Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. 5 vols. plus atlas.Philadelphia: Printed by C. Sherman, 1844.
The United States Exploring Expedition was the first United States scientific expedition by sea. Wilkes' six ships ranged from Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and Peru, to Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Singapore. Two of its most notable achievements were the extensive survey of the American northwest coast and the exploration of some 1500 miles of the Antarctic coast, proving the existence of the seventh continent- Antarctica. Equally important, the Expedition collected and described natural history specimens from all parts of the globe - specimens that eventually came to the fledgling Smithsonian Institution, making it the National Museum of the United States.
"With the help of the expedition's scientists, derisively called "clam diggers" and "bug catchers" by navy crew members, 280 islands, mostly in the Pacific, were explored, and over 800 miles of Oregon were mapped. Of no less importance, over 60,000 plant and bird specimens were collected. A staggering amount of data and specimens were collected during the expedition, including the seeds of 648 species, which were later traded, planted, and sent throughout the country. Dried specimens were sent to the National Herbarium, now a part of the Smithsonian Institution. There were also 254 live plants, which mostly came from the home stretch of the journey, that were placed in a newly constructed greenhouse in 1850, which later became the United States Botanic Garden" (Wikipedia article on United States Exploring Expedition, accessed 02-2018).
The official edition was limited to 100 copies. However, Wilkes, secured copyright for his Narrative of the expedition, under which privilege he published several editions of that part of the reports. Later, also, the authors themselves, or publishers who were willing to undertake it, were allowed to issue an additional 150 copies of the various reports, and under this arrangement, from 100 to 150 copies of most of the volumes were published in addition to the 100 copies provided for under act of Congress of Aug. 26, 1842, which provided: "That there shall be published ... an account of the discoveries made by the Exploring Expedition under the command of Lieutenant Wilkes ... which account shall be ... published in a form similar to the voyage of the Astrolabe, lately published by the government of France."
Digital facsimiles of the 1845 printing of the Narrative plus all the remaining supplementary scientific volumes (23 vols. in all, completed in 1874) from the Biodiversity Heritage Library at this link.
Subjects: NATURAL HISTORY, VOYAGES & Travels by Physicians, Surgeons & Scientists