The Great Explorers


1419 Henry the Navigator starts sea exploration
   Henry, the Navigator, was a Portuguese prince who set up a school for sea exploration when he became governor of an area in the south of Portugal. His time as governor is seen a s the start of Portugal's important sea exploration tradition.
1451 Birth of Christopher Columbus
   The son of a wool weaver, Christopher Columbus was born in the Italian coastal city of Genoa.
1476 Aug Columbus and the pirates
   Columbus was sailing on a small fleet of merchant ships from Genoa when they were attacked by pirates led by the pirate Coullon the Elder. The Genoese were able to protect themselves by trying to set fire to the pirates' ships. The ship the Columbus was on became attached to a pirate ship and both were set alight. Rather than being burnt to death many of the sailors jumped into the sea. Many died as they were weighed down with armour or simply because they could not swim. Columbus was able to swim and he found an oar onto which he clung. He was able to swim the six miles back to the Portugese shore.
1480 Birth of Ferdinand Magellan
   Magellan, the explorer, was born in northern Portugal in this year. The exact location is known. His father was Ruy de Magalhaes, and his mother was Alda de Mezquita. His parents may have held some position of importance and so Ferdinard attended the Court at Lisbon as a page.
1488 Rounding of the Cape of Good Hope
   Bartholomew Dias, a Portuguese explorer was the first European to navigate around the southern tip of the African continent.
1492 Apr 17 Columbus signs agreement
   Christopher Columbus signed an agreement with Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain, He specified that he should be given ten percent of any materials that he found on his explorations, for example spices, gems, gold and silver. He also specified that he would fund one eighth of the expedition if in return he received an eighth of the profits. He also wanted to be made Viceroy of all lands that he discovered.
Columbus - The First Voyage
Aug 3 Columbus sets sail
   It was not easy to recruit men to sail into the unknown so the King of Spain appealed to criminals by assuring them that their property and possessions would be safe even though they may have committed a crime in the past. This also applied to any crimes they committed during the voyage and for two months after their return. Three ships were prepared in the port of Palos in southern Spain. The three ships, the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria set sail west across the Atlantic in search of a route to the Far East. Columbus hoped to find the island of Chipangu in the Far East that Marco Polo had written about. Marco Polo had commented that the island of Chipangu had unlimited supplies of gold.
Sep Columbus reaches the Canary Islands
   The first port of call were the Canary Islands where Columbus took on more supplies. The Pinta's rudder was damaged on this early section of the voyage so the expedition waited several weeks while repairs were made. In early September the ships were ready to leave.
Sep - Oct Columbus sails across the Atlantic
   For several weeks the three ships sailed across the Atlantic. At times Columbus sailed north west and others south west but most of the time it was due west. The crews became restless and threatened to turn back but finally small branches and what looked like a carved piece of wood were seen in the water. More signs of land were spotted and so the ships carried on.
Oct 11 Land is spotted
   The first person to see land was Rodrigo de Triana. His reward should have been a pension for life promised by the King of Spain. But on their return Columbus claimed the pension for himself and gave the money to his mistress.
Oct 12 Christopher Columbus 'discovers' America
   Christopher Columbus landed on what he thought was the east coast of Asia believing that there was no land between it and Europe but he had landed in the Caribbean and had discovered the 'Americas'. They named this first island that they had laned on San Salvador and declared it to be the property of the King of Spain. The natives must have wondered what was what happening.
Dec Columbus lands at Santo Domingo
   Christopher Columbus landed at Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, now known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Dec 24 Santa Maria runs aground
   In the middle of the night Columbus' flag ship was being steered by one of the ship's boys, something that Columbus had tried to prevent from happening. All alone at the wheel the boy steered the ship onto a sand bank or a reef on the north shore of the present day Haiti. In the panic many of the sailors chose to abandon the ship and get to the Pinta or the Nina rather than stay aboard and rescue the ship. By the morning the Santa Maria was stuck and Columbus gave orders for everything on board to be removed. One of the local chiefs sent his people to help and put a guard on the items removed so they were not stolen.
1493 Jan The first Spanish New World settlement
   With only two ships it was not possible to get all his crew back to Spain so Columbus decided to build a fort using the timber from the grounded Santa Maria in La Navidad, now north Haiti. Several sailors were chosen to stay on the island.
Mar 4 Columbus returns
   The Nina and Pinta returned from the exploration of the New World. Because they came back with the help of the trade winds they found themselves to the north and on a line with Portugal. The nearest port they found was Lisbon.
Columbus - The Second Voyage
Sep 25 Columbus embarks on his second voyage
   The second voyage undertaken by Columbus was much better organised than the first. This time seventeen ships were involved and the thousand sailors did not have the bribed out of the local prisons. The ships also transported craftsmen and animals of all types. The plan was to set up a colony and everything that was needed to do this was placed on board. Even cats and dogs were taken. The fleet was assembled and prepared in the Spanish port of Cadiz.
Oct 13 Columbus leaves the Canary Islands
   After increasing his supplies on board ship from the island of El Heirro (Ferro) in the Canary Islands Columbus set sail.
Nov 3 Christopher Columbus discovers Dominica
   The first island Christopher Columbus discovered on his second voyage he called Dominica. It was a Sunday. and the name is Latin for the word Sunday. The island should not be confused with the Dominican Republic which is a separate part of the Caribbean. Just to the north was a smaller island and he named it Maria Galante which was the name of his flagship.
Nov 4 Columbus finds cannibals
   Unable to land at Dominica Columbus sailed north and found an island he named Guadeloupe. On his first voyage Columbus had heard stories of natives called Caribs that captured and ate other natives. On Guadeloupe he found evidence including human bones that had been gnawed. He also found many captives which they freed. The Caribs had fled when they saw the Spanish ships approaching.
Nov 11 More new islands named by Columbus
   Columbus sailed past the islands now known as Nevis, St. Kitts and St. Eustatius after leaving Guadeloupe. The names originally given to the islands by Columbus to these islands have changed.
Nov 14 Columbus discovers Santa Cruz
   The island now called Saint Croix was visited and named Santa Cruz by Columbus. The original native name for the island was Ay Ay but Columbus renamed it anyway. When Columbus sent some men ashore to investigate and capture some natives they came under attack and one of the crew were killed.
Nov 19 Columbus discovers Puerto Rico
   Columbus sailed along the southern coast of the island known as Borinquen to the natives. On the western side of the island is Boqueron bay where Columbus anchored his fleet for a couple of days.
Nov 27 Back to Navidad
   When the fleet reached Navidad they did not get the welcome that they expected. Columbus was given the bad news that all of the Spanish sailors that had been left behind during the first voyage were all dead. They had been killed because of their greed for gold and the fort had been burnt down.
1494 Treaty of Tordesillas
   A treaty arranged by Pope Alexander VI and signed by Spain and Portugal agreeing what areas of the World they could claim when they discovered them. The line, known as the Line of Demarcation, was 370 leagues to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. This was the Portuguese's western limit but it was far enough west to include Brazil.
Jan 2 Columbus creates a new settlement
   Columbus left Navidad and sailed along the north coast of Hispaniola (now Haiti) looking for a suitable location to found a Spanish settlement, The location he found he called Ysabella after the Spanish Queen. From this location he sent expeditions into the heart of the island looking for gold mines.
Feb Partial return to Spain
   Columbus decided to send the larger part of his fleet back to Spain. Several men were ill and he wanted supplies for his new settlement., Five ships remained behind. Columbus began an exploration of the island for the gold he was desperate to find.
Mar 12 Search for gold
   Columbus set off with a small army to search for gold. They headed for the region of Cibao in the north of what is now the Dominican Republic. Here Columbus built a fort as a base from where the search for a gold mine was conducted.
Apr 24 Columbus heads for Cuba
   The native guides had told Columbus of a large landmass to the west of Hispniola and so with three ships the Spaniards set sail to explore what they thought was the mainland. In fact it was the island of Cuba. It was still believed that the coast of China was not far away as the size of the Earth was not known.
May Jamaica Explored
   Columbus did a detour to the northern coast of Jamaica in the first couple of weeks in May again searching for any signs of gold.
Jun - Aug Southern coast of Cuba explored
   Columbus sailed along the southern coast of Cuba. He did not reach its western end so was unaware that it was an island. He turned back and headed back to Jamaica exploring the Jamaican southern coast.
1496 A new Spanish colony at Santo Domingo
   Before he left for Spain Columbus told his brother Bartholomew to build a new Spanish colony on the southern shore of Hispaniola. This city is now the capital of the Dominican Republic.
Mar Columbus returns to Spain
   After three years exploring the New World and slaughtering its native inhabitants Columbus set sail for Spain to face an inquest by the King and Queen.
Mar 5 Henry VII and John Cabot
   Henry VII granted John Cabot, his sons and heirs the power to explore unknown areas under the English flag. They were allowed to conquer these new lands. Although the Cabots had to fund the explorations themselves they only had to pay the Crown only one fifth of the money they made by selling the goods they found.
Jun 11 Columbus lands at Cadiz
   Columbus arrived back in Spain at the port of Cadiz.
1497 May 2 John Cabot sets sail for Asia
   Under the English flag, John Cabot left Bristol on his voyage of exploration across the Atlantic to find a route to Asia and to open new trade routes.
Jun Cabot discovers Newfoundland
   Expecting to find the east coast of Asia Cabot and his fleet of explorers landed on what we now know as Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.
Aug 6 Cabot returns from voyage
   John Cabot returned to Bristol after his voyage of discovery.
Dec Vasco de Gama rounds Cape of Good Hope
   Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope to reach East Asia.
1498 May Cabot disappears on voyage
   Cabot and a fleet of five ships sailed for America but were not heard from again.
Columbus - The Third Voyage
May 30 Columbus begins his third voyage
   This time with six ships Christopher Columbus left the harbour at Sanlucar de Barrameda in southern Spain and headed for the New World.
Jun The doldrums
   Columbus sailed to Madeira and then to the Canary Islands. Here he divided his fleet into two. Three ships were to sail directly westward, while he took the other three ships further south to the Cape Verde islands and then in a south westerly direction to explore new areas. His ships were caught in the doldrums, an area with no winds, for several days until strong winds took him westwards again.
Jul 31 The island of Trinidad is discovered
   Christopher Columbus found and named the island of Trinidad.
Aug The Gulf of Paria
   For the first two of weeks of August Columbus sailed around the coastline of the Gulf of Paria, the body of sea between the island of Trinidad and the coast of Venezuela. Columbus originally called the area the Golfo de la Ballena or the Gulf of the Whale after seeing a whale break the surface, Within the gulf the currents are very strong and the ships were at risk of slipping their anchors. Columbus managed to navigate his way between the rocks at the northern entrance to the gulf and into the open sea.
Aug Columbus finds a continent
   While sailing in the Gulf of Paria Columbus had found a lot of fresh water. This led him to believe that the coastline belonged to a continent rather than an island as a large river would be needed to produce such amounts of fresh water. After leaving the gulf the fleet sailed along the northern coast of the continent, now the coast of Venezuela. He passed the island of Margarita and then turned north west and headed for Haiti to see his brother.
Qtr 3 Rebellion of Roldan
   When the Columbus brothers returned to Santo Domingo they had to face a rebellion lead by Francisco Roldan. Roldan was a man of some importance, possibly a mayor. He was opposed to the way that Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus were using their position to fill their own pockets as he saw it. Roldan led several hundred Spaniards out of Santo Domingo into the heart of the island. Roldan also had the support of the local people as he had promised them that they could stop making offerings of gold.
Aug 31 Columbus lands at Santo Domingo
   Columbus met his brother Bartholomew at the small island called Beata on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. From there they sailed along the coast to Santo Domingo.
Sep Agreement with Roldan
   Rather than put down the rebellion by force Columbus met with Roldan and began negotiations. It was agreed that Roldan and his supporters would be cleared of all charges and given free passage back to Spain with their native wives and slaves if they wanted to return or land if they wanted to stay. Roldan would also be given the position of Chief Justice.
1499 Alonso de Ojeda names Venezuela
   The Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda sailed along the north coast of Southern America and finds the Gulf of Maracaibo. He names the country Venezuela after Venice because the natives built their huts on stilts in the water.
1500 Pinzon sails coast of Brazil
   The Spanish explorer Vicente Pinzon sailed along the coast of what is now the country of Brazil. He also sailed into the Amazon River estuary.
Aug Francisco de Bobadilla
   Francisco de Bobadilla was chosen by the King and Queen of Spain to go to Hispaniola and investigate the conduct of Christopher Columbus and his brothers. When Bobadilla landed at Santo Domingo the first thing he saw were the bodies of several rebels who had been hung a couple of days before. Christopher and Bartholomew Columbus were not at the settlement but Diego Columbus was. Bobadilla ordered Diago to hand over the other rebels in custody who were scheduled to be executed shortly. Diago refused and so Bobadilla arrested him and took over the city. When Christopher Columbus returned he also was arrested. Bartholomew, who could have caused problems because he had many armed men with him, was persuaded to return to Santo Domingo peacefully.
Oct Columbus returns in chains
   Francisco de Bobadilla accused the Columbus brothers of crimes against the native people, taking slaves and women and extracting large amounts of gold. Christopher and Diago were put in irons and shipped back to Spain. (Unsure about Bartholomew). Christopher Columbus was given the option of having his chains removed while on board the ship but he refused the offer.
Columbus - The Fourth Voyage
1502 May 9 Columbus starts his fourth voyage
   With the support of the Spanish King and Queen Columbus set sail from Cadiz with four ships and 140 men under his command. After a delayed start due to bad weather the fleet headed towards the Canary Islands to take on supplies.
May 25 Columbus leaves the Canary Islands
   With favourable winds behind him Columbus left the Canary Islands and set sail towards the New World for the fourth time.
Jun 15 Columbus lands at Mantinino
   Columbus arrived at the island now called Martinique after an uneventful crossing of the Atlantic. The fleet stayed there for several days while supplies were taken on board and the sailors got chance to go ashore. From here the fleet turned north and headed towards Hispaniola.
Jun 29 Columbus predicts a hurricane
   The King and Queen of Spain had ordered Columbus not to visit Santo Domingo because they thought he might take revenge for being arrested and taken back to Spain in chains. Columbus ignored the order and headed there. He anchored outside the harbour and asked for permission to enter port. In Santo Domingo a new governor had been appointed. His name was Don Nicolas de Ovando and he had been there since April. Columbus was refused entry but was aware that a storm was approaching. Bobadilla, the man who had sent Columbus back in chains, with a large fleet of ships was preparing to leave for Spain and his sailors were unable to read the signs in the weather that Columbus could see. Columbus warned them not to leave until the storm had passed but they ignored the warning. Within days the storm broke and the fleet was caught in its fury. Nineteen ships were sunk with the deaths of several hundred men including Bobadilla and the loss of a lot of gold. Although Columbus was not able to get his fleet into the relative safety of the harbour he did get the ships as close to shore as possible in a sheltered spot to ride out the storm.
Jul 30 Columbus heads west
   After the storm had passed Columbus headed west into uncharted seas. At the end of July his fleet saw the island of Bonacca just off the coast of Honduras. Landing there Columbus noticed that the natives of the island were more advanced than those he had met so far. To the south of Bonacca was the mainland coast and Columbus was eager to explore it. Columbus heard stories that the mainland was just a narrow strip of land with another large sea on the other side (the Pacific) and there was a strait ( a way of sailing between the sea they were in and the other) nearby,
Aug - Sep Columbus explores the mainland coast
   Columbus did not go any further west but turned east and sailed along the coast of Honduras in search of the strait that did not exist. On around the 14th of September the fleet stopped following an easterly course along the coast as the coastline began to head south.
Sep Columbus at Costa Rico
   Columbus spent many days at a place called Cariay, now Puero Limon in Costa Rica. The native people were advanced and used combinations of metals to create their jewellery. Columbus was still looking for the strait that would take him into the second ocean and he believed straight to the Indian ocean.
Oct Veragua
   Columbus sailed along the coast of what is now Panama. He called the area Veragua and here Columbus found the natives had more gold ornaments than anywhere else that he had explored. The months of October and November were extremely stormy and the fleet had to take shelter to avoid being sunk. He heard accounts that the land in this area was so narrow that he could have crossed it on foot to see the ocean on the other side but Columbus still wanted to find a way to get his ships across.
Nov - Dec Columbus shelters from the storms
   Throughout November and December the storms and rain did not stop. Columbus and his men were forced to find refuge in sheltered harbours along the coast.
Nov 2 Columbus arrives at Portobelo
   Columbus sailed into what he considered to be a lovely port and so named it Puerto Bello. The fleet stayed there for several days.
1503 Jan - 1503 Apr Columbus founds a colony
   Columbus arrived at a natural harbour at the mouth of a river which he named Belen, (after Bethlehem). A sand bar at the entrance to the harbour only allowed the ships to enter with great care. Once inside the natural harbour the Spaniards met the local people and things at first were friendly. The chief of the natives allowed the Spaniards to sail up river to explore. What they found was a source of gold. Columbus decided to build a fort in the harbour and leave some men behind while he went back to Santo Domingo to get supplies and more men, But the Spaniards treated the natives badly stealing their gold.. Eventually the native people had had enough and they attacked the fort. Several Spaniards were killed before Columbus and his ships were able to escape. But one ship was left behind as it could not cross the sand bar. Columbus was now down to three ships.
Jun - 1504 Jun Columbus is stranded for a year
   The three remaining ships were in a serious condition. Wood worms had eaten into the hulls of the ships and they were letting in water. The navigation was not accurate and instead of reaching Hispaniola Columbus and his remaining ships (possibly two at this point) landed on the north coast of Jamaica unable to go any further. The remaining ships were beached to provide somewhere to live. It would be a year before rescue would arrive. The Spaniards met the local native people and traded what ever they had for food. It was decided that the only hope of rescue was to send a message to Santo Domingo so that a ship could be sent to pick them up. Two canoes were filled with supplies for the 100 mile sea crossing. The two canoes were commanded by Diego Mendez and Bartolomeo Fiecshi. After several days of rowing the fresh water ran out and the native oarsmen they had taken collapsed from thirst. But the two canoes finally reached the coast of Haiti a long way from Santo Domingo. The survivors of the crossing were found by natives and restored to health. After several days rest Diego Mendez was able to continue his journey by canoe along the coast to Santo Domingo.
1504 Jan Mutiny in Jamaica
   Learning from earlier acts of misconduct and to keep the native people happy Columbus had given his men strict rules about their behaviour towards the women. After six months the strain of living under such strict rules came to a head and several sailors rebelled. Led by Francisco Porras the mutineers took several canoes from the natives and filled them with supplies. They also took several native people to row the canoes and set off. But bad weather forced them back to shore. After several attempts the rebels gave up and returned. But instead of moving back into the beached ships they set up their own camp and started to mistreat the native people. After this the Jamaicans started to reduce the amount of food that they were prepared to give to Columbus until eventually the Spaniards were at risk of starvation.
Feb 29 A Lunar Eclipse saves Columbus
   Columbus had a book written by a German astronomer that predicted eclipses and he was able to use this information to trick the native Jamaicans. Columbus informed the leaders of the natives that God was not happy because they had stopped supplying the Spaniards with food and to prove this God would turn the moon blood red. This happens when the moon goes behind the Earth. When this event took place the natives were so afraid that they began supplying all the food that the Spaniards needed.
Mar No rescue for Columbus
   Even though Diego Mendez had managed to reach Santo Domingo and tell the governor Ovando that Columbus and the rest of his crew were stranded the Governor was in no rush to send them help. Ovando was no friend of Columbus and did not want him to return to Santo Domingo and possibly take his job. Ovando told Mendez he would have to wait for the next ships to arrive from Spain and then possibly they could help. Eventually Ovando did send a ship but not one that was big enough to rescue the men. It was sent just to check the situation Columbus was in.
Jun 29 Columbus is rescued
   Finally Diego Mendez was able to charter a ship that had arrived from Spain and he sent it to rescue Columbus and his men.
Nov 7 Columbus returns to Spain
   The fourth voyage ended when Columbus landed at Sanlucar de Barrameda in Spain. The death of Queen Isabella was a serious blow to Columbus as she had been his main supporter and he was not invited to the royal court. In his final couple of years his health suffered but because of the agreements that he had made regarding eighth of the profits he was not short of money.
1506 May 20 Death of Columbus
   Christopher Columbus died on Ascension Day (May 20th). He was living in Valladolid in Spain at the time. He was around 55 years old.
1513 Juan Ponce de Leon discovers Florida
   The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed to Florida.
1519 Aug 10 Magellan leaves Seville
   Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Seville with five ships in search of a passageway to the south of South America in order to reach the Pacific Ocean and the Far East.
Sep 20 After taking on supplies Magellan's voyage begins
   During the five weeks after leaving Seville Magellan's fleet were anchored in the estuary of the Guadalquivir river south Seville. Here they had taken on the supplies they needed for the long voyage ahead.
1522 Sep Survivors of Magellan's voyage return
   Only one ship, the Victoria, out of the five that originally set sail as part of Magellan's fleet managed to return to Spain. Less than twenty men returned. Magellan did not return as he was killed by natives on one of the islands of the Philippines.
1553 Expedition to find a north-east passage
   Explorers Hugh Willougby and Richard Chanellor took several ships and sailed in a north-easterly direction via Scandinavia in an attempt to find a route to China. The attempt failed and Willougby's frozen remains were found the next year by Russian fishermen.

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