William Godwin's Diary


In February 1790 London learned that Spanish forces had seized four British ships and a fur-trading establishment in Nootka Sound, British Colombia, Canada. Although it was not entirely clear what had occurred, Pitt immediately demanded an apology, restitution, and a concession from the Spanish that they would recognize occupation of uninhabited land as legal ownership. In May the Spanish invoked the Family Compact, an alliance between France and Spain regularly renewed since its inception in 1733, but the National Assembly put the issue to a diplomatic sub-committee. Their eventual decision to uphold the Compact in August arrived too late for Spain who had already acquiesced to Britain’s demands by the end of July. In October 1790 the Nootka Sound Convention was signed which provided for Spanish reparations and for free access for Britain to areas of the Canadian coast not occupied by the Spanish.

See Glyndwr Williams, ‘The Pacific’ in The Oxford History of the British Empire, ed. by William Roger Louis et al, 5 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998-99), vol 2, pp. 571-3 and Howard V. Evans, ‘The Nootka Sound Controversy in Anglo-French Diplomacy – 1790’, The Journal of Modern History, 46:4 (December 1974), 609-40.