Alexandro Malaspina to his brother Azzo Giacinto (?)  (*)

[Cádiz], July 1789

     At this time I will give you a glimpse of the objects of our journey and of how we aim to carry out what His Majesty has kindly entrusted to our care. The main scope of the commission is to create a hydrographic atlas of the vast coasts possessed by His Catholic Majesty in the two hemispheres. Brigadier Don Vincenzo Tofiño having constructed charts of the European coasts of the Spanish Monarchy using a new method of spherical projection, we will do the same for the New Continent, from Buenos Aires via Cape Horn to California. Similar work will be carried out in the Philippines archipelago, and in the Mariana and Caroline Islands.

    The execution of such a great task, though most advantageous to the nation's navigation and conducing to the perfection of geography and marine science, leaves no place for exploring new countries, as much as it is undeniable that the western coast of Patagonia, the Gallega Islands (1), the Galapagos Islands and Gorgona (2) are unknown, especially as far as astronomical geography is concerned.

     In addition to the central purpose of the expedition, His Majesty desires, for the benefit of European science and culture, to give a broader sweep to the noble work entrusted to the cavalier Malaspina and his illustrious colleagues. All branches of natural history, geographic astronomy, the history of humankind in the state of semi-civilization, terrestrial physics, the level of the two seas, Atlantic and Pacific, the claimed existence of a navigable channel between the two in high northern latitudes, the observation of the causes of the deterioration in the health of sailors on long-distance voyages, the degradation of food and supplies, the means to hinder and prevent these evils: all these will form so many other objects of our study, observation and effort.

     For the sake of these and other interesting objects, His Majesty has spared no expense. Two purpose-built corvettes, clad in copper, and – so that they can withstand a long voyage in such diverse climes and seas and can approach the coasts with the least risk – provided with all they might need in countries where European arts are unknown, are placed under the command of the cavalier Malaspina, who will captain the lead vessel, called the Descubierta; the Atrevida will be captained by Mr. Don Alessandro (3) Bustamante. A wide range of astronomical instruments, marine chronometers, barometers, thermometers, levels, eudiometers, and the means to perform various assays and chemical experiments; a complete collection of the journals of previous voyagers; select officers of the Spanish Navy, some assigned to astronomical observation, others to geodesy, and others to natural history; panorama and botanical painters, etc.: all these provide a set of skills that no previous navigator has had at his disposal.


(*) Original now lost; Copy in APSF; PICANYOL, pp. 52-53; D. MANFREDI, Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 199-201. Leodegario Picanyol claims that the letter was sent to Azzo Giacinto Malaspina, but this is doubtful, as the two brothers (unlike the author) did not use the formal mode of address in the second person ["lei" and its cognates]. The author of the letter speaks of "our journey", but on the other hand refers to Malaspina in the third person: all this suggests that the document has been subject to interpolation. Certainly it has been altered. The most probable thing is that Malaspina wrote this passage to send it (through his brother) to the editor of some scientific-literary periodical (as after all he will do, on the return of the expedition, through Angelo Fabroni: see Giornale de Letterati XCVII (1795), pp. 294-299). Azzo Giacinto, in turn, probably passed it on to the Paduan Omobon Pisoni, who later copied it for Massimiliano Ricca.
[Editing Criteria]

(1) These are the Coronados Islands, off Baja California. [D. Manfredi's notes mistakenly refer to their location as Bucareli Bay, which is in Alaska.]

(2) A Pacific island belonging to what is now Colombia.

(3) Sic. Clearly an error of the copyist, who should have written "José."

Italian text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi; translation by John Black..

Updated: June 5, 2018