Author Tags: 1700-1800, Haida Gwaii, Religion, Spanish
One of the least-known Spanish explorers of the B.C. coast, but one of the most high-born, Jacinto Caamaño and his crew raised the first cross on the Queen Charlotte Islands, on Graham Island, on July 22, 1792.
During his expedtion Caamaño wrote detailed accounts of his encounters with the Haida and Tsimshian. An incomplete English translation of Caamaño’s 70-page journal was undertaken in 1938, but his chart and original manuscript, in the archives of the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores in Madrid, have not been widely consulted by English historians. Caamaño had previously commanded a 205-ton frigate built in the Philippines in 1780, Our Lady of the Thornbush, named after a Basque shrine to the Virgin Mary.
Prior to Captain Bodega y Quadra’s planned meeting with Captain George Vancouver, when the Spanish needed to be certain there was not a Northwest Passage, Jacinto Caamaño was sent to re-explore Bucareli Bay and Douglas Channel in July of 1792. After considerable difficulties with weather and the Tsimishian, he concluded that the Fonte Strait connection with Hudson Bay did not exist. The Spanish had been misled by a chart made by English fur trader Captain James Colnett.
Caamaño returned to Nootka and reported this news to Captain Bodega y Quadra, thereby helping to facilitate a compromise settlement with the British and avoid an international conflict.
At Nootka in 1792, Caamaño dined with Captain George Vancouver and provided the English captain with a copy of his charts. For this reason many of the place names devised by Caamaño have been retained.
Upon his return to Spain, Caamaño was knighted within Spain’s oldest order of chivalry, the Military Order of Calatrava. Thereafter he briefly served as military commander at San Blas. He married in 1800, had eight children, and became port captain of Guayaquil, Ecuador at age 50, in 1809.
Jacinto Caamaño died at Guayaquil in the 1830s. Caamaño’s grandson became president of Ecuador in the 1880s.
A relic of Caamaño’s expedition, a Spanish olive jar, was found off the east coast of Langara Island by two fishermen from Masset in 1985. Having consulted Caamaño’s charts in Madrid, Maritime historian John Crosse has concluded this jar, manufactured between 1720 and 1790, could only have been left by the Caamaño expedition. “The only other Spanish vessel that had been in the area was the Santiago in 1774,” he wrote, “but it had not sailed down the east side of Langara Island.”
Colecciones de Diarios y Relaciones para la Historia de los Viajes y Descubrimientos, VII: Comprende los viajes de Arteaga en 1792 y de Caamaño en 1792, por la costa NO. de America, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Ceintificas, Instituto Historico de Marina, 1975. [UBC Special Collections]
Wagner, Henry R.; W.A. Newcombe (eds.) The Journal of Don Jacinto Caamano. (British Columbia Historical Quarterly 2 (3):189-222; 2 (4):265-301, 1938)
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "1700-1800" "Spanish" "Religion" "QCI"