Golovnin, Vasilii Mikhailovich

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Golovnin, Vasilii Mikhailovich


Born Apr. 8 (19). 1776, in the village of Gulynki. in present-day Starozhilovo Raion. Riazan’ Oblast; died June 29 (July 11), 1831, in St. Petersburg. Russian navigator, vice admiral, corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1818).

Golovnin graduated from Naval Cadet School in 1792. He served in the British navy from 1801 to 1805. Upon returning to Russia, he compiled a code of naval signals. He circumnavigated the globe twice, once on the sloop Diana (1807–09) and once on the sloop Kamchatka (1817—19). In 1811 he made an accurate inventory and a map of the Kurile Islands from Nadezhda Strait to the eastern shore of Iturup Island. During the inventory of Kunashir Island, he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He described his stay in Japan and his voyages around the world in several books: Notes of Naval Captain Golovnin on his Adventures as a Prisoner of the Japanese in 1811, 1812, and 1813: With His Observations on the Japanese State and People (parts 1–3, 1816); The Journey . . . of the Sloop Diana from Kronstadt to Kamchatka . . . in 1807–09 (1819); and A Journey Around the World . . . on the Military Sloop Kamchatka in 1817, 1818, and 1819 (parts 1–2, 1822). An abridged description of his travels was republished in his Works (1949). Golovnin was appointed assistant director of the Naval Cadet School in 1821 and quartermaster general of the navy in 1823.

Golovnin was a highly educated man and a talented administrator, and he successfully directed the activity of the shipbuilding, commissariat, and artillery departments. Over 200 ships, including the first steamships, were constructed during Golovnin’s tenure. He trained a whole galaxy of navigators, including F. P. Litke and F. P. Wrangel. He died of cholera. A strait between the Kurile Islands, a mountain and cape on Novaia Zemlia, and other geographical features are named after Golovnin.


Davydov. Iu. V. Golovnin. Moscow. 1968.
Fraerman, R. I., and P. D. Zaikin. Zhizn’ i neobyknovennye prikliucheniia kapitana-leitenanta Golovnina. Moscow, 1957.
Divin. V. A. V. M. Golovnin, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1952.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.