Charles Wilkes

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Charles Wilkes Charles Wilkes signature
Admiral Charles Wilkes plaque in the United States National Arboretum

Charles Wilkes (born April 3, 1798 in New York City , † February 8, 1877 in Washington, DC ) was an American naval officer and polar explorer . In 1840 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

Live and act

Wilkes led the United States Exploring Expedition or Wilkes Expedition , an American expedition from 1838 to 1842, which was to explore large parts of the Pacific and the "unknown land in the south" ( Antarctica ). He recognized Antarctica as an independent continent. The part of the country he discovered was called Wilkesland .

Wilkes was not without controversy as the leader of this expedition. At the beginning of the voyage he held the rank of lieutenant , but proclaimed himself captain and commodore himself . After he gave himself during the voyage as despotic officer and on the day to Fiji belonging Mamanuca Islands massacred the local people ordered, he was placed on his return to court-martial, which investigated these incidents. He was acquitted on most counts, only charged with his methods of punishment within the team. Therefore he was transferred to the Coast Guard for some time . But soon he had to do with the preparation of the expedition reports, which occupied him from 1844 to 1861.

In the American Civil War he served as an admiral for the Union. As commander of the San Jacinto , he attacked the British mail steamer Trent on November 8, 1861 in international waters , which was on its way from Havana to England . He had learned from his spies that there were two southern emissaries on this ship whom he had arrested. He was initially praised by the American Congress for this approach, but President Abraham Lincoln distanced himself due to the resulting political confusion. The incident almost resulted in several European powers, including a. Great Britain , intervened on the side of the Confederate in the American Civil War (see Trent affair ). Wilkes was later used against the blockade breakers in the Caribbean.

Wilkes is said to have served Herman Melville as a model for the character of Captain Ahab in the novel Moby Dick .

The Wilkes station in Antarctica is named after him.


  • Nathaniel Philbrick : Sea of ​​Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery. The US Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 . Viking, New York City, USA 2003, ISBN 0-67003231X .
    • German by Enrico Heinemann and Andrea Kann: Demons of the Sea. The dramatic expedition to develop the Pacific and Antarctic (1838–1842). Blessing, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-89667-182-0 .

Web links

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