Peter Petrovich Semyonov (1827 – 1914) was born on the Ryazanka family estate of his father, retired captain and poet Peter Semyonov. He was the youngest of three children in the family. He later recalled: « My father brought so much active love into family life, and my mother so much restraint and reasonable calm that our rather large and complex family could be considered the ideal of family happiness. »
The boy’s passion for geography began in early childhood. At the age of ten, he made the first topographical survey for the garden on the estate. Horticulture also aroused interest in botany in Peter Semyonov, he began to independently study the taxonomy of plants. His first travels were hiking in the vicinity of Ryazanka, which gradually extended further and further.
At the age of fifteen, Peter Semyonov entered the military school of guards ensigns and cavalry cadets. During his studies, his interest in natural science intensified even more, so after graduating from school, Pyotr Semyonov abandoned his military career and became a volunteer in the Natural Sciences Department of the Mathematical Faculty of St. Petersburg University.
During this period, Peter Semyonov was most interested in botany and what would later be called plant geography. He makes a hiking expedition from St. Petersburg to Moscow through Novgorod, studying the local vegetation. Then he continues his research in the black earth zone of Russia, in the Voronezh province. In 1849, on the basis of the collected materials, Peter Semyonov defended his master’s thesis « Pridonskaya flora in its relations with the geographical distribution of plants in European Russia » and in the same year he was elected a member of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1853 Semyonov went abroad to deepen his education. For three years he has been studying at the University of Berlin, studying mainly geology and physical geography, and he became closely acquainted with the famous traveler and scientist Alexander Humboldt. In the summer he participates in Heinrich Beirich’s expeditions to Switzerland, Germany and Italy, conducting geological surveys of the area. “The mountains attracted me to them, which, having studied geography in theory, I had not seen in my life,” the scientist recalled. In 1854, Semyonov observed the eruption of Vesuvius, which he made 17 ascents even before its eruption.
Peter Semyonov returned to Russia in the spring of 1855. Soon his work was published, the creation of which he had devoted several previous years – a translation of Karl Ritter’s work « Geography of Asia », made on behalf of the Russian Geographical Society, with writing additions to it based on new research. As a result, the additions written by Semenov were equal in volume to the main text of the book.
Back in Berlin, Pyotr Semyonov conceived the idea of an expedition to the Tien Shan mountains, where European travelers had not yet penetrated. It was with the aim of preparing for such a project that he devoted so much time to the study of geology, closely acquainted in theory and practice with the alpine glaciers of Switzerland and the volcanoes of Italy (according to the theory of Alexander Humboldt, the Tien Shan should have been an area of active volcanism). After arriving in Russia, Semenov received the final approval of his project, and in May 1856 he set off on an expedition.
The journey lasted two years. Peter Semenov visited Altai, Tarbagatai, Semirechensky and Zailiysky Alatau, Lake Issyk-Kul, was the first European traveler to penetrate the Tien Shan, created the first scheme of its orography and altitude zoning, described the Khan Tengri mountain peak, and collected rich biological and geological collections.
Since 1858, Pyotr Semyonov began work under the leadership of a member of the State Council Yakov Rostovtsev to prepare the peasant reform. In 1859, « Editorial commissions » were officially established to draft a peasant reform in Russia, Rostovtsev became their chairman, and among the active workers there were both Peter Semyonov and his older brother Nikolai, who by that time headed one of the departments of the Senate. In March 1859, Peter Semyonov became the head of the Editorial Commissions. The work was completed by October 1860. The members of the commissions considered 82 projects of reform, based on them they drew up five projects of general and local regulations on the organization of peasants, a complete collection of all materials developed, discussed and compiled by the Editorial Commissions took 35 volumes.
From 1873 until the end of his life, Pyotr Semyonov was vice-chairman of the Russian Geographical Society. In fact, he headed the work of the society, since the post of chairman was traditionally held by members of the imperial family (until 1892, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich, then Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich). During his leadership, four branches of the society were opened in different parts of the country and more than 170 expeditions were organized.
Together with his son Benjamin and Vladimir Lamansky, Peter Semyonov prepared the fundamental work “Russia. Full geographical description of our fatherland … ”(11 volumes out of 22 planned were published). Another voluminous work by Peter Semyonov was the « Geographic and Statistical Dictionary of the Russian Empire ».
In 1882, Peter Semyonov was appointed senator of the 2nd (peasant) department of the ruling senate. In 1873 he was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences. In 1888, Semenov traveled to the Trans-Caspian region and Turkestan. Since 1897, Peter Semyonov has been a member of the State Council.
In 1906, for his merits in the exploration of Central Asia, Peter Semyonov received the right to be called Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky, this right was secured by the imperial decree for all his descendants. Pyotr Semenov-Tyan-Shansky died of pneumonia in St. Petersburg on February 26 (March 11) 1914.
During his trip to the Tien Shan, Pyotr Semyonov, in the words of one of the biographers, “united in his person a geologist, botanist and zoologist”. He described the sources of the Chu, Syrdarya and Sary-Jaz rivers, the location of the Tien Shan ranges, the height of the snow line and glaciers. He refuted Humboldt’s theory of the volcanic origin of the Tien Shan. Collected significant information about flora and fauna.
The merit of Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky as one of the founders of national scientific statistics is at least not less, and possibly more than his achievements in the study of Central Asia. He headed the Central Statistical Committee (1864–82), was the chairman of the Statistical Council of the Ministry of the Interior (1875–97). In 1870 Semenov-Tyan-Shansky organized the first All-Russian Congress of statisticians, and two years later he was vice-president of the Eighth International Statistical Congress in St. Petersburg. He directed in 1882 the first scientifically conducted census of the horse population in Russia. Semenov-Tyan-Shansky was the initiator of the first general census of the population of the Russian Empire (conducted on January 28 (February 9), 1897). He developed the census regulations and was vice-chairman of the main census commission. The census results were published in 89 volumes (119 books).
In 1851, Peter Semyonov married Vera Chulkova, the next year they had a son, Dmitry, and a few months later Vera died of consumption. The second time Pyotr Semyonov married ten years later, Elizaveta Zabotskaya-Desyatkova. In this marriage, he had seven children, two of whom died at an early age. All the grown children of Peter Semenov-Tyan-Shansky inherited from their father a love for science and became famous scientists. Dmitry Petrovich was a statistician, a specialist in agriculture. Daughter Olga Petrovna became an ethnographer and folklorist, received a silver medal of the Russian Geographical Society for the collection of Russian folk songs, collected clothing collections for the ethnographic department of the Russian Museum and wrote the book « The Life of » Ivan « : Essays from the life of peasants in one of the black earth provinces. Andrey Petrovich became a major entomologist, a specialist in coleoptera, worked at the Zoological Museum of the Academy of Sciences, and was also a connoisseur of Latin poetry and translator of Horace. Veniamin Petrovich was an expert in statistics and economic geography, the author of fundamental works on regionalization, urban and rural settlement, including including the famous monographs « Trade and Industry of European Russia by Region » (13 volumes), « City and Village of European Russia » and « Region and Country ». Izmail Petrovich was a meteorological scientist, and his son Oleg Izmailovich was an ornithologist and one of the organizers of the Lapland Nature Reserve on the Kola Peninsula.
My work on Asian geography led me … to a thorough acquaintance with everything that was known about inner Asia. Beckoned me in particular to itself the most central of the Asian mountain ranges – the Tien Shan, which had not yet been stepped by a European traveler and which was known only from scarce Chinese sources … Penetrate deep into Asia to the snowy peaks of this unattainable ridge, which is great Humboldt, on the basis of the same meager Chinese information, considered it volcanic, and to bring him several samples from the fragments of the rocks of this ridge, and home – a rich collection of flora and fauna of the country newly discovered for science – that seemed the most tempting feat for me.
Peter Semyonov, preparing for his planned journey, paid special attention to the study of the oldest (Paleozoic) formations, which he expected to spread in Central Asia, as well as to the petrographic study of crystalline rocks, but bearing in mind Humboldt’s assumptions about the distribution of volcanic rocks and phenomena in the Tien Chanet, considered it necessary to go to Italy in the fall of 1854, and stayed there for several months to study volcanic rocks and phenomena in the vicinity of Naples, where Vesuvius erupted at that time.
When we got about one in the afternoon to the top of the mountain pass, we were blinded by the unexpected sight. Directly to the south of us towered the most magnificent mountain ranges I have ever seen. It all, from top to bottom, consisted of snow giants, of which I could count at least thirty to the right and left of myself. This entire ridge, along with all the gaps between the mountain peaks, was covered with an unbroken veil of eternal snow. Just in the middle of these giants towered one, sharply separating between them in its colossal height, a snow-white pointed pyramid, which seemed from the height of the pass to be twice as high as the other peaks. Indeed, since the Khan-Tengri peak, according to later measurements, turned out to be about 7,000 meters of absolute height, its relative height above the mountain pass was 3,500 meters, while the height of the other mountain peaks above the pass did not exceed 2,000 meters. The sky was completely cloudless from all sides, and only on Khan Tengri was a small cloud visible, with a light crown surrounding the mountain pyramid dazzling in its whiteness a little below its top. For three hours I spent at the pass not only to admire such a majestic view, the likes of which can hardly be found anywhere in the world, but also to navigate the orography of the highest mountain group in the Tien Shan, which the locals so aptly gave the poetic name Tengri-Taga (spirits ridge), likening these snowy peaks to heavenly spirits, and the giant crowning them and overwhelming with his greatness – Khan Tengri, that is, the king of these heavenly spirits. Hence the Chinese name for the entire mountain system Tien Shan (Heavenly Mountains).
In Omsk, I did not find any changes. Omsk society did not even listen to the « distant noise » of what was happening in Russia. The reforms that were being prepared there did not worry the Omsk society, which was not directly interested in them. It did not yet realize that the emancipation of the peasants would inevitably entail a number of other reforms that would change the entire system of Russian provincial life. Neither the higher ranks of the Main Directorate of Western Siberia, nor the minor officials of the Omsk Chanceries, did not think that the possibility for the former to receive additional support from the tax farmers and food suppliers to the troops located beyond the state Siberian-Irtysh border in the Semirechensky Territory, and for the latter the opportunity to covet and with impunity, they will stop. Only the young generation of officials with higher education, attracted to Siberia mainly by the efforts of the Governor-General Gasfort as officials on special assignments and in general his closest associates, have not yet lost courage in their hard struggle against the predation of the old system, but they, too, convinced together with the general Governor, in his powerlessness in this struggle, sought to move to European Russia. Even the youngest, talented and pure-hearted, newly developing local figures, such as GN Potanin and Ch. Ch. Valikhanov, deeply imbued with their aspiration and thirst for knowledge, aspired to complete higher education at St. Petersburg University.
An article about Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky in the Russian Wikipedia Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky in the project « Chronos » Works in the library of Maxim Moshkov Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky « Geographical and statistical dictionary of the Russian Empire » Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky in the encyclopedia « Around the world «
Related title :
– <a href="/?s=What is the famous Russian geographer Pyotr Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky and what is the secret of his last name? famous Russian geographer Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky and what is the secret of his surname?
– Peter Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky