The Malaspina Expedition

Manila Bulletin, February 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Malaspina Expedition


MANILA, Philippines - In 1789, Spain sent out a scientific expedition to its far-flung colonies around the world, including the Philippines. It was the first and only scientific expedition sent by Spain to tour its colonies in more than 300 years of empire-building.

Although it amassed a large amount of scientific, historical, and political information and made collections in natural history as well as hydrographic and geodetic surveys in the colonies, little is known about it in Spain, much less in the Philippines where it stayed for eight months.

The leader of the expedition was Captain Alejandro Malaspina. His second in command was Jose de Bustamante y Guerra. On board was a corps of scientists of various disciplines, as well as artists who were to record what they saw.

Photography was not to come until decades later and information about these men and their accomplishments is scanty. Strangely, even the Spanish encyclopedia does not mention their names.

The American historian Donald Cutter has written a slim volume on Captain Malaspina's visit to California and the American Northwest.

The expedition headed by Malaspina, an aristocrat of Sicilian origin, was the first scientific group to examine and record the Philippines's historical and political background as well as its natural history and geography. Much of the data collected are preserved in scientific institutions in Spain. …

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