Memorial: La parte incógnita Austral…
Memorial: La parte incógnita Austral. [Incipit:] Señor. El Capitan Pedro Fernandez de Quirós. La parte incógnita Austral es justamente quarta del Globo, sin saberse si es tierra, o si es agua, o que partes tiene de las dos… // [Explicit:] que en ella pueden merecer, y tener parte, juntamente la mia.

MPedro Fernández de.adrid: 1612.

Folio, 314 x 217 mm, 4 numbered leaves; inscribed in ink on the last leaf "curioso" (!) and "el Capitan quiros"

Quirós' Memorial "La parte incógnita Austral" of 1612

The unknown southern land represents a quarter of the globe. This highly significant Presentation Memorial, seeking to colonise the southern land, was the twelfth in a series of fourteen such printed documents prepared by Pedro Fernández de Quirós, all of which are today of great rarity.

The unknown southern land represents a quarter of the globe. This highly significant Presentation Memorial, seeking to colonise the southern land, was the twelfth in a series of fourteen such printed documents prepared by Pedro Fernández de Quirós, all of which are today of great rarity.

Quirós' Presentation Memorials represent the earliest printed record of discovery and plans for settlement of a Southern Continent, the discoveries that Quirós named "Austrialia del Espíritu Santo". He prepared his Memorials as a series of proposals addressed to King Philip III of Spain, presenting them to the king and his councils between 1607 and 1614. They described the apparent discovery of a Southern Continent and petitioned the King to support an expedition of discovery and ultimately colonisation there, stressing the commercial and nationalistic benefits to be had alongside the merits of taking Christianity to the new lands.

Altogether as many as fifty Memorials were prepared, but most of them were in manuscript. Just fourteen were printed for very limited distribution, at Quirós' own expense. At this point Quirós had been silent for a year on the king's instructions. In this carefully written and lengthy Memorial he renews his lobbying and enumerates the main points of his various arguments seeking royal permissions for further exploration and plans for settlement of the new land in the south. The Quirós historian and bibliographer Kelly gives a summary of the document:

'Memorial, with 38 numbered paragraphs, stating that the year which his majesty ordered him to postpone his pretensions and projects and to await his pleasure had now passed. It deals with the extent of his discoveries in the Austral region, his proposals for a settlement there, the arms and ammunition required, the hope of founding a city which would require artists and skilled labourers, the building of small ships for further exploration, the mining of gold and silver, the spiritual and temporal benefits to be gained, the missionary friars who had volunteered, and the strategic value of communications between the Austral Lands and the Philippines, Peru, and New Spain'.

We know from a note on the Mitchell Library copy (acquired from Maggs Bros. catalogue 1921, no. 413) that the king and/or council responded to the Memorial by awarding Quirós 100 ducats a month, as well as a once-off payment of 6000 ducats to meet his obligations; he was also to be told that the king regarded him very highly.

This newly discovered copy is the fourth example known, since three other copies have been identified. Although Mander-Jones believed in 1950 that only the Mitchell Library copy had survived, subsequently Kelly located the Biblioteca de Palacio Real (Madrid) and Huntington Library (San Marino, California) copies. The Huntington copy was formerly in Maggs Bros. catalogue 429.

The Presentation Memorials

The Quirós Memorials, the series of petitions produced between 1607 and 1614 to colonise "Austrialia del Espíritu Santo", are the foundation documents for the history of the Pacific, the search for a Southern Continent, the discovery of the New World in the south and ultimately the discovery and settlement of Australia and New Zealand.

The Memorials are a series of different petitions to the King, each of which further argues the case, with new data and plans: they do not, as is often misunderstood, each simply make the same argument. This misconception may have been caused by the fact that the text of just one of the Memorials, that leaked beyond Spanish court circles in 1612, is seen almost exclusively in all the subsequent publications and dissemination,

Even the expert Carlos Sanz allows this misunderstanding to continue when he speaks of "the Quirós Memorial" as though the Memorials form a single entity:

'The era of the great geographical discoveries, opened with Columbus' first transatlantic voyage, closed with those announced in the Quirós Memorial.

'Two great oceans (the Atlantic and the Pacific), an immense continent (America), the Philippine Islands and finally Australia are the achievements to be put to the account of this great maritime adventure, the greatest known to the centuries…

'This work was the sole reason for the search carried out by the maritime powers of Europe during nearly two centuries for the vast, legendary, unknown Terra Australis…

'Apart from Columbus' Letter announcing his arrival in the Indies (America) [there is] no printed document that has counted for so much in the history of discovery and navigation…

'It has been justly said that the three documents that have most decisively influenced the course of universal history are: the Bible, Columbus' Letter and the Quirós Memorial…' (Carlos Sanz, Australia, its Discovery and Name, Madrid, 1964).

Pedro Fernández de Quirós

Pedro Fernández de Quirós is of fundamental importance to the history of exploration in the south. A veteran of expeditions to the Pacific who sailed through Torres Strait without ever actually setting foot on the Australian mainland, Quirós was nonetheless convinced that he had discovered the greatly desired southern continent and petitioned vigorously for its settlement. He is justly considered the first great evangelist for the exploration of Australia and the Pacific, and his Presentation Memorials provided the catalyst for interest in the region for many centuries to come. As Alexander Dalrymple observed in 1770, 'The discovery of the Southern Continent, whenever, and by whomsoever it may be completely effected, is in justice due to this immortal name'.

The belief that a vast Southern Continent – the Ophir of King Solomon, the lands reported by Marco Polo and golden islands reputed to have been known to the Incas – lay somewhere in the South Pacific had inspired Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa and Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra to sail westward from Peru in 1567, a venture which resulted in the discovery of the Solomon Islands, the possible outliers, it was supposed, of Terra Australis.

Although born in Portugal, Quirós played a vital role in Spanish voyages to the Pacific. In 1595 he was the chief pilot under Mendaña, charting the islands of Santa Magdalena and Santa Cruz to the northeast of the New Hebrides, his observations convincing him that the Southern Continent long hypothesized must exist. Mendaña's attempt to revisit the Solomons was a disastrous failure, but Quirós, through a superb feat of navigation, brought a starving remnant of the expedition over unknown seas to Manila and resolved to search for the continent that must, he believed, lurk somewhere beyond the elusive islands.

Convinced of the value of these new lands, Quirós campaigned for a new expedition, ultimately gaining the support of the new Spanish king, Philip III. In 1605 he began his own expedition to the South Seas, setting out from Callao with Torres as his second-in-command of a fleet of three ships. During this voyage he charted several southern islands, including La Encarnacion, Henderson Island, Marutea, La Conversion de San Pablo, and Tucopia.

He sailed 'further south than Mendaña had done, then north-west through the Tuamotu archipelago, and west when he was in the latitude of Santa Cruz. If he had kept on, he would have reached it; three or four degrees beyond it lay the islands of Solomon. He was diverted from an island a little short of it, the latest of a series discovered by him, to turn south, so that he fetched up at something quite different, though close, the land he called Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, the northernmost large island of the New Hebrides group…

'Here, he was sure, where he proclaimed the city of New Jerusalem, was the much-desired continent. Sickness, at the critical moment, infirmity of purpose, unreliable subordinates, finally the cruel luck with the wind, drove him away before a settlement was made, in a vast sweep north that took him to Mexico in October 1606… Quirós returned to Spain, ceaselessly and fruitlessly to importune crown and councils, with memorials and charts, for still another expedition…' (J.C. Beaglehole, The life of Captain James Cook, 1974, pp. 111-2).

Extent of the Memorials

In 1607 Quirós began his series of Memorials to the king expounding the great wealth of the lands he had discovered and asking to be allowed to take another expedition to settle the "continent".

In all he prepared about fifty memorials, most of them in manuscript but some, when he could afford it, printed. Kelly, whose work is the most comprehensive survey, could identify just 13 that were important enough to be printed for presentation (a fourteenth has since been identified). 'When I had the means', Quirós states, 'I had these memorials printed, and when not, I would copy them and present and distribute them to the Councils of State, of War and of the Indies, and amongst their ministers' (see Dunn, pp. 2-4 and Kelly, pp. 41-8).

Circulation of all, whether printed or manuscript, was highly restricted and when, in 1610, it was learned that he was printing various memorials and distributing them beyond the court, Quirós was ordered by the king to retrieve them and forbidden to print others without royal permission (see Kelly, 682, 689).

Just one, the Eighth, which appeared originally in December 1608 or January 1609, escaped the official restrictions and was translated (into Dutch, English, French, German and Italian) and published separately outside Spain, having a tremendous influence on subsequent exploration as a result. The substantial number of separate editions in the major European languages, many of them before 1620, led to the appearance of the text in every subsequent major collection of voyage accounts.

The creation of stand-alone editions in the printing capitals of Europe mirrored what had happened with the original "Columbus Letter". Both texts spread from their leaked originals, being printed elsewhere in Spain, and then translated elsewhere in Europe. In terms of their similarity in distribution and appearance, as well as present-day rarity, it is interesting to note that a single copy of the official first printing of the Columbus Letter survives today (a small folio, without title-page and not dissimilar to the original Memorials in appearance).

The rarity of both Quirós' and Columbus' printed reports exemplifies the notion of geographical knowledge being held back for geopolitical benefit. The Columbus Letter had an uncannily similar history: the extreme rarity of the earliest printing today tends to confirm the theory that the text was not printed for dissemination so much as, paradoxically, in order to keep control of copies.

In an age long before photocopying and other forms of proliferation, printing in limited numbers for limited circulation did not constitute publishing as we would recognise it today. Indeed, there are good reasons to think that such printed documents were used much as confidential board papers might be today, and that they were intended for destruction after their immediate purpose had passed. The explanation of the modern rarity of these Memorials must be at least in part that the significance of Quirós' reports was recognised by the Spanish administration who sought to ensure that neither printed nor manuscript Memorials could make their way into the hands of Spain's European rivals.

The Council of the Indies

Quirós' Memorials, addressed to the King, would have been printed for distribution at the regular meetings of the Council of the Indies. The Real y Supremo Consejo de India was the most important administrative organ of the Spanish Empire, 'the high legislative, executive, and judicial body that from the 16th to 19th centuries carried out Spain's colonial policies in the Americas (referred to as "the Indies" in Spanish documents until the 18th century), Oceania, and Asia.

Established in 1511, the Council of the Indies consisted of a president, a chancellor, eight councillors, a procurator general, two secretaries, a cosmographer, a mathematician, and a historian. It had charge of such matters as finances, the conclusion of capitulations (treaties) with the conquistadores, the conversion of Indians to Christianity, the provisioning of expeditions, and the selection of military, ecclesiastical, and civil personnel. It was through the Council of the Indies that Spain plundered newly discovered lands and exploited the native population in its overseas possessions. The Council of the Indies existed until 1809 and at intervals thereafter (1810-20,1823-34, and 1846-47); it was permanently abolished in 1847'.

Numerous corrections or annotations have been noted in surviving Memorials, a number of them the kind of scribbles that one might see today in the margins of a paper from a board-meeting or a committee room document.

Present-day rarity

Dunn categorises the stages of publication of the printed Memorials thus:

1. Editions printed for presentation. (That is, the 13 identified by Kelly and the fourteenth since identified).

2. Derivative editions prepared by private printers based on the Presentation editions, or on their ms. equivalents. On government instructions Quirós was forced to recall some of these under the pretext of needing to amend them.

3. Translations produced elsewhere in Europe based on Spanish originals, and further translations and reprints thereof with corruptions creeping in.

4. Publication by Zaragoza in 1880.

The original Presentation Memorials are among the most valuable of all printed voyage documents. They have always represented a grail for collectors, both institutional and private.

The most assiduous collecting of them has been carried out in Australia for their obvious significance to the search for and settlement of the continent. Of 33 known surviving copies of the 14 Presentation Memorials, 22 and the present copy are held in Australia while just ten have been described in European or American collections. The 23 Memorials held in Australian collections represent all 14 known printed Memorials while the ten held in Europe or America represent only five of the printings. The paramount collection in the State Library of New South Wales now holds all 14, most of which were collected for them by David Scott Mitchell and his fellow-collector Sir William Dixson. The only other Presentation Memorial to be held by an Australian institutional library is that acquired by the National Library of Australia in 2011.

When David Scott Mitchell acquired in one transaction, a century ago, the entire collection of Alfred Lee (over 10,000 books, paintings, pamphlets, prints and drawings) he did so despite a duplication rate estimated at over 90%. He acknowledged that the purchase, his last major transaction, was made solely in order to acquire for his own collection, and subsequently for the state of New South Wales, Joseph Banks' Endeavour Journal and two printed Memorials by Quirós.

Mitchell's fellow collector and philanthropist Sir William Dixson shared Mitchell's passion: he was always 'an assiduous collector of Quirós Memorials and of any documents relating to Quirós and his voyages. By the time of his death in 1952 he had acquired no less than eight printed Presentation editions, most being different from those published by Zaragoza. For these he paid £650 to £1000 sterling each…' (Dunn). These Memorials were acquired by Dixson for prices that are among the highest for any such voyage material in the inter- and immediately post-war period and demonstrate the extent to which the Memorials have always been valued.


Dunn, Quiros Memorials, 1612A, p.47 (MLS1/50); Kelly, Calendar of documents, 711 (48 in list); Medina (BHA); Palau, 341; Pinochet de la Barra, Pedro Fernández de Quiros: Memoriales de las Indias Australes, Memorial 48.

Price (AUD): $245,000.00

US$189,247.10   Other currencies

Ref: #4004774