St. Petersburg, 16 February, 1787
As the Chinese need the furs which are brought by the Russians to exchange for the silks with which the Siberians clothe themselves, and other goods, Russia has for a long time believed that this reciprocal benefit requires the re-establishment of commerce between the two Empires which, as Yr. Excy. knows, was interrupted four years ago. To this end, Russia has continued to negotiate though with a high tone, threatening to possess herself of the banks of the Amur so as to open through that river a navigation to Kamchatka, though reducing her stance with a promise to act exactly according to the letter of the treaties while omitting whatever is incompatible in them with the constitution of this Power since Catherine II has modified its code of laws.
It has been seen that in spite of this the Chinese have remained haughty and disdainful and in the end have found ways to obtain from other hands furs that do not come from the Russians.
Of course, since they have become aware here of the expedition under the command of M. de la Pérouse, they have thought, as I have already written to Yr. Excy., that the Court of France has some project for colonization in relation to this commerce. Some of the Ministers proposed to the Sovereign that two of her frigates be sent to follow the French, but the Minister of the Navy opposed it at the time and the intention was not acted upon.
Afterwards there came news of an English ship which, having collected a cargo of furs on the coasts of America that face Kamchatka and that are a continuation of those of California, went to sell them in China, with immense profit.
This fact caught the attention of the Cabinet which, however, dissembling that it had caused it the slightest unease, left here when the Empress set off on her journey (to Kherson) an order to make ready a squadron of four men-of-war to send to Kamchatka, the command of which was to be assigned to Mr. Mulovsky, a captain and natural son of Count Ivan Chernishev, the Minister of the Navy, who now used this officer in place of another whom H.I.M. had previously indicated and to whom the Minister did not wish this important commission to fall.
H.I.M. also arranged that a Professor of the Academy named Mr. Pallas would give to Mr. Mulovsky all the instructions that would be necessary to as far as possible ensure success, and that a plan drawn up between the two of them would be proposed to Her Imperial Majesty.
Secret meetings to this effect have been held in the Admiralty and a Secretary of the Empress's Cabinet has at the same time made a kind of proclamation with which, the plan and maps, Mr. Mulovsky is going to go to Kiev to place them all before the Sovereign for her approval.
Despite the oath of secrecy taken by all those involved in these arrangements, it has become known that it is proposed that the Empress declare her possession of all the territory of the continent of America from the coast that faces Kamchatka to that about Hudson's Bay on one side, and up to Mount St. Elias on the other, it being only up to those two points in her opinion that the expeditions of the English and Spanish have reached, saying that the peoples of the remaining part have been discovered by the Russians and that some of them pay tribute to them.
It is agreed that this proclamation be communicated to all the European powers, declaring that the aim of this expedition is to secure the said possessions and defend them against whomever might wish to settle in them.
The expedition will be composed, as I have written to Yr. Excy., of two frigates and two transports which will set out from hence in September of this year, go to England, in one of whose ports they will remain until February, and then continue by the Cape of Good Hope, attempting to join the other two frigates that should be at Okhotsk with Mr. Billings.
Yr. Excy. may count on the accuracy of this advice, and be assured of the likelihood that all or most of the plan will be approved.
Pedro Normande. —
Most Excellent Sir, the Count of Floridablanca
Spanish text courtesy of the Archivo Histórico Nacional (Madrid), Estado, legajo 4289. English Translation by Robert King.
Updated: October 17, 2007