STELLER, Georg Wilhelm




Author Tags: 1700-1800

Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) was officially adopted as the provincial bird of British Columbia in 1987. Steller’s name is also attached to the Steller’s sea eagle.

German-born naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller (1709-1746) was one of the 46 men among Vitus Bering’s original crew of 78 who lived through that first winter spent on the North Pacific Coast of North America by Europeans. A variety of the now extinct Great Northern Manatee (Hydrodamalis gigas), or sea cow, is named for him. Steller’s sea cows measured up to 25 feet in length and 22 feet around, sometimes weighing more than 8,800 pounds. They were hunted relentlessly for their meat and were soon extinct.

Arrogant and intelligent, Steller was critical of the competency of Bering and his subordinates aboard the St. Petr. “They mocked, ridiculed and cast to the winds whatever was said by anyone not a seaman as if with the rules for navigation all science and powers of reasoning were spontaneously acquired.” Steller had to protest vociferously to Bering in order to be allowed to go ashore for ten frantic hours during which he assiduously recorded the remarkable array of new creatures. Steller’s care and his provision of fresh greens and meat later enabled Sven Waxell and his son to survive the winter. Waxell subsequently oversaw the construction of a fragile ship from the wreckage of the St. Petr with which they managed to sail back to the Kamchatka mainland, returning 14 months after leaving port. Like Waxell, Steller produced an account of the voyage, later published in 1793.

Steller’s journal was discovered in the Russian archives in 1917 by Frank Golder.

Having arrived in Kamchatka in 1740, Steller survived the voyage of the St. Peter and returned in a salvaged hulk of the ship in September of 1742. In 1743 and 1744 he wrote a manuscript that was published in German 30 years after his death, at age 37, in 1746. This work was re-published in English in 2003.

BOOKS:

Reise von Kamtschatka nach Amerika mit dem Commandeur-Capitån Bering: ein Pendant zu dessen Beschreibung von Kamtschatka (St. Petersburg: bey Johann Zacharias Logan, 1793).

Steller, Georg Wilhelm. Journal of a Voyage with Bering 1741-1742. The original 1743 manuscript edited and with an introduction by O. W. Frost; translated by Margritt A. Engel and O. W. Frost. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988)

Stellar, George Wilhelm. Steller's History of Kamchatcka: Collected Information Concerning the History of Kamchatka, Its Peoples, Their Manners, Names, Lifestyles, and Various Customary Practices (University of Alaska Press, 2003). Translated by Margritt Engel & Karen Willmore. Volume 12, Rasmuson Library Historical Series.

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2014] "1700-1800" "German"