WILKES, Charles (1798-1877)
Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842.
Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845. 6 volumes (text: 5 volumes; atlas: 1 volume), imperial octavo signed in 4s. (11 x 7 inches). Text: 64 engraved plates, 8 double-page maps, numerous vignette illustrations (42 steel-engraved); Atlas: 5 folding maps (1 hand-coloured).
Original cloth, covers elaborately panelled in blind around blocked central gilt vignettes, text volumes with flat spines blocked and lettered in gilt and blind, the atlas lettered in gilt (spines worn at head and foot).
A fine unsophisticated set of the first regularly available trade edition of the official record of this ground-breaking expedition.
The United States Exploring Expedition 'was the first American scientific expedition of any size, charged to "extend the bounds of Science and promote the acquisition of knowledge," and was one of the most ambitious Pacific expeditions ever attempted' (Forbes). The expedition represents 'the first governmental sponsorship of scientific endeavor and was instrumental in the nation's westward expansion. Specimens gathered by expedition scientists became the foundation collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Significant American contributions in the fields of geology, botany, conchology, anthropology, and linguistics came from the scientific work of the expedition. Wilkes's evaluations of his landfalls influenced later U.S. positions in those areas' (Dictionary of American Biography). 'The chief fields of exploration in this expedition were the coast of the Antarctic continent, the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the American northwest coast. In total some 280 islands in the Pacific and adjacent waters and 800 miles of streams and coasts in the Oregon country were surveyed, and 1,600 miles of the coast of Antarctica were charted. After leaving Hampton Roads in 1838, the expedition visited Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Patagonia, the South Shetland Islands, Peter Island, Chile, and Peru, before proceeding to the Tuamotu or the low Archipelago, the Samoa Islands, and New South Wales. From Sydney, Wilkes sailed into the region now known as Wilkesland. He visited Tonga, the Fiji group, and the Hawaiian Islands in 1840, and in 1841 explored the west coast of North America. Much valuable information is given on the Columbia River, the Willamette Valley, Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Sacramento Valley, and the findings on the northwest coast of America proved timely in light of the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory. The Wilkes expedition also visited San Francisco bay and the Sacramento River. Crossing the Pacific, Wilkes called at the Philippine Islands, the Sulu Archipelago, Borneo, Singapore, and, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, finally reached New York in 1842, having sailed round the world' (Hill p.662).
Cowan p.683; Ferguson 4209; Forbes 1574; Haskell 2B; Hill (2004) 1867; Howes W414, "aa."; Rosove 353; Sabin 103994; Stafleu & Cowan 17646; Streeter Sale 3324.