Volume 76 1967 > Volume 76, No. 4 > Maori and Solomon Islands drawings from the Surville expedition found in Spanish archives, by Celsus Kelly,p 459 - 466
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Research in Spanish archives is always an adventure. For instance, in the Archives of the Indies at Seville, there are 39,000 bundles (legajos) of documents, each of which contains on the average 600 to 800 folios (1,200 to 1,600 pages). There are thus something like forty million pages to contend with. Among these, more than five hundred documents of South Pacific interest have been brought to light. These archives alone are an inexhaustible repository of Pacific material, and no one in a lifetime can hope to complete his investigation. But the Archives of the Indies are only one of the three national archives of Spain, to mention nothing of the many other archives in Madrid, e.g. Real Academia de 1a Historia, and elsewhere. The castle archives of Simancas, near Valladolid, with many reports, letters and memorials on the expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós, contain twice the number of papers as those found in Seville. The Archivo Histórico Nacional at Madrid is the third, but no less important, of Spain's national archives. 2

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The Colonial Office of the Spanish Government, which dealt with the many provinces of that far-flung empire in the sixteenth to the beginning of the nineteenth century, was a remarkable institution. The governing body in each of the twelve provinces was called the audiencia, and there was a corresponding department or secretariat in the central government at Madrid. The reports of the audiencia, letters, memorials, journals of of expeditions and such things, were sent to Madrid for consideration by one or other of the councils—the Council of State or that of the Indies. Having stated its opinion the council had no further competence. The final decision rested with the king, who would issue a royal decree on the subject. After the matter had been dealt with in this way the documents themselves were filed away chronologically in the secretariat for the audencia concerned, e.g. Mexico, Lima, Chile, and so on.


To be successful the research scholar of Pacific history should be widely read in his subject, which should include not only Spanish but Dutch, English and French expeditions in the area. He should know not only the names of the leaders of these expeditions, but pigeon-hole in his memory the names of those who in any way took part in them, as well as the names of ships, the islands discovered, etc. In the case of a Spanish expedition it not infrequently happened that after the voyage some of those who took part in it applied to the king for a reward on account of their merits and services. Pedro de Ortega Valencia, for instance, an important officer under Alvaro de Mendaña, who discovered the Solomons in 1568, asked immediately after the return of the expedition to Peru for such a reward and his application, with supporting documents, ran into 78 folios. A soldier who had taken part in the same expedition made a similar application 43 years later. Much information is derived from these reports.

On arriving at the Archives of the Indies for the first time, the research scholar will probably spend several days, or even a week, working through the various catalogues (which give only a broad indication of the material) and the studies of scholars who have already published calendars or catalogues of their findings in specialized subjects, and in general getting the feel of the place. He must also familiarize himself with works in the reference library of the archives.

The moment he puts in his first “call slip” for a bundle of documents the great adventure begins. As he turns the pages (at first it will be a slow process but after a month or so he should be able to read a page in one quick passing glance) and searches for documents that may or may not be there, he may well reflect that his investigation is not unlike the voyages themselves. As neither Mendaña nor Quirós in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries knew what was just over the horizon or what discovery the morrow would bring, so the research scholar is lured on by the prospect that at any moment he may come across documents of great value to Pacific studies.

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Indeed, name the subject spanning these centuries and you will be sure to find material in the archives dealing with it. Who would have thought, for instance, that in the Archives of the Indies three French drawings in colour of Pacific subjects would be found; one of a Maori, another of Maori arts and crafts, and a third of artefacts of the Solomon Islanders?


Spain regarded the triangle between the western seaboard of the Americas and the Philippines both as mare nostrum and mare clausum—a sea both her own and closed to others. Her recurring problem was how to prevent other nations from establishing trading posts in the adjacent islands. Two waves of English probing expeditions were to break through and shatter this pretension. The first was predatory (Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Sir Richard Hawkins) between 1578 and 1593. The second wave came two centuries later by way of exploration and conquest. The occupation of Manila in 1762-64, the publication of the voyage of Commodore John Byron in both English and French in 1767, the occupation of the Malvinas or Falkland Islands by a small naval force, which the Spaniards discovered with dismay only in 1769, the information that Captain James Cook was leading a scientific expedition to Tahiti in 1768, and above all the appearance of the French armed merchant ship, Saint Jean Baptiste, off the coast of Peru, near Chilca, in 1770 emphasized how vulnerable the Spanish colonies had become under the constant pressure of other nations to share in some of her wealth.


The objective of the expedition of Jean François Marie de Surville was to establish a trading post off the coast of Peru. The original intention was doubtless to occupy “David” or Easter Island. Then came the public announcement in London in May 1768 of the discovery of Tahiti, the news of which spread quickly throughout the chanceries of Europe (the Spanish Ambassador in London sent a report to the Minister of State in Madrid four days later), which tipped the scales in favour of occupying that island. Surville's ship was strongly armed to enable him to carry out his purpose.

The Saint Jean Baptiste sailed from Pondicherry in India on June 2,1769. Two ports of call were made in eastern Australasia, one at Port Praslin in the Solomons (October 1769) and the other in New Zealand. Surville sighted the western coast of the latter on December 12, rounded Cape Maria van Diemen four days later and anchored at Lauriston Bay (the Doubtless Bay of Cook) on December 17. He remained in New Zealand until the end of the year, when he set out on the final stages of his mission. Thereafter the expedition ran into one misfortune after another. The crew - 462 were stricken by scurvy and the ship was in urgent need of victualling. Surville failed to locate David Island and Tahiti, and was forced to proceed to Peru for succour. Arriving off the village of Chilca on April 7, 1770, he decided to appeal to the Viceroy for help. His letter was sealed in a bottle, and with two sailors and a native of India he made towards the shore in the ship's boat. His intention was not to land himself, but to send this last man, with the bottle strung about his neck, through the breakers to the shore. The man did reach the shore exhausted. But the boat which carried Surville and the two sailors capsized and all three were drowned. The ship went on to El Callao close by, was impounded by the Spanish authorities, and when the stark truth of her objective became known the Viceroy wasted no time in dispatching ships to search out these islands and to annex them for Spain. In all there were four expeditions from El Callao (1770-1771, 1772-1773, 1774-1775, 1775-1776). They were only half-hearted attempts at colonization: the public treasury at Lima was now in a perennial state of exhaustion or near exhaustion, so that expansion in the South Sea became increasingly out of the question.

When the Saint Jean Baptiste reached El Callao no doubt the ship's papers and the accounts of the voyage were scrutinized if not seized. So far the Archives of the Indies have yielded up little information about what happened after the ship's arrival; but we have journals of the French officers, three of which have been located in Paris. We know what difficulty there was in getting the ship freed. The few references that have been found in the Archives of the Indies were located in bundle 652 belonging to the Audiencia of Lima. Curiously enough the three coloured drawings referred to above were originally placed in bundle 980 of the Audiencia of the Philippines, no doubt in the belief that the Solomon Islands and New Zealand belonged under that heading.


In the additional notes to the legends I have used the translations given in volume II of McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand, 3 the quotations being from the Journal of Pottier de l'Horme (H), First Lieutenant on board the Saint Jean Baptiste, and that of M. Monneron (M), supercargo in the expedition. For years past I have been working at odd moments on a transcription of the French legends on the drawings, which have baffled some French experts whom I consulted. In the end I committed the task to my good friend, Mr. Kevin V. Fox, of London and his French wife, Marcelle, who by their expert knowledge and patient endeavour have succeeded in unravelling the difficult text and supplied the English translation.

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Native of New Zealand called Naguinoui, 4 cannibal

In the two other illustrations of the drawings of the French artist with the Surville expedition the legends are given in French, but for the Maori it is written in Spanish.

Concerning the tattooed pattern used by the Maoris for their faces, their thighs and other parts of the body, the following is taken from the Journal of Pottier de l'Horme:

The painting (tatooing) of the face is a sign of distinction, so that all of them do not have their faces painted, and those who do have it done different ways. Some have three parts of the face painted, . . . the only part not painted is the upper half of the forehead. I have only seen one painted in this manner, and he was the chief of all the neighbouring villages. . . . Some are only painted from the corner of the eyebrows and upper part of the nose down to the lower part of the face. They have painted at the corner of the eyebrows, on the side of the nose, two kinds of horns of about ¾ in. or more long. . . . Lastly, others have only the two horns painted between the eyebrows, and these horns vary in shape. The last-mentioned men seemed to me to be the lower of the chiefs. As to the painting on their thighs, it is common to all men and women without any distinction. This painting consists of bands about 1 in. wide, and painted in a spiral manner. The Natives made me understand that this painting was a religious act. The chiefs add to the spiral bands some ornamentations, varying in length according to their rank. Some of them also have on each calf of the leg a painting . . . [see illustration]. The man we had taken was painted in this way on each leg (p. 321). Their hair is long and straight, but they tie it on top of the head, and put in it some feathers, chiefly white ones, of which they are very fond. . . . They dye their hair with a red paint dissolved in oil (I could not ascertain what they extracted it from, or how they extracted it), which at first made me think their hair was red (p. 323).

Names of the Figures
  • A. Simulacrum or idol from Lauriston Bay in New Zealand. “They wear round their necks a kind of image made of stone, resembling a jade. The image seems to be squatting on its heels. The eyes are made of mother-of-pearl, incrusted in the stone.” (M. 283).
  • B. Canoe, 20 to 45 ft. long with strakes [wash-strakes]. “Their boats are,
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  • indeed, of one piece of wood, pointed at both ends, but the sides are made higher by some boards strongly fixed to the boat with ropes made of rushes. . . . On the two ends of the boat are also fixed two pieces of wood ornamented with carving and fretwork.” (H. 333).
  • C. Paddles of the canoe. There are also canoes without carvings.
  • D. Ornamented prow, removable at will.
  • E. Flat ear-pendant, in a kind of dark-green stone or glass. “They all have holes in the lobe of the ears—men and women—and from these holes hang different ornaments. The most common is a kind of stone of a green colour, sometimes pale, sometimes milky, and sometimes bright, but always the same kind of stone. It is transparent; not very hard, and can be highly polished. . . . It has a hole through one end, through which they pass a rather coarse string to hang it to the ear.” (H. 323).
  • F. Fish-tooth. “Others, instead of the stone carry in the ears some bone or fish-teeth shaped like a serpent's tongue, and finely jagged on both sides.” (H. 323).
  • G. Long, round ear-pendant, of green stone or glass.
  • H. Spears, from 7 to 18 ft. long, in hard reddish wood, bone-tipped. “At the point of these lances some of the men fix a bone which they get from the tail of a fish called the ‘sea-devil’.” (H. 327).
  • I. Club, 15 in., in black stone; others in whalebone. “When they have knocked down their enemy with the lance they [the Maoris] use another weapon to finish killing him. This weapon is carried in a large belt made of straw, and hanging in front of the stomach; it resembles a spatula, at the end of the handle of which is carved a kind of ball to enable them to grip it. It is ornamented with carving . . . about 12 in. or 14 in. long, and its greatest width 3 in. or 4 in. In the middle it is about 1 in. thick. From the middle towards the edges it gets thinner, so that the edges are bluntly sharp (sic). 6 This weapon is generally made of greyish stone, well polished, and very hard. Some of these weapons are made of a whalebone.” (H. 327).
  • K. Club in wood or whalebone.
  • L. Adzes, 3 to 8 in. long, in black or green stone. “. . . the heel and the handle are made of one piece of wood. At the end of the heel they fix a stone, of the same kind as their spatulas are made of, about 3 in. long, and 1½ in. wide.” (H. 333).
  • M. Wooden pick, 12 in. long, for turning over the soil.
  • N. Small fish-hook made of shell. See next entry.
  • O. Large fish-hook in wood, with the tip in fish-bone. “Their fishing-lines, or at least their fishing-hooks, consist of a piece of root. . . . At one of the ends they fix a very sharp fish-bone, whose point curves inwards, following the shape of the wood.” (H. 335).

They also have walrus teeth, for adornment, etc.

Our islander from Lauriston Bay fell ill and died, which is why we have been unable to learn the proper names for each thing. “He died on 27 March 1770.” (M. 291).

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New Zealand Artefacts and Scene. Archivo General de Indias, “Mapas, Planos y Estampas”, no. 182 (355x 310 mm.), All rights of reproduction strictly reserved.
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Solomon Islands Artefacts. Archivo General de Indias, “Mapas, Planos y Estampas”, no. 183 (300x 170 mm.), All rights of reproduction strictly reserved.
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Mountain where the islanders have their stronghold.

Scaffolding they make at the foot of their mountain for preserving their fish and stakes for drying their nets. “In front of their citadel they erect some high wooden posts, on which they dry the winter provision of fish.” (M. 285).

House, 12 to 20 ft. long, 8 to 12 ft. wide and 6 to 7 ft. high, roofed in straw [?] rushes, reeds. “Their huts or dwellings are generally of an oblong square [sic—better “generally oblong”]. The walls are about 3 ft. high, and the roof 7 ft. or 8 ft. The length is about 8 ft. or 10 ft. and the width 4 ft. or 5 ft. They are not all the same size. The opening is rather small. The largest opening I have seen was only 2½ ft. high and 1½ ft. wide. They light fires outside the doors of the huts. The door, which is the only opening in the hut, always faces the opposite way to the prevailing wind. These huts are built with wooden battens crossing each other at right angles, and strongly fastened together at each meeting-point, and connected with stabbs well driven in the ground at each corner. They cover this frame with several layers of bulrushes, which provide them with good shelter against bad aeather. Most of the openings have no door. The ones provided with a door have the upright of the door-frame carved like an image, which I thought was their household god.” (H. 325).

Names of the Figures
A. Boat 15 to 36 ft. long (French). Honon (Arsacide).
  “Their boats are very well constructed, and of a wonderful speed. Both ends are very high, evidently to guard against the arrows. Some of their boats are very large. The day after our arrival one boat came to us which was 56 ft. in length by 3½ ft. wide. The boards of the smaller boats are very thin and joined with a kind of cement, blackish, and very hard. On the boats one can sometimes see some incrusted mother-of-pearl.” (M. 257).  
B. Paddles of the boat, 4½ ft. long (French). Sanon (Arsacide).
C. Bone lance- or spear-head 10 in. long (French). Hauperé (Arsacide).
  “At the end of their lances they put a bone about 6 in. long. It is impossible to withdraw this bone from the flesh without tearing it badly, on account of the notches they make in it.” (M. 257).  
D. Wooden club or sword, 4½ ft. (French). Sibélé (Arsacide).
E. Black stone, or shell adzes (French). Payihaie (Arsacide).
F. Stone hammers (French). Hopian (Arsacide).
G. Shield, 3 ft. long, in rush-work, etc. (French). Réréré (Arsacide).
  “To guard themselves against arrows, they carry a shield made of Tantan cane.” (M. 257).  
H. Arrows, 34 to 36 in. long (French). Touanou (Arsacide).
I. Wooden bows, reddish and brown [or: Bows in reddish and brown wood] (French). Paloko (Arsacide).
  “The weapons of these natives are the bow and arrow, the lance, and  
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  some clubs about 2L ft. long made of very heavy wood. Their arrows are very dangerous, as they make them of several pieces joined together by a kind of very hard cement, and some fragments are bound to remain in the wound they make. The point is made of a bone which they sharpen to a fine point. They generally use the bone found in the tail of a fish called ‘sea devil’.” (M. 256-7). 7  

They also have paddles for their boats with round ends like those of Madagascar. Spears of areca wood, in one piece, the tip pointed and fire-hardened. They are 8 to 10 ft. long by 2½ in. in circumference. A kind of gum which has the odour of anise, and lime which they put on their hair.

  • MCNAB, R. (ed.), 1914. Historical Records of New Zealand. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • MILLIGAN, R. R. D., 1958. “Ranginui, Captive Chief of Doubtless Bay”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 67:180-203.
  • KELLY, Celsus, 1965. Calendar of Documents: Spanish Voyages in the South Pacific 1567-1794 and Franciscan Missionary Plans for the Peoples of the Austral Lands 1617-1634. Madrid, Franciscan Historical Studies (Australia) in assoc. with Archivo Ibero-Americano (Madrid).
  • ;— 1966. La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. 2 vols. Cambridge, Hakluyt Society.
1   Readers are referred to Dr. R. R. D. Milligan's masterly contribution on Surville's visit (Milligan 1958:180-203). In the present article the author approaches the subject from a new angle and gives it a new setting, not merely because the illustrations are original with translations of all legends, but his introductory remarks may be of help to scholars who may wish to carry out research in Spanish archives, with their wealth of documentation on Pacific voyages. The author is deeply grateful to his friend, Dr. J. C. Beaglehole, who very kindly read through the article in manuscript and made a number of valuable suggestions for its improvement.
2   In one of these national archives there is somewhere an expediente (file of documents) on the Surville expedition awaiting discovery by an enterprising scholar. In the Calendar of Documents . . . (Kelly 1965:224) I have listed thirty documents on the Quirós expedition, known to have existed in 1881, and which also await discovery.
3   McNab 1914.
4   Called Naquinovi in French text (M. 290). Note that “v” is frequently written as “u” in Spanish documents, e.g. viento as uiento. This portrait appears to be an original drawing, although it was customary for artists in similar expeditions to make several holograph copies. It differs from that given in Milligan (1958:180). The latter is a black-wash portrait, the former in water-colours and shows the Maori chief in fuller face and in greater repose; the mere hangs loosely from his right hand, and the background setting is also different. It is drawn on paper, with watermarks: CVP GNION . . . 1742.
5   The artefacts given here are also in water-colours; the tiki and ear-pendant are green and the mere or club is greyish blue. This representation is on a much wider scale than that reproduced in Milligan (1958: facing p. 195).
6   A better translation, perhaps, would be: “so forming slightly blunt edges”.
7   Concerning the lethal character of the spear and arrow of the Solomon natives, Monneron, besides the observations quoted above (C and I), has elsewhere this to say:
. . . the sergeant . . . received a blow from a lance above the hip. He died of that wound three days after. During his illness the surgeon was very perplexed by the cause of it. He could only see a slight wound, to which could not be attributed the great pain in which the soldier was. He suspected that some foreign matter had got into the wound, but could not find it with the probe. He opened the wound after the death of the man, and found a piece of lance six inches long embedded in the vertebra with such a force that in order to extract it he had to use pinchers and break the bone with a hammer. (pp. 253-4).
This may well be a solution of the long debated question of the so-called “poisoned arrow”, which has been dealt with in some detail. See Kelly (1966:I, 202, n.2).