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Precursor to Discovery

Antiquarian Explorations

Up to the early part of the 15th century, no European navigator had sailed further down the West African coast than Cape Bojador, a headland on the northern coast of Western Sahara, about a thousand miles south of Gibraltar, although antiquarian stories told of expeditions that travelled further.  For example, Pliny the Elder and Arrian of Nicomedia wrote about the Phoenician navigator, Hanno "the Navigator", who travelled down the West African coastline, possibly as far as the equator, about 500 BC [1, 2 & 3]. 

An even earlier story from Herodotus described a Phoenician expedition that completely circumnavigated the African continent from east to west in a clockwise direction [4-5].  This supposedly happened during the reign of the Pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC and was accomplished over a three-year period voyaging from the Gulf of Suez through the Red Sea, and then the huge distance around the East and West African coastlines until, reaching the straights of Gibraltar, they steered east across the Mediterranean, finally arriving back at Egypt.  Many commentators have seized upon the last sentence of the following as strong evidence the voyage actually took place since in Southern latitudes the sun does indeed rise this way.

... for Libya [Africa] furnished proofs about itself that it is surrounded by sea, except so much of it as borders upon Asia; and this fact was shown by Necos king of the Egyptians first of all those about whom we have knowledge. He when he had ceased digging the channel which goes through from the Nile to the Arabian gulf, sent Phenicians with ships, bidding them sail and come back through the Pillars of Heracles to the Northern Sea and so to Egypt. The Phenicians therefore set forth from the Erythraian Sea and sailed through the Southern Sea; and when autumn came, they would put to shore and sow the land, wherever in Libya they might happen to be as they sailed, and then they waited for the harvest: and having reaped the corn they would sail on, so that after two years had elapsed, in the third year they turned through the Pillars of Heracles and arrived again in Egypt. And they reported a thing which I cannot believe, but another man may, namely that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on their right hand.  [6]

These antiquarian voyages would have followed the African coastline powered by sail and oar and would have been most unlikely to have sailed into the emptiness of the South Atlantic to discover St Helena.

Pre-Portuguese Oceanic Trade
Goods had moved by land and sea between China, India and the Middle East for many centuries before the Portuguese became involved in the trade.  The network extended eastward as far as the Maluku Islands (the Spice Islands), off Indonesia [7, 8].  Whilst considerable volumes moved east from China along the Silk Road, heavy goods such as porcelain also went by sea.  In the early fifteenth century, the Yongle emperor (Ming dynasty,1402-1424) commissioned powerful Chinese naval expeditions to the Indian Ocean region, mainly for diplomatic reasons to establish a powerful presence in the Indian Ocean and to control trade.  There are indications on the 1453 Venetian map of the world by Fra Mauro that one of these Chinese junks rounded the Cape of Good Hope from the Indian Ocean and headed south-west, presumably in the general direction of Tristan da Cunha [9, 10]. Powerful naval expeditions from China continued until 1435, but later Chinese emperors settled on an inward-looking policy, to the point that by 1500 it had became a capital offence to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts [11].  The Portuguese explorers were fortunate in their timing.  Had they succeeded in finding and then exploiting the sea route to India and the Far East 70 years earlier, they would probably have been at a significant disadvantage against the huge battle junks employed by the Chinese [12].

In terms of the Western markets, the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans all imported goods from the east in ancient times.  From the seventh century onward, the goods were almost exclusively imported into Europe through Venice from the Byzantine Empire (of which it was once a part) and, after the foundation and expansion of the Islamic faith, from Muslim traders.  By the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous European city [13].  Historically, most of the Venetian trade went to southern European Countries.  When the Portuguese began importing goods from India and the Far East, they mainly traded with northern European countries.

The Early Portuguese Expeditions
In the mid-fourteenth century, Portugal was alone amongst European nations to single-mindedly explore the African coastline, navigating a sea route around that vast continent to reach the distant lands of India and the Far East.  This story is far less well known that of the crossing of the Atlantic and the discovery of the American continent in the mistaken belief it was part of Asia.  The Portuguese discoveries were characterised by huge courage, considerable hardship and loss of life and a gritty determination to try and try again.  However, having at last established the route to India, the Portuguese ruthlessly, sometimes cruelly, exploited the fruits of their discoveries, crushing all Muslim competition.  In a succession of sea battles, the Portuguese caravels regularly demonstrated their advantages of height and superior firepower against Indian and Muslim vessels. 

For sailing ships powered by the wind, the breakthrough in achieving ever-greater distances down the West African coastline and eventually in rounding the Cape of Good Hope came from sailing away from the African coastline into the Atlantic Ocean where they could find favourable winds.  It was eventually realised that the greatest progress came from sailing southwest from the North Atlantic towards Brazil, then south before swinging east back across the South Atlantic. 

Prince_Henry_the_NavigatorThere was little possibility of discovering St Helena on this outward route, ships passing somewhat to the north of the island, sometimes close to Ascension, in the first stage of their voyage across the Atlantic.  It was difficult to travel directly to St Helena from Europe because south of the equator sailing ships faced contrary south easterly trade winds.  However, on their homeward voyage, once ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope, by following the trade winds into the mid-South Atlantic, they would inevitably arrive in the approximate vicinity of St Helena.  It is therefore understandable that within only a few years of establishing a sea route to India, the Portuguese would also discover St Helena in the vastness of the South Atlantic Ocean as they ran before the wind back towards Europe.

By the mid-fifteenth century, Cape Bojador (about a thousand miles from Gibraltar) was as far down the West African as any modern European had managed to navigate.  The seas off this cape are shallow, shoaled for 20 miles of the coast and prone to powerful currents and contrary winds.  There was also a belief by some that beyond this cape the sun came so close that their skin would be roasted black and that the sea boiled away to slime filled with grotesque monsters.  [14-15]. 

The key person behind the earliest Portuguese explorations was Prince Henry the Navigator [16, 17 18], born 1394 the third child of King John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster (John of Gaunt's eldest daughter and sister of Henry IV of England).  His motives and those of Portuguese monarchs in later years were probably several.  Fundamentally, their motivation was the same as the Spanish when funding Christopher Columbus's voyage across the Atlantic - to find a sea route to India and the Far East.  They could thereby source valuable spices, gold, precious stones, silks, porcelain and other goods from these countries, wresting the trade from the hated Muslims.  Portugal had banished the Moors as early as 1249 (it would be nearly another 250 years before the same was achieved in Spain), yet antagonism against Muslim Arab traders still ran high.  At the same time, they could break the monopoly enjoyed by the Venetians importing these goods into Europe.  This last consideration meant the Portuguese hid many discoveries under a cloak of secrecy. This secrecy, coupled with the loss of documents after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755, led to obscure or contradictory accounts of individual Portuguese explorations.  The Portuguese also hoped to discover valuable commodities in the form of human slaves (the country was short of manpower having been seriously depopulated during the Black Death from 1348[19]) and gold.  Another important aim was to locate the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John, said to lie in the midst of hostile Muslim and pagan countries in the Orient.  Underlying all these ambitions was another motivation that cannot be measured - human curiosity and a sense of adventure to discover new and unknown places.

CaravelCentral to the success of early Portuguese and Spanish explorations was the construction of the first lanteen sail caravels in the fifteenth century, especially during the period of Prince Henry's influence [20-21].  Lanteen-based fishing boats had existed since at least the thirteenth century, probably based on the design of Muslim ships that navigated the Mediterranean.  Caravels were relatively light, fast and highly manoeuvrable with a narrow draft, usually carried two or three masts, and could sail closer to the wind than most other cargo-carrying ships.  Their main disadvantage was that the ships had insufficient space to store sufficient water and provisions for the crews needed to handle the huge lanteen sails.  The open and shallow decks provided little space to quarter the crew, with ordinary seamen living on the open deck.  Lanteen sails are also slower than the square sails used in later vessels. Thus, by 1497 three ships in Vasco da Gama's first Indian fleet of 1497 used a combination of square and lanteen sails and the larger Galleons were a development of this.

Prince Henry's searches began in 1418 when his first fleet sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean bound for the islands of Porto Santo and Madeira.  In the years that followed, Henry was remarkably persistent, repeatedly sending expeditions to sail beyond Cape Bojador, but without success.  After 14 failures, Henry's own squire, Gil Eannes, was dispatched south in 1433 but Eannes only sailed as far as the Canary Islands, returning to Portugal with captives.  Eannes was sent south again the following year and this time he avoided Cape Bojador by sailing southwest far into the Atlantic before setting a course east and arriving at a shore where he found neither people nor signs of habitation.  The expedition returned to Portugal with a sample of herbs picked from the shoreline [22].  Another expedition under the command of Afonso Gonçalves Baldaia, Henry's cupbearer, accompanied by Gill Eannes next set out (1435).  They penetrated about 50 leagues (about 150 miles) south of Cape Bojador to Angra dos Ruivos (Garnet Bay) where they once again found land without any dwelling, but this time noticing the footmarks of men and camels.

Baldaia set out again in 1436 with instructions to bring back a local inhabitant and for this reason, his ship carried two horses to give chase.  At Angra dos Cavallos (around Point Elbow) efforts by two of his horsemen to capture a prisoner failed.  Further south, assuming he had arrived at the mouth of the legendary "River of Gold", he named an inlet (near modern Dakhla) Rio do Ouro.  Here, his crew hunted monk seals, loading the ship with 5,000 seal pelts and oil.  Pushing further south, Baldaia would have crossed the Tropic of Cancer to reach Pedra da Galé  (Galha Point, a galley-shaped rock island off Cape Barbas).  Here, they found some abandoned fishing nets.  Baldaia had ventured about 125 miles further south than his previous expedition.  Loaded with sealskins, he returned with Europe's first cargo from the East African coast but failed in his basic mission to bring back a captive.

Two further ships sailed south but penetrated no further than Rio do Ouro.  However, in 1441 Prince Henry sent his chamberlain Antão Gonçalves on yet another expedition.  Although Gonçalves also penetrated no further south, after filling his ship with sealskins, he was the first to penetrate inland to buy slaves from traders.  These unfortunates were the first of the huge numbers shipped by Europeans from the West Africa coast to Europe and, in later years, to the American continents over the next four centuries - slaves had long been traded from the East African coast by Muslim and other traders.  When Gonçalves returned to Portugal, he also brought back some gold dust and a large number of ostrich eggs.  The cargo of slaves sparked huge interest within Portugal and Henry was never again to be short of funds or captains for his expeditions.  Ships now sailed down to the West African coast seeking valuable cargoes of human slaves rather than sealskins, this growth in trade proceeding hand in hand with exploration.  In 1445, Dinis Dias discovered the mouth of the Senegal River, which was indeed the "River of Gold", whilst Nuno Tristão found the Gambia river, also in Senegal.  The same year, Diego Afonso erected a large wooden cross called a padrão to mark the passage of Cape Blanco (between Mauritania and the Moroccan Western Sahara). The slave trade had become so large by 1448 that Henry ordered the construction of a fort and trading post (the first so-called factory constructed outside Europe) on Arguin Island, off Cape Blanco. 

Within a few years, the Crown granted funds that helped Henry fund future explorations.  These came from the Crown's 20% share of profits from African voyages and were passed on by Henry's elder brother Pedro, acting as Regent until the child-king Afonso V reached his maturity.  Henry continued to be given a free hand when Afonso reached maturity in 1448.  By the 1450s Henry leased exploration and trading rights to entrepreneurs, taking a percentage of profits.  When Henry died in 1460, the Portuguese had explored as far as Sierra Leone. 

Beyond Sierra Leone, the African coast runs eastward for many miles, falsely hinting at the long-sought southern cape of Africa.  However, after the death of his uncle, King Afonso did not pursue this tantalising prospect.  Rather, his energies were concentrated on domestic conflicts arising from his Minority and the conquest of Morocco. 

Afonso abdicated in 1477 and his son João II then assumed power.  Like Prince Henry, João soon embarked on a single-minded effort to extend the West African trade and to find a route to India.  He built a fortress, São Jorge da Mina (today Elmina Castle), on the coast of Guinea in 1482 and insisted his captains erected limestone padrãos on prominent headlands to mark Portugal's claim to the territories.  Diogo Cão proved to be his most successful captain, crossing the equator and discovering the Congo River in 1482.  In a second voyage, Cão explored even further south between Cape St Catherine (Gabon) and Cape Cross (Namibia), arriving at the latter in early 1486 before dying on the homeward voyage. 

The following year, Bartolomeu Dias Cabral with two caravels and a supply ship travelled still further south to Walvis Bay (Namibia), just short of the Tropic of Capricorn.  Encountering mounting southerly headwinds at Diaz Point, Diaz ran 13 days southwards into the Atlantic.  When the stormy weather eased, they stood east for several days expecting to arrive back to the African coast but found only an empty sea.  Therefore, he turned north, and so on 3 February 1488 arrived at Mossel Bay (Bahia dos Vaqueiros), having unwittingly rounded the southern cape of Africa.  The ships sailed further along the East African coastline as far as Keiskama River and erected a padrão on the summit of Kwaaihoek, a rocky headland on the coast of Algoa Bay overlooking the Indian Ocean.  Rounding the Cape on his return voyage, Dias named it the Cape of Storms (Cabo das Tormentas).  However, on Dias' return, King João renamed it the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of its significance in opening up the route to India and the Far East.

The same year that Dias embarked on his momentous voyage, João II also despatched Pêro da Covilhã on an equally important and dangerous mission to India through the Mediterranean (via Naples, Rhodes and thus to Alexandria) to Cairo and then, disguised as a Muslim merchant by sea to Aden and thus to Calicut, an important Indian trading port on the Malabar Coast.  From thence, he explored the Indian coast as far north as Goa and then the East African coast before finally returning to Cairo in 1490.  Messengers from King João met him there and instructed him to travel south again with the hopeless task of locating the mythical Christian kingdom of Prestor John.  These messengers presumably returned to Portugal with full details of significant sections of the African and Indian coastlines bordering onto the Indian Ocean, the main ports, the spices traded by the Muslim traders.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing under the Spanish flag, sailed west across the Atlantic and claimed to have discovered the Orient.  Much to King João II's objection, Pope Alexander VI issued the Inter caetera which granted Spain exclusive rights to trade in and possess forever all lands west of a line drawn about 350 miles west of the Portuguese-held Cape Verde Islands.  The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed by Spain and Portugal in 1494 re-set this imaginary line some 950 miles further west.  The Portuguese thereby preserved their monopoly along the West African coast and the cities known to exist in the real India.  The treaty meant that the South American bulge, representing the eastern part of Brazil would be granted to Portugal when Pedro Álvares Cabral landed there whilst en-route to India.  The treaty also implied Portuguese dominion over the island when St Helena was discovered in the first years of the 16th century.

Vasco_da_GamaThe First Portuguese Armada to India
No further major naval expeditions were launched to follow up the discoveries by Bartolomeu Dias and Pêro da Covilhã's discoveries until after João II's death in 1495.  His successor, Manuel I commissioned a fleet of four ships headed by Vasco da Gama, which left Lisbon on 8 July 1497. [23, 24 & 25] This was to be the first Portuguese Indian Armada.  The fleet followed the familiar route past the Canary Island and on to the Cape Verdes.  However, instead of sailing east towards the African coast to follow the contours of that continent, da Gama boldly sailed west-southwest into the deep Atlantic Ocean.  Possibly this followed the experience of Bartolomeu Dias in rounding the Cape.  At all events, in the centuries that followed, ships of the sail were to follow a roughly similar course - following north-easterly trade winds across the North Atlantic towards Brazil.  Ships would later sail much closer to Brazil than da Gama, cutting through the doldrums south of the equator to catch south-westerly currents until reaching the southbound Brazil current until reaching westerly winds that took ships across the South Atlantic to the Cape or further east.  Da Gama may also have wanted to steer away from the African coast to avoid the doldrums off the Gulf of Guinea.  After sailing 9-10 weeks, when roughly at the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope (which could be measured with fair accuracy), da Gama set an easterly course.  Three months after leaving the Cape Verdes, he arrived at a sheltered bay on the West African coast only a few miles from the Cape on 7 November 1497 (some sources state 4 November).  He named this St Helena Bay (Bahai da Santa Elena) and it is noteworthy that this was NOT the feast day of St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, for either the eastern or western churches.

It was here that the Portuguese first encountered the native Khoikhoi people, who gratefully accepted trinkets such as pewter rings and bells but soon attacked the visitors [26].  Sailing around the Cape, the fleet arrived at Mossel Bay where they found the Khoikhoi to be friendly.  After transferring stores between the three main ships, the Portuguese burnt their store ship then sailed up the east African coast past the last stone marker left a decade earlier by Dias and thence as far as the land now known as Natal.  Da Gama then sailed out into the deeper Indian Ocean, possibly to escape unfavourable currents, but eventually sailed back to the African coastline because water ran short and symptoms of scurvy began to spread amongst the crews.

The ships were careened and repaired at the Zavora River and then, sailing further up the eastern coastline, the fleet reached the city of Mozambique Island, the threshold of Muslim trading where cotton, ivory, timber and gold were traded for Indian spices, Arabian dates and Chinese porcelain.  Da Gama only had trinkets to offer the Sultan of Mozambique Island.  Da Gama's trinkets were contemptible in a country that traded in gold and pearls.  The Portuguese were to receive a similar reaction to their gifts from other prosperous trading countries they visited.  Forced to sail further up the coast, da Gama fired his cannons into the city in retaliation for his hostile reception.  He received a similarly hostile reception further along the coast at Mombassa (Kenya), and it was only when he reached Malindi (Kenya), whose Sultan was a rival of Mombassa, that he was made welcome.  Provided with an Indian pilot, the fleet made landfall on the Malabar Coast after a 27-day voyage sailing with the monsoon wind across the Indian Ocean, having crossed the equator back into the northern hemisphere.  Their arrival off the coast of India was the culmination of a 60-year period of effort by the Portuguese.  

Attention needs to be given at this point to the critical element for sailing ships to time their crossing of the Indian Ocean according to the direction of the monsoon winds.  Between April and September (summer), the monsoon usually blows south-west.  However, the monsoon normally blows northeast between October and March (winter).  Therefore, European vessels needed to make their outward crossing (from west to east) in the summer and their homeward passage in the winter.  If cargoes could be filled in a short period, the late summer was the ideal arrival time to reach India, with the homeward passage commencing in the early winter.  Any ship that misjudged the timing of the monsoon winds would face a lengthy passage across the Indian Ocean, sailing against the wind.

 Da Gama sailed about 40 miles south, reaching Calicut (now Kozhikode), one of India's major trading ports, on the 20th May.  The welcome was even greater than at Malindi.  Da Gama was presented to the king of Calicut, the elderly Manivikraman Raja Zamorin (Saamoothiri), but the latter's agents soon realised that the Portuguese had little to offer than worthless trinkets in exchange for goods.  At the same time, Muslim merchants who had much to lose if the Portuguese gained even a toehold in the Indian trade, had considerable influence at the Zamorin's court.  Da Gama anchored at Calicut for about three months, purchasing some spices and precious stones that would handsomely pay for the cost of the expedition, finally embarking, with a number of Indian hostages, on the homeward voyage on 29 August. 

This time the fleet was sailing against the monsoon wind and took four months to cross the Indian Ocean back to Malindi, where they arrived on 7 January 1499.  Approximately half the crew died from scurvy during this passage.  With a diminished crew, da Gama burnt one of his three ships and set sail down the East African coast, rounding the Cape on 20 March.  Da Gama's brother Paolo died en-route home and was buried on the Azores.  Da Gama finally arrived back at Lisbon in early September.  About 170 men had set off on the venture and only about 60 returned. 

Da Gama failed in his primary objective to agree on a trading agreement with the Zamorin of Calicut.  Nevertheless, not only did the voyage prove India could be accessed by sea but also that precious goods such as spices were available at Calicut at only a tiny fraction (roughly a thirtieth) of prices at Venice.  The fact that the Venetians were heavily involved in fighting off the expanding Turkish Empire during the 1499-1503 Ottoman-Venetian War and were therefore in no position to thwart Portuguese ambitions is somewhat academic since their spice trade had effectively already been lost with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The Second Portuguese Armada to India
Within six months of da Gama's return, Manuel I commissioned a large fleet of 13 ships (two privately owned, the remainder belonging to the Crown) with about 1,200 men to return to India under the command of Pedro Álvares Cabral [27, 28, 29, 30, 31].  The size of the fleet, which included at least one supply ship, reflected Manuel's determination to dominate the Indian trade by force of arms.  Ten ships were to sail for Calicut and two to Sofala (Mozambique Island), identified by Perô de Covilhã a decade earlier as a major gold-trading port but which da Gama had failed to find along the East African coast.  Cabral had on board lavish gifts to present to the Zamorin, with whom he was to agree on a trading treaty.  His instructions also included the establishment of a feitoria (factory) in Calicut got the storage of goods to be loaded in the holds of future Portuguese Armadas.

The fleet left Lisbon on 9 March 1500, reaching the Cape Verde islands a fortnight later where one ship was either lost or had to return because of gales.  The 12-strong fleet then steered south-west for a far greater distance than da Gama and sighted the Brazilian coastline on 22 April.  Over the next week, the Portuguese made friendly contact with the native Tupiniquim Indians.  Determining that the land lay east of the Tordesillas line, Brazil was formally claimed part of the Portuguese Crown.  The supply ship was despatched back to Lisbon to communicate the discovery.

The 11-strong fleet set sail to cross the Southern Atlantic on the 3rd May, but four ships were lost in strong gales, including a ship captained by Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese to round the Cape in 1488.  This reduced the fleet to seven ships, which splintered into several smaller groups - a squadron of three ships headed by Cabral, another of three ships and a seventh ship captained by Diogo Dias, Bartolomeu's brother, which was to disappear and have adventures of its own before returning to Portugal with only six crewmen.  Cabral rounded the Cape in late May his squadron arrived at Mozambique Island on the 22nd June, where they were given a far warmer reception by the Sultan than to da Gama several years earlier.  The other squadron of three ships rejoined them, increasing their number to six. 

Cabral showered the new Zamorin (the old one had died) with precious gifts.  The Zamorin signed a trading treaty that allowed the Portuguese to set up a feitoria at Calicut.  Several months later, possibly in October, the Portuguese demonstrated the power of their ships by capturing with the smallest caravel a large ship carrying a number of elephants, which were then presented to the King.  Only two ships had been loaded with spices by December.  The Zamorin declined to enforce Portuguese priority in the spice market and on the 17th December seized an Arab ship and its hold of spices.  This immediately caused an uprising in which rioters attacked the factory and massacred about 50 Portuguese.  Events rapidly escalated.  Cabral waited for some form of redress.  In the absence of this, Cabral concluded the King had sanctioned the attack.  In retaliation, Cabral seized ten Muslim ships and opened up a cannonade on the city before sailing south to the trading port of Cochin.

The Prince of Cochin welcomed the Portuguese warmly, although it had been his elephants captured at Cochin.  An alliance that allowed the Portuguese to set up a factory there and to jointly wage war on Calicut was agreed.  The Prince kept his side of the bargain, protecting the Portuguese and punishing Muslim traders who attempted to burn down the factory.  Cabral's fleet left Cochin on the 16 January 1501 after receiving intelligence that a fleet of about 80 ships from Calicut was preparing to attack them.  Steering north past Calicut, but giving that port a wide berth, Cabral filled his remaining hold with ginger at Cannanore.

The fleet set sail to cross the Indian Ocean in late January.  One ship ran aground off Malinda (Kenya); after transferring the cargo amongst the other five vessels, the Cabral burnt the ship.  Arriving at Mozambique Island, Cabral despatched his fastest ship to Portugal with news of the expedition.  He also despatched and another ship to Sofala - this arrived at this destination but did not make contact with the city, merely making observations from the sea before setting course back to Portugal.  Cabral's division of three remaining ships probably left Mozambique Island in March or April, but soon after one lost contact and sailed independently back to Portugal.  Five ships finally returned to Portugal around July.

Joao_da_NovaThe Third Portuguese Armada to India
This comprised a small fleet of four ships (also possibly a supply ship) under the command of João da Nova [23, 24, 25, 26, 32.  This was largely a privately funded enterprise to purchase spices and it seems unlikely the small fleet was despatched by Manuel I with the express purpose of reinforcing Cabral [33], who by that time had in any case already left India and was on his long voyage back to Portugal.  Given the lack of contemporary records and contradictory accounts, details of this voyage are conspicuously lacking.  Frustratingly, there is little in the way of convincing evidence that this fleet discovered St Helena.  The following describes the main details of this expedition.  

The fleet left Lisbon in early March 1501.  One version of his voyage suggests he followed Cabral's route, crossing the Atlantic towards Brazil before sailing west towards the Cape.  Two other versions suggest he sailed to the central Atlantic, discovering Ascension south of the Equator and that he named it Ilha da Conceição.  Whichever route across the Atlantic was taken, having rounded the Cape, the fleet arrived at Mossel Bay (discovered by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488) in early July where one account suggests a note from the 2nd fleet was found advising Calicut was now hostile to the Portuguese but Cochin and Cannanore were friendly ports where spices could be bought. 

The fleet sailed along the East African coast to Mozambique Island and then, in mid-July, further to the prosperous trading port of the island of Kilwa Kiswani (Tanzania).  En-route, da Nova's fleet may have sighted the small tropical island, known as Île Juan da Nova for many centuries, in the narrowest part of the Mozambique Channel.  The same may be true of the Farquhar Group of islands (Seychelles), known until 1824 as the João da Nova islands until renamed after Robert Townsend Farquhar, governor of Mauritius. 

According to differing accounts, in late July da Nova then either sailed for India or sailed further up the East African coast to Malindi, and it was here he picked up letters from Cabral rather than at Mossel Bay.  Da Nova probably arrived at the Indian coast (either from Kilwa or from Malindi) in August.  There is no documentation of da Nova's activities over the next two months.  He certainly called in at Cannanore before setting sail further south to Cochin.  During this latter voyage, he captured three merchant vessels, seizing their cargo and burning the ships.  The factory set up by Cabral at Cochin had few supplies to load the fleet, having been unsuccessful in buying spices with Portuguese goods rather than silver and gold.  Supplies to the factory had probably also been thwarted by competing Muslim traders at Cochin.  Sailing back north to Cannanore, in the absence of silver or gold to buy goods da Nova arranged with the local Raja to buy and load the fleet with spices on credit. 

In late December, da Nova was attacked at Cannanore by a large fleet sent by the Zamorin of Calicut.  Da Nova was able to cut through the Calicut fleet as a column.  The Portuguese had the advantages of a powerful cannonade, height and speed, frustrating attempts by the Indian ship to grapple onto and board da Nova's ships.  The running battle and pursuit lasted several days into early January 1502.

On the homeward voyage, da Nova probably visited both Malindi (where letters were left) and Mozambique island along the East African coast.  Most historical accounts state the fleet discovered St Helena after rounding the Cape on its homeward voyage on 21 May 1502. There is no contemporary evidence for this date and was probably quoted in error by Jan Huyghen van Linschoten in his 1596 description of the island - the alternative date of 3 May 1502 is now thought more likely. The full fleet of four ships arrived back at Lisbon on the 11 September.

The Fourth Portuguese Armada to India
Vasco da Gama had been the first to command an expedition to India with the first armada (1497-1499).  He now commanded a powerful fleet of about 20 ships, with of the number of soldiers varying between 800 and 1,800.  A major objective was to take command of the seas, cutting off Muslim trade to the Indian coast (especially to Calicut) and East African trading ports.  Another was to open trade at Sofala to purchase gold.  

The fleet split into three squadrons:  Vasco da Gama commanded ten ships; Vicente Sodré (da Gama's uncle) commanded five ships; Estêvão da Gama (Vasco da Gama's cousin).  The first two squadrons left Lisbon on 10 February 1502.  The third left in early March, only meeting up with the main fleet at India.  All the ships encountered violent storms off the Cape and ships became separated.  Most ships rendezvoused at Mozambique island from about June, others sailing up to Sofala to successfully negotiate a trading treaty.  Conflicting accounts suggest da Gama either stayed at Mozambique or went to Sofala.  Of the scattered ships, one went aground at Nova Sofala (Mozambique) and other Portuguese vessels rescued the crew.  Another ship did not cross the Indian Ocean because of storm damage. 

Whilst at Mozambique island, a new caravel was constructed and ordered back to Portugal with goods loaded from that port.  In addition, the Portuguese opened a new factory to buy goods for future Portuguese shipping.  Da Gama sailed for Kilwa with the main body of ships in late June where, with threats to open up a cannonade on the city, he extorted a trading agreement plus a gold tribute) for the King of Portugal) from the ruler, the Emir Ibrahim.

In mid-July, three ships from Estêvão da Gama's third squadron arrived at Mozambique island suffering storm damage and short of provisions.  These ships then sailed onto Kilwa, joining da Gama's main fleet, which soon after (at the end of July) set sail for India.  Estêvão da Gama's two other ships first arrived at Mozambique island and then to Kilwa, but missing the departure of the main fleet began in their turn to cross the Indian Ocean. 

Da Gama reached the Indian coast in mid-August and sailed south towards Cannanore.  The last two ships from the third squadron soon joined them, increasing the fleet's total strength to 18.  During this voyage, the Portuguese chased and destroyed three privateer ships off Anjadip Island (near Goa).  The following day, several ships sailed up the river to investigate the city of Bhatkal, which sued for peace in exchange for annual tributes of rice.  The fleet anchored off Mount d'Eli for about a month.  On 29 September, the Portuguese captured a ship filled with Muslim pilgrims travelling to (or possibly from) Mecca.  After stripping the hold of useful cargo, da Gama burnt and sunk the ship, deliberately trapping the pilgrims below decks.  Da Gama justified this massacre as revenge for the loss of Portuguese lives at the Calicut uprising in 1500.

Da Gama arrived at Cannanore in mid-October and negotiated a commercial treaty that included a fixed price clause.  Given he had little control over the prices charged by merchants, the local Raja was probably intimidated by the strength of Portuguese military power.  The fleet left Cannanore on 25 October.  Arriving at the hostile port of Calicut, da Gama issued an ultimatum to the Zamorin to expel all Muslim merchants from the city and to restore all goods taken from the Portuguese factory.  Whilst awaiting a response, the Portuguese captured about 50 seamen from nearby boats.  Receiving no satisfactory response, in early November da Gama distributed the prisoners amongst his ships and then hung them all in full view of the city.  The ships then entered the harbour and commenced a systematic destruction of the city.  An alternative account states that da Gama captured two merchant ships arriving at Calicut during the attack.  After transferring their cargo, the crew were then mutilated (hands and noses cut off) and the ships burnt. 

Flor_de_la_MarBefore leaving Calicut, da Gama ordered up to six fighting caravels with a contingent of soldiers to patrol the Indian coast with the specific task of blockading that port and stifling all trade.  The remaining fleet then sailed south to Cochin, arriving in early November.  Here, a trading treaty was signed, once again including a fixed price clause.  Two ships were then sent further south to Quilon to load up following the receipt of letters of peace from the queen-regent of that port.  Towards the end of December, news came through that the Zamorin of Calicut intended to hire the services of privateer Muslim ships to attack the Portuguese.  Da Gama sent instructions to the blockading ships to rejoin the main fleet at Cochin.  In early February 1503, the combined fleet sailed north up the coast and into Calicut harbour in a line of battle, destroying most of the Muslim ships with cannon fire. 

Sailing further up the coast back up to Cannanore, the Portuguese built a small palisade around the factory, protected by a number of soldiers.  At about this time, Vicente Sodré arrived from Lisbon with a small fleet of ships, which da Gama ordered should patrol the Indian coastline to blockade Muslim trade and to protect the newly established factories.

Most accounts suggest da Gama commenced his homeward voyage with about a dozen ships in late February.  Caught in storms, the Flor da la Mar commanded by Estêvão da Gama (cousin to Vasco da Gama) became separated from the rest of the fleet and made its own way back to Lisbon.  The chronicler aboard this ship described the sighting of St Helena on 30 July, although he did not name it as such.  The main fleet arrived back at Lisbon on 1 September.  Estêvão da Gama arrived back on 7 September.

 

References and Notes  
1. Pliny, Naturalis Historia, 2.67, p 169 
2. Harden, Donald (1971) (1962), The Phoenicians, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books 
3. Warmington, Brian H. (1964), Carthage, pp 74-76, Pelican Press, London 
4. Lloyd, Alan B. (1976), Herodotus Book II Commentary 1-98, E J Brill, Leiden 
5. Lloyd, Alan B. (1977), Necho and the Red Sea: Some Considerations, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 63, p.142-155 
6. Herodotus, Book 4: Melpomene (42)
7. Andaya, Leonard Y. (1993), The World of Maluku: Eastern Indonesia in the Early Modern Period, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu. ISBN 0824814908
8. Donkin, R. A. (1997),  Between East and West: The Moluccas and the Traffic in Spices up to the Arrival of Europeans, American Philosophical Society, ISBN 0871692481
9. Falchetta, Piero (2006), Fra Mauro's World Map, Brepols, ISBN 2503517269
10 Needham, Joseph (1962), Science and Civilisation in China, Cambridge University Press, p 409
11. Needham, Joseph (1986), The shorter Science and Civilisation in China, Vol 3, Cambridge University Press, p. 147
12. Heath, Byron (2005), Discovering the Great South Land, p. 37, Gazelle Drake Academic, Lancaster, ISBN 1877058319
13. Chambers, D.S. (1970), The Imperial Age of Venice, 1380-1580, Thames & Hudson, London
14. Cameron, Ian (1965), Lodestone and evening star. The saga of exploration by sea, Hodder & Stoughton, London, p 110
15. Diffie, Bailey Wallys and Winius, George Davison, 1977, Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580, pp. 68-70, University of Minnesota Press, St. Paul, Minn.
16. Beazley, C. Raymond (1894). Prince Henry the Navigator, the Hero of Portugal and of Modern Discovery, 1394-1460 A.D.: With an account of geog raphical progress throughout the middle ages as the preparation for his work. London: G. P. Putnam's Sons.  Russell, P.E. (2001) Prince Henry the Navigator: a life New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.
17. Gallagher, Aileen (2003), Prince Henry the Navigator: Pioneer of Modern Exploration, The Rosen Publishing Group
18. Eannes de Azurara, Gomes [edited by de Castro e Almeida, Virginia; translated by Bernard Miall], (1936), Conquests and discoveries of Henry the Navigator, Allen and Unwin.
19. Cantor, Norman F. (2001), In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made, New York, Free Press.
20. Lanteen ships had triangular sails with roughly 30 and 60-degree corners.
21. Castro1, F; Fonseca, N; Vacas, T;, Ciciliot, F, (2008), A Quantitative Look at Mediterranean Lateen- and Square-Rigged Ships (Part 1), The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 37 (2): 347-359
22. De Zurara, Gomes Eanes (Translated by Beazley, C. Raymond), The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea Vol. I, The Hakluyt Society, Chapter 9.
23. Velho, Alvaro. A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama, 1497-1499 (translated and edited with notes by E.G. Ravenstein, [1995]), Hakluyt Society, ISBN 8120611365
24. Ames, Glenn J. (2004), Vasco da Gama: Renaissance Crusader. Longman. ISBN 0321092821.
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28. Fernão Lopes de Castanheda (1551-1560) História do descobrimento e conquista da Índia pelos Portugueses [1833 edition] Lib. 1, Cap.30ff
29. Gaspar Correia (c.1550s) Lendas da Índia, first pub. 1858-64, in Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciencias. Vol. 1
30  Damião de Góis (1566–67) Crónica do Felicíssimo Rei D. Manuel Pt. 1, Cap. 54f
31. Jerónimo Osório (1586) De rebus Emmanuelis [trans. Port., 1804, Da Vida e Feitos d'El Rei D. Manuel, Lisbon: Impressão Regia.] [trans. Eng. 1752 by J. Gibbs as The History of the Portuguese during the Reign of Emmanuel London: Millar]
32. Diogo do Couto "De todas as Armadas que os Reys de Portugal mandáram à Índia, até que El-Rey D. Filippe succedeo nestes Reynos", de 1497 a 1581", in J. de Barros and D. de Couto, Décadas da Ásia Dec. X, Pt.1, Bk.1, c.16
33. Gosse, Philip, St Helena (1990), 1502-1938, p. 2, Anthony Nelson, new edition,  ISBN 0904614395.