Charleston, South Carolina, 19 July 1797
The following particulars of the last attempt of a voyage of discovery, which has made but little noise, and has not even been mentioned by an English journal, cannot fail to procure attention. A magnificent work is at this present moment in the Madrid press, containing a full and ample detail of all the transactions that occurred during this voyage of discovery; and, on its publication, we shall be gratified with an account of the manners and customs of the Babaco [Babao/Vavau] Isles, a non-descript cluster, then visited for the first time by Europeans.
The two sloops called the Discovery and the Subtile [sic], the former commanded by Don Alexander Malespina [sic], and the latter by Don Joseph de Bastamente [sic], sailed in company from the port of Cadiz, on the 30th of July, 1789, in order to co-operate with the other maritime powers in the extension of the human knowledge, and more particularly of navigation. The commanders of these vessels made correct charts of the coasts of America and the adjacent islands, from the river La Plata to Cape Horn, and from that cape to the farthermost northern extremeties [sic] of that part of the world. Their intentions in this was merely to repeat the attempts of the same kind, formerly undertaken either by foreigners or their own countrymen, and thus acquire a more minute knowledge of the subject.
On their arrival at the north-west coast of America, in lat 59.60. and 61 degrees, they searched, in vain, for a passage by which they might penetrate into the Atlantic ocean; they accordingly concluded that the predictions of Cook were founded in sound reasoning, and that the gut mentioned by Maldonado, an old Spanish navigator, had no existence, except in his own brain.
In the beginning of the year 1792, the Subtile, and a galliot, called the Mexicana, under the command of don Dion Galvano [Dionisio Galiano] and don Cais de Taldes [Cayetano Valdes], joined the English squadron commanded by captain Vancouver, with an intention to examine the immense Archipelago, known by the name of the Admiral’s Fonte [Admiral de Fonte], and Juan de Fuca.
They continued the greater part of the year 1792 in visiting the Mariannes and Philippines, as also the Macas [Macao], on the coast of Guiana [China]. They afterwards passed between the isles Mindanoa and the isles called Mountay [Morintay], shaping course along the coasts of New-Guinea, and crossing the equator. On this occasion they discovered a gulph of about 500 maritime leagues in extent, which no former navigator had traversed. They then stopped at New-Zealand and New-Holland, and discovered in the Archipelago, called the Friendly Isles, the Babacos [Babaos/Vavau], a range of islands which had never before been seen by any European mariner.
After a variety of other researches in the southern ocean, they arrived in June 1793, at Callao. From this port they made other occasional expeditions; and each separately examined the port of Conception, and the rest of the coast of America, which extends to the south-west, as well as the western coast of Moluccas [Malvinas/Malouines]. They then entered the river La Plata, after having surmounted all the dangers incident to those southern latitudes. Having been equipped and supplied anew with provisions at Montevedia [Montevideo], they joined a fleet of frigates and register ships, and sailed for Cadiz, where they arrived after a passage of nine days, with cargoes to the amount of eight millions of dollars in money and merchandize.
These voyages have not a little contributed to the extension of botany, mineralogy and navigation. In both hemispheres, and in a variety of different latitudes, many experiments were made relative to the weight of bodies, which will tend to very important discoveries, connected with the irregular form of our globe; these will also be highly useful, so far as respects a fixed and general measure.
While examining the inhabitants, our travellers collected all the monuments that could throw any light either on the migration of nations, or on their progress in civilization. Luckily for the interests of humanity, these discoveries have not caused a single tear to be shed. On the contrary, all the tribes with whom they had any connexion will bless the memory of these navigators who have furnished them with a variety of instruments, and made them acquainted with several arts, of which they were before entirely ignorant.
The vessels brought back nearly the whole of their crews; neither of them, in short, lost more than three of four men; which is wonderful, if we but consider the unhealthy climates of the Torrid Zone, to which they were so long exposed.
Don Antonio de Valdes, the minister of the marine, who encouraged and supported the expedition, is busied at this moment in drawing up a detailed account of this voyage, so as to render the enterprize of general utility. It will soon be published; and the curious will be gratified with charts, maps, and engravings, now preparing to accompany it.
In the mean time he has presented to the king the captains, Don Alexander Malespina [Malaspina], Don Joseph de Bastamente [Bustamante] and Don Dion Galeano [Dionisio Galiano], and lieutenant Don Carlos [Ciriaco] de Cevallos. These officers are entitled to, and will soon experience, the royal munificence.
Text courtesy of Robert King. This article also appeared in The Massachusetts Spy, 13 September 1797; The Albany Chronicle, 25 September 1797; and The Oracle of Dauphin, 22 December 1797.
Updated: January 13, 2018