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Shmalev, Timofei Ivanovich

Timofei Shmalev was born in 1736 in Khlynov (Viatka) in Central Russia, in the family of provincial official Ivan Stepanovich Shmalev. In 1753 his father was appointed Commandant of the fort at Anadyrsk and the family moved to northeastern Siberia. Timofei and his older brother Vasilii followed their father’s footsteps and entered military careers. Both spent their lives serving at far eastern Siberian outposts, and witnessed number of expeditions to the Aleutian Islands, but neither had a chance to voyage to Alaska.  After completing his education at the State Military College in St. Petersburg, Timofei served in Anadyrsk and Okhotsk. His extensive travels in Chukotka included a military expedition against the Chukchi.  In1764, he became Commandant of Verkhnekamchats and Nizhnekamchtsk forts, which put him in charge of overseeing state and private voyages to the Aleutian Islands and mainland Alaska. He assisted with preparation on the I.B. Sindt expedition of 1766, and the Krenitsin-Levashov expedition of 1768-1770.

In 1770, Shmalev accompanied the son of Attu chieftain Ishanoiuk Inikun (baptized Osip Ivanovich Kuznetsov), to St. Petersburg in response to the Empress Catherine II request to see some of her new subjects from the Aleutian Islands. On the way back from St. Petersburg they met the Academician G.F. Muller, who recorded Kuznetsov’s information about the Unangan people and expressed interest in receiving reports about trading expeditions and copies of documents. Shmalev’s regular and voluminous correspondence with Muller lasted till the academician’s death.  For his Unangan companion the trip had a tragic result. On the return journey Ishanoiuk contracted a lethal decease and died near Tobolsk.

In 1771, Timofei Shmalev was appointed the Chief Commander of Kamchatka. In the summer of 1787, he took part in the Billings-Sarychev expedition descending Kolyma River to the Arctic Ocean and then following the north-eastern coast of Siberia to Cape Baranov. By Billings’s recommendation he was appointed Commander of the Port of Okhotsk. Shmalev arrived there in summer of 1789, but died suddenly before he could assume his duties. Rumor had it that he was poisoned by Gregorii Kozlov-Ugrenin, the commandant of the Okhotsk region.

Shmalev’s legacy includes more than forty works on the history and geography of Siberia and the Aleutian Islands, as well as volumes of unpublished documents. Virtually all of the reports of private and state-sponsored voyages passed through Shmalev’s hands, and it is not surprising that his Chart of Newly Discovered American Lands dated September 6, 1775 was one of the most accurate charts available at the time. In addition to the geographic information, the chart contains a number of images depicting Russian ships and boats, marine mammals, Aleut/Unangan hunting scenes and a dance ceremony. The source of these images remains mysterious: while Shmalev had plenty of chances to observe Russian watercraft, he did not travel to the Aleutian Islands.

The vignettes of the Aleutian indigenous life, therefore, had to originate from sketches of another author.  They may be based on unknown drawings of Captain Mikhail Levashov or images created by a member of private or state-sponsored expedition to the Aleutians.  It is also possible that the author of the original images was the above-mentioned son of the Attu chieftain.  The images provide a unique record of Unangan traditional lifestyles of the late 18th century, and the sea otter hunting scene features the earliest representation of the Unangan double-hatch kayak.

Sources and literature:

Grenader, M. B. Poslednie gody deyatel’nosti T. I. Shmaleva, Letopis’ Severa 1975 (VII) 93-94.

Grinev, Andrei. Kto est’ kto v istorii Russkoi Ameriki [Who is who in the history of Russian America [ Who is who in the history of Russian America]. Moscow:Academia, 2009.       

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

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

Postnikov, Alexey and Marvin Falk. Exploring and Mapping Alaska: The Russian America Era, 1741-1867.  Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2016.