Item of the Day: Lesseps’ Travels in Kamtschatka (1790)

Full Title:

Travels in Kamtschatka, During the Years 1787 and 1788.  Translated from the French of M. De Lesseps, Consul of France, and Interpreter to the Count de la Perouse, Now Engaged in a Voyage Round the World, By Command of His Most Christian Majesty.  In Two Volumes.  Volume I.  London: Printed For J. Johnson, St. Paul’s Church-Yard.  1790.

Travels in Kamtschatka, &c.

I have scarcely completed my twenty-fifth year, and am arrived at the most memorable era of my life.  However long, or however happy may be my future career, I doubt whether it will ever be my fate to be employed in so glorious an expedition as that in which two French frigates, the Boussole, and the Astrolabe, are at this moment engaged; the first commanded by count de Perouse, chief of the expedition, and the second by viscount de Langle.

The report of this voyage round the world, created too general and lively an interest, for direct news of these illustrious navigators, reclaimed by their country and by all Europe from the seas they traverse, not to be expected with as much impatience as curiosity.

How flattering is it to my heart, after having obtained from count de la Perouse the advantage of accompanying him for more than two years, to be farther indebted to him for the honour of conveying his dispatches over land into France!  The more I reflect upon this additional proof of his confidence, the more I feel what such an embassy requires, and how far I am deficient; and I can only attribute his preference, to the necessity of choosing for this journey, a person who had resided in Russia, and could speak its language.

On the 6 September 1787, the king’s frigates entered the port of Avatscha, or Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the southern extremity of the peninsula of Kamtschatka.  The 29, I was ordered to quit the Astrolabe; and the same day count de la Perouse gave me his dispatches and instructions.  His regard for me would not permit him to confine his cares to the most satisfactory arrangements for the safety and convenience of my journey; he went further, and gave me the affectionate counsels of a father, which will never be obliterated from my heart.  Viscount de Langle had the goodness to join his also, which proved equally beneficial to me.   

Let me permitted in this place to pay my just tribute of gratitude to the faithful companion of the dangers and the glory of count de la Perouse, and his rival in every other court, as well as that of France, for having acted towards me, upon all occasions, as a counsellor, a friend, and a father. 

In the evening I was to take my leave of the commander and his worthy colleague.  Judge what I suffered, when I conducted them back to the boats that waited for them.  I was incapable of speaking, or of quitting them; they embraced me in turns, and my tears too plainly told them the situation of my mind.  The officers who were on shore, received also my adieux: they were affected, offered prayers to heaven for my safety, and gave me every consolation and succour that their friendship could dictate.  My regret at leaving them cannot be described; I was torn from their arms, and found myself in those of colonel Kasloff-Ougrenin, governor general of Okotsk and Kamtschatka, to whom count de la Perouse had recommended me, more as his son, than an officer charged with his dispatches. 

At this moment commenced my obligations to the Russian governor.  I knew not then all the sweetness of his character, incessantly disposed to acts of kindness, and which I have since had so many reasons to admire.  He treated my feelings with the utmost address.  I saw the tear of sympathy in his eye upon the departure of the boats, which we followed as far out as our sight would permit; and in conducting me to his house, he spared no pains to divert me from my melancholy reflections.  To conceive the frightful void which my mind experienced at this moment, it is necessary to be in my situation, and left alone in these scarcely discovered regions, four thousand leagues from my native land: without calculating this enormous distance, the dreary aspect of the country sufficiently prognositicated what I should have to suffer during my long and perilous route; but the reception which I met with from the inhabitants, and the civilities of M. Kasloff and the other Russian officers, made me by degrees less sensible to the departure of my countrymen. 

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Filed under 1790's, Eighteenth century, Explorations, Posted by Matthew Williams, Travel, Travel Literature

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