Eastbound through Siberia

Eastbound through Siberia

Observations from the Great Northern Expedition
Georg Wilhelm Steller, foreword by Jonathan C. Slaght, translated by Margritt A. Engel and Karen E. Willmore
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/02/2020
ISBN: 978-0-253-04784-7
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In the winter of 1739, Georg Steller received word from Empress Anna of Russia that he was to embark on a secret expedition to the far reaches of Siberia as a member of the Great Northern Expedition. While searching for economic possibilities and strategic advantages, Steller was to send back descriptions of everything he saw. The Empress's instructions were detailed, from requests for a preserved whale brain to observing the child-rearing customs of local peoples, and Steller met the task with dedication, bravery, and a good measure of humor. In the name of science, Steller and his comrades confronted horse-swallowing bogs, leaped across ice floes, and survived countless close calls in their exploration of an unforgiving environment. Not stopping at lists of fishes, birds, and mammals, Steller also details the villages and the lives of those living there, from vice-governors to prostitutes. His writings rail against government corruption and the misuse of power while describing with empathy the lives of the poor and forgotten, with special attention toward Native peoples.

What emerges is a remarkable window into life—both human and animal—in 18th century Siberia. Due to the secret nature of the expedition, Steller's findings were hidden in Russian archives for centuries, but the near-daily entries he recorded on journeys from the town of Irkutsk to Kamchatka are presented here in English for the first time.

Author Bio

Georg Wilhelm Steller was a German scientist who lived from 1709 to 1746, and worked as a botanist, zoologist, and physician. He was part of the second crew for the Great Northern Expedition.

Margritt A. Engel is Professor Emerita of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is translator of Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 17411742 and Steller's History of Kamchatka.

Karen E. Willmore is Professor Emerita of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is translator of Steller's History of Kamchatka.

Jonathan C. Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is editor and translator (with Vladimir K. Arsenyev) of Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains.


"Eastbound through Siberia is a significant contribution to the body of travel literature on Russia, in particular because it is so early and covers eastern Siberia (British travel literature, for example, is only extensive after the 1770s and predominantly covers European Russia). The Second Kamchatka expedition was important for charting unknown territory and Steller was a prominent member of that expedition."

 (Janet Hartley, author of Siberia: A History of the People)

"Steller had a practiced eye for distinguishing the most important characteristics of plants. And he must have had an extraordinary memory, because he could remember if he had already seen a plant species and thus recognize those species that were new to the scientific community. During the very short time of two and a half months in 1739, he recorded over 1,050 plant species. Today Steller's works are considered of particular interest from the standpoint of human-caused changes to the flora because they provide a baseline against which the present distribution and frequency of plants can be measured, as well as the first appearance of invasive species. Eastbound through Siberia not only showcases Steller the botanist but also reveals him as an admirable human being with a great sense of humor who managed to keep an upbeat attitude in the most trying circumstances."

 (Eckehart J. Jäger, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Biology, Martin-Luther-Universität, Halle, Germany)

"A wonderful report on Eastern Siberia from the early 18th century, this is a major addition to the primary literature on Steller, the naturalist-explorer who was too busy doing comprehensive research and died too early on his return trip from Kamchatka to have his portrait painted or even drawn. This volume will stand out for its quality and rich detail in years to come."

 (Han F. Vermeulen, author of Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment)

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Table of Contents


Foreword: The Steller Legacy / Jonathan C. Slaght

Translators' Preface



Instructions for Georg Wilhelm Steller from February 18, 1739, from Yeniseysk / Johann Georg Gmelin and Gerhard Friedrich Müller

Part I: Description of Irkutsk and Its Surroundings

1. About Irkutsk and Its Surroundings

2. About Irkutsk Itself

3. About the Public Offices

4. About the Clergy

5. About the Chinese Trade and Chinese Trade Goods

6. About Customs and Lifestyle in Irkutsk

7. About Transbaikalia

8. Report from the Uda River

Part II: Travel Journal from Irkutsk to Kamchatka

9. From Irkutsk to Ust'Ilginskaya (3/4-13)

10. From Ust'Ilginskaya to Kirensk (3/14-5/1)

11. From Kirensk to Yakutsk (5/2-24)

12. In Yakutsk and Yarmanka (5/25-6/19)

13. From Yarmanka to the Amga River (6/20-7/2)

14. From the Amga to the Yuna River (7/3-21)

15. From the Yuna River to Yudoma Cross (7/22-8/8)

16. From Yudoma Cross to Okhotsk (8/9-13)

17. In Okhotsk (8/14-26)

18. Salmon Fishing and Preserving (8/27)

19. From Okhotsk to Bol'sheretsk (8/28-9/16)


Appendix A: Georg Wilhelm Steller's Life 11-20 – '18

Appendix B: Schnurbuch Account Ledger

Appendix C: Letter to Johann Daniel Schumacher

Appendix D: Plants Named After Steller

Glossary of Foreign Words

Glossary of People