Banner Image
Routes of Mendana 1595, Quiros 1606 and Torres 1606

The Spanish quest for Terra Australis

Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós' quest to discover Terra Australis is documented in a number of rare 'memorials' held by the Library.

Pedro Fernandes de Queirós was a navigator best known for his voyages of discovery in search of the great south land. He was born in Portugal in 1563 and became a Spanish subject when the countries were temporarily united in 1580.

Pedro Fernandes de Queirós
Portrait of Pedro Fernandes de Queirós

In 1595 Queirós (Quirós is the Spanish form of his name) was appointed chief pilot of an expedition under Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira, setting out from Peru to colonise the Solomon Islands. Mendaña had previously discovered the islands in 1567 and believed they were an indicator of the great south land, but he was unable to locate the islands again during his return voyage. Instead he located the Marquesas and established a short-lived settlement on an island he named Santa Cruz. Following the death of Mendaña and many of the crew in Santa Cruz, the settlement was abandoned, and Queirós is credited with safely bringing the ships back to the Philippines despite difficult circumstances, arriving in 1596, and then returning to Spain. 

In 1605, Queirós sailed from Callao, Peru, in command of his own expedition to discover Terra Australis Incognita, the great southern continent thought to exist in the Pacific. Queirós, commanded the San Pedro y San Pablo, with Luis Vaez de Torres as his second in command on the San Pedrico. 

In 1606 the expedition landed on a large island which Queirós believed to be part of the southern continent. He named it Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, honouring Philip III's Austrian royal house, and claimed it for Spain, together with all of the Pacific region to the South Pole.  The island, now called Espiritu Santo, is part of today’s Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

It is not clear why the fleet then split up. Queirós returned to Mexico in one ship, and Luis Vaez de Torres sailed to Manila along the south coast of Papua New Guinea through the strait which now bears his name.

Routes of Mendana 1595, Quiros 1606 and Torres 1606
Routes of Mendana 1595, Quiros [Queirós] 1606 and Torres 1606

Following his return to Madrid in 1607, Queirós wrote at least 50 petitions to King Philip III of Spain describing the wonders of the land he had discovered and requesting royal support to organise a new expedition to the Southern Hemisphere.

'I say that this must be another new world that promises to be larger and populated by better peoples than America, rich for very good reasons, considering the reports and the silver , pearl samples and mother-of-pearl conches that I saw in many places during this and two other voyages, given the land 's disposition within the parallels of Peru, with a climate like that of Potosi.'  Queirós memorial, 1607

Most of these petitions or 'memorials' were manuscripts, but at least 14 were printed between 1607 and 1614 at Queirós’ expense for presentation to the King and his councils.

These 'presentation' memorials - to be distinguished from later derivative printings which appeared throughout Europe after the leaking of one of the original memorials – are the first, and possibly the rarest of all printed Australiana, printed in Spain in very small numbers by unknown printers. The State Library holds the largest number of printed Quirós Memorials known to exist in a single public collection - including the first memorial, printed in December 1607, acquired in 2019.

Tragically, after finally being granted permission for another expedition, Queirós died in Panama in 1615 before he could carry out his 'divine mission'.