[AUTOGRAPH LETTER, SIGNED, FROM ALEJANDRO MALASPINA TO THE VICEROY OF MEXICO, REPORTING ON THE PROGRESS OF THE MALASPINA EXPEDITION]
by Malaspina, Alejandro
Lima, 1790. pp., docketed on verso. Quarto, on a folded folio sheet. Old fold lines, minor wear and soiling. Very good plus. In a half morocco box. A fascinating letter by Alejandro Malaspina, addressed to Juan Vicente de Guemes, Viceroy of Mexico, describing the year he has spent since parting from the viceroy in Cadiz, around the coast from Buenos Aires to Lima. The Malaspina Expedition (1789-94) was arguably the most significant Spanish scientific exploration performed in the 18th century, designed and modeled under the influences of those of the British Cook and the French La Pérouse. The letter is signed from Lima, detailing to the Viceroy the progress and route taken by the expedition during its eleven months and giving a detailed account of the places visited. Starting the missive on an odd note, Malaspina tells the Viceroy he wishes not to come to him as a traitor, but rather as someone who wishes to manifest his everlasting recognition for the many favors granted upon him. He continues the note expressing his joy for the success of the expedition thus far, carried out between Buenos Aires (the expedition first landed in Montevideo) and Lima, and the many astronomical and scientific discoveries made. Malaspina then promises to send a detailed account from Acapulco, and begins with the derrotero of the expedition, starting at Montevideo, exploring the coast of the Patagonia, Puerto Deseado, the Falklands (even then disputed, and considered a point of geo-political importance), Tierra del Fuego, Cabo de Hornos, and up the Pacific, all the way to Lima. En route to Lima they explored Chile (mapping the region, collecting zoological and botanical samples, and meeting with the Huiliches natives) and Valparaiso, where the corvettes separated to gain time - the Atrevida exploring the coast of Valparaiso whilst the Descubierta sailed to the islands of Juan Fernandez. The vessels would reunite at the port of Callao, giving course to a prolonged stay in Lima of approximately three months, re-provisioning and repairing the Descubierta and the Atrevida. Their time in port would also give the scientists time to order to the vast amount of material collected thus far. Malaspina then states how pleased he is that the abuses of the previous minister have been remedied, although he thinks it will be too difficult to reach the capital (Mexico), as it would take too much time away from the expedition, and the only delay in Acapulco will be to re- provision the ships. In 1789, Malaspina and Bustamente drew up plans for this scientific circumnavigation which was to rival Capt. Cook, the purposes being to chart the most remote regions of America and to observe the political state of America relative to Spain. Alexander Dalrymple assisted them with scientific instruments, a brilliant team of scientists was assembled, and ships were specially constructed. Surveys were made of the east and west coasts of South America, and they fixed the exact position of Cape Horn, correcting Cook's reading. On receipt of orders to investigate the apocryphal Strait of Anian, they sailed for Alaska and entered Yakutat Bay at the supposed latitude of the strait, where the Malaspina Glacier flows into the sea, and followed the coast to Prince William Sound and Nootka. Malaspina surveyed the coast south to California at Monterey Bay and crossed the Pacific in 1791. Two of his officers and Jose de Espinosa y Tello returned north in search of a northwest passage and published the charts and account of this secondary voyage in 1802. In the Philippines, New Zealand, and New South Wales, Malaspina continued charting before making an easterly passage around the Horn for Spain. "In spite of having commanded Spain's greatest scientific voyage of exploration to the South Seas in the eighteenth century, [Malaspina] is virtually unknown. He had enemies in the Spanish court who suppressed his reports, which were not printed until this edition of 1885. Some scholars consider the exploits of his five- year voyage as great as those of La Pérouse or of Captain Cook" - Hill. The full expedition report and crates of specimens were lost in the Spanish archives for nearly a century, until found by Novo y Colson. The addressee, Count of Revillagigedo (1740-99), was viceroy of Mexico. Malaspina writes to him in a friendly fashion, even though his orders were to investigate and provide an analysis of the Viceroy's governance of the region. Revillagigedo was a reformer and one of the most efficient viceroys of Mexico. Extremely rare. This is the only letter by Malaspina to have appeared in the market that we know of. Made doubly enticing by dint of being unpublished and full of important and interesting content. HILL 1068 (ref).
(Inventory #: WRCAM51832)
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