Malaspina, Alejandro

Alejandro Malaspina, explorer (b at Mulazzo, Italy 5 Nov 1754; d at Pontremoli, Italy 9 Apr 1810). Born to an illustrious but impoverished family, Malaspina entered the Spanish naval service. In 1784 he sailed around the world in the frigate Astrea. Impressed by the important scientific voyages of James Cook and the comte de la Pérouse, Malaspina approached the Spanish government in 1778 with a plan for scientific explorations. He received full command in July 1789 and sailed from Cadiz with 2 corvettes, Descubierta and Atrevida July 30 and rounded Cape Horn. Malaspina planned to investigate the Sandwich Island [Hawaiian Island], but new orders from Spain redirected his ships to the Northwest Coast. The 1789 Nootka Sound Controversy with the British and persisting beliefs in the existence of a Northwest Passage led to the side trip.

In search of the fabled Strait of Anian, Malaspina sailed to 59° N lat. On 27 June 1791 the corvettes entered Mulgrave Sound (Yacutat Bay, Alaska). Reconnaissance dashed hopes that a Northwest Passage was accessible by this route, but the scientists collected samples and studied Tlingit culture. Malaspina coasted farther west along the Alaskan shore before heading south to Nootka Sound, arriving 12 Aug 1791.

Returning to Mexico, Malaspina made recommendations which led to the 1792 voyage of the Sutil and Mexicana. He visited the Marianas, the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia before returning via South America to Spain 1791-94. Although the expedition was highly successful, court intrigue soon destroyed his career and prevented publication of his reports; the account did not reach print until 1885.

See also Spanish Exploration.