The End of 15th and First Part of 16th Century
The riches which the Indian trade had poured into the lap of Venice,
and which at a later period fell to the share of the Portuguese, formed the main
inspiration to the great maritime discoveries which portrayed the end of the fifteenth and
the first half of the sixteenth century.
The hope to discover a new road to India had not only animated
the Portuguese navigators, but also led Columbus and Cabot across the
Atlantic. It caused the unfortunate Cortereal to sail into the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, convinced Juan de Solis to penetrate into the mouth of the Rio de
la Plata, and was finally the chief aim of the extraordinary expedition of Magellan.
The time came for the barriers of the Pacific to fall. But first we shall spend a few
moments on the shores of the Gulf of Darien, where we can find the wretched remains
of the colony of Santa Maria el Antigua, founded by Qjeda in 1509.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa
After the departure of that unfortunate adventurer, freely elected Vasco Nunez de
Balboa become their governor. Making up for the scantiness of his resources by
everlasting activity, he subdued the neighboring Caciques, and collected a great quantity
of gold, which abounded more in that part of the continent than in the islands.
It happened during one of his frequent excursions that a young,
Cacique, witnessing a very angry dispute among the Spaniards about a few grains of gold,
asked them why they quarreled about such a trifle. He added, that he could point out
to them a land where gold was plentiful. And Balboa learned that "Six days
journey to the south will bring him to another ocean along whose coast it lies!"
This was the first time the Spaniards ever heard of the Pacific and of
gold-teeming Peru. Balboa immediately concluded that this sea must be that which Columbus
and so many other navigators had vainly sought for, and that its discovery would beyond
all doubt open the way to India.
First of all he gained the good-will of the neighboring Indian chiefs
and also sent some trustworthy agents to Hispaniola with a considerable quantity of
gold. Having thus reinforced himself, he thought he might now safely undertake his
The Isthmus of Darien is not more than sixty miles broad, but
this short distance was rather impenetrable by the numerous obstacles of a tropical
wilderness. The high mountains running along the neck of land were covered with dense
forests, and the low grounds beneath filled with deep swamps. Wild torrents rushed down
the ravines, and often forced them to retrace their steps. A march through a country like
this, thinly peopled by a few savages, and without any other guides than some Indians of
doubtful loyalty, was an enterprise demanding all Balboa's energies.
On the 1st of September, 1513, after the end of the rainy
season, he set out with a small but well chosen band of 190 Spaniards, accompanied by 1000
Indian carriers. As long as he remained on the territories of the friendly Caciques
his progress was comparatively easy, but scarce had he penetrated into the
interior. Besides the almost impenetrable obstacles of nature, forests, swamps, and
swollen torrents, he had to encounter the deadly enmity of the Indians.
As he approached, some of the Caciques fled to the mountains,
after having destroyed or carried along with them all that might have been of use to the
hated strangers. Others, of more determined hostility, opposed his progress by force
of arms. Although the Spaniards had been led to expect that a six days' march would bring
them to their journey's end, they had already spent no less than twenty five days in
forcing their way through the wilderness. The greater part of them were rapidly giving way
under fatigues almost surpassing the limits of mortal endurance, and even the strongest
felt that they could not hold out much longer.
But Balboa knew how to inspire his men with his own
unconquerable spirit, so that without a mumble they kept toiling on through swamp and
forest. At length the Indian guides pointed out to them a mountain-crest from which they
promised them the view of the longed-for ocean. Filled with new ardor they climbed up, but
before they reached the summit Balboa ordered them to halt, that he might be the
first to enjoy the glorious prospect. As soon as he saw the Pacific stretch out in endless
majesty along the verge of the distant horizon, he fell on his knees and poured forth his
rapturous thanks to heaven for having awarded him so grand a discovery. His impatient
companions hurried on, and soon the forest resounded with the loud exclamations of their
It was from the small mountain-chain of Quarequa, on the 25th of
September, 1513, that the Spaniards first saw the sea-horizon, but they had still
several days to march before they reached the Gulf of San Miguel. Here Alonzo
Martin de Don Benito was the first white man that ever floated in a canoe on the
Eastern Pacific, even before Balboa, armed with sword and shield,
descended into the water to take possession of the newly discovered ocean in the name of
Unfortunately the ingratitude of the Spanish court, which so
scandalously embittered the declining years of Columbus and Cortez, reached its lowest
depth in the case of Balboa. The governorship of Darien was represented
by Pedrarias Davila, who, after having persecuted and burdened the hero in
every possible way, beheaded Balboa under a false accusation of high
Six years after Balboa had first seen the Pacific, two years after
his execution, Ferdinand of Magellan made his appearance in that great ocean. A Portuguese
of noble birth, this eminent navigator had served with distinction under Albuquerque,
the conqueror of Malacca. His plan of seeking a new road to India across the
Atlantic being but coldly received in his native country, he transferred his services to Spain,
where his distinguished merit found better judges in Cardinal Ximenes, and his
youthful master, Charles V.
With five ships, the largest of which did not carry more than 120 tons,
and with a crew of 236 men, partly the sweepings of the jails, he sailed on the 20th of
September, 1519, from the port of San Lucar. He spent the following summer
(the winter of the southern hemisphere) on the dreary coast of Patagonia. In this
uncomfortable station he lost one of his squadron and the Spaniards suffered so much from
the excessive rigor of the climate, that the crews of three of his ships rose in open
mutiny. They insisted on returning directly to Spain. This dangerous rebellion Magellan
suppressed by an effort of courage and inflicted exemplary punishment on the ringleaders.
He now continued his journey to the south, and reached, near 53' south
lat. He discovered straits which bear his name. Here again he had to exert his full
authority to induce his reluctant followers to accompany him into the unknown channel that
was to lead them to an equally unknown ocean. One of his ships immediately deserted him
and returned to Europe, but the others remained, and after having spent twenty days in
winding through dangerous straits, they at last, on the 27th of November, 1521,
emerged into the open ocean.
They then pursued their way across the wide expanse of waters, of whose
enormous extent they had no conception, and soon had to endure all the miseries of hunger
and disease. But the continuous beauty of the weather, and the steady easterly wind,
which, driving them straight onwards to the goal, kept up their courage. Magellan gave to
the ocean, which greeted him with such a friendly welcome, the name of the Pacific.
During three months and twenty days he sailed to the north-west not
seeing any land in those isle-teeming seas, except for two uninhabited rocks which he
called the "Desventuradas," or the "Wretched." At last, after the
longest journey ever made by man through the deserts of the ocean, he discovered the small
but fruitful group of the Ladrones (March 6, 1521), which offered him such
an abundance of refreshments that the vigor and health of his emaciated crew was soon
From these isles, he proceeded on his voyage, and soon made the
more important discovery of the islands known as the Philippines. In one of
these he got into an unfortunate quarrel with the natives, who attacked him in great
numbers and killed him together with several of his principal officers.
Sebastian el Cano, the first Circumnavigator of the Globe
Magellan did not enjoy the glory of accomplishing the first circumnavigation of the
globe. His companion, Sebastian El Cano, who returned to San Lucar in the
"Victoria" by the Cape of Good Hope, having sailed round the globe in the
space of three years and twenty-eight days, finished the long journey, but the astonishing
perseverance and ability with which Magellan performed the chief and most difficult
part of his difficult task have secured him an immortal renown.
Discoveries of Pizarro
After Magellan, Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru, shines as a
discoverer in the South Sea. The history of his memorable land trip does not belong
to this narrative, but we may accompany him on his adventurous navigation along the
unknown coast of South America.
Soon after the execution, or rather the murder, of Balboa, Pedrarias
Davila obtained permission to transfer the colony of Darien to Panama,
which, although equally unhealthy, yet from its situation on the Pacific afforded greater
facilities for the prosecution of discovery on the south-west coast, to which now all the
hopes and plans of the Spanish gold-seekers were directed.
Several expeditions left the new colony in rapid succession, but all
proved unsuccessful. Their anxious leaders, none of whom had ventured beyond the dreary
coasts of Tierra firme, gave such dismal accounts of their hardships and
the wretched aspect of the countries they bad seen, that the ardor for discovery was
considerably damped, and the opinion began to gain ground that, Balboa
must have founded imaginary hopes on the idle tales of an ignorant or deceitful savage.
But there were three men in Panama Francisco Pizarro, Diego de
Almagro, and Hernando Luque, who remained fully determined to seek the unknown
gold-land. Pizarro and Almagro were soldiers, Luque was a priest. They
formed an association approved of by the governor, each agreeing to devote all his
energies to the common interest. Pizarro, the poorest of the three, took upon himself the
greater part of the hardships and dangers of the enterprise, and volunteered to command
the first expedition that should be fitted out; Almagro engaged to follow him with
the necessary reinforcements; and Luque, the man of peace, promised to watch in
Panama over the interests of the association.
On the 14th of November, 1524, Pizarro sailed from Panama
with 112 men, closely packed together in one small vessel. Unfortunately he had chosen the
worst season of the year for his departure, as the periodical winds raging at the time
blew quite contrary to the course he intended to pursue, and thus it happened that after
seventy days he had advanced no farther to the southeast than an experienced navigator
will now traverse in as few hours.
During this tedious journey he landed in different parts of the coast
of Tierra firme, but finding all the previous descriptions of its inhospitable nature
fully confirmed, he decided to await the promised reinforcements in Chuchama,
opposite to the Pearl Islands. Here he was soon joined by Almagro,
who had suffered similar hardships, and moreover lost an eye in a fight with the Indians.
But, as they had advanced farther to the south, a slight glimpse of hope encouraged the
adventurers to persevere in spite of all the miseries they had endured. Almagro
returned to Panama, where with the greatest difficulty he could levy fourscore men, his
sufferings and those of his companions having given his countrymen a very unfavorable idea
of the service.
With this small reinforcement the associates did not hesitate to renew
their enterprise and after a passage no less tedious than the first, reached the Bay
of Saint Matthew on the coast of Quito (1526). In Tecumez, to the
south of the Emerald River, they were delighted with the aspect of a fine
well-cultivated country, inhabited by a people whose clothing and dwellings indicated a
higher degree of civilization and wealth. But, not venturing to attempt its conquest with
a handful of men enfeebled by fatigue and disease, they retired to the small island of Gallo,
where Pizarro waited, while Almagro once more returned to Panama, hoping
that the better accounts he could give of their second journey would procure
reinforcements large enough for the conquest of the newly discovered countries.
But the new governor of Panama, Pedro de los Rios,
banned all further volunteering for an enterprise he considered capricious, and even sent
a vessel to the island of Gallo to bring back Pizarro and his companions.
The associates, on the other hand, were less inclined than ever to give up their
enterprise, so that Pizarro categorically refused to obey the governor's
commands, and used all his expressiveness in persuading his men not to abandon him. But
the hardships they had endured, and the prospect of soon revisiting their families and
friends, pleaded so strongly against him, that when he drew a line with his sword upon the
sand, and told those that wished to leave him to pass over it, only thirteen of his
veterans remained true to his fortunes.
With this select band of heroes Pizarro retired to the desert
island of Gorgona, where he could await with greater security the reinforcements
which he trusted the zeal of his associates would soon be able to procure. Almagro
and Luque prevailed upon the governor to send out a small vessel to his
assistance, though without one landsman on board. Meanwhile Pizarro and his
faithful "thirteen" had spent five long months on their wretched island, their
eyes constantly turned to the north, until, heart-sick they intrust themselves to
the inconstant waves upon a miserable raft, rather than remain any longer in that dreadful
wilderness. But at last the vessel from Panama appeared, and raised them to the
most extravagant hopes, that Pizarro easily induced not only his old friends, but
also the crew of the vessel, to sail farther to the south instead of returning at once to
This time the winds were favorable, and after a voyage of twenty
days they reached the town of Tumbez on the coast of Peru, where the
magnificent temple of the sun and the palace of the Incas, with its costly golden
vases, exceeded their most sanguine expectations. But Pizarro was too weak to
attempt invasion and returned to Panama after an absence of three years.
Five years more elapsed before the matchless perseverance of Pizarro
met with its reward. On the 14th of April, 1531, he landed in Peru for the
second time, and in a few months the empire of the Incas lay flat at his feet. The
poor adventurer of Gorgona was now one of the richest men on earth.
From this time the stream of conquest and discovery continuously rolled
on to the south, so that after a few years the whole coast of Peru and Chili,
as far as the wilds of Patagonia, was either known or subject to the Spaniards.
But while Pizarro and his comrades were opening the south-west coast of America
to the knowledge of mankind, Cortez, the conqueror of Mexico was no less anxious to
add to his laurels the glory of discovery in the Northern Pacific, whose shores his
warriors had reached in 1521, soon after the fall of the Aztec capital.
Desirous of opening a new passage to the East Indies, he fitted out a
fleet in 1526. Under the command of his kinsman Alvaro de Saavedra, they
sailed to the Moluccas, and most likely discovered part of the Radack and Ralick
In the year 1536 Cortez himself undertook a maritime
expedition to the north, discovered the peninsula of California, and explored the
greater part of the long and narrow bay which separates it from the mainland. After the
return to Spain, where, loaded with ingratitude, he died in 1547, Rodriguez
Cabrillo (1543) sailed as far as Monterey, and subsequently the pilot of
the expedition, Bartholomew Ferreto, reached 43' N. lat., where Vancouver's Cape
Oxford is situated.
In the year 1542 Villalobos made the first attempt to establish a colony
on the Philippine Islands with settlers from Mexico, but, having failed, the
colonization did not take place before 1565. The intelligence of this success was
brought to America by the pilot and monk, Fray Andreas Urdaneta, who sailed on the
1st of June from Manilla and arrived on the 3rd of October in the Mexican port of Acapulco.
All previous attempts to sail from Asia to America had failed, on account of
the opposing trade-winds; but Urdaneta sailed northward till he encountered the
favorable west wind, which carried him to the New World across the wide bosom of
the Pacific. The discovery of this new ocean route was of considerable importance
to the Spaniards, and, to perpetuate the memory of Urdanetas nautical ability, they
continued to call the passage by his name.
About the same time another Spanish pilot, Juan Fernandez, discovered the
proper sea route from Callao to Chili, by first sailing far out to sea, and thus
avoiding the coast-currents from the south. He also discovered the island which still
bears his name, and has become so celebrated by the adventures of Alexander Selkirk
and the immortal tale of Daniel Defoe.
Mendoza and Drake
In the year 1567 an expedition sailed from Callao under Alvaro Mendana,
which discovered the Solomon Islands; and in 1595 the group of the Marquesas
de Mendoza was first brought to light by the same navigator. Before the last
expedition of Mendana. Drake, the first circumnavigator of the globe (1577-1580)
after Magellan and El Cano, penetrated into the Pacific, by rounding Cape
Horn, and subsequently discovered the coasts of New Albion as far as 48' N.
Discoveries of the Portuguese and Dutch in the Western Pacific.
The discoveries during the sixteenth century made Europe acquainted with the
whole western coast of America, from Cape Pillares in Tierra del Fuego to the mouth
of the Columbia River. In the Indian Ocean the Portuguese were in
the full bloom of their power in the beginning of the century. But whether the
masters of the Indian Ocean had no desire to extend still farther the circle of
their conquests, the discoveries of the Portuguese in the Pacific by no
means corresponded to the gigantic flight which in less than a quarter of a century had
led them from Cape de Verde to the extremity of the Malayan Archipelago. New
Guinea was indeed discovered by Don Jorge de Menezes in1526 and Alvaro de
Saavedra in 1528, and some old maps prove that before 1542 a part of the coast of New
Holland was known to the Portuguese. They also had penetrated to the north as
far as Formosa and Japan, yet at the end of the sixteenth century the western
boundaries of the Pacific were only known from 40' N. lat. to 10' S. lat., and all beyond
was surrounded in darkness. A little was known of the innumerable South Sea
islands. Some of the groups had been seen or visited by the Spaniards but their existence
was kept secret.
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