May 20 in Russian history


(9 May Old Style)

Semion Chelyuskin reached the northernmost point of the mainland Eurasia, locate at 77°44′N, 104°15′E. He named it Eastern Northern Cape. 100 years later, in 1842, the cape was renamed to Cape Chelyuskin.

Very little is known about Semion Chelyuskin. His grandfather, Rodion, was a colonel of Streltsy in Moscow. After the Streltsy revolt, the family fell from grace and lived in a small village on river Oka. The date of birth of Semion Chelyuskin is not known. It could be 1704 or 1707. In 1714 he arrived to Moscow and entered the School of Mathematics and Navigation. One of his teachers was Leonty Magnitsky, famous mathmatician, the author of the first Russian mathematics schoolbook. In 1721 Chelyuskin graduated from school and became a navigator assistant in the Baltic fleet.

In 1732, Russian government decided to send the second Kamchatka expedition. The first expedition, led by Vitus Bering, took place in 1725-1727 and discovered the Bering Strait. The second expedition had to explore the shores of Alaska, to explore the Kuril islands and to map the north-eastern Russia between river Pechora and Chukotka. Semion Chelyuskin joined the expedition as a navigator. In 1738, Chelyuskin presented to the Admiralty the report on the results of the expedition. He thoroughly studied the good and the bad sides of the earlier expeditions and prepared a plan to continue the exploration of the Arctic Ocean.

In 1739-1740, his ship Yakutsk explored the Taimyr peninsula. In August 1740, the ship was crushed by the floating ice, but the people survived and continued the scientific research. In December 1741 the groups departed on dogs from Turukhansk to reach the unknown northernmost point of Taimyr. The temperature fell to –50°С, but the team made 30-40 kilometers every day. Chelyuskin pedantically mapped the way and filled the journal. On 6 May they killed a white bear to replenish the meat supplies. The blizzard made them stop for one day. Some days later they reached a cape, which Chelyuskin named Eastern Northern Cape. Only in 1919 Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, the chief scientist of the expedition of Roald Amundsen, established that this cape is the northernmost point of the Eurasian continent.

In July, Chelyuskin came to Mangazeysk where his part of the second Kamchatka expedition ended. In 1743 lieutenant Khariton Laptev (after whom the Laptev sea is named), another participant of the expedition, published the description of the lands between rivers Lena and Yenisey. This work included many materials collected by Chelyuskin: descriptions of rivers, islands, shores, sea depths, tides, soils, etc. Chelyuskin and Laptev mention the mammoth bones which they sometimes found. They also write about the tribes that inhabited the Russian north, telling about their life and traditions.

In 1756, Semion Chelyuskin retired and led the life of a village gentleman. In November 1764, he died in his village on river Oka, not far from Tula.

Here you can see cape Chelyuskin today. On the top photo: a tower built on Cape Chelyuskin by the Amundsen expedition in 1912.

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