In the last third of the eighteenth century, geography and astronomically-based hydrography came to be indispensable elements in European political expansion. Spain, which was still a great colonial power, participated in this development, organizing a number of expeditions to the American colonies with the aim of fixing frontiers, improving scientific and geographical knowledge, and generating maps which would be trustworthy both for navigation and for controlling the territory. Of all these expeditions, the one led by Malaspina is the most important and indeed is a good example of a national enterprise directed by an Enlightened monarchy. It differed from the expeditions sent out by other contemporary European powers, in that this one was charged not only with reconaissance, but also with measures for reform and control of the colonies.
The Hakluyt Society, which has undertaken a three-volume publication of the expedition’s journal in English, now offers us the second volume, covering the part of the voyage from 15 December 1790 to 15 November 1792. In those two years, the corvettes Descubierta and Atrevida separately surveyed the coast from Panamá to Acapulco, making cartographic observations and collecting scientific material. The two vessels joined up in Acapulco, in order to carry out their new order, received from Madrid during the voyage, to survey the northwest coast of America in order to verify the existence of a remarkable interocean strait that Ferrer Maldonado, sixteenth-century Spanish navigator, had discovered in about 60 degrees north latitude. The Malaspina expedition navigated as far as Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, and then Mount St. Elias and Cape Hitchinbrook, at the entrance to the island, without encountering the famous passage. On its return, it surveyed the coast from Port Mulgrave to Nootka Sound, determining the latitude of Nootka with the use of precision instruments. After returning to Acapulco they crossed the Pacific Ocean, calling in at Guam and the Philippines, where they stayed for eight months. Their stay in Mindinao and return to the south Pacific coast of America will form the subject of the final volume to be published by the Hakluyt Society.
The results from the voyages described in this second volume concerned the viceroyalty of Mexico during October and November of 1791, and were the most extensive and important achievements of the whole expedition: the naval captain Dionisio Alcalá Galiano stayed on in order to consolidate the hydrographic observations; the naturalist Antonio Pineda worked on recording the mineral establishments, studied the soil and volcanoes, and also investigated the demography of the Indians and the nature of the fauna; Arcadio Pineda stayed behind in Mexico City so as to gather the information needed for the expedition’s reports. Contacts with the native peoples on the northwest coast of America provided highly original ethnological, artistic and linguistic material. From the visit to the Philippines came material for the natural history of the islands, and everywhere cartographic observations were made, which were the foundation of a great many maps afterwards published by the “Dirección de Trabajos Hidrográficos.” We may conclude that the work achieved in Mexico and the Philippines during the voyage of the corvettes was the most extensive and fruitful of all that accomplished by the Malaspina expedition, from the scientific point of view.
This volume includes three appendixes which contain, first, the correspondence between captain Malaspina and the naval minister Antonio Valdés, secondly the original account of the abortive search for Ferrer Maldonaldo’s northeast passage (together with observations by Jean-Nicolas Buache and by the captains José Bustamante and Alejandro Malaspina), and thirdly the diary of Antonio Tova, second captain of the Atrevida, concerning the cartographic observations made on the south coast of Luzón.
The author of this review can attest from her own experience that
the editors of this journal have produced an excellent translation of a
difficult eighteenth-century text, solving both linguistic and technical
problems. The abundant and well-substantiated historical notes also offer
the reader confidence; the bibliography is exhaustive, and so are the
illustrations, which come from originals held in the Spanish archives.
Both as Spaniards and as historians we should be delighted by the results
of this great work, which puts an account of the most complete Spanish
eighteenth-century expedition at the disposal of the English-speaking