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Auction 15: Fine Collection of Californiana Formed by Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lots 156 & 157: Portolá & Péron

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156. PÉRON, [Pierre François]. Mémoires du Capitaine Péron, sur ses Voyages aux Côtes d’Afrique, en Arabie, a l’Île d’Amsterdam, aux Îles d’Anjouan et de Mayotte, aux Côtes Nord-Oeust de l’Amérique, aux Îles Sandwich, a la Chine, etc. Paris: Brissot-Thivars, Libraire, Bossange Frères, 1824. [4] v [1, blank] 328 + [4] 359 pp., 4 folded lithographed maps, 2 folded lithographed plates (natural history). 2 vols., later three-quarter tan calf over marbled boards (new endpapers). Except for scattered light foxing, a very good set.
    First edition. Borba de Moraes, p. 663. Ferguson 980. Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 585. Hill 1330. Holliday 863. Howes P240. Judd 144. Lada-Mocarski 89: “Captain Péron’s memoirs are well-written and described many interesting events in the life of a sea captain who travelled in most of the still little-known world where Western commerce was fast developing.” Monaghan 1174. Sabin 61001. Streeter Sale 2513. Wickersham 6632a. Edited by L. S. Brissot-Thivars from Péron’s manuscripts, which were secured for this project by a friend after Péron resisted because of personal modesty. The editor seems to have chosen many of the more spectacular and odd events to include; he states that these give reality the charms of a novel (p. iv).

Péron was offered service aboard the Otter while he was in Australia, and it was this ship that he sailed to Monterey in 1796, thereby bringing the first U.S. vessel into California. Although he seemed to enjoy his stay in the locale, he is astonished at the backwardness and crudeness of the settlement, a sentiment, he is told by the governor, that was also expressed by La Pérouse (vol. 2, pp. 128-129). In addition to its California content, the work is important for his descriptions of many Pacific locales visited, his remarks upon the natives he encountered, and his observations on New England.


Following the Nootka Convention of 1790, the Pacific Northwest Coast of America was removed from Spanish hegemony and opened to international fur trade. The newly established United States of America actively participated in this, with ships principally out of Boston rounding Cape Horn, trading in the South Pacific and then proceeding to Vancouver and the Queen Charlotte Islands for seal and sea otter furs, which were then taken to Canton and Macau and traded for such Asian goods as porcelain, lacquer ware, and tea. The Boston ship Otter captained by Ebenezer Dorr, Jr., reached New South Wales, Australia, in 1796, and there took on Pierre François Péron as chief officer. Péron had been on the French ship Emélie wrecked on Amsterdam Island where he was marooned for three years before being taken to Australia by Ceres. While in New South Wales, Péron assisted in the escape of Thomas Muir (1765-1799), a Scottish liberal reformer tried in 1793 in Edinburgh for sedition and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales in 1794, by smuggling him aboard the ship. The Otter then became the first merchant vessel to visit Tonga, and from there sailed to Nootka where furs were obtained and Muir was transferred to the Sutil under José Tobar y Tamariz and taken to Monterey where he was received by governor Diego Borica, and then to San Blas, Mexico City, Veracruz, Havana, and Cádiz, finally reaching France.
    The Otter, after concluding trade on Vancouver Island and in the Queen Charlotte Islands, continued to Monterey in October 1796, becoming the first United States ship to anchor in the harbor. Dorr and Péron were received cordially by governor Borica; however, against his wishes, Dorr surreptitiously put eleven convicts, including one woman, ashore prior to sailing for Honolulu and Canton. For several months Borica employed the unwanted charges in building a boat prior to sending them to San Blas to be taken to Cádiz.

––W. Michael Mathes

“The First Published Account of the First Permanent
Settlement in California” (Streeter)

157. [PORTOLÁ, Gaspar de (attributed)]. Estracto de noticias del puerto de Monterrey, de la missión, y presidio que se han establecido en el con la denominación de San Carlos, y del sucesso de las dos expediciones de mar, y tierra que à este fin se despacharon en el año proximo anterior de 1769 [caption title]. Dated Mexico, August 16, 1770. [Colophon]: En la Imprenta del Superior Govierno. [5] pp. Small folio, plain protective wrappers (on laid paper with watermark 1832). An exceptionally fine copy, apparently removed from a larger legajo at some point, with contemporary ink foliation at top right of each leaf (225, 226, 227). Preserved in chemise and slipcase of half navy blue levant morocco over marbled boards. Exceedingly rare.

    First edition, the folio issue, for official circulation. Cowan I, pp. 79-80. Cowan II, p. 199. Graff 1264. Howell 50, California 195 (this copy): “Although Wagner would not commit himself on the question of priority, never having discovered any contemporary statement as to which was printed first, Cowan considered the folio issue to be the first. Dr. George P. Hammond presents a conclusive solution to the problem in Noticias de California (Book Club of California, 1958): On the basis of two corrections made in the quarto of spelling errors in the folio, he assigns priority to the folio.” Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 35. Jones 538. LC, California Centennial 26. Libros Californianos (Cowan & Bliss lists), pp. 16, 20. Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 56. Medina, México 5330. Palau 84307. Rocq 5676. Sabin 76009. Streeter, Americana-Beginnings 74n. Streeter Sale 2438 (folio issue): “The first published account of the first permanent settlement in California, the Estracto being the preliminary report of the Portolá expedition.” Wagner, Spanish Southwest 150. Zamorano 80 #35 (Henry R. Wagner): “Portolá and Costansó arrived in Mexico City on August 10, 1770, bringing the first news of the occupation of Monterey. The government therefore lost very little time in having the occupation report printed. It is the earliest known printed piece, since Torquemada’s Monarquía Indiana, to contain any information regarding what is now known as Upper California.”

Born of the great tale of chivalry the Sergas de Esplandián as the island of Queen Calafia decades prior to its discovery, California engendered extraordinary curiosity throughout its early history. Unlike other regions discovered by Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, California resisted occupation for a century and a half following the first attempt at settlement by Fernando Cortés. Even following successful permanent foundations established by the Society of Jesus after 1697, California was the distant edge of the Spanish Empire and was, at best, a marginal province. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits, in 1768 Visitor General José de Gálvez initiated plans for the occupation of Alta California, unexplored since 1602. Through the creation of a naval department at San Blas, this advance could avail itself of more rapid maritime travel coupled with overland expeditions under Gaspar de Portolá and Franciscan Fray Junípero Serra from the California peninsula.
    Following the establishment of a base at San Diego on July 14, 1769, Portolá departed to explore by land northward through the more temperate coastal regions of Alta California. Seen by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542 and explored and charted by Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602, Monterey, with an adequate harbor for ships of the period and abundant supplies of fresh water, timber, game, and fish, was considered an appropriate site for securing Spanish control of the northern Pacific Coast. Accompanying Portolá was a fellow Catalán, Miguel Costansó, an officer of the Royal Corps of Engineers and professional cartographer and draughtsman. The sole description of the bay of Monterey was that made from the sea in 1602 and published in Manila in 1734 by José González Cabrera Bueno in the Navegación especulativa y práctica, and, as a result, it was bypassed on the march northward and was not identified until the return southward from the bay of San Francisco where the Golden Gate halted further advance.

    Upon the expedition’s return to San Diego on January 24, 1770, Costansó returned to Monterey by sea with Father Serra in May and was met by Portolá and Lieutenant Pedro Fagés, who had returned overland. With the establishment of the presidio of Monterey and mission San Carlos Borromeo, Portolá and Costansó sailed for San Blas in July and proceeded to Mexico City, which they reached on August 10. Their report to Viceroy Marqués de Croix of the success of the expeditions and establishment of Monterey marked the completion of a long-desired goal of Spanish colonization, and resulted in the almost immediate publication of a greatly abridged description in the Estracto de Noticias del Puerto de Monterey..., dated six days following the arrival of Portolá and Costansó at the viceregal court.

––W. Michael Mathes

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