24. Wilkes, Charles (1798-1877)  

Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842.  2nd ed.   Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1845.


Map of the supposed Antarctic Continent (detail) from Charles Wilkes, Narrative, 1845.


The Porpoise in a gale, from Charles Wilkes, Narrative, 1845.


The Vincennes among icebergs, from Charles Wilkes, Narrative, 1845.

The United States Exploring Expedition was the first scientific voyage sponsored by the U.S. government.  There were six ships involved, two sloops of war--the Vincennes and the Peacock—plus a brig named Porpoise, two schooners, and a supply ship.  The commander was a young naval lieutenant, Charles Wilkes.  His mission was to sail around the world and make scientific surveys of unexplored areas. 

Unlike the British voyages, the scientists on this expedition were all civilians, and there was considerable discord between the Navy men and the scientific corps.

Much of the voyage went through temperate climes, but there were two forays into southern ice, one west of South America, and another south of Australia.  During the latter, Wilkes claimed to have sighted an extensive stretch of the Antarctic continent. 

Maps published with the narrative charted this coastline.  However, the next year the British expedition of the Erebus and Terror would sail right through much of this coastline (see item 26), so it is not clear exactly what Wilkes saw.  However, that region of Antarctica has been called Wilkes Land in his honor.

After surviving the stormy seas of Antarctica, the Peacock was later wrecked at, of all places, the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon.

The Linda Hall Library recently acquired, too late for the exhibition, a first edition of the Wilkes NarrativeClick here for a brief description .








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