the Aleutians and the newly discovered northwestern parts of America be put under Russian control. In 1747 he was introduced to Empress Elizabeth. Chirikov died, a captain-commander of rank, in 1749, as a result of his health having been undermined by scurvy. He was married and had several children. His wife and daughter followed him to Siberia.

EA-Biog. Johansen: Aleksei Ilich Chirikov

Chirikov's importance for geographical science lies in his great theoretical and practical influence on the organization and carrying out of Bering's second expedition. He brought the first news of the American northwest coast and the Aleutians. His proposal for the colonization of East Siberia, the Aleutians, and northwestern North America no doubt influenced the later Russian occupation of these territories.
By Chirikov:
Chirikov's Report on the Voyage of the Voyage of the St. Paul". First published by F. A. Golder in "Bering's Voyages" Vol. I, New York, 1922. The Russian original published in "Ekapeditsija Berings, Sbornik dokumentov" (Bering's expedition, a collection of documents, ed. by A. Pokrovski) pp. 273-285, Moskva 1941.
Other reports of Chirikov and many letters ibid .
Chirikov's proposal of 25 July 1746 about the utilization of the expedition's results. Published in Sokolov, A. "Severnaya ekspeditsiya 1733-43, Zapiski Hydrograficheskogo Departmenta, Vol. 9, pp. 453-459. St. Petersburg, 1851.
By Others:
Sokolov , A. Bering i Chirikov (Bering and Chirikov). Severnaya Pohela, St. Petersburg, 1849. Sokolov, A. Severnaja ekspeditsiya 1733-43 goda (The northern expedition 1733-43). Zapiski Hydrograficheskogo Departamenta, Vol. 9, pp. 190-469. St. Petersburg, 1851. Davidson, G. The tracks and landfalls of Bering and Chirikov on the northwest coast of America from the point of their separation-------San Francisco, 1901. Also in Trans. and Proc. Geogr. Soc. of the Pacific, Ser. 2, Vol. I. Golder, F.A. Bering's Voyages. Vol. I, p. 283-327: The Journal of Chirikov's vessel, the "St. Paul," and Chirikov's Report on the Voyage of the "St. Paul." New York, 1922. Younga, E. Kolumby rosskiye (Russian Columbuses) in the series "Library of the red Fleet." Moskva-Leningrad, 1941.
Hans Johansen