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Charles Wilkes
1798-1877

The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 is a milestone in American science. Often referred to as the Wilkes Expedition, this expedition brought back to the United States a wealth of geological, botanical, zoological, anthropological and other materials which created a foundation upon which much of American science was formed. On February 21 the expedition confronted a wall of ice that stretched as far as the eye could see. He named it Termination Land but this was changed later to Termination Ice Tongue and still later changed to the Shackleton Ice Shelf. It extends 180 miles out from the shoreline.

 

Among Challenger's goals for her passage along the Arctic Circle was to locate "Termination Land," an Antarctic land charted by the United States Exploring Expedition in 1840.

The Lat. was 64° 30' & the Long 84° E. on that day. The Captain finding he could not get a passage through the ice barrier, made sail for Termination Land, a discovery of the United States expedition under Captain Wilkes in 1839 & 40. This expedition sailed from Sydney for the South, & consisted of 5 ships, but none of them could find their way through the barrier of ice, Latitude 67° S. was their farthest, about 20 miles beyond us. They discovered a few islands, & this Termination Land.   A French expedition came down here at the same time, which consisted of 2 Corvettes, but they could not get beyond Lat. 66° 40', where the barrier stopped them. The ships were nearly lost amongst the ice, & only discovered a few islands. Sir James Ross was starting from Tasmania just as the French & Americans were returning; his ships were strongly protected against the ice, and he forced them through the outer barrier which extended for 200 miles, there he found an open sea teeming with whales, & free from icebergs. He reached to Lat 78° 4' the first year & wintered in New Zealand; the second year he reached to 78°11' S. & wintered at the Falkland Islands, the third he reached to 71° 10' S. & sailed for England.... So we have been as far south as the French & Americans, & have been beaten only by the Russians, & our own countrymen. As some of our men say "we shall be able to talk Antarctic with any one in England when we get back."

On the 23rd we were on the exact spot marked on the Chart as Termination Land, & no sign of land was to be seen; soundings were taken, & the depth was 1300 faths. which was a certain indication of no land in these high latitudes, for all round Kerguelen & Heards Island, the depth was only about 100 faths. We steamed for 2 days in all directions, but saw nothing but ice, so may conclude that Termination Land has no existence, & the Yankees were deceived by a large iceberg, or well defined cloud.