Kursk: Typ. of Department of Public Charity [Prikaz Obshchestvennogo Prizreniya], 1804. 12mo (ca. 14,5x9 cm or 5 ½ x 3 ½ in). [2 – t.p., 2 – dedication leaf, 3 – second dedication, 3 – preface], 13-140 pp. First and only Russian edition. Woodcut vignette on the last page. Original publisher’s wrappers. Soviet bookshop’s stamp on verso of the front wrapper, small period owner’s ink note on the bottom of p. , partly removed period owner’s ink note on the last page. Wrappers slightly soiled, front wrapper with a minor losses of the right upper and lower corners, title page with mild water stains, but overall a very good original copy of this rare book.
Very Rare Russian provincial imprint with no paper copies found in Worldcat. An early original Russian overview of the history of European discoveries in Australia, the Pacific region and South-East Asia, inspired by the first Russian circumnavigation under the command of Adam von Krusenstern (1803-1806) and printed in a southern Russian city of Kursk a year after the expedition ships “Nadezhda” and “Neva” departed Kronstadt. The book was never reissued in Russia or translated into foreign languages.
The book consists of two chapters. The first one (pp. 13-102) describes the discoveries in South-East Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, starting with the first voyages by the Chinese, Arabs, Phoenicians and ancient Greeks. Then the main body of the chapter describes European voyages of the 15th – 18th centuries, including those of Bartolomeu Diaz, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, John Cabot, Cornelis de Houtman, Abel Tasman, William Dampier, George Anson, Loius-Antoine de Bougainville, James Cook and others, the creation and rise of power of Dutch, British and French East India Companies, wars between the European powers for the colonies and the establishment of their colonial empires. The historical chapter concludes by describing the voyages of William Bligh and Jean Francois de Laperouse.
The second chapter, titled “Position and seas, bounding Polynesia” (pp. 103-140), describes the region’s geography, the main seas, regions and islands, the size, climate (including separate notes on “three climates north of the Equator” and “seven climates south of the Equator”), main products of commercial interest (fruits, spices, coconuts, sugar cane, pearls, turtle shells, &c.). The last part of the chapter talks about the indigenous people – their origin, appearance, languages, customs and beliefs.
Zubkov dedicated a comparatively large passage to the voyages and discoveries of James Cook and his companions Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander, Tobias Furneaux, Charles Clerke, John Gore, James King, and Georg Forster, who “deserve great praise and gratitude from their contemporaries and descendants” (pp. 94-96). He also indicated that the island of Atuai (Kauai) was the northernmost tip of Polynesia (p. 108) and marked Oahu as the most populated of the Sandwich Islands (p. 135).
The last passage reveals Zubkov’s awareness of the latest Russian discoveries in Alaska and expresses hope for the forthcoming Russian presence and territorial gains in the Pacific region: “In the end, I have the courage to say the following. Since the borders of the Russian Empire, considering the furthermost of the Kurile Islands, are only 28° away from the nearest border of Polynesia, and since a considerable settlement was founded by the Russians near the west coast of America on the islands of Kodiak and Afognak, it is possible to forefeel that during the wise reign of the Most Illustrious Emperor Alexander Pavlovich, the Russian flag will penetrate with glory the domains of Polynesia and gift it with peace and calmness, enrich it with the products of our fatherland, and from the local inhabitants Russian navigators will deliver to the largest Empire in the world rare fruits of nature. Important successes in trade are promised by the first sea voyage, undertaken around the globe in 1803” (pp. 138-139).
The author, Semyon Adreyevich Zubkov, was a teacher in the Kursk Main People’s School (founded in 1783 as a Noble School and renamed Kursk Boys’ Gymnasium in 1808). The information about him is scarce (see a short note in the Russian Biographical Dictionary/Ed. by A. Polovtsev, vol. 7, p. 505). In the Kursk People’s School, he worked mostly as a math and physics teacher but also taught history. Famous Russian 19th-century actor Mikhail Shchepkin, who attended the school in the early 1800s, described Zubkov’s classes in his memoirs (Shchepkin, M.S. Zapiski Aktyora Shchepkina. [Chapter III. School years]. M., 1988). Zubkov is also known as a translator of Johann Jacob Ebert’s textbook on physics (Kratkoye rukovodstvo k fizike; Dlia upotreblieniya v narodnukh uchilishchakh Rossiiskoy Imperii… SPb., 1895; second ed. – SPb., 1787) and Andreas Kaovenhofer’s “Deutliche Abhandlung von den Rädern der Wasser-Mühlen” (Podrobnoye Iz’yasneniye o Kolesakh v Vodyanukh Melnitsakh… Kursk, 1793). Kursk writer and historian Nikolay Pakhomov noted that Zubkov also was the first corrector of the typography of the Kursk Department of Public Charity (https://proza.ru/2021/09/03/422). It was in this typography that Zubkov’s overview of the discoveries in the Pacific was published in 1804.
The book was intended for the “Russian youth, for whom <…> I hope this work will bring the initial enlightenment to the young minds” (p. ). The dedication is addressed to the governor of the Kursk province Pavel Ivanovich Protasov (in office: 1803-1806).
Overall a very rare early Russian provincial imprint summarizing the history of discoveries and colonization of the Pacific region and related to the first Russian circumnavigation.