European Exploration of the North Pacific

The first Russian to reach the Pacific Ocean (Okhotsk) was Ivan Moskvitin in 1639. In 1648, Semen Dezhnev reached Cape Dexhnev, the easternmost point of mainland Asia.
The Russians pushed eastward exploring Siberia, driven by the quest for fur. Unknown stretches of Siberian land were rich hunting grounds; yet the Russians practically cleared stretch after stretch of their populations of fur-bearing animals, and then had to move further east in order to supply the market.
In 1589, Russia and China signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk, which defined the Amur Province and Sakhalin as Chinese territory,
In 1719 the Russians explored the Kuril Islands; in 1725, Peter the Great gave instructions for Vitus Bering's first Kamchatka expedition; his naval exploration of the eastern Siberian coast was undertaken in 1628. Mikhail Gvozdev crossed the Bering Strait in 1732, sighting Alaska, but not setting foot on it. In 1739, from Kamchatka, a Russian expedition, in a first attempt to establish contact, sailed to Japan. While it failed to reach their objective, it completed the Russian exploration of the Kuril Islands. In 1741 a Russian expedition lead by Dane Vitus Bering travelled to Kamchatka, built a ship and crossed the Bering Straits, to Alaska, which Bering claimed for Russia. Again the Russians mainly were interested in Alaskan fur. The seal colonies on the Aleut islands provided an easy harvest of seals.
Spain regarded the Russian presence in Alaska (and down to Northern California) as a breach of the Treaty of Tordesillas. In 1774 Spaniard Juan Perez explores the northwest Pacific coast; in 1791 Alejandro Malaspina does the same. A Russian attempt to sail along Siberia's northern coast, initiated by Lomonosov in 1764 and undertaken by Pavel Chichagov, failed to achieve her objective.

Russia lacked a suitable port on the Pacific coast. Only when Russia acquired the Amur Province (1858) and the Far Eastern Province (1860) from China, did the construction of port facilities at Vladivostok start. The port, however, was harmed in her activities by being frozen over for several months in winter.
In 1786 a Japanese expedition landed on Southern Sakhalin; in the following year Frenchman la Perouse began with surveying parts of the coastline of Sakhalin. The island was contested between Japan and Russia,until an 1875 agreement was signed which assigned Sakhalin to Russia, the Kuril Islands to Japan.

The Russian Discovery of Siberia, from Meeting of Frontiers
European Exploration of Coastal Alaska, timeline, from Univ. of Alaska Museum
Russian Naval Officers and Geographic Exploration in Northern Russia, from Arctic Voice
History, from Sakhalin and the Kuriles
A Timeline of Alaska, posted by Chris Buchholdt

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 25th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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