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Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (1563–1615)

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Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (1563?-1615), navigator, was born at Evora, Portugal, but became subject to the King of Spain when the two countries were dynastically united in 1580. Quiros is the Spanish form of the name. He was a supercargo on Portuguese merchant ships and appears to have spent several years seafaring on the Pacific coasts of America. He was recognized as a competent and experienced navigator when in 1595 he was appointed chief pilot of an expedition of four ships under Alvaro de Mendaña setting out to colonize the Solomon Islands, which Mendaña had visited in 1567. They sailed from Callao, Peru, in April 1595 and in three months reached the Marquesas, which Mendaña at first thought were the Solomons. Quiros was most impressed by the natives, as was James Cook 180 years later; they were 'in all things so becoming that … nothing in his life ever caused him so much regret as the leaving of such fine creatures to be lost in that country'. However, they became importunate and many were killed, though Quiros thought 'such evil deeds' were 'not things to do, nor to praise, nor to allow, nor to maintain, nor to refrain from punishing if the occasion permits'.

The expedition left the Marquesas in August and, after passing several small islands, on 8 September sighted a large one which Mendaña named Santa Cruz. There he proposed to establish a settlement; but the Spaniards again fell out with the natives, many of the crews were sick and discontent was rife despite Quiros's constant efforts to suppress disorder and support Mendaña's authority. In October Mendaña died and next month Quiros, who had taken over the command, decided that the place should be abandoned. He sailed WSW. for two days, but found no land and headed for Manila. He arrived on 11 February 1596 after a voyage in ships badly needing repair, against contrary winds, with a starving and dying company, and with difficulties intensified by the selfishness of Mendaña's widow. This was one of the greatest feats in the record of Pacific navigation and shows the great qualities Quiros possessed.

After eighteen months in the Philippines, he sailed for home. He reached Mexico in December 1597 and Spain next year. The expedition had given him the idea of discovering a great southern continent for Spain and for the church. He petitioned the king to send him on another expedition into the Pacific, and he took the opportunity of the jubilee of 1600 to go to Rome to seek Papal blessing for this enterprise. He stayed in Rome from September 1600 to April 1602, and in August 1601 had an audience with Pope Clement VIII. He greatly impressed the Spanish ambassador, the Duke of Sesa, who told the King of Spain that 'his only excess was that he was over-zealous for the service of Your Majesty'. Otherwise he was a 'man of good judgment, experienced in his profession, hard-working, quiet and disinterested'; there were, Sesa thought, few pilots so skilled in making charts or who knew so much mathematics, Quiros had invented two instruments to aid navigation, both highly praised by distinguished mathematicians, one to ascertain the variation of the declination of the compass needle to the NE. and NW., and the other to determine latitude, and his Treatise on Navigation, first written as a letter to the king in 1602, showed a marked knowledge of the theory and practice of navigation.

At last, in March 1603, Quiros was authorized to undertake another voyage to convert the heathen and extend the Spanish dominions. He was delayed by being shipwrecked in the West Indies but reached Callao on 6 March 1605. In December he set out into the Pacific, intending to sail to latitude 30°S., then to criss-cross the Pacific between 10°-20°S. until he reached Santa Cruz, whence he would sail SW. to 20°S. and then NW., with the object of discovering a 'mainland' which he was sure existed 1000 leagues from Peru near the Marquesas Islands. However, when he first reached latitude 26°S. he changed his plan, unfortunately, for otherwise he might have discovered New Zealand, and sailed WNW. and W., and then NW., missing the Marquesas but discovering the Duff group and the Banks group, before reaching the New Hebrides or what he called Austrialis del Espiritu Santo on 3 May 1606. There, in 'a land more delightful, healthy and fertile' than any that could be found, he proposed to form a colony to be called New Jerusalem, with its capital Vera Cruz, but after a few weeks his ship, when returning for the second time because of contrary winds from attempted exploration to the south-east, was driven out to sea. Instead of trying to return his ship sailed for Mexico, possibly when the discontented among the crew seized an opportunity created by their captain's ill health. The second ship, with the pilot Luis Vaez de Torres, was left behind.

Quiros reached Acapulco in November 1606 and Madrid in October 1607. For seven years he bombarded the king with memorials, at least sixty-five in number, asking to be sent on a third expedition, but the council thought that discoveries in the Pacific only weakened the mother country, and that Spain could not afford it. Quiros was employed as a cosmographer and the council forbade the publication of the memorials which reported his discoveries, lest other countries should benefit from them. At last in 1614 a new viceroy of Peru was told he could send out Quiros when he thought it convenient; Quiros sailed with him for New Spain, but died on the way in June 1615.

All who knew Quiros were impressed by his undoubted skill as a seaman and navigator, his sympathy with the natives of the islands, and his belief, in the last fifteen years of his life, in his spiritual mission; but though full of zeal and enthusiasm, he failed in the management of his men. Often weak and vacillating he had insufficient will power to control the turbulent and to cheer the half-hearted, and was by no means fitted for the task of forming new settlements.

In 1589 he married Dona Ana Chacon of Madrid, who bore him one son and one daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Burney, A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, vol 2 (Lond, 1806) C. Markham (ed), Voyages of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, 1595-1606, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1904)
  • G. A. Wood, The Discovery of Australia (Lond
  • 1922)
  • J. C. Beaglehole, The Exploration of the Pacific (Lond, 1947)
  • Celsus Kelly, Pedro Fernandes de Queiros: The Last Great Portuguese Navigator (Lisbon, 1961)
  • C. Kelly, ‘The Narrative of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros: Ms. Description, Authorship, History, Printed Text and Translation’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 9, no 34, May 1960, pp 181-93
  • J. W. Forsyth, ‘Clio Etwas Gebuckt: Professor Clark's "The Forerunners"’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 49, part 6, Mar 1964, pp 423-52
  • E. Ortiz y Pi, translation of Capt de Quiros memorials (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

'Quiros, Pedro Fernandez de (1563–1615)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Queiros, Pedro Fernandez de

Evora, Portugal


June, 1615 (aged ~ 52)
at sea

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