Discovering the Region: Texts

5. Tomás de Suría, Journey of his Voyage with Malaspina

Henry R. Wagner, trans. and ed., “Journal of Tomás de Suría of his Voyage with Malaspina to the Northwest Coast of America in 1791,”
Pacific Historical Review
5:3 (1936): 267-76.

. . . . With some light winds which kept freshening we weighed the kedge anchor the following morning and sailed along close to the coast. That same afternoon we were in front of Cabo Buen Tiempo which has been described. All day many whales of all sizes accompanied us, giving us quite some diversion. Some of them were very large. The pilots say that when the fish in the sea are very lively and uneasy it is a sign of a storm. The next day we found that we had doubled the cape. We continued sailing along reconnoitering the coast and the most salient points. This takes a direction to the ESE from the cape. By dead reckoning for two days and the N and NW wind which favored us we found

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that we had made two good days' run from Cabo de San Elias to the Puerto de los Remedios in front of which we found ourselves. Already the snow in this neighborhood was diminishing and no more was noticed than some on the elevated peaks. In consequence the coast was very low, full of forests of high pines and undergrowth. From Cabo de Buen Tiempo to that of Engaño[54] we noticed many islands and small rocky islands quite close to  the coast, which also might have been a worthy object of our explorations as well as the Estrecho de Aguilar[55] situated in 58° to the southeast of Cabo Buen Tiempo, although this last was more impracticable on account of the time necessary to explore a strait, which is quite a difficult problem, insamuch as the current from it runs out very swiftly to sea. All these days were foggy, obscure, and wet, and although we sailed along quite close to the coast we could not see more than a little of the beach on account of the fog and the low clouds which covered the surface of the mountains.

Near Cabo del Engaño at a distance of two miles the wind shifted to the E and that same night it settled around in the SE, very fresh and with more fog and darkness. It is to be noted that in these latitudes clear and limpid atmosphere is enjoyed always when the wind reigns N, NNW or NW, but to the surprise of all we experienced clouds and fog from Cabo Buen Tiempo to that of Engaño. It is also to be noted that along all this coast there is much sargasso and a massive marine plant like an orange with a long trunk the leaves of which are somewhat like those of the vine. This plant keeps all of its foliage when underneath the water but immediately withers when out of it. We collected some of it and found out by experiment what I have just set down. The botanist Haenke described them and added them to his Herbarium. Having passed so close to Cabo del Engaño we were able to recognize with all possible exactness the Ensenada del Susto[56] which is found after doubling the cape. We saw that it was very large, contained good shelter and much dense forest.

On the following morning the commander, fearful of some danger, determined to get ready for sailing as the wind had grown stronger and was contrary to our course thus making it impossible for us to approach the coast. In effect, we lost sight of it and in a short time discovered off the bow a large island. We went to look it over and they said what it was called but I do not remember.[57] We now discovered an archipelago of an infinite number of islands of different sizes which covered the whole horizon. We passed between them, marking them and reconnoitering them, and sailing among them for two days.

54. Cabo Engaño, named by Bodega in 1775, now Cape Edgecumbe.

55. Suría is here mistaken in the name. The Estrecho or Rio de Aguilar was much farther south. He probably referred to Cross Sound.

56. Sitka Sound.

57. He probably means Biorka Island.

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These[58] are in latitude 56°, before reaching the famous Puerto de Bucareli, which is in 55°. Up to this port and even beyond there is a countless multitude of these islands, the most noted one and which is beyond the said port and is remarkable for its size is the one named “Reina Carlotta” by the English.

About 10 o’clock on the day following we again saw the coast and the sky cleared up a little. We directed ourselves to reconnoiter the entrance to the Entrada de Bucareli and at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon we were four miles distant from the port. We recognized the mouth of it, marking all the most interesting points and confirmed the maps of Don Juan Bodega y Quadra, and Mourelle, his pilot, who laid the bases for this port. This was the reason why we did not engage carefully in this reconnaissance as we saw by their maps the care and exactness with which those deserving officers worked out this interesting point of geography. It may be said with propriety by way of note that this is the most famous port in the world for its size and the number of innumerable sheltered ports, large and small, which surround it. To give a moderate idea of it the above mentioned surveys of our sailors, to which I refer the inquiring individual, is sufficient. These, notwithstanding, the two journeys which they made to it, employing two summers in this exploration and experiencing many sieges and dangers in treating with the natives who are very fierce and daring, never could ascertain its complete extension so spacious is it.

At 6 in the afternoon the wind died down when we were one mile distant from the most southern point of the port,[59] the beaches and the surf on the shore being very clearly visible. We were astonished at not seeing any canoe or signs of habitation or smoke as on the rest of the coast, which we were accustomed to see occasionally as a sign which they make to call the ships to trade for furs. The islands which we had to the west of us seemed to be more numerous than those of the preceding days because at sunset we saw in the west and on the horizon formed by the clouds themselves an extensive and perfect coast line with various islands, points, and bays, which by having lasted with a most unalterable shape for more than a half an hour caused the commander and the other officials to get out the geographical charts and prove by them whether or not it was land. When they were flattering themselves with having made some new discovery to add to their maps, they saw this fantasy marvellously losing its shape and disappearing until the horizon was quite clear and those which had been marked down were the only ones to be seen. What more conduced to our belief in this phenomenon was that when it occurred we were sailing at some distance from the coast in order to double the south point of

58. He probably means Coronation, Hazy Island and others. All along this coast Malaspina gave names to various openings which appear on his map but are not mentioned in any of the texts.

59. Cape Felix.

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Puerto Bucareli. If the calm had continued this coast could not have been reached from where we were stopped, even supposing that it was real.

Seeing the coast of this Puerto Bucareli so cut up into small islands, rocks, and farallons, besides the innumerable islands of this archipelago which we surmised to exist, gives us occasion to think with some foundation that in some other time perhaps this coast extended for a long distance into the sea and that through some formidable earthquake it sank, leaving behind the many islands. The opinion is more confirmed if you make two reflections: first, if we compare America with the other parts of the world, Asia, Africa, and Europe, it will be noted that America from the Strait of Bering in 72° of latitude north to 60° south, where Cape Horn is located, covers a tremendous distance of thousands of leagues which occupy almost half the globe, considering the fact that this extent of latitude is very unequal to its longitude, as there are various isthmuses, for example, that of Panama, where the distance between the north and south seas is only thirty leagues, America occupies a very small extent of longitude compared to that of the two immensely wide seas which bathe it. In the South Sea, as a proof of its size, the direct course from Acapulco to Manila, that is from the coast of America to that of Asia, measures 3000 leagues. That this disproportion which I have shown is notable in this part of the world and is not seen in the others is manifest by what I have said. Possibly in ancient times America was wider and who knows if it did not connect with Asia, when the distance from one to the other was much less, and that in consequence the many islands which are close to both coasts were united to them. It is noticeable that some of them, as for example Guadalupe, which is in front of Old California, is fifty leagues distant from the coast, the Sandwich Islands are distant a thousand leagues, and those of Otaceti are the same, both settled by people. How could these people have come, lacking as they did a knowledge of navigation? On the other hand their language, customs, dress, and religion do not bear any resemblance to those of the uncivilized people of America. If their inhabitants had belonged to the cultivated nations of Europe who by some accident or shipwreck had reached these islands it is believable that there would not have remained some remnant at least of their primitive dialect? Is it not the fact that their language is original and different from all those known? If we reflect on their religion we encounter the same difficulty, as they are idolatrous like all the inhabitants of the northern regions of America, and if we enlarge somewhat on the matter, in view of the proofs just given, it can be considered that the havoc and ruin of this coast happened many centuries before the conquest. In view of the fact that in none of the writings of those times does any similar notice occur nor even by tradition of the Indians themselves, demonstrating even to a stubborn person the pain of seeing Our Maker suffer. Then would have been formed these islands, separating among them the inhabitants who before occupied the whole continent.

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For this reason little difference is noted in the customs of these islanders from that on this coast. Likewise, they are found to be heathen because when this event occurred all Americans were heathen, and many centuries were to pass before the Spaniards propagated among them the light of the evangel.

I must give some slight idea of a very great storm which, according to the expression of the commander, was the worst he had experienced in all the voyage from Cadiz, and it will serve to explain his own anxiety although he tried to hide it. The signs previously referred to of a great number of whales and other fish swimming about, jumping, and appearing on the surface awakened our vigilance, leading us to expect every instant a strong storm, as these signs are usually sure ones. Actually the wind came up from the SE so excessively strong that it was necessary to handle the ship with every care, furling the topgallant sails, the mainsail, and the foretopsail, and remaining only with the topsail and the foresail. The wind kept getting stronger every instant with rain and a very heavy sea. The rolls were tremendous and the darkness terrifying. This unfortunate event obliged us to stand off from the Isla Carlotta, which bore to the ESE in order to run before the wind for safety. Thus we ran for six days of terrific storm. If it had not been for the wonderful construction of our vessels, built purposely to withstand every class of danger we would without doubt have perished, as it seemed as if all the elements had conspired against us. There was not a man who could keep his footing, simply from the violence of the wind, so that besides the mountains of water and foam which swept over us, there arose from water small drops of spray forming a strange and copious rainfall never before seen. The roaring noise of both elements was horrible and terrifying. The confusion and shouting on the ship, together with the maledictions of the sailors, who in such cases break out into blasphemy, augmented the terror to such an extent that it seemed as if all the machinery of the universe were ready to destroy us. During this time we suffered such inconveniences as cannot be described, for during the six days there was no one who could get repose for a moment. We weathered this storm with topgallantsails down and at times without any sail, although usually with the foresail. This bad weather lasted from the 2nd to the 8th of August. From 12 o’clock at night of the 8th the wind began to die down and at 12 midday of the 9th, it died down completely. The sea continued with almost the same force but some breezes from the northwest, which began to blow after the calm, and carried away all the fog and darkness, contributed very much to quieting it down, leaving the atmosphere clean and clear. The men were so worn out that the commander did not wish to repair the sails, some of which had been blown to pieces, and he simply ordered others to be substituted which had already been used so that we could continue on our course. As we were at some distance from the coast we could not see Cabo Boiset.[60]

60. The present Cape Cook.

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In order to thank the sailors for the good work they had done and at the same time to keep away from the scurvy which was insidiously threatening them, the first symptom of this perverse sickness being noted in the heaviness of their limbs, we began to give them lemonade on the advice of the surgeon Don Francisco Flores. It was also given to the officers and the other persons in the wardroom. The order was communicated to the Atrevida where they also began to put the same remedy into effect. From the 9th to the 10th we found that by dead reckoning we had made a very good day’s run of eighty leagues, and having marked the point on our map we found that we were very close to Nootka. The desire of our commander to treat with the natives of this place, in view of the great things said about them by all travelers, Spaniards as well as Englishmen, as well as his wish to find out if this territory was an island and run the bases of the port because he considered the foreign maps to be incorrect, in view of their little concordance with ours, he took a course towards land, steering to the east with a west wind astern. At 11 in the morning we discovered the coast of Nootka and a little later marked the Punta de Tassis which stood out behind the mountains. The first view of the coast indicated that it was low, because although mountains could be seen they were not very high. Their clearness or darkness made manifest their different locations which they had above the level of the sea. Various channels and lagoons, islands, farallons, small rocky islands could be made out with various points and low lands all covered with pine trees. It was all marked down and noted until at night we hove to for fear of striking on some shoal which without doubt we would have done if we headed into port.

On the 11th at 4 o’clock in the morning we continued along the coast and at this hour two canoes of Indians came close to us, but they could not get alongside and went away. The wind slackened a great deal so that we did not enter the channel at 12. At 3 in the afternoon we were becalmed and two other canoes came out, one of which came alongside, the Indians climbing up with much speed without any ladder. We noticed in them a great liveliness and an admirable behavior. The first thing they asked for was shells with this word “pachitle conchi,”[61] alternating this with saying “Hispania Nutka” and then words which meant alliance and friendship. We were astonished to hear out of their mouths Latin words such as Hispania, but we concluded that perhaps thy had learned this word in their trading with Englishmen or that it was a bad pronunciation. That same afternoon near the entrance it became calm and it was now necessary to anchor with the kedge in 24 fathoms, sand bottom, in order to await another day, and with the east wind and by tacking to get in without danger in view of the fact that the entrance to the port is very narrow. In a little while a longboat could be seen rounding the point to the ENE which in two hours and with some labor reached us. In it were twenty sailors and the master. He told the commander that he had been sent by his Ensign, Don Pedro Saavedra, who was

61. This means “give us shells!”

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then in the port, to assist us in whatever he could. The commander made them stay.

On the 12th at 8 o’clock in the morning we raised the kedge and crowded on all sail in order to enter the port. We anchored there with felicity in 8 fathoms, bottom sand, in front of the beach of the establishment and to the starboard of the frigate Concepción from San Blas which was under the command of Saaverdra.

The captain of the Company of Volunteers of Catalonia, Don Pedro Alberni, as governor and castellan of the new establishment and fort, rendered us the corresponding salute and came aboard in his boat with Saavedra. The commander regaled them with a good breakfast. Immediately the small boats were put in the water and went ashore with two warps, with which and with two anchors we made everything safe. The port is not the most capacious and the entrance as stated above is very narrow. Two small vessels can scarcely sail out or enter it together. It makes a figure similar to this[62] aside from the islands and farallons which are close to the coast. This drawing was made on the spot and immediately after the entrance. It lacks the final arrangement.

On the 13th the placing of the observatory was finished and the commander arranged to send a request to the captain and chiefs of the tribes to come from their homes and treat with us for the purpose of acquiring the information which we solicited about their customs, dress, physiognomy, etc., and compare them in this way with the foreign accounts which we had with us. By means of some Indians who were paddling about in their canoes asking for shells, copper, and other things, we sent word to Macuina, the head absolute chief of all this country and to Tlupanamibo, his subordinate, and who acts at times as head of the army in their military exploits. From the beginning we noticed in the other Indians, the plebes who were roundabout, a submission to this chief so complete that in their conversations, whether it was because of recognizing that they were vassals, or on account of superstition, or some [the text breaks off here]. A small fruit like a black grape, bittersweet, which the botanist called beargrape. They were agreeable and pleasant to the taste and we continued eating them. We had commenced to trade in furs as we had found that the natives were losing their fear of us. They were approaching our vessels with more confidence but up to the present time the trade was not favorable because according to what they gave us to understand they were short of these skins because they had sold them to the Englishmen, Colnett and Kemirrik (Kendrick), who had visited them this year. Besides this the natives, that is the plebes, or as they are called mischimis, do not possess an abundance of these skins as do their chiefs or taiyes with whom for the present we have not agreed. The sea-otter skins which we have seen are inferior in quality to those of Mulgrave and Principe

62. Here is included a rough pen and ink sketch of the port which is not reproduced as there are many better plans.

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Guillermo. The same can be said of the fish although it is always of excellent quality.

About 10 in the morning we saw rounding the point inside the port which closes it and divides it from the channel, which leads to the settlements of the chiefs, a large canoe of different shape from the ordinary ones. It was manned by ten rowers on a side and in the middle was the chief named Tlupanamibo with a large square chest. He came aboard, confident and happy, all by himself. Through Captain Alberni and a Guadalajara boy of the Gertrudis who served as interpreters we made out his harangue “Great chief, Tlupanamibo, tasi inferior to you, has heard your polite and friendly message and in compliance with it and with the friendship which I profess for your nation and the great chief who directs you to our habitations, I have come to see you and salute you. I persuade myself that you will be informed by Captain Alberni of the fidelity of my actions. He has experienced from me and my men.through my command better actions than words. He is here and can tell you the truth. I begin with this discourse in order to gain your full confidence the same that I expect you will have in me. Do not believe that my years can serve as an obstacle to serve you in what you may be pleased to order me to do. Although you may marvel and believe me a barbarian I am not ignorant of the inviolable laws of friendship. They inspire me to tell you not to confide in nor to feel safe from the dissimulated perfidy of Macuina. I tell you that he is crafty and overbearing and he looks on you with hatred and abhorrence. He shortly meditates dislodging you from this place which you have founded in our dominion, but he cannot do it while Tlupanamibo lives, who, being experienced in this double-crossing game, will know how to oppose it as I have his malign projects up to the present. Although, as I am his subject, I could accompany him in his enterprises. I forbear to do it because my heart is filled with integrity and justice. I know that you are men like us but more civilized and united to the universal and particular interests of yourselves and your nation, on which account I do not admire your manufactures and productions so much esteemed amongst us. The plebes do not yet think and so they attribute to prodigies and enchantments those operations you perform for the management of your great canoes. Finally, if you wish to gain the entire confidence of all the tribe proceed like the English do, who although more greedy, are upright and unchangeable and their treatment of us is familiar and gracious.”

This elegant speech was so specious that our officials formed an elevated conception of this tribe, but I do not admire them as I remember the elegant way in which the Mexicans know how to make a harangue. . . .

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. . . . On the 17th we noticed that the natives wore their fear which the outrage, that had been committed by Martinez, had produced in them. Whenever those natives thought about him they displayed the most extreme desire for vengeance. They now approached us with familiarity and assured us that their principal tais or chief would come to visit us. The noble Tlupanamibo

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was lodged on the beach at the establishment where at certain hours of the day he sang for us in company with his oarsmen about the glories of his nation and his ancestors, and at other times about his own feats and military exploits, all in a meter like the anacreontic. When he got to these last songs this old man took on such vigor and enthusiasm that he was able to represent perfectly with his actions the struggles, the leaping, and dismay of his enemies and all that could give a true idea of his particular triumphs. At 4:30 in the afternoon he prepared his canoe for his return, leaving as a hostage a son of his and the square box until his return with the Emperor Macuina. He went away with great swiftness. I drew a portrait of him which was much praised for its likeness to him in his features. This day the commander gave an order that at midnight the two longboats should set sail and make a reconnaissance by way of the channels which lead to the establishments of the Emperor Macuina. They were well manned with sailors and soldiers to the number of thirty-two, sixteen in each of the two longboats. Also in each one were placed two swivel guns, the corresponding ammunition and provisions and all the instructions which were to be opened at the foot of Mount Tassis. So at 11:15 everything was ready and Don José Cavellos and Don José Espinosa were already on board. At this time I begged the commander to distinguish me by appointing me to such a glorious small expedition. He granted my request, providing me with a gun, pistols, and ammunition as if I were a soldier, adding the instruments necessary for the operation of the business which I was to undertake. With shouts and acclamations we departed...

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