Fabian Bellingshausen


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Russian naval officer, born in Oesel, an island in the Gulf of Riga. He first saw service with the Imperial Russian Navy aged 25 when, as a junior officer, he was part of a Russian expedition commanded by Admiral Adam Krusenstern (1770–1846), undertaken to demonstrate to the Tsar the advantages of a direct sea route from Russia to China via Cape Horn. It took place between 1803 and 1806 and was the first voyage of circumnavigation ever undertaken by Russians.

Thirteen years later Bellingshausen was put in command of an expedition promoted by Tsar Alexander I to circumnavigate the world, which was to complement, rather than repeat, the discoveries of James Cook in 1772–5. The expedition sailed in July 1819 with Bellingshausen aboard the Mirny and his second in command aboard the Vostok. In December they reached South Georgia and completed the coastal survey begun by Cook. From there the expedition proceeded to survey the South Sandwich Islands which showed they could not be part of any Antarctic land mass. Then followed a series of discoveries which brought the Russians within sight of the ice cliffs of present-day Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica, though no claim to any sighting of an Antarctic continent was ever made by Bellingshausen.

Continuing clockwise round the continent Bellingshausen's ships penetrated further south than any previous expedition, reaching almost to Enderby Land, discovered over ten years later by the British seaman John Briscoe (1794–1843). After cruising in the South and central Pacific Bellingshausen continued his Antarctic circumnavigation in November 1820, approaching the continent through what is now the Bellingshausen Sea. On 22 January 1821 he sighted and named Peter I Island and, soon after, Alexander I Island. Bellingshausen's final mission was a survey of the South Shetland Islands, which he also proved could not be part of the Antarctic mainland.

Bellingshausen's Antarctic discoveries received little or no recognition from his contemporaries but were to prove the basis of Russia's interest in the region in the 20th century.

See also exploration by sea.

See also exploration by sea.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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