Billings Joseph

As an astronomer, Joseph Billings took part in James Cook's last expedition by sailing in the northern part of the Pacific Ocean and in the Chukchi Sea. In the early 1880s on the recommendation of S.P. Vorontsov, a Russian envoy in London, Billings was engaged in Russian service as a warrant officer (1783), a lieutenant (1784), and a captain-lieutenant (1785). In 1785, he was appointed as chief of the Northeast Expedition (1785-1794) that Empress Catherine II sent to seize the coast between the Kolyma River and the Bering Strait; explore the sea between the northeast coast of Russia and the opposite coast of the United States of America; verify information about the land stretching to the north from Bear Island; and study the peoples (especially the Chukchi) and natural resources of that place.

The expedition, led by Billings on the Pallas and his deputy Gavriil Andreevich Sarychev in Iasashna, accomplished much work on land and sea from 1785 to 1792. At sea, the group explored and described a part of the Arctic Ocean's coast from the mouth of the Kolyma east to the Aion Island, the Okhotsk Sea coast from Okhotsk up to Aldoma, five islands of the Kuril chain, the Bering Strait, the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, Pribilof, Gvozdev (Diomede Islands) Islands, Saint Matwei Island, Saint Lawrence Island, and King Island (Ukivoke). During land trips the group studied the Verkhoyansk Range and the range later named Chersky, Yana Plateau, Tas-Khayakhtakh Range, the southern part of Gornostakhsk Range, and the Ulakhan-Bam and Uidomo-Maysky ranges. Information about the terrain of the Oimyakon Plateau and the geography of the Indigir lowlands were collected; highlands between Yudomo and Jugjur Range were explored. The group under Billings's command discovered the Anadyr and Anuisk mountain ranges. The members of the expedition made 57 maps and plans, and kept 42 journals with descriptions of places visited. The explorers collected significant historic, ethnographic, and linguistic materials relevant to the peoples of northeast Asia and northwest America.

Billings was the author of the first ethnographic description of the Yukagir. He also paid great attention to Yakuts, and made observations about the Chukchi, Evens, Buryats, Aleuts, Eskimos, and Cossacks. The explorer described the settlements of the peoples, an appearance of some representatives, their occupations, tools, means of movement, the position of women, and gave information about their beliefs, shamans, rituals, and customs. During this expedition Billings kept a diary in English, which was published by his secretary Martin Sauer in 1802. F.K. Karzhavin translated Billings' journals into Russian. Some data from Billings's diaries, his text "Note of Chukotka land" were published in 1811 as a part of Sarychev's work "Captain Billings's Travel via the Chukchee Land From the Bering Strait up to Nizhnekolymsk Fortress and Captain Gull's Sail by Black Eagle Ship along the North-East Ocean in 1791." The ethnographic materials of the 1785-1795 expedition from all three parts of Billings's journal (translated by Karzhavin) were published by Z.D. Titova in 1978.


Joseph Billings was born in 1761 in England in Turnham Green. Of noble origin, he registered for military service in 1776. For participation in the Northeast Expedition, he was awarded the St Vladimir, third degree and an annual pension of 600 roubles. At his request, Billings was transferred to the Black Sea in 1796. In Sevastopol he was nominated by the commander of the frigate St Andrew, and then accepted the ship St Michail. On the Christmas of the Virgin, Billings engaged in hydrographic works, describing an important site of the Black Sea for the Russian fleet; he then issued the atlas of this area. On May 9, 1799, he was ranked captain-commander from the captain of the first rank. Illness ("constraint of chest") was the reason for his request for retirement. On November 28, 1799, Billings was dismissed from service "with full-dress uniform and pension." The exact circumstances of his last years are unknown. It is only known that Billings was married, and that his wife Ekaterina, nee Pestel, was born on June 14, 1772 and died in Moscow on June

18, 1826. Billings died in 1806 at the age of 45 years. The cape of the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug coast in the East Siberian Sea and the cape in the Akun island group of the Aleutian islands have been given his name.

Danara Shirina

See also Daurkin, Nikolay; Kobelev, Ivan Further Reading

Alexeev, A.I., Uchenyi Chukcha Nikolai Daurkin [Chukchi Scientist Nikolai Daurkin], Magadan, 1961, pp. 76, 77-81

-., Gavriil Andreevich Sarychev, Moscow: Nauka, 1966, pp. 88-90, 104-106 Billings, Joseph, In Sibirskaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediia [Siberian Soviet Dictionary], Volume 1, Novosibirsk: Sibirskoe kraenoe izd-vo, 1929, p. 343 Magidovich, I.P., Primechaniya [Notes]. In Puteshestvie po Severo-Vostochnoi Chasti Sibiri, Ledovitomu Morui i Vostochnomu Okeanu [Travel along the North-East Part of Siberia, Arctic Sea and Eastern Ocean], edited by G.A. Sarychev, Moscow, 1952, p. 297 (published as Account of a voyage of discovery to the North-East of Siberia, the Frozen Ocean and the North-East Sea, Amsterdam and New York: Da Capo Press, 1969) Sauer, M., An account of a geographical and astronomical expedition to the northern parts of Russia...Performed by command of Catherina the Second, by Commodore Joseph Billings, in the years 1785 to 1794. The whole narrated from original papers, by M. Sayer, secretary to the expedition, London: Cadell and Davies, 1802 Sgibnev, A., Istoricheskiy Ocherk Glavneishikh Sobytiy v Kamchatke [Historical Story of the Main Events in Kamchatka]. Morskoi sbornik, 7(1869): pp. 39-41

-, Okhotskiy Port s 1649 po 1852 [Okhotsk Port Since

1649 up to 1852]. Morskoi sbornik, 11(1869): pp. 66-69 Shirina, D.A., Letopis' Expeditsiy Akademii Nauk na Severo-Vostok Azii v Dorevolutionnyi period [Chronicle of Expeditions of the Academy of Sciences to the North-East Asia before the Revolution], Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1983, pp. 34, 37, 40

-, Peterburgskaia akademiia nauk i Severo-Vostok,

1725-1917 [Petersburg Academy of Sciences and the NorthEast], Novosibirsk, 1994, pp. 55-57 Titova, Z.D., Vvedenie. In Etnograficheskie Materialy Severo-Vostochnoi Geograficheskoi Expeditsii [Introduction. In Ethnographic Materials of the North-Eastern Geographical Expedition], Magadan: Magadanskoe knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1978, pp. 5-12

Titova, Z.D., Journal ili Podennik Flotskogo Capitana Iosifa Billingsa [A Journal or Diary of Joseph Billings, the Naval Captain]. Part 1-3, In Etnograficheskie Materialy Severo-Vostochnoi Geograficheskoi Expeditsii, Magadan: Magadanskoe knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, pp. 19-58

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