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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieut.-Governor Grose to The Right Hon. Henry Dundas

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Lieut.-Governor Grose to The Right Hon. Henry Dundas

Sydney, New South Wales, 19th April, 1793.


The two Spanish ships Descuvierta and Atrevida, commanded by Don Alexandro Malaspina and Don Jose Bustamante, whose probable arrival had been formerly notified, anchored here on the 13th of last month. Hospitality Returning the compliment.

His Majesty’s instructions respecting their reception I have executed to the utmost in my power, paying them every compliment and attention due to their rank and situation; and I have the pleasure to report that on their leaving us, as well as on many occasions before their departure, they did not omit to give every testimony on their part of the satisfaction and gratitude they felt at the hospitality they had been treated with. While they were here they lived amongst us; and in return they twice invited the officers of the settlement to a public dinner on board the ships, on which occasion they received me with the distinction that is paid by them to their lieutenant-generals.

The commodore presented me with two views of this place and one of the settlement at Parramatta, together with such observations as had been made of this harbour and country by the officers of the expedition who were charged with that department. These, together with a pacquet for the Spanish Ambassador at the Court of London, will be forwarded by the Kitty.*

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Such articles as were wanting to refit their ships I directed the Commissary to furnish, and as they were of inconsiderable page 163 value, I thought it would meet the wishes of his Majesty’s Ministers to supply them without a charge.

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They sailed from hence on the 12th instant, but as they seemed to evade any questions that were put to them respecting their future intentions, I can form no probable conjecture where they are gone. They expect to be in Europe in about fourteen months from this time.

I am, &c.,

Frans. Grose.

* These documents were forwarded with Grose’s letter of 30th May, 1793. They are not, however, amongst the Records. In the collection of MSS. in the British Museum received from Sir Joseph Banks’s executors is the following paper; it bears no date: “Arrived at Cadiz, 21st September, 1794, Captains Malaspina and Bustamante, and Galeano and St. Cevallos, commanders of the corvettes Descuvierta and Atrevida, and the galera Sutil. These vessels were built at the Carraccas, purposely for discoveries for the improvement of knowledge, and especially navigation, and sailed from Cadiz, 30th July, 1789. They have constructed charts and descriptions of the coasts of America and the adjacent islands, from the River of Plate to Cape Horne on one side, and from that cape on the other to the extremity of North America. On the N.W. coast of America, in 59°, 60°, and 61° latitude, they sought in vain for the strait alleged to have been discovered by the Spaniard, Ferrer de Maldonado, which they proved to have no existence. They despatched in the beginning of 1792 the galeras Sutil and Mexicana, under the command of Captains Galeano and Valdes, who were directed to act in concert with the English captain, Vancouver, for the examination of the immense archipelago known under the denomination of Admiral de Fuente and John de Fuca. The greater part of 1792 was occupied by the corvettes in the examination of the Marianas and Philipinas Islands, and Macao, on the coast of China. They passed repeatedly between Mindanao and Morintay [Moralay]; they eoasted New Guinea; they made it under the Line to the eastward 500 leagues; they passed amongst the New Hebrides, visited New Zealand at Dusky Bay, New Holland at Port Jackson, and the archipelago of the Friendly Islands at the islands of Babau [Vavau], not seen by any antecedent navigators who have passed these parts. They ultimately traversed unfrequented parts of the South Sea, on the way to Callao de Lima, where they arrived in June, 1793. From that port they touched at Conception, in Chili, and the corvettes, seperating to encrease the operations of discovery, coasted Terra de Fuego, coast of Patagonia, and the east part of the Malouines (Falkland Islands), joining at Rio de Plata; at Montevideo they joined the frigate Sta. Gestridis and several register ships, which they accompanied to Cadiz. In this voyage, botany, mineralogy, and hydrography have received much and valuable improvement. The experiments on gravitation have been repeated in both hemispheres, and in various latitudes, which will conduce to the determination of the figure of the earth, and will assist in establishing a universal measure. They have studied the civil and political state of the countries they have visited. They have collected monuments to illustrate the history of their emigrations, as well as the progress of their civilization from their primitive ignorance. Their discoveries have not cost a single tear to the human race, and they have only lost three or four of the crew in each vessel. Their observations are to be published as soon as possible.“ Apparently this was never done. The authorities of the British Museum report that they have no knowledge of such a work having been published.

[Personal investigation by the Editor led to the discovery that a second edition of “Malaspina’s Voyage“ had been published in Madrid in 1885. This, at the time the New South Wales Records were being prepared, appears not to have been known by the British Museum authorities. The work is not known to have ever been translated into English. The doings of the Spanish commander on the New Zealand coast in February, 1793, are here translated and reproduced.—The Editor.]

Malaspina’s Narrative.

“On the 21st we found ourselves in latitude 40 deg, longitude 45 deg 30 min east of Manila. Dusky Bay lay 100 leagues to the south, and Cape Farewell and Queen Charlotte’s Channel 107 leagues to the east.

“A new softness in the air, longer days, and the brilliancy of the stars made these climates much more convenient for navigation than the tropics. Even in this latitude, the favourable east wind still blew, and in measure as we approached the coast we discovered a larger number of aquatic birds, whereas on one side a dense mist obscured the horizon. Consequently, although by midday of the 24th being in latitude 44deg 34min, longitude 46deg east of Manila, we judged the coast to be near, and although the Atrevida signalled land in sight, it was impossible, on account of the mist, to approach nearer, and by nightfall, finding no bottom, we steered to the west, the wind at N.N.E. light breezes.

“February 25.—These changed to a soft S.S.E. breeze, which sprang up at midnight, clearing away the mist, which obscured the horizon, so that towards 3 o’clock, having taken the altitude to starboard, we found ourselves at break of an exceedingly fine day, within five leagues of the coast, which extended from N.E. to S.S.E.

“By the exact details which Capt. Cook, with his usual accuracy, has given of this part of the coast, we were able without difficulty to make out all the points within sight. Five Fingers Point bounded our view to the south, the opening of Dusky Bay was clearly visible, and the course we followed carried us slightly to leeward of Doubtful Bay, which at 9 o’clock was about two or three miles distant. Having made a careful survey of its surroundings, we put off from the coast, and stood in on the other tack somewhat to windward. It would be difficult to give a more perfect description of the ruggedness and elevation of these coasts than that given by Capt. Cook on his first voyage. Two miles from shore we sounded in 100 fathoms, without finding bottom, and, although the intermediate island showed signs of a fairly abundant vegetation, the entrance of Dusky Bay, and all the coast of the port, closed in with inaccessible mountainous peaks, justified the captain’s accounts, which have caused this port to be looked upon as dangerous to ships leaving it.

“Nevertheless, the fact of its latitude being only 45deg 13 min, of its being to leeward while the south winds held, and the well known importance of taking advantage of the weather on that coast, and the fine day we were enjoying being, as it were, a warning, were all reasons which prompted us to lose on time in availing ourselves of this favourable opportunity for achieving our purpose. The more so that every change of wind, and the examination of Captain Cook’s meteorological diary, made us fear that we should again meet the east winds directly opposed to the entrance of both ports.

“For these reasons, having taken up at midday a convenient position to windward, ready to follow any course that circumstances might render advisable, the armed boat of the Descubierta, under command of Don Felipe Bausa, was sent to reconnoitre the interior of the port, and particularly to ascertain the facilities for watering and wooding; she was under orders to return with the utmost despatch. Meanwhile the corvettes, sometimes lying to, sometimes making small boards, kept the same position relative to the entrance.

“The boat did not return until 9 at night; only at the entrance, on the outside of the island, had they touched bottom in 20 and 25 fathoms, gravel, but afterwards in both channels they sounded in 50 fathoms, without finding bottom, nor could they again touch it in all the surroundings of the island. Both channels were intercepted by some rocks, presenting no danger to navigation. Wood and water were abundant in the interior; in an inlet to the north the coast was somewhat more level and sandy, offering safe and convenient anchorage. Time being limited, they had not been able to take soundings. To the south-east, a channel of two or two and a half cables ran through the mountains, the latter rising in sharp peaks, then becoming much narrower the channel wound round to the south, perhaps going to meet the internal channels of Dusky Bay. The tide was not very rapid. From the signs on the shore, the ebb appeared to be about midday. They saw a few birds, not a single seal, no shellfish save a few small limpets, and not a sign, however remote, of inhabitants. These were the chief points in their report of this place, to which must be added a total lack of pine trees, vegetation consisting of a species of medium sized shrub. In brief, unless chance or dire necessity bring mariners to this port, we must suppose that it is destined to be perpetually deserted, and that Dusky Bay will ever remain the port of welcome in this neighbourhood, offering as it does a more convenient, a safer, and a healthier refuge.

“Night falling and the boat taken up, we remained becalmed some little time off the coast, but soon a light north wind sprang up, which enabled us to put off, and by midnight we were three leagues from shore. Anxious to lose no time, we steered to the south, calculating we had still seven leagues to run, and by 3 in the morning, having made three of the seven, we again stood to the coast, calculating to enter Dusky Bay at daybreak. The wind was now considerably increasing, a heavy mist obscured the coast, and there was every sign of an unfavourable change in the weather.

“26th.—We hoped that the first daylight would afford us a favourable opportunity of ascertaining our course, but dawn revealed a different outlook, and we appeared to have completely lost our advantageous position for gaining the port. At 4 in the morning, the fog having for a moment cleared off, we found ourselves suddenly at the entrance of Dusky Bay, and only two or three miles distant from Break-sea Island, which it was quite impossible to pass on account of the wind. Finding thus an error of three leagues in ou. calculations since midnight, we steered due west, the wind blowing a strong gale. At 9 o’clock we again tacked, and stood in to the land, waiting an opportunity of gaining the wind.

“But our efforts were vain. We were again standing in to the coast at the same position as in the early morning, the wind at N.E. and gaining strength every moment as we neared the shore, which warned us that to hold to our purpose was to run the risk of serious losses. Consequently we were compelled to take in two reefs in our topsails and steer to the south. At times portions of the coast were still visible, principally Five Fingers Point, which stood out clearly.

“Far from falling, by the afternoon the wind had become so violent that it might almost be called a hurricane, with a heavy sea running. We suffered considerable damage in our sails and rigging. The corvettes seemed powerless to resist. We had taken three reefs in the foresail and maintopsail, a precaution we considered necessary to prevent the waves from swamping the ships. By 10 o’clock an accident seemed to threaten us at any moment.

“After midnight the wind began to fall, but lid not entirely cease until dawn, at which time we were sailing with two reefs in the four chief sails and topsails. The heavy weather was followed by a few brief intervals of calm, which was finally followed by a favourable S.S.E. wind, accompanie l by an exceedingly dense fog.

“The course we had been compelled to take in the past storm had carried us to a considerable distance from the coast. Our observations revealed to us a strong current to the N., and thus we were no less than 30 leagues from the bay.

“The warning we had received brought reflection with it, and we decided that to venture into Dusky Bay for the sole purpose of making experiments of gravity was an unnecessary risk. Other reasons were added to this—viz., the extraordinary effects of the cold and the last storm upon the already weakened and tired Philippine crew, and the heavy rains experienced in the port, so that at times a fortnight would pass without any opportunity for taking observations, and finally, as we were twice again to cross parallel 45deg on either side of Cape Horn, it would not be difficult to find a more favourable opportunity of achieving our purpose.

“For these reasons, we decided that to repair the ships and rest the crew it would be advisable to put in at Port Jackson or Botany Bay in New Holland. We therefore steered west without delay, and at midday of the 28th, the following day, we were already 70 leagues from the extreme south of New Zealand.

“Our longitude before Doubtful Bay, compared with that of Capt. Cook, was as follows. The errors 30 and 20min in the two islands of New Zealand, which the captain noticed in his second voyage, had, of course, been corrected in our charts:—
Chronometer 71.Num. 11.
Longitude east of Manila45.35.3845.35.38
Longitude by time45.
Difference of time5.230.22.26