200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 152: “The Man Who Nearly Opened Japan ”

« Invertebrates of Glass

Saving our Nation’s Treasures »

barnacle specimen donated by John Aulick
The specimen of the Balanus psittacus donated by Captain John Aulick. It measures nearly one foot across.

The Man Who Nearly Opened Japan

History lauds Commodore Matthew Perry as the bold commander who sailed his “black ships” up Tokyo Bay in 1853 and who, having sounded several volleys across the city, landed the first foreign mission aimed at opening Japan to western trade and science. The credit for this bold plan actually belongs instead to Commander John Aulick (c. 1791–1873), a veteran of the War of 1812 who first proposed a diplomatic mission to end Japan’s 250 years of self-imposed isolation. Aulick’s initiative gained him President Fillmore’s commission and command of the Far East Squadron from his flagship, the side-wheel steamer Susquehanna, as far as Hong Kong. There Aulick was sent home, as his vehement arguments with his captains and the diplomats accompanying the voyage led them to recommend a change of command in their dispatches to Washington. Perry sailed out to take over, and the rest is history.

By way of historical consolation, the Academy’s General Invertebrate Collection to this day boasts a splendid cluster of barnacles collected by Aulick in the Bay of Concepción in central Chile, probably during a round-the-world voyage as commander of the sloop Vincennes from 1835 to 1836.

Read more about Academy invertebrates.

Plan your visit, check out our new exhibits, and find out about upcoming activities.
Discover the past and explore the future of the natural sciences in our online exhibits.
Make a difference, browse our programs, and get involved with the natural world.