Chart of the World Shewing the tracks of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1838, 39, 40, 41 & 42.
1842 (dated) 23.5 x 34 in (59.69 x 86.36 cm)
1 : 100000000
This important and extraordinary production is Commodore Wilkes's 1840 U.S. exploring expedition map of the World. Presented on a Mercator Projection, this chart covers the globe from the high arctic to the Antarctic Coast. The map is color coded to represent isothermal lines, with variances in shading representing 5 degrees of temperature difference. In addition, Wilkes also shows currents and winds. Wilkes intended this map to present a general overview of the accomplishments of the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838 - 1842). Dotted tracks identify the U.S. Ex. Ex.'s six ships, the Vincennes
, the Peacock
, the Porpoise
, the Oregon
, and the Relief
. The U.S. Ex. Ex. was, according to American historian William Michael Mathes,
The United States equivalent to the voyages of James Cook, Jean François Galaup de Lapérouse, Alejandro Malaspina, and Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern for England, France, Spain, and Russia, and the maritime equivalent of Lewis and Clark.
Despite being largely unrecognized in its day, mostly due to Wilkes' own abrasive personality, but also because of political maneuvering in Washington, the U.S. Ex. Ex. was among the longest and most successful voyages of discovery ever undertaken.
This map is of exceptional importance to Antarctica collectors, being the first World map to depict any significant portion of the Antarctic coast and one of two maps used by Wilkes to definitively prove Antarctica's continental nature. Among the many great achievements of the U.S. exploring expedition, and Wilkes specifically, the surveying of the Antarctic coast now known as Wilkes Land, stands out as the most significant. The chart covers that portions of Antarctica now known as Wilkes Land, located due south of New Zealand and Australia (ghosted in at the top of this chart), roughly from Cape Hordern (100°31' e) to Point Alden (142°02' e). Five profile charts in the upper left quadrant offer views of the Antarctic shoreline.
Wilkes and the U.S. Ex. Ex. were not alone in their pursuit of Antarctica. Almost at the same time, both the French and British had lunched better equipped and more experienced expeditions to seek the southern continent. The British expedition, which was slightly behind, was led by James Clark Ross, an already famous Arctic explorer. The French expedition was led by Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d'Urville, a master naval commander, and arrived around the same time as Wilkes. These two expeditions briefly sighted one another but did not make contact. The conditions under which this 1500 mile stretch of icy shore were surveyed were, to put it mildly, horrendous to the point of impossible. Observers in Sydney, noting the ill prepared and inexperienced expedition considered it, in the words of one, 'doomed to be frozen to death.' Compared to the European vessels, most specifically Ross's, which were retro fit for polar conditions, the U.S. ex. ex. ships were ill prepared for unavoidable collisions with ice bergs. Nonetheless, Wilkes accomplished the near impossible, and managed to do so without losing a single ship. This mapping of Wilkes land and the establishing of Antarctica as a continent is Wilkes' most lasting contribution to science and is commemorated on his tombstone: 'he discovered the Ant-arctic continent .'
This map was prepared by Charles Wilkes and engraved by Sherman & Smith. Despite being dated 1842, 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's 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 1838-1842. 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".
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 4442.001. Rosove, M, Antarctica, 1772-1922, 353