Expedition of Lütke (1826-1829).

Discoveries and explorations in the Caroline Archipelago (Micronesia)


The task of the Lütke expedition was to explore the coasts of Asia and America in the northern part of the Pacific. In Oceania such islands of the Caroline Archipelago (Micronesia) as Kosrae, Ponape, Central Caroline atolls, etc. were explored; valuable information was gathered about the life and culture of local people. They also conducted important research in the oceanology, zoology and botany of the Pacific.


An outstanding scholar, famed navigator, Arctic explorer Friedrich Benjamin von Lütke took part in circumnavigation twice in his life: the first time - in 1817-1819, at the age of 20, as the head of the hydrographic expedition on the sloop "Kamchatka" under the command of V. M. Golovnin, which was an honour for him; the second time - on his own, as the captain of the sloop "Senyavin", aged 29, in 1826-1829.

A portrait of F. B. von Lütke (1797-1882). By unknown painter, second half of the XIX century. Russian Navy Archives, Saint-Petersburg

The 16-cannon sloop "Senyavin" under the direct supervision of Lütke was built in 1826 at the Okhta shipyard in Saint-Petersburg specifically for a scientific circumnavigation. In May 1826 the ship, named after admiral Dmitry Nikolayevich Senyavin (during his lifetime), who had defeated the Turks in the Battle of Athos in 1807, was launched and towed to Kronstadt, where by August the ship was equipped and prepared to sail.

The voyage around the world of the sloop "Senyavin" under the command of Lütke started on 20 August 1826 (hereinafter JC) and ended in Kronstadt on 25 August 1829.

In the course of the expedition, the explorer was to carry out various scientific work in hydrography, oceanology, meteorology etc., collect natural-historical and ethnographic material and deliver supplies to Kamchatka and Russian America.

The candidates for the scientific expedition were selected very carefully and the team consisted of the most worthy people: lieutenants N. I. Zavalishin and N. Aboleshev; midshipmen M. I. Ratmanov, F. H. Maier, N. Butakov, G. A. Glazenap; Junker P. I. Krusenstern; Navigator Corps Staff captain V. I. Semyonov; conductors G. Nozikov and D. Orlov; doctor K. G. Mertens, naturalist of the expedition; adjunct professor A. F. Postels, mineralogist and artist; zoologist F. H. von Kittlitz; also the team included 5 non-commissioned officers, lower rank sailors (41) and two servants. In total there were 62 men in the expedition under the command of captain-lieutenant Lütke. In addition, there were 15 passengers on "Senyavin" to be taken to Petropavlovsk and Okhotsk.

After sailing off from Kronstadt, the captain steered the ship through Copenhagen and Portsmouth to Tenerife and then on to Rio de Janeiro. Then the sloop "Senyavin" rounded Cape Horn and proceeded to the Bay of Concepción (Chile) moored in Valparaiso (a port 100 km from Santiago, the capital of Chile) and from there proceeded to Novo-Arkhangelsk, the center of Russian America. The ship then set sail for Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Islands. After finishing his work on St. Matthew Island, on 26 August 1827 Lütke moved to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky through the Commander Islands, where he remained till October 19, preparing for the voyage to the Caroline Islands.

Maps of the Caroline Islands were inaccurate at the time, so Lütke's main goal was to confirm or deny the existence of several islands previously discovered by Spanish and British navigators. The task of the explorer was to find out their exact location and their original names from the locals in order to clear up the confusion in the maps.

Lütke first steered his ship to Ualan Island (now Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia), located at the very East of the Caroline Islands, to sail from there across the whole archipelago to Guam, where he was to conduct scientific experiments and replenish food and water supplies before heading to Kamchatka.

On 23 November 1827, the expedition team arrived at Ualan Island (Kosrae). Here it was possible to establish a relationship of trust with the islanders and to barter foodstuffs for iron objects. A research station was also established on the island, where the expedition members carried out scientific work. In mid-December Lütke visited a village on the neighboring island of Lella (now Lelu, where the famous ruins of the stone-age city of the same name locate, dated 1250-1500) and was impressed by a wonderful masonry.

Lütke's talent as an observer, combined with his penchant for scientific knowledge of the world, enabled him to describe not only the life, traditions and habits of the islanders, but also their mythology.

On 22 December 1827, after staying for almost a month on Ualan Island (Kosrae), the sloop "Senyavin" sailed further, and on 2 January 1828 inhabited Ponape Island (now Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia) surrounded by isles, was discovered. The whole discovered group, consisting of 12 uninhabited and 5 inhabited islands, was named by Lütke "Senyavin Islands".

On 13 January 1828, Sapwuahfik Atoll (formerly Ngatik) was described. Mortlock Islands (or Nomoi Islands), three groups of atolls consisting of dozens of small islets, were further explored. From the local residents, who proved to be skilled seafarers, the navigator learned the names not only of the nearby islands, but in general, the names of all known islands in the Caroline Archipelago - north to Guam and west to Palau. Here the expedition members could visit a village on Lukunor Island, where the captain again saw an unusual Neolithic ruin - a stone wall. The Chief also explained the meaning of the tattoos on his body, which turned out to be the geographical coordinates of Lukunor Island and neighboring groups and helped the locals to navigate more easily.

In February 1828 the clarification of the local names and locations of the islands of the Caroline Archipelago continued successfully, and the closer "Senyavin" approached to the Spanish island of Guam, the more often one encountered land whose inhabitants not only already had a clear view of Europeans and were well versed in the value of iron items, but also knew a few Spanish words.

On 10 February 1828, having found Pikelot Island, Lütke headed directly to the Mariana Islands, to the island of Guam. On 8 March 1828, after replenishing provisions and fresh water, "Senyavin" sailed back to the Swede's Islands to explore the Caroline Archipelago.

On 16 March, Faraulep Atoll was discovered. Then Olimarao Atoll was mapped, and on 22 March - Ifalik Atoll.

"Senyavin" then sailed west to Woleai Atoll and anchored at Raur Island, where Lütke planned to make astronomical observations.

This concluded the work in the Caroline Archipelago and on 30 March 1828 "Senyavin" headed to the Bonin Islands (now Bonin or Ogasawara Islands, Japan), consisting of over 40 islands located between the Mariana Islands and Japan. The explorer planned to make astronomical and magnetic observations, and the naturalists planned to investigate the unique flora and fauna of the islands, which had been isolated for centuries without human intervention.

On 3 May 1828, after completing his research on the Bonin Islands, Lütke set sail for Kamchatka, whose shores appeared on the horizon on 23 May.

On 30 October 1828, the ship sailed off again from Kamchatka to explore the Caroline Archipelago. At the end of November, the sloop "Senyavin" approached Oroluk Island, an islet of Oroluk Atoll, and then the expedition discovered Murilo Atoll of 9 islets.

Then "Senyavin" passed through Fananu Island of 13 islets, from where it proceeded to already explored Faraulep Atoll, then to Woleai Atoll, where they again met familiar islanders.

On 8 December 1828, inhabited Fais and Mogmog Islands were mapped.

Lütke defined the approximate boundaries of the Caroline Archipelago, stating that it consisted of 46 groups of up to 400 islets. According to Lütke, the population of the entire Caroline Archipelago did not exceed 9 thousand people.

Having completed his exploration of the Caroline Archipelago in December 1827, Lütke sent the expedition to Manila (Philippines).

The return voyage of "Senyavin" was almost identical to the route of V. M. Golovnin's expedition on the sloop "Kamchatka". On 18 January 1829, Lütke set sail from Manila and on April 24 approached Saint Helena Island (the site of Napoleon's exile in 1815-1821). Further voyage passed through Faial Island (Azores) and the port of Le Havre (France), after which "Senyavin" visited London, and the explorer checked the scientific instruments. The ship arrived in Kronstadt on 25 August 1829, greeted by a cannon salute. "Senyavin's" voyage around the world ended after 3 years and 5 days.

The results of Lütke's expedition on the sloop "Senyavin" were the most fruitful of all the 29 scientific expeditions of the XIX century. The diverse scientific material and all kinds of exotic collections brought from around the world aroused great interest in the scientific world and made the navigator world famous.

The results of Lütke's research became the basis for the works of prominent scientists of the time. For example, Heinrich Friedrich Emil Lenz used Lütke's magnetic observations in a paper on tides. On the basis of the same data, Professor Gustaf Gabriel Hällström at the University of Helsinki wrote a paper on barometric observations and temperatures in tropical climates. Christopher Hansteen, Professor at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania (now the University of Oslo), used Lütke's work when he published maps of isodynamic lines in 1833.

Lütke's discoveries in the Caroline Archipelago were so important that even after his death, during the German-Spanish dispute over the islands in 1885, diplomats referred to his authority.

Lütke conducted particularly important experiments on the magnetic arrow and the swing of the permanent pendulum to determine the magnitude of the compression of the globe. The precise knowledge of this phenomenon is important for geodetic work and the precise study of some complex movements in the solar system. The researcher's experiments and observations belong to the most important in this field. His work "Experiments on the permanent pendulum" was awarded by the Academy of Sciences with the full Demidov prize, and Lütke was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, president of which he remained 18 years of his fruitful life until 1882 when he died at the age of 84.

Besides his scientific talent, Lütke was notable for his excellent human qualities that soon after his around-the-world voyage Emperor Nicholas I of Russia entrusted him with bringing up his son Konstantin (future Admiral general, an active supporter of the abolition of serfdom), of whom he decided to make a seaman. After Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia's wedding in 1848, Lütke plunged into scientific activities in the Maritime Scientific Committee, the Academy of Sciences and especially in the Russian Geographical Society, which he had organized in Saint-Petersburg in 1845 on the model of London one, for the purpose of comprehensive study of the Russian territory.

Another achievement of Lütke in those years was the establishment of the journal "Maritime Collection" in 1848, which paid much attention to the problems of geography for the purposes of navigation and maritime affairs.

In 1864 he was appointed President of the Academy of Sciences. Thus, Lütke found himself at the head of the country's two leading scientific organizations - the Geographical Society and the Academy of Sciences.

The outstanding scientist and navigator was buried on Volkovo cemetery in Saint-Petersburg in 1882. His name is immortalized on the world map in fifteen toponyms of various geographic objects. Thus, Lütke's name was given to an island in the Arctic Ocean, a cape on the southwestern coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, a cape on the northwestern coast of the Amur Bay, the strait between Karaginsky Island and Kamchatka in the Bering Sea, etc.




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Here is a list of toponyms mapped during these expeditions:

Bashenka Mt.
Bad Reception Bay
Cape Zavalishin
Cape Kittlitz
Fayu Atoll (Lütke Atoll)
Monte Santo Mt.
Merten's Monument (peak)
Pohnpei (Senyavin Islands)
Cape Tvyordy
Tenedos Mt.
Chamisso Harbor