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Postels, Aleksander Filippovich

Son of a Lutheran pastor from Derpt (nowadays the Estonian city of Tartu), Aleksander Postels (1801-1871) had a long and impressive scientific career. In 1823, he graduated from the department of physics and mathematics of St. Petersburg University, and was offered the position of Magister of Minerology. Three years later, he was invited to participate in a round-the-world voyage of sloops-of-war Seniavin and Moller sent to North-eastern Siberia and Alaska, as both a naturalist and artist.  Fedor Litke’s ship the Seniavin, to which Postels was assigned, was tasked with surveying Bering Strait, Kamchatka and the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk. The Seniavin left Kronshtadt on August 20, 1826, rounded Cape Horn, and arrived in Sitka in June of 1827. During five weeks in the capital of Russian America, Postels explored local flora and fauna and partook in an ascent of Mount Edgecombe. The voyage then continued north to the Pribilof Islands, Petropavlovsk, and then South to Guam, where the expedition spent the winter. The sloop returned to Kamchatka the following summer, but did not cross to Alaska.

Postels took an active role in collecting natural history samples and recording plant and animal life in many sketches, some of which were published in Litke’s account of the voyage and Postels’ own publications, such as his comprehensive volume on sea plants of North Pacific.  Very few of Postel’s drawings, however, were concerned with the cultural history of the places he visited, which was more the focus of his comrade and friend Baron von Kittlitz. After his return to St. Petersburg, Postels resumed teaching at St. Petersburg University and later held a number of positions ranging from curator of minerology and ethnography to inspector of private schools, principal of the second St. Petersburg gymnasium, and the private tutor of the granddaughters of the late Emperor Paul I. After his retirement, Postels was elected an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Science and lived in Vyborg, near St. Petersburg, until his death in 1871.

Sources and Literature:

Henry, John Frazier. Early Maritime Artists of the Pacific Northwest Coast, 1741-1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984.

Litke, Frederick. A voyage around the world, 1826-1829. Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press,1987.

Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press,1990.