United States Exploring Expedition

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of microfilm copies of the expedition records and related material. A list of archival collections held by the Institute containing material relating to this expedition is also provided.

Administrative / Biographical History

The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 (Senior commander Charles Wilkes) undertook a major exploration of the southern oceans including the Polar Regions. The expedition consisted of six ships, Vincennes , Peacock , Porpoise , Sea Gull , Flying Fish and Relief . Upon reaching Tierra del Fuego the squadron divided. Porpoise and Sea Gull sailed to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsular. Peacock and Flying Fish sailed southwest towards the area explored by James Cook's British Naval Expedition, 1772-1775. Following work in the Pacific ocean the vassals returned to the Antarctic sailing along the west coast of Wilkes Land, visiting Macquarie Island and searched for the non existent 'Emerald Island'. Relief was sent home when it became clear she was unfit for the rough seas of the southern oceans. Sea Gull was lost with all hands off the Chilean coast in 1839 while Peacock sank off the Pacific coast of North America in 1841. The brig Oregon was purchased as a replacement for the Relief .

The expedition was the first to delineate a substantial length of the Antarctic coastline and established that a landmass of continental size lay beyond it. The published charts of the expedition were the first to use the term Antarctic Continent


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with reference to Voyage to the Southern Ocean, letters of Lieutenant William Reynolds ed. A Hoffman Cleaner and E Jeffrey Stam, Tri-Service Press, Shrewsbury (1998) ISBN 0870213008 SPRI library (7) 91(08) [1838-1842] and Magnificent Voyagers H J Violan and C Margolis, Smithsonian Institute, Press, Washington (1985) SPRI library (7)91 (08) and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events ,(1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue . Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Alternative Form Available

The entire collection comprises of copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.

Additional Information

Original archival material is held by the United States National Archive, Washington, U.S.A.