There are some explorer names I remember better than others. As I mentioned yesterday I have a hard time remembering Bartolomue Dias. Vasco de Gama, on the other hand I remember. I have fun saying his name, it just rolls off the tongue. I wonder if that helped him when traveling. It certainly made this homeschool history lesson more interesting.
Where are we now in history? Where does Vasco de Gama fit in?
So often, history is told as a series of unconnected lessons, and you are left wondering what is going on. Let me give you a bit of context for this Vasco de Gama lesson.
Bartolomue Dias has rounded the Cape of Storms Good Hope. The Crown of Portugal overruled his plans for naming it, and their name was much catchier. It’s all about the PR.
About five years later a young upstart Genoan who had been turned down over and over again by Portugal, convinces Spain to fund his plan to find India by sailing West. He had a lot of convincing maps and math to back him up. But he could not seem to find the riches of India.
It is now five years later, and history is about to be rocked by a new change.
(links marked with an * are affiliate links)
SUPPLIES FOR OUR
BARTOLOMEU DIAS Vasco De Gama lesson
Vasco de Gama sails to India
Vasco de Gama was commissioned by the king of Portugal to finish what Dias had started and find India. So de Gama set out putting together his crew. He asked Dias to accompany him, and because this was still a rather shaky idea a crew of convicts were quite willing to go with him.
Possibly because they were not professional sailors they were more willing to take risks because they didn’t know what everyone else did. Vasco de Gama was able to make much better time to the Cape of Good Hope.
de Gama and his crew rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and his crew was in pretty bad shape. Many were suffering from scurvy, and other illnesses caused by the lack of good food. His four ships were also not in good shape, so….
They took port in Mozambique. They stayed there for a month or so asking after Prestor John, but the Muslim king had not heard of him, and sent him further North saying “Maybe you’ll find him up there.” Vasco de Gama and his crew did not leave under pleasant conditions. The city attempted to board his ship and de Gama in retaliation fired his ship’s cannons at the city.
Vasco de Gama made a couple of more stops in his journey to India, growing more desperate for supplies, even briefly resorting to piracy to get what they needed. He also became quite convinced Prestor John did not exist during this time, because no one had heard of him.
In Malindi, de Gama hired a native navigator (sources disagree on who he is, so we’re going to call him NAVIGATOR). The NAVIGATOR safely steered de Gama around and through the Indian Ocean, avoiding dangers, and the monsoons that frequently come up then.
Finally Vasco de Gama arrives at Calcutta, and at first is welcomed by the king there, but he manages to anger him by his paltry gifts. Really it feels like de Gama was spectacularlly good at angering people. That’s the hidden story in most of his encounters.
De Gama does manage to trade enough to make his trip profitable, and turns back to return to Portugal. But, on the return trip he is not so good at avoiding storms, and disease. He is forced to burn one of his ships rather than let it fall into foreign hands. Another ship is lost at some point (I’m not able to find why). Over half of his crew dies on the return voyage. Vasco de Gama left with 170 people on four ships, and returned with two ships and 55 people.
In many ways de Gama’s trip was a failure. He did not open a trade agreement. He lost half of his ships, and over half of his crew. His brother, the captain of one ship, died on the voyage.
And yet he did what no European had done before. He sailed to India. That’s an impressive achievement.
So, I am left asking at what cost progress? Was the loss of life due to poor planning, hubris, or bad luck? Was his inability to make trade agreements poor preparations on his part, lack of knowledge, or something else? History doesn’t say, and I’m left wondering what I should think of the catchy named Vasco de Gama.