Admiral Faddei Faddevich Bellingshausen - Explorer Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Admiral Faddei Faddevich Bellingshausen - Explorer

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The subject of this entry was born into a military family on 20 September, 1778, on an island off Estonia. Given the name Fabian Gotlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen, he would become one of the world's greatest explorers.

At an early age, he joined the Russian Navy, changing his name to Faddei Faddevich Bellingshausen. Following in the footsteps of Captain James Cook, who died just after Bellingshausen's birth, the explorer circled the globe before he reached the age of 30. He rose through the ranks of the Russian navy and then, in May 1819, Czar Alexander the First chose him to lead an Antarctic expedition for which he was only given six months to prepare1. And so, a few months later, the 600-tonne copper-sheathed Vostok - with its crew of 117, supported by the supply vessel Mirnyi under Bellingshausen's lieutenant M Lazarev - left Portsmouth to survey the waters of the Southern Ocean. En route, the crew travelled through French Polynesia where they became the first Europeans to reach the Tuamotu Archipeligo. They also stopped in Tahiti and, like any good naturalist, Bellingshausen collected specimens of the local bird population. Later an atoll (also known as Motu One) was renamed in his honour as Bellingshausen Atoll.

The expedition continued southward and on 27 January, 1820, they sighted the continent of Antarctica - it is believed they were the first ever to do so2.

The expedition then proceeded north to warmer waters for the winter. Returning the next Spring, Bellingshausen discovered and named Peter the First Island and Alexander Island. Shortly thereafter, near Trinity Island, he met Captain Palmer of the Sloop Hero and they exchanged information. Bellingshausen continued to chart Antarctic water and his journals were published in St. Petersburg in 18313.

Bellingshausen and his crew circumnavigated Antarctica numerous times during the next eight years and the charts produced by them of the Antarctic waters were in use by the British Admiralty until the 1930s.

At the age of 48, Bellingshausen settled down and married Anna D Baykova. He was promoted to Rear Admiral and between 1828-1829 he took part in a military campaign against Turkey. Promoted again to Vice Admiral he was made military Governor of Kronstadt Naval Base, in the Gulf of Finland between Estonia and St Petersburg. There, where many Russian trans-world expeditions begin and end, there now stands a statue of the great explorer.

Bellingshausen died at age 74 on 25 January, 1852, but his name lives on in the Bellingshausen Station Antarctica and the Bellingshausen Sea as well as in the tropical atoll.

1According to The Crystal Desert by David G Campbell2Within a year an Englishman, Edward Bransfield, and an American, Nathaniel Palmer, also 'found' the continent.3English translation, The Voyages of Captain Bellingshausen 1819-1821, edited by Frank Debenham, published in 1945 by the Hakluyt Society.

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