Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/April 1874/A Year of Geographical Work
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A Year of Geographical Work
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AT the annual meeting of the American Geographical Society, held on the 13th of January, 1874, the address was delivered by the President of the Society, Chief-Justice Daly, who gave to a large and intelligent audience an admirable digest of geographical work and progress during the past year. In his elaborate and most instructive remarks, after dilating on the object and use of geographical societies, and making special allusion to the great results of what might be called the geographical society formed by Prince Henry and his associates upon the promontory of Sagres, in Southern Portugal, viz., the discovery of the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, the president went on to state that there is yet one-seventeenth part of the globe of which we know nothing, except by conjecture, especially in the north and south polar regions, in Central Africa, in the interior or northern parts of Australia, and some of the great East Indian islands, e. g., Borneo and New Guinea. Many regions in South America, in Asia, and even a considerable portion of our own Western country, are not yet fully explored. These may yet be outlets for the surplus population of longer-settled and overstocked countries. Geographical research aids the progress of physical geography, especially our knowledge of the wind and ocean currents of the globe, and the mysterious laws of terrestrial magnetism.
It was with the object of stimulating geographical inquiry that the first geographical society was formed in Great Britain forty-three years ago. There are now thirty-three similar societies over the globe, viz., in England, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Russia, India, United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Buenos Ayres. These more or less influence public opinion, governments, and wealthy individuals, willing to aid exploration, and the expeditions of the year have been unusually numerous. Never has there been such zeal as during the last quarter of a century, from their associated efforts. It is only very large and wealthy societies, like those of London and St. Petersburg, however, which can engage in distant and expensive explorations, but all can aid in pointing out suitable fields for exploration, and impressing on the age the necessity and value of it.
In reviewing the geographical work of the world during the year, President Daly commenced with the Coast Survey, which Humboldt in 1851 said would hereafter be our great scientific monument. The valuable practical land operations of the Engineer Corps, U. S. A.; the labors of the Hydrographic Office at Washington; the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Western Territories; the Yellowstone Expedition under General Stanley, and the less military one under Captain Jones, with their valuable scientific results—were in turn treated in detail; after which the president reviewed Lieutenant Wheeler's exploration of the White Mountains of Arizona. The Yale College Expedition, instituted by Prof. Marsh, to explore between Salt Lake City and the Colorado River, gave us five tons of fossil and other collections. The explorers received great attention from the Mormons, owing to the discovery of fossil remains of various species of horses. Certain events are related in the Book of Mormon as occurring in the prehistoric period of America, in which horses are mentioned. According to the Spanish historians, horses did not exist in America till introduced by their countrymen, and this statement has been taken as evidence that the Book of Mormon is a fabrication. The Mormons, therefore, regard Prof. Marsh's discovery of fossil horses in Oregon as a proof of the inspiration of the Book of Mormon. The expedition and researches of Dall, in the Aleutian Islands and North Pacific, are also interesting.
The archæological discoveries of the year were next briefly reviewed, and more fully the voyage of the Polaris by way of Smith's Sound to within little more than 400 miles of the north pole. A Swedish expedition was sent out, under Prof. Nordenskiöld, to Parry Island; a Norwegian to the east of Spitzbergen, and an Austrian to the east of Nova Zembla. The practicability of a ship-canal across the Isthmus of Darien, by way of the Atrato, has been tested by an expedition under Commander Selfridge, and, by Commander Lull, of another route from Greytown, by San Juan River and Lake. Prof. James Orton, of Vassar College, just returned from South America, has added a great deal of valuable knowledge of the geography and zoology of Amazonia. Hurlbut has crossed the Cordilleras from Lima to Lake Titicaca, while Captain Musters has journeyed through Patagonia. A narrative of the valuable explorations of Señor Raimondi in the little-known portions of Peru, to the west of the Andes, is to be published by the Peruvian Government.
The main geographical work of Europe has been the carrying out of those valuable national topographical surveys on which, as the recent Franco-Prussian War shows, the fate of nations may depend. The agreement of the Meteorological Congress, held at Vienna, was unanimous as to the great importance of synchronous meteorological observations all over the world. The scientific results of the Challenger's voyage, and of Prof. Mohn's deep-sea investigations to the north of Europe, were next alluded to.
Asia has been the scene of considerable activity in geographical exploration. Elias has traveled, almost alone, from Peking to St. Petersburg, across Chinese Tartary. The Russian capture of Khiva will produce important geographical and political results. Among the most important of recent geographical expeditions is that of Mr. Jacob Halevy, through Yemen, in the Arabian Peninsula.
Both the English and the American societies have been surveying and exploring in Palestine, the labors of the former being nearly ended, those of the latter only entered upon. The English expedition, under Captain Warren, employed chiefly in exploring Jerusalem, with branch expeditions to the plain of Philistia, and the comparatively unknown regions east of the Jordan and Mount Lebanon, has settled disputed questions, determined astronomically the position of many places, aided in elucidating ancient history, and also added much to our knowledge of local topography. The British Ordnance Survey of the Peninsula of Sinai has, among other things, remarkably corroborated the truthfulness and accuracy of Biblical history, as did also the examination of the desert of the Exodus by Prof. Palmer and Mr. Drake. By arrangement with the English society, the country lying to the east of the Jordan and Dead Sea has been undertaken by the American Palestine Exploring Society, under Lieutenant Steever, U. S. A. This embraces the lands of Moab and Edom, where the celebrated Moabite Stone was found, which illustrated so fully the origin and history of our alphabet, and the art of writing. The surveys for the various railroad routes between London and India were then briefly alluded to.
The geographical intelligence from Africa is varied, but not so interesting as during the previous year. It embraces Nachtigall's journey in the Wadai country; that of Rohlfs from North Africa to Lagos; the Livingstone relief expedition of Cameron; Sir S. Baker's efforts to suppress the slave-trade in the Upper Nile region; Miani's travels along the White Nile to the Monbutta country, where he lost his life. A difficult journey was made by Prof. Blyden to Falaba, a little-known country to the northeast of Sierra Leone. Marche and Compeigne are now penetrating Equatorial Africa in the vicinity of the Gaboon. Besides these, it should be remembered that hundreds of residents, living on the coast or having trading outposts in the interior, annually contribute a rich fund to geographical knowledge by correspondence or publications. Among these are Bushnell of the Gaboon, who supplies valuable letters, Hansell of Khartoum, and Munzinger Bey, one of the ablest geographers and most experienced travelers, and corresponding member at Masswah of the American Geographical Society. The effect of the Anglo-Ashantee War on our geographical knowledge cannot yet be fairly estimated.
In Australasia the eastern shore of New Guinea has been explored by Captain Moresby, of the British Navy, in H. M. S. Basilisk, who dispels many false impressions prevalent regarding that hitherto little-known but highly-interesting island and its inhabitants. The island has been crossed from Geelvinks Bay to McClure Gulf by Dr. Meyer, who, like Moresby, but unlike Beccari, who has been exploring there, gives a favorable account of the island and its people. Formosa has been traversed from north to south by Thompson and Maxwell, who found coal. It would be premature to speak of the geographical results of the Dutch Acheen expedition.
Mr. Ernest Giles and Baron von Müller have been exploring Central Australia, and gathering much accurate geographical information. The telegraphic event of the year has been the construction of a line across Australia, from Adelaide in the south to Port Darwin on the north coast, a distance of 2,012 miles, which gives a continuous line from Adelaide to Gibraltar, a distance of 12,462 miles, of which 9,146 are submarine, by which Australia has three weeks' earlier news than by the mail-steamers. The last geographical intelligence from Australia is the discovery of thousands of acres of the richest sugar-growing land near Cardwell, in Northern Queensland, by a government exploring expedition. Judge Daly's instructive address, of which we have only given an outline, is well worth careful perusal, nor can its fresh and valuable details fail to awaken a fresh and wider interest in geographical science, or to give a renewed impetus to geographical discovery, while showing that America and Americans are not behind the age in geographical zeal and enterprise.
In an appendix we also find some valuable information regarding the United States Geological Survey of the Territories (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah), in 1872, extracted from the report of the Government geologist, J. V. Hayden.