N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s family and commandments

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s family and commandments

The name Miklouho-Maclay is well known all over the world. It was the scientific activity of the outstanding scientist and traveler Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888), who devoted his entire life to the high principles of kindness and humanism, that made this name world-famous.

Anthropologist and ethnographer, anatomist and doctor, linguist and zoologist, botanist and geographer, writer, publicist and artist in one person, Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay, like a comet, raced across the sky of the scientific sphere of the whole world, leaving behind a trace of works that have not lost their significance to this day! And the main source of highly moral actions of the famous researcher, first of all, was his family, his parents.

Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklouha, later Miklouho-Maclay, was born on 17 June 1846 in Yazykovo-Rozhdestvenskoye village of Novgorod Governorate in northwestern Russia. He was the second of five children in the family of a young railway engineer Nikolay Ilyich Miklouha (1818-1858), who later became the head of the Nikolaevsky (now Moskovsky) railway station in Saint-Petersburg — one of the main stations in the Country. Nikolay Ilyich Miklouha, the ancestor of all living Miklouho-Maclays, was an outstanding and charming person. He inherited his surname from his ancestors, known since the XVII century. So, according to family legend, in 1648, during the Battle of Zhovti Vody in Ukraine, when the Cossacks of Bogdan Khmelnitsky defeated the vanguard of the Polish Hetman Potocki, the Scottish Baron Michael McLay, who served in the Polish army, was captured. The Cossacks treated the prisoner kindly – they liked his strength and docile disposition. So the Scot stayed in Ukraine, settled down, and married the daughter of the Cossack Miklouha who captured. His wife’s surname they gave to subsequent generations as it was more harmonious and understandable to the Russian ears. Until the 60s of the XIX century, the second part of the surname was used quite rarely, and officially it was changed only by Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklouho-Maclay before his first trip to New Guinea Island.

Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay’s mother was Ekaterina Semyonovna Miklouha (1826-1905), who was of Polish roots and 8 years younger than Nikolay Ilyich Miklouha.

Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay had three brothers (Vladimir, Michael, Sergey) and a sister (Olga).

Vladimir Miklouho-Maclay (1853 – 1905) served as a naval officer in the Russian Black Sea Fleet, when during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, on the cruiser he earned a reputation of a brave officer, after which he changed for a merchant ship. Serving as a steamship Captain on the route Odessa–Vladivostok, he studied the Pacific Ocean well, which allowed him to easily navigate in the waters in the future, during the war with Japan. In 1882, Vladimir returned to the Navy, and in the fall of 1902, Vladimir Nikolaevich became the Captain of the coastal defense battleship «Admiral Ushakov», on which in 1905 he had to take part in the battle of Tsushima. At the end of the first day of the battle, the damaged battleship, lagging behind the other ships, quietly headed for Vladivostok, but on the way was noticed by two Japanese cruisers. Rear Admiral Shimamura demanded the surrender of the battleship, but Miklouho-Maclay decided to fight. During the ensuing battle, the battleship’s gunners inflicted significant damage on the Japanese cruiser Iwate, but the forces were too unequal, and the battleship, constantly fired at by the Japanese, tilted and began to sink. All the surviving sailors were ordered by the Captain to jump overboard and sink the ship. The captain himself flatly refused to take a seat in a Japanese boat that came up, pointing to a sailor drowning next to the ship. So on the evening of 15 May (28 May by the Gregorian calendar) 1905, the Captain 1st rank Miklouho-Maclay died along with his ship and his comrades. He was a true patriot and one of the best sailors of the Russian Navy.

Michael Miklouho-Maclay (1856-1927) was engaged in mining. In his youth, he entered the Saint-Petersburg Mining University. Having graduated in 1882, he went to the University of Munich in Germany, and then returned to Russia, where he began to conduct geological studies in the southwestern and northwestern parts of Russia on the instructions of the Russian Mineralogical Society. This data was used in making the first geological map of the European part of Russia.

Sergey Miklouho-Maclay (1845-1895), the elder brother of the world-famous humanist scientist, graduated from the Saint-Petersburg University Faculty of Law, then worked as a justice of the peace in Malin, Kiev Governorate.

Olga Miklouho-Maclay (1849-1880), the sister of Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay, proved to be a talented porcelain artist. She died in 1880 at the birth of a child, and her son Michael Jr. (born on 31 January 1880) was brought up in his grandmother’s house in Malin, and got the surname Miklouho-Maclay. He graduated from the University of Kiev, where he later worked as a Professor.

Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklouho-Maclay, perhaps the most famous of Miklouho-Maclays, restored the full name, which was accepted by all the relatives. Nikolay first studied at the Saint-Petersburg University, and then continued studying abroad, where he studied at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Heidelberg University, and at the medical faculties of the Universities of Leipzig and Jena, studying anatomy and zoology. Scientific works in these fields of science made Nikolay Nikolaevich famous in scientific community for the first time.

In 1866, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay went to the Canary Islands, where, together with his Zoology teacher, the famous biologist, Professor of the University of Jena, Ernst Haeckel, he studied fauna of Lanzarote. After expeditions to Sicily and the Red Sea, in the Autumn of 1869, Nikolay Nikolaevich presented his plan of a scientific expedition to the Pacific Ocean to the Russian Geographical Society and got approval and support. As a result, the Corvette «Vityaz», making a circumnavigation took Nikolay Nikolaevich on board, and on 20 September 1871 he got off in New Guinea, in the Astrolabe Bay. The «Vityaz» crew built a small hut on the coast for Nikolay Nikolaevich and his two companions. So began an amazing period of scientific research of the famous scientist.

In 1882, Miklouho-Maclay visited Saint-Petersburg, where he appealed to Emperor Alexander III with a proposal to protect the population of the Malay coast of New Guinea and establish a free settlement there. However, this offer was not accepted, and Nikolay Nikolaevich went back to Sydney, where he worked on his extensive collections and diaries for two years to put them in order. With this material he managed to organize an exhibition in Saint-Petersburg in 1886, which aroused true interest in scientific community. Miklouho-Maclay’s articles have been published in leading Russian and international journals.

Nikolay Nikolaevich Miklouho-Maclay was married to Margaret Robertson (1855-1936), the daughter of the Premier of New South Wales, Australia. They have lived in Saint-Petersburg for almost two years, bringing their two sons Alexander (1884-1951) and Vladimir (1885-1958).

On 14 April 1888, at the age of 42, Nikolay Nikolaevich died in Saint-Petersburg, but left his children and descendants the commandments – moral rules that essentially contain biblical morality:


  1. Remember that every night we become one day poorer.
  2. Your rights end where the rights of another begin.
  3. Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.
  4. Do not promise — once you have promised, do everything to fulfil your promise.
  5. Never repent what you have done, but do not repeat it if you realise that you did wrong.
  6. Do not start doing anything that you are not sure you will be able to finish.
  7. Once you start doing something, try to finish it as best you can — do not try to change it several times. And next time, do not repeat your mistakes.
  8. If you do not do it when you can, you will not be able to do it when you want.
  9. People should be valued by the goals they set for themselves.
  10. Everything that a person aspires to is infinite.
  11. “Tendo una palabra” — “I keep my word”. This was the family motto of hereditary noblemen Miklouho-Maclays.


After the death of Nikolay Nikolaevich, his widow and children returned to Sydney. Until 1917, she received a pension for the children support from the Russian Government. She gave her husband’s works and collections to the Russian Geographical Society, and now they are stored in Saint-Petersburg, in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography named after Peter the Great (Kunstkamera). The northeastern coast of New Guinea Island was named after the scientist. The length of the Maclay Coast is approx. 300 km.

Of course, Nikolay Miklouho-Maclay is one of the most outstanding scientists and travelers of the second half of the XIX century, who made an invaluable contribution to world science. His humanistic ideas are still relevant today. In the time of aggravation of interethnic problems in almost all regions of the world, the progressive ideological heritage of Miklouho-Maclay on the equality of races and peoples, on the inadmissibility of violent suppression of cultures, on the imposition of other people’s stereotypes, on the implementation of colonial or violent cultural expansion are of particular importance. Results of the scientific research and published books are a solid and scientifically impeccable tool, a basis for countering reactionary power and nationalist tendencies, which will become a powerful weapon in fostering a sense of tolerance among the present generation.