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Voyages: Scientific Circumnavigations 1679 to 1859
United States Exploring Expedition 1838-1842

From Samoa, the expedition sailed to Australia and then south to seek land at the pole. Wilkes was the first to chart and map a significant portion of the coastline of the continent of Antarctica, the achievement for which the expedition is perhaps best known.

He wrote: "…who was there prior to 1840… that had the least idea that any large body of land existed to the south of New Holland? …none was known or even suspected to exist."

Apparently he had not read the voyage account of the great Captain Cook, who specifically wrote that he believed there was a continent near the pole, and indeed that he had sighted a part of it..



Procellaria Nivea (Antarctic) Snowy Petrel

from John Cassin's
United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838-1842.
Under the Command of Charles Wilkes… Mammalogy and Ornithology
Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1858.


While Cook was correct in his prediction that fauna would be scarce there, the naturalist Cassin had more optimistic hopes:

"Of the Zoology of the Antarctic continent very little is known; but, there is no reason why it should not be inhabited by a peculiar Fauna, analogous to, but probably very different from that of its antipodes of the North… Of this especially Polar Fauna, the bird now before us [shown in the plate] possesses the high interest of being, as yet, the only known species of the Antarctic regions."

Certainly there were more birds than land animals.

Wilkes: Page 3 of 6.
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