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 Nikolai Miklukho-Maklay

Born:   July 17, 1846
Deceased:   April 2, 1888

Russian traveller and ethnographer


Miklukho-Maklay was born on 17 July 1846 at Rozhdestvenskoye village not far from Borovichi city. Educated in St Petersburg University, studied law and philosophy. In 1864 took part in student political meetings and was exclude from the university without an opportunity to enter any other academy in Russia. He moved to Heidelberg, studied philosophy for two years. He studied medicine at Leipzig in 1866 and paleontology, zoology and comparative anatomy at Jena. Naturalist Gekkel paid his attention to a young talented student and took him to long journey. In the Canary Islands Miklukho-Maklay examined sponges and shark brains, on which he published important papers. Marine biology drew him to the Red Sea.

Once Miklukho-Maklay read the Otto Finsh labor “New Guinea” published in Bremen. And his attention was drawn to New Guinea as a promising field for anthropological and ethnological studies; he visited European museums and met leading scientists. In October 1870 he sailed in the ship Vitiaz and reached the Pacific Islands and Astrolabe Bay in September 1871. They made “hut of Miklukho-Maklay”, and the ship has gone. That was the Northeastern part of New Guinea, inhabitants of these places always fought with each other and kill every stranger in they territory. But Miklukho-Maklay staggered them; he did not take any steel with him. When Papuans saw him he was peacefully dreaming. They thought that he was not afraid of death because he is immortal. Miklukho-Maklay became very respected among Papuans. He treated them gave them medicines and advises.

With patience, courage and medical skill he won the confidence and co-operation of the inhabitants. He found them far from long-headed as earlier reported and studied their languages and characteristics. Then he left these places when the corvette Isumrud arrived in December 1872 (the places is called the Maklay Coast). He went to the Halmaheras and Philippines where he found primitive tribes similar to those he had seen in New Guinea. In 1873 he published his anthropological observations, sent specimens and comments to his European teachers and lived for six months at Buitenzorg in the mountains. He then visited the Papua-Koviay in west New Guinea and found ethnological traits similar to those on the Philippines and Maklay Coast. After local exploration he returned to Papua-Koviay and found that raiders had smashed his hut, stolen his equipment and killed some supporters.

In spring 1874 Maklay went to Amboina. In June he was found seriously ill by Captain John Moresby who had been sent to look for him. By July Maklayi was resting and preparing publications. In November he went to Singapore and for 176 days traveled in Malaya where he found more primitive tribes whose ethnological characteristics were similar to those in the Philippines and New Guinea. In December he published four papers suggesting a relation between the natives of the regions he had investigated.

Next two years Maklay sailed to the Halmaheras and Carolines, and on the Admiralty Islands. He visited Astrolabe Bay again; friendships with dialects enabled him to visit many villages in the mountains and on the coast and islands. He became very popular among Papuans, before leaving he gathered his friends and warn them that not all Europeans are peaceful to Papuans. In November 1877 he sailed north among the islands and reached Singapore in January 1878. He went to Hong Kong in June and in July arrived at Sydney with large collections.

In April 1880 he went to Somerset, Queensland, and thence to Brisbane, where he resumed his studies on the comparative anatomy of the brains of Aboriginal, Malayan, Chinese and Polynesian origin. He inspected Aboriginals on the Darling Downs and palaeontological excavations of extinct mammals at Stanthorpe and Glen Innes

On 26 August Maklay addressed the local Linnean Society on the need for a laboratory of marine studies on Sydney Harbour. Maklay returned to Sydney in January 1881. With help from the government and scientific societies in Sydney his ambition for a marine laboratory was at last realized. When the Russian Pacific fleet visited Sydney in February 1882 Maklay joined the ship Vestnik and arrived at Kronshtadt, Russia, in September.

Maklay lectured to the Russian Geographical Society. He was awarded a gold medal by the society and a certificate of honor by the Czar. In 1883 he decided to continue traveling and joined the expedition at Port Said. His luggage went to Sydney while he sailed to Batavia. A Russian corvette took him to Astrolabe Bay in March, where the natives reported unfavorably on European visitors. He sought recognition from the Colonial Office of the land rights of Papuans in eastern New Guinea, their freedom from forced labor and protection from intoxicants.

Meanwhile Maklay reached Sydney on 11 June 1883 found that many of his records and collections had been destroyed nine months earlier in the Exhibition Building fire. In August he worked at the marine laboratory and prepared papers for publication. On 27 February 1884 he married Margaret Emma Clark, widowed daughter of Sir John Robertson at her father's home, Clovelly, Watsons Bay.

Maklay wrote to Bismarck in October seeking protection of Pacific islanders from white exploitation and later protested against the German annexation. In 1886 he returned to Russia with his family and twenty-two boxes of specimens. He arranged some publications, lectured in St Petersburg and asked Czar Alexander III to found a new settlement in the Maklay Coast, but his suggestion was refused. At Vienna he and his wife were married by rites of the Russian Orthodox Church. He wanted to return to Sydney but his health deteriorated and he died on 2 April 1888 in his wife's arms and was buried at Volkov cemetery.

Alexandra Ushakova

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