The Spanish Quest | State Library of New South Wales

The Spanish quest for the Great South Land

A Spanish expedition from 1605-1607 became the first Europeans to discover Vanuatu and what is now known as the Torres Strait, while seeking the Great South Land.

In December 1605, Portuguese captain Pedro Fernandes de Quiros led a two-ship Spanish expedition in search of the Great South Land. The expedition reached the largest island of Vanuatu in May 1606 and attempted to settle it as a Spanish colony, naming it Austrialia del Espiritu Santo.

On 27 June 1606, the ships set sail on a south westerly course. Having reached 20.5 degrees latitude with no land in sight, Luis Vaes de Torres, second in command, sailed north for Manila, taking them through what is now known as the Torres Strait and along the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. They reached Manila in May 1607.

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Prado y Tobar - Relacion sumaria del del descubrimto. que enpeco pero fernandez de quiros... y le acabo El capan don diego de prado...con asistencia del capan luis baes de torres...1607, written ca. 1614-1615.

One vigilant sailor, Don Diego de Prado y Tovar (or Tobar), took great care to keep track of the expedition that was ultimately the first European voyage through the strait between Australia and New Guinea. The journey proved that New Guinea was an island and not a northern projection of the Great South Land as some geographers had thought. Although the Spanish didn't find the expected southern continent, they were the first European expedition to land on several islands which are now part of Australia. Prado's manuscript is significant for his use of the name Australia for Quiros' Great South Land. He uses this name twice in his text, although it is spelt differently in the title.

Quiros was eager to be sent on another expedition to the South Land to secure its fabulous wealth for Spain and to convert its peoples to the Catholic faith. After writing many petitions or 'memorials' to King Philip III of Spain, he was finally given the opportunity in 1614 however died at Panama in 1615 before he could set sail.

> Find out more about the Quiros memorials and the Spanish Quest for Terra Australis

The Spanish quest for Terra Australis



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Voyages of Discovery: the great South Land
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