José María Narváez - 1791 Explorations

1791 Explorations

By early 1791 several more ships and people had arrived at Nootka, along with instructions from Quadra to Eliza proposing further exploration of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On May 4, 1791, Eliza set out in the San Carlos with the pilots Juan Pantoja and José Antonio Verdía. The latter had apprenticed under Narváez in 1788 and 1789. The San Carlos was accompanied by the schooner Santa Saturnina, nicknamed La Orcasitas. (It was originally the Northwest America, built by Meares at Nootka.) Narváez commanded the Santa Saturnina, with the pilot Juan Carrasco. The schooner was about 33 feet long on the keel and of shallow draft. She had eight oars and carried about 20 days' supply of food. In addition, the San Carlos carried a longboat 28 feet in length with thirteen oars.

The expedition first stopped at Clayoquot Sound, staying for about two weeks. Narváez and Carrasco spent a week exploring the inner channels, and another week collaborating on a chart of the sound, which they called Puerto Clayucuat. While Narváez was busy with this work, Eliza made friends with Chief Wickaninnish. Eliza wrote that he was honored with a dance of over 600 young men. Eliza also reported that there were five large indigenous settlements in Clayoquot Sound, each with over 1,500 inhabitants. The largest, which Eliza called Guicananich after its chief Wickaninnish, had over 2,500 people.

In late May Eliza, on the San Carlos, sailed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Esquimalt. The Santa Saturnina spent several weeks exploring Barkley Sound. The two ships rejoined at Esquimalt on June 14, 1791. In the Santa Saturnina, Narváez and Carrasco explored the inner channels of Barkley Sound, which they called Puerto de Boca Carrasco, and drafted a chart. According to Eliza's summary report of the voyage, Narváez saw five large settlements with "warlike and daring" inhabitants. On two occasions Narváez's ship was attacked by groups of about 200 men, but "he held them in check by means of some cannon shot." The natives "were surprised to see the schooner and, according to their explanations, had never seen a vessel inside."

In mid-June, with the expedition based at Esquimalt (which the Spanish called Cordova after one of their cities), Eliza instructed Pantoja to explore Haro Strait with the Santa Saturnina and the longboat. Assisted by Narváez, Carrasco, and Verdía, he entered the strait and passed between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island to reach Pender Island. Noticing several openings leading west and two leading east, they decided to investigate the larger of the two eastern ones, today called Boundary Pass. On June 15, 1791, they weighed anchor and sailed east along the southern shore of Pender Island and Saturna Island before entering "a grand and extended canal" — the open water of the Strait of Georgia, which they named Canal de Nuestra Señora del Rosario (Canal of Our Lady of the Rosary). This was the first time Europeans had seen the Strait of Georgia. The Spaniards believed they had found the legendary inland sea of the North American continent, and that it probably connected, somehow, to Hudson Bay or the Mississippi River. They spent the night anchored at Patos Island. The next day they sailed east to the vicinity of Lummi Island and the northern end of Rosario Strait. Out of food and exhausted, they returned the way they had come. With crew having to row against the wind, the longboat arrived at Esquimalt on June 24, and Narváez in the Santa Saturnina the next day.

Eliza moved his base of operations to Puerto de Quadra (present-day Port Discovery) on the south side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Eliza and the San Carlos remained there, while the Santa Saturnina and the longboat, under Narváez with Carrasco as pilot, set out to explore Rosario Strait and the Strait of Georgia more fully.

Narváez set out on July 1, 1791. Passing through Rosario Strait, which he called Canal de Fidalgo, Narváez surveyed Guemes Island (Islas de Guemes), Cypress Island (San Vincente), and Lummi Island (Pacheco), explored Padilla Bay (Seno Padillo) and Bellingham Bay (Seno Gaston), and anchored in Chuckanut Bay (Puerto Socorro), before heading north into the Strait of Georgia. He anchored in Birch Bay (Puerto del Garzon) and Drayton Harbor (Punta de San José), and sailed west across Boundary Bay to round Point Roberts.

Narváez thought Point Roberts was an island (Isla de Zepeda) and that the inland sea extended far to the northeast. Carrasco later made a map showing a large inlet called Boca de Floridablanca (also Canal de Floridablanca), which included Boundary Bay and extended north to about Burrard Inlet. After rounding Point Roberts, Narváez sailed several miles from the shore through the discharge of the Fraser River. He noted the water was "more sweet than salt", but mistook the land between the mouths of the rivers as low-lying islands in the imagined Boca de Floridablanca. He anchored off Point Grey, which he also took to be an island (Isla de Langara).

While at anchor off Point Grey, the ship was visited by a number of Musqueam men in canoes who traded food, water, and firewood for pieces of copper and iron. The Spaniards noted their language was quite different from that of the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), with which they were familiar. The Musqueam indicated the Strait of Georgia continued north for a great distance. One of Narváez's crew bought a young native boy. From him the Spaniards learned that many Indians regularly came to the Musqueam on horseback, from a "flat country" in the northeast, to trade iron, copper, and blue beads for fish. The Spaniards did not visit the Musqueam village, but anchored 2 miles offshore. There they collected water from a large river (probably the north arm of the Fraser River). Narváez sailed some distance into Burrard Inlet, today the harbor of Vancouver. Carrasco's map shows not only the Musqueam village at Point Grey but another settlement at Point Atkinson (Punta de la Bodega), and another on the entrance to Howe Sound (Bocas del Carmelo), near present-day Horseshoe Bay.

Narváez continued north along the Sunshine Coast, anchoring off Mission Point in Sechelt and off Thormanby Island along the way, then rounded Texada Island before crossing to the west side of Georgia Strait and sailing past Hornby Island and Denman Island. His party named Nanaimo Harbour Bocas de Winthuysen. Sailing along Galiano Island and Valdes Island, Narváez noted and named Porlier Pass (today's version is Anglicized.) Narváez returned to Port Discovery on July 22, 1791.

At the start of his voyage, Narváez had passed by Admiralty Inlet (Ensenada de Caamaño), the entrance to Puget Sound. He planned to explore it upon return, but was running out of food by then and so returned directly Eliza's San Carlos in Port Discovery. Once resupplied with food from the San Carlos, he could have explored Puget Sound, but Eliza was eager to return to Nootka. The Spanish missed the opportunity to preempt British exploration of Puget Sound, which took place the following year under George Vancouver.

Eliza was impressed by Narváez's report on the size and nature of the Strait of Georgia. Because numerous whales had been seen in the Strait of Georgia, but few in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Eliza correctly speculated that the strait had a second connection to the ocean. Eliza also came to suspect, again correctly, that Nootka Sound was not on the mainland, but rather on an island. Narváez had been unable to explore all of the Strait of Georgia. Although Eliza knew further exploration was important, by the time Narváez returned to Port Discovery, Eliza and many of his sailors were sick. He abandoned more exploration to return to Nootka. Eliza transferred Narváez to the San Carlos and gave Juan Carrasco command of the Santa Saturnina for the return voyage.

Sailing west, the ships found Port Angeles on August 2, 1791. They reached Neah Bay on August 7. From there the San Carlos, with Narváez on board, returned to Nootka Sound, arriving on November 9. Carrasco, however, was unable or unwilling to beat upwind to Nootka and instead sailed the Santa Saturnina south to Monterey, California, arriving there on September 16, 1791. Alessandro Malaspina was in Monterey at the time, having arrived five days earlier. Malaspina, a powerful figure of the Spanish navy, was thus the first beyond Eliza's crew to learn about the discovery of the Strait of Georgia. Malaspina immediately recognized the strategic importance of further exploration. Shortly after meeting with Carrasco, Malaspina sailed to San Blas and Acapulco. There he arranged for two of his own officers, Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés, to take command of two ships to fully explore the Strait of Georgia.

As commander of the expedition, Eliza eventually received credit for most of the discoveries made during the 1791 journeys. Narváez commanded the ship and made the actual voyages of discovery.

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