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Vasily Ivanovich Berkov (Василий Иванович Берков)
Native name Wicher Berkhoff
Born (1794-08-21)August 21, 1794
Vriezenveen, Netherlands
Died April 5, 1870(1870-04-05) (aged 75)
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Nationality Dutch, Russian (1846)
Occupation Shipbuilder, Director Admiralty Shipyard, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Years active 1815/16-1870
Known for translating West-European shipbuilding literature into the Russian language

Vasily Ivanovich Berkov (Russian: Василий Иванович Берков) (Dutch: Wicher Berkhoff)[1] (Vriezenveen, Netherlands, 21 August 1794 – Saint Petersburg, Russia, 5 April 1870) was a Russian shipbuilder and from 1829-1870 Director of the Admiralty Shipyard of Saint Petersburg, possibly in the rank of Counter-Admiral.[2] Berkov deserves special credit for his translations of West-European literature on shipbuilding, into the Russian language. He was one of the so-called Rusluie (nl), a Dutch community in 18th and 19th century Saint Petersburg, most of whose members originated from (Berkov's native village) Vriezenveen.


The son of carpenter Albert Berends Berkhoff and Berendina van den Bosch, Berkov left his native village at an early age for Saint Petersburg. There, his grandparents Frederik van den Bosch and Clasina de Vries took him into their care.[3] Unlike many of his fellow villagers who went into trade,[4] Berkov decided on a career in the shipbuilding industry. In 1815[5]/16[6] he successfully completed his six-year’s civilian apprenticeship program[7] at the College for Shipbuilding Architecture in Saint Petersburg as a Shipwright.


From 1815/16 till 1825 Berkov worked as Deputy Master-Shipbuilder at the Lodejnopolskaja Shipyard, in the Grebnoj Docks in Saint Petersburg, at the shipyards in the Don basins and in the Novgorod district. Here he built ships destined for inland shipping, as well as private luxury yachts for two senior Civil Servants: Kochubey (1768-1834) and Arakcheyev (1769-1834). He was also involved in the building of the Enterprise, the ship of explorer Von Kotzebue (1787-1846). After a brief career in 1825 as Master-Shipbuilder at Saint Petersburg’s City Wharfs, he accepted in 1826 the position of Deputy Navy-Inspector for Innovative and Technological Requirements, at his former training college.[5] This civilian college merged in 1826[8]/27-28[7] with the equivalent Navy college into the Academy of Navy Engineers.[9] In 1829 Berkov returned to the City Wharfs as Director.[5] As such he participated in the merging in 1841-43 of the civilian City Wharfs with the adjacent Navy Admiralty Shipyard into the New Admiralty Shipyard,[10] of which he became Director. He continued this position until his death in 1870.[11] In the hierarchy of the Russian social class system, Berkov rose to the civilian rank of Acting State Councilor (4th class),[12][13] which equals the rank of Counter-Admiral in the Navy.[13][14] Whether Berkov had actually held a Navy Admiral rank, is subject of debate among Dutch historians.[2]


Berkov was highly regarded in shipbuilding circles for his translations of shipbuilding literature into the Russian language. He had a talent for languages and was fluent in English, German, French, Russian and Dutch. Many of his translated works were published under Russian State authority.[5] He also compiled the first Russian text book on naval architecture, including a manual on the construction of yachts.[6]


On May 13, 1870 Berkov married the Russian Alexandrine Wolkow (1804–after 1870), daughter of the Imperial Cup Bearer[15]/Table Setter[16] Ivan Prokoviev Wolkow and Nadeschda Wolkow. The Russian Orthodox marriage took place in the Saint Nicholas Naval Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Six children are known from this marriage: Elena (*ca.1828), Nadezhda (*1834), Victor (*1837), Alexandra (*1840), Maria (*1842) and Alexander (*1844). In 1846 Berkov acquired the Russian nationality. The next year he was raised into the Russian hereditary peerage.[13] Despite his career in Russian service, Berkov stayed in touch with the Dutch merchant community in Saint Petersburg.[17] In later life he returned once more to his birthplace Vriezenveen, where even his own sister did not recognize him.[18] After his death in 1870 he was buried in the Evangelical-Lutheran Volkovo Cemetery in Saint Petersburg.[12] His grave can still be found there today.[19] In 2007 the Municipality of Vriezenveen named in his honour a street after him.[20]



  1. In the Eastern Slavic naming system the official form of address was and still is a person’s Christian name followed by its patronymic (no surname). Similarity of sound probably caused the Dutch Christian name “Wicher“ to be changed into “Vasily”. The patronymic “Ivanovich” will be used when the father’s name is unknown. The Russian family-name “Berkov” too, will have been chosen for its sound similarity.
  2. 2.0 2.1 According to (Russian) Polovtsov (1896-1918), Berkov was "Head of the City Wharfs in Saint Petersburg (начальник с.-петербургской городской верфи)". The biography ends in 1840. According to (Dutch) Janssen and Jonker (ca. 1955), Berkov was "Head of the Naval Wharfs of Saint Petersburg (Chef van de Marinewerven in Sint-Petersburg)" and obtained the "rank and/or title [both possible] of Admiral (titel van Admiraal)". (Dutch) Harmsen (1966), states that Berkov was "Head of the Naval Wharf of St. Petersburg (Chef van de Marinewerf te St. Petersburg)". (Dutch) Hosmar (1976), claims Berkov was "Head of the Naval Wharfs of Kronstadt (Chef der Marinewerven in Kroonstad)" and was addressed as "Admiral". (Dutch) Hosmar (1986), cites an undated letter in Dutch translation of Berkov to the Czar in which he refers to himself as “Vice-Admiral (Vice-Admiraal)”, a three star Admiral rank. According to (Dutch) Holtrop and Van Staalduine (2005), Death Registers, Berkov had at the time of his death the social class position of "Acting State Councilor (staatsraad in werkelijke dienst)". According to the Russian social class system (Табель о рангах) this is civilian rank class 4 (Действительный статский советник), of a total of fourteen. The corresponding Czarist Navy rank is Counter-Admiral (Контрадмирал), a one star Admiral rank. According to (Russian) Berkov, in: EBE (2009), Berkov was "Head of the Office of the City Wharfs in Saint Petersburg (начальник конт. СПб. город. верфи)" until his retirement in 1859. According to (Dutch) Berkhof (2011), Berkov was until his death in 1870 "(Acting-)Director of the Admiralty Shipyard ((Waarnemend-) Directeur van de Admiraliteitsscheepswerf)". Berkov would have reached the civilian rank of Acting State Councilor in 1866. Berkhof states that (at the moment) no original source material available is which conclusively proves that Berkov held a Navy Admiral rank. According to Berkhof the title of Admiral should be considered as hearsay, based on the name of Admiralty Shipyard.
  3. (Dutch) Harmsen (1966). According to (Dutch) Berkhof (2011), Van den Bosch (1742-1811) and De Vries (ca.1740-after1811) were his grandparents.
  4. (Dutch) Van Wijngaarden (2007), pag. 39
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 (Russian) Polovtsov (1896-1918)
  6. 6.0 6.1 (Russian) Berkov. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from:
  7. 7.0 7.1 (Russian) 20 August 1798. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from:
  8. (Russian) School History. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from:
  9. At present the training academy in St. Petersburg still exists under the name of Higher Academy for Marine Engineers (Военно-морского инженерного училища). See (Russian)
  10. (English) Admiralty Dockyards. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from: and (English) Admiralty Shipyard. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from:
  11. (Dutch) Berkhof (2011). According to (Russian) Berkov, in: EBE (2009), he retired in 1859.
  12. 12.0 12.1 (Dutch) Holtrop and Van Staalduine (2005), Death Registers
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 (Dutch) Berkhof (2011) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berkhof (2011)" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berkhof (2011)" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berkhof (2011)" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berkhof (2011)" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Berkhof (2011)" defined multiple times with different content
  14. (Russian) Table of Ranks. Retrieved 10 March 2011, from:
  15. A Cup Bearer was responsible for the wine cellars and the serving of wine during meals.
  16. A Table Setter was responsible for the correct table settings, as well as for clearing away the table and serving at table.
  17. Between 1827-1869 Berkov regularly attended Holy Communion in the Dutch Reformed Church in Saint Petersburg. He died on the day when the Holy Communion was served for the first time on 5 April 1870. (Dutch) Holtrop and Van Staalduine (2005), Lists of Holy Communion Attendees, pag. 344-377
  18. (Dutch) Janssen and Jonker (ca. 1955)
  19. A picture of the Russian/Dutch grave stone can be found in: (Dutch) Holtrop and Van Staalduine (2005), Death Registers, pag. 320
  20. (Dutch) New names, in: The Weekly
Printed sources, Literature, Articles and Internet-publications.
  • (Russian) 20 August 1798, foundation of the “College for Shipbuilding Architecture (20 августа 1798 г. Учреждение училищ корабельной архитектуры), archived from:
  • (English) Admiralty Dockyards (203 Fontanka Embankment), archived from:
  • (English) Admiralty Shipyard, archived from:
  • (Dutch) Berkhof, E., Wicher Berkhoff: from Vriezenvenian Carpenters Son to Russian Noble Man (Wicher Berkhoff: van Vriezenveens timmermanszoon tot Russisch edelman), About Vriezenveen (Waver 't Vjenne (dialect)) 35 (2011-3) and 36 (2011-4), 803-806 and 827-829. ISSN 1570-5471. See also:
  • (Russian) Berkov, Vasili Iv. (Берков Василий Ив.), in: Extended Biographical Encyclopedia (Большая биографическая энциклопедия) (2009), archived from:Берков
  • (Russian) Berkov, Vasily Ivanovich (Берков Василий Иванович), archived from: (abbr.)
  • (Dutch) Harmsen, D., Vriezenvenian Merchants in Russia (Vriezenveners in Rusland) (np 1966), pag. 58-61
  • (Dutch) Holtrop, P. and Th. van Staalduine, Baptismal Registers (Doopregisters), Marriage Registers (Huwelijksregisters), Death Registers (Overlijdensregisters), Church Members Registers (Registers van Lidmaten) and Lists of Holy Communion Attendees (Lijsten van Avondmaalgangers), in: Idem, The Dutch Reformed Church in Saint-Petersburg, 1713-1927. Texts copied from the Church Records, letters and other documents (De Hollandse Hervormde Kerk in Sint-Petersburg 1713-1927. Teksten uit kerkenraadsprotocollen, brieven en andere documenten) III (Kampen 2005). ISBN 90-435-1098-X
  • (Dutch) Hosmar, J., Wicher Berkhoff, became Head the of Naval Shipyards in Kronstadt (Wicher Berkhoff werd chef van marinewerven in Kroonstad), in: Idem, Rusluie from Vriezenveen in the Empire of the Czar (Vriezenveense Rusluie in het Rijk der Tsaren) (Enschede 1976), pag. 32-36
  • (Dutch) Hosmar, J., Carpenter became Head the of Naval Shipyards in Kronstadt (Timmerman werd chef van Marinewerven in Kroonstad), in: W. van der Louw, Dutch Histories. Popular Magazine for (Local) History (Nederlandse historiën. Populair tijdschrift voor (streek) historie) 1 (Berkel and Rodenrijs 1976), pag. 55-58
  • (Dutch) Hosmar, J. Vriezenvenians on the Czar’s War Fleet (Vriezenveners bij de Tsaristische Oorlogsvloot), in: Idem, Sailing for Russia (De Ruslandvaarders) (Zaltbommel 1986), pag. 98-105. ISBN 90-288-3439-7
  • (Dutch) Janssen, H. and L. Jonker, Stories Berkhof (Verhalen Berkhof), in: Idem, Recorded stories told by Vriezenvenians after their return from Russia after the revolution of 1917 (Opgetekende verhalen uit de overlevering van na de revolutie van 1917 teruggekeerde Rusluie) (ca. 1955), pag. ix-x
  • (Dutch) New names for three streets in Vriezenveen (Andere naam voor drie straten in Vriezenveen), in: The Weekly. The Courier (De Weekkrant, de Koerier), d.d. 7 November 2007, pag.13
  • (Russian) Polovtsov, A. (ed.), Berkov, Vasily Ivanovich (Берков Василий Иванович), in: Idem, Russian Biographical Dictionary (Русский биографический словарь) II (Moskou 1896-1918), pag. 743-744, archived from:Берков
  • (Russian) School history Higher Naval Engineering College (История училища Военно-морского инженерного училища), archived from:
  • (Russian) Table of Ranks (Табель о рангах), archived from:
  • (Dutch) Wijngaarden, van - Xiounina, J., From assimilation to segregation: The Dutch Colony in Saint-Petersburg, 1856-1917 (Van assimilatie tot segregatie: De Nederlandse kolonie in Sint-Petersburg, 1856-1917) (Groningen 2007). ISBN 978-90-77089-06-4. See also:

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