In addition to being among the first Europeans to circumnavigate and recognize Vancouver Island as an island and not a peninsula, Captains Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and CayetanoValdés y Flores added final confirmation to the Malaspina expedition survey results, which noted that the entrance to the Northwest Passage was not to be found in the Pacific Northwest. In their lives as professional naval officers, commanders and navigators, this was simply part of their assigned duties and not a momentous occasion. Galiano wrote that their expedition might “satisfy curiosity or draw philosophical conclusions” but was “in no way of use to navigators.”
Galiano and Valdés became famous at the Battle of Trafalgar, after their return from the Pacific. In the autumn of 1805, the Spanish, French and British Royal Naval fleets fought a great sea battle off Cape Trafalgar, located between the port of Cadíz and the Straits of Gibraltar on the Spanish coast. Napoleon was planning to free up French trade by attacking Britain, but British Admiral Horatio Nelson launched an offensive against the French and Spanish armadas, after a chase that led as far as the West Indies and back to the Spanish coast.
Galiano was commander of the Bahama and Valdés commanded the Neptune. On October 21, 1805, these two sailors, who had travelled around the world and faced the unknown as a matter of course, were thrust into battle with smoking guns and cannonball fire. Valdés survived aboard the Neptune, but Galiano was decapitated by a British cannon, ending his life aboard the Bahama and earning him the honour of a place in Spain’s Pantheon of Illustrious Mariners at San Fernando, just outside Cadíz.