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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Spanish establishment at Nootka Sound (1789-1792) Bartroli, Tomas


Before the eighteenth century, several mariners—especially mariners from Spain—visited what is called the North West Coast of America, but brought back little knowledge of it. Some legendary Spanish voyages resulted in claims of the existence of a navigable passage connecting the northern ends of the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans. After 1719 the Russians and, later, the British and the French carried out voyages of exploration along those coasts, intent, primarily, on finding the inter-oceanic passage. Spain, which had traditionally claimed sovereignty over all of that coast, also carried out voyages of exploration organized from the Viceroyalty of Mexico. Around 1760 the port of San Bias was founded, in Mexico, to serve as the centre of Spanish shipping to the Californias and the rest of the North West Coast. Gradually the myth of the inter-oceanic passage began to fade, but a new incentive (the fur trade) brought Russian, British and, later, American shipping to the coast. Some British trading ships voyaged under foreign flags in order to circumvent the onerous monopoly duties. In Chapter I a number of these early exploratory and trading voyages are described, especially insofar as they refer to Nootka Sound which became a favourite halting-place for shipping along that coast. For all practical purposes, the discovery of Nootka Sound has to be credited to Captain James Cook, whose expedition stayed there in 1778 and gave the place its name. However, the Spanish claimed afterwards that it was this same port which their ship, Santiago, had approached four years previously, when a storm had frustrated the attempt to land and take formal possession of that area. This Spanish claim is discussed in the light of all the evidence available, but the question is left unsolved. (Chapter II.) In 1788 Captain Meares led a British trading expedition to the North West Coast, with ships flying the Portuguese flag. He established his headquarters at Nootka and built a house on ground which he claimed to have purchased from the natives. Subsequently he accused the Spanish of appropriating that land and structure when they occupied the place in 1789. This became one of the main points of contention in the subsequent controversy between Spain and Great Britain, over Nootka Sound. The point is fully discussed (Chapters III and IV) using, in part, statements from the records of the American trading ships Columbia and Washington which arrived at Nootka Sound in 1788 and made a long stay. Their officers witnessed several events in the story of Nootka, and their reports are of considerable value as evidence. Following Meares' voyage, his firm was reorganised by amalgamation with another one which had obtained permission from the two companies which held the British monopoly, to trade on the North West Coast of America. The new concern prepared another expedition to the North West Coast, under Captain Colnett. He was to voyage to Nootka with the Argonaut and the Princess Royal—both under the British flag. They would be joined by the Iphigenia and the North West America, which had participated in Meares' expedition under Portuguese colours, and had subsequently wintered in the Sandwich Islands and were expected, to return to Nootka. Colnett would set up a trading-factory and erect some sort of a fortification there, for which purpose he carried a number of Chinese artisans. (Chapter V.) The Spanish were disturbed by "foreign" movements on the coast, which they considered as their own. An expedition was dispatched in 1788 to ascertain what the Russians were doing there. It was reported that prosperous Russian establishements had been set up on the coasts of what is now Alaska, and rumoured that the Russians were planning to occupy Nootka. This information, together with the news that two American ships were on their way to the North West Coast, prompted the Viceroy of Mexico to effect at least a token occupation of Nootka. In 1789, an expedition was dispatched for the purpose, under the command of E.J. Martínez. Details about its equipment and its voyage are given. (Chapters VI and VII.) In the meantime, the American ships had wintered at Nootka and the Iphigenia and the North West America, still under Portuguese colours, had returned there. Martinez arrived in May and had friendly meetings with the captains of all those ships, as well as with the native chieftains of that area. (Chapter VIII.) As commander of a. Spanish port, Martínez requested the credentials of all non-Spanish ships there. Finding objectionable points in those of the Iphigenia, he seized her, but after re-consideration he released her on a dubious bond. (Chapter IX.) As for the American ships, Martínez had been alerted about them and instructed to beware of their moves. He duly checked their credentials but, finding nothing objectionable in them, he did not interfere with the vessels and actually made friends with their captains and officers. (Chapter X.) At that time, the North West America was on a cruise. When she reported to Nootka, Martinez appropriated her, claiming that her crew had abandoned her as unseaworthy. After having her repaired and re-christening her, he dispatched her to explore the entrance to the Juan de Fuca Strait. (Chapter XI.) When the Princess Royal, of the Colnett expedition, arrived at Nootka, Martinez examined her trading documents and allowed her to proceed, undisturbed, but warned her captain not to trade along that coast. (Chapter XII.) Some days later, the Argonaut, commanded by Colnett, arrived at Nootka and, on the insistent suggestion of Martínez, was moored in Friendly Cove where the Spanish ships were at anchor, and where a fort and establishment were being started. When Martínez asked Colnett for his credentials, the two men engaged in. a heated argument which resulted in Martinez' seizing the Argonaut and placing her crew under arrest. A detailed account is given of the various versions of this incident. (Chapters XIII and XIV.) The treatment of these prisoners and their subsequent transportation to Mexico are discussed in Chapter XV. Unmindful of Martínez' warning, the captain of the Princess Royal brought her back to Nootka, where Martinez promptly seized her and imprisoned her crew. Again, various versions of the incident are given. (Chapter XVI.) The Argonaut and the Princess Royal, manned, by Spaniards and carrying most of their original crews as prisoners, sailed for San Bias. Martinez arranged for the crew of the North West America to be carried to China in the American ship Columbia. (Chapter XVII.) Chapter XVIII gives a detailed account of life in the budding Spanish establishment at Nootka: building activities, everyday events, the acts of taking official possession of the area for the Spanish crown, the arrival of ships with supplies, Martinez’ reports, requests and suggestions to the Viceroy, and other matters. Soon after the Spanish, expedition sailed from San Bias to accomplish the occupation of Nootka, Viceroy Flores issued an order to Martínez to abandon Nootka and return to Mexico before winter set in. This order was carried by a ship bringing supplies to Nootka, several months later. By then, Martínez had already established his forces there and sent for extra supplies in the conviction that he was to remain there indefinitely. Events had convinced him that the British were intent on occupying the place. So he appealed to the Viceroy to cancel the evacuation order. While waiting in vain for word from the Viceroy on the matter, Martínez curtailed or cancelled, some of his building schemes, and soon afterwards he began to prepare for evacuation by careening and re-equipping his ships. His relations with the natives had been very friendly, at first, but deteriorated considerably as a result of his rash shooting of one of their chieftains. But after some time apparently friendly contacts were renewed. (Chapters XIX and XX.) Miscellaneous matters are brought together in Chapter XXI: impressions as to the possibilities of developing Nootka as a Spanish outpost, details about the Indians and their ways, and a few comments of some interest which could not conveniently be included in other chapters. References in some papers suggest that Martinez started building a schooner, and perhaps a second fort, at Nootka. These unimportant points are discussed for the sake of exhaustiveness. (Chapter XXII.) Reluctantly, Martínez completed the dismantling of the fort, pulled down buildings, hid materials for possible future use, and made arrangements with the Indian chief about property which would be left there on his departure. His men carried out some explorations around Nootka, and he seized an American trading schooner which had called at Nooka in distress. This ship was taken to San Bias under escort when the Spanish force sailed wouth from Nootka, on November 13, 1789. (Chapter XXIII.) Viceroy Flores was about to relinquish office when he received news about the Nootka incident. He hastened to send a full report to the Spanish Government, and. to consult his successor-to-be (who was already in Mexico).as to what should be done about the captured ships. Count Revilla-Gigedo took office as Viceroy. The Spanish Government protested to Great Britain about Colnett's attempt to occupy Nootka, and this started a diplomatic dispute. (Chapter XXTV.) Viceroy Flores had given orders to send supplies to Nootka, apparently forgetting that he had already issued an evacuation order. When Martinez and his force returned to San Bias (December 1789) there was much surprise and alarm, and orders were issued to speed up the dispatch of ships to re-occupy Nootka and start a fairly "solid" outpost there. Extra personnel were posted to the Naval Department of San Bias, and a distinguished officer, Bodega-Quadra, took over command and proceeded, to reorganize it and to complete preparations for the new expedition to Nootka. (Chapter XXV.) This expedition arrived at Nootka in April, 1790, and began the erection of a fort which was garrisoned by-troops. Several huts were built, and a schooner—in-frame (removed from the Argonaut) was assembled. Vessels were sent from the new establishment, on exploratory cruises and two ships arrived with extra supplies. (Chapters XXVI and XXVII.) Several reports and. notes about relations between the Spanish and the Indians, during the first months of the new establishment, and the scant information available about life there during the second part of 1790 are brought together in chapters XVIII and XXIX. Chapter XXX describes what happened to the seized ships and their crews; the early release of the American schooner; negotiations between Captain Colnett and the Spanish authorities, and the subsequent release of the Argonaut and its crew. The Argonaut set out for Nootka, where Colnett expected to recover the Princess Royal. Upon reaching the vicinity of Nootka, Colnett sent a few men in a boat to request supplies from the Spanish establishment, but they met a tragic and mysterious death. Another party which was sent to enquire about them was handicapped by bad weather and some time elapsed before it was able to make contact with the Spanish. The Argonaut reached Nootka Sound on January 1, 1791, and stayed, there for three months, during which time she was repaired with the help of the Spanish. (Chapters XXI and XXII.) The Spanish had used the Princess Royal for the re-occupation of Nootka. From there she went on an exploratory cruise and was expected to return to Nootka, but-a stormy sea prevented her from re-entering the port and. she was obliged to return to San Bias. In due course, she was sent to the Philippine Islands and from there to Macao--where she was due to be returned to her owners. They refused to accept her, however, and were eventually paid compensation for her. (Chapter XXXIII.) A number of sick men were taken from Nootka to Monterey in the Princesa. This voyage saw the climax of a series of quarrels between a chaplain, the commander at Nootka and another officer. The story is recounted, for all its pettiness, because it sheds light on aspects of life at Nootka. (Chapters XXIV and XXV.) Some reference is made to the various levels of authority over the Spanish establishment at Nootka (the King's Government, the Viceroy, and Naval Headquarters at San Bias), and the procedure for reporting events (with particular emphasis on the Anglo-Spanish incident and how the news was communicated to the Spanish and British governments). A brief account of the controversy is given, with a reference to the effect that it had on the remote Spanish outpost. (Chapter XXXVI.) The winter of 1790-91, like successive ones at Nootka, was uneventful and dull. Things came to life again in the following spring, when supplies arrived. As a result of a false alarm, the establishment was placed on a war footing for a few days. More buildings went up, contacts with the natives (who always removed their dwellings to a more appropriate place for the winter) were renewed, and an exploratory cruise was made to the Juan de Fuca Strait. (Chapter XXXVII.) This chapter also includes an assessment of one year's record in the life of the establishment. The Aranzazú brought supplies and was dispatched to Monterey to bring further supplies—but her captain finally decided not to return to Nootka. The Viceroy was annoyed about what he considered unreasonable requests for supplies, and insufficient care in keeping stocks in good condition. (Chapter XXXVIII.) Between April and September, 1791, there were more frequent and friendly dealings between Indians and Spaniards at Nootka, the Washington (Captain Kendrick) passed through, and. building and gardening activities continued. (Chapter XXXIX.) A highlight in the history of Nootka was the visit of two Spanish ships, under Captain Malaspina, engaged in a scientific and exploratory voyage around the world. These ships made a two-week stay at Nootka in August, 1790, and visited the various Indian villages along the Sound. Officers made notes of scientific data, and. wrote several very interesting accounts of the populations of Nootka, and also a report about the possibilities of Spanish development of that area. (Chapter XL.) All references to life at the Spanish outpost at Nootka which are to be found in these papers have been quoted in full, and relevant drawings and graphs reproduced and commented upon. Together they provide a sketchy but fairly complete picture of the appearance of that place, and what was achieved there during the one and a half years of re-occupation. (Chapter XLI.) This work is not concerned with the anthropology and sociology of the natives, but a few points are made about them, insofar as they relate to the Spanish establishment. Some notes are added about the fate of some of the natives who were purchased by the Spanish and taken to Monterey or Mexico. (Chapter XLII.) The few details which are available about life in the Spanish establishment during the autumn and winter of 1791-92 are given in Chapter XLIII, and this study stops on the eve of a very important event; the arrival of Bodega-Quadra, and his subsequent negotiations with Captain Vancouver regarding the outcome of the Anglo-Spanish Convention.

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