The Outdoors Blog

The Explorations of Charles Wilkes

June 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This article was written by Phin Upham

Charles Wilkes was an American who led the Exploring Expedition from 1838 to 1842. He commanded the ship The Trent Affair during the Civil War. Despite a series of exploratory triumphs, he was court martialed as a result of a scathing letter he wrote defending himself from accusations that he was too old to become Commodore.

When Wilkes first took command of a ship, he was experienced but not a seasoned officer. Because of his membership in the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, he was given command of a ship with the purpose of surveying the Southern Ocean and exploring nearby territories.

He was given the blessing of congress, and set out in 1838. He had botanists, naturalists, mineralogists, taxidermists, and artists. He left port with a fleet of ships in varying sizes. The mission Wilkes would undertake would be the last time a ship with sails made it around the world and back.

Upon his return, word spread of his rigid discipline and harsh treatment of the men. The military attempted court-martial (for the first time) on him at that point, but he managed to beat the charges. He was promoted to Commodore in 1843, and Captain in 1855. His reputation is that of an arrogant man, and may have inspired Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab. Wilkes also wrote an autobiography, amongst all of his other scientific contributions.

Wilkes died in Washington in 1877. His final rank was Rear Admiral.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Phin on his Twitter page.

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