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Some history notes

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The name of Kamchatka has been known to Russian Cossacks since they reached the lands in the Far East and the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk. The Okhotsky Ostrog, a kind of a stockaded town built by Russian Cossacks in their search for new lands and wealth, was founded iri 1649. Some time later it became a starting point for expeditions aiming to explore the peninsula of Kamchatka.

When speaking about newcomers who were the first to enter the peninsula we usually mean those led by Vladimir Atlassov. He was a Cossack foreman ordered to head the Ostrog of Anadyr in 1695. Yet in the year of 1647 trader Fedot Alekseyev (Popov) and a group of Cossacks headed by Semyon Dezhhnev having started from the estuary of the Kolyma River passed by the coasts of the Studyonoye Sea (now the East-Siberian and the Chuckchee seas). The four ships reached the north-east extremity of Asia and entered the sea that bares the name of Bering now. It was a glorious but tragic passage. Most of the ships were broken and most of the people died. Dezhnev's koch (boat) landed much farther south than the mouth of the Anadyr on October 1, 1648. The fate of Alekseyev's koch and people is still unknown. However there is a legend among the Kamchatka natives about some strangers who landed somewhere in the east coast of Kamchatka. They spent winter there and having repaired their koch sailed round the peninsula to the native settlement of Tigil where they were killed in the battle against Koryaks.

Nevertheless it was V. Atlassov who first left some written information about climate, soils, aboriginals and their customs. According to his geographical description of Kamchatka it was drawn on maps as a peninsula. At the beginning of 1697 Atlassov and a group of sixty Cossacks started for Kamchatka from the Ostrog of Anadyr. They traveled southward up to the Ozernaya River. On their way back the Cossacks founded the Verkhnekamchatsky (Upper Kamchatkan) Ostrog (now the settlement of Milkovo), and erected a wooden cross at the estuary of the Krestovaya River in the vicinity of the settlement of Kluchi. The cross was restored in 1955.

But it was Stepan Krasheninnikov, a student of the Empire Academy of Sciences, who created the most fundamental work about Kamchatka. He arrived in the peninsula in October 1737 and spent about four years here. He traveled over the land from the Bolsheretsky Ostrog down to Саре Lopatka and up to Tigil. His observations and experience resulted in a two-volume «Description of the Kamchatka Land». The book won worldwide recognition from the very first year of its publication.

The 18th century was a revolutionary period in the history of Russia. Peter the Great along with carrying out his reforms was profoundly interested in all information about the Far East. He ordered to organize the First Kamchatka Expedition. Vitus Bering, a Russian serviceman, Dane, headed the expedition. Aleksey Tchirikov was appointed the second in command. The expedition started from Saint Petersburg in January 1725, four days before Peter's death. It took about three years to get to Okhotsk. Only in July 1728 could they set sail on board the «St. Gavriil» to the north along the coasts of Kamchatka in search for a channel separating Asia from America. Another voyage was undertaken eastward in 1729. Unfortunately it was not a success and the expedition returned to Okhotsk in June.

The Second Kamchatka Expedition (or the Great North Expedition as it was called later) was more valuable and successful scientifically. On October 6, 1740 the two ships «St. Peter» and «St. Paul» commanded by Bering and Tchirikov cast anchor in the Avacha Bay. They founded a town there. It was named Petropavlovsk to commemorate that historic event. Later on the town became a key point of Russia in the Pacific.

In the summer of 1741 the two ships set sail to the shores of North America. Though abundant in discoveries the expedition was incredibly hard and tragic. The two ships lost each other in the fog and reached America at different time and in different places. Bering had to break the passage because of shortage of provision. He landed into an unknown island where he and some of his men died from diseases and starvation. The island bares the name of Bering now, while the whole group of islands is called Komandorskie.

Not knowing anything about the fate of the Commodore, A. Tchirikov headed the expedition and brought it to a successful completion. His ship returned to the Avacha Bay on October 4, 1741.

With the expansion of international maritime expeditions, during the late 18th and 19th centuries, Avacha Bay and Petropavlovsk offered safe harbor for the world's most famous mariners. In 1779 Charles Clark, the leader of Captain James Cook's expedition following Cook's death in Hawaii, visited Petropavlovsk twice. On Clark's second trip, he died and was buried not far from the port.

Petropavlovsk, because of its location and ample natural harbor, became a vital rest and re-supply port for sea going vessels. The winter population often swelled twofold as mariners wintered over before setting out again in spring for whaling or commercial cargo hauling. In 1787 the great French marine explorer Jean-Francios de Galaup La Perouse came to Kamchatka. He visited Clark's grave and ordered the hammering of a copper plaque, honoring Clark. He noted also that the population of the settlement was no more than 100, forty of whom were soldiers. While in Avacha Bay, he accomplished the first documented ascent of Avachinsky Volcano.

By the beginning of the 19th century the population of Petropavlovsk grew to nearly 180 people year round and winter 300-400 people. Famed marine explorer I. F. Kruzenstern visited in 1804, building a fence around the grave area of Charles Clark. To protect the grave from looting or vandals, he closed the gate with a lock and gave the key to the commandant of Petropalovsk. In 1827, requests from Kamchatka to the tsar included support for a Kamchatka library with literature for adults and children. Most houses were surrounded by vegetable and berry gardens. British sailor Frederick Beechy visited the port in both 1826 and 1827 and wrote in his diary about the governor's garden, with winding gravel paths and monuments to Vitus Bering and Charles Clark.

Despite the slap-dash huts and houses poorly built of poplar and branches, by 1829 Petropavlovsk's regional report described a seminary, school, one store, and a library. Two officers's barracks housed most of the military. By 1830 the population has grown to 609 people including the village of Avachinsky. Soon more barracks were built to house the annual winter influx of sailors, hunters, and adventurers who waited on the banks of Avachinsky Bay for sailing weather.

The year 1850 brought an influx of 1000 soldiers as the fort at Okhotsk was closed making construction of new housing a critical necessity. That year, the new governor of Kamchatka, V. S. Zavoiko, along with his wife and family arrived in Petropavlovsk where he would serve for the next 5 years. In 1852, engineer K. Ditmar described Petropavlovsk as a small wooden city built along the shores of the bay consisting of 116 homes. The town meandered along 2 parallel roads and wooden bridges crossed 9 streams that rushed out of the hills above the city. By the next year, the local population was reported to be 899 men and 511 women. During the service of Governor Zavoiko, intensive building developed the city with lumber brought south from Nijniy Kamchatsk.

In August 1854 the Anglo-French Squadron entered the Avacha Bay and anchored insight the town of Petropavlovsk. It numbered more than 2.500 people on board. Six warships were armed with 212 up-to-date cannons. The allies were sure they could easily defeat the town that was small in population and had lack of arms.

Most of 68 cannons defending Petropavlovsk had become obsolete, six of them were even made of copper in the 18th century. The soldiers's rifles were also out-of-date. They had to be loaded through then muzzles and shot only in 300 steps far, while the English were able to hit the target in 800-1000 steps.

The residents of Petropavlovsk built six fortifications for gun batteries. The governor - General Vasili Zavoiko - arranged the defence work himself. He had had a great experience as a marine officer before. He took part in a battle against the Turkish Navy in 1827 on board «Alexander Nevsky» corvette under the command of Admiral A. Lazarev. Later Admiral P. Nakhimov was his chief. Therefore the governor assessed the situation in a sober light .

On the eve of August 20 the Squadron's Commander-in-Chief Admiral Despointes ordered to prepare troops for landing. At 6 in the morning the Anglo-French warships weighed their anchors and attacked batteries 1 and 4, which were situated on the Signamaya Sopka and defended the entrance of the port.

83 allies's cannons fired 8 Russian guns. When all guns were seriously damaged, General Zavoiko ordered to take the rest of powder and to leave the batteries. At the same time about 600 English and French troopers who had tried to land were forced back to the sea by 150 Russian soldiers and sailors. That day the allies lost 50 men and the town defenders - only 10.

Thus the allies didn't manage to fulfil their plans and Despointes nearly decided to give up the idea. But occasionally the English met an American merchant vessel in the Avacha Bay. The merchants informed them about some vulnerable places of Petropavlovsk. The road led to the city behind the Nikolskaya Sopka and the shore there was very low and easy to land.

In the early morning of August 24 the Squadron made its another attempt. The Anglo-French warships shelled mainly the gun position under the command of lieutenant A. Maksutov that day. Having destroyed the battery, the allies directed 25 boats carrying 700 troopers toward the shore. They were followed by the second group of boats carrying 250 troopers and headed by Admiral Despointes himself.

The invaders occupied the platforms of Maksutov's battery and the isthmus between the Nikolskaya and Signalnaya sopkas. They even mounted the crest of Nikolskaya. They were met and fiercely driven back in a man-to-man fight by the detachments 3 times less in number.

The invaders became panic-stricken and rushed to their boats and ships. Many of them drowned in the waters of the Avacha Bay. General Zavoiko counted the losses of the day: about 300 English and French men and 31 Russians parished.

Having repaired its damaged warships the Anglo-French Squadron left the Avacha Bay for San-Francisco three days later. Admiral Despointes gave a briefing there. He had to admit that «...Russian sailors can be drowned in the sea, killed on the shore, but they can never be conquered».

In 1865, American adventurer George Kennan assessed Petropavlovsk as a settlement that couldn't be called "civilized." He described buildings constructed with no aesthetics, a confusing and nonsensical layout of the city's roads and trails, and generally no culture or amenities.

These must have been very difficult years as the population of the city dwindled to 427 from over 1000, 15 years earlier. This tendency continued into the 1870s with many cabins and homes falling to ruin. From 1874-1878, Edmund Sandalin, a US citizen, served as the mayor of Petropavlovsk. During his tenure he increased income into the city's treasuries by charging fees for passports and other documents. He retired in 1878 and was awarded a silver medal for his service. Petropavlovsk continued to resemble a backwater hovel and one visitor I. Serebryanikov described it:"The ruined appearance and the number of inhabitants likens Petropavlovsk to a small, poorly built little village." General Lieutenant M. M. Dukhovskiy of the Priarnursky Region visited Petropavlovsk in 1897 and was shocked at what he found commenting, "I with deep regret look at the picture of ruin and abandonment, that Petropavlovsk now presents; this port, with its incredible bay, former regional center, with its own history of the great and memorable days of 20-24 August, 1854 -Petropavlovsk battle."

In 1918, famed explorer V. K. Arseniev wrote of Petropavlovsk, "Petropavlovsk has the look of a village and reminds one of the Klondike. All of the buildings are wooden. One street and one sidewalk. From the hills rush bubbling streams with clean, cold water. Near the houses are small gardens. Some houses built long ago were from ship's timbers..." When the Soviet powers took over, one of the first tasks of the new governor was to name the streets with patriotic names like Leninskaya, Tamojennaya, Par-tizanskaya, Krasnaya, Sovetskaya, in an effort to bring some order to the city's helter-skelter organization. In 1924 the Soviet leadership declared Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to be the main seat of government for the Kamchatka Peninsula.