Impressed by the discoveries of Captain Cook, and conscious that Russia was lagging behind other countries in terms of navigation and exploration, Catherine the Great commissioned an expedition in 1785 to chart the coastline in the far north-east of her empire. Born in Middlesex, Joseph Billings (1758-1806) had sailed under Cook but entered Russian service in 1783. He was chosen to lead the expedition, which would last for nine years. Written up by Martin Sauer, secretary and translator to the expedition, this illustrated account was first published in English in 1802, documenting the sheer scale of the task and the range of scientific activities carried out. Notable for producing the first accurate maps of the shoreline and islands of east Siberia, the expedition also contributed to the ethnographic and zoological knowledge of this most inhospitable of environments.