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Hyacinthe de Bougainville

The British exploration of the Pacific Ocean between 1764, when Byron sailed, and 1780, when Cook’s third circumnavigation concluded, and the colonisation of New South Wales from 1788 onwards, effectively set agendas in discovery and settlement which France and Spain had to emulate if they were to continue as Britain’s imperial rivals.

Spain’s effort to match the British agenda was spectacular, but short-lived. The expedition under the command of Alejandro Malaspina that it sent to explore in the Pacific and to report on the state of the Spanish empire (1789–94) was perhaps the best equipped of all the grand eighteenth-century voyages, but its commander fell victim to political intrigue on his return; and oblivion settled over its results. (Only now are its journals, artwork and collections being fully analysed and published.)

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