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Captain Alexandro Malaspina

Alejandro MalaspinaAlexandro Malaspina was born on November 5, 1754 to an aristocratic and distinguished Italian family in Mulazzo, in northern Tuscany. After studying at the Clementine College in Rome, he learned navigation as a Knight of the Order of Malta, and worked his way up to the rank of Captain in the Spanish Navy.

In the specially-constructed ships Descubierta (Discovery) and Atrevida (Daring or Bold), he set sail in 1789 on a political and scientific voyage around the Pacific. (A scale model of the Atrevida is on display in the Maritime Museum of B.C. in Bastion Square, Victoria.) In 1791 the King of Spain ordered Malaspina to search for a Northwest Passage and, after examining the Alaska coast as far west as Prince William Sound, he spent about a month at the Spanish outpost in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, before returning to Mexico. During 1792 he dispatched the gallettes Sutíl and Mexicana, under the command of Alcalá Galiano and Valdés, to explore the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia. It is as a result of this part of the expedition that Malaspina's name is associated with the Nanaimo area, though he himself came no closer than Yuquot on the west coast of the Island.

After examining the political situation of the Spanish colonies in the Pacific, he concluded that instead of plundering them economically, Spain should develop a confederation of states whose members would conduct international trade. He suggested that Spain should abandon the military domination of far-off lands and establish a Pacific Rim trading bloc, managed by the Spaniards from Acapulco. Upon his return to Spain, Malaspina became enmeshed in political intrigues in an attempt to have these ideas recognised by the King, and was imprisoned for seven years. Eventually released through the intercession of Napoleon Bonaparte, he retired to Pontremoli, a few miles from his birthplace, where he died at the age of 55 on April 9, 1810.

More information about Captain Alexandro Malaspina can be found at the website of the Alexandro Malaspina Research Centre.