An Exact Chart of all the Countries through which Capt. Behring Travelled from Tobolski Capital of Siberia to the Country of Kamtschtka.
A fascinating rare map that was published for the English speaking market by Emanuel Bowen to show the Siberian overland route taken by the Danish explorer, Vitus Behring, during the First Kamchatka Expedition from 1725 to 1730. The current example was published in John Harris’ Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca, or, a Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels, London 1744. However, the map was first published by Jean-Baptiste Du Halde in his Description de la Chine, Paris, 1735, and re-issued by Jean-Baptiste D'Anville in 1737.
Behring was hired by the Russian Czar, Peter the Great, to lead the expedition to the Kamchatka Peninsula on the East Coast of Siberia so as to map the distant region and help strengthen Russia’s land claims. The expedition, commonly referred to as The First Kamchatka Expedition, and included the likes of Martin Spangberg and Alekssei Chirikov, began in January 1725 and lasted until 1730.
It has been argued that “while Behring's expedition was by no means the first expedition to traverse Russia, it was the first to explore the coast beyond Kamchatka and to properly map the various river systems of the eastern interior of Siberia and to chart much of the Pacific Coast.” The intended goal of the expedition was also to determine if Asia and America shared a common border. Upon reaching the outer reaches of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Behring concluded that a northern sea separated the two land masses. As a result, a second expedition was summoned in 1733, commonly referred to as The Great Northern Expedition. This expedition is considered “one of the largest organized exploration enterprises in history, resulting in the mapping of most of the Arctic coast of Siberia and some parts of the North America coastline…” This Great Northern Expedition was again commanded by Behring and is the first recorded European discovery of what would later become known as Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
Unfortunately, the expedition was unable to find a route beyond the north east tip of Asia, thus ending the possibility of the Northeast Passage linking the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans by way of the Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, Behring was to loose his life in 1741 while undertaking his quest for cartographic immortality. His efforts would not be in vain, however, as his exploits would be underlined with the naming of the sea that separates the Asian and American continent after him. Furthermore, his success in finding a route to the American mainland in Alaska, allowed for a Russian presence to last until 1867, when Alaska was sold to the United States of America.
It should also be noted that Bowen’s map, which was included in his Complete Voyages, was published at a time when there was great interest in the search for a Northwest as well as a Northeast passage to the Orient. In fact, the Great Northern Expedition coincided with the efforts of Arthur Dobbs, a prominent member of Parliament in Great Britain to sponsor Captain Middleton’s voyage in 1742 to find an entrance, via the Hudson’ Bay, to a Northwest Passage. When Middleton’s voyage of 1742 proved unsuccessful in finding the Northwest passage, Dobbs engaged in a critical attack of his conduct during his exploration of Hudson’s Bay through a set of pamphlets.
As such, Bowen’s map belongs in the series of maps that would have been of particular interest to the English public during a time when exploration and a race to find the Northeast or Northwest Passage offered hope of glory and riches.