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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

[Spanish Voyages of the Eighteenth Century]

Spanish Voyages of the Eighteenth Century

Though Spanish voyages in the north Pacific between America and the Philippines continued regularly, there was a long period between the voyage of Quiros in 1605-1606 and the time when a Spanish voyage was made west into the south Pacific. The few that were made were the result of Spain's fear page 60that the British might occupy some islands which would prove a menace to her South American possessions, and the last and most important south Pacific voyage made was an accident caused by contrary winds. The list of voyages follows:

Date Leader Ships Islands Visited
1770-1771 Gonzalez, Felipe San Lorenzo and Santa Rosalia Easter Island
1772-1773 Boenechea, Domingo Aguila Tuamotu, Society
1774-1775 Boenechea, Domingo Gayangos, Thomas Aguila and Jupiter Tuamotu, Society Raivavae
1775-1776 Langara, Cayetano de Aguila Tuamotu, Tahiti
1780-1781 Maurelle, Francisco A. La Princessa Vavau, Late

Felipe Gonzalez

1770 to 1771

Don Felipe Gonzalez was sent to Easter Island with the ship San Lorenzo and the frigate Santa Rosalia to report on its suitability for settlement and thus prevent the British from occupying a position too close to the South American coast. The Spanish persisted in regarding Easter Island as Davis Island, in spite of Roggeveen's discovery and naming of it. The island was found unattractive, and after annexing it to Spain, nothing further was done in the way of establishing settlement.

Domingo Boenechea

1772 to 1773

Don Domingo Boenechea sailed from Callao on September 26, 1772, on the frigate Aguila to establish a colony on Tahiti, which the Spaniards named Amat after Don Manuel de Amat, the Viceroy of Chile and Peru. On sailing through the Tuamotu Archipelago, he discovered an island on October 28 which he named San Simon y Judas (Tauere), and on October 31, another which he named San Quintin (Haraiki). On November 1 he encountered Anaa, which he named Todos Santos; and on November 6 he sighted Meetia, which received the name of San Cristobal. On November 8 he arrived at Tahiti, which he named Amat. After making a survey, he shaped his course for Moorea, to which he gave the extra name of Santo Domingo. On his return, he sighted the coast of Chile on January 21, 1773; but his report was dated March 8, 1773, in the port of Valparaiso.

Boenechea and Gayangos

1774 to 1775

The report on Amat being favorable, Boenechea sailed on his second voyage with the Aguila, accompanied by the storeship Jupiter. His senior lieutenant was Don Thomas Gayangos. They left Callao on September 20, 1774, taking with them two padres to be established on Tahiti to convert the heathen. A wooden house, cattle, seed, and garden implements page 61were carried for the new settlement. On October 29 they sighted an island which was named San, Narciso (Tatakoto), and two days later, the island of San Simon (Tauere) was picked up. On November 1 two islands were sighted which were named Los Martires (Tekokoto) and San Juan (Hikueru). The island of San Quintin (Haraiki) was seen, and at Todos Santos (Anaa) they traded with the natives for coconuts and artifacts. On November 13 they sighted San Cristobal (Meetia), and the next day Amat (Tahiti) was in sight. After some exploration of the coast, they anchored on November 27 in a harbor which they named Santa Cruz de Ohatutira in the Tautira district of the island. They made friends with the chief, Vehiatua, and land was selected for the homestead and the house built for the priests.

After installing the priests, Boenechea sailed. northwest for Orayatea (Raiatea). He passed Tetiaroa, which he renamed Los Tres Ermanos (Hermanos); sighted Huahine, which he named La Hermosa; and saw Raiatea, which he named La Princessa. Maurua was renamed San Antonio, and Borabora received the new name of San Pedro. The ships returned to Tahiti, where Boenechea took seriously ill and died on January 26, 1775. He was buried ashore, and Gayangos assumed command. Gayangos set his return course southeast with a wind from the northeast and; on February 6, discovered the island of Raivavae in the Austral group which he named Santa Rosa. The ship entered the harbor of Callao on April 8, and a report of the voyage was made by Thomas Gayangos.

Cayetano De Langara

1775 to 1776

The Aguila was sent out on a third voyage, under the command of Don Cayetano de Langara, to carry supplies to the priests at Tahiti. She sailed from Callao on September 27, 1775, and followed the previous course through the Tuamotus. She sighted San Narciso, San Simon y Judas, Los Martires, Todos Santos, and San Cristobal before arriving at Amat (Tahiti) on October 30, 1775. She anchored at the harbor of Santa Cruz de Ohatutira and found that two priests, Father Geronimo Clota and Father Narciso Gonzalez, who had been landed on the previous voyage, had gone in fear of. their lives because a sufficient guard had not been left to protect them. In their note to Langara, asking to be returned to Lima, they stated, "Our Lord God in His most holy Law commands us not only not to take our own lives but also not to expose ourselves to imminent risk of losing them." Langara took the priests on board and sailed on November 12. He went south as far as latitude 40° S. on his return, but encountered no new islands. The ship anchored at Callao on February 16, 1776. Thus, the settlement of Tahiti by the emissaries of Spain was abandoned, but the diaries of the priests and the journals of the commanders of the expeditions contain useful ethnological material.

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Francisco Antonio Maurelle

1780 to 1781

The last Spanish voyage into the south Pacific was made by Don Francisco Antonio Maurelle in 1780 to 1781. The account of this expedition was obtained from a manuscript procured by the French navigator La Pèrouse in China and was sent back to France with his journals.

Maurelle set out on a voyage in the frigate La Princessa from Manila to St. Blaise on the North American coast. He sailed from Cavite in the Philippines on August 24, 1780, and owing to adverse winds, found himself in the south Pacific among the islands of Melanesia. On February 27, 1781, he reached the island of Latte (Late), which is in the Vavau group of the Tongan islands. After trading with natives who came off in canoes, he discovered Vavau on March 4 and named it Island of Majorca. He met a high chief named Tubou, was entertained with dances and kava, and recorded a number of observations about the inhabitants. He seems to have gone on to the Apia group, for on March 21, he counted ten islands to starboard and named them Don Joseph de Galvez. From this area, he worked back to Guam, which he reached on May 31. On June 20, he sailed from Guam and anchored in the roadstead of St. Blaise on September 27, 1781.


The new discoveries made during the three Spanish voyages to Tahiti, consisted of four atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago and one of the high islands of the Australs. On his first voyage, Boenechea discovered Tauere (SanSimon) and Haraiki (San Quintin) on October 28, 1772, and October 31, 1772, respectively. On his second voyage, Boenechea reached the latitude of Tauere farther east and discovered Tatakoto (San Narciso) on October 29, 1774, He picked up Tauere and, in making for Haraiki, sailed between two islands on November 1 which he had missed on his previous voyage, probably by passing at night. The island to the north was Tekokoto which he named Los Martires, but this island had been discovered by Cook on August 11, 1773, and named Doubtful Island by him. The island to the south, which was Hikueru, was a new discovery, which Boenechea named San Juan. Credit for the discovery of Raivavae in the Australs must be given to Gayangos, who discovered it on February 6, 1775, when he commanded the Aguila after Boenechea's death.

The discovery of the Vavau group by Maurelle has been generally accepted, and his account of the natives of Late and Vavau provide unquestionable proof of his remarkable discovery.