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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Pedro Fernandez De Quiros

Pedro Fernandez De Quiros

1605 to 1606

Quiros, like Mendaña, importuned the authorities to equip a second expedition, and the Viceroy of Peru was ordered to provide him with two ships. On December 21, 1605, Quiros sailed from Callao with two ships and a zabra (launch), with Luis Vaez de Torres second in command. The expedition sailed west, and this time Quiros, farther south than on his voyage with Mendaña, sighted a number of uninhabited low islands in the Tuamotus which he numbered and named.

On February 10, 1606, he encountered an inhabited island to which he gave the name of Conversion de San Pablo.1 This island has aroused a great deal of speculation and some geographers have identified it as Tahiti. However, though the ships were in sight of the island for three days, no mention is made of the high ranges which characterize Tahiti. In fact, de Torres states that it page 9was a low island. Furthermore, boats were sent ashore twice to search for water and though search was made in two woods, no springs or streams were found. A well was sunk in a verdant place in one of the woods, but the water proved salty. The men walked across to the sea on the other side, where some of the inhabitants were found with their canoes. In coming back between two woods, they walked for some distance in a sandy channel covered with water up to their knees, for according to Burney, "at high water this isthmus was covered by the tide, so that the sea on each side of the Island was then joined here." The attempt to identify this "isthmus" with the Isthmus of Taravao in Tahiti is so far-fetched as to be ridiculous. The lack of report of high land, the absence of springs and streams of fresh water, the brackish water of the well, the narrow width of the island, the channel which separated the two woods [islets] at high water, and the fact that a search of the woods revealed only coconuts, form about as typical a description of an atoll island, as one could ask. No attempt to correct the erroneous longitudes and even latitudes of the early seventeenth century in order to locate La Sagittaria, or Conversion de San Pablo, on the site of Tahiti can be regarded as having any weight against Quiros' own description. Furthermore, brief mention was made of the people, their weapons, canoes, and sails and also of a platform raised with large stones about a cubit and a half above the ground within an enclosure defined by small stones. The enclosure and stone platform conform to the type of religious marae constructed in the Tuamotus and other Polynesian atolls. Tahiti remained undiscovered until Wallis encountered it a century and a half later.

Quiros continued west and, after passing five more small islands, came to an inhabited island on March 1. This he named Gente Hermosa from the handsome appearance of the inhabitants, of whom he gives an interesting record. The island has been identified as Olosenga, or Swains Island, the most southerly of the Tokelaus. Quiros then sailed on into Melanesia, too far to the south to make Santa Cruz. He arrived at the group now known as the New Hebrides, and one of these islands, discovered on May 3, 1606, he named Australia del Espiritu Santo, believing that it formed part of the long sought "southern continent." It retains the name of Espiritu Santo. After some time in this area, Quiros sailed north to search for Santa Cruz; but as contrary winds drove him to the east, he gave up his quest and steered for Navidad, where he arrived in October 1606. De Torres, however, continued his exploration in the other ship, sailed through the strait between Australia and New Guinea, which was named after him, explored the south coast of New Guinea, and then sailed on to the Moluccas and Manila.

page 10

Map of the Pacific, Showing Polynesian Triangle.

1 This island was named La Sagittaria by Quiros, according to Burney (A chronological history of the voyages or discoveries in the … Pacific Ocean, vol. 2, p. 281), but according to Markham, who translated the record of Quiros' voyages, Conversion de San Pablo was the name given to the island of Anaa by Quiros (Hakluyt Soc, Ser. II, vol. 14, p. 197, ft. note). Markham states that Burney confused a small atoll (Sagittaria) seen after leaving Conversion de San Pablo with that island.