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Alejandro Malaspina

Alejandro Malaspina: Portrait of a Visionary

John Kendrick
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Alejandro Malaspina
    Book Description:

    Malaspina arrived in Spain with a scientific background and an ardent interest in the philosophy of the Enlightenment. A skilled navigator, his 1789 Pacific voyage was the last and most important of his career - a five-year scientific and political examination of the Spanish colonies in the Americas and the Philippines. His appraisal of the British colonies at Sydney Cove and Tonga allowed him to compare life in a place almost untouched by European contact with the situation in the colonies. Malaspina eventually returned to Spain, where he was received by King Charles IV and commissioned to produce a work covering all aspects of his studies that would establish Spain's reputation as a modern enlightened state. Malaspina advised the king that this could be achieved only if all the present ministers were dismissed and replaced with a slate of Malaspina's choosing who would back his visionary ideas. This seemingly naive proposal resulted in a unanimous vote by the council that his plan was false, seditious, and injurious to the sovereignty of Their Majesties and a sentence of ten years imprisonment in the fortress of San Antón. At Napoleon's urging he was released after eight years and exiled to Italy. He died there in 1810, just as the revolts in the Americas were starting, as he had predicted. Using Malaspina's writings, including the journal of his great voyage and his personal letters, John Kendrick makes the life of this extraordinary man available for the first time in English.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6768-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 The Prisoner of San Antón
    (pp. 3-5)

    Since Roman times a light in the Tower of Hercules has guided ships into the port of La Corufuña. Since the Middle Ages the entrance has been defended by fortifications. One of those defences, the Fortress of San Antón, is on a narrow rocky island less than two hundred metres long, at the entrance to the harbour. It started the fourteenth century as a lazaretto - a quarantine station - with a chapel of St Anthony beside it. In 1528 the first fort was built on the island. A gun battery was added and the structure rebuilt several times, with...

  6. 2 The Italian Student
    (pp. 6-20)

    Alejandro Malaspina was born in 1754 in the town of Mulazzo, in the tiny enclave of Lunigiana on the northwest coast of Italy.¹ He was a younger son of the Marquis Carlo Morelo Malaspina, a rank that did not bring with it great wealth or fame. At the time Lunigiana was one of a patchwork of principalities, republics, and city-states that shared the Italian peninsula with the Papal States. Lunigiana has been described as a “feudal domain,”² although it had an ill-defined dependence on the Hapsburgs. It was divided into about fifteen fiefs or marquisates, mostly headed by various Malaspina...

  7. 3 The Spanish Officer
    (pp. 21-32)

    Malaspina went directly to Spain from Malta where he was enrolled a guardiamarina in the midshipmen’s college at San Fernando, near Cádiz, on 18 November 1774. He joined a frigate, the Santa Teresa, in January 1775 and was immediately promoted to what may be called the most junior commissioned rank, as an alférez de fragata.¹ The time interval is so short that it is entirely possible Malaspina never attended the college. His career was off to an extremely fast start which, since he had had no time to demonstrate his extraordinary abilities, argues for the continuing presence of a powerful...

  8. 4 The Great Voyage: South America
    (pp. 33-51)

    When he relinquished command of Astrea, Malaspina was reappointed to the Compañía de Guardias Marinas; but he was not a man to remain in a shore appointment. There have always been navigators who must make one more voyage, and Malaspina was no exception. Columbus could have retired after his second voyage, but he had to make a third and a fourth. Drake died of yellow fever in the West Indies after a life of ocean travel, including a circumnavigation of the world which made him rich. Cook completed two circumnavigations before dying in the course of his third Pacific voyage....

  9. 5 The Great Voyage: North America
    (pp. 52-62)

    Malaspina duly presented himself in Mexico to pay his respects to the viceroy and to report on his plans. He had intended to make a voyage out to the Hawaiian Islands, return to pick up the officers he had left in Mexico, then visit the Spanish establishment at Nootka on the Northwest Coast before crossing the Pacific to Kamchatka. However, soon after arriving in Mexico he heard from Bustamante in San Blas that a royal order had been received ordering Malaspina to investigate a reported passage through North America leading to the Atlantic. After sailing north to comply with the...

  10. 6 The Great Voyage: The pacific
    (pp. 63-75)

    Malaspina’s ships left Acapulco for the Pacific on 20 December 1791. Two artists, Juan Ravenet and Fernando Brambila, joined expedition. Malaspina noted the start of the New Year in his journal, giving his position as 12,° 28’ west of Acapulco, in latitude 13° 24’. It was the first time he had noted the passage of the year; previous years he had simply recorded navigational data and the weather. This time a gale prevented the usual cleaning and ventilation of the ship with bad effects on the health of the crew, already weakened by what was probably malaria, which had reached...

  11. 7 Vavao
    (pp. 76-85)

    Malaspina left Port Jackson on II April 1793, bound for the Tonga Islands. He took advantage of light weather to ask Atrevida to send a boat, by which he sent instructions to Bustamante for a rendezvous in Tonga, or failing that, in Concepción, Chile. He was concerned about the irregularity of one of the chronometers and Bustamante his most recent estimates of the rate at which it gained time.

    On April 25 there were undeniable signs of an impending storm. Malaspina knew from Cook’s journals that a hurricane was possible the autumn season in his latitude of thirty-five degrees. By...

  12. 8 The Voyage Home
    (pp. 86-100)

    After the last canoe had fallen astern, Malaspina sailed along the Tonga island chain to complete his mapping. He decided against a planned call at Tongatapu; they had all the food and water they could carry, it was a long way to Chile, and each day brought more debility in the armamentos, the ships’ complement.¹ Malaspina set his course towards the south to pick up the westerly wind, then called for an inspection of all the clothing of the men. He was pleased to see that his suspicions that they might have disposed of much of it in Vavao were...

  13. 9 The Political Thought of Alejandro Malaspina
    (pp. 101-122)

    With Malaspina on his way to the capital, it is an opportune time to examine his political thought. His had been a political voyage, and his ideas had taken form by the time he returned to Cádiz. He had written to Greppi from Acapulco to say that his “exact idea” of America was complete, although later he wrote to Gherardo Rangoni from Manila to say that a thousand totally opposed ideas beset him. The distillation of those ideas, derived from his background as an ilustrado and from his reading and understanding of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, is in his...

  14. 10 From Courtier to State Criminal
    (pp. 123-139)

    Malaspina arrived with Bustamante in Madrid on 3 December The court was at El Escorial, where they were received by Charles IV and Queen María Luisa four days later. Three other of the expedition were with them: Ciriaco Ceballos, Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, and Cayetano Valdés, whose uncle Antonio Valdés presented them to Their Majesties.¹ Malaspina wrote to on 19 December just after his return to Madrid. He spoke the chaos of the system of government, regretting that he had concrete to say about his own future. However, the chaos not discourage him. The despondency in his letters from Cádiz evaporated,...

  15. 11 De Profundis Clamavi
    (pp. 140-155)

    While the Council of State was meeting at El Escorial to confirm order for his arrest, Malaspina was in Madrid preparing for departure for Italy. Jiménez, writing more than eighty years later, said that Malaspina and Gil were strolling in the Paseo de Recoletos at the time, chatting about the work to be done during Malaspina’s absence. His arrest a day later may have been the first intimation he had that his cause was lost. If Malaspina was surprised, Gil was more so - because he too was arrested, as was one the Queen’s ladies, the Marchioness La Matallana, whose...

  16. 12 Pontremoli
    (pp. 156-163)

    Malaspina was released reluctantly by the Spanish government. After almost seven years on San Antón, he was sent by sea from Corufña after orders were given to the authorities at Spanish ports to arrest him if he set foot ashore. He avoided this last indignity from the government he had served for twenty years and after trans-shipping in Minorca, arrived in Genoa in March 1803.¹ its issue of March 19 the National Gazette of Liguria recorded the arrival of “the celebrated navigator Malaspina, who is returning his country of Lunigiana.”

    The country had been through wars and political upheavals while...

  17. 13 Malaspina Remembered
    (pp. 164-170)

    On a sunny September day in 1992 the Royal Navy of Spain is receiving a group of historians at the old midshipmen’s college at San Fernando, not far from Cádiz, the major southern naval base Spain. The college buildings are still in use as a school for petty officers. The visitors have come from many countries in Europe, North and South America, and even Australia. What they have in common is that they are all students of the life and work of Alejandro Malaspina. They are received with full ceremony: the band of the college plays while a guard of...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 171-182)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-190)
  20. Index
    (pp. 191-200)