Biographical entry: Mendaña y Neyra, Alvaro de


King Solomon's servants brought him gold from Ophir, from somewhere east of Arabia, which was also identified as Ptolemy's Golden Khersonese. This inspired many voyages of discovery, and certainly partly inspired those of Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra (1567-1569), Mendaña and Pedro Fernandes de Quirós (1595-1596) and of Quirós and Luis Vaz de Torres (1605-1606). In November 1567, Los Reyes and Todos Santos left Callao in Peru. Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra was the leader with Hernan Gallego as Chief Pilot. They reached either Nui or some of the Ellice Group, then Ontong Java on 23 January, and finally Santa Ysabel (Isabel) Island on 7 February 1568, taking possession of it in the name of the Spanish King. The exploration party built a bergantin (a small ship), which they named Santiago, and on it they visited Guadalcanal (named after a village in Spain) and circumnavigated Isabel. They recorded that Isabel was known locally as Bilebau-Arra. Relations with the Isabel people deteriorated and the ships shifted to Guadalcanal, settling at Puerto de la Cruz (Point Cruz), now the site of Honiara (q.v.). Relations there soon deteriorated as well, and they crossed to southwest Malaita and San Cristobal (Makira) where they careened the ships and used the Santiago to explore the south coast. Once more relations with the local people became tense. (de Coppet 1977) Having gathered enough supplies, in early August 1568 the expedition set out north toward Micronesia. They managed to chart significant parts of the coasts of Isabel, Malaita, Guadalcanal and Makira, and sighted Ontong Java, Nggela, Choiseul and New Georgia. Mendaña and his crew left convinced that the islands were the outliers of a large landmass.

Mendaña returned twenty-eight years later as Governor of a Spanish colony to be established in the Solomon Islands. The five-ship expedition left Callao on 9 April 1595, with Quiros as deputy, located the Marquesas Islands, and then continued on, reaching Santa Cruz on 8 September. The flagship, San Geronimo, became separated from the Santa Isabel, which was wrecked at Pamua on Makira. (Allen and Green 1972) The expedition began a settlement at large and deep Graciosa Bay, where the main chief was named Malope. By then, the surviving Spaniards were fighting amongst themselves and also with the local people. Mendaña died in mid-October, after nominating his wife as Governor and his brother-in-law Lorenzo Barreto as Captain-General. The survivors retreated to the ships on 18 November. The San Geronimo, the galleon and a frigate sailed north for Manila under Quiros' command. The frigate, which was carrying Mendaña's body, disappeared. Quiros returned in 1605 seeking Terra Australis, and intended to sail to Santa Cruz, but he ended up on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu where he founded a settlement called New Jerusalem. Torres became separated from the main expedition and sailed north through the strait between Australia and New Guinea, which now bears his name. (Spate 1979, 123-43)

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Published resources


  • Spate, O.H.K., The Pacific since Magellan: The Spanish Lake: , vol. 1, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1979. Details

Journal Articles

  • Allen, J. and R. C. Green, 'Mendana 1595 and the Fate of the Lost 'Almiranta': An Archaeological Investigation', Journal of Pacific History, vol. 7, 1972, pp. 73-91. Details
  • Coppet, Daniel de, 'First Exchange, Double Illusion', Journal of the Cultural Association of the Solomon Islands, vol. 5, 1977, pp. 23-39. Details