Quirós was born in Evora, Portugal. His original name was Pedro Fernandes de Quieros. As a young man he entered Spanish service and became an experienced seaman and navigator. In 1595 he served as pilot with Alvaro de Mendana de Nehra on his explorations in the south-west Pacific.
A devout Catholic, Quiros visited Rome in 1600, where he obtained the support of the Pope, Clement VIII, for further explorations. He went to Peru in 1603 with the intention of finding Terra Australis, the mythical "great south land," and claiming it for Spain and the Church. Quiros's party of three ships, San Pedro y Paulo, San Pedro and Los Tres Reyes left Callao on 21 December 1605, with 300 crew and soldiers.
In May 1606 the expedition reached the islands later called the New Hebrides and now the independent nation of Vanuatu. Quiros landed on a large island which he took to be part of the southern continent, and named it La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo (the Southern Land of the Holy Spirit). The island is still called Espiritu Santo. Here he founded a colony which he called Nova Jerusalem.
Quiros's religious fervour found expression with the founding of a new Order of Chivalry, the Knights of the Holy Ghost. But the colony was soon abandoned due to the understandable hostility of the Vanuatuans and to disagreements among the crew.
After some weeks Quiros put to sea again. He became separated from the other ships in bad weather and was unable (or so he later said) to return to shore. He then sailed to Acapulco in Mexico, where he arrived in November 1606. His second-in-command, Luis Vaez de Torres, after searching in vain for Quiros, left Espiritu Santo and successfully reached Manila.
Quiros returned to Madrid in 1607. Regarded as a crank, he spent the next seven years in poverty, wrote numerous accounts of his voyage and begged King Philip III for money for a new voyage. He was despatched to Peru with letters of support, but the King had no real intention of funding another expedition. Quiros died in Panama in 1615.
The name of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros is today chiefly remembered in Australia. Many writers credit Quiros with coining the word "Australia" in the belief that he named his islands "Australia del Espiritu Santo", whereas he actually called them Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. (The name "Australia" was actually coined by Matthew Flinders.)
In the 19th century some Australian Catholics, living under a Protestant ascendancy, claimed that Quiros had in fact discovered Australia, in advance of the Protestants Abel Tasman and James Cook. The Archbishop of Sydney from 1884 to 1911, Francis Cardinal Moran, asserted this to be a fact, and it was taught in Catholic schools for many years. He claimed that the real site of Quiros's New Jerusalem was near Gladstone in Queensland.
Building on this myth, the Australian Catholic poet James McAuley (1917-76) wrote an epic called Captain Quiros (1964), in which he depicted Quiros as a martyr for the cause of Catholic Christian civilisation (although he did not repeat the claim that Quiros had discovered Australia). The heavily political overtones of the poem caused it to be coldly received. The Australian writer John Toohey published a novel, Quiros, in 2002.
"Bitter indeed the chalice that he drank
For no man's pride accepts to cheap a rate
As not to call on Heaven to vindicate
His worth together with the cause he served."
(James McAuley, Captain Quiros)
This article is partly based on material from the Discoverers Web website.