The Malaspina Expedition

Voyage to the American Northwest, Summer 1791
By Leslie Theibert

Introduction to the Expedition

       In the summer of 1789, the Malaspina expedition set out from Cadiz, Spain on a proposed circumnavigation of the world. The two ships, the Descubierta, or Discovery, and the Atrevida, or Daring, were commanded by captains Alejandro Malaspina and Jose Bustamante y Guerra of the Spanish Royal Navy. The expedition, in contrast to most previous Spanish voyages, was not one of conquest; rather the plan was to make a voyage solely for discovery. Malaspina wanted a voyage to rival that of Cook and La Perouse, two explorers who had achieved great worldwide expeditions decades before; he wanted a voyage of enlightened exploration. Included in the crew were scientists, naturalists, and artists, as well as soldiers and seamen. The expedition aimed to represent the acme of Spanish exploration. In some ways, it was, although it was never acknowledged as such, for when Malaspina arrived home in 1794 after traveling the world he was put on trial for working against the new king, and his journal hidden, never giving him the recognition deserved. [1]

The expedition went from Spain to Southeast Asia and back over a five-year period. However, this paper will focus on just a few short months of this voyage, the trip to the northwest coast of North America, what is today Alaska. This trip was not in the original itinerary of the enlightened voyage; rather it was added, in the summer of 1791, in response to growing world-wide political conflict over Nootka Sound and the rich natural resources to be found there. Therefore, rather than leisurely sailing around the Sandwich Islands, Malaspina and Bustamante y Guerra ventured up the coast of North America to lay claim to the Alaskan coast for Spain, in an act that mirrored both Malaspina’s goal of exploration, and the Spanish monarch’s policy of conquest.[2]

Though there are many journals resulting from this voyage, very little work has been done to date on the expedition. Therefore three men’s journals of the voyage to the Northwest will be carefully examined here in order to determine the series of events, the attitudes of various members of the crew, and experiences of the men. Using a Rashomon approach, a strategy that looks at one event from multiple angles, or through different lenses, new perspectives on the months spent in the Northwest will hopefully be gained. Using the journals of Captain Alejandro Malaspina, first mate Antonio de Tova, and artist Tomas de Suria, new insight on the shipboard experience, relations with the natives, and the search for the Northwest Passage can be obtained.

Spanish Exploration of the Northwest Coast

             When European powers first began their exploration of America, starting in 1492 with Columbus, “the motives were religious expansion and financial gain, the famous ‘Gold, God, and Glory’” of the Spanish Empire.[3] Conquistadors like Cortes and Pizarro conquered the Native Americans, forcing Spanish language and religion on them, and founding colonies to generate wealth. Other European powers followed their lead, and the scramble began for colonies around the world.

            In the eighteenth century, however, the Enlightenment began to change the way Europeans approached other cultures, particularly in the Pacific. While the great powers still wanted possession of foreign land for their own prestige, a new aspect had been added: the search for knowledge. The explorers of the eighteenth century, such as Cook and La Perouse, did not want to found colonies and convert the natives. Their goal was instead to gain knowledge of the coast, the natural resources, and the different cultures that they encountered. [4]

            With this new trend in exploration for the sake of knowledge, the way of claiming territory changed as well. “Painfully, the Spanish were to learn that their claims to Pacific dominance carried little weight unless they could show that they had truly explored it in a scientific fashion.” [5] Unfortunately, they were so concerned with their vast empire in America and their claims of the Philippines, they spent little time or energy in exploring the other areas which they claimed as their own, most notably the western coast of America. This myopia meant that other European powers saw the territory as open to exploration, and in the second half of the eighteenth century, the British, French, and Russians all made inroads into the Pacific.[6]

            In the 1760s, reports began to come in from the Spanish ambassador in St. Petersburg that the Russians were exploring and settling the Alaskan coast, using resources and searching for the Northwest Passage, the fabled passage that connected the Atlantic to the Pacific. The reports concerned Spanish officials, particularly the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico, who, while skeptical, ordered three explorations of the Northwest coast, to both lay claim to the said Spanish possession and to do reconnaissance, making maps and searching for any Russian outposts.[7]

            The first explorer was Juan de Perez, who in 1774 with one ship sailed up the coast, making maps, and taking position measurements, though he did not land. In 1775 a second expedition, by Hezeta and Bodega y Quadra was sent up the coast and landed. Returning they were able to report on the advanced state of the natives, the good soil and trees for naval ships, the lack of Russian settlements, and the doubtfulness of the Northwest Passage. Finally in 1779 Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra again sailed up the coast, following the passage that Captain Cook had taken the year before, and traded with the Tlingit Indians. This third and final voyage assuaged Spanish fears of incursions by other powers, particularly the Russians, into their territory, and exploration halted for a decade.[8]

            Then, in 1787, “news of the presence of Russians on the continent, given by the French seaman the Count of La Perouse, along with the publication of Cook’s diaries, provoked considerable disquiet in the Madrid Court.”[9] Thus, an expedition was sent out, led by Martinez and Lopez de Haro, and discovered that in the decade the Spanish had been absent, the Russians had established a trade in sea otter furs, and were planning on settling Nootka Sound the following year. This touched off the Nootka Sound incident, an international controversy over who had ultimate sovereignty in the northwest.[10]

            In 1789, Martinez was ordered to thwart Russian plans, and to establish a base at Nootka. While he expected some international activity, “the discovery that Nootka Sound was an international entrepot and meeting place for American, British, French, and Portuguese-British vessels must have come as a very great shock”.[11] Martinez therefore erected his artillery and when the British arrived, arrested and detained the Argonaut and Princess Royal.

The controversy over Martinez’s right to do so, as well as his hot-tempered reactions and problems with other nations had reached a fever pitch in the spring of 1791. Therefore, instructions were forwarded to Malaspina and Bustamante y Guerra to skip over the Sandwich Islands and go instead to explore and strengthen Spanish claims in the Northwest.[12]

The Voyage

             Malaspina proposed a voyage to the Spanish emperor Carlos IV in the late-1780s, and was finally ready to depart in 1789. Having circumnavigated the globe once before in 1784, he this time wanted to undertake a scientific expedition with the goal of mapping the coast of South America, the Sandwich Islands, and Australia, returning home by way of Africa around the Cape of Good Hope. When his proposal was eventually approved, he undertook exact preparations for the long sea voyage.[13]

            He commissioned the construction of two identical 306-ton ships, called corvettes, the Descubierta and the Atrevida, specifically designed for a long circumnavigation. “He solicited much professional advice from the new scientists and physicians concerning chronometers, other measuring instruments, related technical gear, as well as dietary suggestions.”[14] In terms of his crew, he solicited the finest seamen from the Royal Navy, particularly those from the north of Spain who he believed would be hardier because of the harsher climate in the north. He also staffed his ship with many non-marine personnel, among them a physician, naturalists, and artists, who would help him with his investigations and records along the way.[15]

            The two ships finally departed from Cadiz in the summer of 1789, stopping at the Canary Islands on their way to Montevideo in what is now Uruguay. In 1790 the ships mapped the coast of South America, making studies of the botany and indigenous cultures that remained, and rounding Cape Horn. In the winter of 1791 both ships arrived in Acapulco for repairs, and then spent the summer traveling to the Northwest Coast. In 1792 they departed again from Acapulco, this time crossing the Pacific en route to the Spanish possessions in the Philippines. They then visited multiple islands as well as New Zealand and Australia before returning to Callao, Peru. In 1793 the two corvettes began to make their way home via Tierra del Fuego stopping once again at various islands including the Falkland Islands and Trinidad. The expedition finally arrived home to political upheaval and a conservative new monarch in 1794. In all, the expedition spent over five years at sea and completed the only true scientific expedition by Spain.[16] 

Figure One 

            During the summer of 1791, the ships left Acapulco on May 1 for their excursion to the Northwest Coast. Instead of following the coast, the two ships set out to sea, sailing north through the eastern Pacific, and finally sighting land on June 23. On June 27, they landed in Port Mulgrave, now known as Yakutat Bay, in order to obtain water and firewood after almost two months at sea. While there, they traded with the native Tlingit Indians, took on water and firewood, and explored a potential for the Northwest Passage, until conflicts with the natives made the stay treacherous, leading to their departure on July 5. The ships then sailed north-west to Prince William Sound, before returning down the coast of Alaska and reaching Nootka Sound, in what is currently Washington State, on August 13. Though there was a Spanish outpost at Nootka, the expedition stayed long enough only to pass on information and trade with the natives, before leaving again to chart the coast of California and arriving in Monterey for repairs on September 12.[17] (see figure one) 


            The three men under investigation here each came to the expedition with a different personal history, seafaring experience, and assumptions about what the voyage would bring. In looking at their personal lives up to the voyage, greater insight about the reasons for writing, as well as the disparity between the journals, can be explained.

            Alejandro Malaspina, the captain of the voyage, was born in the Duchy of Parma in 1754, an Italian possession of Spain owned by his father Marques Carlos Morello. His noble birth and status as a second son put him in an optimal position for a rich naval career, and in 1774 he entered the Departamento de Cadiz as a midshipman. After two years of training, Malaspina began to move up the ranks, becoming a lieutenant and participating in various naval battles including the bloody Siege of Gibraltar. In 1782 he was promoted to Captain of a frigate, voyaged to the Philippines and India, and then completed his first circumnavigation, on which he began his plans for his own voyage of exploration.[18] Malaspina gained a reputation as an excellent captain, keeping good control over his men without being extremely harsh and providing well for them on board ship. He also, in the words of historian Donald Cutter, “did his utmost to see that members of his staff were given prompt consideration for promotion, and in retrospect, it is evident that his recommendations, though sent from distant corners of the globe, had their intended positive influence.”[19] Malaspina is acknowledged to have been “a great navigator and commander, a careful scientist, and a loyal naval officer,” though never recognized as such until recently.[20]

            His journal is the official journal for the voyage, and he had planned to have it published upon his return to Spain. It is therefore extremely thorough and gives an excellent official account of the voyage. It does, however, attempt to put incidents in the most positive light for the captain, a bias that must be taken into consideration.

            Antonio de Tova was first mate on the Atrevida, the corvette captained by Jose Bustamante y Guerra. He was born in Santander, Spain in 1760 and little is known about his early life. In 1773, at the age of 13, de Tova entered into the Real Compania de Guardas Marinas at the Isla de Leon, and subsequently served for over 50 years. Throughout the 1770s and 1780s de Tova advanced throughout the ranks, serving on various ships and making several voyages to the Americas. He also fought in several naval campaigns against the English, and was rewarded for exemplary service for saving his craft from fire and performance in battle. In 1788, he was invited to join the Malaspina expedition by his friend Bustamante y Guerra and was in charge of recruiting seamen. During the voyage he served as first mate, as well as performing the tasks of astronomer and cartographer.[21] By all accounts de Tova was a good seaman, never distinguishing himself but always reliable. Malaspina said of him that 

“He is an officer of good habits and manners. His thinking is very orderly. He is very sensitive in obeying and probably so in commanding. He has average ability. He is outstanding in maritime knowledge and in decisiveness in command. He has now acquired the elements necessary for pilotage. He is little active and excessively addicted to his own knowledge. He has not achieved any special merit on the voyage that would make him deserving of further increases in rank. However, he should be considered as one of the meritorious of the expedition.”[22] 

De Tova's journal, though not as thorough as that that of the captain, is nonetheless useful in the information that it provides. It is also an official account of the voyage, and, as he is first mate, includes very detailed accounts of the wind patterns and sailing difficulties encountered. It is less personal than the other two, and this may be due to the fact that he had less control over what he could write, as the official journals were read and approved by the captain, often containing exactly the same passages.[23]

            Tomas de Suria’s is the final journal to be explored. He was the artist for only the voyage to the Northwest, as the previous artists had become ill and left the expedition in South America. Though two more had been requested from Spain, the expedition needed an artist for the summer, and de Suria was chosen.

            Tomas de Suria was born in Spain in 1761. He became a student at the Royal Art Academy, and at he age of 17 was invited by his mentor, Jeronimo de Gil to accompany him to Mexico, where he was to found an art institute. There he started work as a designer at the mint. “By 1791 he was thirty years old, had two children, and resided in the same household as his in-laws in the viceregal capital.”[24] When word of the need for an artist on the expedition reached Mexico, de Suria responded with enthusiasm, and despite last minute protests from his wife, went to join the expedition at Acapulco in 1791.[25]

            The journal that he produced on the voyage differs greatly from the other two. De Suria had no exploration experience and no access to the official records, something he bemoans multiple times, and therefore offers an account of the voyage from a civilian point of view. His journal is, however, much less organized than the other two, occasionally making it difficult to follow. 

Analysis of the Journals 

            In analyzing the three journals, three main topics of focus immediately become evident. These are shipboard relations, relations with the natives, and the search for the Northwest Passage. Each author has much to say on the topics, and they are important in an evaluation of a voyage such as this because it is the personal relationships, between friends and strangers, which make the voyage worth investigation. They are also the reasons for the voyage in the first place, to make new discoveries. While there are certainly many other aspects that could be evaluated, such as the charting of the coast and difficulties of maneuvering the sails with the wind, these do not have the same appeal, nor do they offer insight into the personal feelings and relationships of the sailors.

            Through an analysis of these three topics, the goal is to discover the similarities and differences among the accounts in order to create a more complete picture of the events of the summer of 1791. Though each author describes the same events, their attitudes and descriptions differ greatly, reflecting the personality of the author. In this evaluation, the reasons for these differences will be explained, and finally to attempt will be made to remove some of the bias.

Shipboard Relations 

            The relationships among the commanders and crewmen on any ship are obviously complex and complicated further on a voyage such as this, when people of many different backgrounds and social classes are thrust together for a long period of time in a small space. This confusion continues with the existence of two ships, meaning the relationship between the two crews must also be called into question. In evaluating shipboard relations, Captain Malaspina’s relationship with his crew, the tensions among the crew, and the relationship between the two ships will be examined in order to better understand the complex relationships on board during the voyage.

            Many current authors such as Cutter and Kendrick describe Malaspina as a very tolerant captain, particularly when compared to his contemporaries such as Captain Cook. When looking at his journal, he seems to be both understanding and without the temper that can develop after months at sea. From both his preparations for the voyage and his concern for his crew he seems to see himself as more of a father figure. While certainly still maintaining strict shipboard discipline, Malaspina appears to be a particularly good captain.  

            The two ships leave Acapulco on May 1, and by May 8 Malaspina has become concerned for the health and safety of his men. He says himself that

Until now the essential purpose of our arrangements for maintaining discipline has dealt with two problems only, desertion and absence from work. It would have been unwise to apply a harsher or more irksome discipline either to impress upon the crews the ideas of imminent danger, requiring the use of arms, or to impose an unyielding regime to guard against the risks to health to be encountered at any time in the various ports we have visited so far. In this way we have been able to prepare them gradually for our objective by instilling in them two other qualities which we could not do without, namely good health and a certain feeling of affection towards us, so that they would consider us friends rather than superiors.[26] 

As captain, he is responsible for the men, and his obvious wish for good relations with them lead him to be far less strict than he could have been. He even writes that his method is opposite of that of Captain Cook, due to the types of men he has on board, who are on the one hand, “heedless of any restraint other than reason and the example of the officers, whom they respect, and, on the other hand, so much given to excessive passion, and opposed to direct coercion.”[27] He has a good knowledge of how to handle a crew, leading by example. He seems to see himself in terms of the Enlightenment, an enlightened captain who can lead his men without treating them like servants, but as equals.

Malaspina is also an understanding captain. While in Port Mulgrave, one of his men, a main top-man on the Atrevida, disappears for an entire day. It is thought that he has had an accident, but finally he is found attempting to finish the survey of an inlet by an overland route, as the ships could not complete it. Rather than being annoyed and punishing the seaman, as Bustamante y Guerra seems to want to do, Malaspina commends the seaman on his bravery and honor. He convinces Bustamante y Guerra to give the man back his post, and says that the reason he recorded it is, “to show how mistaken are those who regard the seaman as a mere brute, barely able to think or feel for themselves.”[28]

Both Antonio de Tova and Tomas De Suria cite the incident in their journals. De Tova says that Malaspina is gracious, and that the “circumstances deserved the indulgence of the captain.”[29] De Suria not only discusses Malaspina’s leniency, but also commends the sailor on his honor and wish for glory for Spain.[30]

Malaspina also seems to be in tune with the crews’ needs for a chance to relieve the stress, as according to de Suria he allows them good wine for a religious holiday on May 30, and later, in Nootka allows them time ashore and wine so that they can relax.[31] According to his journal, which may, of course, be somewhat self-serving, but corroborated by the apparent lack of complaints, Malaspina seems to be solicitous of the needs of his crew.

Another notable part of the journals is the total lack of flogging that is reported. This could be for two reasons. First, the captain and crew could all have assumed that they were a natural part of the sailing experience, and therefore thought it unnecessary to mention floggings within their journals. The second option is that there really weren’t any floggings on the voyage during the summer of 1791. While this would be unusual, the fact that de Suria, who was not a sailor or accustomed to voyages such as this, makes no mention of any makes it likely that there was no need for floggings. If this was the case, then it would be a further testament to both Malaspina’s leadership skills and the respect and obedience of the crew.

Of course Malaspina was not a perfect captain, as there were desertions and absence from work over the last two years of the voyage, as the ships sailed from Spain and rounded Cape Horn. Rather, he appears to be a reasonable and just man, not quick to temper and willing to reward good work. He sees himself as such, and in the few comments cited from the other journals, he is regarded as such by his crew as well. Though he may not have been loved, he was well accepted and obeyed by his crewmen.

            Captain Malaspina is also very concerned for the health and safety of his crew. In order to ensure their continued good health, he undertakes strict cleaning measures and scientific experiments to judge the quality of the air. In the words of historian John Kendrick, “these matters of routine do not find their way into the journals of most explorers, but they epitomize the care Malaspina took of his ship and men.”[32]

Malaspina says that on May 8, they could not ‘fail to do anything likely to assist in the preservation of good health given the rapid change of climate…and the cramped conditions.”[33] Therefore strict cleanliness rules are enacted, to be enforced by the officers aboard ship. On May 22 and 23, and again on May 30 and 31, Malaspina ensures that eudiometer experiments are performed by the expedition’s physician and naturalist. The eudiometer was an instrument used to determine the quality of the air on board ship. The results are positive, except for the steward’s room, attributed to the fact that the provisions stored there were giving off fumes.[34] The second round of experiments has the same positive outcome, the air quality being at 95% in all areas.[35] The scientists believed that bad air could cause illness, and therefore the eudiometer experiments were performed to ensure the crew’s continued health.

            De Tova makes no mention of either experiments or measures to ensure better health and cleanliness. The only mention he makes is to say that the decisions made on the Descubierta were communicated to the Atrevida to be carried out accordingly. The lack of discussion on this subject is either because the experiments were not performed on the ship, or more likely, that de Tova, as first mate, was not concerned with them, being more worried about wind and sailing directions than science.[36]

            De Suria discusses both the rules of cleanliness and the experiments with the enthusiasm which demonstrate his approval for the concern for the health of the crew. He says on May 19th that “the best precautions have been taken on board for the purpose of preventing any kind of contagious disease such is usually encountered in sailing to the north. The commander has ordered the sailors to clean ship three times, making them take out their clothing…in order to ventilate it.”[37] He writes also of the experiments performed to ensure the cleanliness of the air. He discusses the eudiometer readings and the continued cleanings on board ship again on May 20, May 22, June 3, and June 9, always positively stating that the continued actions commanded by the captain were effective in maintaining a healthy crew. De Suria both acknowledges and appreciates Malaspina’s efforts to maintain the good health of his crew.

            Not only is the captain concerned for his crew’s health but also for their safety, particularly as they enter unknown regions where the natives might be hostile. He is concerned both for his men and for the preservation of good relations with the Indians. Although an expedition of enlightenment where military action was not the goal, he nonetheless provides for a situation that could become dangerous.

Malaspina, aware of his situation and concerned for the safety of his men, says that 

“the need for military discipline could not be overlooked in order to avoid taking any chances concerning either our intentions or those of the natives we were about to encounter, without prejudicing the friendly contacts upon which progress in our planned scientific investigations had to be founded.”[38] 

He is clearly worried about his men, and therefore implements new rules stating that the troops must train every day in order to be prepared if a conflict should arise. On May 29 he notes that they have continued the drilling of the sailors, ensuring that each knows how to load and handle his weapon.[39] Malaspina is a cautious captain, concerned that his sailors be ready to fight if need be.

            De Tova too mentions the necessary military training to ensure the safety of the crew, and obviously it is a measure that was performed upon both ships. On May 10th, he says that the boats were lowered, and the officers of the Descubierta came over to communicate that “from today on, measures have been taken to maintain vigorous discipline, repeating the cannon exercises and the training of the men in the use of firearms.”[40] He heartily approves of the increase in discipline, and believes that it may be necessary to have the improved skills in the future when meeting unknown natives.

            De Suria also discusses the drilling of the troops in an extremely positive light, pleased that such precautions are being taken in order to ensure the safety of the crew. He says on May 17 that the troops were reviewed and that “the commander, knowing well that we were going to certain places where the Indians are little civilized and fierce, had taken good precautions for whatever might occur.”[41] Again on May 26 de Suria states that, as it was calm and clear, the sailors were drilled again, and almost every day after, and that they were improving greatly.[42] De Suria clearly respects his captain’s concern for the safety of the men, and approves of the drilling of the troops to protect them against hostile Indians.

            Though these measures obviously had the welfare of the crew in mind, they were not necessarily selfless. A crew that was healthy would be able to sail farther, explore more territory, and therefore accomplish the goals of the voyage. A crew that could defend itself well would avoid meeting the fate of Captain Cook and a tragic battle with the natives. Malaspina once again proves himself to be a reasonable man who wants success for his voyage.

            Though relations were generally good between the captain and crew, tensions arose. These generally seem to be caused by the strict hierarchy among men living in cramped quarters for a long period of time. Malaspina, as captain and author of the official journal, and De Tova, as first mate and also part of the official journal, generally omitted these tensions from their writings. De Suria, however, as author of a private journal, could vent his frustration and be less than positive in his writings.

            Though there are no blatant problems amongst the crew, no mutinies or widespread dissatisfaction, tensions exist. And while generally de Suria seems to be a good-humored and easy-going man, it is clear when he is unhappy. The first signs of frustration came after leaving Port Mulgrave. He begins to complain about his cramped quarters, saying that he does, “Not wish to treat of the inconvenience because this is not the place to speak of it,”[43] but continues on with a description of the closeness of his bunk and the need to put a cloth over his head to protect against the cockroaches. He also has difficulties with his cabin-mate, the second pilot, who when asked questions about the situation on board ship and the details of the sailing, is “slow in answering and vague in explaining the matters about which I asked him, always leaving me in doubt.”[44]

He is also refused access to the official journals of the voyage, as they do not want accounts getting out before the grand work is published. De Suria is clearly annoyed by this, as it was a personal insult as well as a reflection on his importance on board the ship, and justifies himself by saying that his account will be more interesting.[45] He asks again several days later for information regarding the navigation from the pilots and captain, and is once again met with silence. He therefore apologizes for the fact that his journal is not accurate as possible, and his annoyance is clear.

As well as his frustrations with other crewmembers and the disappointment of being put in his place, de Suria is also occasionally annoyed with the decisions of his captain. On the course from Prince William Sound to Nootka, it is unclear exactly where as the pages are no longer dated, there seems to be a final chance to find the fabled Northwest Passage, which will be discussed later. De Suria, wishing for the glory of his country, and possibly himself, believes that they should thoroughly investigate, but Malaspina decides that it would not be advisable. De Suria says that the captain, “was also inspired by the same sentiments, but he was whimsical” and chose not to explore further.[46] This implies that he believes the commander to be somewhat capricious and less than persistent, to give up so easily.

Though the references to tensions are few, it is evident from de Suria’s journal that they did exist, among members of the crew and the captain. The rarity of references implies, however, that overall relations were good.

            As well as having generally good relations between the captain and crew, there also seem to have been good relations between the two ships, the Descubierta and the Atrevida. Though called the Malaspina Expedition from the beginning, Malaspina and Bustamante y Guerra were equal partners in the venture, each the captain of his own ship. When the two ships “parted company for separate short-term missions, there was never any idea that Bustamante was in a subordinate capacity.” [47] Malaspina, as the more senior of the two, seems to have seen himself as the leader, and has no qualms about directing the voyage and instructing the other ship as to his decisions. However, the two ships appear to compliment each other, helping each other when needed, keeping each other in view, and meeting frequently to discuss plans during the voyage.

            Malaspina discusses at length the meetings with the Atrevida on the way to the Northwest, as well as during a survey of the coast. The first of these comes on May 10, when Malaspina signals the Atrevida to lower their pinnaces, or longboats, so that the two crews might communicate. Malaspina tells the members of the Atrevida of the measures he has taken in order to ensure the health and safety of his men, namely the regular cleanings and drilling, as well as providing, “an opportunity for the officers of each ship to meet, those of the Atrevida thus being able to see for themselves the preparations…which needed to be established uniformly on board both corvettes.”[48] The two ships meet again on May 21, in order for Malaspina to give instruction as to how to name new discoveries and to change the first stop to Port Mulgrave. He also believes that “friendly meetings among ourselves as well as recreation and change for junior ranks could agreeably break the monotony of the voyage and provide a foundation of mutual trust and good humor.”[49] The two crews continue to meet to exchange information and instructions throughout the survey of the northwest coast as well as on the journey home. It is clear from his writings that good relations between the two ships are of vital importance. However his willingness to give instructions to the other ship makes it appear that he was the top officer of the voyage.

            The two crews also collaborate on measurements of latitude. On May 23, Malaspina states that the Atrevida had signaled to him that one of their chronometers had stopped, and he duly sends over the instructions in a vain attempt to fix it. They compare chronometer measurements, as one has been off, and did so again on May 30 and June 14.[50] The two ships work together to ensure that they are on the right path, and Malaspina appears to believe that this is important.

            Antonio de Tova also sees the relationship between the two ships as being without enmity, complying willingly in every matter. Every time the two ships met, he, like Malaspina, goes into great detail on the meetings and what was communicated. Like Malaspina, the first time mentioned is May 10th, when the officers from the Descubierta come over. De Tova says that, “the commander of the expedition communicated to our corvette the plan that we had adopted for the armament of the pinnaces, which if needed, could chart much of the coast, either in view of the corvettes or separated from them.”[51] It is interesting here that the first mate of the Atrevida and a friend of Bustamante y Guerra, refers to Malaspina as the “commander of the expedition”.

            The two ships meet again on May 21, as Malaspina says, to change the meeting location to Port Mulgrave, and then on May 23 in an attempt to fix the broken chronometer. De Tova’s journal supports all that was said by Malaspina, and portrays the relationship between the captains and crews of the two ships very positively. The journal of Tomas de Suria mentions the same events and through his comments also gives the impression that there is no mention of tensions between the two at all. Overall, the relationships between captain and crew, crewmates, and the relationship between the two ships appear to be more positive than would have been expected, as little tension is written of in the journals. 

Relations with the Natives 

            One of the most important parts of the expedition was the meeting and relationship with the native peoples that they encountered on their voyage. The expedition stopped twice during their trip, once from June 27-July 5 at Port Mulgrave, and once from August 13-September 3 in Nootka Sound, where there was a small Spanish base. Their encounters with the Tlingit Indians of Port Mulgrave make for the most interesting reading in each of the journals. The Indians had met with sailors before, in Port Mulgrave when Captain Dixon, a British explorer, had visited in the late 1780s and in Nootka since 1789 when the Spanish had arrived to claim their territory. The relationships among the sailors and the Indians were complex, dealing with many different cross-cultural issues. Because the Indians of Nootka Sound had been living with Europeans for several years, their encounter with the Spaniards was much less marked by cultural problems. Therefore, the discussion of the natives will focus solely on the Spanish encounter with the Tlingit Indians of Port Mulgrave, specifically regarding the first encounter, relationship with women, problems with trade and thievery, and finally conflicts that arose.

            Each author, though recording the same events, has a slightly different reaction to the first encounter with the native people. All cite the initial surprise of both parties upon meeting the other, observing the natives “songs noteworthy for both harmony and cadence, and by their obvious signs of peace” so that the Spanish “attempted reciprocation by intimidating those friendly actions.”[52] However, each author comes away with different observations and assumptions about the natives, as well as acts differently in the situation.

Malaspina says that he will try to be as objective as possible in his description, and it is clear that he desperately wants to befriend the Indians and show them every sign of peace. The morning of June 27, three canoes came out to meet the ship, singing “a harmonious hymn of peace” and moving forward with “the unmistakable sign of their arms held open to show that they came unarmed, desiring only our peace and friendship.”[53] The canoes consisted of two large and one small, in which the chief came to meet the ships. The natives showed some signs of fear, and Malaspina tried to encourage them to come on board his ship with gifts of food, and finally gave hostages, letting sailors board the Indian canoes, so that contact could be established.[54] This exchange of hostages showed an enormous amount of trust on the part of Malaspina, though he had some knowledge of the Indians from previous reports. The British Captain Dixon had explored the region and given an ethnographic description of the Indians several years earlier of which Malaspina was familiar. Malaspina was very eager to make contact and develop a friendship with the natives. Soon after he had succeeded, and many came on board to trade, and after being persuaded to return to their homes, the Indians left. Then, as the ships came in to anchor, they were greeted by many canoes and chanting natives. Malaspina accomplished his goal on the first day, attaining the good will of the apprehensive Indians and beginning a trade relationship.

            Antonio de Tova had a similar account to that of Malaspina, though he had slightly different events as he was on the Atrevida instead of the Descubierta. De Tova says that the Spaniards are very concerned that the Indians understand that they come in peace, and even “tried to imitate” the signs and songs “as best we could.” [55] He would not, as Malaspina did, provide hostages for the Indians, so evidently there was less trust of the natives by the members of the Atrevida, or they were just less enthusiastic to sacrifice their own men for peace. He also says that, rather than being afraid, the chief, or Ankau, “also came aboard, and after walking over the quarterdeck with feigned timidity, he uttered a long discourse full of enthusiasm.”[56] While there may have been some initial trepidation, as the Indians did request hostages, de Tova makes it appear that the timidity was a ruse to placate the Spaniards and keep them from feeling threatened.

            De Suria's description of the encounter is notably different from that of Malaspina and de Tova. He is much more interested in the Indians themselves, and while the series of events is essentially the same, the impression of the natives is very different. De Suria describes two canoes which came to meet the ships, and describes astonishment on both sides, the Indians in seeing the ships, and the sailors in seeing the Indians. He describes the natives as dressed in skins of various animals, with painted faces and hair covered in deer grease. He is at once amazed and disgusted by them, saying that “their aspect would not be so disagreeable, although always wild, but the crude colors with which they paint themselves disfigure them entirely, as it seems their idea of gala dress is to make themselves look as horrible as possible.”[57] He then says that when they were close enough to the ships, the natives stood and began to perform a song, which he describes as sad and harsh but at the same time “agreeable and sonorous.”[58] As well as this they made several motions. No mention is made of any fear on the Indians part, but he does discuss their willingness to trade and says that the canoes continue to follow them, as well as the chief being present in his own canoe. The impression that de Suria gives is one of natives who are friendly, approaching them, singing, and trading, yet almost fierce. Malaspina gave the impression that the natives seemed rather more meek and fearful, while de Tova’s suggests that they only appeared that way. It is difficult to reconcile the different descriptions of the natives to form one idea as to the first encounter between the sailors and the natives of Port Mulgrave.

            One of the most interesting aspects of the journals is the crews’ relationships with the local women. Upon arrival in Port Mulgrave, the Spanish are immediately offered the use of several women, possibly slaves, who are, by all accounts, refused, though they had been used by the previous expedition of Captain Dixon several years earlier. This is a difficult topic to unravel because, while each account says that they were refused, it is unclear if this was actually the case, and if all the men adhered to these rules. It is also unclear why exactly they were refused, as sleeping with the local women seems to have been a common practice for sailors on long voyages, and the men had been at sea for two months. It is possible that, wanting to portray themselves in the best light possible, the Spanish say in their journals that the women were adamantly refused, though in reality this was not the practice. It seems more likely though, that it was to prevent disease, as Malaspina has shown himself very concerned with the health of his crew.

            The nature of the women that are being offered is also unclear. Malaspina seems to think that they are slaves, being forced to offer their services by the rest of the tribe in order to keep the Europeans happy. But the comments of de Tova, offers to de Suria, the continued persistence, and the women going out towards the ships suggest that either the women were offering themselves, or that it was all women, not a select few slaves who were being offered.

It is also impossible to ascertain from the journals why the women were offered in the first place. Perhaps because Captain Dixon had wanted the use of women during his visit a decade earlier, the chief assumed that the Spanish would as well. They may have been offered by the chief as “a dramatic means of demonstrating the superiority of a chief over his rival,” in a traditional ceremony that the Spaniards did not understand.[59] The most likely situation, however, was that “in time the practice arose of prostituting slave women to white men of every nationality, as an additional source of revenue in a society inordinately concerned with wealth as the criterion for status.”[60]

            Though the local women are mentioned only a few times, their lack of importance to the voyage is notable, as one would think that the sailors would be very interested in women. Malaspina says that the crewmen had been “forbidden any contact with the women and children in their huts.”[61] This ban was probably a precaution to prevent rape of the native women and maintain good relations with the Indians, as well as prevent venereal disease among the members of his crew. On June 28, he says that the natives made signs that they would give them women, but Malaspina was concerned that they were being wrongly interpreted, as few Europeans came to those parts. When he followed them, however, he found, “four or five women, partially clad in seal skins and, of course, obedient to the will of almost the entire tribe, which seemed unanimous in its intention of prostituting them.”[62] Malaspina is adamant in his refusal of them, as well as in his attempt to prevent the crew from knowing about or taking advantage of it. He appears disgusted with the offer, as well as with the women who are being given. Two days later he is forced to “reprimand the old chief severely when he brought a woman towards the observatory.”[63] He says that the women were “cajoling” him in an attempt to see the sailors, and even took a canoe out towards the boats.

            Antonio de Tova also mentions the availability of women, saying that they were told by the chief that, “in the direction of Mulgrave we would find means to satisfy our needs and even our passions, explaining the latter with unmistakable signs.”[64] While the women are certainly available, he too wants to show the chief that they are not interested in the women, perhaps in support of Malaspina’s assertion. He implies that the chief was unsuccessful in his attempts to sell the women, writing that, “The chief showed other lines of trade with little luck. At first we believed that only the lower class women prostituted themselves, but we soon learned that even the most complacent member of the royal family would have sold her greatest favor for very little. The orders to prevent abuses of this type were very strict.”[65]

            Tomas de Suria concurs with the other two. He too is offered women, though several days after the first offer is made to Captain Malaspina. He says on July 3 that while he was spending time with the Indians, “they offered me some women, pointing out some and reserving for me some others. Seeing that I did not move they then made signs to me with their hands that they were giving them to me so I might violate them.”[66] While he does not take them up on the offer, this demonstrates that the natives continued to offer women to the sailors after Malaspina had rejected them.

It is difficult to determine from the journals whether some member of the crew did make use of the women offered to them. The three journals all mention the women, so it can be assumed that a large number of sailors were aware of the availability. While none of these men say they did, it is quite possible that others did and were not caught or punished, especially since both Malaspina and de Tova were gone for several days at the beginning of July. While it was not approved, it probably did happen.

            One of the primary goals in making contact with the natives was to trade for the furs that the Russians had discovered several years earlier. This trade was mutually beneficial, as the Europeans received luxury items as well as native artifacts, and the natives received the iron they so desperately needed to make tools. One of the problems encountered however, was that the natives frequently tried to steal items from the ship, causing tensions between the two groups. It is notable that thievery only took place in Port Mulgrave, where the Indians had little contact with the Europeans; while nothing of the kind occurred in Nootka Sound. All three accounts discuss the trading with the natives which occurred.

It is likely that the Indians did not understand the problem with taking items that they wanted or needed but that were left unguarded. Both a padlock and a jacket were without protection, and the Tlingit Indians saw this as an invitation to take things that were discarded or unimportant. Though they probably eventually understood, when the Spanish insisted that these items be returned, that this was not acceptable to their Spanish trading partners, the natives either hoped that the items would not be missed, or believed that items left lying about were free for all to have. In a native society where “the accumulation of goods-cloth and other possessions- had a great deal of importance” it would make sense for the Indians to be interested in trade, as well as willing to take what they could.[67]

            In Port Mulgrave, trade began almost immediately upon arrival. Malaspina says that as soon as the men came out to meet them, they boarded the ship and trade began. The next day Malaspina gives a thorough account of the Indian’s trading habits, detailing how they draw out the process, hiding the best items in the beginning, and trying to get more than the items worth from the sailors, often successfully. They brought “some skins, many fresh salmon, and a few wooden tools, in exchange for clothes and iron.”[68] They set up a place for bartering on June 29, and though there were few skins, traded for tools and munitions, as well as much fresh salmon. The trade continued over the course of the period, with the natives acquiring large amounts of clothing, and leaving the Spanish with almost no iron. On the final day of trading, the situation changed, as conflicts had resulted in the suspension of bartering, and this was the natives’ last opportunity. They therefore brought “everything they thought might please us, lowering their claims considerably, which until now had been most excessive, particularly for the hatchets and clothing.”[69] The natives asked high prices throughout the visit in their bartering, as they had few opportunities to trade with Europeans and wanted to make the most of it.

Along with trade came the inevitable stealing, which seems to have been a common practice among natives and either not seen as an offense or done in an attempt to take advantage of the possession laden Spaniards. On June 27, the first day of their encounter, Malaspina says “it was clear that almost all of them had a strong inclination to slip below decks, no doubt with the aim of getting hold of a few little objects from among those that came to hand.”[70] While trade was the main goal for the natives, their tendency to steal caused problems between the two groups. On June 29, Malaspina says that, “the natural inclination towards theft that these people have shown at the beginning became more confident when, under cover of the variety of goods exchanged or their very number, they thought they could continue with impunity.”[71] The natives stole an iron padlock that day, and then a sailor’s jacket several days later.

Antonio de Tova also discusses trade with the natives at some length, and seems disappointed in the sailor’s inability to trade prudently. He says that, ‘The eagerness with which our people bought the most lowly object only because it belonged to the natives opened up at all times new branches of commence.”[72] Not only fish were traded by the Indians, but also ‘their domestic articles, their arms and other works of their own manufacture, either of decoration or apparel.”[73] It is interesting that de Tova, the practical first mate, does not see the point in obtaining items from an almost unknown culture, especially when their artifacts are being traded for old clothes, buttons, and nails, which were of little use to the Spaniards.

Unlike Malaspina, de Tova does not view the inevitable stealing with compassion or condescension, as he seems not to understand it as well, perhaps being less well informed about the people of the region than his captain. When the padlock is stolen, he says that, “It would have been easy to punish the boldness of this insolent man, if we had not determined to avoid, as much as possible, any dispute.”[74] He seems unconvinced that this was the best course of action, and when a sailor’s clothing was stolen a few days later, he is in favor of retaliation. He argues that “if this theft were permitted, it would diminish their opinion of our power.”[75] De Tova believes that it is important to keep the natives from stealing, not only for reasons of trade, but power as well.

Tomas de Suria also discussed the trade between the Indians and the Spaniards. He also says that on June 27, the trading began between the two groups, but that they had come to “exchange sea otter skins for beads,” as well as salmon for buttons not tools, arms, or clothing as Malaspina and de Tova said.[76] According to de Suria the trade between the two groups was very lively, but also led to problems.

Though he mentions fewer incidents, it is clear from de Suria’s journal as well that there was a problem with the natives stealing. He makes no mention of the iron padlock, but on July 3, he mentions an incident where the Indians, “stole some trifles” but were forced by the chief to return them. He too discussed the stolen clothes, and the argument it led to. While trade was a main objective of both parties, it led to stealing by the Indians, angering the Spaniards and causing conflicts while in Port Mulgrave.

            The problems that arose between the two groups seem to be characteristic of relations between Europeans and natives. At no point during the voyage is there a situation which does not involve distrust. In Port Mulgrave the conflicts arose out of trade disputes. What the natives appear to see as taking what they need from the Europeans, the Europeans see as thievery, and it two cases this leads to almost fatal conflict. In each conflict, thievery and cultural misunderstanding led to disastrous situations, though each side attempted to diffuse them peacefully. From the journals, however, only the Spanish side is shown, which makes it difficult to understand the true nature of the conflicts.

            The authors give accounts of two nearly fatal conflicts towards the end of the visit to Port Mulgrave, probably leading to the abrupt departure of the expedition. While there had been minor problems throughout the visit, such as when the iron padlock was stolen, the chief had been able to keep the situation under control, forcing the return of stolen items. On June 30, however, problems arose between the two groups. According to Malaspina and de Tova, the problem started with a stolen hat and jacket that one of the natives had taken while a Spaniard was cutting firewood. When asked to return it he refused, and the chief would not help in getting it back. Bustamante, therefore, suspended all bartering until the jacket was returned, but this greatly angered the natives, who began to get belligerent. The conflict heightened when a Spanish officer threatened the sentinel who was guarding the jackets, and then again when, as the Spanish took target practice on the beach, an Indian tried to take one of the men hostage. The conflict culminated in a drawing of arms by members of both sides, until Bustamante, with musket out, convinced the chief to call off his men, ending the conflict peacefully.[77]

            Malaspina was not there for this conflict, being away on a brief side expedition in a search for the Northwest Passage, and therefore the account in his journal comes from what he heard from Bustamante several days after the incident. At every turn in the conflict, he emphasizes the Spanish wish to end peacefully and the return of the stolen items. While neither side is blameless, Malaspina’s journal, obviously biased to the Spanish, makes it appear that the natives were at fault for the conflict. A native stole clothing from one of the men, and the chief refused to have the items returned, leaving Malaspina to speculate as to whether “the Chief himself was party to these offenses.”[78] The Indians then became angry when the bartering was cut short, threatened the offending officer with a dagger, attempted to take one of the men hostage, and finally advanced with knives drawn until the Chief was convinced to call them off. It seems unlikely that the Spanish were always searching for a peaceful solution, while the natives were always the aggressors, especially since they were aware of the Spanish military power and guns. Nonetheless, Malaspina creates a situation in which his men were in the right always, describing Bustamante as critical in ending the conflict.

            Antonio de Tova’s account of conflict is extremely similar to that of Malaspina, probably because he was also off on the expedition at the time, and therefore also heard the account secondhand from the officers that had been in charge. His account does not provide information that Malaspina’s lacks, as most likely they received word of the incident from the same person.

            Tomas de Suria, having taken part in the conflict, has a different story to tell. He begins his account the same way, with the theft of the jacket and hat of one of the men. But in his version, a native became frightened and pulled out a knife when a tree fell close to him during the woodcutting. During the peak of the conflict, de Suria was inside the chief’s house, doing drawings of him and his family. He was ordered by the chief to stop, but ignored him, until he realized that he had been abandoned by the rest of the sailors. The natives then “formed a circle around me and danced around me with knives in hand singing a frightful song, which seemed like the bellowing of bulls.”[79] In order to save the situation, de Suria began to dance and sing with the natives until they called him Ankau, the word for chief, and began to offer him food and women until he was rescued by another soldier. While de Suria appears to have simply have been going along with the natives so that they did not harm him, he may have unwittingly been a part of a ceremony to make him one of the tribe and therefore unite the two groups. This could also be the reason for the attempt to abduct the other soldier as well. This account differs greatly from that of Malaspina and de Tova because he was in a separate part of the conflict. It is possible that he was a hostage at this point until the conflict ended.

            Conflicts erupted again a few days later, on the day that the expedition chose to leave Port Mulgrave. According to Malaspina, on July 5, while the chief and his son were on board the Atrevida to bargain, the natives on shore began to gather round the astronomical quadrant, probably with the purpose of stealing it. As the crowd became more “insolent”, the Spanish sent boats to shore with reinforcements, took down the quadrant, and forced the chief to stay on board the Atrevida as a hostage. Though he called out several times to his people to stop, as he was in danger, the conflict escalated. The cannons were fired, and the two sides came armed face-to-face. Once the quadrant, as well as some men, had retreated, however, the conflict tapered off, the natives called for peace, and the chief and his son were allowed to depart. Malaspina once again describes the conflict as a result of the native behavior, and says that it was the Spaniards’, “even-handed conduct, aimed at encouraging the renewal of friendly contacts with neither fear of insult nor the lure and self-interest of trade” that paid off.[80]

            Antonio de Tova once again has a similar account of the incident, as he went ashore with Malaspina to retrieve the quadrant and observed the same situation. He too blames the entire thing on the natives, saying that the conflict began because, “the natives were restless, showing signs of attacking the corvettes.”[81] At no point does he attempt to explain why the Indians suddenly became upset and prepared for attack, only that they did, and when the chief was returned to the shore, he says that, “the natives, whose fickle character is incomparable, sang for peace on the beach.”[82] Instead of trying to determine the reason for the conflict, de Tova assumes that the natives are untrustworthy, and unsure of what they want with the Spaniards.

            Tomas de Suria’s account also closely matches the other two, with the exception of a few details. Not having access to the official accounts, he believes that the conflict started by mistake. He says that the Spanish thought that the official signaling taking down the observatory was asking for assistance against the “Indians who had been insolent.”[83] The conflict is described as being much more dangerous than the others, as the Indians, “with knives in their hands ...came to the muzzle of the gun”, and Bustamante seizes the chief on board, threatening to punish him if something was not done. In his account, the Spanish are half the cause, though the natives are, as always, insolent, and the Spanish are more hostile to the Indians.

            It is difficult to completely understand the conflict with he natives because the sources are entirely one sided, making it appear that the natives were fickle and easily angered. No doubt the Tlingit Indians would have a different tale to recount that involved slights made by the Spanish of which they were unaware.

            Overall, the Spanish encounter with the Indians of Port Mulgrave was mixed. It certainly had positive aspects, as the Spanish gained knowledge of the indigenous people as well as valuable furs. The problems of theft and the conflicts it led to however put a damper on the relation, and the feeling of fear that the natives initially held for the Spanish remained. Because of the different assumptions that each side brought to the encounter, misunderstandings quickly arose between the two. 

Search for the Northwest Passage 

            One of the primary reasons for the excursion to the northwest was the search for the Northwest Passage. Since the discovery of the Americas, rumors had abounded of a passage which would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, considerably shortening the route around Cape Horn at the tip of South America. Every country wanted to be the first to find it, as ownership of the passage would bring unimaginable wealth, and for centuries there were rumors that it had been found by various explorers.

            By the end of the eighteenth century, it was generally accepted by most mariners that no such passage existed. But a combination of factors led to one last search by the Malaspina expedition. The first of these was that Spain was receiving rumors from St. Petersburg that the Russians were searching for the Passage and may have found it. Combined with the concern over foreign encroachments into Spanish territory, Spain became afraid of the consequences if Russia was able to find the passage first.[84] The other important factor was that a new source was rediscovered at the end of the eighteenth century. “Three years earlier the publication of Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado’s account of an alleged voyage through the Strait of Anian had stimulated considerable interest in learned circles.”[85] The journal of the sixteenth century explorer, said that in the latitude of Port Mulgrave he had traveled down a Strait towards the east and met another explorer going west. He believed that this Strait was the Northwest Passage. This new information, about two centuries old, had to be investigated. With the number of straits and islands along the Alaskan Coast, it seemed plausible that this strait could have been missed by other explorers, and Spain wished to make one last attempt to find it. Thus one of Malaspina’s primary instructions was to search for the Northwest Passage over the months he was to explore the region.

            The attitudes toward the search differed greatly among the men. While some saw it as a fruitless exercise and a waste of time, others saw it as a chance for glory and held high hopes for its discovery. These different attitudes are reflected in the journals of Malaspina, de Tova, and de Suria.

            Malaspina, as an experienced sailor and captain of the voyage, was extremely skeptical as to whether the passage actually existed and seemed to find the search for it to be a waste of time better spent in real scientific investigation. His first thought of the passage was on June 24 after having sighted the coast the days before. He said that to the west of Mt Fairweather was the coast “on which our imagination and our expectation placed several large inlets, which at times we suspected to be that of Behring, and at others those of a longer and more useful entrance.”[86] His language here suggests that while they hoped the inlets led to the Northwest Passage, he doubted as to the actual existence of it. The next day he was proven correct, as the Atrevida investigated and discovered nothing of interest.[87]

The next instance of hope in finding the Passage came two days later upon arrival to Port Mulgrave. Malaspina says that at the port, the bay and coast seems to coincide with the description of Ferrer Maldonado, and 

“Imagination soon supplied a thousand reasons in support of hope. We considered everything that might agree with the description of the passage. As we rejected or attempted to justify what did not accord with the terrain described, each of us in the end, according to his own fantasy, either increased the length of the narrows to the north, or put down to distance and eyesight in absence of any features which could not yet be found to dispel any remaining doubts.”[88] 

Malaspina once again sounds skeptical of the possibility of the Passage actually existing. He says that every man used his imagination to try and create a situation that matched that of the description, but Malaspina is not certain. He believes on basis of observation of the tidal stream that the inlet only extends for a very short distance, but orders had been given and he must carry them out.[89]

            To this effect, while the two corvettes got water and wood and made contact with the Indians, a party set out on June 30 to explore the inlet. On the brief excursion Malaspina’s expectations were proven to be correct. According to his observations on the tidal stream and conversation with the chief, he knew that not only was the inlet very short, but that the Northwest Passage did not exist in that place.[90] They did however make a thorough investigation, surveying smaller inlets and almost losing a man who, in his enthusiasm to find the Passage, took an overland route to check the area which could not be seen by the launch boats. They returned to the corvettes on July 3, having named the inlet Puerto de Desengano, or Port of Disillusionment, and reported that nothing of interest was found.

            Unfortunately for Malaspina, his instructions were to sail along the 60th parallel, along which the Passage of Ferrer Maldonado was supposed to be located. He says that, “we no longer had even the slightest hope of the veracity of that memorial” and comments how his observations no longer tally with those of Maldonado. He seems relieved to be rid of the burden and more excited to begin exploration of the coast which had not previously been charted.

            Over the next month of charting the coast, Malaspina notes several times the falseness of Maldonado’s notes, and seems aggravated at the gross inaccuracy. That he was forced to explore the region based on wildly inaccurate reports seems like a waste of time, but he says that they can at least hope that it “will put an end in the future to new speculations on the existence of a passage in these latitudes, and not risk so many lives and fortunes in such investigations.”[91] He has decided that “the principle objective of the voyage is fulfilled inasmuch as the passage does not exist, or, if it does exist, it is impracticable since it is situated too far north.”[92]

            Malaspina, skeptical from the beginning of the effort in investigating of the Northwest Passage is proved to be completely correct. For all his time spent, he has been able to prove that no such passage exists, and has therefore made a contribution in disproving the work on Maldonado and saving others the effort of investigation. His attitude towards the passage is one of continual disbelief and annoyance.

            Antonio de Tova seems to be much less concerned than Malaspina was with the Passage. While he discusses it a few times, upon arrival to Port Mulgrave and then again during the same excursion as Malaspina into the suspected strait, his duty as first mate is to ensure day-to-day chores get done. Therefore his journal has less interest in the Northwest Passage and more in obtaining water from the Indians and recording wind patterns and currents.

            The few times it is mentioned, however, de Tova seems hopeful that something will be found. The first mention is on June 27, upon arrival to Port Mulgrave. De Tova says that the port’s,  

“Appearance conformed exactly the description of Ferrer Maldonado. Now it is necessary to understand how much importance was given to the casual recognition. The commander of the expedition wanted to explore, but he had been tracking the eastern point of opening, and could not see how far it extended or the bottom.”[93]  

He is excited about the fact that they could have possibly found the searched for strait, and says that Malaspina was hopeful as well, as it matched the description of the Passage by Ferrer Maldonado. He says that they will have to wait and investigate further after landing, but he thinks that it is possible that they had found the Northwest Passage. His account makes Malaspina out to be more hopeful than he says, but this could be a reflection of his own high hopes.

            The only other mention of the Northwest Passage is when he goes out on the expedition to investigate the suspected location with Malaspina and a small band of men on June 30. He once again seems to have high hopes that something may be found, but these are quickly dashed, as observations about the currents and snow left them, “now convinced, at least, of the inexistence of a pass from these parts to the Atlantic Ocean.”[94] While he sounds disappointed, it does not appear that de Tova had especially high expectations. Like Malaspina, he was probably aware of the very small possibility that the Passage would be found, yet he is more hopeful than his commander, probably excited by the fact that they seemed to have come so close.

            Tomas de Suria had almost the opposite opinion of Malaspina. As one not well acquainted with the fact of the Northwest Passage, he was extremely enthusiastic in the prospect of finding it, and is very disappointed when they are not able to, believing that they expedition did not put as much effort into it as they should have.

            The first time de Suria mentions the Passage is upon entrance to Port Mulgrave, and his reactions to the discovery of a small strait in that location are markedly different from those of Malaspina. He writes, “Great was the joy of the commander and of all the officers because they believed, and with some foundation, that this might be the so much desired and sought for strait, which would form a passage to the North Sea of Europe.”[95] Later that paragraph he again says that the captain was “transported with joy.”[96] De Suria’s description of Malaspina is decidedly different than that of the captain. This is probably a reflection of de Suria’s own excitement as well as an assumption of the sentiments of the Captain. It is possible, however, that Malaspina did have high hopes in spite of himself, and in his writing is trying to disguise them as nothing was found.

            When the men set out on June 29th, hopes were once again high, as “each officer promised himself that he would find it.”[97] Their expectations were proved fruitless on July 4, when de Suria gives an account of the men returning in the long boats having found that the strait ended quite quickly. De Suria seems convinced of the possibility that the strait may exist, and is disappointed when things do not turn out. This is totally opposed to the attitude of Malaspina, who seems skeptical of the possibility of finding it.

            While Malaspina was certain after his excursion in Port Mulgrave that the desired strait did not exist, de Suria is still doubtfully hopeful of the chance of finding it. He says that it is still necessary to follow the prescribed route, “to dispel once and for all the scrupulous doubts which might remain about the desired passage to the Atlantic of Europe.”[98] He needs confirmation that there is no possibility of its existence. Several days later as they charted the coast, another area seemed to him to be a possibility. He therefore believed that they should, “explore carefully, foot by foot, for the desired strait of Ferrer Maldonado. Even if we are not successful in finding it there would at least be left the complete satisfaction that no one in the future could carry off this glory.”[99] Like Malaspina, de Suria wished to dispel any doubt that the strait could exist, yet contrary to Malaspina, he is still hopeful that it could possibly be found, and that if they do not find it someone else may. Malaspina, however, chose not to explore the area, and de Suria sounds very disgruntled that the captain has already decided that the strait did not exist. He “remains insensitive to the criterion of utility while the notion of glory seems to him a much more valuable objective.”[100]

            The three authors give very different perspectives on the possibility of the Northwest Passage. Malaspina doubts its existence form the beginning, though his hopes are raised when entering Port Mulgrave. Antonia de Tova, less concerned with the passage, seems hopefully but not overly interested in finding it. And Tomas de Suria sees it as a real possibility, and wishes to find it for the glory that it would bring to Spain. While the events are the same, the attitudes of the three men reflect three very different backgrounds and experiences, and sometimes clash as to how the others are reacting. 


            In investigating several accounts of the same voyage, the goal was to ascertain exactly how the accounts matched up, if it was possible to discern what happened on a voyage such as this. After reviewing the accounts of Malaspina, de Tova, and de Suria, it is evident that while for the most part the events matched, the different accounts gave totally different perspective of the voyage.

            While generally it agreed that Malaspina was a good captain, the accounts differ as to how he achieved this. Malaspina shows his concern for the health and safety of his crew, and de Suria and de Tova agree that he is very conscientious. The three accounts all demonstrate how the two crews worked together and had good relations, but de Suria shows the tensions on board, something the other accounts leave out.

            In dealing with the natives, each author discusses the topics of first encounters, relationship with women, trade and thievery, and conflicts that arose. Throughout this investigation, the authors all view the natives differently, offering varying perspectives and a wide variety of information on the subject of the native people. They also demonstrate the total misunderstanding of one people by another upon first encounter, and bring their prejudices and social experiences to bear on their encounters with the native peoples.

            When searching for the Northwest Passage, each author approached the subject with different information and degrees of expectation. Therefore, while Malaspina sounds skeptical of the possibility of finding the Passage, de Tova is more hopeful, and de Suria is convinced that it can be found. These differing perspectives come out in the way each author talks about the expedition, and the reactions of himself and others.

            In summary, the three varying accounts give three totally different pictures of the voyage. This can be accounted for by their various positions in the expedition, their backgrounds, and the amount of information they possessed, as well as their goals in writing the journals. When put together, they offer a fuller picture of the voyage experience, and demonstrate that, while they sometimes agreed, it is impossible to talk about “the voyage experience” as each is so vastly different.


Works Cited 

Archer, Christon I. “The Political and Military Context of the Spanish Advance in the Pacific Northwest.” Spain and the North Pacific Coast, ed. Robin Inglis. Vancouver: Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1992. 

Cook, Warren L. Flood Tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, 1543-1819. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973. 

Cutter, Donald C. Malaspina and Galiano: Spanish Voyages to the Northwest Coast, 1791 &1792. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1991. 

Cutter, Donald C. “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay,” The Alaska Journal, 1972. 

Franch, Jose Alcina. “The Culture of the Indians of the Northwest.” To the Totem Shore: the Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones el Viso, 1986. 

Gascoine, John. “Exploration, Enlightenment, and Enterprise: The Motives for Pacific Exploration in the Late Eighteens and Early Nineteenth Centuries.” The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

Hart, Catherina Poupeney. “A Personal View of the Northwest Coast: the Journal of Tomas de Suria (1791). To the Totem Shore: the Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones El Viso, 1986. 

Kendrick, John. Malaspina, the Portrait of a Visionary. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. 

Malaspina, Alejandro. The Malaspina Expedition 1789-1792, Volume II Panama to the Phillipines. Ed. Andrew David, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Carlos Novi, Glyndwr Williams. London: The Hakluyt Society, 2003. 

Meras, Luisa Martin, Higueras, Dolores. “Spanish Cartographic Surveys of the Northwest Coast in the XVIIIth Century; the Corps of Naval Steersmen.” To The Totem Shore: The Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones El Viso, 1986. 

Olson, Wallace M., ed. Through Spanish Eyes: The Spanish Voyages to Alaska, 1774-1792. Auke Bay, Alaska: Heritage Research, 2002. 

Porrua, Enrique. “Malaspina in the Pacific: Spanish Scientific Exploration in the Age of Reason.” Mains’l haul. Volume 36, Issue 1, 2000.

Sota, Jose de la. “Nootka: The Crisis of 1789.” To the Totem Shore: The Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones El Viso, 1986. 

Sota Rius, Jose de la. “Spanish Science and Enlightenment Expeditions.” Spain and the Golden Age of Exploration: 1492-1819. Ed. Chiyo Ishikawa. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum and University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 

Suria, Tomas de. Journal of Tomas de Suria of his Voyage with Malaspina to the Northwest Coast of America in 1791. Ed. Donald C. Cutter. Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1980. 

Tova, Antonio de. The Diary of Antonio de Tova on the Malaspina Expedition. Ed. Enrique J. Porrua. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellin Press, 2001. 

Vaughn, Thomas. E.A.P. Crownhart-Vaughan,E.A.P., Palau de Iglesias, Mercedes. Voyages of Enlightenment: Malaspina on the Northwest Coast, 1791/1792. Portland: Glass Dahlstrom Printers, 1977. 

Works Consulted 

Cutter, Donald C. “The Return of Malaspina.” The American West. 1978. p 4-19. 

Cutter, Donald C. “Sailing the Northwest Coast with Malaspina.” The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

Donat, Ana Maria. “Alejandro Malaspina in the Spain and Europe of his Time.” The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

Inglis, Robin. “The Noble Savage: Myth and Reality and the Northwest Coast at the End of the Eighteenth Century”. The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

Inglis, Robin. “Dionision Alcala Galiano: The Canadian Adventure of a Spanish Naval Hero.” VII Congreso Internacional de Estudios Canadienses Cádiz, October 23-25/1998. The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

Inglis, Robin. “Malaspina and Maquinna: Spanish Indian Diplomacy at Nootka, August 1791. Mulazzo, Italy on September 25, 1993, Convego Internazionale su Alessandro Malaspina e la sua spedizione scientifica politica 1789 - 1794. The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

King, Robert J. Bahía Botánica y Liqueyos": Alexandro Malaspina and British designs in the Pacific”. The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. 

King, Robert J. “Ambrose Higgins and the Malaspina Expedition.” The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center.

[1] Enrique Porrua, “Malaspina in the Pacific: Spanish Scientific Exploration in the Age of Reason.” Mains’l haul. Volume 36, Issue 1, 2000. p 38-47.

[2] Thomas Vaughn, E.A.P. Crownhart-Vaughan, Mercedes Palau de Iglesias, Voyages of Enlightenment: Malaspina on the Northwest Coast, 1791/1792. Portland: Glass Dahlstrom Printers, 1977. p 4.

[3] Porrua, “Malaspina in the Pacific.” p 38.

[4] John Gascoine, “Exploration, Enlightenment, and Enterprise, The Motives for Pacific Exploration in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries.” The Alejandro Malaspina Research Center. p 3.

[5] Gascoine, p 4.

[6] Gascoine, p 5.

[7] Luisa Martin Meras and Dolores Higueras, “Spanish Cartographic Surveys of the Northwest Coast in the XVIIIth Century; the Corps of Naval Steersmen.” To The Totem Shore: The Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones El Viso, 1986. p 98.

[8] Christon I Archer, “The Political and Military Context of the Spanish Advance in the Pacific Northwest.” Spain and the North Pacific Coast, ed. Robin Inglis. Vancouver: Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1992. p 12-13.

[9] José de la Sota, “Nootka: The Crisis of 1789.” To the Totem Shore: The Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones El Viso, 1986. p 194.

[10] Archer, p 13.

[11] Archer, p 14.

[12] Archer, p 14.

[13] Jose de la Sota Rius, “Spanish Science and Enlightenment Expeditions.” Spain and the Golden Age of Exploration: 1492-1819. Ed. Chiyo Ishikawa. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum and University of Nebraska Press, 2004. p 177.

[14] Vaughn, p 2.

[15] Donald C. Cutter, Malaspina and Galiano. Seattle: University of Washington Press,, p 3.

[16] Porrua, “Malaspina in the Pacific.” p 38-47.

[17] Alejandro Malaspina, The Malaspina Expedition 1789-1792, Volume II Panama to the Phillipines.Ed. Andrew David, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Carlos Novi, Glyndwr Williams. London: The Haley Society, 2003.

[18] Cutter, Malaspina and Galiano. p 1-2.

[19] Cutter, Malaspina and Galiano. p 4.

[20] John Kendrick, Malaspina, the Portrait of a Visionary. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1999. p 1.

[21] Antonio de Tova, Ed. Enrique J. Porrua. The Diary of Antonio de Tova on the Malaspina Expedition. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellin Press, 2001. p 35-44.

[22] Antonio de Tova, p 39.

[23] Wallace M. Olson, Through Spanish Eyes: The Spanish Voyages to Alaska, 1774-1792. Auke Bay, Alaska: Heritage Research, 2002. p 432.

[24] Tomas de Suria, Ed. Donald C. Cutter, Journal of Tomas de Suria of his Voyage with Malaspina to the Northwest Coast of America in 1791. Washington: Ye Galleon Press, 1980. p 12.

[25] Tomas de Suria, p 13.

[26] Alejandro Malaspina, p 81.

[27] Alejandro Malaspina, p 81.

[28] Alejandro Malaspina, p 125.

[29] Antonio de Tova, p 386. “mereció por sus circunstancias la indulgencia del comandante”

[30] Tomas de Suria, p 41.

[31] Alejandro Malaspina, p 174.

[32] Kendrick, p 55.

[33] Alejandro Malaspina, p 81.

[34] Alejandro Malaspina, p 88.

[35] Alejandro Malaspina, p 90.

[36] Antonio de Tova, p 365.

[37] Tomas de Suria, p 28.

[38] Alejandro Malaspina, p 81.

[39] Alejandro Malaspina, p 89.

[40] Antonio de Tova p 365. “se tomaron medidas desde este día para mantener en su vigor la disciplina, se repitieron los ejercicios de canon y la gente adiestro en el uso de las armas de fuego.”

[41] Tomas de Suria, p 28.

[42] Tomas de Suria, p 29.

[43] Tomas de Suria, p 50.

[44] Tomas de Suria, p 50.

[45] Tomas de Suria, p 51.

[46] Tomas de Suria, p 58.

[47] Donald C. Cutter, Malaspina and Galiano. p 4.

[48] Alejandro Malaspina, p 81.

[49] Alejandro Malaspina, p 86.

[50] Alejandro Malaspina.

[51] Antonio de Tova, p 365. “el comandante de la expedición comunicó al de esta corbeta el plan adoptado para el armamento de las lanchas, las cuales, si lo permitiesen o exigisensen las circunstancias, trazarían mucha parte de la costa, o a vista da las corbetas o separándose de ellas.”

[52] Cutter, Malaspina and Galiano. p 1-3.

[53] Alejandro Malaspina, p 105.

[54] Alejandro Malaspina, p 106.

[55] Donald Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay,” The Alaska Journal, 1972. p 43.

[56] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 43.

[57] Tomas de Suria, p 36.

[58] Tomas de Suria, p 36.

[59] Jose Alcina Franch, “The Culture of the Indians of the Northwest.” To the Totem Shore: the Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones el Viso, 1986. p 138.

[60] Warren L. Cook, Flood Tide of Empire: Spain and the Pacific Northwest, 1543-1819. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973. p 309.

[61] Alejandro Malaspina, p 110.

[62] Alejandro Malaspina, p 110.

[63] Alejandro Malaspina, p 114.

[64] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 43.

[65] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 45.

[66] Tomas de Suria, p 39.

[67] Franch, p 151.

[68] Alejandro Malaspina, p 109.

[69] Alejandro Malaspina, p 135.

[70] Alejandro Malaspina, p 106.

[71] Alejandro Malaspina, p 112.

[72] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 44.

[73] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 44.

[74] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.”p 44.

[75] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 46.

[76] Tomas de Suria, p 36.

[77] Alejandro Malaspina, p 128-131.

[78] Alejandro Malaspina, p 128.

[79] Tomas de Suria, p 39.

[80] Alejandro Malaspina, p 135.

[81] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 47.

[82] Cutter, “Malaspina at Yakutat Bay.” p 47.

[83] Tomas de Suria, p 41.

[84] Archer, p 12-13.

[85] Cook, p 307.

[86] Alejandro Malaspina, p 101.

[87] Alejandro Malaspina, p 102.

[88] Alejandro Malaspina, p 104.

[89] Alejandro Malaspina, p 105.

[90] Alejandro Malaspina, p 123.

[91] Alejandro Malaspina, p 159.

[92] Catherine Poupeney Hart, “A Personal View of the Northwest Coast: the Journal of Tomas de Suria (1791). To the Totem Shore: the Spanish Presence on the Northwest Coast. Vancouver: Ediciones el Viso, 1986. p 186.

[93] Antonio de Tova, p 376. “apperencias tenían la conformidad mas exacta con las vistas de Ferrer Maldonado. Ya se deja entender cuanta importancia dará esta casualidad a su reconocimiento. El comandante de la expedición se adelanto para hacerlo, pero habiendo atracado la punta oriental del abra, no pudo ver ni la extensión ni la natualieza de su fondo.”

[94] Antonio de Tova, p 382-383. “a estar menos convencidos de la inexistencia de un paso por esta parte al oceano Atlantico.”

[95] Tomas de Suria, p 35.

[96] Tomas de Suria, p 35.

[97] Tomas de Suria, p 38.

[98] Tomas de Suria, p 54.

[99] Tomas de Suria, p 58.

[100] Hart, p 187.

Updated: January 21, 2015