TERRA AUSTRALIS and the Christian Connection
Pedro Fernandez de Quiros
No one was sure that Australia existed, except for the Aborigines who were living here. In other parts of the world there were stories and myths about a great big continent somewhere in the vast southern oceans. In the second half of the fifteenth century seafaring adventurers were being sent on expeditions to search for this mysterious land, hoping to find wealth and fame.
One such adventurer was Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who was born in Portugal. He was brought up with a deep belief in God and was full of idealism and missionary zeal. Pedro believed that he was divinely chosen to find this mysterious Southland and to introduce the inhabitants to the one true God.
He was fortunate enough to work many years for the King of Spain and eventually won the King’s and the Pope’s approval to make a voyage to search for the Southland. He sailed west from Callao, Peru, as others had done. Five months later he sighted land and with great celebrations took possession of it in the name of His Majesty and Jesus Christ. He planted a large cross and read a proclamation:
I, Captain Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, hoist this emblem of the Holy Cross on which His [Jesus Christ’s]
Person was crucified and whereon He gave His life for the ransom and remedy of the human race. On this
Day of Pentecost, 14 May 1606, I take possession of all this part of the South as far as the pole in the name
of Jesus. From now on, [these islands and lands] shall be called the Southern Land of the Holy Ghost
to the end that to all the natives, in all the said lands, the holy and sacred evangel (the Christian Gospel)
may be preached zealously and openly.
But, de Quiros had not landed in Australia. Instead he was on the largest island of what became known as the New Hebrides and is now named Vanuatu. However in his proclamation before God “I take possession of this part of the South as far as the pole (South Pole) in the name of Jesus” he did not realise that this would include Australia, then known as Terra Australis Incognita. Many maps in Europe from the late fifteen hundreds had called this unknown piece of land Terra Australis Incognito. He renamed this island as “La Australia del Espiritu Santo” or the Southland of the Holy (Spirit) Ghost.
When he realized his mistake, de Quiros wanted to press on and find the Southland that he was now certain of. His crew, however, were close to mutiny. They did not share his vision. De Quiros released his second-in-command, Louis Vaez de Torres, and others who wanted to go home. They sailed to Manila via the Moluccas, passing through the strait that now bears Torres’ name. This is just north of Cape York, the most northern point of Australia. He made no mention however of sighting land to the south.
Regretfully de Quiros himself turned back to America, submitting to what he believed was the will of God. He spent the rest of his life trying to raise support to return. He died in 1656, still trying to fulfill the mission he believed God had given him.
The de Quiros’ vision – of a land dedicated to the Holy Spirit – is important to us today. It was Pedro Fernandez de Quiros who named what he thought was Australia, ‘Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo’, declaring its spiritual significance.
What a beautiful name, revealing God’s purposes for our country.
Elizabeth Kotlowski DIDUNO
Author: Stories of Australia’s Christian Heritage