Early Maritime Discoveries

THE Portuguese were among the first to signalize themselves in the career of geographical discovery. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Prince Henry, son of John I, was at the head of the marine of Portugal. Tinder his immediate direction, several voyages were undertaken to the coast of Africa; in one of which the voyagers were driven by a storm out of their usual course along shore, and for the first time the terrified mariners found themselves in the boundless ocean. When the storm abated, they were in sight of an island, to which, in their thankfulness to Heaven for the succor it afforded, they gave the name of Puerto Sancto, or the Holy Haven - the least of the Madeiras. The voyages of the Portuguese now succeeded each other rapidly; and other navigators of this nation, either grown bolder, or again driven off the coast, discovered the Azores. In 1433, the Portuguese passed Cape Nun, hitherto the limit of their courses, and arrived at a cape, which presenting a frightful barrier to the still timid seamen, in the terrible surf that broke on the shoals near it, they named Bojador, signifying its projection into the sea and the consequent circuit it required to double it.

In succeeding expeditions, Cape Verd was reached, and the Senegal arrived at, and Lisbon saw with astonishment a different race from the Moors. Cape Mesurado was the limit of the Portuguese discoveries at the death of Prince Henry in 1463, which damping the ardor of discovery, it was not until 1471 that the Equator was crossed, and the islands in the gulf of Guinea were discovered.

The terrors of the burning zone, and the belief of the union of Africa and Asia being dissipated by these successive voyages, the passage to India round Africa was no longer deemed impossible, and a fleet was fitted out under Bartholomew Diaz for the express purpose of attempting it. The captain coasted Africa to within sight of its southern point, to which he gave the name of Cape of all Torments, from the violent storms he experienced off it, and which, as well as the want of provisions, obliged him to return to Lisbon, after an absence of sixteen months. The name of the Cape of all Torments was changed by the king to that of Good Hope, from the prospect it afforded of accomplishing the passage to India.

Ten years however elapsed after the discovery of the Cape before this passage was attempted; and Vasco de Gama had the honor of doubling the promontory the 20th of November 1497. Sailing along the coast of Africa, he passed through the Mozambique Channel to Mombaz and thence to Melinda, where he procured pilots, and crossing the Arabian sea, arrived at Callicut the 22d of May, 1498. It is thought that the ridiculous ceremony of ducking, etc., on crossing the line, was first practiced in this voyage.