Muscovite Russia claimed the Kamchatka Peninsula in the 17th century. Ivan Kamchaty, Simon Dezhnev, the Cossack Ivan Rubets and other Russian explorers made exploratory trips to the area during the reign of Tsar Alexis, and returned with tales of a land of fire, rich with fish and fur.
In 1697, Vladimir Atlasov, founder of the Anadyr settlement, led a group of 65 Cossacks and 60 Yukaghir natives to investigate the peninsula. He built two forts along the Kamchatka River which became trading posts for Russian fur trappers. From 1704 to 1706, they settled the Cossack colonies of Verkhne- (upper) and Nizhne- (lower) Kamchatsky. Far away from the eye of their masters, the Cossacks mercilessly ruled the indigenous Kamchadal.
Excesses were such that the North West Administration in Yakutsk sent Atlasov with the authority (and the cannons) to restore government order, but it was too late. The local Cossacks had too much power in their own hands and in 1711 Atlasov was killed. From this time on, Kamchatka became a self-regulating region, with minimal interference from Yakutsk. By 1713, there were approximately five hundred Cossacks living in the area. Uprisings were common, the largest being in 1731 when the settlement of Nizhnekamchatsky was razed and its inhabitants massacred. The remaining Cossacks regrouped and, reinforced with firearms and cannons, were able to put down the rebellion. The Second Kamchatka Expedition by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, in the employ of the Russian Navy, began the "opening" of Kamchatka in earnest, helped by the fact that the government began to use the area as a place of exile. In 1755, Stepan Krasheninnikov published the first detailed description of the peninsula, An Account of the Land of Kamchatka. The Russian government encouraged the commercial activities of the Russian-American Company by granting land to newcomers on the peninsula. By 1812, the indigenous population had fallen to fewer than 3,200, while the Russian population had risen to 2,500.
In 1854, the French and British, who were battling Russian forces on the Crimean Peninsula, attacked Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. During the Siege of Petropavlovsk, 988 men with a mere 68 guns managed to defend the outpost against 6 ships with 206 guns and 2,540 French and British soldiers. Despite the heroic defence, Petropavlovsk was abandoned as a strategic liability after the Anglo-French forces withdrew. The next year when a second enemy force came to attack the port, they found it deserted. Frustrated, the ships bombarded the city and withdrew. The next fifty years were lean ones for Kamchatka. The naval port was moved to Ust-Amur and in 1867 Alaska was sold to the United States, making Petropavlovsk obsolete as a transit point for traders and explorers on their way to the American territories. In 1860, Primorsky (Maritime) Region was established and Kamchatka was placed under its jurisdiction. In 1875, the Kuril Islands were ceded to Japan in return for Russian sovereignty over Sakhalin. The Russian population of Kamchatka stayed around 2,500 until the turn of the century, while the native population increased to 5,000.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy was founded by Danish navigator in the service of the Russian Navy Vitus Bering. Bering reached Avacha Bay on July 10, 1740 and laid the foundation stone for the harbor town, naming the new settlement "Petropavlovsk" (Peter + Paul) after his two ships, the St. Peter and the St. Paul, built in Okhotsk for his second expedition. The town's location on the sheltered Avacha Bay and at the mouth of the Avacha River saw it develop to become the most important settlement in Kamchatka.
During the 1854–1855 Crimean War, the city was put under siege by the Anglo-French forces, but never fell. The city had been fortified under the command of Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky in the years previous, but only possessed a small garrison of a few hundred soldiers and 67 cannons. After much exchange of fire, 600 allied troops landed south of the city, but were forced to retreat by only 230 Russian troops after heavy fighting. One week later, 900 allied troops landed east of the town, but were again repelled by the Russians. The allied ships then retreated from Russian waters. The total Russian losses were reported at around 100 men, those of the allies at least five times that number.
Petropavlovsk was a great source of fish, particularly salmon, and crab meat for the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Since the end of the Soviet era fishing rights have also been granted to foreign interests.
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