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"The man is humble, but the deeds are great"...
ALEXANDER STEPANOVICH KUCHIN
A short biography
Alexander Stepanovieh Kuchin was born on September 16(28), 1888 into a family of hereditary Pomors (coast dwellers) in an old settlement of Kushereka on the White Sea coast. His grandfather perished when he was young while fishing not far fr om the coast of the Murman. Alexander's father became an orphan in his early childhood, but he had a great sea experience, having started as a zuek (sea cadet). He got a diploma of a navigator after finishing navigating classes and worked as a master of merchant and fishing vessels. Alexander Kuchin was the eldest son in his family. At the age often he finished two classes of a parish college in Kushereka. then he finished a town technical school in Onega. By the age of 15 he had already been to the Murman, to the Novaya Zemlya, to Spitzbergen, had sailed in the White Sea, the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Norwegian Sea. He began as a sea cadet, just like his father. In summer he worked on both Russian and Norwegian fishing vessels, and in winter he studied. After finishing college in 1903 his father sent him to Norway to master the language, where Alexander studied in a Norwegian school in Tromso for a year. Since his early childhood his favourites were the famous Norwegian Polar explorer Fritjof Nansen and the captain of " Fram" Otto Sverdrup. It was predetermined by fortune itself for them to meet, make friends and work together.
In 1904 Kuchin entered the Navigating department of Arkhangelsk Trade Marine College. The college will celebrate its 220th anniversary on March 24, 2001. It is the oldest marine college in Russia.
In 1906 Alexander Kuchin made up "The Short Russian-Norwegian Dictionary", which had approximately 4000 words, necessary for Russian seamen for navigating to Norway, and Grammar Reference. The dictionary was published by "Pomor" Publishing House in Norway in 1907.
In his early years Kuchin was involved in the Social-Democratic movement. There is some evidence that he took part in the work of a printing house in Vardo together with political emigrants. They printed illegal leaflets for carrying to Russia. He was arrested by customs on his arrival in Arkhangelsk for having these leaflets with him. They wanted to expel him fr om the college, but nothing serious happened. During the Soviet period this stage of Kuchin's life was considered to be the most significant. But navigating had always been his main business. He graduated from college in 1909. He got a diploma of a navigator in 1909 and he was awarded a gold medal for his success. He went to Norway immediately to continue his study.
In those times exploring of the World Ocean had just started, and mathematical and hydrochemical methods were being introduced. In Bergen they organized courses for oceanologists, so Kuchin continued his study there. His supervisors were the famous scientist Bjorn Helland-Hansen and the polar explorer Fritjof Nansen. Kuchin earned his bread and butter working as an assistant at the Biological Station.
In 1910 Kuchin was offered to take part in an expedition headed by Rual Amundsen on board "Fram" as an oceanologist and navigator. Earlier Nansen, together with Captain Otto Sverdrup, had drifted through the Arctic on board "Fram", then Sverdrup's expedition worked in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Now the vessel is being displayed in Oslo under the shelter.
Kuchin was included in the expedition as the head of the scientific department of oceanography and hydrography despite the Storthing's decision. It said the expedition was to be of exceptionally Norwegian character, and her participants were to be citizens of Norway. He was included in the expedition only due to his exceptional skills and abilities in oceanology. On March 14, 1910 a contract between Amundsen and Kuchin was signed in Oslo. One of its clauses prohibited publishing the results of the research during the three years' time after finishing the expedition. That is why Kuchin was not able to publish his scientific research.
At first they planned to follow the route of Fritjof Nansen's drifting after entering the Polar seas through the Bering Strait. But during the passage not far from the Island of Madeira Amundsen told the participants about his real aim. His ambition was to reach the South Pole, beating the English expedition of Captain Scott. In Scott's expedition there also were two Russians, Dmitrii Gorin and Anton Omelchenko. They sailed on board "Terra Nova". All the members of Amundsen's party wished to continue the voyage. Kuchin made notes in his diary during the voyage. A part of them describing the beginning of the expedition still exists.
On January 14, 1911 "Fram" reached the coasts of the Antarctic. Amundsen and his eight mates settled for wintering in the Whale Harbour, on the shelf of Ross-ice-shelf. In October-December five of them made a successful route to the South Pole. Meanwhile "Fram", headed by Captain T. Nilsen, continued her Antarctic voyage in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. During that time Kuchin together with the navigator Kh. Ertsen made important oceanographic research. After finishing the research Kuchin sailed from Buenos Aires to Europe on board a passenger vessel, carrying all the materials he managed to obtain during the expedition.
On his arrival the young Russian seaman was introduced to the King of Norway during the Norwegian Geographical Society Meeting. Later the Norwegian government awarded Kuchin Kr 3000 for the participance in the expedition. Fritjof Nansen wrote that Kuchin had made research "which value could be compared to the value of the work his mates had done in the unknown country of ices".
Some time later a little article appeared in the Bergen newspaper "The Sign of the Time". It said, "Alexander Kuchin who went to the South with Rual Amundsen is working now at the Biological station in Bremen. Yesterday he announced his engagement with Aslaug Poulsen, a daughter of the famous literary critic Andreas Poulsen". He had met Aslaug two years before, when he worked with her father, publishing the materials in Bergen newspapers. Alexander visited the Poulsens' house, they went skiing into the mountains together with Aslaug. In summer he went boating in fjords. They wrote letters to each other during the expedition. .And upon his return, when Aslaug was 18, they got engaged. But they decided to postpone the wedding for two years.
Kuchin had just started studying the results of his research, when he received a telegram from Vladimir Alexandrovich Rusanov in February 1912. He offered Kuchin to take part in an expedition to Spitzbergen. He was offered to be the captain of the ship and oceanologist. Kuchin accepted the invitation immediately and came back to Russia. Officially the expedition was organized only for the geological exploring of the archipelago, but Rusanov planned to try to go to the Pacific by the northern routes. In May 1912 Rusanov and Kuchin left for Norway to buy an appropriate ship for the expedition. In Olessun they bought a small vessel called "Hercules". It was built in 1908 deliberately for hunting in Greenland. It was a two-master vessel, 73,6 feet in length, with double oak boarding. Its deadweight was 63 tons, and the kerosene engine was of 16 HP. (In other sources, it was 30 HP). The vessel was bought together with extra sails, ropes, two lifeboats and a motorboat for Kr 36000 (that is about 19 500 roubles). Due to the sailing equipment it was a meat-communitor or a tender.
On June 26 (July 9?) 1912 at 9pm "Hercules" left Alexandrovsk (now Murmansk). She had 14 participants of the expedition and 9 members of the crew aboard. The expedition included Rusanov, the Head; his wife Juliet Jean-Sossin, the geologist and a student of the Medicine Faculty of University of Sorbonna , the zoologist Z. F. Svatosh, the mountain engineer R. L. Samoilovich. The expendition explored coal-fields in Spitzbergen, and they held oceanographical research near the western coast of the archipelago. After finishing the work three people (Samoilovich, Svatosh, and boatswain Popov) came back through Norway to Russia on board a tourist liner. We know little about the farther route of "Hercules". Rusanov left a short note in a camp in Matoc'kin S'ar, wh ere he mentioned his intention to double Novaya Zemlya from the north and then continue his route to the east to the Ostrov Ujeadinenija, the New Siberian Ostrova, Ostrov Yrangel'a. There was no more news about the expedition. Three years later the last rescue expedition ended with no result. The special committee which was organized in Arkhangelsk Society of Russian North officially reported, "No more hope can exist". Fritjof Nansen took part in searching among others. In August 1913 he reached Dixon on board the Norwegian vessel "Correct", but he didn't find any traces of the expedition.
In 1914-1915 Otto Sverdrup, Kuchin's idol, searched for "Hercules" on board the three- master bark "Eclipse". He was 65 then. He was in Dixon, was able to reach the Island of Solitude after the wintering in ices, but he did not find any traces of the expedition. In 1934 in the archipelago of Mon near the western coast of Taimir a ramshackle post was found. There was a carving on it, which said, "Hercules, 1913". Now this post is in the Museum of the Arctic and the Antarctic in St. Petersburg. Later in Minin's skerries numerous belongings and documents of the members of the expedition were found. Rusanov's extract of "To the Question of the Northern Route Across the Siberian Sea" was also found there. Judging by the words of the workers of the polar station in Yst'-Taimir. they had seen the broken hull, probably "Hercules's", but this fact is not verified. They say, in 1912 "Hercules" wintered near the Mon archipelago, and in 1913 on the Taimir coast the vessel could not escape the ices. Most likely that the members of the expedition, having left the ship, tried to reach the Jenisejskij Zaliv, but perished on the way. In 1913 Kuchin was only 25. His name was given to the glacier in Wilkes Land in the Antarctic, and to an island in the Arctic Ocean. But the letters from Norway still came to Onega. "Dear Mother and Father!.. My best regards to you and my brothers and sisters in Russia!.. Do you think they will find Sasha this year?.. I want to hope, he will come back soon, I think he is suffering there in the ice. I do not cry as I am sure Sasha will come back. Best regards to your family. Do write in Russian. I will try to understand. Good bye, dear Father. Many regards from Aslaug..." Alexander's father, Stepan Grigorievich, took part in designing the first Soviet research vessel "Persey" in 1918; in 1920 he was assigned to be the Head of the herring fishery in the Murman, he was commemorated several times by the Soviet government. But still during the period of the collectivization he was called kulak, and while he was working in the Murman, his house in Onega was ravaged and his family was thrown into the street. The reason was the sum of Kr3000, Alexander's award for the expedition. But the money was paid only in 1926. Only thanks to M. I. Kalinin's interference People's Comissariat of Finance put a resolution,"....return all the bearings...restore S. G. Kuchin's rights...", but the house was not returned.
In 1934 Stepan Grigorievich was given a pension as that of a disabled worker, and he moved to Leningrad, wh ere he worked for the museum of the Arctic and was on friendly terms with Captain V. I. Voronin. Stepan Grigorievich died in 1942 during the blocade.