Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 4. Naval Expeditions

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 4. Naval Expeditions

The chain binding Europe by the west to Cathay, of which the Santa Fè and the Oregon trails were preliminary links, was being forged to completion by this steady march of pioneers across the salubrious uplands of the Far West. At the same time the surrounding seas were breaking under the prows of American ships. T. J. Jacobs writes of the cruise of the clipper ship Margaret Oakley in Scenes, Incidents, and Adventures in the Pacific Ocean (1844); and the United States government took a hand in maritime exploration by sending Captain Charles Wilkes with six ships and a large company of scientific men on an important cruise to explore and survey the South Seas. From Australia, Wilkes steered for the South Pole and on 19 January, 1840, he was the first to see the Antarctic Continent, albeit only a very short time before the French navigator D’Urville also sighted it. For 1500 miles Wilkes skirted the icy coast, and the region he reported was accordingly named Wilkes Land. He also visited Hawaii, California, and Oregon, carrying on some survey work in the latter region. Five volumes were published: The Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 (1845), but the scientific data have not been issued, although many of the projected volumes are printed. There is extant the manuscript journal of Captain Hudson, who commanded one of the ships; and Lieutenant (later Admiral) Colvocoresses attached to this command published Four Years in the Government Exploring Expedition commanded by Captain Charles Wilkes, etc. (1852). They saw Antarctic land frequently, and he says that on one day they saw “distinctly from sixty to seventy miles of coast, and a mountain in the interior which we estimated to be 2500 feet high.” There are in this volume certain ethnological notes on the South Sea Islanders that are important.

Wilkes also published separately a volume, Western America Including California and Oregon (1849). Data on the same region are contained in the fourth and fifth of the five narrative volumes.

A prominent American sailor on the seas in the early fifties and onward was Captain S. Samuels. He began his career as cabin-boy at the age of eleven in 1836, and in ten years was a captain. He commanded the famous Dreadnaught, the swiftest ship of her time. He tells a thrilling story, for which Bishop Potter wrote the introduction, in From the Forecastle to the Cabin (1887).