Captain Juan Fransisco de la Bodega y Quadra Mollinedo, whose name was often incorrectly shortened to “Quadra” by the British, was born on May 22, 1744, in South America, in the city of Lima, Peru. His father, a Spanish immigrant, was involved in shipping and Bodega y Quadra grew up beside the Pacific Ocean as one of seven children. His siblings advanced their careers through ties with the Church, but he committed himself to a career at sea.
In 1762, at the age of 18, Bodega y Quadra was accepted to the Real Colegio de Guardias Marinas in Cadíz, Spain, and left the South American colonies for Europe. He served aboard several vessels, earning promotions and becoming an Alférez de Navío, Ship’s Ensign, in 1773. Bodega y Quadra requested assignment in South America, which was denied until 1774, when he was stationed at the Pacific naval base at San Blas. He volunteered to go on expedition to what is now Alaska in 1775 to search for Russian settlements along the coast. He wished to marry in 1778, but the woman’s father refused his proposal, and he remained a bachelor for the rest of his life. He returned to the north Pacific during an expedition in 1779.
War between Spain and France halted expeditions of exploration, and Bodega y Quadra returned to Europe, remaining there between 1784 and 1788. Ties to aristocracy were still important in Spanish society, so because he was born in the colonies and was not from Spain, he found it difficult to rise in social and naval rank. He eventually obtained the Order of Santiago but struggled for recognition, regularly volunteering for difficult postings in order to advance, but never achieving flagship status as captain of the lead vessel in an expedition.
Bodega y Quadra provided useful information and guidance to many expeditions from his posting at San Blas. In 1792, the government looked to his skill and knowledge, placing him in charge of negotiating the Nootka Convention with the British representative. He met with Captain Vancouver in Nootka Sound, ingratiating himself but failing to reach a settlement. Upon his return to San Blas, he wished again to return to a place closer to his homeland. In spite of his growing illness, his superiors refused to grant him a transfer to Lima’s port of Callao. On March 26, 1794, he died far from the sea and from Peru, in Mexico City.