A paper delivered in Mulazzo, Italy on September 25, 1993 by
Robin Inglis, Director, North Vancouver Museum and Archives
on the occasion of the
Convego Internazionale su Alessandro Malaspina
e la sua spedizione scientifica politica 1789 - 1794
"... we were also able to cement the friendship
between the natives and our settlement there ..."
When Alejandro Malaspina and José Bustamante y Guerra proposed their politico-cientifico voyage around the world to Carlos III in the Fall of 1788, their suggestion to run the Northwest Coast of America had more to do with politics and economics than geography. While Malaspina could persuade himself that the Spanish voyages of the 1770s and Cook's voyage of 1778 had provided satisfactory exploration of the region, he was nevertheless intrigued enough to suggest sailing up the coast of California (*) to determine the nature and scope of Russian expansion, to pick up what information he could on a stopover in Kamchatka and to trade at Canton "for the benefit of the crew" any furs collected along the way. (2)
When the expedition left Spain on July 30th, 1789,
any decision to visit the Northwest Coast had clearly been left to Malaspina's
own judgement, to be decided upon en route after the expedition had completed
its investigations of colonial settlements in South and Central America.
An unexpected delay caused by calms along the coast following his visit
to Panama seemingly made the Commander's decision for him. By the time
he reached Acapulco over a month behind schedule at the end of March, 1791
he had determined to abandon any idea of a northern campaign in favour
of a thorough exploration of the Sandwich Islands. However an urgent despatch
from Bustamante in San Blas (Atrevida had
preceded Descubierta to Mexico after the
stopover in Panama) informed the Commander of explicit royal instructions
to seek the passage of Ferrer Maldonado from the Pacific to the Atlantic,
belief in which had been rekindled by a speech to the Académie
des Sciences in Paris by the famed cartographer Jean-Nicolas Buache
in November, 1790. Immediately obliged to forego the plans for a cruise
to Hawaii, Malaspina and Bustamante reprovisioned their ships and the Commander
made some key decisions about personnel, which included the choice of Mexican
Tomás de Suria as senior artist for the trip north. Having received
also valuable documentation from the Viceroy and
particularly from Bodega y Quadra, commandant of the naval station at San Blas and an experienced northern mariner, about recent Spanish expeditions to the north in 1788, 1789 and 1790, the expedition hurriedly set sail from Acapulco on May 1st, 1791 to fulfil the royal command.(3)
If the immediate concern to Madrid was geographical - the finding of the "great passage" - the political value of a northern campaign that had so appealed to Malaspina during the planning of the voyage some two and a half years earlier also did not go unrecognised by the authorities. Indeed, in the wake of the Nootka Crisis of 1789-1790, during which there had been a very real threat of war with England and which had exposed the tenuous nature of Spanish claims to sovereignty over the entire coast of North America, the opportunity afforded to Madrid and Mexico City to send an expedition of the calibre and experience of Malaspina's to the region was clearly fortuitous. Thus the royal order defined three specific goals for the campaign:
The unsuccessful attempt to locate the "great passage" at Yakutat Bay at 60 degrees North on the Alaskan coast is extensively documented in primary and secondary sources (5) and is not a concern of this paper. Rather, we shall turn our attention to Nootka Sound and concentrate on one key aspect of Malaspina's task of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of Spain's presence there on the West Coast of Vancouver Island - that is, relations with the local Indians.
Although Juan Pérez, sailing out of San Blas, had anchored off the Sound in the summer of 1774 and traded with the local indians who had paddled out to meet him, it was the publication of the journal of James Cook's Third Voyage to the Pacific in 1784 that had put Nootka on the world map and had precipitated an active, if short-lived, maritime fur trade on the Northwest Coast. Cook's voyage, the persistence of eastern Russian movement into the region and the arrival of France in the North Pacific in the form of Lapérouse's 1786 expedition, caused a resumption of Spanish voyages after a hiatus of ten years. This was initiated by the expedition of Esteban José Martinez as far north as the Aleutian Islands in 1788. As a result of information gathered on this voyage, Manuel Flores, the Viceroy of New Spain, was persuaded to thwart perceived Russian designs on Nootka, to control what Cook had promised to be a lucrative fur trade, by establishing a Spanish outpost there first. When Martinez arrived in May 1789 to uphold the primacy of the Spanish flag on the coast, his subsequent actions and activities caused much consternation to the natives of Nootka Sound, and set in motion a series of events and incidents that severely strained Spanish-Indian relations at Nootka until they were significantly improved by Malaspina's visit two years later.
Different European visitors estimated that there were some 4,000 natives living in Nootka Sound during the contact period. (6) They lived in a number of villages on the shores of long channels extending inland up to 25 kilometres from the ocean and were divided into three identifiable groups - the Tahsis-Yuquot confederacy led by Chief Maquinna., another centred on Tlupana Inlet presided over by Chief Tlupanalaug, and a third ruled by Chief Hannape. While the latter two chiefs maintained considerable authority in and around their respective villages, they acknowledged, perhaps reluctantly at times, that through rank (parents and primogeniture) and status (wealth and behaviour) Maquinna was the principal chief of the entire area. "A stout handsome young man with a fine manly countenance," (7) he had a winter ranchería at Tahsis, deep in the Sound, and a summer village at Yuquot on a narrow point of land at its entrance. He was in his early 30s. (8) Because there were few sea otter in the vicinity of Nootka Sound itself, Maquinna collected furs from other groups up the coast and via an overland route from the Nimpkish on the east of Vancouver Island. Because it was Nootka that Cook had publicized, the realm of Maquinna became the prime target for the first merchant traders who began to arrive as early as 1785. Jealously guarding his role as middleman, Maquinna kept a steady flow of furs coming for the quickly expanding trade and provided the trading vessels with a relatively safe and hospitable environment in which to do business and reprovision.(9)
Although from the outset the maritime fur trade was accompanied by varying degrees of tension, violence and mutual suspicion,(10) the natives of Nootka had, as the summer season of 1789 approached, developed a modus operandi by which the commerce in their Sound for both neighbours and traders alike was being conducted on their terms. The arrival of Martinez on May 5th, to fortify the port and to exert Spain's influence to the exclusion of all foreign rivals, and his subsequent clashes with James Colnett and William HudsJune 13, 2018ed by half-pay naval officer John Meares, who had been in Nootka in 1788, changed this situation completely. First the Spanish took over Maquinna's village site at Yuquot in Friendly Cove, an act that increasingly distressed the chief throughout the next six years. Secondly, Maquinna's principal companion in the operation of the fur trade, his kinsman, secondary Chief Callicum, was senselessly murdered when he came to the Cove to berate Martinez for the seizure of Colnett and his ships. Callicum had feared that the Spaniard's actions were detrimental to Nootka's status as a commercial haven. In this he was entirely correct and his death only exacerbated what became a third problem - that only two non-Spanish vessels came into Nootka over the next two years.(11) Although the natives, and indeed Maquinna, maintained some contact with the Spaniards, the dominant characteristics of the relationship after the Callicum murder became fear and suspicion. Until Martinez left Yuquot in October 1789 the local indians gave Friendly Cove a wide berth. (12)
The reappearance of a substantial Spanish contingent under Francisco Eliza, in April 1790, and the reoccupation of Yuquot confirmed the Indians' worst fears about Spain's intention to control Nootka Sound. Maquinna fled to nearby Clayoquot Sound and the protection of his rival and brother-in-law Chief Wickaninish. The few canoes that came by the settlement to trade fish continued to exhibit fear and suspicion. Later, at Wickaninish's village, Maquinna explained to Manuel Quimper that his exile from Nootka was entirely involuntary and was based on his fear of Martinez. Convinced by Quimper and others that Callicum's murderer, although present at Friendly Cove, was no longer in charge, and mollified by some trading that brought him a number of prized copper sheets and a sail for his canoe, Maquinna returned to Nootka.(13) Recognising that the natives could play an important role as witnesses in support of Spain's defence of her claims of sovereignty against Britain, the Spanish Commandant had given general orders to his garrison to promote good relations and to take steps to attract the natives back into the orbit of Friendly Cove. Pedro Alberni, commander of the Company of Catalonian Volunteers, composed a song, from the few words that he knew of the native language, which he taught his troops to chant to the tune of a popular Spanish folk song; it extolled Maquinna's virtue as "a great prince" and noted that "Spain is the friend of Maquinna and Nootka." (14) Hearing the song the Indians carried it to their chief who, suitably intrigued and flattered, finally gained enough confidence to visit Eliza.
Nevertheless this appearance of friendly relations in the Sound was deceptive and the veneer of cordiality was largely the result of the Spanish willingness to provide generous gifts of copper sheets, textiles and other manufactured goods. For Maquinna and his fellow chiefs the only real advantage in keeping communications open was the promise of gifts, as wealth conferred status. For this reason, despite the irritations and misunderstandings inherent in the situation, they would from time to time bring meat and fish to the settlement.
During the summer of 1790 there were a number of incidents: an unsuspecting sailor was kidnapped and only released following the intervention of Wickaninish and Maquinna, who was then still at Clayoquot; a belligerent Indian came to the Cove threatening death to Martinez; and five natives were killed in a night-time foray into the settlement in search of iron barrel hoops. A serious confrontation also resulted from Eliza's need for lumber to build barracks and houses. An initial attempt against the village of Chief Tlupanalaug (15) was beaten off when the Spaniards began to remove the planks with which the natives had roofed their houses and were met with a hostile crowd and a shower of arrows; they responded with a fusillade of musket and swivel gun fire that left one native dead. The next day the party returned more heavily armed, drove the Indians into the forest and carried off the desired wood. In a complete misunderstanding of native sensitivities, the pilot Jacinto Caamaño wrote that the Indian attitude was hard to understand: the Spanish obviously needed the lumber and even left copper sheets as payment, and the natives had lots of time to make replacement planks. (16) The naturalist José Mariano Moziño was later more objective about the incident, suggesting that it was "an injustice as great as that of robbery to compel any man by force of arms to sell what he needs for himself and does not wish to give up at any price." (17)
Two things above all, however, maintained an underlying tension to the scene at Nootka in the year prior to Malaspina's visit. First was the great dislocation suffered by Maquinna as a result of the Spanish occupation of Yuquot; it was an affront to his pride and sensibilities and served to reduce his people's access to the fishery. Maquinna was later to complain to Malaspina that he "attributed his...thin state to a scarcity of food since he had been forced to abandon Yuquot and...reminisced, with pride and not without sorrow about the happy times in which, alone, he dared to harpoon a whale when he enjoyed health and an uncommon robustness." (18) It seems that Maquinna's people did suffer hard times in the winters of 1789 and 1790 because of a lack of food. While this might have been because of the disruption to seasonal activities resulting from the fur trade which meant less time for hunting and fishing and thus the laying in of food for the winter, (19) there is little doubt that Maquinna resented mightily the Spanish occupation. Eliza reported that the natives "do not cease to come daily to ask me when we intend to leave." (20) The second issue between the Spaniards and the indians resulted from the widespread belief in the settlement that Chief Maquinna practised cannibalism. Eliza lectured the chief on the evils of cannibalism and human sacrifice and threatened violent reprisals if the practices continued. Maquinna always denied the charge and Malaspina would later conclude that hard evidence was lacking. But Eliza and his fellow officers were sufficiently convinced by rumour and circumstantial evidence to make the matter yet another source of tension - and fear - between the two sides. (21)
The Malaspina expedition began its 16 day visit to Nootka on August 13th 1791. Coming aboard for "a good breakfast," acting commandant Ramón Saavedra (**) and Pedro Alberni briefed the Commander about the state of the settlement and relations with the local natives. Artist Suria records the impression made by Alberni with respect to the latter, which had emerged as one of the prime concerns of the Malaspina visit, referring to him as a "distinguished official who will occupy one of the most worthy places in the account of this voyage on account of his skill and management of these natives and who was charged with sustaining the establishment and keeping it free from invasions." (22) Malaspina was fully aware of Spain's interest in the narrowest possible interpretation of the first Nootka Convention (October, 1790) and of the need to bolster the practical value of his countrymen's in situ occupation of Nootka with its fort and establishment at Friendly Cove. As important as it was to gather scientific information - cartographic, botanical and ethnographical - and to assess the viability of a settlement with such lengthy supply lines to California and Mexico, it was an absolute necessity to attempt to turn local native feelings in favour of Spain, to limit the damage of British captain John Meares' claim to have purchased land from Maquinna in May 1788 and to confirm the understanding that Martinez in 1789 and Eliza in 1790 had received from the Chief that the site of the establishment had indeed been ceded to Spain.
Linguistic problems between Europeans and natives and the obvious self-interest inherent in European assumptions about Maquinna's understanding of the their concept of property ownership make it impossible to know what was going on in the chief's mind. His angry denial to Bodega y Quadra in 1792 that he had ever sold land to "liar Meares," yet his willingness to mark a deed transferring other land in the Sound to the American trader John Kendrick, and his obvious distress at losing Yuquot, yet his statement to Malaspina that the Spaniards would always be owners of the area which they occupied, (23) do not suggest any consistency. But Maquinna was nothing if not shrewd and practical. Unable to resist European firepower invading his national homeland, he entered into circumspect collaboration with the European visitors to Nootka, maintaining his distance, responding to rather than initiating contact and all the while receiving presents that increased his wealth and status. With respect to Yuquot the attitude expressed in Maquinna's relationship with Malaspina and later with Bodega suggests that he always maintained the primacy of native ownership but that he was prepared, reluctantly obviously, to cede the site on a temporary basis, fully expecting to get back some interim benefit from the Spanish connection in terms of material goods and the promise of assistance against his enemies in case of attack.
Initially, Malaspina's overtures to Maquinna met with little success. It was fully five days before the principal chief of Nootka came to Friendly Cove to meet with the Commander. The few fishermen who approached the corvettes on the first day, through whom Alberni issued invitations for Maquinna and the other chiefs to come and meet with the leaders of the expedition, behaved timidly.(24) The arrival of the Descubierta and Atrevida had, from the indians' perspective, undoubtedly caused a certain amount of apprehension. Suddenly a large and well-armed group had descended upon Nootka, tripling the number of Spaniards in the Sound; immediately they fanned out well beyond the confines of the establishment at Friendly Cove, collecting and surveying, going to more places than any other foreigners had visited or reconnoitred before. (25) From native visitors to the ships, however, Malaspina learned of Maquinna's authority and the extent of his realm. He also surmised that the principal chief was reluctant to meet the expedition because he was afraid. The first visit by a person of any consequence, that of Chief Tlupanalaug, took place on the second day. It suggested to the Commander that Maquinna's problems with the Spanish stemming from the murder Callicum, the loss of his village at Yuquot and his suspected cannibalism had also opened the way for rivals in the Sound to seek to displace him as the "sovereign" of Nootka. (26) Suria records a long speech by the chief in which he said:
Malaspina, however, was not dissuaded by Tlupanalaug's exhibitionism from his desire to meet Maquinna and to gain his friendship. The first attempt at direct contact was made by Felipe Bauza and Cayetano Valdés on a short surveying trip that went as far as the head of Tahsis Inlet. It was unsuccessful. The Spaniards found the chief's village deserted, with the natives off hiding in the forest. The Commander then sent off a more substantial party under the leadership of José Espinosa and Ciriaco Cevallos to undertake a much more extensive survey of the interior of Nootka Sound. It involved 30 armed men in two longboats. He provided it with extensive written orders about the conduct of the survey and, expecting it also to visit Maquinna's ranchería,(32) included the command to "use everything that you take with you in the launches to give presents [to the natives] if it seems opportune; and provided that neither self preservation nor true national honour is compromised, you will avoid the least hostility." (33)
Although it has been suggested that the visit of the Espinosa/Cevallos expedition to Maquinna's village was the breakthrough that encouraged the chief to visit Malaspina at Friendly Cove, (34) the chronology of events clearly shows that his first visit on August 18th took place two days before the survey party reached the head of Tahsis Inlet. Following the unsuccessful Bauza/Valdés attempt to establish contact and the descriptions reaching him from his subjects fishing in the vicinity of the Descubierta and Atrevida, Maquinna must have become sufficiently intrigued about the new visitors, and reluctant to allow Tlupanalaug any more advantage over him, to be persuaded to overcome his apprehension and set out for Yuquot.
Maquinna came down the Sound with a full retinue including three of his four wives. The visit was cordial but the young Chief refused to let his wives go aboard the ships, both of which were visited during the course of the day. "Their principal chief was here today" wrote Secundino Salamanca in the Libro de Guardias of Descubierta, "later bringing three of his four wives, who were for sometime alongside; but it was not possible to make them come aboard no matter how hard we tried to make them understand that it was only for the purpose of drawing them, and that we had given [presents] very generously to those who had shown such courtesy." (35) Maquinna did, however, receive a number of gifts, which included some copper sheets for the sale of a child. By the time of the Malaspina visit to Nootka, the Spanish practice of acquiring children from the natives was well established, ostensibly to save them from cannibalism and to give them the benefits of civilization and the Christian religion. The Commander acquiesced in the trade and the expedition also accepted for transfer to San Blas some boys acquired by the chaplain of the guard ship Concepción anchored at Friendly Cove. But basically Malaspina disapproved of the practice because of his "natural repugnance against slavery" and his fear "that the trustees of these children might under the cloak of religion try to justify a type of permanent domination over these unfortunate beings." (36) Nevertheless Malaspina was clearly satisfied with the visit, noting in his journal that:
As Maquinna was making his historic visit to Descubierta and Atrevida, the Espinosa/ Cevallos survey party was exploring the various inlets of the Sound. Mindful of the theft of their precious lumber by similar Spanish small boat sorties, the natives at the various rancherías approached were openly hostile, if they didn't flee into the woods. Arriving at Chief Tlupanalaug's village the Spaniards were met by men brandishing sticks, while the women and children were seen running away. As their interpreters were unable to explain the concept of surveying, only having enough vocabulary for everyday things, and because the villagers seemingly did not comprehend their peaceful intentions, the launches drew away. The Chief was not at the village at the time of the visit, or at least did not show himself, but he subsequently came looking for the explorers. Once he caught up with them he appeared dismayed by the heavily armed party and sought to find out what they were doing. Again the deficiencies of the interpreters manifested themselves, but the Spaniards gave the Chief enough presents and expressions of friendship to overcome his apprehension so that he joined the cruise, until he realized that it was going up Tahsis Inlet to visit Maquinna. At this point he separated from the group and, in return for more gifts and a sail for his great canoe, agreed to take a letter to Malaspina at Friendly Cove. (41)
While Malaspina could congratulate himself and his colleagues on the generally positive tone of the relations between his expedition and the local natives, and the initial encounter with Maquinna had been successful, the Chief had exhibited a certain amount of apprehension about the Spanish visitors, as demonstrated by his refusal to let his wives board the ships. Arredondo Tova went as far as commenting that Maquinna was unable "to disguise in his face the fear that gripped him." (42) It was not surprising, therefore, that when the Espinosa/Cevallos party reached Maquinna's ranchería the hostility from armed men on the beach was equal to the reception that they had received at Tlupanalaug's village the day before. Maquinna finally appeared on the scene, upon which the Spanish "did not spare any sign which might express our respect for such a high personage. We begged him to come aboard and thinking to stimulate his cupidity, showed him all those things which could be attractive to an inhabitant of Nootka; but the proud chief went away without answering a word and having cast upon us any number of glances filled with indifference." (43) Finally the two leaders of the group approached the beach unarmed and, effecting a landing, were escorted by the Chief to his house. As the atmosphere became more friendly the Chief showed off his armoury of 14 muskets guarded by a sentinel, window panes given him by the American John Kendrick, and introduced the explorers to his wives. His obvious favourite was noteworthy for her "beautiful features, smooth skin and vivacity." (44)The Spaniards distributed presents and asked the Chief to re-establish his home at Yuquot close to the Spanish settlement; but he refused to consider this, stating that while the officers of the establishment could be trusted the men of the garrison would violate the women. He stated that he "preferred the inconvenience and privations of his present life to this obvious risk." (45) After a somewhat short walk about the village, throughout which Espinosa and Cevallos were constantly jostled by Maquinna's subjects and during which the Chief never left them, the Spaniards took to their launches and prepared to depart. Frustrated that they could not glean more insight into native customs and beliefs, they were nevertheless satisfied that they had demonstrated the sincerity of their friendship to the Chief:
Bodega came to Nootka in 1792 as probably the most well-informed official in Mexico on the contact history of the Northwest Coast and the nature and scope of European exploration in the region. He possessed undoubted charm and skill as a diplomat. (52) His task in successfully deflecting Vancouver's assumptions about British rights at Nootka, however, was aided in a crucial way by the alliance forged with Maquinna through the efforts of Eliza, Alberni, Malaspina and Bustamante in 1790 and 1791.
Ultimately, and even as Bodega was outmanoeuvreing Vancouver in the summer of 1792, imperial realities and European necessities were beginning to suggest that the once-prized sovereignty over Nootka was not, and could not, be vital to Spanish interests in the Americas. The situation had changed dramatically since the winter of 1790/91 when the possibility of the "great passage" had been resurrected and had loomed so large in Madrid's concerns about the Pacific. When Malaspina and Bustamante sailed north from Mexico in the shadow of conflicting realities and unresolved assumptions arising from the first Nootka Convention, the issue of establishing native support for Spain at Friendly Cove was of the upmost importance; the significance of the setback suffered at the hands of the British is clearer in retrospect than it was to contemporaries. (53) The expedition's diplomatic success with Maquinna and the other chiefs of Nootka Sound was an integral part of the road that led away from the disaster of the Callicum murder to Maquinna dining in the role of honoured guest at Bodega's table in the Commandant's House. (54) Malaspina and Bustamante had achieved a diplomatic tour de force. The botanist-naturalist José Mariano Moziño also reminds us that they left a lasting, positive, impression on the native leaders:
2. San Pío, Maria Pilar de Expediciones Españolas del Siglo XVIII: El Paso del Noroeste, Madrid 1992, Editorial Mapfre p. 200-201 (Malaspina/Bustamante Propuesta del viaje, 10 septiembre de 1788. Museo Naval, Ms. 1826 fols 1-5)
See also the Introduction by Dolores Higueras and Maria-Luisa Martín to a recent edition of the Relación del viaje hecho por las Goletas Sutil y Mexicana en el año 1792 para reconocer el Estrecho de Juan de Fuca, Madrid 1992, Museo Naval p.10
See also the comment by José Espinosa in " Viaje en Limpio de las Corbetas Descubierta y Atrevida" Museo Naval MS 18 quoted in Cutter op. cit. p.90 upon which was based the remark by Malaspina in his journal of the voyage.
7. Walker, Alexander "An Account of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America" quoted in Gough, Barry The Northwest Coast: British Navigation, Trade and Discoveries to 1812, Vancouver 1992, University of British Columbia Press p.81
9. Marshall, Yvonne "Maquinna, Quadra and Vancouver in Nootka Sound 1790-1795" in Fisher, Robin and Johnston, Hugh (eds.) Maps and Metaphors: The Pacific in the Age of Vancouver, Vancouver, 1993, University of British Columbia Press p.4-5
15. Engstrand, Iris (trans/ed.) Noticias de Nutka: An Account of Nootka Sound in 1792 by José Mariano Moziño [hereinafter cited as "Moziño"] Seattle/Vancouver, 1991, University of Washington Press/Douglas and McIntyre p.79
22. Cutter, Donald C. (ed.) Journal of Tomás de Suria of his Voyage with Malaspina to the Northwest Coast of America in 1791 [hereinafter cited as "Suria"] Fairfield, Washington, 1980, Ye Galleon Press p.73,75
Updated: June 13, 2018