Home Forums Nautical Research: 1500 – 1830 PEPYS ISLAND – THE MYSTERY SOLVED (Part 2 of 2)

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    Geoffrey Brooks

    Part Two of Two

    In the year 1764 their Lordships at the Admiralty announced to Lord Byron their Great Plan that: “…there being reason to believe that lands and islands of large size, never visited by any European Power, are to be found in the Atlantic Ocean between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan in latitudes favourable for navigation, and in climates favourable for the production of articles of advantage for trade; His Majesty’s islands called Pepys, and the Falklands, having been discovered and visited first by English navigators, and never having been sufficiently well explored to form an adequate idea of their coasts, offer no more opportune occasion than now for an enterprise of this nature…”
    (Author’s retranslation from the Spanish, de Viedma, p.36).

    Prior to the expression of this intention, there had been three expeditions looking for Pepys Island, two from France (Bougainville and La Pérouse) and one from Britain (Lord Anson 1740-1744). Subsequently Lord Byron (1764) and Captain Cook (1769) also set out in the search for Pepys Island, and none of these explorers thought it was a good idea to start from the Sebaldes, considering that heading east from the coast at 47°S offered the better prospect of success. The voyages were fruitless and they all gave up eventually, declaring like Dampier that Pepys Island had either been a figment of Cowley’s imagination, or that he had not realized that he was in the Sebaldes.

    The following documents were released through Pedro de Angelis, Editor of the Collection of Works and Documents Relating to the Ancient and Modern History of the Provinces of the Rio de la Plata, as confirmed in his Preface dated 20 June 1839 to the Viedma diary (p.28), “these details being such that it requires great incredulity to continue to protest that (Pepys) Island is imaginary.”

    At about six on the evening of 12 March 1771, the private frigate “San Francisco de Paula” alias “La Catalana”, master Josef Antonio Puig, was proceeding towards Montevideo from the Spanish Malvinas. The weather was clear and fine, wind SW, strong. “We saw WSW of us an island five to six leagues distant. We reduced down to two mainsails on account of much wind. I consider the said island to have a NW-SE axis, to be five to six leagues in length and without doubt in good visibility it can be seen from twelve to fourteen leagues. For me it was very high and according to my navigation I found it to be situated at 46°49’S and longitude 318°13′ Tenerife meridian. From the NE point of the Malvinas 89 leagues north and 102 leagues from Cape Blanco at E5°NE (all corrected). No doubt but that this is Pepys Island because the Dutch put it on their charts at the same coordinates but more to the east than it really is. We lost sight of the island when night fell.” This report was submitted at Montevideo by navigator Felipe Ruiz Puente on 29 March 1771.

    The Governor of Buenos Aires, Julian de Arriaga, then requested a report from the Chief of Squadron, don Jorge Juan, which was submitted on 9 October 1771 and advised that “from information in our possession” the stated island “was discovered by the English captain Cowley in latitude 47°04’S and on the Greenwich meridian of 64°, this being 78 leagues E 1/4 SE of Cape Blanco. It is high and densely wooded, has good water and a very good harbour which the English call Admiralty Bay. The sketch of it is almost the same as that which Puig drew, coinciding not only in this but in the other details of latitude, longitude, course and distance. There is very little difference and no doubt arises that Puig’s “La Catalana” is the same island as Pepys Island.”

    Here we have information that the Dutch knew where the island was, and the Spaniards knew where the island was, and from the sketch to which we shall now refer, the Royal Navy knew where the island was. They all believed in the existence of Pepys Island and they all knew that it was not in the Sebaldes nor in Cowley’s imagination.

    The famous sketch, a map of Pepys Island with scale, presumably dating from the late 17th or early 18th centuries, is reproduced in the de Viedma book (p.19) released to the public “by kind permission of the Historical Archive of the Province of Buenos Aires”. The legend in the upper right-hand corner of the map reads (in Spanish): “Note: The frigate Diana was anchored in the harbour 24 hours, her captain observed that that part of the island was very mountainous and part flat, is totally wooded, and has fresh water to judge by the streams flowing down into the sea, but they did not disembark.” In the left margin is a vignette in which are stated the coordinates including the longitude “318° Tenerife” and the observation “where the English frigate Diana anchored.” Using the scale provided the island is 6 x 3 Anglo-French leagues in size, the mouth across the bay “able to accommodate 500 ships” is two leagues wide. (An Anglo-French league= 3.45 miles).

    Epilogue and bibliography follow.

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