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Ferdinand von Wrangel

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Title: Ferdinand von Wrangel  
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Subject: Russian America, Wrangel family, Fyodor Matyushkin, Herman of Alaska, Zashiversk
Collection: 1796 Births, 1870 Deaths, Baltic-German People, Chukchi Sea, Corresponding Members of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Demidov Prize Laureates, Estonian Explorers, Founding Members of the Russian Geographical Society, Governors of the Russian-American Company, Honorary Members of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Imperial Russian Explorers, Imperial Russian Navy Admirals, Members of the State Council of the Russian Empire, People from Pskov, People from Pskov Governorate, Recipients of the Order of St. George of the Fourth Degree, Russian and Soviet Polar Explorers, Russian Nobility, Swedish Nobility
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Ferdinand von Wrangel

Ferdinand von Wrangel
Admiral Ferdinand Wrangel
Born 29 December 1796
Pskov, Governorate of Pskov, Russian Empire
Died 25 May 1870(1870-05-25) (aged 73)
Dorpat, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Known for Explorer
Spouse(s) Elisabeth Teodora Natalia Karolina de Rossillon

Baron Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig von Wrangel (Russian: Фердина́нд Петро́вич Вра́нгель, Ferdinand Petrovich Vrangel; 9 January 1797 [O.S. 29 December 1796] – 6 June [O.S. 25 May] 1870) was a Baltic German explorer and seaman in Russian service, Honorable Member of the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, a founder of the Russian Geographic Society. He is best known as chief manager of the Russian-American Company, in fact governor of the Russian settlements in present day Alaska.

In English texts, Wrangel is sometimes spelled Vrangel, a transliteration from Russian, which more closely represents its pronunciation in German, or Wrangell.


  • Biography 1
    • Kolymskaya expedition 1.1
    • Krotky world voyage 1.2
    • Governor of Russian Alaska 1.3
    • Admiral 1.4
    • Retirement and death 1.5
  • Writings 2
  • List of places named after Wrangel 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Wrangel was born in Pskov,[1] into the Baltic German noble family of Wrangel. He graduated from the Naval Cadets College in 1815. He took part in Vasily Golovnin's world cruise on the ship Kamchatka in 1817–1819.

Kolymskaya expedition

He was appointed in 1820 to command the Kolymskaya expedition to explore the Russian polar seas. Sailing from St. Petersburg, he arrived at Nizhnekolymsk on 2 November 1820, and early in 1821 journeyed to Cape Shelagskiy on sledges drawn by dogs. He sailed afterward up Kolyma River, advancing about 125 miles into the interior, through territory inhabited by the Yakuts. On 10 March 1822, he resumed his journey northward, and traveled 46 days on the ice, reaching 72° 2' north latitude. He left Nizhnekolymsk on 1 November 1823, and returned to St. Petersburg on 15 August 1824.[1]

He established that north of the Kolyma River and Cape Shelagsky there was an open sea, not dry land, as people thought. Together with Fyodor Matyushkin and P. Kuzmin, Wrangel described the Siberian coastline from the Indigirka River to the Kolyuchinskaya Bay in the Chukchi Sea. (See Northeast Passage.) His expedition made a valuable research in glaciology, geomagnetics, and climatology and also collected data about natural resources and native population of that remote area.

Krotky world voyage

Having been promoted to commander, Wrangel led the Russian world voyage on the ship Krotky in 1825–1827.

Governor of Russian Alaska

He was appointed chief manager of the Russian-American Company in 1829, effectively governor of its settlements in North America (present day Alaska). Wrangel was the first of a series of bachelor appointees to the office of governor who had to find a wife before assuming the duties in America, the Russian American Company rules having been changed in 1829.[2] Prior to his departure for Russia’s American colonies, he was married to Elisabeth Teodora Natalia Karolina de Rossillon, daughter of Baron Wilhelm de Rossillon.

He traveled to his post early in 1829, by way of Isthmus of Panama and the United States, where he visited several cities.[1]


Wrangel was promoted rear admiral in 1837, and made director of the ship-timber department in the navy office, which post he held for twelve years. He became vice-admiral in 1847, but resigned in 1849, and temporarily severed his connection with the navy to assume the presidency of the newly reorganized Russian-American Company.[1] Wrangel had been a member of the board of directors of the Russian-American Company from 1840 to 1849.[3]

In 1854 he re-entered active service and was made chief director of the hydrographical department of the navy.[1] He was the Minister of the Navy 1855–1857.

Retirement and death

Wrangel retired in 1864. He opposed the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Wrangel wrote the book Journey along the northern coastline of Siberia and the Arctic Ocean and other books about the peoples of northwestern America.

He lived in his last years in Roela in the eastern part of Estonia. He had bought the manor in 1840. He died in Tartu, Livonia.[1]


An account of the physical observations during his first journey was published in German (Berlin, 1827), and also in German extracts from Wrangel's journals, Reise laengs der Nordküste von Sibirien und auf dem Eismeere in den Jahren 1820-1824 (2 vols., Berlin, 1839), which was translated into English as Wrangell's Expedition to the Polar Sea (2 vols., London, 1840). The complete report of the expedition appeared as “Otceschewie do Sjewernym beregam Sibiri, po Ledowitomm More” (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1841), and was translated into French with notes by Prince Galitzin, under the title Voyage sur les côtes septentrionales de la Sibérie et de la mer glaciale (2 vols., 1841). From the French version of the complete report an English one was made under the title A Journey on the Northern Coast of Siberia and the Icy Sea (2 vols., London, 1841).[1] The book influenced Charles Darwin's thinking on animal navigation, leading him to propose that humans and animals possess an innate ability for dead reckoning. Darwin wrote:[4]

With regard to the question of the means by which animals find their way home from a long distance, a striking account, in relation to man, will be found in the English translation of the Expedition to North Siberia, by Von Wrangell. He there describes the wonderful manner in which the natives kept a true course towards a particular spot, whilst passing for a long distance through hummocky ice, with incessant changes of direction, and with no guide in the heavens or on the frozen sea. He states (but I quote only from memory of many years standing) that he, an experienced surveyor, and using a compass, failed to do that which these savages easily effected. Yet no one will suppose that they possessed any special sense which is quite absent in us. We must bear in mind that neither a compass, nor the north star, nor any other such sign, suffices to guide a man to a particular spot through an intricate country, or through hummocky ice, when many deviations from a straight course are inevitable, unless the deviations are allowed for, or a sort of "dead reckoning" is kept.
— Charles Darwin, 1873[4]

Wrangel also published:[1]

  • Otcherk puti iz Sitki v S. Peterburg (Report of Travel from Sitka to St. Petersburg) (1836)
    • French translation: Journal de voyage de Sitka à Saint Pétersbourg (Paris, 1836)
    • English translation prepared from the French: Journal of a Voyage from Sitka to St. Petersburg (London, 1837)
  • Nachrichten über die Russischen Besitzungen an der Nordwestküste America's (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1839)
    • French translation: Renseignements statistiques et ethnographiques sur les possessions Russes de la côte Nord-Ouest de l'Amérique (Paris, 1839)
    • English translation: Statistical and Ethnographical Notices on the Russian Possessions in North America (London, 1841)

List of places named after Wrangel

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the  
  2. ^ Alix O’Grady: From the Baltic to Russian America 1829–1836, p. 21–25. Alaska History no. 51, The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario & Fairbanks, Alaska.
  3. ^ Richard A. Pierce: Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary, Alaska History no. 33, Limestone Press, Kingston, Ont. and Fairbanks, Alaska, 1990, p. 547.
  4. ^ a b Darwin, Charles (24 April 1873). "Origin of Certain Instincts". Nature 7 (179): 417–418.  

External links

  • Overview of Roela (in German: Ruil) (the landed estate of the Wrangels) in Estonian Manors Portal
  • Wrangell's 1839 Comparative Word-List of Alaskan languages
Government offices
Preceded by
Pyotr Igorovich Chistyakov
Governor of Russian Colonies in America
Succeeded by
Ivan Antonovich Kupreianov
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