Vitus Bearing collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the Russian Exploring Expedition, 1725-1730 (led by Bearing) to the Russian Arctic.

Administrative / Biographical History

Vitus Jonassen Bering was born in 1681 at Horsens, Denmark. In 1703, he joined the Russian Navy as a sub-lieutenant, serving in naval campaigns in the Baltic, Black and White Seas and advancing to the rank of captain (second class) in 1720. In 1725, he was appointed to lead the Russian Exploring Expedition, 1725-1730, instructed by Tsar Petr I to determine whether the easternmost extremity of Asia was connected to North America or whether there was a sea route between the two continents. Travelling from St. Petersburg overland to the Kamchatka Peninsula, where the vessel Svyatoy Gavriil was built, Bering sailed into the strait which now bears his name, reaching latitude 67° 18 minutes north on 18 August 1728. Unable to sight the American coast due to poor weather conditions, Bering could not prove conclusively the existence of a strait between the two continents.

Subsequently commissioned to a further expedition, Bering led the Russian Great Northern Expedition, 1733-1743. This was a major exploratory venture organized by the Russian government to conduct a wide-ranging study of the extreme north-eastern region of Asia, in particular to determine conclusively the geographical relationship between Asia and America. The expedition was instructed to survey the entire Arctic coast of Russian Eurasia from Arkhangel'sk to Kamchatka, and to conduct geographical and scientific surveys over a large part of Siberia. Due to transport delays and the difficulties in organizing several hundred men, Bering did not depart from Okhotsk, the chief Pacific port of Siberia, until September 1740 when he set sail for Kamchatka, where the settlement of Petropavlovsk was established.

On 4 June 1741, the two expedition vessels, Sv. Petr commanded by Bering and Sv. Pavel commanded by Aleksey Chirikov, set out from Petropavlovsk on the main voyage of exploration, initially sailing southeast in search of the non-existent Gama Land, before turning northeast to look for America. Although both vessels were permanently separated in a storm, Chirikov reached the American coast on 17 July 1741 at Chichagof Island, southeast Alaska. Three days later, Bering reached the coast at Kayak Island, where the naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller briefly landed to collect botanical and zoological specimens before Bering ordered the return to Petropavlovsk. Encountering storms and weakened by scurvy on the return voyage, the surviving crew of Sv. Petr was finally shipwrecked on Ostrov Beringa, where Bering died on 8 December 1741.

The Bering Strait, the Bering Sea and the Bering Island are named for him.


The collection is arranged in the order it was deposited at the Institute.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference 'Vitus Bering (1681-1741)' James R Gibson in Arctic volume 35 number 3 September 1982 p438-439 and Wikipedia and 'Vitus Bering' by Terence Armstrong in The Polar Record volume 21 number 131 May 1982 p161-163 and Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486 and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.