Estéban José Martínez, as much as anyone, generated the Nootka Controversy that almost resulted in a war between Spain and Britain. He was the first Spaniard to reside at Nootka and to have extensive relations with both the Mowachaht/Nuchatlaht tribes and the British/American fur traders, although he himself was not a trader.

In 1774, Martínez had served as second-in-command for the first Spanish voyage to reach British Columbia. Having sailed to the Aleutians in 1788, Martínez was instructed by the Viceroy of New Spain, Manuel Flores, to construct the first permanent outpost of European "civilization"; in British Columbia. He was told to make "a large hut"; at Nootka Sound and "pretend that you are engaged in setting yourself in a formal establishment.";

Martínez arrived at Nootka Sound on May 5, 1789 and was disgruntled from the outset of his protracted stay. He found two American ships anchored seven miles away, having wintered there for repairs. These were the Columbia under John Kendrick and the Lady Washington under Robert Gray.

Even more disconcerting to Martínez was the presence of the Iphigenia Nubiana, a trading vessel under the command of Captain William Douglas. This ship was awaiting the arrival of the cagey English trader John Meares. Apparently the British had their own plans for a permanent outpost.

Wary of both the incoming English and Maquinna's tribe, Martínez hesitated until June 24 at which time he attempted to take formal control by capturing two British ships in Friendly Cove. The English crews became prisoners of war.
During an unintelligible shouting match between Martínez and Maquinna's son-in-law Callicum on July 13, Martínez tried to shoot Callicum. His gun failed but a nearby Spanish soldier accomplished the deed.

The death of Callicum didn't prevent Martínez from remaining at Nootka until October 31, at which time he began his return voyage to San Blas with his two captured ships and English prisoners. As well, Martínez took away several young Indians for whom he had bartered their ownership, ostensibly to save them from being hacked to death by the bloodthirsty Maquinna. These children, christened with Spanish names, became pawns in an emerging propaganda campaign led by Spanish priests to convince Spanish authorities to commit more funds for missionary conversion of heathen souls.

While gathering information from Kendrick, Martínez's pilot José Tobar y Tamiriz was told that Chief Maquinna kept young prisoners of war who were sometimes butchered and bartered in pieces. As there was some evidence to support this accusation, the Spanish easily agreed with the editor of James Cook's journal that the Nootka Indians were probably cannibals to some extent.

One of the four priests who arrived with the Martínez expedition subsequently reported, as recorded in Warren L. Cook's Flood Tide of Empire: "Maquinna ate the little boys among the enemies who had the misfortune to fall prisoner. For this purpose he tried to fatten them up first, and then when they were ready, got them all together in a circle (he did this eight days before our people left that waterway), put himself in the middle with an instrument in hand and, looking at all the miserables with furious visage, decided which one was to serve as dish for his inhumane meal. Then, advancing upon the unhappy victim of his voracious appetite, he opened its abdomen at one blow, cut off the arms, and commenced devouring the innocent's raw flesh, bloodying himself as he satiated his barbarous appetite.";

By far the most comprehensive exploration of cannibalism in the Pacific Northwest has been conducted by Jim McDowell in his book Hamatsa: The Enigma of Cannibalism on the Pacfic Northwest Coast (Ronsdale, 1997). He traces the controversial subject back to Florentine merchant-navigator Amerigo Vespucci who reached the continent named after him in 1501. "I spoke with a man who told me he had eaten 300 men,"; wrote Vespucci. He also reported seeing a sailor, sent ashore to charm or solicit some native women, attacked and eaten by them as his shipmates watched.

As for Martínez, his command of the first European settlement in British Columbia lasted less than one year. After John Meares effectively attacked his reputation in the courts of Europe, the new Spanish Viceroy of New Spain, the Condé de Revilla Gigedo II, instructed Captain Quadra to relieve Martínez of his position, replacing him with Lieutenant Francisco Eliza, assisted by Lieutenant Salvador Fidalgo and Ensign Manuel Quimper, who all arrived at Nootka Sound in 1790.


"Diary of the Voyage, in command of the frigate Princesa and the packet San Carlos in the present year of 1789" by Estevan José Martínez was translated by William L. Schurz in 1900. There is a copy at UBC's Special Collections.

Edited by F.W. Howay for the Champlain Society in 1940, The Journals of Captain James Colnett Aboard the Argonaut from April 26, 1789 to November 3, 1791 include 'A translation of the Diary of Estevan José Martínez from July 2 till July 14, 1789'.

Colecion de Diaros y Relacions para la Historia de los Viajes y Descrubimientos. Texto Revisado, Confrontado e Interpretada por... R. Barreiro-Meiro (Madrid: Instituto Historico de Marina, 1964).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Spanish" "1700-1800]