The 18th Century Spanish Sailor Everybody's Ignored--Until Now

Roundup: Talking About History

John Noble Wilford, in the NYT (June 1, 2004):

Capt. James Cook needs no introduction. Son of the commonest soil of Yorkshire, he rose to command three voyages that opened European minds to the wide world of the Pacific Ocean and epitomized maritime exploration in the 18th-century Enlightenment. Even his cruel death, in 1779, only magnified his heroic reputation.

Then there is Alejandro Malaspina, Spain's answer to Cook and a brave, intelligent explorer in his own right. He led a five-year scientific expedition, in 1789-94, that charted the western coast of the Americas and traversed the Pacific as far as the Philippines, with a side trip to China.

Yet Malaspina might as well have sailed off the edge of the earth, so forgotten have he and his achievements been in the annals of exploration over the last two centuries. He was without honor even in his own country. On his return to Spain, he ran aground on the shoals of domestic politics and was thrown in prison, his journals suppressed and his name virtually stricken from Spanish history.

Now, finally, Malaspina is being rescued from oblivion. A comprehensive edition of his journals was published by the Naval Museum in Madrid in 1990, and English translations -- ''The Malaspina Expedition, 1789-1794'' -- are being issued by the Hakluyt Society, a London organization that publishes accounts of geographical discovery. The second volume was introduced in April at a symposium here at the John Carter Brown Library. The final English volume is to be published at the end of the year.

Scholars at the symposium said the publications would restore to history an overlooked chapter in the scientific exploration of the Enlightenment. They expect a proliferation of studies of Malaspina and Spain's role in what had been viewed as a largely British and French endeavor.

''This is the beginning of a Malaspina industry,'' said Dr. Norman Fiering, director of the library, an independent research institution at Brown University.

Dr. John B. Hattendorf, a professor of maritime history at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., explained that Malaspina's voyage ''made very little impact at the time because of his political problems'' and had been neglected since because of the lack of published documentation. Only a few specialists, he said, have known anything about the Spanish mariner....

comments powered by Disqus