Russian navigator, geographer, and Arctic explorer Fyodor Petrovich Litke was born

28 September 1797

Russian navigator and geographer, Arctic explorer, admiral, count Fyodor Petrovich Litke was born on September 17 (28) 1797 in St. Petersburg.

Fyodor Petrovich had a hard childhood: his mother died while giving birth to him, and soon his father married a young woman, who took a dislike to her stepchildren. At the age of 7 Fyodor was sent to the boarding school of a German called Meyer. In 1808 his father died, and Fyodor started to live with his uncle Engel. No one was looking after the child, from the age of 11 to 15 he had no teachers. By himself he read a great number of books on history, astronomy, philosophy and geography.

In 1810 the sister of Fyodor Petrovich — Natalia married a naval officer I.S. Sulmenev, who had a deep affection for Fyodor, and loved him as his own son. The boy was carried away by his stories about round-the-world cruises, geographic discoveries and victories of the Russian Navy.

In 1812 on the request of Sulmenev Fyodor Litke was admitted as a volunteer to the rowing flotilla, and soon was made a naval cadet. Three times did he participate in attacks against French military units, who were taking cover in Danzig in 1813. For the inventiveness and courage displayed in the tactical situation the 16 years old boy was promoted to warrant officer and awarded with the Order of Saint Ann of the 4th class.

Four years later, in 1817 Litke took part in the captain Vasily M. Golovnin’s world cruise on the ship “Kamchatka” which lasted from August 26 1817 to September 5 1819. On the ship Litke kept on self-educating: he studied English, made astronomic observations and calculations.

When he returned from the world tour, Golovnin, who appreciated highly the skills of Litke, recommended him for the position of the head of hydrographic expedition, aimed at exploration of the New Land’s coastline. On the brig “New Land” Litke undertook four voyages to the Arctic Ocean in 1821, 1822, 1823 and 1824. Apart from the exploration of the New Land’s coastline, Fyodor Petrovich identified location of many geographical sites along the White Sea coastline, explored in a detailed way the depths of the fairway and dangerous sandbanks of that sea. The description of that expedition came out in 1828 entitled: “Four voyages to the Arctic Ocean in 1821-1824”. In the introduction to this book Litke made a historic overview of all the explorations of the New Land and neighboring seas and countries, which had been undertaken before. The book won a fame and recognition to its author in scientific world.

Later after this expedition Litke headed the world cruise on the ship “Senyavin” aimed at launching works in the Bering Sea and the Caroline Islands. The expedition took place in 1826-1829. Extensive geographical, hydrographic and hydrophysical data was collected during the expedition. It helped to identify coordinates of important sites along the coastline of Kamchatka to the north from the Avacha Bay, and describe a number of the Kuril Islands, as well as the coastline of Chukotka from the Dezhnev Cape to Anadyr.

A great number of geographic works were completed in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, where the Kuril Islands were explored. During the voyage were discovered 12 new islands while 26 ilands and groups of islands were described. What is more, the location of the Bonin Islands was then accurately identified. Maps, lists and drawings, as well as a separate atlas were compiled to cover all these geographic discoveries. The expedition helped to gather a broad collection of materials dealing with sea currents, water and air temperature, and atmospheric absolute pressure.

An important part of works was connected to gravimetric and magnetic observations, being a great contribution to the world science. A great number of materials on zoology, botany, geology, and ethnography was collected during the expedition.

In 1832 Litke rose to the rank of adjutant, and in the end of the year he was appointed by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as a tutor of his second son, Grand Duke Constantine Nikolayevich, aged 5. Right then Litke came up with an idea to bring together all geographers, explorers and travelers into a scientific society and obtained a permission to set up the Russian Geographic Society, which he had been presiding for over 20 years.

During the Crimea war Fyodor Petrovich was a military governor of Kronstadt, and headed a successful defense of the Bay of Finland and attained the rank of an admiral; in 1855 he was assigned to the member of the Russian State Council, and in 1864 he got the position of the President of the Academy of Sciences and meanwhile up to January 17 1873 he continued to preside over the Geographic Society; in 1866 Fyodor Petrovich was given a count title, and became the holder of the highest order of Russia — St. Andrew’s Order.

Twenty-two geographic objects located in the Arctic and in the Pacific Ocean, as well as a cape, a peninsula, a mountain and a bay in the New Land, islands in the archipelago of the Franz-Joseph Land, Nordenskjold, a strait between Kamchatka and the Karaginsky Island were named after Fyodor Litke.

On August 8 (20) 1882 one of the most prominent geographers and travelers of 19th c., Russian Navy admiral — Fyodor Mikhailovich Litke passed away and was buried in St. Petersburg in the Volkov Lutheran Cemetery.

Lit.: Алексеев А. И. Фёдор Петрович Литке, М., 1970; Лазарев Г. Е. Фёдор Петрович Литке // География. 2001. № 3; Орлов Б. П. Фёдор Петрович Литке: Его жизнь и деятельность //Литке Ф. П. Четырёхкратное путешествие в Северный Ледовитый океан на военном бриге «Новая Земля». М.; Л., 1948. С. 6-25; Литке Фёдор Петрович [Электронный ресурс] //Классика. 2004. URL:

Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Врангель Ф. Ф. Граф Фёдор Петрович Литке. 17 сент. 1797 г. – 8 авг. 1882 г. : [Чит. в торжеств. собр. Имп. Рус. геогр. о-ва 17 сент. 1897 г.]. СПб., 1897;

Литке Ф. П. Путешествие вокруг света, совершенное по повелению императора Николая I на военном шлюпе Сенявине в 1826, 1827, 1828 и 1829 годах, флота капитаном Федором Литке: отделение мореходное с атласом. СПб., 1835.