Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842.

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Author: Charles Wilkes (1798-1877)

Year: 1845

Publisher: Lea and Blanchard

Place: Philadelphia


6 volumes. lx+434 pages with frontispiece, 7 plates, 15 vignettes (including music scores), 67 woodcuts, tables and one internal folding map; xvi+476 pages with frontispiece, 13 plates, 14 vignettes (including music scores), 46 woodcuts, and 3 folding maps; xv+438 pages with 12 plates, 10 vignettes (including music scores) and 50 woodcuts; xv+539 pages with fold out frontispiece map, 15 plates, tables, 5 vignettes and 35 woodcuts; xii+558 pages with frontispiece fold out map, 15 plates, 3 vignettes, 49 woodcuts, tables, 3 maps and index; atlas 5 engraved folding maps and charts (one hand-colored) Quarto (10 3/4" x 7") bound in uniform half-blue calf over marbled boards, cornered in calf (Cowan p.683; Forbes 1574; Hill 1867; Haskell 2B, 17; Howes W-414; Rosove 353.B1) The first edition published by Sherman in 1844 of which 100 copies were printed for sale and 63 sets which were given to states and foreign nations and which 25 were destroyed in a fire. An unofficial edition by Lea And Blanchard in 1845 which was the same size and collation except for added half title in Atlas and limited to 150 sets. This the first available edition was limited to 1000 copies. Later octavo editions omitted the Atlas.

In 1838, although not yet a seasoned naval line officer, Wilkes was experienced in nautical survey work, and was working with civilian scientists. Upon this background, he was given command of the government exploring expedition "... for the purpose of exploring and surveying the Southern Ocean, . . . as well to determine the existence of all doubtful islands and shoals, as to discover, and accurately fix, the position of those which [lay] in or near the track of our vessels in that quarter, and [might] have escaped the observation of scientific navigators." The U.S. Exploring Squadron was authorized by act of the Congress on May 18, 1836. The United States Exploring Expedition, commonly known as the Wilkes Expedition, included naturalists, botanists, a mineralogist, taxidermists, artists and a philologist, and was carried by the USS Vincennes (780 tons) and Peacock (650 tons), the brig Porpoise (230 tons), the store-ship Relief, and two schooners, Sea Gull (110 tons) and Flying Fish (96 tons).

Departing from Hampton Roads on August 18, 1838, the expedition stopped at the Madeira Islands and Rio de Janeiro, Argentina; visited Tierra del Fuego, Chile, Peru, the Tuamotu Archipelago, Samoa, and New South Wales; from Sydney, Australia sailed into the Antarctic Ocean in December 1839 and reported the discovery "of an Antarctic continent west of the Balleny Islands". next, the expedition visited Fiji and the Hawaiian Islands in 1840, explored the west coast of the United States, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, the Columbia River, San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River, in 1841, and returned by way of the Philippines, the Sulu Archipelago, Borneo, Singapore, Polynesia and the Cape of Good Hope, reaching New York on June 10, 1842.

In July 1840, two sailors, one of whom was Wilkes' nephew, Midshipman Wilkes Henry, were killed while bartering for food on Fiji's Malolo Island. Wilkes retribution was swift and severe. According to an old man of Malolo Island, nearly 80 Fijians were killed in the incident. From December 1840 to March 1841, he employed hundreds of Hawaiian porters and many of his men to haul a pendulum to the summit of Mauna Loa to measure gravity. Instead of using the existing trail, he blazed his own way, taking much longer than he anticipated. The conditions on the mountain reminded him of Antarctica. Many of his crew suffered snow blindness, altitude sickness and foot injuries from wearing out their shoes. After having completely encircled the globe (his was the last all-sail naval mission to do so), Wilkes had logged some 87,000 miles and lost two ships and 28 men.

Wilkes was court-martialed upon his return for the loss of one of his ships on the Columbia River bar, for the regular mistreatment of his subordinate officers, and for excessive punishment of his sailors. He was acquitted on all charges except that of illegally punishing men in his squadron. For a short time, he was attached to the Coast Survey, but from 1844 to 1861, he was chiefly engaged in preparing the report of the expedition. The Narrative contains much interesting material concerning the manners, customs, political and economic conditions in many places then little known. Wilkes's 1841 Map of the Oregon Territory pre-dated John Charles Fremont's first Oregon Trail pathfinder expedition guided by Kit Carson during 1842. (Wikipedia)


Minor wear, particularly to joints. Most volumes front board detached else very good. Due to the size and/or weight of this lot extra shipping and/or handling charges may apply.