Lefalophodon: Scientific Expeditions

Scientific Expeditions

Evolutionary theory arose out of the great 19th century natural history expeditions. Here are some of the most important ones.


The Endeavour - Humboldt's expedition - The Investigator - The Beagle - Gould's Expedition - The Wilkes Expedition - The Erebus and Terror - The Rattlesnake - Hooker in the Himalayas - Bates and Wallace - Spruce - Malay Archipelago - The Thayer Expedition

The Endeavour expedition to the South Seas

Dates: 26 August 1768 - 12 July 1771
Route: England - Cape Horn - Tahiti - Australia - Batavia - England
Commander: Captain James Cook (1728-1779)
Scientists: Joseph Banks, Carl Solander, Herman Spöring; artist Sydney Parkinson
Significance: Cook was the first to map the coastline of Australia, then known only vaguely from sightings by the Spanish, Dutch, and the Englishman Van Diemen. Banks made a major botanical collection and launched his career as England's first great botanist. Cook again circumnavigated the globe in 1772-1775.

Drawing by Parkinson of Banksia serrata specimen collected in 1770


Humboldt's expedition to South America

von Humboldt (left) and Bonpland collecting near the Orinoco River

Dates: 1799 - 1804
Route: Orinoco River, Casiquiari Canal, Andes
Scientists: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland
Significance: First major European scientific expedition to the Amazon and Andes; von Humboldt made large botanical collections

The Investigator expedition to Australia

Dates: 1801 - 1805
Route: England - Australia/Tasmania - England
Commander: Lieutenant Matthew Flinders (1774-1814)
Scientist: Robert Brown; artist Ferdinand Bauer
Significance: primarily a mapping expedition, but Brown was able to make major botanical (and also zoological and geological) collections in southern Australia and Tasmania

Drawing by Bauer of Eucalyptus pruinosa


The voyage of the Beagle

The H.M.S. Beagle drawn by Owen Stanley in 1841. From Bowler, p. 50.

Dates: 27 December 1831 - 2 October 1836
Route: England - Cape Verde Islands - Brazil - Uruguay/Argentina/Falkland Islands - Chile - Peru - Galapagos Islands - Tahiti - New Zealand - Australia - Mauritius - Cape Town - St. Helena - Ascension Island - England
Commander: Captain Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865)
Scientist: Charles Darwin
Significance: Plenty

John Gould's expedition to Australia

Dates: 16 May 1838 - 18 August 1840
Route: England - Australia - England
Scientists: John Gould, Elizabeth Gould, and John Gilbert
Significance: Gould's only major natural history expedition. The collections were used in his landmark illustrated volumes on Australian birds.

Illustration of black-gloved wallabies prepared under J. Gould's direction


The United States Exploring (Wilkes) Expedition

Dates: August 1838 - 1842
Route: West Coast of North America, Oceania (including Samoa, 1839), Australia
Commander: Captain Charles Wilkes
Scientists: James Dwight Dana (geologist), Horatio Hale (ethnographer) and Titian Peale (illustrator); botanist Asa Gray withdrew from the expedition at the last minute
Significance: The most important American scientific naval expedition before the Civil War. Biological specimens were studied by Louis Agassiz, Asa Gray, Titian Peale, and John Torrey (although Agassiz and Gray never published).


Antarctic expedition of the Erebus and Terror

Dates: 30 September 1839 - 7 September 1843
Route: England - Cape of Good Hope - Tasmania/Victoria/Antarctic sea/New Zealand - Falkland Islands - England
Commander: Captain James Clark Ross (1800-1862)
Scientists: Joseph Hooker
Significance: The voyage's purpose was to explore the Antarctic seas. Hooker's first major scientific expedition, it established his scientific reputation and confronted him with difficult problems of biogeography. Ross, already a national hero after discovering the north magnetic pole (1831), later commanded the well-known expedition to find John Franklin in the Canadian arctic (1848-1849).


The Rattlesnake expedition to Australasia

Dates: 1 December 1846 - 23 October 1850
Route: England - Cape of Good Hope - Mauritius - Tasmania/Australia/New Guinea - New Zealand - Cape Horn - England
Commander: Captain Owen Stanley (1811-1850)
Scientists: Thomas Huxley and John MacGillivray
Significance: The voyage's main purpose was to map New Guinea and the coast of Australia; Huxley focused his studies on pelagic invertebrates, leading to his first major scientific discovery (that Cuvier's "Radiata" was an unnatural group)


Hooker's expedition to the Himalayas

Dates: 1848 - 1850
Route:
Scientist: Joseph Hooker
Significance: Hooker assembled a large botanical collection and surveyed the eastern foothills of the Himalayas, providing strategically useful intelligence to the British government

Hooker in Sikkim in 1849

Bates and Wallace's expedition to the Amazon

Dates: departed 20 April 1848; Wallace left on 12 July 1852 and reached England on 1 October 1852, Bates left on 3 June 1859
Route: Amazon basin
Scientists: Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russell Wallace
Significance: Wallace's collections were lost at sea, compelling him scientifically to undertake his next expedition; Bates collections survived, and both men wrote books describing their travels

Spruce's South American expedition

Dates: 7 June 1849 - 1863
Route: England - Brazil/Venezuela/Peru/Ecuador - England
Scientist: Richard Spruce
Significance: Spruce made major botanical collections and was the first natural historian to conduct a thorough survey of the Andes

1856 drawing by Spruce of mountains near Tarapoto, Peru


Wallace's expedition to the Malay Archipelago

Wallace's dwelling on a small island off of New Guinea

Dates: 20 April 1854 (arrived in Singapore) - 1 April 1862
Route: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea
Scientist: Alfred Russell Wallace
Significance: During this commercial collecting expedition Wallace not only made important collections but (1) hypothesized that species originate from nearby closely "allied" species (1856); (2) independently discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection (1858); and (3) discovered "Wallace's line, which separates the Asian and Australiasian tropical biotas (1859)

The Thayer Expedition

Dates: 1 April 1865 - 6 August 1866
Route: New York - Brazil - New York
Scientist: Louis Agassiz, accompanied by assistants like Joel Asaph Allen, John Gould Anthony, Orestes St. John, and Charles Frederick Hyatt, and students like William James
Significance: Financed by Nathaniel Thayer; Agassiz's only major expedition outside Europe and North America, yielding a large collection of fishes that (like most of his collections) remained unstudied for years (although Agassiz did publish a popular account)

Drawing by Jacques Burkhardt of the angelfish Pterophyllum scalare, collected during the Thayer Expedition. From Winsor, p. 69.

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