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Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex

(29.03.2001 , South Africa, Mossel Bay )
Research Information: THE DISCOVERIES

Portuguese navigators marked their discovery of the new lands by carving signs and writing inscriptions on tree trunks or by erecting wooden crosses in conspiculous places.

Diogo Cao was the first navigator to use stone markers - Padroes - which were longer lasting and carried the King's name and coat of arms, the date and the name of the discoverer.

The "Padroes" marked the discovery, the possession of the land and the aim to convert it to Catholicism, and were erected in many places in Africa, Brazil and the East.






Prince Henry began the Discoveries in Africa with successive expeditions.

Goncalves Baldaia reached the Ouro river in 1436.

Nuno Tristao, using caravels, reached Cape Branco in 1441, Senegal in 1444 and Gambia in 1446, where he was killed by the natives.

By the time Prince Henry died, Serra Leone had been reached and the Cape Verde islands discovered (1455-1461).

Fernao Gomes, navigator, merchant and adventurer obtained exclusive exploration rights to the African coast and set out to discover 100 leagues a year, for 5 years (1469-1474) ending in Cape Catarina. Malagueta Coast (Liberia), the Ivory Coast, the Gold Coast (Ghana), the Camaroons and Cape Lopo in Gabon were discovered successively. The previously deserted islands of Sao Tome and Principe (1479) began to be inhabited.

In 1456 Diogo Gomes sailed up the Gambia river where he made contact with natives of the Mali Empire. Trading in gold began to flow towards the coast and reached Europe in caravels which replaced the desert caravans. The barrier of Islam was overcome and Europeans began to trade with black races directly for the first time.

In 1482-83, Diogo Cao, on a purely exploratory expedition discovered the mouth of the Zaire River and reached Angola. In 1486 on another voyage he reached Cape Cross in Namibia.





D. Joao II was the principal strategist in the quest for India, with Pero da Covilha and Bartolomeu Dias as his main helpers.

In 1487, Pero da Covilha and Afonso de Paiva were entrusted to go by land to gather navigation and trading information about the Indian Ocean and the Christian kingdom of Prester John in Ethiopia.

Afonso de Paiva died in Egypt, while Pero da Covilha disguised as an Arab merchant and using Arab ships, visited Aden, Camanor, Calicut, Goa, Ormuz and Sofala in Africa. Before leaving for Ethiopia in 1493, he wrote to D. Joao II relating what he had seen and confirmed the possibility of Portuguese ships reaching India.

In 1487 Bartolomeu Dias left Lisbon with three ships to find the long desired passage from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Leaving the supply ship with nine men south of Angola, the two small lateen rigged caravels encountered contrary winds and made a wide detour in search of more favourable ones arriving in Mossel Bay and finally the Indian Ocean. Sailing on, they reached the Great Fish River. Weary, and terrified by the great seas through which they had passed the crews demanded that they proceed no farther.

On the way back to Lisbon they sighted the Cape of Good Hope for the first time. Returning to the supply ship, they found only three men alive and the worm eaten ship was unloaded and burnt.

The two weather-beaten caravels, with less than 80 tons and about 20 meters length, arrived in Lisbon a year and half later, having sailed more than 16,000 miles. The sea route to India had been opened and the prevailing winds and the currents in the South Atlantic had been ascertained.





In 1497, after two years of preparation, Vasco da Gama set sail from Lisbon in four ships readied for a long voyage, with India as his objective. The ships were square rigged with a displacement of about 150 tons, the supply ship being the larger.

Refurbishing supplies at Cape Verde islands, Vasco da Gama made a wide detour through the South Atlantic to take advantage of the prevailing winds. Remaining at sea for 93 days, he sailed 4,000 miles without sighting land, before reaching St Helena Bay near the Cape of Good Hope.

Following the coast line, he reached cities where the maritime trade with the Arabs was important. At Malindi he took an Arab pilot aboard who steered the fleet to Calicut. The supply ship was bunt when it was not needed and on the return voyage the"S. Rafeal" was also burnt because of the few men left alive to handle the ships.

Two years after leaving, the "S. Gabriel" and the "Berrio", returned home with 55 of the 148 men who had started out, having sailed 27,000 miles.

Until then, there had been no seafaring achievement of equal scope. The sea route between Europe and Asia changed the course of both Western and Eastern history.





Pedro Alvares Cabral left Lisbon for India in 1500 with a fleet of 13 ships and 1500 men, taking with him the best pilots of the time.

For controversial reasons he extended his voyage and so discovered Brazil.On the way to the Cape of Good Hope a storm sank four ships, one of which was the caravel commanded by Bartolomeu Dias. After reaching Mozambique he went on to Calicut and then returned to Lisbon the following year.

Pero Vaz de Caminha was a masterly narrator of the discovery of Brazil. "The best profit to be gained from this country it would seem to me, would be to save these people, and this must be the main seed that your Highness must sow forth".

In the 27 pages he wrote to the King of Portugal, nothing is superfluous. It enlarges on all that was known about the natives and refers to the friendliness between the civilized people and the natives, the courtesy of the governor and the happiness felt by the sailors. It describes the birds and plants and the food eaten by the natives. It relates all that happened during the nine days the fleet was in port, the religious ceremonies and the attempt to integrate the convicts with the indigenous people.

This historical document is like the birth certificate of Brazil, its agricultural exploitation in the future and the near gain of a supply base en route to India.


The Western voyages started soon after people settled on the Azores in the time of Prince Henry. Adventurers were encouraged by traces washed up on the shores of the islands by the Gulf Stream and SW storms as well as by the possibility of a royal gift of the new lands if they were discovered.

The distance from Azores to the seas of New-foundland was the same as to Portugal. The tax imposed by D. Manuel I in 1506 on the cod that was caught in New-foundland, shows how often voyages were made there.




Diogo de Teive - Accompanied by his son sailed from the Azores in 1452 and explored widely to the SW and NW. On his return he discovered the islands of Flores and Corve.

Joao Vaz Corte-Real - it is said that with Alvaro Martins Homem, he went further than Greenland and arrived at New-foundland in 1472.

Joao Fernandes Labrador - A farmer born on the island of Terceira, he explored the coast of Canada in 1500 accompanied by Pedro Barvelos. The name Labrador comes from 'laborar' meaning to labour, work the land.

Duarte Pacheco Pereira - In 1498, by order of D. Manuel it is believed that he undertook a long voyage to the West, exploring a wide area of land, possibly Florida.

Gaspar Corte-Real - Joao Vaz's son arrived in New-foundland in 1500 and from there disappeared while on a new voyage the following year.

Miguel Corte-Real - In 1502 he left in search of his brother and also disappeared on the voyage to New-foundland.

Joao Alvares Fagundes - Before 1520, he explored the St. Lawrence Bay and attempted to colonize New-foundland with colonists who were mainly Azoreans, already familiar with cod fishing.


A year after the discovery of Brazil, three caravels left Lisbon to get to know the new lands and to try and locate the Tordesillas meridian. This delineated the dominions of Portugal and Spain.

Americo Vespucio was on one of these ships, from whom the name America is derived. By the beginning of the XVI century, the Portuguese had discovered the main islands of the South Atlantic: Ascension (1501), St. Helena (1502) and Tristan da Cunha (1506).




On leaving Malaca, Portuguese ships reached the Banda Islands in 1511 where nutmeg came from, the Mollucas where cloves came from and Timor where they got white sandalwood.

The discovery of Australia is a controversial subject, some saying that Cristovao de Mendonca arrived there in 1523, and other that it was Gomes Sequeira in 1525.

Europeans first visited Japan in 1542 when a Portuguese merchant junk was caught in a storm and took shelter there. In contrast to the Chinese, the Japanese were hospitable and very curious about the new things shown by the Portuguese.

Jorge Alvares was the first Portuguese to reach China. He commanded a trading junk and reached Tamao (Lin-Tin) near Canton, in 1513. Four years later Tome Pires disembarked at this port and led the first embassy to Peking which was a failure. The Chinese only traded with those who paid tribute and did not welcome foreigners.

- Kindly sponsored by SAMWEB Creations (information obtained from various sources at Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex)





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