Alexandro Malaspina to "Monsieur Jos. Banks"1

Cádiz, January 20, 17892

Dear Sir,

    The honour which his Catholic Majesty has just accorded me, of choosing me to head an around-the-world voyage, though very flattering to me, is even more so in that it gives me the opportunity of corresponding with you, Sir, as well as with other European savants, and by this means to gather fresh knowledge to advance my endeavours in all their related branches.

    His Majesty, then, has no other goal for this expedition than to have hydrographic maps made of the almost infinite shorelines of the South Sea and the Philippine Archipelago. But desiring further to add to the efforts of other nations toward progress in the fields of physics and natural history, as well as geography and navigation, he has deigned to give the greatest scope to this expedition.

    Two specially built ships which will set sail about the first of July will have aboard botanists and artists; and fine instruments, whether for astronomy or geodesy, as well as for physical research; and marine map-making equipment like that used by Mr. Tofiño for the coasts of Spain and some parts of the African coasts. And since details on different matters are given me almost daily by His Excellency José Antonio Ulloa, I am most flattered that you, Sir, do not, disdain to take part, and a part much more than useful in that it concerns directly this most humble officer entrusted with it.

    We shall follow a course along the greater part of Spanish America - the lands between Cape Horn and Chiloe; a good part of the islands of the Pacific Ocean, the Marianas, the Carolines,3 and the Philippines; and we shall make astronomical charts of them. But our research could impel us further; it could follow the trails of the later voyagers, especially those that Captain Cook and La Pérouse have left for us. Man and the surface of the earth he inhabits could undergo a new examination after all the knowledge, philosophy, and truth that Europe ought to demand of this kind of expedition. Perhaps, even, we might be able to see the whole in a clearer perspective-the comparisons used will be more exact, and, consequently, the systems more proven.

    On my part, Sir, and on that of the officers who have the graciousness to accompany me, I take the liberty to correspond with you on an equal basis, and with a keen desire to co-operate towards the progress of science, with complete detachment from anything that might divert us from the truth: we shall always prefer to have it said that we had not seen enough rather than that we were guilty of having seen badly.

    Because of your position and the interest you take in science, and through the kindness of Mr. Parson,4 Esquire, who has been good enough to recommend this letter to you, I venture, Sir, to request that you point out to me any research, be it of a physical or maritime nature, that you might deem most helpful for this kind of voyage. Our efforts will be doubled with such a guide, and nothing can equal my appreciation unless it be my esteem and zeal.

With which, Sir, I have the honour to be

Your very humble and obedient servant,

The Chevalier de Malaspina,

Frigate Captain in the service of his Catholic Majesty.
1 Australian Documentary Facsimile Society (A. Grove Day, Virginia M. Day, Iris Burke and Keast Burke), The Spanish at Port Jackson: the visit of the corvettes Descubierta & Atrevida, 1793, Sydney, 1967.  Text courtesy of Robert King. Translated by Virginia Day.

2 Original in French in British Library, Add. Ms. 8097: 216-20. An identical letter was sent to Joseph Jerome de Lalande, in Paris (Archivo Provinciale dei PP. Scolopi, Florence; published in Leodegario Picanyol, Lo Scolopio Massimiliano Ricca e il suo elogio sul grande Navigatore Alessandro Malaspina, Roma, PP.Scolopi di S. Pantaleo, 1935, pp.40-41.

3  The Carolines were removed from the itinerary of the expedition [Dario Manfredi].

4 Presumably a mis-spelling of "Parsons," referring to William Parsons of 5A New Bond Street, London, to whom Malaspina wrote on July 13/1789, thanking him for his intersession with Banks on Malaspina's behalf [John Black].


Updated: June 5, 2018