Alexandro Malaspina to Gherardo Rangoni  (*)

Montevideo, November 9, 1789

     On the verge of departure, and confident that you will forgive me on this occasion, I have the urge to inform you, in just a few lines, that the expedition of H.C.M.’s corvettes the Descubierta and Atrevida has met with good fortune, succeeding in reaching this port in fifty-two days, and that in a further thirty-five, while preparing for the next leg of the voyage, we have been working with geometrical and astronomical rigour on the charts of these coasts, and have covered more than a hundred leagues of the country in the pursuit of natural history. I am gratified that in so little time we have been able to supply new products and understandings to this science. Father Abbot Spallanzani, to whom I will have the honour to write at the first opportunity, will be most happy that we have already taken the portrait of a live guanaco, though indeed we shall encounter more of them on the coasts of Patagonia.
     We have been fortunate in our astronomical endeavours. Our six timepieces, two by Berthoud (1), three chronometers and one pocket watch by Arnold (2), become more reliable every day. We have observed various occultations of stars by the Moon, and all of the satellites of Jupiter which the condition of sky and the location of the planet have allowed us to see; finally, an eclipse of the Moon and the transit of Mercury across the solar disc, including in particular the emersion of the planet, which has not been visible in Europe. We have not been able to put much effort into the various trials relating to the conservation of health. Our voyage proved so short and our sailors so robust that there has been no symptom whatever of disease. Nevertheless, we have used sauerkraut (3) and wine; we will now experiment with wood sorrel and carbonic acid. I am not writing to the Cavaliere Belmonti because our mutual friend Galiano will write to him. The advances Galiano has achieved in simplification, particularly in the work involving maritime astronomy, heralds a new epoch in the application of astronomy in the Navy. I will send this letter, for greater security, to His Excellency Bailío Valdés, the Minister of the Navy, and I ask you kindly to send me, by the same intermediary, anything whatever with which either you or your friends are willing to favour me.
     In conclusion I grant myself the honour of re-affirming myself what I shall always be, …


(*) Original now lost; copy in APSF; PICANYOL, p. 42; D. MANFREDI, Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettera dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 207-209. [Editing Criteria]

(1) Fernand Berthoud (1727-1807), a Swiss, built marine chronometers which surpassed in accuracy all others made up to that date. The Spanish Navy bought a number of them.

(2) The Englishman John Arnold simplified and improved the working of the clocks invented by Berthoud; he supplied some examples to the Cádiz department of the [Spanish] Royal Navy. Malaspina, however, always remained more satisfied with the clocks produced by the Swiss (see his letter to Azzo Giacinto at the end of March or beginning of April 1791).

(3) Sauerkraut (calloed by the French "chout-crout") was believed the most effective of antiscorbtic foods. James Cook left us this recipe for it: the raw cabbage was minced, a little salt and juniper and anise seeds were added, and then it was left to ferment. It can easily be preserved in well-sealed containers; see J. COOK, A voyage towards the South Pole and round the world: performed in His Majesty's ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the years 1772, 1773, 1774 and 1775, London, 1777, vol. I, pp. XXIX-XXX.

Text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi; translation by John Black and Manuela Fahme.    Italian Original

Updated: June 5, 2018