Continuation. First part published in issue #101
The Maori proved themselves veteran hagglers, the first sight of an axe producing great excitement amongst them. Following Cook’s example, seeds were exchanged, the Maori given turnip, swede, carrot, pumpkin, broad bean and peas to plant. In return the Russians took flax seed which Bellingshausen promised to plant in the Southern Crimea, which had a similar climate. These groves of flax still flourish there today.
The visit was brief, less than two weeks. On June 2, the barometer plunged, and huge waves pounded the ships causing them to drag anchor. Two days later with little improvement, Bellingshausen ordered his ships to weigh anchor and set course for the Society Islands, where Simonov continued to pack every crevice in the ships with more artefacts. Bellingshausen Atoll (Motu One) in the Leeward group of the Society Islands, along with Vostok Island in Kiribati, are named after them.
After returning to Russia in August 1821, most of the precious cargo went to become a significant collection at the Miklukho-Maklay Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, while some ended up as the Simonov Collection at the University of Kazan, the two locations where they still reside today.
Replicas of Bellingshausen’s ships (here the Mirnyi) were obtained by Canterbury Museum in 1994. They were built by Igor Kochmarov, a crew member of a Russian fishing vessel.
As for the great commander Bellingshausen, his rightful glory was set back when some of his crew would later be arrested for taking part in the 1825 Decembrist uprising. Even the printing of the expedition journals was put on hold, as much due to Tsar Alexander’s displeasure as British insistence that publication might outshine English territorial ambitions, including recognition that Russia had proved the existence of the frozen continent of Antarctica.
Finally, after it was pointed out by Russian naval authorities that other countries would claim the glory, the tzar relented, and 600 copies were finally published in 1831.
In New Zealand’s case, it is undeniable that our history has always been slanted towards Britain. The keen Russian interest in this country, which can be traced back to Cook’s voyages, have never been reciprocated, still isn’t to this day, as evidenced by our government’s complete lack of support for the 200 celebrations.
It was on the highest point of Motuara in Queen Charlotte Sound that Cook claimed the country for his king, and the sound for his queen. But Cook exceeded his orders there to simply raise the ‘Union flag’, and the British government was careful to exclude New Zealand from its published list of territories until well after the Russian visit.
Bellingshausen may have followed Cook, but they came as equals. It’s time we got that straight.
By Gerard Hindmarsh