Gavriil Andreevich Sarychev

Author of the Atlas of the Northern Part of the Pacific Ocean, 1826

Gavriil Andreevich Sarychev, a Russian naval officer, hydrographer and explorer, enjoyed a long and illustrious career, during which he made explorations in the Arctic, sailed through the Aleutian Islands, and wrote one of the first atlases of the North Pacific Ocean. In the National Geographic magazine, Volume 13, No. 3, March, 1902, naturalist and explorer Marcus Baker wrote, “In the year 1826 the Russian Hydrographic Office, then under the direction of Vice-Admiral Gavrila Andreevich Sarichef, published a large folio atlas of northwestern America, northeastern Asia, and the waters between.”

Sarychev (also spelled Sarichef and other variations) was born in 1763, enrolled in the naval cadet corps at the tender age of eight, and began his service in the Russian Imperial Navy at age 18 as a midshipman, becoming by all accounts an excellent sailor and geographer. 

From 1785 to 1794, Sarychev took part in an expedition sponsored by Empress Catherine II of Russia, led by Royal Navy officer Joseph Billings. Sarychev, on ship Slava Rossii (Glory of Russia), described and mapped the coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk from Okhotsk to Aldoma, including many of the Aleutian Islands (especially Unalaska). He also described the islands of Pribylov, St. Matthew Island, St. Lawrence Island, Gvozdev, and King Island. 

From 1786 to 1793 the expedition explored the Arctic coast of eastern Siberia, also making two voyages to Alaska and surveying the Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula, St. Lawrence and Diomede Islands, and the eastern shore of the Bering Strait. During the expedition’s second voyage to Unalaska, Sarychev was promoted to captain (second rank) and given command of the ship Slava Rossii. His journals from the voyage contain detailed descriptions of the expedition, along with sketches of places visited, including Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands.

Sarychev published two accounts of the expedition after returning to St. Petersburg: Travels of the Naval Captain Sarychev in the Northeast Siberia, Icy Sea and Eastern Ocean, accompanied by charts and images of the Siberian and Alaskan coasts; and Travels of Captain Billings across the land of Chukotka from the Bering Strait to Nizhnekolymsk.

The first book would eventually become known as Sarichef's Atlas, and it is available to read online. The images are traditionally all attributed to Sarychev, but many of them some may be based on the original sketches of the expedition's official artist, Luka Voronin. Strangely, the St. Petersburg engraver who transferred the original sketches into the illustrations romanticized the scenes and portraits, making the faces and attire of the people appear almost European. 

Gavriil Sarychev spent the rest of his life in St. Petersburg. He was made Vice Admiral in 1808, became an Honorable Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1809, commander and military governor of Kronstadt in 1828, and became a full Admiral in 1830. A year later, then Acting Minister of Russian Imperial Navy, he died of cholera in the great epidemic of 1831, leaving behind an unfinished book on history of Russian ports.

Cape Sarichef, on the western end of Unimak Island, the largest in the Aleutian chain; and Sarichef Island, in the Chukchi Sea at the mouth of the Shishmaref Inlet, 100 miles east of Russia, were named for him.  ~•~