Author Tags: 1700-1800, Spanish

Robin Inglis, born in 1942 in Newark, Nottinghamshire, England, is a former director of the North Vancouver Museum and Archives. As a long-serving president of the Spanish Pacific Historical Society, Inglis is an internationally respected expert on the Spanish presence in the North Pacific. He and John Kendrick developed a symposium to mark the bicentennial of the Malaspina expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1991, from which he edited a collection of papers that were presented. His major compendium called Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America was decades in the making and stands as an essential text for any scholar or lay person with a serious interest in the subject area.

Robin Inglis was educated at Cambridge University, where he read History. Coming to Canada to teach in 1965, he later enrolled in the Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum. He graduated with a Masters Degree and embarked on his museum career in 1971. He served as Executive Director of the Canadian Museums Association in the 1970s and more recently as Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum (1982-1991) and the North Vancouver Museum and Archives (1991-2007.

While at the VMM he became a student of the early exploration of the Northwest Coast of America, and curated major exhibits on the French explorer La Perouse and the Spanish explorer Alejandro Malaspina. He was Regional Editor (NWC) for the Hakluyt Society's recent 3 volume edition of the Malaspina Journal (2001-2004) He has written numerous articles and lectured on the subject of early coastal exploration in this part of the world.

A Fellow of the Canadian Museum Association, he has received decorations from the governments of Canada, France and Spain for his work as a museum educator and administrator, and as a historian.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America


The Lost Voyage of Lapérouse (Vancouver Maritime Museum Society, 1986)

The Advance of Seapower: Treasures from the Tamm Collection (Vancouver Maritime Museum, 1992). With Michael North.

Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008) ISBN -13: 978-0-8108-5551-9

Editor of:

Spain and the North Pacific Coast: Essays in Recognition of the Bicentennial of the Malaspina Expedition 1791-1792. (Vancouver Maritime Museum Society, 1992)

Contributor to:

The English translation of Bodega y Quadra's Pacific Northwest journal is available as Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America, 1792 (Arthur H. Clarke Co. / University of Oklahoma Press 2012 $34.95 U.S.), translated by the late Freeman M. Tovell with contributions by Robin Inglis and Iris H.W. Engstrand. With a foreword by Chief (Michael) Maquinna. 978-0-87062-408-7

Preface for:
Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (Heritage House, 2015) $59.95 9781772030617

[BCBW 2015] "1700-1800" "Spanish" "Classic"

A Who's Who for the Last Coast -- at last
Review (2009]

When you go to a hockey or baseball game, there’s generally a program that provides the names and numbers of the players to enhance the meaning of the contest, to make the encounter into a better story. Similarly, if you go to the theatre, or open a Russian novel, there’s a list of characters provided at the outset to prevent you from losing your way.

Robin Inglis’ mouthful-titled Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America (The Scarecrow Press $110 U.S.) now provides a similar orientation service to untangle the fascinating blend of male characters and events that were formative influences on early history of the last temperate coastline to be placed on the world map.

For a succinct endorsement of this volume, one cannot do much better than cheer, “It’s about time!”


After four years of concision, Inglis’ Northwest Coast, at 428 pages, could have been twice as long, but it would have been half as valuable. Condensed-but-all-inclusive, this authoritative guide casts a gigantic biographical net over a dizzying range of little-known Russian, British, French, Spanish and American mariners and traders.

The first European known to have visited British Columbia waters was Juan Pérez, sailing from the San Blas naval base, south of San Diego, in 1774, to Langara Island (Haida Gwaii) and then south to the mouth of Nootka Sound (eastern Vancouver Island). He was followed by Captain Bodega y Quadra in 1775, and more famously by Captain James Cook in 1778 (including young officers George Vancouver and William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame).

Beyond that, most British Columbians know next-to-nothing, or simply nothing, about the first invaders of coastal First Nations, so Inglis has provided more than 400 cross-referenced entries, along with a cogent introduction, maps and illustrations, an extensive bibliography (with advice on essential reference works) and an engaging chronology of events dating from the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 (when the Pope divided the undiscovered world between Spain and Portugal) and the purchase of Russian America by the United States in 1867.

Whew. Inglis’ streamlined omnibus is the fourth volume in a series of historical dictionaries of discovery and exploration edited by Jon Woronoff who has noted there has been a tendency to towards scholarly patriotism—or just laziness—in works about the North Pacific Coast.

“Thus the greatest merit of the author,” according to Woronoff, “is to have placed equal and fair emphasis on all of the actors, including the Spanish, French and Russian, who all too often and unfairly come in a very distant second to the British and Americans.”

This is true. The dozens of Russian names we encounter are made pleasing to learn when we know their numbers, the positions they play, their stats. Inglis has expanded North Pacific history into a new league. Who knew that Kirill Khlebnikov (1785-1838) was the official historian of the Russian-American Company? And that in 1953 his private papers revealed the long-lost journal of Vasilii Khromchenko, navigator for the Otto von Kotzebue expedition, 1815-1818?

Better yet, this compendium is as trustworthy as it is culturally unbiased. As the guiding force behind Vancouver-based Instituto de Historia del Pacifico Español (Spanish Pacific History Society), Inglis, former director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum and North Vancouver Museum and Archives, has been able to benefit from the intelligence and knowledge of an impressive list of contacts such as Donald Cutter, Barry Gough, Glyndwr Williams, Derek Hayes, John Kendrick and Freeman Tovell—to mention only a few.

Perhaps as a consequence of his intimidating peer group, Inglis assiduously avoids going out on limbs of scholarly conjecture. As to whether or not the mysterious Greek-born Apostolos Valerianos, better known as Juan de Fuca, might have reached a broad inlet between latitudes of 47 and 48 degrees in 1592, Inglis will only condescend to agree this intriguing scenario “is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.”

Inglis’ restraint in not including titillating tidbits is admirable. For instance, he limits his entry on the fantastical life of John Ledyard, ‘The American Marco Polo’, to four paragraphs, and he does not accord much historical status to the bizarre misadventures of John Mackay, the first European to live year-round at Friendly Cove and Tahsis with Chief Maquinna, from 1786-1787. The famous captivity of John Jewitt from 1803-1805 is worthy of just one paragraph.

Clearly Inglis is serving the interests of posterity, not People magazine. But he does play a few favourites. Notably he trumpets the work of German botanist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who documented the sea cow or northern manatee, Hydro-damalis gigas, before it was hunted to extinction by Russians in the late 18th century. (British Columbia’s provincial bird was later named Cyanocittus stelleri or Steller’s Jay, another tidbit excluded by Inglis, who is clearly writing for an international readership.)

Entries range far beyond maritime explorers such as the ineffectual Vitus Bering and the under-appreciated George Vancouver to include overland explorers (David Thompson, Simon Fraser etc.), Sea otters, Scientists, Nootka Crisis, Shumagin Islands, San Juan Border Dispute, Chief Maquinna (there were likely two Maquinnas between Cook’s arrival in 1778 and Jewitt’s captivity) and the far-sighted Thomas Jefferson (who sponsored the Lewis & Clark expedition, after being encouraged by Ledyard).

The art of concision is seldom rewarded, or even mentioned—but Northwest Coast of America is an artful undertaking. (You have to know a lot before you can figure out what parts to leave out.) Here follows one sample of Inglis’ succinctness, containing a rare mention of a female personality, Frances Barkley, within Inglis’ 400-plus entries. The only two women with separate entries are Catherine the Great and Natalia Shelikhov, wife of the Russian explorer Grigory Shelikhov.

BARKLEY, CHARLES WILLIAM (1759 - 1832). Charles William Barkley sailed in the service of the East India Company (EIC) before resigning in 1786 to make a trading voyage (sponsored surreptitiously by a number of Company directors) to the Northwest Coast in the English-built Imperial Eagle. The ship left Ostend in November, flying the Austrian flag to avoid the monopoly regulations of the EIC in the North Pacific. At 400 tons with 20 guns, she was the largest vessel to visit the coast up to that time. A month earlier Barkley had married a young wife, Frances, the first European woman known to visit British Columbia, and whose reminiscences (first published in 1978) provide an intriguing insight into life and activities aboard an 18th century trading vessel.
The Imperial Eagle reached Nootka Sound in June 1787. Here Barkley met John Mackay, a ship’s surgeon who had been left there the previous summer by another trader, James Strange. Mackay offered valuable information about local trading activities and the geography of the coast, which suggested that Nootka was on an island, not the American continent. As a result Barkley sailed his ship south and traded successfully in Clayoquot Sound and another large indentation in the coast, which he named Barkley Sound after himself. Proceeding farther south he was astonished to find, at the end of July, that he was off the entrance to a great strait, which he promptly named after the legendary navigator Juan de Fuca, who was said to have discovered a strait in the same latitude on the American west coast in 1592. He was particularly surprised because the strait’s existence had been discounted by James Cook a mere nine years earlier in 1778. Tragedy then befell the voyage when, near Destruction Island and the mouth of the Hoh River in Washington, six men landed a small boat but were promptly killed by local natives. It was an event eerily reminiscent of the nearby murder of Spanish sailors voyaging with Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra in 1775. Barkley sailed immediately for Canton to sell his cargo of furs. There he found not only an already saturated market but also, more ominously, that the EIC Company had discovered the threat to its monopoly. As he planned a second voyage his partners disassociated themselves from the venture to save their positions; their agents sold the Imperial Eagle and Barkley’s charts, journals and stores were acquired by John Meares. Meares used the information in the account of his own voyages to the Northwest Coast, published in 1790, in which contrary to popular understanding he credited Barkley with the discovery of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
After a few years trading in the Indian Ocean, Barkley and his wife made a second voyage to the Northwest Coast in the brig Halcyon. He traded in the Alexander Archipelago, the Queen Charlotte Islands and on northern Vancouver Island.

It’s easy to predict that Inglis’ Historical Dictionary of the Discovery and Exploration of the Northwest Coast of America will gradually become a required reference work, stored on the same shelf as the Encyclopedia of B.C., Chuck Davis’ Vancouver volumes or Jean Barman’s West Beyond the West.

Unfortunately the process of reliance upon this book can only be gradual due to its price. “The book is a superbly useful reference,” says historian Derek Hayes, “and should be on every shelf, but unfortunately it won’t be unless there is a cheaper paperback edition. Amazon has it for (hold your breath) $133.76 (Cdn.). I think this American publisher calculates the number of institutions they can sell it to and prices it accordingly, and are not even trying to sell to the general public. It's a shame really. Just one way of doing business I guess.”


[Alan Twigg / 2008]