VOYAGES OF VASCO DA GAMA
King John, one of the wisest of Portugal's rulers, had manifested his faith in the theory that Africa was a peninsula the point of which might be doubled, and that an open sea-route direct to India would then be found. So strongly did he cherish this belief that he provided the means for several expeditions and despatched them to disprove or verify his opinion. These enterprises had, unfortunately, resulted in no practical benefits, chiefly on account, as it was maintained, of the small size of the vessels that had been sent upon such expeditions, some of which had been wrecked, and others disabled by severe storms encountered in southern latitudes. But all the failures that had attended these attempts in no way discouraged King John, or in anywise disturbed the strength of his opinions; but observing that his theory ran counter to the general belief of his people, to avoid censure which might follow persistence in his efforts, he resolved to build three large vessels, not only great in size, as compared with ships of that time, but of extraordinary strength, intending secretly to dispatch them on their completion, under command of his bravest and most experienced navigators, in quest of the passage which he believed existed around the point of Africa. But his proud purpose was abruptly terminated by death, who strode into the halls of his palace and taking his hand led him away forever from the ambitions of this life to another land where kings and paupers find no distinctions, and the spirit of adventure and discovery is without motive.
THE CEREMONIALS OF COURTS.
"Yes, the good King John is dead." Within the stately towers, the halls of which for three hundred years have echoed to the tread of kings, a senseless lump of clay, a ghastly thing, alone recalls the Majesty of Portugal, while servile nobles in silence slip away to hail the rising sun. The King is dead, why should they stay? "Can flattery soothe the dull, cold ear of death?" So one by one they hurry off to pay their court where compliment is current coin and adulation is the price of place.
In the Street, where thick layered-straw from curb to curb deadens the sound of hoof and wheel, lest the passing dream of the dying King should be broken, women, whose thin faces and tattered, scanty raiment tell of pinching want, kneel, and with busy fingers tell their beads and murmur paters that the good King's soul may rest in peace. To his enemies terrible, to his people he was
But time would tell. For the present it is enough to mourn the death of the good John and rejoice at the accession of the Prince Emanuel; so in silence Lisbon follows the great black car which bears the poor remains of the proud King from the magnificent Bemposta Palace to their last home in the Church of St. Vicente de Fora, just outside the Saracenic walls, where, in the little dark chapel, close by the high altar, King John is laid away to sleep with his fathers.
THE HIDDEN CHEST DISCOVERED.
Emanuel was a man of affairs, and lost no time in putting himself in possession of all information which might be of assistance in the administration of the kingdom's business, but for some time he could find nothing in the papers of the late King throwing light on the three hulks, nor on any of the numerous marine enterprises of John, or of Henry the Sailor. But one day, in a private room, a secret recess was discovered, and the spring of the hidden door being touched, it answered to the finger, the door rolled back and disclosed a large chest. Here was a mystery; the great box of heavy oak was securely locked, and no key could be found. A smith came, and the chest was opened. It was filled with papers. The King kneeled, and began an examination of the contents of the chest. One package after another, parchments, commissions, letters, reports, maps were drawn forth to the light, and the mystery was solved, for here were full accounts of all the naval enterprises of John, and Henry the Navigator. The royal dinner was not eaten that day, and for many days subsequently the King was hardly seen by the court, for hour after hour went by as he and his secretaries examined the contents of the big box.
LEGENDS OF OTHER VOYAGERS.
And then and there for the first time he learned of a visit made to Portugal years before by a Caffre king; of the legend then currently believed of Prester John and the magnificence of his court; of the determination of King John to send out spies to the east; he learned of Gonzallo de Pavia and João Peres Covilhão (or Covilham) and the wonderful medal that was given each,
AN ASTROLOGER CASTS THE KING'S HOROSCOPE.
The imagination of the world was on fire with the discoveries of Columbus, and the King's ambition was readily aroused by the narratives that had been recovered from the old box. But he was cautious and, not disposed to rush madly into any enterprise, he sent for a certain Jewish astrologer in whom he had great confidence. The Jew came, and as one chronicler tells us, "consulted his devils," who announced to Emanuel that his ship should sail, would pass a great continent, and give to the Portuguese an empire comparable only to that which Columbus had already bestowed upon Spain. It was enough. Hammer and saw and adze were at once plied on the three big ships, haste was enjoined upon the builders, work was pushed day and night, and by the king's command stores were gathered and preparations made for the expedition which was to carry the glory of Portugal farther than it had been borne even by Henry the Navigator.
In the meantime, while work was progressing on the vessels, there came one day to Lisbon a travel-stained Oriental who would see the King and would tell his business to none but Emanuel. Repeatedly driven from the gate as an imposter, he as often returned, his pertinacity finally receiving its reward in a private audience with the sovereign, who soon after, in a state of great agitation, summoned his council, introduced the stranger and announced that the ragged, dusty wanderer was a messenger from Covilham, then a prisoner in Abyssinia. Although unable himself to return to his native country, Covilham had thus managed to communicate with his master, and in the letter sent by this strange messenger gave advice that ships should be sent down the west coast of Africa, confidently expressing the opinion that if they would sail far enough to the south they would be able to pass the cape and come up on the east side of the continent, whence it was but a short distance to India.
PREPARATIONS FOR A DANGEROUS VOYAGE.
The haste previously made in preparing the vessels which King John had, begun was personified tardiness to the zeal with which their completion was now pushed. They were finished, were launched, and stores which in quantity and variety exceeded anything before known in Lisbon, were laid up for the cruise. Double sets of tackle, triple sets of sails, boards, pitch, oakum, all sorts of food, preserves, perfumes, all the medicines known to the pharmaceutist, and a doctor and a priest for each ship, were provided. All manner of merchandise was purchased and sent on board; all kinds of coined money were placed in the treasury of the fleet, together with jewels, ornaments of gold and silver and of precious stones, with swords and daggers and shields, with lances and chains and bracelets, with crowns, with gewgaws of every description, designed as presents to the people and potentates that might be visited, with spices of every kind, -- nothing was forgotten. All Europe was searched for slaves who understood eastern languages, and when one was discovered no price was too high to pay for his purchase, for who could tell how great might be the service he would render. The bravest and most trustworthy men, both soldiers and sailors, were selected for the expedition, and last but not least, eighteen murderers from the various prisons of Portugal were pardoned on condition that they would enlist in the fleet for "dangerous duty," this expression being understood to mean that when the Captain General wished to send a man on shore at a point where the temper of the natives was uncertain, and did not desire to risk the lives of his men, one of the murderers should undertake this duty; if he lived, so much the better for him; if he should be killed, so much the better for the expedition, for then he would save the life of a more useful man.
APPOINTMENT OF VASCO DA GAMA.
The fleet being ready, a strife arose as to the commander, for not a nobleman in the country but desired to share the honor of so vast an expedition. Scores of applications were received from rich and noble and valiant, but Emanuel hesitated, delayed the matter until the last moment, and "after several days of fasting, prayer and deliberation," selected almost by chance one Vasco da Gama, a gentleman of the court, who had proved his valor in the Moorish wars, and his naval skill in more than one crusade along the coast of Morocco. So Vasco took the command, taking with him his brother Paulo, and a great friend of the two as the commander of the third ship. He named his vessels San Miguel, San Gabriel and San Raphael, or in English, St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, in honor of the Archangels, and fearing lest provisions might run short for so long a voyage, at his request a fourth ship was added to the squadron, in which were carried large quantities of stores that could not be loaded into the other vessels.
DEPARTURE OF THE SQUADRON.
The powers of an ambassador were conferred on da Gama; he was given letters-patent to annex all lands which he might discover; a special embassy brought from the Pope authority for Portugal to conquer all countries in Africa and India not already appropriated by Spain, and preparations for the expedition were thus happily completed. The momentous day finally arrived. The king's Standard was blessed in the cathedral; the fleet weighed anchor and dropped down the river to Belem where it waited a favorable wind to put to sea, and during the three days of detention a roll was made of the crew and of their relatives, and the list laid up in the archives of the kingdom that they might never be forgotten. Largesses were to be paid the wives and other dependents of the heroes engaged in this memorable service; absolution was given to all who should perish during the undertaking, and on March 25, 1497, the desired breeze sprang up, the anchors were weighed, the sails were hoisted, the king's banner thrown to the breeze, and amid the tears of the spectators and with the blessings of the Patriarch the fleet stood out to sea to add new empires to the Portuguese crown.
FIRST PASSAGE OF THE CAPE.
The expedition stood down the coast of Africa for many weary weeks, and to the sailors the continent seemed to have no end. From time to time landings were made along the shore at such points as seemed to afford shelter from the almost constant storms, but the harbors were poor, the inhabitants were hostile, and from one place after another the Portuguese retired, preferring to
MALADIES AND FEARS.
The voyage continued, but so long a confinement at sea told severely on the health and strength of the crews. Prom two hundred and forty men the expedition was reduced to one hundred and forty, the rest having died. The ships began to leak, and discovering a large river, probably the Zambesi, Vasco ordered the fleet to put in to rest and recruit. Hardly were the crews landed on the shore when a terrible and hitherto unknown disease broke out among them. Their flesh decayed upon their bones, their lips fell away, their teeth dropped out, the muscular portion of the body became so soft that a finger could be pushed into the arm or leg, "which was most pitiful for to see," and no wonder, for this was the first appearance of the scurvy, which the hapless Portuguese attributed to a certain kind of fruit brought them by the natives, and not for a long time did they discover that it was due to the salt diet and lack of vegetable food consequent upon their long voyage. Their condition would have been even worse, but for the capture of several hammer-head sharks, the flesh of which, though somewhat unpalatable, the crews greedily devoured, because it was fresh meat.
TROUBLE WITH THE SULTAN OF ZANZIBAR.
Coasting along the eastern shore of Africa, for a long time, Vasco saw only the blacks who rarely came to the ships, but at last a vessel at anchor was discerned in a little bay. Being pursued by one of the ship's boats, the crew of the smack made their escape, but the merchant who owned and commanded the little coaster was taken, and being treated in a friendly manner, guided them to Mozambique (or Zanzibar), where the weary voyagers cast their anchor, hoping for a long rest. At first they were kindly received by the Sultan, who hoped by trade with them to realize large gains, but on ascertaining that they desired to go further, he inquired of what kind of merchandise they were in search. They showed him pepper, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, and he at once knew by the sight of these spices that India was their destination. Dissembling his indignation at their refusal to remain with him, the Sultan formed a plot to seize the ships, but his scheme was discovered by the friendly Moor, and da Gama having, partly by persuasion, partly by force, induced two pilots to come on board, the ships left the port of Mozambique, taking the pilots with them. At this point, however, they lost one of their men, a condemned murderer who had been sent on shore as a messenger. Many years later, when a Portuguese ship touched at the port of Mozambique, the grave of this man was discovered. He had lived among the people of that region for a number of years after being left there by Gama's ships, having in the meantime become one of the king's ministers and a man of much renown.
RECEPTION BY AN AFRICAN KING.
Escaping the dangers of Mozambique, and still following a north-east course, the expedition came to Melinda, where Gama and his companions were received with great honor. Their favorable reception was due in no small part to the king's soothsayer. In most African, and in Oriental, countries the office of soothsayer or astrologer to the court is deemed one of great importance. In every
The vessels took in supplies of rice, butter, of sheep salted whole like pork, of fowls and vegetables, of sugar in powder and enclosed in sacks; of oranges, and last but not least, of cocoanuts, or ghost-nuts, as they called them, "cocoa" being a Portuguese word signifying "ghost," and the nut was so called from the fanciful resemblance which the three dark spots on the tip bear to the eyes and mouth of a human face. Leaving one of the banished murderers, who was at once made a gentleman of the king's household and subsequently became Premier, the vessels lifted their anchors and stood out to sea, and the last Vasco and his crew saw of Melinda was a procession of the King and nobles going up from the beach to the town, the trained servants bearing the sword and throne in, solemn state before the African potentate.