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Luis Vaez de Torres

Luiz Vaez de Torres, Portuguese seaman, remembered chiefly because the Torres Strait separating Australia from Papua New Guinea is named for him. The Torres Strait Islander people also perpetuate his name.

Nothing is known of Torres's early life, but at some point he entered Spanish service and went to South America. In 1605 he sailed from Callao in Spanish Peru as second-in-command to Pedro Fernandez de Quiros on their voyage of discovery to the south-west Pacific, with Torres in command of the "San Pedro." In May 1606 they reached the islands which Quiros named Austrialia de Espiritu Santo (now Vanuatu).

While sailing around the islands Quiros's ship was swept out to sea, eventually returning to Mexico. After unsuccessfully searching for Quiros, and assuming him lost at sea, Torres resumed the intended voyage to Manila via the Moluccas.

In June 1607 Torres set sail. Contrary winds prevented him taking the more direct route along the north coast of New Guinea, so he went via the south coast instead, through the 150km strait which now bears his name. For many years it was assumed that Torres took a route along the New Guinea coast, but in 1980 the Queensland historian and seaman Brett Hilder demonstrated that it was much more likely that Torres took a southerly route, from which he would certainly have seen Cape York, the northernmost extremity of Australia.

Torres apparently spent the rest of his life in Manila. He left a written account of his journey which the Scottish geographer Alexander Dalrymple saw in 1769, and it was he who named the strait after Torres. James Cook knew of the strait and sailed through it after his discovery of the east coast of Australia in 1770.

Some of this information comes from the Discoverers Web website.