Page images

Despatch from Pedro de Ayala to the Catholic Sovereigns. (Extract from a long Despatch on several subjects.)

25th JULY, 1498.

I well believe that your Highnesses have heard how the King of England has equipped a fleet to discover certain. islands and mainland that certain persons who set out last year for the same have testified that they have found. I have seen the chart which the discoverer has drawn, who is another Genoese like Columbus, and has been in Seville and in Lisbon, procuring to find those who would help him in this enterprise. It is seven years since those of Bristol used to send out, every year, a fleet of two, three, or four caravels to go and seek for the isle of Brasil and the seven cities, according to the fancy of this Genoese. The king determined to despatch an expedition, because he had the certainty that they had found land last year. The fleet consisted of 5 ships provisioned for one year. News has come that one, on board of which there was one friar Buil, has returned to Ireland in great distress, having been driven back by a great storm.

The Genoese went on his course. I, having seen the course and distance he takes, think that the land they have found or seek is that which your Highnesses possess, for it is at the end of that which belongs to your Highnesses by the convention with Portugal. It is hoped that they will return by September. I send the knowledge of it to your Highnesses. The King of England has spoken to me about it several times, and he thinks. that your Highnesses will take great interest in it. I believe the distance is not 400 leagues. And I told him that I thought they were the islands discovered by your Highnesses, and I even gave him a reason; but he would not hear it. As I believe that your Highnesses now have intelligence of all, as well as the chart or mappe-monde that this Genoese has made, I do not send it now, though I have it here; and to me it seems very false to give out that they are not the said islands.

The orig.

* Public Record Office, Calendar of State Papers (Spain), i. p. 176, No. 210. inal despatch was in cipher.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

JOHN CABOT'S FIRST EXPEDITION. From Harrisse's "John Cabot, the Discoverer of North America.”

The letters patent of 1496 were granted to John Cabot and his three sons; but no documentary proof whatever has yet been adduced to show that any of them accompanied their father in his first transatlantic voyage. The only circumstance which may be cited on the subject would rather prove the reverse. Pasqualigo, in describing John Cabot's return, says:

"E ali dato danari fazi bona ziera fino a quel tempo e con so moier venitiana e con so fiolo a Bristo: And [the King] has given him money wherewith to amuse himself till then [the second expedition]; and he is now at Bristol with his Venetian wife, and with his sons."

This sounds as if after his arrival in London he had gone to Bristol to join his wife and children. Still less can it be demonstrated that Sebastian Cabot himself joined the expedition. The belief rests exclusively upon statements from his own lips, made at a time, under circumstances, in a form, and with details which render them very suspicious. Nay, they have been positively denied at least twice in his lifetime, in England as well as in Spain, as we intend to prove in due


Meanwhile, in order to determine all the facts known relative to that expedition, it is prudent to limit the inquiry to contemporary authorities. These should be divided into two classes, viz. the evidence furnished by witnesses who obtained or may have obtained their information from John Cabot himself; and the evidence supplied, directly or indirectly, by his son Sebastian.

The first class of data— that is, which emanates from John Cabot-comprises three documents :

1. An extract from a letter addressed from London, August 23rd, 1497, by Lorenzo Pasqualigo to his brothers at Venice.

2. A despatch sent from London, August 24th, 1497, by Raimondo di Soncino to the Duke of Milan.

3. Another despatch from and to the same parties, London, December 18th, 1497.

The second class of documents consists of the evidence

supplied directly by Sebastian Cabot. It comprises the following:

1. A description given by Pietro Martire d'Anghiera (usually called simply "Peter Martyr "), in his third Decade.

2. An account from some anonymous informer, usually designated as "the Mantuan Gentleman," who furnished it to Ramusio.

3. An engraved map dated 1544, bearing on its face a legend to the effect that it is the work of Sebastian Cabot.

According to Peter Martyr and the Mantuan Gentleman, who obtained their information from Sebastian Cabot in person, and to Gomara and Galvão, both of whom, however, have simply copied Peter Martyr, the first expedition was composed of two ships, with a crew of three hundred men.

The letters patent of 1496 authorized the employment of five ships, equipped at the cost of the grantees:

"Five ships of what burthen or quality soeuer they be, and as many mariners or men as they will have with them in the sayd ships, vpon their owne proper costs and charges."



But we have the positive statements of Lorenzo Pasqualigo and Raimondo di Soncino, who repeat what they themselves heard John Cabot say in London, immediately upon his return in the first week of August, 1497, that he accomplished his discovery with only one ship, con uno naviglio de Bristo," which is even reported by them to have been a small craft, with a crew of but eighteen men : cum uno piccolo naviglio e xviii persone." It is true that an English chronicle written soon after, and which we propose to discuss at length further on, says that with the ship, stated therein to have been equipped by the King, went three or four Bristol vessels sent by English merchants. But we expect to demonstrate that these details refer only to the second voyage (1498).

As we have just said, the expedition consisted of only "one small ship manned by eighteen men, nearly all Englishmen from Bristol: uno piccolo naviglo e xviii persone, quasi tutti inglesi, e da Bristol."

We do not possess the date when John Cabot sailed out of

Bristol. The words "departed from the West Cuntrey in the begynnyng of somer," in the Cottonian manuscript, and "departed from Bristowe in the beginning of May," in Hakluyt, after Fabyan, which we once thought applied to the voyage of 1497, concern only the expedition of 1498. But as Pasqualigo, when describing, on the 23rd of August 1497, the arrival in England of John Cabot, which had just taken place, says that the voyage lasted three months, e stato mexi tre sul viazo," we must infer that he set sail about the middle of May, 1497. This date coincides to some degree with the expression of Soncino, who, writing August 24th, 1497, says: "They sailed from Bristol, a western port of this kingdom, a few months since: Partitisi da Bristo porto occidentale de questo regno, sono mesi passate."


When the vessel had reached the west coast of Ireland, it sailed towards the north, then to the east (sic pro west), when, after a few days, the North star was to the right: "Passato Ibernia più occidentale, e poi alzatosi verso el septentrione, commenciò ad navigare ale parte orientale, lassandosi (fra qualche giorni) la tramontana ad mano drita.”

After sailing for seven hundred (or only four hundred) leagues, they reached the mainland: "dice haver trovato lige 700 lontana de qui terra ferma," says Pasqualigo. "Lontane da linsula de Ingilterra lege 400 per lo camino de ponente,” reports Soncino.

Technically speaking, all that geographers can infer from those details is that Cabot's landfall was north of 51° 15′ north latitude; this being that of the southern extremity of Ireland. Ireland, however, extends to 55° 15′ lat. N. From what point between these two latitudes did he sail westward? Supposing that it was Valencia, and that he continued due west, he would have sighted Belle Isle or its vicinity. But Cabot is said positively to have altered his course and stood to the northward. How far, and where did he again put his vessel on the western tack? We are unable to answer this important question, and can only put forward suppositions based upon the following data:

The place where he landed was the mainland: "captioe in terra ferma."

He then sailed along the coast 300 leagues: "andato per la costa lige 300."

As to the country visited, we find it described as being per

fect and temperate: "terra optima et temperata." It is supposed to yield Brazil-wood and silk: "estimanno che vi nasca el brasilio e le sete," whilst the sea bathing its shores is filled with fishes: "quello mare è coperto de pessi."

The country is inhabited by people who use snares to catch game, and needles for making nets: "certi lazi ch' era tesi per prender salvadexine, e uno ago da far rede e a trovato certi albori tagiati."

The waters (tides) are slack, and do not rise as they do in England: "le aque e stanche e non han corso come aqui.”

Barring the gratuitous supposition about the existence of dye-wood (unless it be sumach), and silk, and taking into consideration that the country was discovered in summer, Cabot's description could apply to the entire northern coast of America.

The same may be said concerning the remark about slack tides. It was natural that John Cabot should have been surprised at seeing tides which rise only from two and three quarters to four feet, whilst in the vicinity of Bristol they rise from thirty-six to forty feet; but this diminutiveness is peculiar to the entire coast from Nova Scotia to Labrador.

There is another detail, however, which is of importance. Cabot on his return saw two islands to starboard: "ale tornar aldreto a visto do ixole."


Those two islands were unknown before, and are very large and fertile "due insule nove grandissime et fructiffere.' The existence of islands in that vicinity is further confirmed by the fact that Cabot gave one to a native of Burgundy who was his companion, and another to his barber: "uno Borgognone compagno di mess. Zoanne . . . li ha donato una isola; et ne ha donato una altra ad suo barbero."

What were these large islands?

This question we propose

to examine later.

"La è terra optima et temperata."

The headlands clad in the pale green of mosses and shrubs may have conveyed at a distance to a casual observer the idea of fertility. As to the climate, it was in June and July that Cabot visited those regions. Now, in Labrador, "summer is brief, but lovely" [Encyclopedia Britannica].

He did not see any inhabitant, and therefore we have no specific details enabling us to identify the race of men who inhabited the country. But the needle for making nets, and

« PreviousContinue »