As a scientist traveler, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) interacted with one of the most famous organizations of Russia  —  the Imperial Russian Geographical Society (IRGS). Founded in 1845, the Society specialized in exploring the vast territories, nature, economy, and population of Russia, as well as the neighboring countries – China, Afghanistan, Persia, Asian Turkey and the Balkans. Among the members of the IRGS were prominent military and public figures  —  generals, admirals, high-ranking officials and diplomats.

Alexander II’s brother, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich of Russia, Chief of the Russian Navy, was the President of the Society until 1892, but the IRGS was actually led by its Vice President Admiral F.P. Litke, a former navigator who made a number of discoveries in the Arctic and Micronesia. Pyotr Petrovich Semyonov (later known as Semyonov-Tyan-Shansky) had a great influence in the Council of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1856-1857 Pyotr Petrovich was the first European scientist to explore the Central Tian Shan, and later went down in history as an outstanding geographer, botanist and entomologist, geologist, statistician, economist, traveler, statesman and public figure. Semyonov combined scientific activities with an administrative career: for many years he was the Director of the Central Statistical Committee, became a Senator and a member of the State Council. In January 1873 P.P. Semyonov replaced F.P. Litke as the Vice President of the IRGS, worked in this position for over forty years and gathered the best Russian geographers around him.

Baron Fyodor Romanovich Osten-Sacken (1832-1912) was also a member of the IRGS, combining his activities with the service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Back in the 1860s Fyodor Romanovich made an expedition to Central Asia, visited China, Ceylon, as well as the Russian coast of the Sea of Japan.

For N.N. Miklouho-Maclay the door to the IRGS was opened by a letter of recommendation from the Russian zoologist and traveler Nikolay Alekseevich Severtsov (1827-1885) to Osten-Sacken. “The submitter, Mr. Maclay, zoologist and tireless traveler, wishes to enter into relations with the Geographical Society; therefore, do me a favor of acquainting him with the Charter of the Society and its works (he is an assistant at the Zoological Museum in Jena); in his travels he may be of use to the Society as well” — the letter read.

On October 5, 1869, Nikolay Nikolaevich already spoke at a joint meeting of the Departments of Physical and Mathematical Geography of the IRGS with a report on his trip to the Red Sea where he studied marine fauna and collected valuable observations on the way of living and culture of the peoples of the East. He prefaced the information of a regional and ethnographic nature with his thoughts about the new prospects that open up for zoology due to the gradual transfer of research “from offices, museums, and zoological gardens to the animals’ natural habitats, where they can be observed in their natural environment. Zoologists were no longer satisfied with the incomplete, dead collections of museums, from which it was difficult to trace the origin, various changes and development of organic forms. They turned to wildlife for material, and began to travel to study animals in their natural environment”. P.P. Semyonov, F.R. Osten-Sacken and many other members of the Society came to listen to the young scientist. His report made a positive impression on the IRGS, and inspired by the success, three days later N.N. Miklouho-Maclay submitted through Osten-Sacken a project for a long expedition to the Pacific to the IRGS Council.

Pyotr Alekseevich Kropotkin, the Secretary of the IRGS Physical Geography Department, played a special role in the Pacific studies by Miklouho-Maclay. Pyotr Alekseevich was one of the developers of the large polar expedition project, which was not supported in the Russian institutions, therefore, during the conversation with the geographer, Nikolay Nikolaevich realized that the national expedition to the Arctic would hardly take place in the near future and conceived a plan to go to the South Pacific promising major scientific discoveries.

Nikolay Nikolaevich was aware that the IRGS Charter limited the scope of its activities to Russia and neighboring territories. Therefore, he decided to act stealthily, only gradually revealing his intention to focus on research in the southern part of the Pacific. The main goal of the long voyage in the project of the Pacific expedition was stated as the continuation of “studies of marine fauna and all scientific issues directly related to these studies”, while Miklouho-Maclay would deal with ethnographic and anthropological issues “in his spare time from special studies”.

The IRGS Secretary F.R. Osten-Sacken approved the young researcher’s project and recommended making some clarifications and additions to the project. Moreover, making comments on the text, Fyodor Romanovich drew attention to the geopolitical importance of the project: “This will be especially relevant, because the Pacific Ocean should eventually be the Russian Ocean“. Fyodor Romanovich considered that the long-term research of the Russian traveler in the island world of Oceania could help to strengthen Russia’s position in the Pacific, albeit in the distant future, and introduced the project to P.P. Semyonov, having secured, among other things, the support of F.P. Litke.

On October 28, 1868, there was a meeting of the IRGS Council, presided by F.P. Litke, during which F.R. Osten-Sacken introduced  N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s project to those present, and P.P. Semyonov resorted to a cunning ruse: he proposed not to discuss the project on its merits, but to submit it to the Department of Physical Geography, which he was the head of. The Council agreed with Pyotr Petrovich’s proposal and decided: “To request the Vice President to enter into communication with the Russian Navy concerning making it possible for Mr. Maclay to take advantage of the dispatch of our military vessels to the Pacific to make a voyage there and back”.

In February 1870, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay wrote to Osten-Sacken that he intended “to spend at least 3-4 years on the Pacific islands, and only then to set off to the North”. IRGS considered this fact deplorable, however P.P. Semyonov, F.R. Osten-Sacken, and under their influence also F.P. Litke preferred to “overlook” this fact, because of their kind attitude to the scientist and the importance of his planned research. On May 11, 1870, the IRGS Council agreed with the proposal of the Department of Physical Geography to assign N.N.Miklouho-Maclay an allowance of 1200 rubles, and on May 21, the Minister of the Navy, Admiral N.K. Krabbe, informed the IRGS Vice President of the fact that “permission had been received from the highest authority to take the naturalist Miklouho-Maclay on the corvette “Vityaz” for his voyage to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, but without allowance from the Navy, and he was subsequently allowed to return on one of the ships returning from there to the Baltic”.

Preparing for the expedition to the Pacific Miklouho-Maclay corresponded with an academician Karl Ernst von Baer, who consulted him on anthropological issues. Miklouho-Maclay had a Baer’s book “Über Papuas und Alfuren” [About Papuans and Alfurs], which contained scanty and contradictory information on Papuans (indigenous people). According to the memoirs of P.P. Semyonov Baer was the first of the IRGS patriarchs to pay attention to the promising young researcher.

Some members of the IRGS Council gratuitously provided the young traveler with scientific instruments and tools. Thus, the Assistant Director of the Main Physical Laboratory in St. Petersburg M.A. Rykachyov gave him the latest aneroid (device for measuring atmospheric pressure), and the Director of the Hydrographic Department of the Russian Navy, Vice-Admiral S.I. Zelenoy, – a thermometer for measuring oceanic depths.

On October 19,1870, Miklouho-Maclay made a report on the programme of his expedition at the IRGS general meeting. “The journey is designed for seven or eight years, and therefore its plan can be presented only in brief and vague terms. I plan to spend the first years on the shores of tropical seas, and then gradually move northward to the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk and the northern parts of the Pacific. New Guinea should serve as the first field for my activity“. Miklouho-Maclay divided the goals of the expedition into three large sections (physical geography and meteorology; ethnography and anthropology; political economy).

During the 10-month voyage to New Guinea (November 1870-September 1871), Nikolay Nikolaevich wrote reports for the IRGS on the islands of Oceania, including the Polynesian Islands. Upon arriving at the northeastern coast of New Guinea (the Maclay Coast), the scientist kept expedition diaries, which have not lost their value and relevance to this day.

With the lack of news from New Guinea, on July 6, 1872, the newspaper “Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti” published a note about the traveler’s death. Nikolay Nikolaevich’s mother and sister immediately appealed to the IRGS Council to verify the truth of the reports. However, the rumors about his death came in handy for Miklouho-Maclay: soon the 2nd rank captain Mikhail Nikolaevich Kumani took his ship “Izumrud” out into the Ocean. On December 18, 1872, it arrived at the Maclay Coast, and the officers saw with their own eyes that Nicolay Nikolaevich was alive, conducting his research, and the Russian flag was fluttering over his hut. Thus the first expedition which started on September 20, 1871 came to an end. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay completed his report on his stay in the North East of New Guinea for the IRGS on the Maluku Islands. In 1873, it was published in the IRGS’s newspaper “Izvestiya”. In addition, the Society spread the joyful news that the traveler was alive.

Subsequently, the traveler would spend about a dozen years traveling through Southeast Asia, Australia and the islands of Oceania. In the IRGS archives there are drawings and evidences from the expeditions of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, including the famous Malacca Diary dated 1874-1875, which contains valuable information on the ethnography, anthropology and political situation of the Malay Peninsula. Nevertheless, throughout that period N.N. Miklouho-Maclay experienced financial difficulties, with which various patrons who made transfers through the IRGS helped to cope. His loyal friend, A.A. Meshchersky, who became the Secretary of the IRGS Statistical Department, also interceded for the traveler in the Society.

In 1875, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay informed P.P. Semyonov of his plans to unite the inhabitants of the Maclay Coast “in one whole” in order to resist the British annexation, and also asked to find out whether the Russian government would support his endeavor. Interestingly, the Russian traveler did not think about the Russian colonization of the Maclay Coast, except as a “protectorate” over a part of New Guinea, associated with international obligations rather than oppression of the Papuans (indigenous people). P.P. Semyonov forwarded the traveler’s request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked for instructions on how to respond to N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. Under the instruction of F.R. Osten-Sacken a note “About the Russian traveler Miklouho-Maclay” was prepared for the Emperor Alexander II; and the Chancellor, Prince A.M. Gorchakov took part in editing it. The note stated that “due to the extraordinary willpower, straightforwardness of character and ability to deal with the savages” the traveler had managed in 1871-1872 to acquire enormous influence over the Papuans (indigenous people) of  the Maclay Coast, but it was proposed to reject his request for a protectorate due to the remoteness of the island and unwillingness to strain relations with the European governments. Alexander II approved the recommendations.

Emperor Alexander III, who ascended the throne in 1881, was very interested in the research and ideas of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. In 1882, the traveler came to Russia, and his lectures on the expeditions in the tropical seas gained a stunning success in the capital of the Russian Empire and Moscow: thousands of people attended them. The traveler’s fame convinced P.P. Semyonov of the high value of his scientific achievements and humanistic ideas about respect for culture and traditions of the peoples of the world, so he recommended the traveler for an audience with the Emperor. The historical meeting between Miklouho-Maclay and Alexander III took place in Gatchina on October 6, 1882. Subsequently, the royal family provided strong support for the traveler and his family.

In 1886, Nikolay Nikolaevich returned to Russia again after his travels in the South Seas region and began preparations to publish his expedition diaries. Nevertheless, the traveler was aware that due to his “severe ill health” his work on the preparation and publication of the diaries might be delayed “for an indefinite period of time“. In February 1887, he spoke at the meeting of the IRGS: “Considering everything I have left to do, not omitting the printing of both volumes with their additions, drawings and maps, I, not without regret, must admit that two-thirds of the work has not been done yet“. On April 14,1888, the world-famous traveler died in St. Petersburg, having had time to prepare only the first volume, which told about his unique expeditions to New Guinea. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay was buried in the Volkovo Cemetery, and among those who came to honour his memory were members of the IRGS P.P. Semyonov, Admiral P.N. Nazimov, Admiral N.N. Kopytov, the famous traveler over the East A.V. Eliseev, Professors V.I. Modestov, K.A. Posse and I.R. Tarkhanov. At the April meeting of the IRGS, Pyotr Petrovich gave a speech in tribute to the late traveler. The audience honoured his memory by standing up. The IRGS report of 1888 contained Miklouho-Maclay’s obituary.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s New Guinea diaries, manuscripts and drawings were taken to the IRGS by his brothers (in particular by Mikhail), where they are stored to this day.