The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8

Author: Gaspar Correa  | Date: A.D. 1498

The Sea Route to India;
Vasco da Gama Sails Around Africa

A.D. 1498


The same goal which attracted the Spaniards westward drew the Portuguese south, the desire to find a sea route to India, and thus garner the enormous profits of the trade in spices and other Indian wealth. Ia the early years of the fifteenth century the Portuguese, overshadowed by the Spanish kingdom, which almost enclosed their country, realized that they could extend their territory only by colonizing beyond seas. They began, therefore, to send out expeditions, and in 1410 discovered the island of Madeira. Soon afterward discoveries were undertaken by Prince Henry, called the Navigator," whose whole life was given to these enterprises. Before his death, 1460, his Portuguese mariners, in successive voyages, had worked their way well down the western coast of Africa. In 1462 an expedition reached Sierra Leone, almost half way down the continent. Nine years later the equator was passed, and in 1486 Bartholomew Dias sailed around the southern point of Africa, which he had been sent to discover. On his return voyage, 1487, he found the Cape of Good Hope, having before doubled it without knowing that he had done so.2

To Portuguese navigators the way to India by this route was soon made clear. In 1497 Vasco da Gama was placed by King Emanuel I of Portugal in command of an expedition of three small ships sent to discover such a route. He sailed from Lisbon in July of that year, in November doubled the Cape of Good Hope, arrived at Calicut, on the Malabar coast of India, in May, 1498, and in September, 1499, returned to Lisbon. He was accompanied by his brother Paulo, who, with other of the celebrated navigator’s companions, appears in the following account of this great achievement. The quaint narrative was written by the chronicler who accompanied the expedition in person.

The ships being equipped and ready, one Sunday the King went with Queen Dona Maria to hear mass, which was said pontifically by the bishop Calcadilha, who also made a discourse in praise of the voyage, and holy design of the King in regard to the new discovery which he was commanding to be made; and he called upon the people to pray to the Lord that the voyage might be for his holy service, and for the exalting of his holy faith, and for the increase of the good and honor of the kingdom of Portugal. At the mass the good brothers Da Gama and their associates were present, richly dressed, and the King showed them great honor and favor, as they stood close to the curtain, where also were the principal lords of the realm and gentlemen of the court. Mass being over, the King came out from the curtain and spoke to the captains, who placed themselves on their knees before him; and they spoke to him, saying:

"Sire, the honor we are receiving from your highness is so great that with a hundred bodies and lives which we might expend in your service we never could repay the least part of it, since greater honors were never shown by a sovereign to his vassals than you have shown us, as the great prince, king, and lord that you are, with such magnanimity and honor that, if at this very moment we should die, our lineage should remain in the highest degree of honor which is possible, only because your highness has chosen and sent us for this work, while you have so many and such noble vassals to whom to commit it; for which we are already recompensed before rendering this service, and until we end our lives in performing it. For this we beg of the mercy of the Lord, that he direct us, and we may perform such works that he, the Lord, and your highness also, may be served in some measure in this so great favor that has been shown us, as he knows that such is our desire; and should we not be deserving to serve him in this voyage, and so holy undertaking, may the Lord be pleased though we may pay with our lives for our shortcomings in the work. We promise your highness that our lives will be the matters of least moment that we shall adventure in this so great favor that has been shown us, and that we will not return before your highness with our lives in our bodies without bringing some certain information of that which your highness desires."

And they all again kissed the hands of the King and of the Queen. Then the King came forth from the cathedral and went to his palaces which then was in the residence of the alcazar in the castle. There went before him the captains, and before them the standard which was carried by their ensign in whom they trusted, and on arriving at the palace the King dismissed them, and they again kissed his and the Queen’s hand. Vasco da Gama on a horse, with all the men of the fleet on foot, richly dressed in liveries, and accompanied by all the gentlemen of the court, went down to the wharf on the bank, and embarked in their boats, and the standard went in that of Paulo da Gama. Then, taking leave of the gentlemen, they went to the ships, and on their arrival they fired all their artillery, and the ships were dressed out gayly with standards and flags and many ornaments, and the royal standard was at once placed at the top of the mast of Paulo da Gama; for so Vasco da Gama commanded. Discharging all their artillery, they loosened the sails, and went beating to windward on the river of Lisbon, tacking until they came to anchor at Belen, where they remained three days waiting for a wind to go out.

There they made a muster of the crews, and the King was there all the time in the monastery, where all confessed and communicated. The King commanded that they should write down in a book all the men of each ship by name, with the names of their fathers, mothers, and wives of the married men, and the places of which they were native; and the King ordered that this book should be preserved in the House of the Mines, in order that the payments which were due should be made upon their return. The King also ordered that a hundred crusadoes should be paid to each of the married men for them to leave it to their wives, and forty crusadoes to each of the single men, for them to fit themselves out with certain things; for, as to provisions, they had not got to lay them in, for the ships were full of them. To the two brothers was paid a gratification of two thousand crusadoes to each of them, and a thousand to Nicolas Coelho.

When it was the day of our Lady of March (the 25, 1497), all heard mass; they then embarked, and loosened the sails, and went forth from the river, the King coming out to accompany them in his boat, and addressing them all with blessings and good wishes. When he took leave of them, his boat lay on its oars until they disappeared, as is shown in the painting of his city of Lisbon. Vasco da Gama went in the ship São Rafael, and Paulo da Gama in the São Gabriel, and Nicolas Coelho in the other ship, São Miguel. In each ship there were as many as eighty men, officers and seamen, and the others of the leader’s family, servants and relations, all filled with the desire to undertake the labor that was fitting for each, and with great trust in the favors which they hoped for from the King on their return to Portugal.

Paulo da Gama, as he went out with the Lisbon river, hauled down the royal standard from the masthead; but at the great supplications of his brother, who gave him good reasons why it was fitting that he should carry it, he again hoisted it. The two companions, standing out to sea, as I have said, made their way toward Cape Verd, and for that purpose they stood well out to sea to make the coast, which they knew they would find, as it advanced much to seaward, as they learned from the sailors who had been in the caravels of Janinfante. They ran as far as they could to sea in the direction of the wind, to double the land without difficulty; and thus they navigated until they made the coast, and, having reconnoitred it, they tacked and stood out to sea, hauling on the bowline as much as they could, as so they ran for many days.

And as it seemed to them that now they could double the land, they again tacked toward the coast, also on the bowline, against the wind, until they again saw the coast, much farther on than where the caravels had reached, which the masters knew from the soundings which they got written down from the voyage of Janinfante, and the days which they found to have less sun by the clocks. Having well ascertained this, they stood out again to sea; thus forcing the ships to windward, they went so far out to the sea toward the south that there was almost not six hours of sunlight in the day; and the wind was very powerful, so that the sea was very fearful to see, without ever being smooth either by day or night, but they always met with storms, so that the crews suffered much hardship. After a month that they had run on this tack, they stood into shore and went as long as they could, all praying to the Lord that they might have doubled beyond the land; but when they again saw it they were very sad, though they found themselves much advanced by the signs of the soundings which the pilots took, and they saw land of another shape which they had not before seen.

Seeing that the coast ran out to sea, the masters and pilots were in great confusion, and doubtful of standing out again to sea, saying that the land went across the sea and had no end to it. This being heard of by Vasco da Gama—according, as it was presumed, to the information he had from the Jew Zacuto—he told the pilots that they should not imagine such a thing, and that without doubt they would find the end of that land, and beyond it much sea and lands to run by, and he said to them: "I assure you that the cape is very near, and, with another tack standing out to sea, when you return you will find the cape doubled." This Vasco da Gama said to encourage them, because he saw that they were much disheartened, and with the inclination to wish to put back to Portugal. So he ordered them to put the ships about to sea, which they did, much against their will; for which reason Vasco da Gama determined to stand on this tack so long as to be able to double the end of the land, and besought all not to take account of their labors, since for that purpose they had ventured upon them; and that they should put their trust in the Lord that they would double the cape.

Thus he gave them great encouragement, without ever sleeping or taking repose, but always taking part with them in hardship, coming up at the boatswain’s pipe as they all did. So they went on standing out to sea till they found it all broken up with the storm, with enormous waves and darkness. As the days were very short, it always seemed night; the masts and shrouds were stayed, because with the fury of the sea the ships seemed every moment to be going to pieces. The crews grew sick with fear and hardship, because also they could not prepare their food, and all clamored for putting back to Portugal, and that they did not choose to die like stupid people who sought death with their own hands; thus they made clamor and lamentation, of which there was much more in other ships. But the captains excused themselves, saying that they would do nothing except what Vasco da Gama did; and he and his companions underwent great labor.

As he was a very choleric man, at times with angry words he made them be silent, although he well saw how much reason they had at every moment to despair of their lives; and they had been going for about two months on that tack, and the masters and pilots cried out to him to take another tack; but the captain-major did not choose, though the ships were now letting in much water, by which their labors were doubled, because the days were short and the nights long, which caused them increased fear of death; and at this time they met with such cold rains that the men could not move. All cried out to God for mercy upon their souls, for now they no longer took heed of their lives. It now seemed to Vasco da Gama that the time was come for making another tack, and he comforted himself very angrily, swearing that if they did not double the cape he would stand out to sea again as many times until the cape was doubled, or there should happen whatever should please God. For which reason, from fear of this, the masters took much more trouble to advance as much as they could; and they took more heart on nearing the land, and escaping from the tempest of the sea; and all called upon God for mercy, and to give them guidance, when they saw themselves out of such great dangers.

Thus approaching the land, they found their labor less and the seas calmer, so they went on running for a long time, steering so as to make the land and to ease the ships, which they were better able to do at night when the captain slept, which the other ships did also, as they followed the lantern which Vasco da Gama carried; at night the ships showed lights to one another so as not to part company. Seeing how much they had run, and did not find the land, they sailed larger so as to make it; and as they did not find it, and as the sea and wind were moderate, they knew they had doubled the cape; on which great joy fell among them, and they gave great praise to the Lord on seeing themselves delivered from death. The pilots continued to sail more free, spreading all the sails; and, running in this manner, one morning they sighted some mountain peaks which seemed to touch the clouds; at which their pleasure was so great that all wept with joy, and all devoutly on their knees said the Salve. After running all day till night, they were not able to reach it, and discovered great mountain ridges; so, as it was night, they ran along the coast, which lay from east to west; and they took in all the sails, only running under large sails, for these were the orders of the captain-major.

The next day at dawn they again set all the sails and ran to the land, so that at midday they saw a beach which was all rocky, and, running along it, they saw deep creeks, and such large bays that they could not see the land at the end of them’s they also found the mouths of great rivers, from which water came forth to the sea with a powerful current; here also, near the land, they found many fish, which they killed with fish-spears. The watchmen in the tops were always on the lookout to see if there were shoals ahead. The crews grew sick with fever from the fish which they ate, on which account they ate no more. The pilots, on heaving the lead, found no bottom; so they ran on for three days, and at night they kept away from the land and shortened sail.

Sailing in this manner, they fell in with the mouth of a large river, and the captain-major ordered a boat to be lowered, and the pilot to sound the entrance of the river; and he said it was superfluous, because if there was a shoal it would be burst through. Then they took in the sails, excepting the great one with which they entered the river, which was very large; and they went up it, the boat going before and sounding, and, approaching land, where they found twelve fathoms, they anchored. There they found very good fish, for the river was of fresh water; but in the whole of the river they found no beach, for there was nothing but rocks and crags. Then Vasco da Gama went to see his brother, and so did Nicolas Coelho, and they all dined with great satisfaction, talking of the hardships they had gone through.

When they had finished dining, Vasco da Gama ordered Nicolas Coelho to go in his boat up the river to see if he found any village. He went up more than five leagues, without finding anything besides many streams which came from between the mountains to pour into the river; there were no woods in the country, nothing but stones on both sides of the river; upon which he returned to the captain-major. Then the following day, before the morning, Vasco da Gama again ordered Nicolas Coelho to go in a boat with sails and oars, and with provisions to eat, and told him to go as far as the head of the river, to see if he could find anyone to speak to, to learn what country they were in. He went up the river a distance of more than twenty leagues, and returned without having found anything.

Then they decided on going out again, and they took in water and wood of the dry trees, which it seems the river brings down when it comes from the mountain. On that account the captain-major wished himself in person to discover the river up to its head, to see whence could come those trees which they found there dry, but the masters said this would be a labor without profit, and that they ought to go out of the river and make for the country which they wished to seek, and they would find it. This seemed good to the captain-major, and they came out of the river, with much labor, as the wind was contrary and entered the mouth of the river. The strong current of the river, which went out to sea, alone assisted them, and with it they went outside without sails, only towing with the boats which guided them.

When the ships returned to sea they ran along the coast with great precaution, and a good lookout not to run upon any shoals, and they entered other great rivers and bays; and they explored everywhere and searched without ever being able to meet with people, nor boats in the seas, for all the country was uninhabited; and in entering and leaving the rivers they endured much fatigue, and were much vexed at not being able to learn in what country they were. With these detentions and delays they wasted much time, and spent all the summer of that country, so they had to run along the coast because winds were favorable for going ahead, for they were westerly. And because they found everything desolate, without people by land or sea, they agreed unanimously not to enter any more rivers, but to run ahead, and thus they did; for by day they ran under full sail, drawing so near to the land as possible to see if they could make out any village or beach, which as yet they had not seen; and by night they stood away to sea and ran under shortened sail. Navigating in this manner, the wind began to moderate, and fell calm altogether, which happened in November, when they had to struggle with another wind, with which they stood out to sea, fearing some contrary storm might arise; then, taking in all sail, , they lay waiting for the springing up of another winds so they went increasing their distance from the land till they lost sight of it; for the wind increased continually, and the sea rose greatly, for then the winter of that country was setting in.

The masters, seeing that the weather was freshening, took counsel as to returning to land and putting into some river until meeting with a change of weather. This they did, and, putting about to the land, the wind increased so much that they were afraid of not finding a river in which to shelter, and of being lost. On which account they again stood out to sea, and made ready the ships to meet the storm which they saw rising every moment, so that the water should not come in, with ropes made fast to the masts, and with the shrouds passed over the yards so that the masts should remain more secure; and they took away all the pannels from the tops, and the sails, so as not to hold the wind; the small sails and the lower sails all struck, and with the foresails only they prepared to weather the storm.

Seeing the weather in this state, the pilot and master told the captain-major that they had great fear on account of the weather because it was becoming a tempest, and the ships were weak, and that they thought they ought to put in to land and run along the coast and return to seek the great river into which they had first entered, because the wind was blowing that way, and they could enter it for all that there was a storm. But when the captain-major heard of turning backward he answered them that they "should not speak such words, because, as he was going out of the bar at Lisbon, he had promised to God in his heart not to turn back a single span’s breadth of the way which he had made;" that on that account they should not speak in that wise, as he would throw into the sea whomsoever spoke such things. At which the crew, in despair, abandoned themselves to the chances of the sea, which was broken up with the increase of the tempest and rising of the gale, which many times chopped round, and blew from all parts, and at times fell; so that the ships were in great peril from their great laboring in the waves, which ran very high. Then the storm would again break with such fury that the seas rose toward the sky, and fell back in heavy showers which flooded the ships. The storm raging thus violently, the danger was doubled; for suddenly the wind died out, so that the ships lay dead between the waves, lurching so heavily that they took in water on both sides; and the men made themselves fast not to fall from one side to the other; and everything in the ships was breaking up, so that all cried to God for mercy.

Before long the sea came in with more violence, which increased their misfortune, with the great difficulty of working the pumps; for they were taking in much water, which entered both above and below; so they had no repose for either soul or body, and the crews began to sicken and die of their great hardships. At this the pilot and masters and all the people poured out cries and lamentations to the captains, urgently requiring them to put back and seek an escape from death, which they were certain of meeting with by their own will if they did not put about. To which the captains gave no other reply than that they would do no such thing unless the captain-major did it. The captain-major, seeing the clamors of his crew, answered them with brave words, saying that he had already told them that backward he would not go, even though he saw a hundred deaths before his eyes; thus he had vowed to God; and let them look to it that it was not reasonable that they should lose all the labors which they had gone through up to this time; that the Lord, who had delivered them until now, would have mercy upon them; they should remember that they had already doubled the Cape of Storms and were in the region which they had come to seek, to discover India, on accomplishing which, and returning to Portugal, they would gain such great honor and recompenses from the King of Portugal for their children; and they should put their trust in God, who is merciful, and who, from one hour to another, would come with his mercy and give them fair weather, and that they should not talk like people who distrusted the mercy of God. But, although the captain-major always spoke to them these and other words of great encouragement, they did not cease from their loud clamor and protestations that he would give an account to God of their deaths of which he would be the cause, and of the leaving desolate their wives and children; all this accompanied by weeping and cries, and calls to God for mercy.

While they went on this way with their souls in their mouths, the sea began to go down a little, and the wind also, so that the ships could approach to speak one another, and all clamored with loud cries that they should put about to seek some place where they could refit the ships, as they could not keep them afloat with the pumps. The crews of the other ships spoke with more audacity, saying that the captain-major was but one man, and they were many; and they feared death, while the captains did not fear it, nor took any account of losing their lives. The captain-major chose that the two other ships should know his design, and he said and swore by the life of the King his sovereign that from the spot where he then was he had not to turn back one span’s breadth, even though the ships were laden with gold, unless he got information of that which they had come to seek, and that even if he had near there a very good port he would not go ashore, lest some of them should retire to a certain death on shore, allowing themselves to remain there, rather than go on with the ships trusting to the mercy of God, in which they had such small reliance that they made such exclamations from the weakness of their hearts, as if they were not Portuguese; on which account he would undeceive them all, for to Portugal they would not return unless they brought word to the King of that which he had so strongly commended to them, and that he took the same account of death as did any one of them.

While they were at this point a sudden wind arose, with so great a concussion of thunder and darkness, and a stronger blast than they had yet experienced, and the sea rose so much that the ships could not see one another, except when they were upheaved by the seas, when they seemed to be among the clouds. They hung out lights so as not to part company, for the anxiety and fear which the captain-major felt was the losing one of the ships from his company, so that the seamen would put back to Portugal by force, as, indeed, they had very much such a desire in their hearts.

But the captains took very great care of this, because Vasco da Gama, before going out to Lisbon, when conversing alone with the Jew Zacuto in the monastery, had received from him much information as to what he should do during his voyage, and especially recommendations of great watchfulness never to let the ships part company, because if they separated it would be the certain destruction of all of them.

Vasco da Gama took great care of this, personally, and by means of his servants and relations in whom he trusted; and this they attended to with much greater solicitude after they heard the sailors say that they were many, and the captains only a few single men, and in fact they had in their minds such an intention of rising up against the captains, and by force putting back to Portugal, and they thought that, if it became necessary to arrest them for this and bring them before the King, he would have mercy upon them, and, should they not find mercy, they preferred rather to die there where their wives and children and fathers were, and in their native country, and not in the sea to be eat by the fishes. With such thoughts they all spoke to one another secretly, determining to carry it out, and trusting that the King would not hang them all for the good reasons which they would give him; or else to secure their lives they would go to Castile until they were pardoned. This was the greatest insolence they were guilty of; and so they decided upon executing their plan. In taking this decision they did not perceive the danger of death, into which they were going more than ever.

In the ship of Nicolas Coelho there was a sailor who had a brother who lived with Nicolas Coelho, and was foster-brother of a son of his; and the sailor brother told this boy of what they had all determined to do. This boy, being very discreet, said to his brother that they should all preserve great secrecy, so as not to be found out, for it was a case of treason, and he warned his brother not to tell anyone that he had mentioned such a thing to him. The boy, on account of the affection which he had for his master Nicolas Coelho, discovered the matter to him in secret, and he at once gave the boy a serious warning to be very discreet in this matter, that they should not perceive that he had told him anything of the kind. With the firm determination which Nicolas Coelho at once formed to die sooner than allow himself to be seized upon, he became very vigilant both by day and night, and warned the boy to try to learn with much dissimulation all that they wanted to do and by what means. The boy told him that they would not do it unless they could first concert with the other ships, so that they all should mutiny; at that Nicolas Coelho remained more at ease, but was always very much on his guard for himself.

As the storm did not abate, but rather seemed to increase, and as the cries and clamor of the people were very great, beseeching him to put back, Nicolas Coelho dissembled with them, saying: "Brothers, let us strive to save ourselves from this storm, for I promise you that as soon as I can get speech with the captain-major I will require him to put back, and you will see how I will require it of him." With this they remained satisfied. Some days having passed thus with heavy storms, the Lord was pleased to assuage the tempest a little and the sea grew calm, so that the ships could speak one another; and Nicolas Coelho, coming up to speak, shouted to the captain-major that "it would be well to put about, since every moment they had death before their eyes, and so many men who went in their company were so piteously begging with tears and cries to put back the ships. And if we do not choose to do so, it would be well if the men should kill or arrest us, and then they would put back or go where it was convenient to save their lives; which we also ought to do. If we do not do it, let each one look out for himself, for thus I do for my part, and for my conscience’ sake, for I would not have to give an account of it to the Lord."

Paulo da Gama, who also had come up within speaking distance, heard all this. When they had heard these words of Nicolas Coelho, who, on ending his speech, at once begun to move away, the captain-major answered him that he would hold a consultation with the pilot and his crew, and that, whatever he determined to do, he would make a signal to him of his resolution. During this time they lay hove to in the smooth water, because the wind never changed from its former point. Vasco da Gama, as he was very quick-witted, at once understood what Nicolas Coelho’s words meant, and called together all the crew, and said to them that he was not so valiant as not to have the fear of death like themselves, neither was he so cruel as not to feel grieved at heart at seeing their tears and lamentations, but that he did not wish to have to give account to God for their lives, and for that reason he begged them to labor for their safety, because if the bad weather came again he had determined to put back, but, to disculpate himself with the King, it was incumbent upon him to draw up a document of the reasons for putting back, with their signatures.

At this they all raised their hands to heaven, saying that its mercy was already descending upon them, since it was softening the heart of the captain-major and inclining him to put back, and they said they all would sign the great service which he would render to God and to the King by putting back. Then the captain-major said that there was no need of the signatures of all, but only of those who best understood the business of the sea. Then the pilot and master named them, and they were three seamen. Upon this the captain-major retired to his cabin, and told his servants to stand at the door of the cabin, and put inside the clerks to draw up the document, and ordered the three seamen to enter; and, dissembling, he made inquiries as to returning to port, and all was written down and they signed it. He then ordered them to go down below to another cabin which he had beneath his own for a store-cabin, and he ordered the clerk to go down also with them, and he summoned the master and pilot and ordered them below also, telling them to go and sign, as the clerk was there.

Then he called up the seamen, one by one, and ordered them to be put in irons by his servants in his cabin, and heavy irons for the master and pilot. All being well ironed and bound, the captain-major turned them out, and called all the men, ordering the master and pilot at once to give up to him all the articles which they had belonging to the art of navigation, or, if not, that he would at once execute them. Being greatly afraid they gave everything up to him. Then Vasco da Gama, holding the instruments all in his hand, flung them into the sea and said: "See here, men, that you have neither master nor pilot, nor anyone to show you the way from henceforward, because these men whom I have arrested will return to Portugal below the deck, if they do not die before that [for he was aware that they had agreed among one another to rise up and return by force to Portugal, and on that account had cast everything into the sea]; and I do not require master nor pilot, nor any man who knows the art of navigation, because God alone is the master and pilot who has to guide and deliver us by his mercy if we deserve it, and, if not, let his will be done. To him you must commend yourselves and beg mercy. Henceforward let no one speak to me of putting back, for know from me for a certainty that, if I do not find information of what I have come to seek, to Portugal I do not return."

Seeing and hearing these things, the crew became much more terrified, and with much greater fear of death, which they held as certain, not having either pilot or master, nor anyone who knew how to navigate a ship. Then the prisoners and all the crew on their knees begged him for mercy, with loud cries; the prisoners saying that they, being ignorant men and of faint heart, had come to an understanding to put the ship about and return to the King and offer themselves for death, if he chose to give it them, and they would have taken him a prisoner, that the King might see that he was not to blame for putting back; but this was not to have been done, except with the will of all the people of the other ships; but since God had discovered this to him before they had carried it out, let him show them clemency; for well they saw that they deserved death from him, which was more than the chains which they bore. All the crew frequently called out to him for clemency, and not to put the prisoners below the decks, where they would soon die. Then the captain-major, showing that he only did it at their entreaty, and not for any need which he had of them, ordered them to remain in their cabins in the forecastle, still in irons, and forbade their giving any directions for the navigation of the ship, except only for the trimming of the sails and the work of the ship.

Vasco da Gama then ran alongside of the other ships and spoke them, saying that he had put his pilot and master in irons, in which he would bring them back to the kingdom, if God pleased that they should return there; and, that they should not imagine that he had any need of their knowledge, he had flung into the sea all the implements of their art of navigation, because he placed his hopes in God alone, who would direct them and deliver them from the perils among which they were going, and on that account, since he had now made his men secure, let them secure themselves as they pleased; and without waiting for an answer he sheered off.

Nicolas Coelho felt great joy in his heart on hearing from the captain-major that he had got his pilot and master thus secured from rising against him, since he had put them in irons; and without much dissimulation he spoke to master and pilot and seamen, saying that he was much grieved at the captain-major’s way of treating his ship’s officers, whom he stood so much in need of in the labors they were undergoing, but what he had done was because of his being of so strong and thorough a temperament, as they all knew, and he had not chosen to wait for them to make entreaty for the liberty of the prisoners, but that whenever the ships again spoke one another he would do this. This all the crew begged him to do, with loud cries of mercy, since they would follow the flagship wherever it went. This Nicolas Coelho promised them, so they remained contented.

Paulo da Gama had other conversations with the officers of his ship, with much urbanity, for he was a man of gentle disposition; he also promised them that he would entreat his brother on behalf of the prisoners, and bade all pray God for the saving of their lives, and that all would end well; so that all remained consoled.

While these things were happening the wind did not shift its direction, but, the sea being smoother, the ships were more easy, though they let in so much water that they never left off pumping. The captain-major saw this and that the ships had an absolute need of repairs; and also because they had no more water to drink, because, with the tossing about in the storm, many barrels had broken and given way; under such great pressure, he stood in to land under sail, for the weather was moderate and was beginning to be favorable; all were praying to God for mercy, and that he would grant them a haven of safety. Which God was pleased to do in his mercy, for presently he showed them land, at which it seemed that all were resuscitated from the death which they looked upon as certain if the ships were not repaired. After that the wind came free, and they sailed along the land for several days without finding where to put in; this was now in January of the year 1498. Thus they ran close to the land, with a careful lookout, for they did not dare to leave the land, from the great peril in which the ships were from the great leakage.

Proceeding in this way, one day they found themselves at dawn in the mouth of a large river, into which the captain-major entered, for he always went first; and all entered, and found within a large bay sheltered from all winds, in which they anchored, and all exclaimed three times, "The mercy of the Lord God!" for which reason they gave this river the name of the River of Mercy. Here they soon caught much good fish, with which the sick improved, as it was fresh food, and the water of the river was very good.

Now, at this time, in all the ships there were not more than a hundred fifty men, for all the rest had died. Soon after arriving at this place the captain-major went to see his brother and Nicolas Coelho, and they conversed, relating their hardships; and Nicolas Coelho related the treason which his men were preparing, to take him prisoner and return to Portugal, and they did not do it from the fear they had that the captain-major would follow after them, and if he caught them would have hanged them all; and they only waited for all to agree to mutiny; and he had sought those feigned words which he had spoken, and it had pleased God that Vasco da Gama had understood them, so that by his imprisoning his officers at once all had remained secure. So all gave praise to the Lord for having delivered them from such great perils.

Then they settled about refitting the ships, for they had all that was necessary for doing it. Although they had a beach and tides for laying the ships aground, for greater security it was ordered that they should be heeled over while afloat, and thus it was arranged for by all of them. While they were on the quarter deck, Paulo da Gama entreated his brother to set the prisoners at liberty, which he did, setting free the sailors, and the master and pilot, with the condition that, if God should bring them back to Lisbon, when he went before the King he would present them to him in the same manner in chains, not to do them any harm, but only that his difficulties might be credited, and that for this he would give him greater favors; at which all the crews felt much satisfaction. Afterward they spoke with all the officers, and arranged for careening the ships, and went to look at them.

They found there was no repairing the ship of Nicolas Coelho, as it had many of the ribs and knees broken. For that reason they at once decided to break it up; and then they cut out its masts, and much timber and planks of the upper works, which, with the yards and spars of the other ships, they lashed together and fastened, and made a great frame, which they put under the side of the ship to raise it more out of the water; for this purpose they then discharged from the captain-major’s ship into that of his brother, which was brought alongside, all that they could of the stores and goods; and everything heavy below decks they put on one side of the ship, which caused it to heel over very much, and with the timber under the side, and the tackle fitted to the main-mast, they canted the ship over on one side so much that they laid her keel bare; and on the outer side they put planks, upon which all the crew got to work at the ship, some cleaning the planks from the growth of sea-weed, others extracting the calking, which was quite rotten, from the seams; and the calkers put in fresh oakum and then pitched it over, for they had a stove in a boat where they boiled the pitch.

The captains were occupied with their own work day and night, and gave much food and drink to the crews, so that they used such despatch that in one day and one night, by morning they had finished one side of the ship, very well executed, though with great labor in drawing out the water from the ship, which leaked very much lying thus on one side. When she was upright they turned her over on the other side, and did the same work, much better performed because the ship did not leak so much; and when it was completed and the ship upright, it was so sound and water-tight that for two days there was no water in the pump.

Then they loaded it again with its stores, and transshipped to it the stores of the other ship, upon which they executed the before-mentioned calking and repairs, so that it became like new. They then fitted them inside with several knees and ribs and inner planking, and all that was requisite, with great perfection, and collected the yards, spars, and all that they had need of belonging to the ship so Miguel; and the captain-major took Nicolas Coelho on board of his ship, entertaining him well. They then took away from the ship much wood for their use and beached the ship, and took away its rudder and undid it, and stowed away its wood and iron-works, in case of its being wanted for the other ships, because they had all been built of the same pattern and size, as a precaution that all might be able to take advantage of any part of them. Then they burned the ship in order to recover the nails, which were in great quantity, and a great advantage for other necessities which they met with later.

After they had thus repaired the ships, the captain-major sent Nicolas Coelho with twenty men in a boat to go and discover the river; add he, after ascending it for two leagues, found woods and verdure, and farther on he found some canoes which were fishing, and the men in them were dark, but not very black; they were naked, having only their middles covered with leaves of trees and grass. These men, when they saw the boat, came to it and entered it in a brutish manner, and were in a state of amazement. No one knew how to speak to them, and they did not understand the signs which were made to them. So Nicolas Coelho made them go back to their canoes, and returned +o the ships, but of the canoes one followed after the boat, and the others returned to take the news to their villages. These men who came with the boat, at once, without any fear, entered the ship and sat down to rest, as if they were old acquaintance; no one knew how to speak to them. Then they gave them biscuit and cakes and slices of bread with marmalade; this they did not understand until they saw our people eat, then they ate it, and, as they liked the taste, they ate in a great hurry, and would not share with one another. While this was going on they saw many canoes coming, and larger ones, with many of those people also naked, with tangled hair like Kaffirs, without any other arms than some sticks like half lances, hardened in the fire, with sharp points greased over.

The captain-major, seeing the other canoes coming, ordered the first come to go to their canoe, which they did unwillingly, and went out and remained to sneak with those that were arriving, and went their way. The others arrived, and all wanted to come on board; as they were more than a hundred, the captain-major would not allow them, only ten or twelve, who brought some birds which were something like hens, and some yellow fruit of the size of walnuts, a very well-tasted thing to eat, which our men would not touch, and they, seeing that, ate them for our people to see, who, on tasting them, were much pleased with them; they killed one of the birds, and found it very tender and savory to eat, and all its bones were like those of a fowl. The captain-major ordered biscuit and wine to be given them, which they would not touch till they saw our people drink. He also ordered a looking-glass to be given them; and when they saw it they were much amazed, and looked at one another, and again looked at the mirror, and laughed loudly and made jokes, and spoke to the others who were in the canoe.

They went away with the looking-glass, highly delighted, and left six birds and much of the fruit, and all went away; and in the afternoon they came again, but bringing a quantity of those birds, at which our men rejoiced very much, and filled hen-coops with them, because they gave them and were satisfied with anything that was given them, especially white stuffs; so that the seamen cut their shirts in pieces, with which they bought so many of these birds that they killed and dried them in the sun, and they kept very well. Here it was observed that in this river there were no flies, for they never saw any all the time they were there, which was twenty days; and they went away because the crew began to fall ill. It seems that it was from that fruit, which was very delicious to eat; and the principal ailment was that their gums swelled and rotted, so that their teeth fell out, and there was such a foul smell from the mouth that no one could endure it. The captain-major provided a remedy for this, for he ordered that each one should wash his mouth with his own water each time he passed it, by doing which in a few days they obtained health.

The captain-major made a hole with pickaxes in a stone slab at the entrance of this river, and set up a marble pillar, of which he had brought many for that purpose, which had two escutcheons, one of the arms of Portugal, and another, on the other side, of the sphere, and letters engraved in the stone which said, "Of the Lordship of Portugal, Kingdom of Christians." The captain-major, seeing how much the seamen and masters and pilots worked, especially his own, notwithstanding the imprisonment which he had inflicted upon them, when he was about to quit this River of Mercy, made them all come to his ship, where he addressed them all, beseeching them not to suffer weakness to enter their hearts, which would induce them to wish to commit another such error by harboring thoughts of treason, which is so hideous before God, and always brings a bad end to those who engage in it; he said that he well saw that faint-heartedness was the cause of what had passed, and that he for gave all. And that since the Lord had been pleased to deliver them from so many dangers as they had passed up to that time, by his great mercy, therefore they should put their trust in him, who would conduct them in such manner as to obtain the result which they were going in search of; by which they would gain such great honors and favors as the King would grant them on their return to Portugal; and he would present them to the King, and would relate their great labors and services, and that they ought to bear in remembrance these great advantages, which would be such a cause of rejoicing for all of them. They, with tears of joy, all answered, "Amen, amen, may the Lord so will it of his great mercy." And they weighed anchors and went out of the river with a land-breeze.

Sailing with a fair wind, they got sight of land, which the pilots foretold before they saw it; this was a great mountain which is on the coast of India, in the kingdom of Cananor, which the people of the country in their language call the mountain Delielly, and they call it of the rat, and they call it Mount Dely, because in this mountain there were so many rats that they never could make a village there. As it was the custom to give the fees of good news to the pilots when they see the land, they gave to each of the pilots a robe of red cloth and ten testoons; and they went on approaching the land until they saw the beach, and they ran along it and passed within sight of a large town of thatched houses inside a bay, which the pilots said was named Cananor, where many skiffs were going about fishing, and several came near to see the ships and were much surprised and went ashore to relate that these ships had so much rigging and so many sails and white men; which having been told to the King he sent some men of his own to see, but the ships had already gone far, and they did not go.

In this country of India they are much addicted to sooth-sayers and diviners, especially on this coast of India, which is named the country of Malabar, and they call these diviners canayates. According to what was known later, there had been in this country of Cananor a diviner so diabolical, in whom they believed so much, that they wrote down all that he said, and preserved it like prophecies which would come to pass. They held a legend from him in which it was said that the whole of India would be taken and ruled over by a very distant king, who had white people, who would do great harm to those who were not their friends; and this was to happen a long time later, and he left signs of when it would be. In consequence of the great disturbance caused by the sight of these ships, the King was very desirous of knowing what they were, and he spoke to his diviners, asking them to tell him what ships were those and whence they came. The diviners conversed with their devils, and told him that the ships belonged to a great king and came from very far; and according to what they found written, these were the people who were to seize India by war and peace, as they had already told him many times, because the period which had been written down was concluded. The King, much moved, asked them whether his kingdom would receive much injury. They replied that our people would do no harm except to those who did it to them.

Upon this the King became very thoughtful, and talked of this frequently with his people, who very much contradicted what the diviners said, and they told him not to believe them, for in this they never hit upon the truth, because at the time that our ships arrived more than four hundred years had elapsed since in one year more than eight hundred sail of large and small ships had come to India from the ports of Malacca and China and the Lequeos, with people of many nations, and all laden with merchandise of great value, which they brought for sale; and they had come to Calicut, and had run along the coast and had gone to Cambay; and they were so numerous that they had filled the country, and had settled as dwellers in all the towns of the sea-coast, where they were received and welcomed like merchants, which they were. When those people arrived thus on the coast of Malabar everybody considered that they were the people whom their prophecies mentioned as those who would take India, and they had inquired of the diviners, who, looking at their records, told them not to be afraid, since the time when India was to be taken had not yet arrived.

Thus it was; for those people had gone over all India, trading and selling their merchandise during many years, in which many of them married and established their abodes and became naturalized in the country, and mixed up with the inhabitants of the country. Many others returned to their own country, and as no more ever arrived, they went on diminishing in number, until they came to an end; but a numerous progeny remained from them, and because they were people of large property, and numerous in the towns where they resided, they had a quarter set apart, like as in Portugal and Castile in other times there used to be Jewries and Moorish quarters set apart; and they built houses for their idols, sumptuous edifices, which are to be seen at this day; and in the space of a hundred years there did not remain one. All this they had got thus recorded in their legends, and since at that time so many people did not take India, how was it to be taken now by people who came from such a distance, and who would not come in sufficient numbers to be able to conquer it? and they mocked at what the soothsayers said. But the King, who put great trust in them, and whose heart divined what was going to come to pass, spoke to a soothsayer in whom he placed great belief, and told him to look and see upon what grounds he made his assertions; because, if it was as he had been saying, he would labor to establish peace with the Portuguese in such a manner as to make his kingdom secure forever, and in this he would spend part of his treasure. The soothsayer answered: "Sire, I am telling you the truth, that these men will not bring so many people with them to seize upon countries and realms, but those who come, in whatever number they may be, will be able to prevail more with their ships than all as many as go upon the sea, on which account they must be masters of the sea, in which case of necessity the people of the land must obey them; and when they shall have become powerful at sea, what will happen to your kingdom if you have not secured peace with them? I tell you the truth, and you will see it with your eyes; and now follow what counsel you please."

The King answered, "My heart tells me that you are speaking the truth, and I will do that which is incumbent upon me." The diviner said to him, "If before five years you do not see that I have told you the truth, order my head to be cut off." Upon which the King remained quite convinced, and determined in his heart to establish with the Portuguese all the peace and friendship that was possible. And because soon after news arrived that our people were at the city of Calicut, which is twelve leagues from Cananor, the King sent men, to Calicut who always came to tell him of what happened there to our men.

The ships continued running along the coast close to land, for the coast was clear, without banks against which to take precautions; and the pilots gave orders to cast anchor in a place which made a sort of bay, because there commenced the city of Calicut. This town is named Capocate, and on anchoring there a multitude of people flocked to the beach, all dark and naked, only covered with cloths half way down the thigh, with which they concealed their nakedness. All were much amazed at seeing what they had never before seen. When news was taken to the King he also came to look at the ships, for all the wonder was at seeing so many ropes and so many sails, and because the ships arrived when the sun was almost set; and at night they lowered out the boats, and Vasco da Gama went at once for his brother and Nicolas Coelho, and they remained together conversing upon the method of dealing with this King, since here was the principal end which they had come to seek; it seemed to him that it would be best to comport himself as an ambassador, and to make him his present, always saying that they had been separated from another fleet which they came to seek for there, and that the captain-major had come and brought him letters from the King.

This they agreed upon together, and that Vasco da Gama should go on shore with that message sent by the captain-major, who carried the standard at the peak; they also talked of the manner in which these things were to be spoken of. When all was well decided upon, Nicolas Coelho returned to the ship, and Vasco da Gama remained with his brother talking with the Moor Taibo (the broker), who told him not to go on shore without hostages; that such was the custom of men who newly arrived at the country; and the Moor said that this King of Calicut was the greatest king of all the coast of India, and on that account was very vain, and he was very rich from the great trade he had in this city.

1Translated from the Portuguese by Henry E. J. Stanley.

2Herodotus tells us that Phoenicians rounded this cape as early as B.C. 605.


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Chicago: Gaspar Correa, "The Sea Route to India; Vasco Da Gama Sails Around Africa," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022,

MLA: Correa, Gaspar. "The Sea Route to India; Vasco Da Gama Sails Around Africa." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Correa, G, 'The Sea Route to India; Vasco Da Gama Sails Around Africa' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 8. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from