Who named Australia? [letter to the editor, 14 June 1905]

[Editor: This letter to the editor was published in the The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 June 1905. The writer contends that Pedro Fernandez de Quiros (whose surname was also spelt “Queiros”) named Australia, however, it was the New Hebrides that he named “Austrialia del Espiritu Santo”; Quiros never even saw Australia, and therefore took no part in its naming. The word “Australis” was used, many years before the explorations of Quiros, as part of the name applied to the theorised southern land mass, e.g. “Terra Australis”, “Terra Australis Incognita (“The unknown land of the South”).]

Who named Australia?

To the Editor of the Herald.

Sir, — The question has been asked, who named Australia? The answer is Queiros did.

When, on May 3, 1606, the celebrated Portuguese navigator landed in the big bay of Santo, New Hebrides, he thoroughly believed that he had set foot on the great southern continent, the land of his dreams, the Java Mayor of Jave-la-Grande of the maps of the period.

He took possession in the name of Philip III. of Spain, in whose service he was, and named the land the Tierra Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, the literal translation of which would be the Austrialian land of the Holy Ghost. On that occasion Queiros’s intention was evident, for he says: “Por felice memoria de V. M. y por el apellido de Austria, le di por nombre (a aquella tierra) la Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, porque es su mismo dia tomo posesion de ella.” For the happy memory of your Majesty, and for the sake of the name of Austria, I named it (the said land) la Austrialia del Espiritu Santo, because in your day (the anniversary of your birth) I took possession of it.

But this is not the only name that Queiros gave to the great south land. In the course of 50 months the persevering navigator, who hoped to revisit and colonise the land he had discovered forwarded no less than 50 memorials to the King of Spain. Eight of those have been preserved and printed. The first was written in 1607, and in it Austrialia appears (see Zaragoza, vol. 2, p. 191, 201, 229, 241). On page 236, however, the word Australia takes its place. I pointed this out 10 years ago in my book, “The Discovery of Australia,” p. 247. I say: “In de Quiros’s diary or journal, where he speaks of the taking possession of this land, which he believed formed part of a continent, he makes use of the term Australia. Formal possession of the country was taken on the day of the Pasch of the Holy Ghost, May 14, and he says that he took possession of all the lands, those seen, and those to be seen, of all that part of the south as far as the South Pole, that from that day was to be called Australia del Espiritu Santo. His words are “. . . de todas las tierras que dejo vistas y estoy viendo, y de toda esta parte del Sur pasta su polo, que desde ahora so ha de llamar Australia del Espiritu Santo.” In the second memorial (5th forwarded) the term “La parte Austrialia Incognita” is used (see Zaragoza, vol. 2, p. 217). The other terms used in the other memorials are Austrial, La Austrial, Java Mayor, etc. Torquemada, who wrote under Queiros’s dictation, terms the land he discovered Tierra Austral, etc. Don Diego de Prado’s map of Santo bears the name Austrialia.

The first map on which the word Australia occurs was published in St. Petersburg in the year 1824. It is in Krusenstern’s “Atlas de l’Ocean Pacifique.


The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 14 June 1905, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
“Quiros” is the Spanish form of the Portuguese name “Queiros”; Pedro Fernandez de Quiros was born as a subject of Portugal, but became a subject of the Spanish monarchy when the two countries were united under the same royal family in 1580.

Further reading:
Quiros, Pedro Fernandez de (1563–1615)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
Pedro Fernandes de Queirós”, Wikipedia

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