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The Alfred Agate Collection: The United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842


Finally on 9 January 1839 the rest of the ships set sail southward. In accordance with their orders, they stopped on the way to survey and investigate the commercial potential of the harbor at Rio Negro, but on 19 February they arrived at Orange Harbor, the first major stop for their exploratory endeavors. It was late summer in the cold climate. Commanders issued cold weather clothing to the crews after their departure from Rio, but it was found to be inadequate, a fault attributed to swindling government contractors.

Relief arrived on 29 January and began cutting firewood for the other ships. After a few days they began seeing native people, a sight that amazed them, because in the chilly climate they were almost naked, though for warmth on the water they burned small fires on heaps of stones and ashes in the wet bottoms of their canoes.

Orange Harbor, Tierra del Fuego
Alfred T. Agate



Patagonians in a Boat in the Straits of Magellan
Alfred T. Agate

When Wilkes arrived at Orange Harbor, he believed that his instructions to Relief's commander, Lt. Andrew K. Long to prepare supplies for the other ships had not been followed properly. It reinforced his belief that Long lacked commitment to the purposes of the expedition. Careful preparations would be necessary for the survival of the ships in their various assigned tasks over the coming two months and all the crews spent the next four weeks preparing for it. Vincennes would remain at Orange Harbor and use its launches to survey Cape Horn. Relief would go into the Straits of Magellan to survey and describe the harbors there, along with most of the scientists, including Alfred Agate. The other four ships would go south. Wilkes in Porpoise with Sea Gull as its tender would head southeast towards Palmer's Land while Peacock, commanded by Lt. Hudson, with Flying Fish as its tender would go southwest to exceed, if possible, Captain James Cook's furthest voyage south - the "ne plus ultra" of 1774. On 22 February the squadron celebrated Washington's Birthday by flying their flags and issuing an extra ration of rum, a custom called "splicing the main brace," and on 25 February the ships separated on their various assignments.

LCDR Andrew K. Long of U.S.S. Relief
Alfred T. Agate





Cape Horn
Alfred T. Agate



Sea Anemone from Patagonia
Alfred T. Agate



Porpoise and Sea Gull had good weather for several days and then snow and foul weather set in as they explored the northern tip of Palmer's Land. The spent several days trying to proceed further south, but ice and bad weather turned them back on 5 March. Wilkes sent Sea Gull on an ultimately unsuccessful errand to Deception Island to look for a self-registering thermometer left in 1829 while he returned to Orange Harbor. Porpoise arrived there on Harbor 30 March.

Porpoise and Sea Gull Parting Company
Original image attributed to Charles Wilkes
Ink and pencil



Porpoise and Sea Gull Parting Company
Original image attributed to Wilkes
Engraving with inked changes


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27 March 2004