Saturday, November 1, 2014


“If placed within its international context, the Sv. Nikolai’s 1808 voyage has significance for Russian expansion in North America that might be compared, for example, to the 1540 expedition of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado on the northern borderlands frontier of New Spain.”  (Preface, Wreck of the Sv Nikolai)

The Sv. Nikolai (a 45-50-foot schooner,) owned by the Russian American Company, set sail from New Arkhangel (modern-day Sitka, Alaska) to explore and identify a site for a permanent Russian fur trading post on the mainland south of Vancouver Island in the Oregon Country.

Heavy seas drove the ship aground on the Washington coast just north of the mouth of the Quileute River, forcing twenty-two crew members ashore.

Over the next several months the shipwrecked crew clashed with Hohs, Quileutes and Makahs; they lived in hand-built shelters roughly 9-miles up the Hoh River.

The tribes captured and enslaved several of the crew members. In 1810, an American captain sailing for the Russian American Company ransomed the survivors.  (Owens)

OK, but what about Hawaiʻi? … Let’s look back.

Throughout the years of late-prehistory, AD 1400s - 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi.  Canoes were used for interisland and inter-village coastal travel.

Most permanent villages initially were near the ocean and sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating canoe travel between villages.

With “contact” (arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778,) a new style of boat was in the islands and Kamehameha started to acquire and build them.  The first Western-style vessel built in the Islands was the Beretane (1793.)

Through the aid of Captain George Vancouver's mechanics, after launching, it was used in the naval combat with Kahekili's war canoes off the Kohala coast.  (Thrum)

Encouraged by the success of this new type of vessel, others were built.  The second ship built in the Islands, a schooner called Tamana (named after Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Kaʻahumanu,) was used to carry his cargo of trade to the missions along the coast of California.  (Couper & Thrum, 1886)

Then, on June 21, 1803, the Lelia Byrd, an American ship under Captain William Shaler, arrived at Kealakekua Bay with two mares and a stallion on board – they were gifts for King Kamehameha.

The captain left one of the mares with John Young (a trusted advisor of the King, who begged for one of the animals) then left for Lāhainā, Maui to give the mare and stallion to Kamehameha.

During his stay, Shaler asked Kamehameha for one of the chief’s small schooners. Wanting bigger and better, in 1805, Kamehameha traded the 45-ton Tamana and a cargo of sandalwood for the Lelia Byrd,) a "fast, Virginia-built brig of 175-tons." It became the flagship of Kamehameha’s Navy.

Kamehameha kept his shipbuilders busy; by 1810 he had more than thirty small sloops and schooners hauled up on the shore at Waikīkī and about a dozen more in Honolulu harbor, besides the Lelia Byrd.  (Kuykendall)

That, then, takes us to the Tamana and her fate.

Shaler’s agent, John Hudson, sailed the Tamana east to Baja California.  Within a year, Hudson sold the Tamana to Russian Captain Pavl Slobodchikov for 150 sea otter skins.

Slobodchikov renamed the Tamana to Sv. Nikolai.

With a makeshift crew of three Hawaiians and three Americans, Slobodchikov sailed the newly-named Sv Nikolai back to Hawaiʻi, and later returned to New Arkhangel (Sitka, Alaska) in August 1807 where the boat served the Russian fur traders along the Northwest Coast of North America.

At the time, the Northwest was unsettled territory.  To bypass hostile Native Americans in the Northwest, the Russian American Company contracted with American ships to carry Russian fur traders to California.

Then, the Sv. Nikolai took the fateful trip in 1808 (as noted in the introductory paragraphs, above.)

Under Nikolai Isaakovich Bulygin, the Sv. Nikolai sailed to explore the coast of Vancouver Island and select a site for a settlement on what is today the Oregon coast.

The expedition did not succeed.  Near Destruction Island the ship was becalmed and they aimlessly drifted.  Then, on November 1, 1808, Sv. Nikolai was pushed onto a rocky reef by a heavy squall.

The ship did not sink immediately, and everyone on board reached shore safely. At low tide the crew returned to the vessel to salvage sail canvas, food, munitions and other supplies.  (NOAA)

The survivors (including Anna Petrovana Bulygin (Captain Bulygin’s wife) – reportedly the first western woman to set foot in Washington state (Cook & Black) were crossing the Hoh River and three of the group, including the captain's wife, were captured.

The rest of the crew then followed the Hoh River inland. They spent the winter in the valley, foraging for food and constructing a boat which they hoped would take them down the river and out to the freedom of the ocean.

In February 1809, they attempted to leave in their new boat, but at the mouth of the river it capsized. All the rest of the crew was taken captive. They lived in captivity for about 18 months.

In May 1810, an American vessel arriving in Neah Bay learned of their plight and attempted to arrange their release. All but seven members of the expedition were eventually freed. However both the captain and his wife died in captivity.  (NOAA)

A monument was constructed on Upper Hoh Road to commemorate the 1808 shipwreck of a Russian sailing vessel near Rialto Beach.  It was created to remember the lives lost when the Russian brig Sv. Nikolai (formerly owned by King Kamehameha and known as the schooner ‘Tamana’) beached in heavy squalls along the Pacific coast of the North Olympic Peninsula.

The image shows a drawing of the Sv Nikolai aground (AssocOfWashingtonGenerals.) In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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