In about 1773, Catherine the Great appointed Magnus Karl von Böhm (or Behm, depending on the roundtrip transliteration) governor of Kamchatka. The peninsula had been pacified and the natives were being mistreated (impressed into labor, charged excessive fur tribute, and so on).

According to Forsyth's A History of the Peoples of Siberia, she gave him "lengthy instructions" to "introduce justice and honesty".

What exactly were the empress's instructions to her new governor? Was her principal motivation moral or political?

2 Answers 2


The actual quote from Forsyth's book is:

Captain Magnus Karl von Böhm, attempted to restrain the Russian soldiers and make them treat the Itelmens as human beings, and to introduce justice and honesty into the administration of Kamchatka, according to lengthy instructions issued by Catherine the Great.

  • p142

I think the 'lengthy instructions' referred to in this case were most likely Catherine's 'Instructions to the Commissioners for Composing a New Code of Laws', which had been directed to the Legislative Commission of 1767, rather than specific instructions to von Böhm himself.

The instructions are included in full in Documents of Catherine the Great: The Correspondence with Voltaire and the Instruction of 1767 in the English Text of 1768, by W. F. Reddaway, published by Cambridge University Press.

  • Reasonable. Can we conclude that she didn't appoint him herself? The Irkutsk Namestnichestvo wasn't created until 1788. Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 1:44
  • I'm not sure that we can conclude that. I do remember that she discussed the qualities required by the governor of Kamchatka in her correspondence with Voltaire, but I don't remember the dates. Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 10:40
  • I got my hands on the book and I agree with your reading of Forsyth's quote. The only mention of Kamchatka in the letters is Catherine responding to a remark of Voltaire's that Siberia and Kamchatka were desolate. She told him that the region below 63 degrees latitude was in fact arable. Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 18:01

Major Karl Magnus Von Behm was my 5xgreat grandfather. His wife Eva Von Borg was a friend of the Empress Catherine 11. She wanted Alaska to be opened up for settlers and the Major was to find a doctor willing to go. He was to build forts, open up the infrastructure and set up a good administration. He was recommended to her as being an honest man. He was governor during the time of Captain James Cook's last voyage of discovery and I am very interested in that part of their lives.

  • Welcome! This is useful and would be more so with the sources given. I would be surprised if your ancestor were involved with Alaska, as Catherine refused to charter Shelikhov's company, who anyway hadn't yet built their demonstration colony on Kodiak. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 18:57
  • By the way, I enjoyed Crownhart-Vaughan, E. A. P. (1979). Clerke in Kamchatka, 1779: New Information for an Anniversary Note. Oregon Historical Quarterly, 80(2), 197-204. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 19:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.