The Billings Expedition

Joseph Billings (abt 1759-1761 – 1806) sailed with Captain James Cook (and Ledyard) on the third voyage, serving first on Discovery then transferring to  Resolution.  After returning to Portsmouth, he served on several ships in the Royal Navy bfore leaving and accepting a commission in the Russian Navy, assisted by Sir Edward Banks of the Royal Society.

Catherine the Great directed the organization of the  North-East Geographical and Astronomical Expedition, directed to chart the Aleutian Islands, coast of Alaska if possible, seek good harbors and attempt to travel between the Bering Strait and Kolmya. Billings was named to lead the expedition, which included the grandson of Vitus Bering. Bering sixty years earlier had sailed through the eponymous Bering Strait into the Arctic Sea, as part of his exploration chartered by Peter the Great.

The Billings Expedition lasted eight years and brought back the first reliable maps of Chukotka, specimens of flora and fauna, ethnographies of native peoples, and observations on trade, including concern over the dwindling sea otter population.

He continued his career with the Russian Navy commanding gunboats and ships in the Black Sea. While in the Black Sea he completed a hydrological survey of the Black Sea and navigation guide to the Crimean coast.




Alekseev, A.I.  “Joseph Billings,” Geographical Journal, 132:2 (June 1996) pp. 233-238

Appleby, John H. “Billings, Joseph,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Article updated January 3, 2008. Accessed at

Jones, Ryan Tucker. "A 'Havock Made among Them': Animals, Empire, and Extinction in the Russian North Pacific, 1741—1810." Environmental History 16, no. 4 (2011): 585-609. Accessed August 10, 2020.