Vitus Bering

Birth: 1680


Vitus Bering or Behring (1680-1741) was a Danish navigator born in 1680 at Horsens. In 1703 he entered the Russian navy, and served in the Swedish war. A series of explorations of the north coast of Asia, the outcome of a far-reaching plan devised by Peter the Great, led up to Bering’s first voyage to Kamchatka. In 1725, under the auspices of the Russian government, he went overland to Okhotsk, crossed to Kamchatka, and built the ship "Gabriel." In her he pushed northward in 1728, until he could no longer observe any extension of the land to the north, or its appearance to the east.

In the following year he made an abortive search for land eastward, and in 1730 returned to St Petersburg. He was subsequently commissioned to a further expedition, and in 1740 established the settlement of Petropavlosk in Kamchatka; and built two vessels, the "St Peter" and "St Paul," in which in 1741 he led an expedition towards America. A storm separated the ships, but Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaska, and a landing was made at Kayak Island or in the vicinity. Bering was forced by adverse conditions to return quickly, and discovered some of the Aleutian Islands on his way back.

He was afflicted with scurvy, and became too ill to command his ships, which were at last driven to refuge on an uninhabited island in the south-west of Bering Sea, where Bering himself and many of his company died. This island bears his name. Bering died on the 19th of December 1741. It was long before the value of his work was recognized; but Captain Cook was able to prove his accuracy as an observer.


See G. F. Muller, Sammlung russischer Geschichten, vol. iii. (St Petersburg, 1758); P. Lauridsen, Bering og de Russiske Opdagelsesrejser (Copenhagen, 1885).

1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica Volume 3. pg 775

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