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Ivan Ivanovich Gapanovich (1891–1983)

by T. H. Rigby

Ivan Ivanovich Gapanovich, one of the pioneers of Russian studies in the University, died recently in Sydney at 92.

Professor Gapanovich came to Australia from China in 1953, and in 1955 was appointed temporary lecturer in Russian in the Canberra University College, a position which he held at ANU till his retirement in 1964.

Gapanovich was born into the family of a St Petersburg civil servant in 1891. Graduating from his gymnasium (school) with a gold medal, he entered the history faculty of St Petersburg University, gaining a First Level Diploma (equivalent to MA) in 1913.

When the First World War broke out he served for three years as an infantry officer on the Polish, Galician and Romanian fronts. He was included in the Russian delegation which negotiated armistice conditions with the Germans on the Romanian Front.

After the Bolshevik seizure of power, Gapanovich, counting himself neither Red nor White but believing in a third, democratic path for Russia, became an official in the Okhotsk-Kamchatka region and was later elected to its Regional Congress, of which he was for a time President. He afterwards represented the Regional Administration in the provincial centre of Vladivostok. He formed a company to rehabilitate the abandoned goldmines of the North-East and participated in a Geographical Society expedition to the Amgun Basin.

After six years in this remote region of the USSR, he left his native land for good, but retained a lifelong scholarly interest in the area which was reflected in his books about its local and its colonization by the Russians.

Gapanovich spent the second half of the 1920s in Shanghai and then in the Philippines, establishing his reputation as a teacher and writer. In 1931 he was appointed Professor of History at the National Tsing-Hua University in Peking, where he taught courses, mostly in English, on ancient, colonial and Russian history. When the Japanese occupied Peking in 1938 the University closed down and many of the students and staff, including Gapanovich, for the Chinese-held areas, forming headed the Lienta United University first in Changsha but later in Kunming. Here the University operated for seven years, despite being bombed several times.

In 1945 Gapanovich returned to Peking, where he taught history and the Russian language for a further eight years in the revived National Tsing-hua University and later in the National Peking University. He was also adviser on Russian language materials to the Chinese National Library and the Foreign Literature Publishing House.

In 1953 Professor Gapanovich joined the Russian exodus from China, arriving in Canberra with his wife Ludmila and stepdaughter Svetlana. Svetlana, with her excellent knowledge of Chinese, started work in the Oriental Section of the ANU Library and now, as Dr Svetlana Dyer, lectures in Chinese in the Faculty of Asian Studies.

As one of Ivan Ivanovich's closest colleagues during most of his period at the CUC and ANU, I remember him as an extraordinarily conscientious teacher, a rewarding intellectual companion and a marvellous guide in Russian history. His many former students could testify to the breadth and depth of his learning, and his courses ranged from modern Russian through history of language to literature and the development of Russian society and thought. When he retired from the ANU and moved to Sydney he gave a series of lectures at the University of New South Wales and continued to publish articles in specialist journals.

Professor Gapanovich's publications, some fifty in all, in Russian and English, relate mainly to Russian colonization, the ethnography of the Russian Far East and historiography, but also include articles on Russian literature and diplomacy, a manual on conversational Russian for Chinese students and some valuable memoirs. Several of the most significant of them—such as his two-volume work on Russia in North-East Asia and his monograph on the Koriaks, have become bibliographical rarities.

His former students and colleagues, both in China and in Australia, are deeply in his debt and will keep alive his memory.

Original publication

Citation details

T. H. Rigby, 'Gapanovich, Ivan Ivanovich (1891–1983)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


St Petersburg, Russia


1983 (aged ~ 92)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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