Monday, January 19, 2015


19 January 2015: OK - Maybe the headline is a bit of a come-on, but it did get you at least to here! Might as well hang around and see what I am talking about.

In 1838, the United States launched a world-wide exploratory mission called, cleverly enough, the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. Catchy, right? So most people just referred to it as the "Ex. Ex." Much easier for everyone. It was commanded by naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Wilkes who had very little educational experience but was an established leader, though a tyrant.

Wilkes on his return made commander
He left Washington Navy Yard with a six vessel squadron, for the South Atlantic, his intention being to get to Cape Horn in the warm summer months of January-March and head south to Antarctica from  there. His other priority was the Pacific, most particularly the islands to the south, called Fiji, and the Pacific Northwest.

He carried a scientific team as well as surveyors - he was more focused on the surveying aspect which frustrated the scientific team no end. There was little to explore that would offer a new opportunity - that hadn't already been pretty well documented by English navigator, James Cook. After time in New Zealand and Australia, Wilkes turned his eye south, and headed for the frozen wasteland of Antarctica.

Twice he tried, finally succeeding in landing a party of surveyors and scientists on terra firma in those southern climes, and on January 19, 1840, claimed it for the United States. Of interest: the United States led the fight in 1959 for a treaty to preclude ANY national claim to any of Antarctica, naming it a scientific "international free zone" for all nations.

The Wilkes expedition, the Ex.Ex. brought back a huge collection of "stuff" which became the genesis of not only the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, but also the National Botanic Gardens there. There are still remaining a host of artifacts that have never been displayed. The artists he brought along created amazing drawings and paintings of scenes, flora and fauna, and indigent people.

scene from the Andes in Peru
 There is a vast wealth of information on this voyage of discovery as well as artifacts and images. I would commend to your attention a book by Nathaniel Philbrick called Sea of Glory which is quite good and gives some great insight to the problems the tyrannical Charles Wilkes created for himself during the course of the 4 year voyage.

      Fair Winds,
                                               Old Salt

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