Alas, We’ve Missed the Opportunity to be Part of Spain

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the ship has sailed (I know, I know) on any chance of the province of British Columbia being a part of Spain.  However, as a very weak consolation prize, I can bring you a post on the Spanish version of George Vancouver, Esteban Jose Martinez.

The man himself.

The man himself.

Born in Seville, Spain on the 9th of December 1742, Esteban Martinez, like Vancouver, started his maritime career at the young age of 13 by joining the Seminario de San Telmo (University of Navigators) and, within three years, he had gone to sea.  He would go on to play a major role in the events leading up to 1790 which saw Spain and Britain on the brink of war.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I've never gone to a school that looks like this...

Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve never gone to a school that looks like this…

A little bit of back history: In 1493 a papal bull was issued which, along with the treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, divided the new world between Spain and Portugal.  As a result of this, Spain had considered the Pacific coast of the Americas to be part of her empire although this certainly didn’t stop other countries and independent traders from moving in on the territory.

An expedition was launched in 1774, on which Martinez served as second officer under Josef Perez Hernandez, with instructions to sail as far north from San Blas as possible in an attempt to prevent the erosion of Spanish authority over the area.  This voyage reached what would later be known as the northern Queen Charlotte Islands before unfavorable conditions prevented a continuation of the journey.  At this point the expedition turned back south, stopping at what was then called Surgidero de San (Nootka Sound) where the ship was anchored and contact was made with the indigenous people in the area before the Spanish sailors returned to San Blas.

The San Blas Islands, in Panama

The San Blas Islands, in Panama.

While several Spanish expeditions had visited the Northwest coast after the expedition of 1774 there was little serious attempt made to  establish posts in the area or exploit the region’s resources until James Cook surveyed the area which resulted in publicizing its rich commerce potential.

Finally, in 1789 an expedition was sent out to the region in order to assess this threat and to further enforce Spain’s claim to the Pacific Northwest.  At this time, Martinez was the only officer available and so, despite his low rank at the time as well as a history of conflicts with his subordinates, he was placed at the head of the voyage.  Although the initial instructions had been to create a temporary post at Nootka, Martinez was operating under the personal impression that Spain should take a more active interest in the northwest coast and worked hard to convince the Spanish government that the base should be made permanent.

Areas of the Pacific Northwest explored by Spain.

Areas of the Pacific Northwest explored by Spain.

By the time the next British ship (the Argonaut under the command of James Colnett) arrived in the area, a small battery and some buildings had been constructed on the site of the Indian village at Friendly Cove.  Unfortunately, neither Colnett nor Martinez was particularly well suited towards diplomacy. Colnett claimed to have orders from England to form a permanent settlement at the site and any pretenses of formality fell through as Martinez had him arrested.  When another British ship arrived less than two weeks later, it was detained as well.  Understandably, these events had the result of producing some…tension….between the two countries which was reduced when both ships were shortly released and sent south.

Martinez waited until October of 1789 for the order to come that would allow him to make the base at Nootka permanent.  Unfortunately for him this never came and so he returned to the southern base at San Blas and after close to a year (during which time he made at least one more voyage up to Nootka Sound), he returned home to Spain in early 1791.  One final trip was made to San Blas in 1795 and the remaining years of his life appear to have been spent commanding supply vessels between San Blass and the area which is now California; which is how he came to die at Loreto on October 28, 1798.


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