First Edition in English of Three 17th century South American Voyages & Travels

AMERICAS. Acuña, Cristóbal de, S.J. (1597-1676?); Acarete, du Biscay (17th c.); Grillet, Jean, S.J. (1624-1677); Béchamel, François, S.J. (1637-1676)

Voyages and discoveries in South-America. The first up the river of Amazons to Quito in Peru, and back again to Brazil, perform'd at the command of the king of Spain. By Christopher D'Acugna. The second up the river of Plata, and thence by land to the mines of Potosi. By Mons. Acarete. The third from Cayenne into Guiana, in search of the lake of Parima, reputed the richest place in the world. By M. Grillet and Bechamel. Done into English from the originals, being the only accounts of those parts hitherto extant. The whole illustrated with notes and maps.

London: Printed for S. Buckley, 1698


Octavo: 19 x 11 cm. viii, 1-176, (169)-(176), 177-190, [ii], 79, [v], 68 pp. Collation: A4, B-M8, *M4, N-Y8, 2Y4. Illustrated with two folding engraved maps.


This copy is bound in full contemporary speckled calf, rebacked. A fine, crisp copy with just some light foxing to the maps and very light soiling to the title. Provenance: With the engraved bookplate of Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke (1690-1764), Lord Chancellor for nineteen years.

FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH of the narratives of the first Europeans to traverse these regions. Part I of this collected work is "Voyages and Discoveries... up the River of Amazon to Quito in Peru, and back again to Brazil by Acuña;" Part II is "An Account of a Voyage up the River de la Plata, and thence over Land to Peru" by Acarete du Biscay; Part III is "A Journal of the Travels of John Grillet and Francis Bechamel into Guiana, in the Year 1674." Parts II and III have separate title pages. The text is illustrated with two engraved maps: the first, by Sanson d'Abbeville, is entitled "The Course of the river of Amazons"; the second map depicts the "Provinces of Paraguay and Tucuman with the River Plate."

Part I: Cristóbal de Acuña: "Voyages and Discoveries... up the River of Amazon to Quito in Peru, and back again to Brazil.”

"The work of Acuña, bishop of Caracas, tells of the Spanish expedition under Pedro Teixeira which left Quito in 1639 and descended the whole course of the Amazon to Pará ...This work gave for the first time scientific observations on the upper Amazon and descriptions of its Indian inhabitants" (Hill).

Cristóbal de Acuña, S.J.(1597-c. 1676), Spanish missionary and explorer, was born at Burgos in 1597. He was admitted a Jesuit in 1612, and afterwards sent on mission work to Chile and Peru, where he became rector of the college of Cuenca.In 1639 he accompanied Pedro Teixiera in his second exploration of the Amazon inorder to take scientific observations, and draw up a report for the Spanish government. The journey lasted ten months; and on the explorer's arrival in Peru, Acuña prepared his narrative, while awaiting a ship for Europe. The king of Spain, Philip IV, received the author coldly, and it is said even tried to suppress his book, fearing that the Portuguese, who had just revolted from Spain (1640), would profit by its information. After occupying the positions of procurator of the Jesuits at Rome and censor of the Inquisition at Madrid, Acuña returned to South America where he died, probably soon after 1675.

“In 1637, the settlers of Pará were surprised by the arrival of a canoe containing two Spanish friars and some soldiers that had descended the Amazon from Quito. This inspired an expedition of great geopolitical importance in shaping the Brazilian frontier. The governor, Jácome Raimundo de Noronha, determined to claim nothing less than the main Amazon river for Portugal. He sent Pedro Teixeira up-river with an important expedition of 70 Portuguese soldiers, with 1,100 mission Indians to paddle 47 canoes and to supply food by hunting and fishing. The governor gave Teixeira sealed orders to plant Portuguese boundary markers when he reached the lands of the Omagua, no less than 1,500 miles west of the Line of Tordesilla! The expedition was a triumphant success, thanks to the endurance of the Indians, who paddled upstream for months on end and eventually carried the flotilla up to Quito. The Spaniards sent observers to accompany the return journey and one of these, the Jesuit Cristóbalde Acuña, wrote a splendid account of his descent. He strongly urged the king of Spain to make an effective occupation of the Amazon; but is advice was ignored, and the boundary of modern Brazil is now far up the river, close to the place where Teixeira placed his marker.

“Acuñaobserved the large and prosperous tribes that still existed on the Amazon. He was particularly impressed, as Orellana’s men had been a century earlier, by the Omagua, who kept ponds stocked with thousands of turtles alongside their villages, and by the Curucirari, whose delicate polychrome pottery rivaled Chinese ceramics. But as the expedition descended the Amazon, Acuñawitnessed increasing destruction by Portuguese slavers from Belém do Pará. He watched in horror while one of Bento Maciel’s sons rounded up Tapajo’s men at gunpoint while permitting his own gang of Indians to rape their women and pillage their town. As he approached Pará, he saw increasing destitution and depopulation, with riverine settlements abandoned and no one left to cultivate the land. The small and primitive settlement of Belém was an incubus that steadily destroyed and denuded the Amazon and all its accessible tributaries. Pedro Teixeira’s brother, the vicar-general of Maranhão, Manoel Teixeira, reckoned that in the first three decades after their arrival on the Amazon, the few hundred settlers of Maranhão and Pará were responsible for the deaths of almost two million Indians through their ‘violent labour, exhausting discoveries, and unjust wars.’”(Bethell, Leslie. “The Cambridge History of Latin America”, pp. 531-32)

Part II. Acarete du Biscay: "An Account of a Voyage up the River de la Plata, and thence over Land to Peru"

“By the end of the seventeenth century, the region watered by the lower Paraná and Paraguay rivers, explored and settled by Spaniards despite Indian and Portuguese hostility, presented a scene of relative tranquility and prosperity to visitors from the outside world. One of these, who recorded his impressions of his journey in a very informative account, was Monsigneur Acarete du Biscay. Having lived a long time in Spain and learned the language, he conceived a desire to see the Indies, and despite the fact that this was prohibited to foreigners, in 1687 he managed to go, he tells us, by concealing his origin. The voyage in a vessel of 450 tons, took 105 days, and was not without its anxious moments even at the end. As the ship entered Rio de la Plata it had to fight off a French frigate, which was subsequently captured by a Dutch fleet leaving the estuary and its crew killed.

“The ship sailed upstream toward Asuncion, making brief stops which enabled Acarete to go ashore, but never far. This center of Spanish power he found to be a thriving place; it was well populated, and its environs produced such necessities as corn, millet, sugar, tobacco, honey, cattle, sturdy oaks and pines for the construction of ships, and yerba mate. This herb particularly impressed him, since it was so important an item of trade; ‘without that Herb,’ he tells us, ‘(with which they make a refreshing Liquor with Water and Sugar, to be drunk lukewarm) the Inhabitants of Peru, Savages and others, especially those that work in the Mines, could not subsist, for the Soil of the Country being full of Mineral Veins, the Vapours that rise out of the ground suffocate them, and nothing but that Liquor can recover them again, which revives and restores them to their former Vigour.’ A feature of Asunción life which he found unusual was the custom of sleeping in the streets at night because of the heat. On his return to the Rio de la Plata, Acarete visited Buenos Aires and was much impressed by its appearance and its size (it contained more than four hundred houses), as well as the commercial activity in the port. The women in the city outnumbered the men; they were, he said, very beautiful and absolutely faithful to their husbands; but should the men fail in fidelity to their wives, they ‘are often punished with Poison or Dagger.”

“A visit to the interior took him to Córdoba; en route he and his Indian guide were confronted by a swollen stream which could not be forded on horseback. Since Acarete was unable to swim, the Indian killed a bull, flayed the hide off, stuffed it with straw, put Acarete and his baggage on it, and swam across pulling it with a cord, in the manner of the Brazilian Indians and pioneers. He found the city to be almost as large as Buenos Aires; the people were rich in gold and silver, and bred and traded thirty thousand mules annually. Yet this was frontier country; neighboring Indians still killed and ate their enemies, fashioning their skulls into drinking bowls. And as an added danger, he mentions the ‘abundance of Tigers that are fierce and ravenous’ on the way to Santiago del Estero, but curiously enough refers to ‘lions that are very gentle.’ Ultimately, traversing forests, groves of date palms, fertile plains, cotton fields and vineyards, he reached the populous city of Potosi with its four thousand houses built of stone in the Spanish style. In this fabulous center of wealth, with its rich mines, his account ends.

“Little more than a century and half had passed since first the Spaniards had entered this land and subdued it. Thriving towns stood where before there had been only grass, forests, and promising valleys; the land had been made to yield its fruit, and descendants of the conquistadores and new immigrants, with their slaves and their Indian wards, toiled, prayed, and raised their families where only wild beasts and occasional savages had roamed before. At a time when settlements in North America above Mexico were mainly huddled along the coast or the St. Lawrence River, when Henry Kelsey, La Salle, Marquette, Jolliet, and others were first exploring the vast interior of that continent, hoping to find a river flowing to the Pacific Ocean, when the Cumberland Gap had not even been discovered, Acarete could find thriving centers of civilization far in the interior of the southern continent – eloquent testimony of the magnitude and success of Spain’s imperial endeavor.” (Goodman, Edwin, J. “The Explorers of South America”, pp. 146-47)

Part III. Jean Grillet, S.J.: "A Journal of the Travels of John Grillet and Francis Bechamel into Guiana, in the Year 1674."

“Neither Spain nor Portugal was able to establish control over much of the coastline between the Amazon and Orinoco rivers; consequently, such exploring as was done in this region of Guiana was undertaken by others, primarily by the French. As in Brazil, the missionaries were among the chief explorers, and two of them -both Jesuits- Jean Grillet and François Béchamel, penetrated quite far into the interior of what became known as French Guiana. Their expedition, of which they kept a careful journal, began in Cayenne late in December of 1673, when the visitor to the missions, Pere François Mercier, who wanted to discover ‘those Nations that lie remote from the Sea’ chose Grillet to go. Grillet asked for Béchamel, who was a zealous man and had a flair for languages. On January 25 they left Cayenne with Indian guides in a small canoe, following the Oyack through the country of the Galibis, a poverty-stricken people. On February 3, about forty leagues from Cayenne, they entered the country of the Nouragues, reputed to be cannibals; they proved to be courteous and affable, however, and the cacique allied himself with them and gave them porters. The wife of one of them had breast cancer; Béchamel instructed and baptized her before they left. A few days later they were joined by a French trader, whose Galibi guides, tired of carrying the ironware he had brought for trading purposes, mutinied and had to be replaced by Nouragues. For some time, while a canoe was being built for them, the missionaries remained at a cottage of a Nourague chieftain, learning the language, doing some preaching when they were able, and teaching a few hymns. The Indians, who had three wives, did them the courtesy of listening respectfully and not condemning a religion which permitted only one. The missionaries, under these circumstances, could count it a signal success when they persuaded two young men to pledge monogamy. On April 9 they departed in two canoes, with sixteen men. Along the route they baptized some dying children, and passed a place where three Englishmen, they were told, had been killed and eaten, justifying, apparently, the reputation of the Nouragues. They were in higher country now, having passed the falls of Approuague, and by April 30 they reached the little Eiski river (which flows into the Inipi), followed it ten leagues to the Camopi, and went up this swift stream four leagues on May 3 and 4. The following day they reached their destination, the Acoqua country (2 25’N.), and were well received by the Indians, who listened to them and showed an interest in instruction. Legend comes in again as it nearly always does; the fathers inquired concerning the marvelous Lake Parima, but none of the Acoqua had ever heard of it. On May 25 they embarked on the Camopi, following it into Nourague country, and then undertook the difficult passage back, reaching Cayenne on June 27.

“Pere Grillet, it appears, was something of a navigator and inventor as well as missionary and explorer. In describing a voyage across the Atlantic, he tells of an instrument he invented for determining the altitude above the sea during all the hours when the sun appears, without having to see the horizon. He further describes a method he invented for determining longitude by marking exactly the time the sun set and the time elapsed before the full moon rose; if the moon rose later, one had to be west of the line where sunset and moonrise occurred simultaneously. He counted the time by dividing it into minutes measured by twenty-four pulse beats ‘when one is in health,’ a method, he admitted, difficult to execute and fraught with possibilities of considerable error.”(Goodman, Edwin, J. “The Explorers of South America”, pp. 98-9)

Borba de Moraes I: 12 ("It is a rare book"); Hill 1788 (pp.311-312); Palau 2487; Sabin 152; Streeter sale VII: 4132; Wing V-746.