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Alessandro Malaspina and his Expedition

13/03/2011 1 comment

[In 2010, the Spanish ministry of Science and Innovation promoted an interdisciplinary oceanographic expedition on the vessel Hesperides with the aim of generating a consistent inventory of the impact of climate  change on the ecosystem of the ocean, and to explore oceanic biodiversity. They have set up a website for the purpose, and this is a loose translation of the section on Malaspina’s 1789 expedition.]

In October 1788 King Carlos III approves the plan submitted by the naval officer Alejandro Malaspina with the intention of making a scientific and political trip around the world. Here begins the most daring naval exploration of those sponsored by Carlos III, which becomes known as the Malaspina expedition.

Check out this time line of the expedition.

Two naval corvettes are put into service of the expedition: the Discovery and the Bold, commanded by Alexander and José Bustamante y Guerra. Preparations were made in record time. In less than a year, the boats are made ready, the crew recruited, naturalists hired, equipment purchased, and officers trained. On Thursday July 30, 1789 the ships moor in the port of Cádiz, the crew nervously anticipating their imminent departure.

Fifty-one days later, America is in sight. On September 19, the ships anchor in the harbour of Montevideo. Large streams, beautiful trees, and vast pastures with grazing cows and horses surround a city whose streets are dirty and badly paved. The Sugar Loaf Mountain overlooking the west side is turned into a magnificent botanical garden adorned with tiny hummingbirds.

From Montevideo, the expedition leaves the Atlantic Ocean to begin its reconnaissance of the Patagonian coast and the Falklands, skirting Cape Horn. In Pacific waters, Concepción, Valparaíso, Coquimbo and Arica are the ports of call for the expedition. The region has dazzling deposits of silver, gold, copper, and mercury, attracting the attention of the Crown.

At the end of May, the expedition arrives at the port of Callao. The impending bad weather provides an excuse for rest and recuperation. During this time, too, the ships are repaired, provisions are made for food and scientific equipment, and the local region explored. On 20 September, the expedition begins the next stage of its journey, this time along the coasts of Guayaquil, Panamá y Nicaragua, which are adorned with magnificent volcanoes. In order to speed up the survey of the region, the ships split up. They will rejoin later at the port of Acapulco, to be followed by the exploration of the Northwest Coast. They intend thence to seek the Northwest Passage between the oceans, which was described in 1588 in an apocryphal document by Ferrer Maldonado. It will turn out that the passage does not exist.

While the corvettes explore the icy waters  of the North Pacific, the naturalists have been enjoying the hot weather in Mexico. They have explored Petaquillas, Chilpancingo, Tasco, Cantarrana, Mochitlan, Méjico, Cuernavaca, Guadalupe, Puebla. When the corvettes return, the expedition regroups and begins preparations ahead of their journey to the Marianas Archipelago and the Philippines, where they will stay during the monsoon season. Later, they will head for New Zealand and New Holland, and enjoy some R&R in the Friendly Islands, entertained by the natives.

On the first of July, 1793, the ships hoist sails for the long return to Spain. After an extensive hydrographic survey of the American coastlines, they arrive at the port of Montevideo in the middle of February 1794. In anticipation of French attack, they join the frigate Gertrude to protect the homebound convoy from Lima. France and Spain are at war. Five years since their departure, the Discovery and the Bold dock at the harbour of Cádiz on 21 September 1794. They haven’t circumnavigated the world, but they have conducted an ambitious and extensive exploration of the Americas, Oceania and the Pacific.

For Alessandro Malaspina, the end proved dramatic. In view of his merit, he was raised to the rank of brigadier in 1795, but soon thereafter, his influence and achievements earned him the enmity of Manuel de Godoy, then Foreign Minister in the Spanish court. Accused and convicted of revolutionary conspiracy, Malaspina was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in the fortress of San Anton. In 1803, the sentence was commuted to exile, and he moved to Genoa. He died in Pontremoli on April 9, 1810.