Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873). Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany the Wind and Current Charts. . . . Washington, D.C.: Printed by W. A. Harris, 1858-1859.The vibrant color plate of four crustaceans is from the eighth, and final, edition of Matthew Fontaine Maury's Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany the Wind and Current Charts. First published in 1851, the updated two-volume edition of 1858-1859 provided a greatly enlarged text. Maury's widow, Ann Hull Herndon Maury, presented these volumes to the Virginia exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago on 20 May 1892. The set is inscribed by the donor, "Mrs. Comr M. F. Maury." The Library of Virginia's collections also include a copy of the fourth edition, published in 1852.
Born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and reared and educated near Franklin, Tennessee, Maury joined the United States Navy in 1825. In 1842 he was appointed superintendent of the navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments, a post that included the superintendency of the new Naval Observatory. Maury was far more interested in the hydrographic and meteorological aspects of his duties and soon embarked on extensive research on winds and currents. Using his own carefully devised charts and sailing directions, he predicted that it would be possible for mariners to save between ten and fifteen days in the passage between New York and Rio de Janeiro. After his predictions proved accurate, ships' captains began assisting his work by reporting the wind and current patterns they encountered on their voyages. In 1855, Maury also published a textbook of modern oceanography, establishing the study of the sea as a distinct branch of science.