Billings, Joseph (DNB00)
|←Billingham, Richard|| Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05
|Billings, Robert William→|
BILLINGS, JOSEPH (b. 1758?), explorer, captain in the Russian navy, in 1776 entered on board the Discovery, one of the two ships that sailed under the command of Captain Cook on his last fatal voyage. He was rated as A.B., and in September 1779, after Cook's death, was transferred with the same rating to the Resolution. He is described in the ply-book of the Resolution as a native of Tumham Green, and at that time aged twenty-one. Some time after the return of the expedition to England Billings being at St. Petersburg, whither he had probably gone as mate of a merchant ship, was induced to enter into the Russian navy with the rank of lieutenant ; and when, in 1784, the empress determined to send out an expedition to explore the extreme north-eastern parts of Asia, Billings, known by repute as the ' companion ' of Cook, was judged a fitting man to command it. He was definitely appointed in August 1786, the objects of the expedition, as laid down in his instructions, being 'the exact determination of the latitude and longitude of the mouth of the river Kovima, and the situation of the great promontory of the Tchukchees as far as the East Cape ; the forming an exact chart of the islands in the Eastern Ocean extending to the coast America ; and, in short, the bringing to perfection the knowledge of the seas lying between the continent of Siberia and the opposite coast of America.' He received at the same time the rank of captain-lieutenant, and was instructed, on arriving at certain definite points, to take the further rank of captain of the second class and captain of the first class. Early in September an officer, with a competent staff, was sent on to Ochotsk to make arrangements for constructing two ships ; and the expedition, in several detachments, proceeded to Irkutsk, where it assembled in February 1786.
A very full account of the expedition was published by the secretary, Mr. Sauer. In the course of nine years it carried out the objects prescribed for it Avith such exactness as was then attainable. Of Billings personally we have no information beyond what is contained in Mr. Sauer's book. Mr. Sauer did not love his captain, and implies that he was greedy, selfish, ignorant, and tyrannical, but makes no definite charge. We can only say that Billings successfully commanded the expedition during the whole time, and that by it were made many large additions to our knowledge of the geography of those inclement regions. Of his furtner life, or the date and manner of his death, we know nothing.
[An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition to the Northern Parts of Russia ... performed ... by Commodore Joseph Billings in the years 1785-1794, narrated from the original papers by Martin Sauer, Secretary to the Expedition, 1802, 4to; Beloe's Sexagenarian, ii. 10.]