FERRER MALDONADO, LORENZO, Spanish navigator and adventurer, whose circumstantial account of his participation in a successful northwest passage voyage in the winter of 1588 has found some believers; d. 1625.
Maldonado submitted his Relacion to Philip III in 1609, probably in an attempt to profit by Spain’s growing concern with English efforts to find a northwest passage.
Maldonado describes entering the Strait of Labrador (Davis Strait) at 60°, following it northwest 280 leagues to emerge at 75°, then following a generally westward passage of 790 leagues to emerge through a strait, in about 60°, that he believed to divide Asia from America, the Strait of Anian. After exploring the coast of America to about 55° the expedition returned through the Strait of Anian and the northwest passage to Spain. Maldonado urged in strong terms the necessity of Spain’s fortifying the Strait of Anian before the English reached it, and he dwelt glowingly upon economic and other advantages to the nation of controlling this short trade route to the Far East.
Maldonado was evidently familiar with English voyages of the period, especially those of John Davis, and probably he knew of Michael Lok’s support of Juan de Fuca, who claimed to have discovered the Strait of Anian in 1592. Despite the ingenuity and persuasiveness of his argument, he was unable to obtain official interest in his supposed discoveries or support of his plans. Because of a general resemblance of Bering Strait to Maldonado’s Strait of Anian, his claim to belief has been revived occasionally.
An unknown number of manuscript copies of the Relacion circulated in Maldonado’s day. The Duke of Almodóvar gave it first publication in 1788, but it drew no attention until 1790, when Philippe Buache de La Neuville read a paper (later published in Spanish) before the Paris Academy of Sciences. His endorsement of Maldonado’s claims stirred the Spanish government in 1791 to dispatch Alexandro Malaspina* from Mexico on a new but unsuccessful search of the northwest coast for a strait near 60°. In 1811, Carlo Amoretti published an Italian translation of the Relacion that he had found in the Ambrosian Library, Milan, of which he was librarian. In 1812, he republished the work in French and appended a Discours defending the authenticity of the work. In 1849 Fernandez Navarrete and in 1881 Novo y Colson published condemnatory statements, and numbered the Relacion with the apocryphal accounts of Juan de Fuca and Bartholomew de Fonte.
Little is known about Maldonado’s life. About 1600 he evaded action in a litigation in which he was charged with preparing false documents; he probably visited Newfoundland before 1609; he claimed to have discovered a means of finding longitude at sea with a magnetized needle, a secret he offered to divulge for 5,000 ducats; he wrote a geographical work, published after his death, which makes no mention of his supposed journey through the northwest passage.
Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, “Relación del descubrimiento del Estrecho de Anian . . . ,” in [Almodóvar], Historia políticia de los establecimientos ultramarinos de las naciones europeas (5v., Madrid, 1784–90), IV; Imagen del mundo, sobre la esfera, cosmografía, y geografía, teórica de planetas, y arte de nauegar (Alcalá, 1626); Voyage de la mer Atlantique à l’océan Pacifique . . . , traduit d’un manuscrit espagnol et suivi d’un discours qui en démontre l’authenticité et la veracité, par Charles Amoretti . . . (Plaisance, 1812). Philippe Buache de La Neuville, “Memoria leída en la Academia de la Ciencias de París por Mr. Buache,” in Sobre los viajes apócrifos de Juan de Fuca y de Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado . . . , ed. Pedro de Novo y Colson (Madrid, 1881), 123–53. Dodge, Northwest by sea, 183–84. Enciclopedia universal ilustrada Europeo-americana (72v., Barcelona, 1907?–1930), XXXII. Martin Fernandez de Navarrete, Examen histórico de los viajes y descubrimientos geográficos de Capitán Lorenzo Ferrer Maldonado, de Juan de Fuca y de Almirante Bartolomé Fonte . . . (Madrid, 1849). H. R. Wagner, “Apocryphal voyages to the northwest coast of America,” Amer. Antiquarian Soc. Proc., new ser., XLI (1931), 179–234.