It sent a shiver down my spine the first time I saw my name in print, in a book on Captain Cook. I was twelve or so at the time browsing in the local library. There it was, Charles Richard Clerke.
Clerke "was bred to the navy from his youth" according to James King. Not so me, but I’ve always had a hankering after wild and untravelled places. A trip to Kamchatka, King’s "wretched extremity of the earth", was a must.
Huge and sparsely populated, lush green forests of birch drip under the sea fog of the Pacific. Bears roam free. Volcanoes smoulder and sulk over barren lava flows. The local ones are referred to as the "home volcanoes"; four of them rise 3000 metres above the city. The last eruption was in 1994.
Petropavlosk, the city of St Peter and St Paul, sits on the shore of Avacha Bay where the long Pacific well brought Clerke to his rest. The monument is situated in a substantial part of town, though a wooded hill obscures the Bay, its convoys of puffins and the occasional watchful Stellar’s sea eagle. It stands in a quietly dignified and British way which seemed to me entirely in keeping with the man he was.
Getting to Kamchatka is really quite easy. I took an Aeroflot flight to Moscow (got a business class upgrade free), and it’s a direct flight to Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky from there. It’s actually the longest domestic flight in the world at 9 hours or so. The Soviet version of the 747, big and clumsy but built to transport people and their stuff not as an entertainment palace. Bags of room!
My family have always been very particular about the spelling, and pronunciation of our name. So I was upset to see the brief reference to Clerke in the local museum had in brackets the name Clark too. This is exasperating enough in English, but this was in Russian! And talking to local people this confusion is maintained in school. Was this a problem for the great man himself I wonder?
Captain Clerke died without heir. I mean to research for any indirect link someday. Meanwhile just touching the monument brought that shiver back.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 30, volume 28, number 1 (2005).
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