Explorers’ Sketchbooks: Meriwether Lewis Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's journals held invaluable geographical, ethnographic and biological data, including this map of the Missouri River

In an age before Google Maps, GPS and satellite phones, the unexplored landscapes discovered by pioneering explorers could only be recorded by pen and paper. In this short series, Avaunt will be featuring five excerpts from the sketchbooks of people who shaped – through word and image – our concept of the world over the past six centuries.

In 1801, American President Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis, a young American soldier who he knew through Virginia society, as his personal assistant. When, shortly after the purchase of Louisiana from the French in 1803, Jefferson came to plan an expedition across the American continent, he chose Lewis to accompany the explorer, and Lewis’s former commanding officer, William Clark. As the first transcontinental crossing of what would become the United States, the mission had two main aims: to survey the recently acquired territory and colonise the Pacific Northwest and Oregon Country for the United States before the European nations made their claims.

Over the course of their expedition, in addition to discovering more than 300 new species of plants and animals, Lewis and Clark mapped and delineated the bounds of their new country while establishing amicable relationships with many Indian tribes.

Lewis and Clark journal pages
Lewis and Clark returned from their voyage with journals full of invaluable geographical, ethnographic and biological data. Pictured here is a detailed and annotated sketch of part of the Missouri River. In total there are eighteen Lewis and Clark journals – thirteen bound in red morocco leather, four in boards covered in marbled-paper and one in plain brown leather. ©American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia


Explorers’ Sketchbooks: Abel Tasman – 1603-1659

Explorers’ Sketchbooks: The Art of Discovery and Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert is published by Thames & Hudson, £29.95.

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