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MUSEUM, SYDNEY to ACADEMIE IMPERIALE des SCIENCES ST. PETERSBURG

The Commonwealth of Australia, New South Wales Post Card is addressed to The Secretary, Academie Imperiale des Sciences St. Petersburg: it has a printed red 1d ‘Shield’ stamp of N.S.W. with the uncommon OS/ NSW perfin, which perforates the card. There is a roller cancel SYDNEY N.S.W. AP 11- 3-PM 1912. In addition there are 2 identical ST. PETERSBURG (in cyrillic)/ -1-5-12-, as well as an additional ms. ‘Russia’ and other illegible manuscripts, in a different hand (Figure 1).

Figure 1

The reverse has the following printing: The Australian Museum, Sydney, New South Wales. On behalf of the Trustees of the Australian Museum, I have pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your publications undernoted and in conveying to you their thanks for the same. S. Sinclair, Secretary and Librarian. There is a ms. ‘11/4/12' and ‘Bulletin 1912 NO 3'. The reverse clearly shows that the perfin perforates the card. In the top RH corner there is a ‘belt & buckle’ Australian Museum Sydney, with a crown in the centre. The purple oval is a reception handstrike in cyrrilic dated 8 MAR 1912 (Figure 2).

Figure 2

The founding of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Sciences in 1724-25 was the culmination of years of work by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (German philosopher and mathematician) and Emperor Peter I of Russia. In 1697-98 Peter had traveled in Western Europe to observe Western science and culture, and he corresponded with Leibniz about the state of Russian science. Leibniz gave Peter advice about the acquisition of books, machines and artistic objects; open libraries, museums, botanical gardens; and most importantly the establishment of academies and schools in a Western European style. On 22 January1724 Peter approved a plan to establish an Academy of Sciences, based on the Paris Academy, where Peter had visited in 1725. Emperor Peter never saw the Academy come to fruition for he died on 28 January 1725, and his widow became Empress Catherine I.

Scholars and scientists were attracted from many Western European countries but the political atmosphere in Russia took a turn for the worse as Catherine died in 1727 and the grandson of Peter I, at the age of 12, became Peter II. He was frequently sickly and easily influenced by his more conservative courtiers. Peter II moved the capital to Moscow and he allowed the Russian science movement to deteriorate along with the Academy. Peter II soon died and he was succeeded by Anna Ivanovna, the grand-niece of Peter I. Over her reign, the increasingly xenophobic public became hostile to the Empress and to the largely-German faculty at the Academy. With Anna’s death in 1740, the throne passed to her grand-nephew, Ivan VI, an infant at this time. Ivan’s mother (and Anna’s niece) Anna Leopoldovna took over an unpopular regency, and the years1740-41 were characterised by uncertainty and political turmoil. The scientist, Leonhard Paul Euler, Swiss born mathematician and physicist, who had been the guiding force at the Academy, resigned and took up a position in Berlin. In December 1741, the regency was overthrown, and the daughter of Peter I, Elizabeth was declared Empress.

The most notable change in Russian science during this time was the issuance of the Academy’s Charter in 1747. In addition, changes were made including the devolving of some functions of the Academy into an associated University; reorganized scientific departments within the Academy proper; and, the pronouncement of Russian and Latin as the Academy’s official Languages. The Academy faculty were displeased with changes in that working hours were now strictly prescribed and the violators fined. From 1756 until 1761 there was conflict in Austria, France and Russia, and Empress Elizabeth died in 1761, when her nephew became Peter III. He was overthrown, for his wife Catherine led the coup against him, and she became Empress Catherine II in 1761. She returned to the pro-Western policies of Peter I, and made a more favorable environment for scientists, although the rivalry between Russian and German faculty of the Academy persisted. Catherine scored a major academic coup, for she persuaded Leonhard Euler to return to St. Petersburg.

Euler would remain there until his death in September 1783; she treated the mathematician as royalty, and he was top-ranked in the Academy faculty. Euler’s second tenure was most productive scholastically, for he wrote nearly half of his 856 catalogued works in St. Petersburg. The Academy published most of these posthumously, exhausting the supply of his works in 1830. Catharine abandoned many of her pro-Western policies and after her death in 1796, she was succeeded by her son, Paul I who went to great lengths to dismantle the pro-Western policies altogether. In his 5 years of reign, Paul decreed that no Russian could attend Western-style school; vhe attempted to prevent foreign books from reaching Russia, and cut off all funding for academic institutions. VThere was a coup against Paul which was followed by the accession of his son, Alexander I, who immediately reversed his father’s draconian measures, and in 1803-04 he presided over a major reorganization of the Academy. As a result of a new charter, the Academy and its members now had a good deal of power in administrative matters. French was allowed in Academy proceedings for the first time and the Academy’s name was changed from the latin Academia Scientiarium Petropolitanae to the french Academie Imperiale des Sciences, as listed on the cover.

The succeeding years were to see great changes in the administration and organization of the Academy, followed by a more restrictive charter in 1836, though with little harmful impact on Russian science. The 1917 Revolution, and the consequent Russian Civil War, led initially to a decline in the Academy’s fortunes. In 1925 the Soviet Government moved the Academy to Moscow. The Petersburgh Academy still exists in Moscow as the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Australian Museum, Sydney has an international reputation in the fields of natural history and indigenous research, community programs and exhibitions. The Museum was established in 1827 and it is Australia's first museum, with unique and extensive collections of natural science and cultural artefacts. One can only wonder as to what was of interest to the Museum staff in the Bulletin which was supplied by the Academy.

 
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