The Loaísa expedition was an early 16th-century voyage of discovery to the Pacific Ocean, commanded by García Jofre de Loaísa (1490 – 20 July 1526) and ordered by King Charles I of Spain to colonize the Spice Islands in the East Indies. The seven-ship fleet sailed from La Coruña, Spain in July 1525 and became the second naval expedition to cross the Pacific Ocean in history, after the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation. The expedition resulted in the discovery of the Sea of Hoces, south of Cape Horn and, the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. One ship ultimately arrived in the Spice Islands on New Year's Day of 1527.[inconsistent]
De Loaísa's expedition was conceived both as a rescue mission and a voyage of discovery. The Victoria, a vessel from Magellan's expedition to the Pacific, had returned to Spain in 1522 with word that her sister ship the Trinidad had last been seen attempting to return home by sailing east from the Spice Islands to South America. De Loaísa was ordered to seek Trinidad, or news of her fate, by voyaging along her expected return route to Spain. Failing this he was to locate and colonise Magellan's Spice Islands, and also to bring back news of the semi-mythical land of Ophir which Spanish scholars believed may be somewhere near China. For this purpose, de Loaísa was assigned seven vessels and a total of 450 men including tradesmen and administrators for the Spice Islands settlement.
The expedition set sail from Corunna on July 24, 1525. It consisted of seven ships, Santa María de la Victoria, Sancti Spiritus, Anunciada, San Gabriel, Santa María del Parral and San Lesmes and a patache, Santiago. De Loaísa was named captain along with Juan Sebastián Elcano, who had reached the Spice Islands in 1521 during the Magellan expedition.
The fleet headed southwest to the Canary Islands and then south along the African coastline. In November 1525 de Loaísa moved west across the Atlantic to Brazil, reaching the Patagonian shore in January 1526. There was no sign of Trinidad, and de Loaísa decided to abandon the search for her and continue instead to the Spice Islands. However the weather was poor, and over the next several weeks, in high winds while trying to enter the Strait of Magellan, the ships alternately gathered and dispersed. Two ships, Sancti Spiritus and Anunciada were wrecked, and one, San Gabriel tacked into the Atlantic and deserted the expedition.
The San Lesmes under the captaincy of Francisco de Hoces was driven south along the coast, possibly to a latitude of 57°, where the crew noted "an end of land" which could have been the first European sighting of Cape Horn. After some difficulty Hoces was able to steer his galleon northward once more, rejoining the other three vessels that remained with the expedition. On 26 May 1526, this diminished fleet of four ships (three galleons and the patache), passed through the Strait and entered the Pacific.
The bad weather which had originally scattered de Loaísa's fleet continued in the Pacific. The four remaining vessels quickly lost sight of each other in the heavy rain and were unable to regroup when the storm finally passed on 1 June.
The San Lesmes disappeared entirely. Twentieth century speculation suggests she ran aground in the Tuamotus, either on the island of Anaa where a 1774 expedition found a cross erected on the beach, or off the Amanu atoll where an old Spanish cannon was later found.
The third ship, Santa María del Parral, sailed the Pacific to Sangir off the northern coast of Sulawesi, where the ship was beached and its crew were variously killed or enslaved by the natives. Four survivors were rescued in 1528 by Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón's Spanish expedition coming from Mexico.
The last galleon, Santa Maria de la Victoria, was the only ship to reach the Spice Islands, landing in September 1526.
Loaísa himself died of scurvy on July 30, 1526, Elcano a few days later, and Alonso de Salazar three weeks after that. Yñiguez reached the islands of Visayas and Mindanao in the Philippines and the Moluccas, but died of food poisoning. Only Andrés de Urdaneta and 24 other men survived to land in the Spice Islands. They returned to Spain in 1536 in the Portuguese India Armada and under Portuguese guard to complete the second world circumnavigation in history. One of the survivors was Hans von Aachen, who previously served as gunner on the Victoria under Magellan and Elcano, becoming the first man to circumnavigate twice.
In popular culture
Robert Adrian Langdon hypothesised that the San Lesmes, after being lost in storm off the coast of South America, island hopped through the Pacific, stopping in Tahiti, before being wrecked on the coast of New Zealand. New Zealand film maker Winston Cowie assesses the San Lesmes theory in his books Nueva Zelanda, un puzzle histórico: tras la pista de los conquistadores españoles and Conquistador Puzzle Trail, the Spanish version of which was completed with the support of the Embassy of Spain to New Zealand, adding the oral tradition of the Pouto Peninsula to Langdon's work. Cowie concludes that there is a possibility that the San Lesmes was wrecked on the Pouto Peninsula with more research required to take the theory from possibility to probability.
Greg Scowen's fiction conspiracy thriller The Spanish Helmet is based on Langdon's theory.
- Kelsey 1986, p.151
- Nowell 1936, p. 328
- Nowell 1936, p.329
- Bergúno 1990, p. 25
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