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1841 Wilkes Map of Hawaii (Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Kilauea), Hawaiian Islands

Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii Sandwich Islands Shewing the Craters and Eruption of May and June 1840. - Main View

1841 Wilkes Map of Hawaii (Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Kilauea), Hawaiian Islands


The first geometrically constructed map of any significant portion of Hawaii. - Fitzpatrick


Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii Sandwich Islands Shewing the Craters and Eruption of May and June 1840.
  1841 (dated)     15.5 x 23.5 in (39.37 x 59.69 cm)     1 : 190080


This extraordinary production is Commodore Wilkes' 1841 U.S. Exploring Expedition map of the island of Hawaii. An incredibly important work, this is, according to Fitzpatrick, the 'first geometrically constructed map of any significant portion of Hawaii.' Wilkes' map covers the vicinity of the volcanoes Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Kilauea as well as the Hawaiian shoreline roughly between Laupahoehoe and Kahaualea, including Hilo Bay and city. Topography is rendered by hachure.

Wilkes' map presents an extremely detailed view of the region - the most impressive yet achieved. The basic outline of this map is based on observations taken personally by Wilkes on the summit of the lesser volcanic peak of Puuluhulu (identified here). These were supplemented with secondary observations, also taken by Wilkes, at Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Mauna Kea, and Hilo. The map is not however, without flaws, among which are his misplacement of Kilauea by some 8 miles and Hilo itself by 4 miles. These errors lead to a general distortion of the coastline and a slightly inaccurate presentation of the relative locations of the various volcanoes. Nonetheless, Wilkes's map of southeastern Hawaii was the best map of that region produced until the late 19th century and of monumental importance to the mapping of Hawaii.

This region of Hawaii was the focus of Wilkes' most intense scientific scrutiny - hence this detailed map was produced to accompany the official expedition report. Imagining himself a later day Baron von Humboldt, Wilkes planned to achieve lasting scientific fame for climbing Mauna Loa, Hawaii's largest volcano, and conducting various scientific experiments at the summit and in the caldera. At great personal risk one of his men even managed to obtain a lava sample. The map identifies traces of Wilkes' scientific ardor, including such terms as 'Pendulum Peak' at the summit of Mauna Loa where the expedition set up a vast pendulum intended to measure the density of the Earth's crust, Recruiting Station, the expedition's second camp, and Sunday Station at the volcano's base.

This map was prepared by Charles Wilkes and engraved by J. H. Young and Sherman & Smith. Despite being dated 1841, and copyrighted in 1844, it was first published by Lea & Blanchard of Philadelphia to illustrate the atlas volume of the 1845 first edition of Wilkes' official U. S. Ex. Ex. Report.

Collectors will note that most of the maps from Wilkes' official report of the U.S. Exploring Expedition were issued in small and large formats. This is the large format edition and is exceptionally scarce. The full run consisted of only 150 presentation copes and 100 official copies. Twenty-five of these are known to have been lost in a fire, leaving only 225 possible examples.


Charles Wilkes (April 3, 1798 – February 8, 1877) was an American naval officer and explorer. Wilkes was born in New York City to a prominent family. His mother died when he was just three years old. Consequently, Wilkes was raised by his aunt Elizabeth Ann Setton, the first American born woman to be canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Inspired by tales of nautical adventure, Wilkes embarked on several merchant voyages, including one to the South Pacific. Finding shipboard life unpleasant, he returned to New York City where attended Columbia College (today's Columbia University) studying various aspects of mathematics and the sciences. For a time Wilkes was a prodigy of Coast Survey Superintendent Ferdinand Hassler. Before the relationship went foul, Wilkes mastered Hassler's sophisticated techniques for navigation and nautical surveying. Though the Coast Survey at this time was underfunded, several coastal mapping expeditions were launched, one of which focused on Narragansett Bay and was headed by Wilkes. In 1833, impressed with his work on Narragansett Bay, the Navy placed Wilkes in charge of the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington, D.C, out of which developed the Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office. In 1838, after years of political posturing, he was chosen to lead the U.S. Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.), a multidisciplinary voyage to the Pacific with the lofty goal to

collect, preserve, and arrange every thing valuable in the whole range of natural history, from the minute madrapore to the huge spermaceti, and accurately describe that which cannot be preserved.
The expedition lasted from 1838 to 1842. Wilkes gained the reputation for being a harsh and dictatorial leader often at odds with his sailors and sub commanders - so much so that some suggest he was the real life inspiration for Herman Melville's characterization of Captain Ahab. Nonetheless, the U.S. Ex. Ex. was a resounding success with long term political and scientific ramifications. Under Wilkes, the expedition surveyed 1500 miles of the Antarctic continent, mapped over 280 islands, explored over 800 miles of the Pacific Northwest, and catalogued over 60,000 plant and bird specimens. Despite his scientific achievements, the end of the expedition Wilkes was court-martialed for the loss of one of his ships on the Columbia River, for the regular mistreatment of his subordinate officers, and for excessive punishment of his sailors. He was acquitted on all charges except illegally punishing the men in his squadron. During this post-expedition period he was also employed by the U.S. Coast Survey, but it was mostly an honorary position with most of his energies being focused on preparing the influential five volume expedition report. Later, during the American Civil War (1861–1865) Wilkes commanded a Union naval vessel in the Trent Affair, a diplomatic incident in which Wilkes intercepted the British mail packet RMS Trent and removed, as contraband of war, two Confederate diplomats, James Mason and John Slidell. Wilkes died in Washington, D. C. on February 8, 1877 at the rank of Rear Admiral. In August 1909, the United States moved his remains to Arlington National Cemetery. His gravestone reads "he discovered the Ant-arctic continent". More by this mapmaker...

Sherman and Smith (fl. c. 1829 - 1855), sometimes working as Stiles, Sherman & Smith, were American engravers active in New York City during the middle part of the 19th century. The firm including John Calvin Smith (surveyor and engraver), George E. Sherman, and sometimes, Samuel Stiles. Their work primarily focused on government publications, including the maps and engravings prepared to illustrate the official records of the 1838-42 United States Exploring Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.), maps issued for the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, and various U.S. Coast Survey Charts. They also engraved privately for Thomas Bradford and John Disturnell, among others. Sherman and Smith maintained offices at the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street in New York City and were highly regarded as the finest cartographic engravers in the city. Their non-cartographic legacies include George Inness, who apprenticed with them for two years before going on to become a well regarding American landscape painter of the Hudson River School. Learn More...


Wilkes, C., Atlas. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard) 1845.    


Very good. Backed with linen as issued. Overall toning. Some wear on original fold lines. As in most examples, lower left margin partially trimmed to neat line.


Rumsey 4442.005. Fitzpatrick, G. L., The Early Mapping of Hawai'i, pp. 95-97, pl. 56. Philipps (Atlases) 3245-5. Forbes, D. W., Hawaiian National Bibliography 1780 - 1900: 1831-1850, p. 428.