Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Review A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States’ Exploring Expedition, from Graham's Magazine, September 1843, pp. 164-165


[page 164, full page:]


A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States’ Exploring Expedition. New Haven, B. L. Hamlen.

This pamphlet, reprinted from the American Journal of Sciences and Arts, gives a synopsis of the Reynolds Expedition of Discovery, and conveys a general idea of the material on hand for publication by the General Government. Hitherto little has been satisfactorily known in respect to the extent or the results of the voyage; the compendious account furnished by Captain Charles Wilkes being, perhaps, somewhat less luminous than succinct. The general impression, deduced very naturally from the scandalous chicanery practiced in the outfit of the Expedition, with a view to thwart the will of the nation, as manifested in the action of Congress, and to thrust from all participation in the enterprise the very man who gave it origin, and who cherished it to consummation the general impression, we say, has very naturally been that little or nothing was accomplished. But this opinion does injustice, not less to the scheme itself than to the many able and respectable gentlemen who constituted the scientific corps. In the mere point of approaching the south pole that pole which, in the opinion of an Honorable Secretary, formed the sole object of the adventure something more, indeed, might have been performed; but so far as regards the more momentous objects, the making of surveys, the location of reefs, the examination of harbors, the discovery and investigation of new lands, the permanent establishment of our intercourse with the Pacific islands, the impression produced by our vessels in remote seas, the consequent protection afforded our commerce, and, especially, so far as regards the advancement of many important branches of natural science, the results of the American Expedition have been all that could be desired.

The several vessels left the Chesapeake on August 19th, 1838, and sailed for Rio Janeiro, touching at Madeira and the Cape de Verds. From Rio they proceeded to Rio Negro thence to Nassau Bay in Tierra del Fuego. Thence the Peacock, Porpoise, and two schooners, cruised in different directions toward the pole; the Flying Fish reaching 70° 14’ nearly the highest point attained by Cook, and almost in the same longitude. Weddell, it will be remembered, made as far as 84°. While the schooners were thus employed, the ship Relief narrowly escaped wreck, under Noir Island, in an attempt to enter a southern channel, opening from Nassau Bay into the Straits of Magellan. The Vincennes remained in the bay. In May, 1839, the Expedition rendezvoused at Valparaiso, with the exception of the Sea-Gull, which was lost in a gale. On the 6th of June they sailed for Callao, Peru, and hence the Relief, proving ill-adapted for her purposes, was sent home. On the 12th of July the squadron left the South American coast, and, proceeding westwardly, surveyed fourteen or fifteen of the Paumotu Islands, two of the Society Islands, and all the group of the Navigators. On the 28th of November they repaired to Sydney, New South Wales, and thence sailed on a second cruise in the Antarctic. The first discovery of land was in longitude 160° E. and latitude 66° 30’ S. This land was tracked by the Vincennes and Porpoise, steering to the west, along a barrier of ice, for the distance of one thousand five hundred miles. The Vincennes [column 2:] occasionally approached to within three fourths of a mile of the shore. At a place called Piner's Bay, soundings were obtained in thirty fathoms, and “they had hopes of soon landing on the rocks; but a storm came up suddenly which lasted for thirty-six hours, and drove the vessels far to leeward; they consequently pushed on with their explorations to the westward, hoping for some more accessible place, but were disappointed.”*

On the 24th of February the squadron met at Tongatabu, and were here joined by the scientific corps, who, during the Antartic cruise, were occupied in New Holland and New Zealand. From Tongatabu our voyagers sailed to the Fejees. At the expiration of four months they proceeded thence to the Sandwich Islands, surveying several small coral islands on their way. At the Sandwich group the Vincennes spent the winter, while the Peacock and Flying Fish cruised in the equatorial regions of the Pacific; visiting, especially, the Navigators and the Kingsmill group, with others of the Caroline Archipelago. The Porpoise made charts of several of the Paumotu Islands not before surveyed, and touched again at Tahiti.

In the spring of 1841, the Vincennes and Porpoise arrived at the coast of Oregon; the Peacock and Flying Fish not reaching it until July. While attempting to enter the Columbia, the Peacock was wrecked. From the coast of Oregon several land expeditions were made into the interior; one of the most important being a journey from the Columbia, a distance of eight hundred miles, to San Francisco, in California.

Leaving California in November, 1841, the vessels touched for supplies at the Sandwich Islands, and thence sailed to Manilla; thence to Mindanao; thence, through the Sooloo Archipelago, and the Straits of Balabac, to Singapore; thence, by the Straits of Sunda, to the Cape of Good Hope; thence, by St. Helena, to New York, where they arrived in June, 1842, having been absent three years and ten months, and having sailed between eighty and ninety thousand miles.

In this memorable Expedition about two hundred and eighty islands were surveyed, beside eight hundred miles on the streams and coast of Oregon; not to speak of the fifteen hundred miles of Antarctic continent. It has been the fashion to doubt the actual discovery of this continent; but this doubt is unreasonable, and arises from a misunderstanding in relation to our dispute with the French. This dispute is not in regard to the discovery itself but to the priority of discovery. The French have yielded their claim to this. It has been said, too, that Ross actually sailed over a portion of what Capt. Wilkes supposed to be land; but this is not so; the points sailed over were points of a discovery claimed by Bellamy and not by Capt. Wilkes. Notwithstanding all this, it must forever remain a subject for wonder, regret and mortification, that, having sailed for fifteen hundred miles along an Antartic continent, the Expedition should have been enabled to furnish no result more satisfactory than a few stones picked up from fragments of floating ice, and far more solid in themselves than as arguments of the immediate vicinity of land, or as specimens of that particular land in the neighborhood of which they happened to be found afloat. [page 165:]

The National Gallery at Washington contains suites of better specimens, however, from the various regions surveyed. These, of course, are of high value, and of deep interest. Among them are gems and gold and iron ores from Brazil; copper and silver ores from Peru and Chili; vast collections of shells and corals; fifty thousand plants two hundred and four of them living; two thousand birds; and an immense variety of objects, even more important than any of these, in the numerous divisions of Natural Science.

The country will soon be put in possession of the facts of the Expedition in full. When we say “soon,”we mean in a year or thereabouts. The publication will be made upon a magnificent scale, and will compare with that of the voyage of the Astrolabe. The plates alone will form several folio volumes. The mere history of the whole has been put in charge of Captain Wilkes. The purely scientific departments are in the hands of the able gentlemen who had their supervision during the voyage. Each will prepare his portion of the great work in his own manner.

To the prime mover in this important undertaking to the active, the intelligent, the indomitable advocate of the enterprise to him who gave it birth, and who brought it through maturity, to its triumphant result, this result can afford nothing but unmitigated pleasure. He has seen his measures adopted in the teeth of opposition, and his comprehensive views thoroughly confirmed in spite of cant, prejudice, ignorance and unbelief. For fifteen years has he contended, single-handed, in support of this good cause, against all that a jealous and miserably despicable esprit de corps could bring to his overthrow. He has contended, we say, single-handed, and triumphed. And well knew we, at least, that he would. Many years ago we maintained the impossibility of his failure. With mental powers of the highest order, his indomitable energy is precisely of that character which will not admit of defeat.

To him, we say and to him in fact solely does the high honor of this triumphant Expedition belong. Take from the enterprise the original impulse which he gave the laborious preliminary investigation which he undertook the unflinching courage and the great ability with which he defended it when attacked the unwearying perseverance with which he urged its progress, and by which he finally ensured its consummation let the Expedition have wanted all this, and what would the world have had of it but the shadow of a shade? To him, we repeat, be the glory of this important undertaking and to those who deserve it and who now sorely feel they deserve it be whatever of disgrace has attached to its conduct. One thing is certain when men, hereafter, shall come to speak of this Expedition, they will speak of it not as the American Expedition nor even as the Poinsett Expedition, nor as the Dickerson Expedition, nor, alas! as the Wilkes Expedition they will speak of it if they speak at all as “The Expedition of Mr. Reynolds.”


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 164, column 2:]

*See Capt. Wilkes’ Synopsis.





[S:0 - GM, 1843] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Review of New Books [Text-02]