Author Tags: 1700-1800, Spanish
Also known as Tomás de Surís, the artist Tomás de Suría accompanied Alejandro Malaspina during the northwest coast section of his voyage of scientific discovery from 1789 to 1795. At Nootka Sound he described the Spanish practice of trading guns for children who were slaves of Maquinna, ostensibly to baptize them and save them from cannibalism. “There was one among them whom the sailors called Primo…. He told us that he had been destined to be a victim and to be eaten by Chief Macuina together with many others, and that this custom was practiced with the younger prisoners of war, as well as in the ceremonies which were used in such a detestable and horrible sacrifice.”
Others who gathered knowledge for the Malaspina expedition included chief scientist Antonio Piñeda, the French-born botanist Luis Née and naturalist Tadeo Haenke from Prague. Haenke was a Bohemian Ph.D. with remarkable facilities as a linguist, musician, physician, minerologist, botanist and chemist. The two astronomers José Espinosa y Tello and Ciriaco Zevallos are immortalized in the places names for the Vancouver Island town of Zeballos and nearby Espinoza Inlet.
The other artist to visit the North Pacific with Malaspina was José Cardero, the cabin boy from Ecija in southern Spain. Malaspina had originally hired two Spanish artists, José del Pozo of Sevilla and José Guío of Madrid, but the latter had limited himself to scientific drawings and fallen victim to poor health; the former was lazy and was dismissed in Peru where he opened an art studio. Cardero, known as Little Pepe, showed increasing skill, but Malaspina wrote ahead to the Viceroyalty in Mexico City, requesting assistance while he awaited two more artists to be sent from Spain. Malaspina ended up taking aboard the Mexican engraver Tomás de Suría as a temporary measure.
The journal kept by de Suría was the only private diary of the voyage. Suría wasn’t allowed access to authorized accounts to check his facts, but his reportage provides a candid counterpoint to the reportage of Malaspina who was writing for posterity. Suría describes his first day at Nootka. “The first thing they asked for was shells with the word ‘pachitle conchi’, alternating this with saying ‘Hispania Nutka’ and then words which meant alliance and friendship. We were astonished to hear out of their mouths Latin words such as Hispania, but we concluded that perhaps that had learned this word in their trading with Englishmen….”
Later that afternoon Mozina described the approach of Spanish sailors in a longboat. These were soldiers who had already arrived on the frigate Concepción from San Blas, commanded by Don Pedro Alberni, after whom the town Port Alberni is named. After completing his service in Nootka Sound with the Catalonian Volunteers in New Spain, Alberni became interim governor of California, where he died in 1803.
The original Suría journal is kept at Yale University Library. An English translation was made by the Hispanist scholar Henry Raup Wagner in 1936 for the Pacific Historical Review. This version, in turn, was translated back into Spanish by Justino Fernández for a short book that added biographical details in 1939. This work was followed by a master’s thesis on Suría by Agueda Jiménez Palayo of Guadalajara in 1972, under the direction of Donald C. Cutter.
Suría was born in Valencia, Spain in April of 1761. He studied at the Royal Art Academy of San Fernando and accompanied his teacher Jerónimo Antonio Gil to Mexico at age seventeen. He married in 1788 and lived in Mexico City where he worked in the mint of the engraving office. With his wife’s approval, he volunteered to join the Malaspina expedition and successfully negotiated the maintenance of his salary, travel expenses, suitable lodgings and continuance of his seniority when he returned to work. Suría joined Malaspina on the Descubierta on March 27, 1791, at age 30. Upon the expedition’s return to Acapulco from Alaska and British Columbia, Suría was given another eight months to prepare his drawings. These were forwarded to Spain. Although Suría’s work gained the approval of Malaspina, his rewards were minimal. He remained in his former job as an engraver until his superior Gil died in 1798, whereupon Suría held the position of chief engraver until 1806. He produced some religious art in his later years and died in 1844. Most of his original sketches for Malaspina are in the Museo Naval.
Tomás de Surís' Quaderno que contiene el Ramo de Historia Natural y diario de la Expedicion del circulo de Globo...1791. (unpublished)
Fernández, Justino (editor). Tomás de Suría y su Viaje con Malaspina, 1791 (Mexico City: Libreria de Porrua Hermanos y Cia, 1939)
Journal of Tomas de Suría of His Voyage with Malaspina to the Northwest Coast of America in 1791 (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon, 1980. - Editor, Donald C. Cutter
Tomás de Suría: a l'expedició Malaspina - Alaska 1791 (Valencia: Generalitat Valenciana, 1995)
[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2004] "1700-1800" "Spanish"