Jan 22

The Wilkes Exploring Expedition Discovers the Antarctic Coast in January 1840

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 3:05 PM


 “The Wilkes Exploring Expedition: Its Progress Through Half a Century” was originally published in the September/October 1914 issue of Proceedings magazine by Louis N. Feipel:

Portrait of Charles Wilkes by Thomas Sully

Portrait of Charles Wilkes by Thomas Sully

The important expedition known as the Wilkes, or South Sea, Exploring Expedition, fitted out in 1838 by national munificence, was the first that ever left our shores, and the first to be com­manded by an officer of the United States Navy. But although organized on a most stupendous scale, and shrouded in a most in­teresting history, this expedition is to-day comparatively unknown.



During the second session of the Nineteenth Congress a propo­sition for fitting out an expedition for the purpose of thoroughly surveying and charting those parts of the Pacific Ocean most fre­quented by our whaling and sealing vessels was for the first time prominently brought before Congress in the shape of numerous memorials, petitions and addresses. The House of Representatives appointed a select committee to consider the prayer of the memo­rialists, but owing to the great press of unfinished business and the exciting discussions which then absorbed the members, this matter was necessarily neglected.

At the first session of the Twentieth Congress, namely, on Jan­uary 22, 1828, a certain Mr. J. N. Reynolds addressed a letter to the Speaker of the House, in which he again broached the subject of an exploring expedition to the South Seas. Reynolds’ letter was quickly followed by a memorial of the citizens of Nantucket and a petition from the citizens of New Bedford, Mass., both to same effect. Reynolds, moreover, went himself to Washington, with sundry memorials signed by persons of respectability from New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia and Ohio, praying that Congress would either fit out such an expedition or at least aid in the fitting out thereof. These memorials were referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs, which reported a bill authorizing the President to cause the expedition to be fitted out, and appropriating $50,000 for that purpose. Congress, however, omitted to pass the bill. Nevertheless, within a few days of the close of that session a member of the House (Mr. Reed, of Massachusetts) submitted the following resolutions, which, on May 21, 1828, considered and agreed to by the House:

Resolved, That it is expedient that one of our small public sent to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas to examine the coasts, islands, harbors, shoals, and reefs in those seas, and to ascertain their true situation and description.

Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to send one of our small public ships into those seas for that purpose; and be requested to afford such facilities as may be within the reach of the Navy Department to attain the object proposed: Provided effected without prejudice to the general interest of the naval provided it may be done without further appropriations during year.

These resolutions, as passed by the House, were never sent to the Senate for concurrence. Nevertheless, Secretary of the Navy Southard, supported as he was by President J. Q. Adams, proceeded to act upon the resolutions, not only as if they had passed both houses, but as if the original bill, which had not yet come up for consideration, had become a law. was anxious that the expedition should sail before the opening of Congress in 1828, and by the end of that year the sloop Peacock, under Master Commandant Thomas Ap Catesby Jones, was nearly ready to depart. However, the passage of the bill on the subject was plainly necessary to accomplish the purpose designed. Accordingly, soon after the opening of the second session, namely, on January 25, 1829, the original bill was taken up by the House and passed. Greater difficulty, however, was encountered in the Senate. The bill was referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs, which was directed to make inquiry of the Navy as to what the object of the expedition was, and whether or not the contemplated object could be attained in the course of a single voyage. To this inquiry the Secretary replied on January 29, 1829. In his reply he expressed the views of the relative to the expedition, and sought to justify his own actions. However, the committee, actuated, so they said, by the incompleteness of the information, on February 4, 1829, submitted the following resolution:

Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to cause to be laid before the Senate a detailed statement of the expenses in fitting out and preparing an expedition for exploring the Pacific Ocean and South Seas; together with the additional amounts which will be necessary to cover all the expenses of such an expedition. And that he requested to cause to be submitted a detailed statement, several amounts transferred from the different heads of for the support of the navy to this object, and the authority by such transfers have been made.

This resolution was agreed to; and the Secretary’s taining the required information was transmitted to the President Adams in a special message, dated February 16, But before the matter could be adjusted, the session drew close; so that the bill (or rather a modification of it), when introduced, was preceded on the list by such a mass of that it could not be reached by the Senate before its judgment.


The death-blow which was thus dealt the expedition was dealt with the exit from office of President J. Q. Adams and Secretary of the Navy Southard. With the inauguration of Jackson, Governor Branch, of North Carolina, came into the Navy Department, and under the party watchword, “Retrenchment and reform,” the exploring expedition was suspended.

During the first years of the new administration no measures were taken to bring the subject again before Congress. The first actual renewal of the agitation was made by means of a a memorial, dated November 7, 1831, signed by two citizens, Edmund and Benjamin Pendleton. The views presented in this memorial were repeated and further illustrated in a second memorial, by Fanning alone, which, on December 18, 1833, was referred to Senate Committee on Naval Affairs and ordered printed.

Reynolds, too, lost no time in again setting in motion the wheels of legislation to promote the object so dear to his heart. Thus, at the October 1834) session of the Rhode Island Legislature the following resolution was adopted:

Resolved, That in the opinion of this general assembly, the subject of the memorial of J.N. Reynolds and others, dated November, 1834, praying that provision may be made by law for a voyage of discovery and survey to the South Seas, is highly important to our shipping and commercial in­terests, and is hereby recommended by the said assembly to the favorable consideration of the Congress of the United States.

Shortly afterwards, on November 22, 1834, the East India Marine Society of Salem, Mass., in a memorial signed by fifty-four members of the society, and addressed to the Congress of the United States, united its prayer with that of the State of Rhode Island. This memorial was introduced into the Senate on Decem­ber 16, 1834, and was supplemented by sundry other manifestations of public opinion.

Instead of these documents being referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs, as had been the case previously (in 1828), they were referred to the House Committee on Commerce, which reported a bill providing for the expedition.

About this time, also, memorials and resolutions from the States of New Jersey and Connecticut brought the exploring expedition before the Committee on Naval Affairs of the Senate. This com­mittee, after examining into the policy of the measure, on May 21, 1836, likewise reported a bill providing for the expedition.

But the Senate, instead of acting upon this bill, offered it as an amendment to the regular naval appropriation bill, when that bill came up for consideration from the House. This amendment, after being several times modified, was finally adopted by both Houses. It read as follows: .

That the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized to send out a surveying and exploring expedition to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas, and for that purpose to employ a sloop-of-war, and to purchase ­or provide such other smaller ves’sels as may be necessary and proper to render the said expedition efficient and useful, and for this purpose the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, and in addition thereto, if necessary, the President of the United States is authorized to use other means in the control of the Navy Department, not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, for the objects required.


The exploring expedition was, however, to meet with many obstacles before it could again be carried into effect. Mahlon Dickerson, who was Secretary of the Navy at the time, believed to entertain a very strong opposition to the measure; President Jackson was favorably inclined toward the expedition and ordered arrangements to be made to carry it into effect. Scientific men throughout the land at once turned their attention to this enterprise. By correspondence and otherwise they manifested extraordinary zeal for its success and urged that the best talent of the nation should be enlisted in its conduct.

Orders were soon issued for the completion of the frigate Macedonian for this service, and also for building the brigs Pioneer and Consort and the schooner Pilot, with the least practicable delay. The completion of the storeship Relief was likewise ordered. The recruiting for this service was put under the superintendence of Commodore Jones (who had again been selected for the command of the expedition), and Lieutenant Charles Wilkes was sent to Europe to procure such instruments and books for the expedition as could not conveniently be secured in the United States. Meanwhile, a number of excellent suggestions were offered by some of the foremost men of the country. Moreover, the co-operation of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, the East India Marine Society of Salem, and the of Lyceum of Natural History of New York was assured; and, more important still, Admiral Krusenstern, the renowned Russian navigator, drew up a set of memoranda, giving desiderata for completing the hydrography of the South Sea Islands.

President Jackson contemplated employing a scientific corps of eighteen persons. Accordingly, Secretary Dickerson opened a correspondence with some of our learned societies, and asked them to recommend suitable persons to form this corps. As a result, certain gentlemen, who shared largely in the confidence of men of science, and who were burning to distinguish themselves in their respective departments, were recommended and selected.

It was generally supposed that the expedition would be ready to sail within ninety days after its authorization by Congress. But when President Jackson returned to the capital in October, 1836, he was astonished to learn that very little progress had been made during his absence. The only excuse offered by Dickerson was that it was impossible to procure men for enlistment in this service. And as the season was then far advanced, all hope of seeing the expedition sail during that autumn passed away.

On February 6, 1837, in response to a resolution of the House of Representatives calling for information as to the progress which had been made in the arrangements for the expedition, Secretary Dickerson made a report to the President, which was transmitted to the House with an expression of a wish on the part of the Ex­ecutive that all facilities might be given to the expedition that Congress could bestow and the honor of the nation demanded; and in the very same month Congress made appropriations under which five ships might be employed on this service. However, Congress did not require that so large a force should be employed unless, agreeably to the condition of the act authorizing the measure, such force should be necessary and proper to render the expedition efficient and useful.

From the reports of Secretary Dickerson it would appear that there was extreme difficulty in extending to our commerce at that time all the protection due it, and which the interest and the honor of the country demanded should be attended to in preference to the exploring expedition. Accordingly, Commodores Morris, War­rington, Patterson and Wadsworth were appointed commissioners to inquire whether the squadron could not be reduced, in number of vessels and men, with advantage to the country and without prejudice to the great objects of the expedition. The constitution of the squadron under Commodore Jones at this time was as follows:

Macedonian (frigate), Commander James Armstrong.
Relief (storeship), Lieut. Commanding Thos. A. Dornin.
Consort (brig), Lieut. Commanding James Glynn.
Pioneer (brig), Lieut. Commanding Wm. D. Newman.
Active (schooner), Lieut. Commanding Wm. G. Woolsey.

About this time, too, Lieutenant Wilkes, who had returned from his mission to Europe, and was then engaged in surveying George’s Shoals, on the coast of Massachusetts, in the brig Porpoise, was permitted to take what instruments he chose from those which had been procured expressly for the South Sea squadron and chased with funds appropriated for that exclusive purpose. This meant that the exploring expedition would have to be until the Porpoise should return from that survey, or that the expedition should proceed to sea minus the abstracted apparatus. Moreover, towards the close of the year (1837), Secretary Dickerson convoked a new commission, composed of Commodores Hull, Biddle and Aulick, to cut down the force of the expedition. Without visiting the squadron, or informing themselves as to objects of the enterprise, these commissioners reported agreeably to the wishes of the Secretary. It was furthermore discovered that the liberal appropriations made by Congress were exhausted. There was therefore no alternative but to employ vessels already in the service, and to fit them out with the funds at the disposal of the Navy Department for that purpose. The sloops-of-war Vincennes and Peacock and the brig Porpoise were chosen, and two pilot boats (subsequently named the Sea Gull and Flying Fish) were added, which, with the storeship Relief, constituted the squadron as it was finally organized.

In the meantime, Commodore Jones, discouraged by the delay in the preparations for the expedition, and worn out in health, resigned the command on November 30, 1837. The command was then tendered to Commodore Shubrick, but the vessels not pleasing him, he declined. Then it was offered to Captain Kearneychange in the administration of the Navy Department (Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett temporarily replacing Secretary Dickerson, who was ill) prevented the appointment of Kearny from becoming effective. Secretary Poinsett tendered the position mander to Captain Gregory, but no sooner was it ascertained that Gregory was a friend of Reynolds and wished him to the expedition than means were employed which forced to withdraw in order to maintain his self-respect. A tender was next made to Captain Joseph Smith. After some hesitation Smith repaired to Washington to make himself acquainted with details of the service, and when these were explained to him he very frankly said that there was one portion of the duty expected from the commander which he could not perform. Neither would he accept the command unless Lieutenant Wilkes were assigned to this duty and appointed to one of the ships. Wilkes, however, declined acting in the capacity in which it was proposed to employ him, and Captain Smith was allowed to withdraw from the command.

At this juncture, the idea of appointing Lieutenant Wilkes to the command seems to have suggested itself to Secretary Poinsett. Wilkes was confessedly a good seaman and navigator, and was one of the few officers who possessed the requisite attainments to qualify them for carrying out the views of the Government in dis­patching this expedition and fulfilling the expectations of the scientific world. Wilkes accepted the command and selected Lieutenant William H. Hudson as his second. Hudson, how­ever, refused to serve under a lieutenant lower on the list than himself. This difficulty was finally overcome by the expedi­tion being divested of all military character and by the judicious advice of some of the older naval officers.

The preliminaries regarding the’ command being settled, the completion of the outfit went on with spirit. The scientific corps was at once reduced from thirty-two to eight persons, and some of their duties were assigned to the senior and junior naval officers. A mass of cumbersome material provided by the corps to pre­serve their collections, and which wq;uld have required an ad­ditional vessel for transport, was thrown aside. The six vessels which were finally placed under the command of Lieutenant Wilkes consisted of the sloops-of-war Vincennes and Peacock, the storeship Relief, the brig Porpoise, and the tenders Sea Gull and Flying Fish. The roster of the civilian corps, as it appeared on the date of sailing, and as it remained, for the most part, throughout the voyage, was as follows:

Charles Pickering, naturalist,
Joseph P. Couthouy, naturalist,
Titian R. Peale, naturalist,
William Rich, botanist,
Wm. D. Brackenridge, assistant botanist,
James D. Dana, mineralogist,
Horatio Hale, philologist,
Joseph Drayton, artist,
Alfred T. Agate, artist,
John G. Brown, mathematical instrument maker,
John W. W. Dyes, assistant taxidermist,
F. L. Davenport, interpreter.

After James K. Paulding took charge of the Navy Department in 1838, Secretary Poinsett, having first drawn up the general instructions under which the expedition was to proceed, resigned its further management into the hands of the new Secretary. And all things being in readiness, on August 9, 1838, the squadron down to Hampton Roads, to await final sailing orders from the Department.

THE CRUISE: 1838-1842

The exploring squadron set sail from Hampton Roads on August 18, 1838. Wilkes’ instructions required him, in the first place, to shape his course for Rio de Janeiro, crossing the line between longitude 18° and 22° west, and keeping within those meridians to about latitude 10° south, in order to determine the existence of certain vigias, or dangers to navigation, laid down on the charts as doubtful. After replenishing his supplies at Rio he was to make a particular examination of the Rio Negro, and then to proceed to a safe port, or ports, in Tierra del Fuego, where the larger vessels were to be securely moored, while he explored Antarctic to the south of the South Orkney Islands, and between it and Sandwich Land, with the brig Porpoise and the tenders. In the meantime, the officers left at Tierra del Fuego were to make accurate examinations and surveys of the bays, ports, inlets and sounds in that region.

On rejoining the vessels at Tierra del Fuego, Wilkes was ordered to stretch towards the south and west with the whole squadron, as far as the ne plus ultra of Cook (or longitude 105° west) and to return northward to Valparaiso, where a storeship would join them in March, 1839. From that port he was to direct his course to the Samoan Islands, disposing his vessels in the latitudes where discoveries might reasonably be anticipated, and thence to the Fiji Islands, where he was to select a safe harbor for whalers and public vessels of the United States, and make such arrangements as would insure their being furnished with supplies.

From the Fiji Islands he was to proceed to Sydney, and then make a second attempt to penetrate within the Antarctic region south of Tasmania, and as far west as longitude 45° east, or to Enderby Land. The squadron was then to rendezvous at Kerguelen Land and proceed to the Hawaiian Islands, where a from the United States would meet them in April, 1840. Thence they were to sail to the northw.est coast of. America· and’ make surveys of the coast of Oregon and California. From this coast they were to repair to that of Japan, taking as many doubtful islands as possible on their route, and make a particular examina­tion of the Sea of Japan and the Sulu Sea. After completing these examinations, Lieutenant Wilkes was instructed to ascertain the disposition of the inhabitants of the islands of that archipelago for commerce, their productions, and resources; after which he was to proceed to the Strait of Sunda, pass through the Billiton Passage, touch at Singapore (where he would meet a storeship), and then return home by way of the Cape of Good Hope.

In addition to the orders necessarily suggested by the foregoing instructions, Wilkes directed every officer of the expedition to keep a journal, in which everything that occurred during the voyage was to be noted. These journals were to be submitted to him weekly for inspection, and on the return of the expedition to be disposed of according to the directions of the Secretary of the Navy. The scientific gentlemen were admonished to lose no opportunity of procuring information in their several departments. Meteorological observations were required to be taken four times a day; and particular instructions were given to measure and ob­serve all astronomical and atmospherical phenomena, and every unusual appearance connected with the weather, such as shooting stars, zodiacal light, aurora australis, rainbows, halos, water­spouts, the Magellanic clouds, lightning, and rain.

After several days’ trial, the storeship Relief was found to be so dull a sailer that Wilkes determined to part company. Lieutenant Long, who was in command of the Relief, was therefore ordered to proceed with all practicable dispatch to Porto Praia, and thence to Rio de Janeiro. In case of separation, the remaining vessels of the squadron were directed to rendezvous at Madeira. On Septem­ber 16, 1838, the squadron reached its destination. Having dis­embarked with a portion of his officers and his corps of scientists, Wilkes explored the interior of the island and the more important harbors. On the 25th the squadron directed its course southward, with the intention of passing over those localities where shoals were supposed to exist and which had never been sounded. They also touched at the Cape Verde Islands.

On November 23 they came in sight of the magnificent harbor of Rio de Janero. Their chief object here was to replenish their provisions and various other necessary stores; but this duty once completed, Wilkes employed the opportunity to examine the city and a portion of the interior. In consequence of the unseaworthy condition of the Peacock, and the long time required to fit her for continuing the cruise, the squadron was detained at Rio for several weeks. During this stay a seaman fell overboard from a lighter, and being accidentally struck by an oar, was drowned. Midshipman William May jumped into the water to his relief, did not succeed in saving him.

On January 6,1839, the squadron, without the Relief, which been dispatched in advance, left Rio de Janeiro and steered southward. A week was spent in making an examination of the Rio Negro and inquiring into the facilities of the place for trade. This service was attended with great fatigue, owing to the of the tides and to a storm, which compelled the vessels, on the 30th, to put to sea. In the meantime, Lieutenant Long, in the Relief, was engaged in running a line of soundings along the coast of Patagonia and making examinations of the shoals said to exist in that quarter.

At Orange Harbor preparations were made for the first cruise into the Antarctic. According to instructions, Wilkes removed to the Porpoise, and on February 25, accompanied by the Sea Gull under Lieutenant Johnson, sailed toward Palmer Land. On the same, day Lieutenant Hudson, with the Peacock and Flying Fish—the latter in charge of Lieutenant Walker—sailed in the direction of Cook’s ne plus ultra, under instructions to penetrate as far south of that point as the season and other circumstances would permit. Lieutenant Craven remained at Orange Harbor in command of the Vincennes, while the Relief was ordered to the Straits of Magellan for scientific duty, the corps of scientists having been temporarily transferred to that vessel.

The Sea Gull returned to Orange Harbor on March 22, having separated from her consort during the cruise, and the Porpoise arrived on the 30th. No new discoveries of importance had been made. The weather had proved unfavorable, and on penetrating as far south as the sixty-sixth degree of latitude, Wilkes had found himself surrounded on all sides by innumerable icebergs and field-ice, and was consequently obliged to retrace his course. While he was absent from Orange Harbor, he visited the South Shetlands and Palmer Land, but was only able to verify the discoveries of former navigators.

Lieutenant Hudson encountered the first icebergs on March 11, in latitude 63° 30′ S. and 80° W . longitude. The Flying Fish separated from the Peacock in a gale in the early part of the cruise, but fell in with her again before its termination. Hudson ascended a little above the sixty-eighth degree, and Lieutenant Walker went as high as the seventieth degree, when his further progress was impeded by impassable barriers of ice. Both vessels came very near being hemmed in by these frozen bulwarks. The Flying Fish was once rescued from a most perilous position by a fortunate breeze, and the Peacock, after being enveloped for six days in ice and icebergs, was with great difficulty worked out into the open sea, through a dense fog, by carrying all her canvas. The decks and rigging of the vessels were coated with ice and everything was dark, dreary and cheerless. To compensate for all this dreariness and gloom, however, several splendid exhibitions of the aurora australis were witnessed. The Magellanic clouds, the zodiacal light and the brilliant constellation of the Southern Cross were seen in all their perfection; and other luciform appearances, less striking perhaps, but full of interest and beauty, were likewise observed.

When Lieutenants Hudson and Walker found that the season was too far advanced for further progress, they gladly turned the bows of their vessels to the north. The Flying Fish reached Orange Harbor on April 11, while the Peacock shaped her course for Valparaiso. On April 17 orders were issued to the squadron at Orange Harbor to get under way, and about the middle of May the Vincennes and Porpoise joined the Peacock at Valparaiso. The Sea Gull and Flying Fish were left at Orange Harbor to await the return of the Relief from her cruise in the Straits of Magellan. That vessel, however, had been so long delayed that her comman­der thought best to sail direct to Valparaiso, where she arrived in safety. The two schooners left Orange Harbor on April 28, but were separated in a gale; and the Sea Gull probably foundered off Cape Horn, as no tidings were ever heard of the vessel or crew. Two young officers of great merit were lost with her—Passed Midshipman James W. E. Reid, son of Governor Reid, of Georgia, and Passed Midshipman Frederick A. Bacon, of Connecticut. The Flying Fish reached Valparaiso in safety on the 19th of May.

The next destination of the squadron was Callao, where the last vessel arrived on June 20, 1839. Here, as at Valparaiso, the magnetic and astronomical observatories were set up, and scientific corps pursued their investigations with unceasing industry. After making the necessary repairs, furnishing their outfits and taking in stores, the squadron left Callao on the 15th of July for the projected western cruise. The number of vessels now diminished by two, the storeship Relief having been sent home by way of the Hawaiian Islands and Port Jackson, and the Sea Gull having dropped her wing under the fierce tempest.

A month, ending in the middle of September, was employed in a survey of the Low Archipelago. The attention of our surveyors had been drawn to this cluster by that distinguished Admiral Krusenstern, whose notes made a part of Wilkes’ instructions. Clermont de Tonnerre was the first island visited. The natives resisted all attempts to land. Wilkes spoke to them an interpreter, but the only answer he could get from them was: “Go to your own land; this belongs to us, and we do not have anything to do with you.” Mr. Couthouy landed unarmed with presents, but was driven into the water by the inhabitants, who thrust at him with their spears. A useless landing was forced, however, by firing at them with mustard-seed shot, “which the chief and all the rest to retreat, rubbing their legs,” as the Narrative expresses it. Two islands were discovered in this group that were not laid down on the charts. The locality of marked on the charts of Arrowsmith, had been previously passed over and the supposed land proved not to exist.

In the middle of September the squadron was united in Matavai Bay, in the Island of Tahiti, where Wilkes again set up the observatories. The time passed at Tahiti was engrossed by the multiplied and arduous duties of the service on which the squadron was sent. Boats and vessels were dispatched on surveys, the officers and naturalists explored the interior of the islands and collected facts and specimens, and the labors of the magnetic and astronom­ical observatories, of the tidal and meteorological registries, were never omitted.

The Samoan Islands were the next scene of the combined labors of the squadron. On the passage thither, Bellingshausen’s Island and Rose Island, both uninhabited, were visited. Immediately after the arrival of the squadron in the Samoan group the different islands were divided among the vessels for survey and examina­tion. An observatory was established at Tutuila and the head­quarters of the commander temporarily fixed on that island. The Peacock and Flying Fish joined the Vincennes at Pago Pago on the 18th of October and were at once ordered to proceed to Upolu.

While the squadron remained at these islands a fono, or council, was held by the chiefs of Upolu, Manono, and Savaii, at the request of Wilkes, in which rules and regulations were agreed upon and adopted for the security and protection of American whalers. A son of the Rev. Mr. Williams was likewise appointed consul of the United States and recognized as such by the coun­cil. A native was also tried by a council of chiefs for murdering an American citizen twelve months before and was found guilty. He was in the first instance sentenced to be executed, and prepar­ations were made to carry the sentence into effect, but at the sug­gestion of Wilkes and Lieutenant Hudson, his punishment was commuted to banishment for life, and he was afterwards conveyed to Wallis Island on board one of the vessels of the squadron, in their subsequent passage to Sydney. At Upolu, too, Lieutenant Hudson made an unsuccessful attempt to capture a noted chief, Opotuno, who had taken possession of two boats belonging to the whale-ship William Penn, of Nantucket, killing the first mate and two boat-steerers. The second mate was left on the beach as dead. but was removed to a hut by some native women, through whose benevolent care he recovered.

All the islands having been surveyed (except the south side of Upolu, which was finished by the Porpoise during a later visit to the group), the squadron assembled at Apia and departed for Sydney, where the vessels reassembled in the latter part of November, 1839. In this port the officers experienced the utmost kindness and hospitality from the governor, Sir George Gipps, the officials, civil as well as military, and from the citizens generally. Preparations were accordingly made for the second Antarctic cruise, while the scientific corps explored the country in the neighborhood of Sydney, adding to the vocabularies of the philologist and the stores of the naturalist.

When orders were finally issued to get ready for sea, much remained undone that might have promoted the health and comfort of the crews and rendered the expedition more productive of results. The officers in command were well aware of the deficiencies in their preparations. Yet the season was now far advanced. From one cause or another they had been behind time ever since they had left home, and further delay at this juncture was entirely out of the question. Wisely, therefore, and from the most commendable motives, they determined that no trifling difficulties or embarrassments should balk them in the execution of the enterprise which they had so much at heart. All the preparations that were possible having been made, sails were set and anchors hove up, and on December 26 the entire squadron stood out to sea; while the scientific corps were ordered, after completing their researches in New South Wales, to proceed to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand, which had been fixed upon as the rendezvous of the squadron upon its return from the Antarctic.

On the night of the 1st of January, 1840, the wind freshened and the weather came on thick and misty. Before morning the tender separated from the rest of the squadron, and was unable to come up with them again. She cruised about for upwards of a month, visiting Macquarie and Emerald Islands, and on the 5th of February commenced her return voyage to the Bay of Islands, arrived on the 9th of March. On January 3 the Peacock from the Vincennes and Porpoise, and on discovering this, Lieutenant Hudson steered for Macquarie Island; but leaving this island, and proceeding south, he again fell in with the other two ships.

Icebergs were first encountered by the squadron in latitude 61° 08′ S. and longitude 162° 32′ E. Expectation was all the while on the qui vive; and on January 13 Lieutenant Ringgold, in command of the Porpoise, then in latitude 65° 08′ S. and 163° E., judging from the great number of sea-elephants, the discoloration of the water, the dark earth-colored veins and dusty appearance of the icebergs, and the hoarse cry of innumerable penguins, thought he had discovered land, and fancied that he saw something like distant mountains to the southeast. Soundings of one hundred fathoms, however, gave no bottom, and the dense masses of floe-ice prevented any nearer approach. But on the 16th of January appearances of land much darker and altogether different from ice islands were discovered from all three vessels. Accordingly they pursued a westerly course, skirting the icy barriers that shut them out from the frozen regions of which they caught frequent glimpses. Repeated but vain attempts were made to effect a landing. Wearied with cold and fatigue, and worn out with excitement, they still persisted. On the 24th and 25th of Jan­uary the Peacock lost her rudder, her bulwarks were partially torn off, and she was otherwise so seriously disabled that her com­mander decided to return forthwith to Sydney, where he arrived in a shattered and sinking condition on the 21st of February. The Vincennes and Porpoise kept on to the west, and on the 30th of January the former discovered Piner’s Bay, so called by Wilkes, in latitude 66° 45′ S. and longitude 140° 02′ 30″ E. The name of Antarctic Continent was now for the first time given to the newly­ found land. On February 14 the progres of the Porpoise was checked by an immense wall of ice trending far to the north, and she then commenced her return voyage, arriving at the Bay of Islands on the 26th of March. The Vincennes was stopped by the same barrier on February 17, whereupon she likewise steered for New Zealand; but unfavorable winds cut her off, and so she pro­ceeded to Sydney, where she joined the Peacock on the 11th of March.

On overhauling the Peacock at Sydney it was found that exten­sive repairs would be necessary. She therefore remained at Sydney, with orders to follow the squadron to Tongatabu, while the Vincennes sailed for New Zealand on the 19th of March. In the morning of the 30th she entered the Bay of Islands, where she found the Porpoise and Flying Fish, and the scientific corps, looking for her with great anxiety. The Peacock, having completed her repairs and replenished her stock of provisions, sailed from Sydney on the same day for the Tonga Islands. The other vessels
left the Bay of Islands on April 6. Propitious breezes wafted them rapidly on their way, and no incidents of special importance oc­curred on the passage. On the 24th they came to anchor off Nukualofa, the principal town on Tongatabu, and on the May they were joined by the Peacock.

Early in the morning of the 4th of May the squadron got way again and sailed out of the harbor of Nukualofa. The Porpoise was then detached, under the command of Lieutenant Ringgold, with orders to proceed to the eastern group of the Fiji Islands, and to examine and survey the long line of islets and reefs extending to the north, between the 178th and 179th meridians. The other vessels pursued a northwesterly course towards the Fiji group, and on the 8th of May the Vincennes and Peacock came safely to anchor in the harbor of Levuka, on the east side the Island of Ovalau. The Flying Fish did not arrive until the 11th, having been delayed in her passage by running on a coral reef off the Island of Nairai and carrying away a portion of her false keel. Preparations were forthwith made, upon the arrival of the vessels, to proceed with the examination of the islands and to make an accurate survey of all the reefs, coasts and harbors.

Shortly after the arrival of the squadron a prominent native chief, Vendovi, who had been one of the chief instigators and actors in the murder of a part of the crew of the American brig Charles Doggett several years previous, was captured by the address of Lieutenant Hudson. This had the effect of intimidating the natives to some extent, and the friendly footing established Wilkes with the king of Ambau served for a long time to protect American vessels and their crews from molestation. As was natural, however, the many new articles which the savages saw excited their cupidity; and on the 12th of July a cutter was lost the reefs in Sualib Bay, twenty-five miles east of Mbua Bay, in the Island of Vanua-Levu. Parties of natives had been hovering along the shore all day, and when they discovered that the cutter had grounded, they rushed forward and captured it with everything it contained, except the arms and the chronometers, with which the crew succeeded in making their escape. Restitution and prompt satisfaction were forthwith demanded by Wilkes. After some parleying the boat was restored, but not the property. Becoming satisfied from the numerous prevarications of the natives that were trifling with him, Wilkes ordered Lieutenant Hudson to land with an armed force and destroy the town of Tye, on Sualib Bay, where the natives concerned in the outrage were known to have collected. This was accomplished on the 13th of July. The natives were driven from their koro, which contained about sixty houses, and the buildings were then fired and burnt to the ground. Several chiefs were captured, but not having been implicated in the outrage, they were restored to liberty.

This summary chastisement prevented any further acts of aggression in that quarter; but on the 24th of the same month a still more lamentable incident occurred on the Island of Malolo. Strict orders had been given by the commander with regard to intercourse with the natives. On the morning of the 24th Lieuten­ant Underwood went ashore from the first cutter of the Vincennes to obtain provisions; but unfortunately he neglected to take with him a sufficient number of men and weapons. On discovering that the natives manifested symptoms of hostility, a hostage was seized and brought on board the cutter, who was to be detained while the party were engaged in bartering with the natives. Consider­able time was spent in chaffering, and the natives gradually sur­rounded the little party under Lieutenant Underwood. Mean­while the latter was joined by Midshipman Wilkes Henry in a canoe. A few attempts were made by the hostage to escape, and finally he succeeded in plunging into the water, whereupon he at once struck out for the shore. Several shots were fired at him, but with no effect.

This served as a signal for the natives to attack. Lieutenant Underwood and his party kept the natives at bay, and attempted to retreat to the boat. But the savages pressed them hard, using their clubs and spears with great dexterity. Both Lieutenant Underwood and Midshipman Henry defended themselves gal­lantly, but were at length knocked down and killed. Others of the party were severely wounded, but none fatally. Lieutenants Emmons and Alden, who had witnessed the beginning of the fray from the cutter, instantly pulled in to the shore in their small boats; but they were too late to rescue their companions, and had only the melancholy satisfaction of recovering the dead bodies.

On the receipt of this sad intelligence Wilkes promptly de­ termined to chastise the murderers in a manner that would long be remembered. The bodies of the ill-starred officers were first buried on one of the deserted islands of the group, and the cutters and boats of the squadron were stationed around Malolo in order to prevent the escape of the natives. This being done, the Americans landed on the island and destroyed the two towns. About sixty of the savages were killed and a great number wounded. Of the Americans, only one was wounded, and he not dangerously. The next day the rest of the natives appeared before Wilkes and sued after their own abject fashion for mercy and forgiveness. This was accorded, but accompanied with a wholesome admonition for the future. Needless to say, the Americans were again molested during the remainder of their sojourn in this vicinity.

On August 10, the squadron, having completed the numerous surveys in the Fiji group, separated for a brief period, to meet again early in October at Honolulu. As the time, for which the crews had originally engaged was about to expire, they were now reshipped, with a few exceptions, for an additional period of eighteen months, and the complements were filled by the temporary employment of a suitable number of kanakas, who were to be discharged on the return of the squadron from the northwest of America. The Porpoise (Lieutenant Ringgold) sailed on 16th of November to make a re-examination of the Paumotu group, and on the 2nd of December the Peacock and Flying Fish, under Lieutenant Hudson, took their departure, to resurvey a part of the Samoan group and to look for doubtful islands to the north and west. The Vincennes remained in the Hawaiian Islands during the winter. On the 24th of March, 1841, the Porpoise rejoined the flagship at Honolulu, and on the 5th of April they set sail for the American coast. They were favored with a pleasant passage, and on the 2nd of May came to anchor at Port Discovery.

On the succeeding days they continued to advance into Admiralty Inlet, and on the 11th reached its extremity and moored off Fort Nisqually. From this day until the 17th of June their time was passed in various scientific experiments at Nisqually expeditions to explore the neighboring prairies and rivers, particularly the Columbia and its tributaries. The Vincennes and Porpoise then removed from Nisqually to Dungeness, an anchorage within the Straits of Juan de Fuca, for the purpose of surveying the winding creeks and inlets of the bay; and while lying at this place Wilkes received the disastrous news that the Peacock, whose non-arrival had for some time caused him great anxiety, had been wrecked at the mouth of the Columbia. On the 3rd of August the Vincennes and Porpoise put to sea from Dungeness, and on the 6th arrived off the mouth of the Columbia. Here they were joined by the Flying Fish, on board of which was Lieutenant Hudson, from whom Wilkes now received the report of the late misfortune.

It appeared that after departing from Oahu, eight months before, the Peacock and Flying Fish had continued for several weeks cruising to the southward. On the 28th of January, 1841, they discovered an island, previously unknown, lying to the north of the Samoan group, which Lieutenant Hudson named Bowditch Island; and on the 6th of February the Peacock arrived off the island of Upolu and anchored in the harbor of Apia. On the 6th of March they left the Samoan group and stood to the northwest, and on the 14th they made the most southerly island of the Ellice group. They continued their course in the same direction for nearly two months, during which time they touched at most of the small islands comprising the Ellice and Gilbert groups. The na­tives, who appeared a remarkably warlike and ferocious race, had repeatedly been guilty of insulting behavior to their visitors, and had more than once shown a very suspicious wish to decoy them into situations unfavorable to defence. At length one of the Pea­cock’s seamen, who had gone ashore to visit a town named Utiwa, failed to reappear on board. Every inquiry was made without effect, until no doubt remained of his assassination by the natives. Lieutenant Hudson then resolved to punish the outrage, and on the 9th of March he sent his boats ashore with orders to destroy Utiwa. They were opposed in landing by a flotilla of canoes, which they dispersed with a loss of twelve men killed, after which they burned the town, and returned on board without having been able to find any traces of their unfortunate shipmate.

On the 8th of May, being then nearly in the latitude of the Hawaiian Islands, Lieutenant Hudson resolved to proceed at once to his rendezvous in the Columbia. On the 17th of July he arrived off the mouth of that river. The bar at this place was well known to be extremely dangerous of passage, but there was no pilot to be procured at the time. Lieutenant Hudson, however, being con­siderably behind the time fixed for his presence, and having with him certain written instructions upon which he considered himself justified in relying, resolved to make the attempt. Accordingly, on the 18th the Peacock stood for the shore. But although every possible precaution was taken, she struck upon a shoal and remained immovably grounded. It was soon discovered that situation was hopeless. On the 19th her crew reached the land without loss, though not without considerable difficulty and danger; and on the morning of the 20th it was found that the ship had gone to pieces in the night.

The loss of the Peacock made it necessary to alter, in some degree, the general plan of the expedition. The Vincennes, under Lieutenant Ringgold, was immediately dispatched to San Francisco, while Wilkes, with the Porpoise and Flying Fish, passed the bar and anchored off the town of Astoria. His first care was to provide a vessel for the crew of the Peacock. An American merchant brig, then lying in the river, was purchased and named the Oregon, and placed under the command of Lieutenant Hudson. While necessary alterations were being made, the Porpoise and Flying Fish explored the Columbia as far as Fort Vancouver, where they remained from the 28th of August to the 14th of September. They returned to Astoria on the 1st of October.

The three vessels then stood to the southward and arrived in San Francisco Bay on the 19th of October, where they found the Vincennes at anchor. Lieutenant Ringgold, who had arrived in the bay on the 14th of August, had already made considerable progress in exploring the Sacramento River, and in a few days everything was in readiness for the final departure of the squadron the Northwest Coast. On the 22d of October the four vessels left the harbor, and on the 17th of November they reached Honolulu. On the 27th the squadron again put to sea. The Vincennes and Flying Fish parted company from their consorts, and, standing to the westward, entered the Sea of China, and on the 13th of January, 1842, anchored in the Roads of Manila. On the 21st they left Manila. The Vincennes, parting company with the tender, crossed the Sulu Sea to the southward, and on the 3rd of February anchored off the town of Soung (Sulu), the capital of Sulu.

On the 12th of February the Vincennes left Sulu, passed to the westward of Borneo, and anchored on the 19th in the Road of Singapore, where she found the Porpoise, Oregon, and Flying Fish. At this place the Flying Fish was reported unseaworthy and was, consequently, to the great regret of the whole squadron, disposed of by public sale. At Singapore various surveys and treaties occupied the attention of Wilkes for some time; and after sojourning a month, the squadron again weighed anchor and steered for its final destination in the United States. With the arrival of the ships in New York harbor in July, 1842, the cruise of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition terminated.

RESULTS: 1842-1876

From this expedition, which had been so completely fitted out, great results were naturally expected. Of the labors of the naval officers too much cannot be said. The number of islands surveyed was about 280, besides which 800 miles on the streams and coast of Oregon were surveyed, and 1500 miles laid down along the land and icy barrier of the Antarctic Continent. Numerous islands of doubtful existence were looked for, shoals were examined, reefs discovered and laid down, harbors surveyed and many for the first time made known, and the latitude and longitude of the points visited were determined with all possible precision. Very many doubtful points in the geography of the Pacific were thus cleared up, and the expedition was prepared to supply our navigators with the most complete map of that ocean ever published. A few un­known islands were also fallen in with. Observations with the magnetic needle, thermometer, and barometer were constantly made throughout the cruise. The deep-sea lead, with a self-regis­tering thermometer attached, was sent down in the various seas traversed, and many interesting facts were observed which threw light upon the upper and under currents of the ocean. Observations were also made on shooting stars, the zodiacal light, the aurora australis, tides, the course and rotary character of gales, etc.

On the part of the civilian scientific corps, the manners and customs, mode of life, superstitions and religious observances, traditions, etc., of the peoples met with, received constant attention, and complete collections were made of their implements, manufactures, articles of dress, etc. The portfolios of the artists were rich in scenes of every kind, illustrating the islands or regions visited. About 1000 species of birds were collected, and double that number of ornithological specimens. The following is a list of the of species collected in the other departments of zoology:

Total No. New Species
Fishes ………………………………………829 250
Reptiles ……………………………………140 40
Crustacea …………………………………900 600
Insects …………………………………….1500 500
Shells ………………………………………2000 250
Zoophytes (exclusive of corals) ……300 200
Corals ………………………………………450 100

Ten thousand species of plants and upwards of 50,000 specimens constituted the herbarium of the expedition. Besides dried specimens, 204 living plants were brought home and placed in the greenhouse in the yard of the Patent Office, along with many raised from seeds. The kinds of seeds obtained amounted to 1156. Many of the plants procured by the expedition were soon to found growing in the various greenhouses of the country, as in England and the continent of Europe. Specimens of different woods were also preserved. Colored drawings of 180 species of plants were beautifully executed by the artists of the expedition.

But besides the observations in the departments of zoology and botany, at which we have briefly glanced, particular attention paid to the geographical distribution of plants and animals. On this subject, which was exciting so much attention at the time, many important facts were obtained. The regions examined by the expedition were also highly interesting from a geological point of view. The collections in this department contained sets specimens from all the regions visited, including gems, gold, iron ores from Brazil, copper and some of the silver ores of Peru and Chile, besides others illustrating the general geological structure of those countries.

The official publication of the reports of the expedition was begun under the act of Congress approved August 26, 1842. The first two sections of this act read as follows:

1. That there shall be published, under the supervision and direction of the Joint Committee on the Library, an account of the discoveries made by the exploring expedition under the command of Lieutenant Wilkes, of the United States Navy; which account shall be prepared with illustrations, and published in a form similar to the voyage of the Astrolabe, lately published by the government of France.

2. That when such account shall have been written, and the illustrations for the same shall have been prepared, an advertisement shall be inserted in the papers publishing the laws of the United States, inviting prop0sals for printing copies of the same for the United States, to be delivered to the Librarian of Congress in a time and at a price to be stipulated in such contract; and the contract shall be made with and given to the person offer­ing and giving sufficient assurances to perform the work at the lowest price; and on such contract being made, the “account” shall be delivered to such contractor.

In December following the date of the above act, Congress ap­propriated $20,000 for the prosecution of this work. Other ap­propriations, ranging in amount from $9,000 to $30,000, were made from time to time, and were absorbed in the publication. The total expenditure on the work up to January 37, 1859, was $279,131.34. But about that time the Library Committee refused to ask for any further appropriation to carry the publication to its conclusion. And when the Civil War broke out, no further thought was given to this work. When the country was again quiet and prosperous the Library Committee which had formerly been interested in the publication had passed away. Mr. Howe, of Wisconsin, who was made chairman of that committee in 1873, admitted that he was not sufficiently informed upon the matter to act intelligently. In consequence of this, the publication of the work was stopped, and it remains uncompleted to the present day.

In the discharge of their duty under the original act providing for this publication, the Library Committee made a contract with Mr. C. Sherman, of Philadelphia, for the printing of 250 copies of this work. Of these, 100 were designated for the Government, in compliance with the law referred to, while the remaining 150 copies were to become the property of the authors of the respective volumes, provided they paid a ratable proportion (namely, three-fifths) of the expense for presswork and paper. The first five volumes to be published, and which appeared in 1844, contained Narrative of the expedition, as related by Lieutenant Wilkes. This Narrative, which was accompanied by a small atlas, contained a full, though diffuse, account of the details and incidents of the age; and afforded the reader a general idea of the work performed and the results obtained.

Few persons will, however, be encouraged to peruse the ponderous volumes comprising this Narrative, since much that is irrelevant has been combined with much that is deeply interesting, and the latter, both in matter and form, exhibits more eagerness for accumulation than skill in arrangement. An expurgated edition of the Narrative, edited in a scholarly manner, is a desideratum of our naval peace history. The liberal contributions made to the Narrative by friends of Wilkes, together with the free use made of the private journals of other members of the expedition, has given this work a variegated style, which detracts considerably excellent typographic execution. Indeed, in mechanical finish the Narrative surpassed any large work ever before published in United States. It is filled with steel engravings and woodcuts, executed in the most perfect style, and appropriately illustrating the course of the story.

Turning now to the other permanently valuable results of this enterprise, namely, those which were to be embodied in the scientific reports of the expedition, we find that the original estimate of this portion of the work was calculated for ten volumes of text and nine volumes of plates. Further examination of the collections, however, showed that at least nineteen volumes of text and atlases would be needed. These scientific reports were to be worked up, as far as possible, by the scientists of the expedition. But they were greatly hampered in their work, so much so, in fact, that the last published volume made its appearance as late as the year 1874 (more than thirty years after the return of the expedI­tion). The published volumes comprise the following:

Ethnography and Philology. By Horatio Hale. 1846.
Zoophytes. By James D. Dana. 1846. With folio atlas.
Mammalogy and Ornithology. By John Cassin. 1858. With {olio atlas.
Races of Man and their Geographical Distribution. By Charles Pickering. 1848.
Geology. By James D. Dana. 1849. With folio atlas.
Meteorology. By Charles Wilkes. 1851.
Mollusca and Shells. By Augustus A. Gould. 1852. With folio atlas, 1856.
Crustacea. By James D. Dana. 1853-55. 2 Vol. With folio atlas, 1855. Botany,-Phanerogamia. By Asa Gray. Part 1. 1854. With folio atlas,
Botany.—Cryptogamia: Filices, including Lycopodiaceæ and Hydropter­ides. By William D. Brackenridge. 1854. With folio atlas, 1855.
Botany.—Cryptogamia : Musci, by W. S. Sullivant; Lichens, by Edward Tuckermann; Algæ, by J. W. Bailey and W. H. Harvey; Fungi, byM. A. Curtis and M. J. Berkeley; Phanerogamia of Pacific North America, by John Torrey. Edited by Asa Gray. 1874.
Herpetology. Prepared under the superintendence of S. F. Baird, by Charles Girard. 1858. With folio atlas.
Hydrography. By Charles Wilkes. 1861. With two folio atlases, 1858.

The niggardly publication of these scientific reports merely served to tantalize the votaries of science. The infinitesimal edition authorized by Congress could hardly have been ordered on the score of economy; for the additional charges of an ample impres­sion would have been only the trifling cost of paper and presswork (and in some cases the coloring of plates), the expense of type­setting and engraving having been equally incurred for this small number of copies. It would seem, indeed, that a pitiful pride had something to do in limiting the number of copies, so as designedly to give them the adventitious value of great rarity.

It remains only to chronicle several unofficial accounts of this great undertaking before finally taking leave of the subject. In 1843 there appeared a work entitled, “Thulia: a Tale of the Antarctic,” by James Croxall Palmer, one of the medical officers attached to the expedition, and who afterwards became Surgeon General of the Navy. The main facts, and particularly the notes and appendix, of this volume (which, by the way, is written in verse) were gathered from the log-book and journals of the Flying Fish, and also from the author’s personal experience aboard the Peacock.

Joseph G. Clark, in his “Lights and Shadows of Sailor Life”, published in two editions in 1847 and 1848, also gave an account of the more thrilling events of this expedition; and Rear George M. Colvocoresses’ narrative, entitled, ” Four Years in the Government Exploring Expedition Commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes,” went through five editions in the four years from 1852 to 1855.


This forgotten chapter of our naval history represents one the glorious achievements of our navy in times of peace. It affected materially the subsequent careers of Rear Admirals Cadwalader Ringgold, S. P. Lee, T. T. Craven, Augustus L. Case, G. F. Emmons, and William Reynolds, and Captain Samuel R. Knox. Moreover, it influenced in a noteworthy degree the lives of at least three distinguished men of science—James D. Dana, Charles Pickering, and Asa Gray. On these grounds, as well as on account of the present widespread interest of our country in the problems of the Pacific, this brief sketch South Sea Exploring Expedition has been drawn up for permanent record. заём

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