Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800

By Daniela Bleichmar; Paula De Vos et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Voyaging in the Spanish Baroque
Science and Patronage in the Pacific Voyage of
Pedro Fernández de Quirós, 1605–1606

KEVIN SHEEHAN

On November 23, 1606, having traversed more than thirteen thousand nautical miles of the South and North Pacific, the ship San Pedro y San Pablo dropped anchor in the harbor of Acapulco. As the former expeditionaries went their respective ways, the royal comptroller of the port, Francisco de la Carrera Güemes, meticulously noted each and every item the ship carried.1 Three hundred and thirty empty water pitchers, three cables of Chile cordage, two copper spoons, twenty Peruvian gunpowder jars—the list went on interminably. Precisely and indiscriminately, her contents were catalogued and sent to the warehouses of the viceroyalty of New Spain. One wonders what Carrera Güemes made of the item he blandly described as “one copper apparatus, in two pieces, for extracting fresh water from seawater”? Captain Pedro Fernández de Quirós, the self-proclaimed inventor of the apparatus and erstwhile commander of the expedition—which had set sail from the port of Callao on December 21, 1605, in search of unknown islands and a continent in the South Pacific—was under no illusion as to the voyage’s significance. (On this search for continental land, see also Valverde and Lafuente in Chapter 10.) In his account of the voyage he describes how in early February 1606, after nearly a month and a half at sea and with the stock of water declining rapidly, he had cut the daily ration and taken personal possession of the keys to the hatch. He then ordered the instrumento de cobre (copper instrument), which he had had fashioned in Peru, to be set atop a brazier. According to Quirós, some two to three botijas (bottles) of “very fresh and healthy” water were converted from seawater on a daily

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