Litke, Fyodor Petrovich

views updated

Litke, Fyodor Petrovich

(b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 17 September 1797; d. St. Petersburg, 8 October 1882)

earth sciences, geography.

Litke’s parents died when he was young. He was poor during his childhood and thus could not obtain advanced education. In 1812, however, he was accepted as a sailor in the Baltic fleet; and his resourcefulness and boldness led to his rapid promotion. Litke’s participation in the round-the-world voyage (1817-1819) of the sloop Kamchatka, commanded by the well-known geographer and traveler V. M. Golovnin, decisively determined his future. Soon after his return from this voyage Litke, on the recommendation of Golovnin, was appointed commander of an expedition to survey the shores of Novaya Zemlya. In 1821-1824 the expedition made four attempts to circumnavigate Novaya Zemlya from the north. Although exceptionally heavy ice prevented it from succeeding, the expedition contributed much to science. Important mistakes on maps in the position of the western coast of Novaya Zemlya, Matochkin Shar, Proliv, Strait, Kanin Nos, the eastern coast of the mouth of the White Sea, and the Murmansk coast of the Barents Sea were corrected; a number of bays of the Barents Sea were investigated with the aim of determining the possibility of using them for anchorage; and extensive areas of the Barents Sea were studied, including its northern part, between Spitsbergen and Novaya Zemlya.

In 1826-1829 Litke commanded the sloop Senyavin, on a round-the-world voyage designed to survey the little-known islands of the central Pacific and the coast of the Bering Sea.

In the Bering Sea, Litke made astronomical determinations of the most important points of the coast of Kamchatka north from the Avachinskaya gulf; he measured the height of many hills; he described in detail the hitherto unknown Karaginskiy Pribilof Ostrova, and Matveyev Islands and also the Chukchi coast from East Cape almost to the mouth of the Anadyr River. In the central Pacific he made a detailed investigation of the Carolines, discovering twelve previously unknown islands, describing the entire archipelago in detail, and placing it on the map. The expedition gathered materials on the botany, zoology, ethnography, geophysics, and oceanography of the regions explored.

After the voyage of the Senyavin, Litke became well known and was considered to be one of the most famous travelers of the first half of the nineteenth century. Soon afterward Litke became involved in organizing the Russian Geographical Society and was elected its president at the first meeting, in 1845.

Led by Litke, the Russian Geographical Society conducted a number of important expeditions to the outlying areas of the country and beyond its borders. In 1873, citing his advanced years, he asked to be relieved of the presidency; the society agreed, and in recognition of his exceptional services it established a gold medal in his name to honor especially distinguished geographical discoveries and research.

From 1864 to 1881 Litke was president of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, retiring only a few months before his death. As president he did much to make the Academy flourish, helping various scientific institutions and societies to develop rapidly. In particular, through his efforts the Pulkovo obser-vatory, the main physical observatory, and the Pavlov magnetic-meteorological observatory substantially broadened their activities.

Litke was an honorary member of the Naval Academy, of Kharkov and Dorpat universities, and of the geographical societies of London and Antwerp, as well as a corresponding member of the Paris Academy of Sciences.


I. Original Works. Litke’s most important published writings are Chetyrekhkratnoe puteshestvie v Severny Ledovity okean na voennom brige “Novaya Zemnlya,” v 1821-1824 godakh (“Four Journeys to the Northern Arctic Ocean on the Military Brig Novaya Zemlya, in 1821-1824”; St. Petersburg, 1828; 2nd ed., Moscow, 1948); and Puteshestvie vokrug sveta na voennom shlyupe “Senyavin” v 1826-1829 godakh (“A Trip Around the World in the Military Sloop Senyavin in 1826-1829”), 3 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1834-1836; 2nd ed., Moscow, 1948).

II. Secondary Literature. The most important publications on Litke are the following, listed chronologically: O. V. Struve, Ob uchenykh zaslugakh grafa F. P. Litke(“On the Scientific Contributions of Count F. P. Litke”; St. Petersburg, 1883); V. P. Bezobrazov, “Graf Fyodor Petrovich Litke,”; in Zapisok Akademii nauk, 57 (1888), app. 2; F. Wrangel, “Graf Fyodor Petrovich Litke,” in Izvestiya Russkogo Geograficheskogo obshchestva, 33 (1897), 326-347; and A. D. Dobrovolsky, Plavania F. P. Litke(“Voyages of F. P. Litke”; Moscow, 1948).

For further reference, see B. P. Orlov, Fyodor Petrovich Litke … (k 150-letiyu so dnya rozhdenia) (“Fyodor Petrovich Litke … [for the 150th Anniversary of His Birth]”; Moscow, 1948); M. Marich, Zhizn i plavania ftota kapitanleytenanta Fyodora Petrovicha Litke (“Life and Voyages of the Fleet of Captain-Lieutenant Fyodor Petrovich Litke”; Moscow-Leningrad, 1949); A. E. Antonov, F. P. Litke (Moscow, 1955); and N. N. Zubov, Fyodor Petrovich Litke, in the series Otechestvennye Fiziko-Geografy i Puteshestvenniki (“Native Physical Geographers and Travelers”; Moscow, 1959).

A. F. Plakhotnik