|A Book of Discovery|
|by M. B. Synge|
|A fascinating account of the world's famous explorers, including the early travelers in ancient times, the discovery of the New World, explorations in Africa and Australia, and the expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Many of the explorers tell part of their story in their own words. Amply illustrated with reproductions of early maps and charts, as well as old woodcuts, drawings, paintings, and miniatures. Emphasis is placed on the explorers' 'record of splendid endurance, of hardships bravely borne, of silent toil, of courage and resolution unequalled in the annals of mankind, of self-sacrifice unrivalled and faithful lives laid ungrudgingly down.' Ages 12-18 |
SIR WALTER RALEIGH SEARCHES FOR EL DORADO
 IT is pleasant to turn from the icy regions of North America to the sunny South, and to follow the fortunes of
that fine Elizabethan gentleman, Sir Walter Raleigh, to "the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana and
the Great and Golden City of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El Dorado)." Ever since the conquest of Peru,
sixty years before, there had floated about rumours of a great kingdom abounding in gold. The King of this
Golden Land was sprinkled daily with gold dust, till he shone as the sun, while Manoa was full of golden
houses and golden temples with golden furniture. The kingdom was wealthier than Peru; it was richer than
Mexico. Expedition after expedition had left Spain in search of this El Dorado, but the region was still
plunged in romantic mists. Raleigh had just failed to establish an English colony in Virginia. To gain a rich
kingdom for his Queen, to extend her power and enrich her treasury was now his greatest object in life. What
about El Dorado?
"Oh, unwearied feet, travelling ye know not whither! Soon, soon, it seems to you, you must come forth on some
conspicuous hilltop, and but a little way further, against the setting sun, descry the spires of El Dorado."
February 1595 found him ready and leaving England with five ships and, after a good passage of forty-six days,
landing on the island of Trinidad, and thence making his way to the mouth of the Orinoco. Here Raleigh soon
 that it was impossible to enter the Orinoco with his English ships, but, nothing daunted, he took a hundred
men and provisions for a month in three little open boats, and started forward to navigate this most difficult
labyrinth of channels, out of which they were guided by an old Indian pilot named Ferdinando. They had much to
observe. The natives, living along the river-banks, dwelt in houses all the summer, but in the winter months
they constructed small huts to which they ascended by means of ladders.
These folk were cannibals, but cannibals of a refined sort, who "beat the bones of their lords into powder"
and mixed the powder with their drinks. The stream was very strong and rapid, and the men rowed against it in
great discomfort, "the weather being extreme hot, the river bordered with very high trees that kept away the
air, and the current against us every day stronger than the other," until they became, as Raleigh tells us,
"wearied and scorched and doubtful."
The heat increased as they advanced, and the crews grew weaker as the river "ran more violently against them."
But Raleigh refused to return yet, lest "the world would laugh us to scorn."
Fortunately delicious fruits hung over the banks of the Orinoco, and, having no bread and for water only the
thick and troubled water of the river, they refreshed themselves gladly. So they rowed on up the great river,
through province after province of the Indians, but no El Dorado appeared. Suddenly the scene changed as if by
magic, the high banks giving way to low-lying plains; green grass grew close to the water's edge, and deer
came down to feed.
"I never saw a more beautiful country," says Raleigh, "nor more lively prospects, hills raised here and there
over the valleys, the river winding into different branches,
 plains without bush or stubble, all fair green grass, deer crossing our path, the birds towards evening
singing on every tree with a thousand several tunes, herons of white, crimson, and carnation perching on the
riverside, the air fresh with a gentle wind, and every stone we stooped to pick up promised either gold or
silver." His account of the great cataract at the junction of the tributary Caroni is very graphic. They had
already heard the roar, so they ran to the tops of some neighbouring hills, discovering the wonderful "breach
of waters" which ran down Caroli, and from that "mountain see the river how it ran in three parts, about
twenty miles off, and there appeared some ten or twelve overfalls in sight, every one as high over the other
as a church tower, which fell with that fury that the rebound of waters made it seem as if it had been all
covered over with a great shower of rain; and in some places we took it at the first for a smoke that had
risen over some great town."
SIR WALTER RALEIGH.
The country was the province of Guiana, but it was not El Dorado, the object of their quest. And though it was
very beautiful, it was inhabited by cannibals; moreover, winter was advancing, and they were already some four
hundred miles from their ships in little open boats and in the heart of a strange country.
Suddenly, too, the river began to rise, to "rage and
over-  flow very fearfully," rain came down in torrents accompanied by great gusts of wind, and the crews with no
change of clothes got wet through, sometimes ten times a day. "Whosoever had seen the fury of that river after
it began to rise would perchance have turned his back somewhat sooner than we did if all the mountains had
been gold or precious stones," remarked Raleigh, who indeed was no coward. So they turned the boats for home,
and at a tremendous rate they spun down the stream, sometimes doing as much as one hundred miles a day, till
after sundry adventures they safely reached their ships at anchor off Trinidad. Raleigh had not reached the
golden city of Manoa, but he gave a very glowing account of this country to his Queen.
"Guiana," he tells her, "is a country that hath yet her maidenhood. The face of the earth hath not been torn,
the graves have not been opened for gold. It hath never been entered by any army of strength, and never
conquered by any Christian prince. Men shall find here more rich and beautiful cities, more temples adorned
with gold, than either Cortes found in Mexico or Pizarro in Peru, and the shining glory of this conquest will
eclipse all those of the Spanish nation."
But Raleigh had brought back no gold, and his schemes for a conquest of Guiana were received coldly by the
Queen. She could not share his enthusiasm for the land—
"Where Orinoco, in his pride,
Rolls to the main no tribute tide,
But 'gainst broad Ocean wages far
A rival sea of roaring war;
While in ten thousand eddies driven
The billows Ring their foam to heaven;
And the pale pilot seeks in vain
Where rolls the river, where the main."
But, besides the Orinoco in South America, there was
 the St. Lawrence in North America, still very imperfectly known. Since Jacques Cartier had penetrated the
hitherto undisturbed regions lying about the "river of Canada," little had been explored farther west, till
Samuel Champlain, one of the most remarkable men of his day, comes upon the scene, and was still discovering
land to the west when Raleigh was making his second expedition to Guiana in the year 1617.
RALEIGH'S MAP OF GUINEA, EL DORADO, AND THE ORINOCO COAST.
FROM THE ORIGINAL MAP, DRAWN BY RALEIGH, IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM. THIS MAP, LIKE SO MANY OF THE OLDER CHARTS,
IS DRAWN UPSIDE DOWN, THE SOUTH BEING AT THE TOP AND THE EAST ON THE LEFT, WHILE THE PANAMA ISTHMUS IS AT
THE BOTTOM ON THE RIGHT. THE RIVER ABOVE THE "LAKE OF MANOA" IS THE AMAZON.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics