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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge


 

 

DISCOVERY OF THE SPICE ISLANDS

[180] IT was but natural that the Portuguese, flushed with victory, should at once dispatch another expedition to India.

Was there some vexation in the heart of the "Admiral of India" when the command of the new fleet was given to Pedro Cabral? History is silent. Anyhow, in the March of 1500 we find this "Gentleman of Great Merit" starting off with thirteen powerfully armed ships and some fifteen hundred men, among them the veteran explorer Bartholomew Diaz, a party of eight Franciscan friars to convert the Mohammedans, eight chaplains, skilled gunners, and merchants to buy and sell in the King's name at Calicut. The King himself accompanied Cabral to the waterside. He had already adopted the magnificent title, "King, by the Grace of God, of Portugal, and of the Algarves, both on this side the sea and beyond it in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of the Conquest, Navigation, and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India."

Then Cabral, flying a banner with the royal arms of Portugal, started on a voyage which was to secure for Portugal "an empire destined to be richer and greater than all her dominions in Asia." Sailing far to the west, he fell in with the South American continent and was carried to a new land. The men went on shore and brought word that "it was a fruitful country, full of trees [181] and well inhabited. The people were swarthy and used bows and arrows." That night a storm arose and they ran along the coast to seek a port. Here Mass was said and parrots exchanged for paper and cloth. Then Cabral erected a cross (which was still shown when Lindley visited Brazil three hundred years later) and named the country the "Land of the Holy Cross." This name was, however, discarded later when the new-found land was identified with Brazil already sighted by Pinzon in one of the ships of Christopher Columbus.

Meanwhile, unconscious of the importance of this discovery, Cabral sailed on towards the Cape of Good Hope. There is no time to tell of the great comet that appeared, heralding a terrific storm that suddenly burst upon the little fleet. In the darkness and tempest four ships went down with all hands—amongst them old Bartholomew Diaz, the discoverer of the Cape of Good Hope, who thus perished in the waters he had been the first to navigate.

September found Cabral at last at anchor off Calicut. He found the King yet more resplendent than Vasco da Gama the year before. The old historians revel in their descriptions of him. "On his Head was a Cap of Cloth of Gold, at his Ears hung Jewels, composed of Diamonds, Sapphires, and Pearls, two of which were larger than Walnuts. His Arms, from the Elbow to the Wrist and from the knees downwards, were loaded with bracelets set with infinite Precious Stones of great Value. His Fingers and Toes were covered with Rings. In that on his great Toe was a large Rubie of a surprising Lustre. Among the rest there was a Diamond bigger than a large Bean. But all this was nothing, in comparison to the Richness of his Girdle, made with precious stones set in Gold, which cast a Lustre that dazzled every Body's Eyes."

[182] He allowed Cabral to establish a depot at Calicut for European goods, so a house was selected by the waterside and a flag bearing the arms of Portugal erected on the top. For a time all went well, but the Mohammedans proved to be difficult customers, and disputes soon arose. A riot took place; the infuriated native traders stormed the depot and killed the Portuguese within. Cabral in revenge bombarded the city, and, leaving the wooden houses in flames, he sailed away to Cochin and Cananor on the coast of Malabar. Soon after this he returned home with only six out of the thirteen ships, and from this time he disappears from the pages of history.

Just before his return, the King of Portugal, thinking trade was well established between India and his own country, dispatched a "valiant gentleman" in command of four ships to carry merchandise to the newly discovered country. But his voyage and adventures are only important inasmuch as he discovered the island of Ascension when outward bound and the island of St. Helena on the way home. So favourable was the account of this island that all Portugal admirals were ordered for the future to touch there for refreshments.


[Illustration]

THE MALABAR COAST.

The news of Cabral's adventures at Calicut inspired a yet larger expedition to the East, and Vasco da Gama, now Admiral of the Eastern seas, was given command of some fifteen ships which sailed from the Tagus in February 1502. The expedition, though avowedly Christian, was characterised by injustice and cruelty. Near the coast of Malabar the Portuguese fleet met with a large ship full of Mohammedan pilgrims from Mecca. The wealth on board was known to be enormous, and Don Vasco commanded the owners to yield up their riches to the King of Portugal. This they somewhat naturally refused to do. Whereupon the Portuguese fired, standing calmly to watch the blazing ships with their human [183] freight of men, women, and children. True, one historian declares that all the children were removed to the Portuguese ship to be converted into good little Catholics. Another is more nearly concerned with the money. "We took a Mecca ship on board of which were three hundred and eighty men and many women and children, and we took from it fully twelve thousand ducats, with goods worth at least another ten thousand. And we burned the ship and all the people on board with gunpowder on the first day of October."

Their instructions to banish every Mohammedan in Calicut was faithfully obeyed. Don Vasco seized and hanged a number of helpless merchants quietly trading in the harbour. Cutting off their heads, hands, and feet, he had them flung into a boat, which was allowed to drift ashore, with a cruel suggestion that the severed limbs would make an Indian curry. Once more Calicut was bombarded and Don Vasco sailed on to other ports on the Malabar coast, where he loaded his ships with spices taken from poor folk who dared not refuse. He then sailed home again, reaching Portugal "safe and sound, Deo gratias," but leaving behind him hatred and terror and a very quaint idea of these Christians who felt it their duty to exterminate all followers of Mohammed.

Conquest usually succeeds discovery, and the Portuguese, having discovered the entire coast of West, South, [184] and a good deal of East Africa and western coast of India, now proceeded to conquer it for their own. It was a far cry from Portugal to India in these days, and the isolated depots on the coast of Malabar were obviously in danger, when the foreign ships laden with spoil left their shores. True, Vasco da Gama had left six little ships this time under Sodrez to cruise about the Indian seas, but Sodrez wanted treasure, so he cruised northwards and found the southern coasts of Arabia as well as the island of Socotra. He had been warned of the tempestuous seas that raged about these parts at certain seasons, but, heeding not the warning, he perished with all his knowledge and treasure.

Expedition after expedition now left Portugal for the east coast of Africa and India. There were the two cousins Albuquerque, who built a strong fort of wood and mud at Cochin, leaving a garrison of one hundred and fifty trained soldiers under the command of one Pacheco, who saved the fort and kept things going under great difficulties.

On the return of Albuquerque, the hero of Cochin, the King decided to appoint a Viceroy of India. He would fain have appointed Tristan d'Acunha,—the discoverer of the island that still bears his name,—but he was suddenly struck with blindness, and in his stead Dom Francisco Almeida, "a nobleman of courage and experience," sailed off with the title of Viceroy. Not only was he to conquer, but to command, not only to sustain the sea-power of Portugal, but to form a government.

There is a story told of the ignorance of the men sent to man the ships under Almeida. So raw were they that they hardly knew their right hand from their left, still less the difference between starboard and larboard, till their captain hit on the happy notion of tying a bundle of garlic over one side of the ship and a handful of onions over the other, so the pilot gave orders to the helmsman thus: "Onion your helm!" or "Garlic your helm!"


[Illustration]

A SHIP OF ALBUQUERQUE'S FLEET.

[185] On the way out, Almeida built a strong fortress near Zanzibar, organised a regular Portuguese Indian pilot service, and established his seat of government at Cochin. Then he sent his son, a daring youth of eighteen, to bombard the city of Quilon, whose people were constantly intriguing against the Portuguese. Having carried out his orders, young Lorenzo, ordered to explore the Maldive Islands, was driven by a storm to an "island opposite [186] Cape Comorin, called Ceylon, and separated from thence by a narrow sea," where he was warmly received by the native King, whose dress sparkled with diamonds. Lorenzo erected here a marble pillar with the arms of Portugal carved thereon and took possession of the island. He also sent back to Portugal the first elephant ever sent thither.

Ceylon was now the farthest point which flew the flag of Portugal toward the east. Doubtless young Lorenzo would have carried it farther, but he was killed at the early age of twenty-one, his legs being shattered by a cannon-ball during a sea-fight. He sat by the mainmast and continued to direct the fighting till a second shot ended his short but brilliant career. The Viceroy, "whose whole being was centred in his devotion to his only son, received the tidings with outward stoicism." "Regrets," he merely remarked, "regrets are for women."

Nevertheless he revenged the death of his son by winning a victory over the opposing fleet and bidding his captains rejoice over "the good vengeance our Lord has been pleased, of His mercy, to grant us."

But the days of Almeida were numbered. He had subdued the Indian coast, he had extended Portuguese possessions in various directions, his term of office was over, and he was succeeded by the famous Albuquerque, who had already distinguished himself in the service of Portugal by his efforts to obtain Ormuz for the Portuguese. Now Viceroy of India, he found full scope for his boundless energy and vast ambition. He first attacked Calicut and reduced it to ashes. Then he turned his attention to Goa, which he conquered, and which became the commercial capital of the Portuguese in India for the next hundred years. Not only this, but it was soon the wealthiest city on the face of the earth and the [187] seat of the government. Albuquerque's next exploit was yet more brilliant and yet more important.


[Illustration]

A SHIP OF JAVA AND THE CHINA SEAS IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.

In 1509 he had sent a Portuguese explorer Sequira with a small squadron to make discoveries in the East. He was to cross the Bay of Bengal and explore the coast of Malacca. Sequira reached the coast and found it a centre for trade from east and west, "most rich and populous." But he had reason to suspect the demonstrations of friendship by the king of these parts, and refused to attend a festival prepared in his honour. This was fortunate, for some of his companions who landed for trade were killed. He sailed about the island of Sumatra, "the first land in which we knew of men's flesh being eaten by certain people in the mountains who gild their teeth. In their opinion the flesh of the blacks is sweeter than that of whites." Many were the strange tales brought back to Cochin by Sequira from the new lands— [188] rivers of oil—hens with flesh as black as ink—people with tails like sheep.

Anyhow, Albuquerque resolved that Malacca should belong to the Portuguese, and with nineteen ships and fourteen hundred fighting men he arrived off the coast of Sumatra, spreading terror and dismay among the multitudes that covered the shore. The work of destruction was short, though the King of Pahang and King Mahomet came out in person on huge elephants to help in the defence of their city. At last every inhabitant of the city was driven out or slain, and the Portuguese plundered the city to their hearts' content. The old historian waxes eloquent on the wealth of the city, and the laden ships started back, leaving a fort and a church under the care of Portuguese conquerors. The amount of booty mattered little, as a violent storm off the coast of Sumatra disposed of several ships and a good deal of treasure.

The fall of Malacca was one of vast importance to the Portuguese. Was it not the key to the Eastern gate of the Indian Ocean—the "gate through which the whole commerce of the Spice Islands, the Philippines, Japan, and far Cathay passed on its road to the Mediterranean? Was it not one of the largest trade markets in Asia, where rode the strange ships of many a distant shore? The fame of Albuquerque spread throughout the Eastern world. But he was not content with Malacca. The Spice Islands lay beyond—the Spice Islands with all their cloves and nutmegs and their countless riches must yet be won for Portugal.

Up to this year, 1511, they had not been reached by the Portuguese. But now Francisco Serrano was sent off from Malacca to explore farther. Skirting the north of Java, he found island after island rich in cloves and nutmeg. So struck was he with his new discoveries that he wrote to his friend Magellan: "I have dis- [189] covered yet another new world larger and richer than that found by Vasco da Gama."

It is curious to remember how vastly important was this little group of islands—now part of the Malay Archipelago and belonging to the Dutch—to the explorers of the sixteenth century. Strange tales as usual reached Portugal about these newly found lands. Here lived men with "spurs on their ankles like cocks," hogs with horns, hens that laid their eggs nine feet under ground, rivers with living fish, yet so hot that they took the skin off any man that bathed in their waters, poisonous crabs, oysters with shells so large that they served as fonts for baptizing children.

Truly these mysterious Spice Islands held more attractions for the Portuguese explorers than did the New World of Columbus and Vespucci. Their possession meant riches and wealth and—this was not the end. Was there not land beyond? Indeed, before the Spice Islands were conquered by Portugal, trade had already been opened up with China and, before the century was half over, three Portuguese seamen had visited Japan.


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