Alexandro Malaspina to Joseph Banks

Cádiz, July 13, 17891

Dear Sir,

    The time of our departure approaches; in a few days we shall be on our way; and I hasten, Sir, to thank you for paying me the honour of writing to me, and for entering into a correspondence both instructive for me and useful to the public; and here are pretty near the times, at the address of H.E. the Minister of the Navy in Madrid.2 On my part, be assured that I shall have only the greatest pleasure in anticipating them, announcing to you our situation and progress through the same means and through your ambassador at Madrid. Nothing can dispute your right to everything which pertains to botany and natural history in general from this kind of voyage. Our Court will not refuse this. I shall be delighted to be the instrument of a new testimony of the recognition of the whole of Europe of the perils and discomforts which you braved on board the "Endeavour", with such great utility.

    The letters from England written about the first of November of this year will anticipate us in by couple of months at Lima; we could get some in Guayaquil in the month of March next year, and at Acapulco in October or November that same year. Those of the month of April 1791, should reach us at Canton or Manila, by means of your India Company ships. After that time I should have no way of receiving them until my return to Europe, which will take another couple of years.3

    You can gather from this recital that His Majesty, certainly, has given the greatest extension to this expedition. Perhaps, even, we can make a new try for the North West Passage, either in an attempt to find receded ice as Mr. Barrington suggests, or in the hope of again reconnoitring ever more closely some portions of the coasts, before arriving at the Straits of Anian.4 The Pacific Islands will be visited once again, and as for the coasts of South America in to the highest latitudes, be assured that they will be investigated with the greatest of care during two successive summers. The kind of vessels which we have chosen will lend themselves excellently to that, and I am sure that there will be absolutely no delay in the publication of maps which we shall make according to the method and with the same means as those of Mr. Tofiño.

    Our first expedition to the Straits of Magellan in the year '865 left no doubt about the size of the Patagonians. A publication has just come out at the beginning of this year to which will be added the results of the second expedition, which has completely reconnoitred the Strait and on which the longboats went out all the way to Cape Pilares.6

    We can never fully express our appreciation to Messrs. Dalrymple and Aubert for the eagerness, intelligence, and generosity with which they have supported our views by sending us our instruments:7 we are, in short, very well supplied, be it for astronomical or geodetic research, as well as for everything pertaining to physics. We shall give this aspect our greatest attention, and perhaps extended researches into the philosophical history of man and the surface he inhabits will make the public not indifferent to this new voyage, which it would be a mistake to direct yet again to imaginary discoveries.

    Be assured, Sir, that I shall be delighted to receive and carry out your proposals in whatever place I find myself. Thus, either you yourself or your colleagues may request of us anything that you feel could be of importance to science. No one will lend himself more gladly and with more eagerness than he who has the honour to be

Most Sincerely,

The Chevalier de Malaspina

1 Original in British Library, Add.MS 8097: 221-2.  [Published in Dario Manfredi: Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone: Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 185-188.  Translated here by Virginia Day.  Unless otherwise noted, notes by Dario Manfredi, translated by John Black.  Text courtesy of Robert King. - John Black.]

2 Antonio Valdés would then forward Malaspina's letters.

3 There is here no mention of him being able to receive them at Port Jackson, although the Spanish Embassy in London had obtained for them a passport to visit British ports on his route [Virginia Day].

4 The first person to mention the mythical Strait of Anian was Giacomo Gastaldi; after him many geographers inserted it into the cartography of North America, its position varying between 49° and 61° N.

5 Malaspina is referring to the expedition of the frigate Santa Maria de la Cabeza, commanded by Antonio de Cordoba y Lazo. The ship set sail from Cádiz in 1785 to visit various parts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego for the purpose of stablishing whether it was preferable to enter the Pacific by way of the Strait of Magellan or by way of Cape Horn. The expedition - in which Alessandro Belmonti and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano also took part - returned to Spain the following year. In 1788 the same Córdoba returned to complete the cartographical survey of the coast in the small ships Santa Eulalia and Santa Casilda.  The officers Ciriaco Cevallos and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano accompanied him.  See de Vargas J. Ponce: Relación del último viage al Estrecho de Magallanes de la fragata Santa Maria do la Cabeza en los años de 1785 y 1786.  Estracto de todos los anterióres y Noticia de los habitantes, suelo, clima y producciones del Estrecho, Madrid, Viuda de Ibarra, 1788; also by the same author: Apéndice a la relación del viage al Estrecho de Magallanes de la fragata Santa Maria de la Cabeza, qua contiene el de los paquebotes Santa Casilda y Santa Eulaila para completar el reconocimiento del Estrecho en los años 1788 y 1789, Madrid, Viuda de Ibarra, 1793.

6 In Tierra del Fuego, at the western end of the Strait of Magellan.  Its discoverer called it "Cabo Deseado" [Cape Desire] and Sarmiento de Gamboa "Cabo Espiritu Santo" [Cape Holy Spirit].

7 The geographer Alexander Dalrymple gave Malaspina a complete collection of his own writings. As for Aubert, he gave the expedition a quadrant built by Bird and Ramsden, of which Malaspina would write: "This worthy fellow, unable to put a price on an instrument of so much value, has given it instead for the benefit of the sciences, absolutely refusing any pecuniary compensation whatsoever"; see D. Manfredi, "Un fragmento inédito de Alejandro Malaspina (1789) sobre la expedición científico-política," in Derroteros de la Mar del Sur, Lima, I (1993), pp. 57-67; esp. p. 66.


Updated: June 5, 2018