Special Collections Department
TWO HUNDRED YEARS BEFORE THE MAST
All sea voyages included some element of scientific observation, even if only for meteorological, hydrographical, or navigational
purposes, but few were undertaken primarily for scientific inquiry. By the eighteenth century, however, voyages in the interest of science
became more prevalent, particularly as they related to surveying and hydrography. The voyages of the Russian Martin Sauer and the
Englishman William Robert Broughton are examples of this type. Others had specific scientific purposes. James Cook's first voyage in
1768, for example, was undertaken at the suggestion of the Royal Society to observe the transit of Venus.
In the nineteenth century, scientific expeditions by sea were undertaken with even greater frequency, gathering data and research samples
in a variety scientific disciplines, including natural history, anthropology, ethnography, oceanography, geology, geography, astronomy,
physics, terrestrial magnetism. The results from several nineteenth century scientific voyages, such as the Wilkes expedition and the
voyage of the Beagle, would have tremendous consequences for the future of the sciences.
In the nineteenth century, scientific expeditions by sea were undertaken with even greater frequency, gathering data and research samples in a variety scientific disciplines, including natural history, anthropology, ethnography, oceanography, geology, geography, astronomy, physics, terrestrial magnetism. The results from several nineteenth century scientific voyages, such as the Wilkes expedition and the voyage of the Beagle, would have tremendous consequences for the future of the sciences.
An Account of a Geographical and Astronomical Expedition... London: T. Cadell, 1802.
First edition. This Russian expedition was commanded by Commodore Joseph Billings, who sailed under orders from Catherine the Second. Martin Sauer, secretary of the expedition, apparently compiled this narrative from official papers. The expedition, which sailed in 1789, visited Kodiak, Montague Island, Prince William Sound, and caught sight of Mount St. Elias. Scarcity of food caused Billings to return the same year to Petrapavlosk. The expedition marks the close of the Russian surveys on the eastern coast of Siberia.
William Robert Broughton (1762-1821).
Entdeckungsreise in das Stille Meer.. Weimar: Im Verlage des Landes, 1805.
This is a German edition of an English work published in 1804. Captain Broughton saw much service along the coasts of Northwest America and Northeast Asia, and in the East Indies. In 1790 he was appointed to accompany Vancouver on his famous voyage, and surveyed the Columbia River and the adjacent coast. Between 1798 and 1789, he conducted this surveying expedition of the coast of Asia and the islands of Japan.
Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865).
Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle... London: Henry Colburn, 1839. 3 volumes.
Robert Fitzroy was a British naval officer, hydrographer, and meteorologist who took over command of the surveying brig Beagle in 1828 after the death of Commander Stokes. Along with the Adventure, the Beagle circled the globe surveying the Straits of Magellan and a great part of the coast of South America, and running a chronometric line around the world, approximately fixing the longitude of many secondary meridians. In 1831, Charles Darwin came on board as naturalist of the expedition, remaining with the Beagle until its return in 1836.
In 1837, Fitzroy was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 1839 he published his three volume Narrative. Volume 3 of this work, however, was written by Darwin.
Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates
Charles Wilkes (1798-1877).
United States Exploring Expedition. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 1844-74. 18 volumes.
Charles Wilkes commanded the United States exploring and surveying expedition in the South Seas, 1838-42, which became one of the great events in the history of science in the United States. The expedition, consisting of two war sloops, a brig, a storeship, and two tenders, included several civilian naturalists and scientists, among them Charles Pickering, James D. Dana, Horatio E. Hale, and Titian Peale. The expedition circled the globe, charting and conducting natural history surveys in Polynesia and confirming along the way the existence of an antarctic continent.
A narrative of this voyage and its scientific accomplishments had been ordered by act of Congress, and in 1844 the first five volumes of the narrative appeared. The scientific volumes appeared from time to time, the last in 1874. Besides the narrative, Wilkes also contributed the volumes on meteorology, hydrography, and atlas of charts. The publication was never completed, and five volumes remained unpublished: Asa Gray's on botany; Charles Pickering's on geographic distribution of plants and animals; Louis Agassiz's two volumes on ichthyology, and Wilkes's on physics. Titian Peale wrote the volume on mammalia and ornithology, but Wilkes objected to several elements in it. This volume was later suppressed and replaced by a rewritten work by the taxonomist John Cassin.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World... New York: Harper & Brothers, 1846.
First American edition of a work that was first published in London in 1839. In 1831, the year that he graduated from Cambridge, Darwin was invited to join the H.M.S. Beagle as an unpaid naturalist on a surveying voyage in the South Pacific and around the world. The five-year voyage was the most important event in Darwin's intellectual life and in the history of biological science. He returned almost convinced that species had not always been as they were since the creation but had undergone change. It was on this voyage that Darwin prepared for his lifework, ultimately leading to The Origin of Species.
William Scoresby (1789-1857).
Joumal of a Voyage to Australia and Round the World for Magnetical Research. London: Longman, 1859.
Scoresby, like his father before him, was an excellent navigator; he was also an Arctic explorer and a scientist. This particular voyage was undertaken for the express purpose of studying terrestrial magnetism. In the ship the Royal Charter, he observed the changes which occur in the magnetic state of an iron ship proceeding from a northern to a southern magnetic latitude, and drew conclusions on how to correct deviations of the compass caused by such changes. Scoresby died in 1857, and his book was edited by Archibald Smith and published posthumously.
Scientific Results of the United States Arctic Expedition Steamer Polaris.... Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1876.
Charles Francis Hall's third arctic expedition in the Polaris yielded a considerable amount of scientific information. Two volumes containing the scientific results were written by Emil Bessels, scientific chief and surgeon for the expedition. Only Volume 1, Physical Observations, was ever published, and this was later suppressed for errors and apparently never reissued.
C. Wyville Thomson (1830-1882).
The Voyage of the Challenger. London: Macmillan, 1877. 2 volumes.
The Challenger Expedition, 1872-76, commanded by Captain George Nares, was charged with making a series of soundings and dredgings in the three great ocean basins, ascertaining the temperature and physical properties of the water, collecting specimens of fauna and flora on the ocean surface and from all possible depths, and studying as far as possible certain rarely visited oceanic islands. Naturalist C. Wyville Thomson was appointed chief of the civilian scientific staff of six. In four years, the Challenger traveled 68,890 nautical miles, made soundings at 362 stations, and amassed an enormous amount of material for study. Thomson, who was knighted for his efforts, was appointed director of the commission to superintend the arrangement of the collections and the publication of the results. He died before he could accomplish this, and the task was taken up in 1881 by Dr. John Murray, also a member of the expedition, who completed it in about thirteen years. Thomson was able to publish this two-volume general account of the results of the exploration in the Atlantic.
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