1902 Encyclopedia > Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus
(Also known as: Cristobal Colon)
Italian explorer
(c. 1436-1506)

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (c. 1436-1506), was the eldest son of Dominico Colombo and Suzanna Fontanorossa, and was born at Genoa in 1435 or 1436, the exact date being uncertain. His father was a wool-comber, of some small means, who was yet living two years after the discovery of the West Indies, and who removed his business from Genoa to Savona in 1469. His eldest boy was sent to the university of Pavia, where he devoted himself to the mathematical and natural sciences, and where he probably received instruction in nautical astronomy from Antonio da Terzago and Stefano di Faenza. On his removal from the university it appears that he worked for some months at his father’s trade; but on reaching his fifteenth year he made his choice of life, and became a sailor.

Of his apprenticeship, and the first years of his career, no records exits. The whole of his earlier life, indeed, is dubious and conjectural, founded as it is on the half dozen dark and evasive chapters devoted by Fernando, his son and biographer, to the first half century of his father’s times. It seems certain, however, that these unknown years were stormy, laborious, and eventful; "whatever ship has sailed," he writes, "there have I journeyed." He is known, among other places, to have visited England, "Ultima Thule" (Iceland), the Guinea coast, and the Greek Isles; and he appears to have been some time in the service of Renè of Provence, for whom he is recorded to have intercepted and seized a Venetian galley with great bravery and audacity. According to his son, too, he sailed with Colombo el Mozo, a bold sea captain and privateer; and a sea fight under this commander was the means of bringing him ashore in Protugal. Meanwhile, however, he was preparing himself for greater achievement by reading and meditating on the works of Prolemy and Marinus, of Nearchus and Pliny, the Cosmographia of Cardinal Aliaco, the travels of Marco Polo and Mandeville. He mastered all the sciences essential to his calling, learned to draw charts and construct spheres, and thus fitted himself to become a consummate practical seaman and navigator.

In 1470 he arrived at Lisbon, after being wrecked in a sea fight that began off Cape St Vincent, and escaping to land on a plank. In Portugal he married Felipe Munnis Perestrello, daughter of a captain in the service of Prince Henry, called the Navigator, one of the early colonists and the first governor of Porto Santo, an island off Madeira. Columbus visited the island, and employed his time in making maps and charts for a livelihood, while he pored over the logs and papers of his deceased father-in-law, and talked with old seamen of their voyages, and of the mystery of the western seas. About this time, too, he seems to have arrived at the conclusion that much of the world remained undiscovered, and step by step to have conceived that design of reaching Asia by sailing west which was to result in the discovery of America. In 1474 we find him expounding his views to Paolo Toscanelli, the Florentine physician and cosmographer, and receiving the heartiest encouragement.

These view he supported with three different arguments, derived from natural reasons, from the theories of geographers, and from the reports and traditions of mariners. "He believed the world to be a sphere," says Helps; "he under-estimated its size; he over-estimated the size of the Asiatic continent. The farther that continent extended to the east, the nearer it came round towards Spain." And he has but to turn from the marvelous propositions of Mandevilla and Aliaco to become the recipient of confidences more marvelous still. The air was full of rumours, and the weird imaginings of many generations of mediaeval navigators had taken shape and substance, and appeared bodily to men’s eyes. Martin Vicente, a Portuguese pilot, had found, 400 leagues to the westward of cape St Vicent, and after a westerly gale of many days’ duration, a piece of strange wood, wrought, but not with iron; PedroCorrea, his own brother-in-law, had seen another such waif at Porto Santo, with great canes capable of holding four quarts of wine between joint and joint, and had heard of two men being washed up at Flores, "very broad-faced, and differing in aspect from Christians." West of the Azores now and then there hove in sight the mysterious islands of St Brandam; and 200 leagues west of the Canaries lay somewhere the lost Island of the Seven Cities, that two valiant Genoese had vainly endeavoured to discover. In his northern journey, too, some vague and formless traditions may have reached his ear, of the voyages of Biorn and Leif, and of the pleasant coasts of Helleland and Vinland that lay towards the setting sun. All were hints and rumours to bid the bold mariner sail westward, and this he at length determined to do.

The concurrence of some state or sovereign, however, was necessary for the success of this design. The Senate of Genoa had the honour to receive the first offer, and the responsibility of refusing it. Rejected by his native city, the projector turned next to John II. of Portugal. This king had already an open field for discovery and enterprise along the African coast; but he listened to the Genoese, and referred him to a Committee of Council for Geographical Affairs. The council’s report was altogether adverse; but the king, who was yet inclined to favour the theory of Columbus, assented to the suggestion of the bishop of Ceuta that the plan should be carried out in secret and without Columbus knowledge by means of a caravel or light frigate. The caravel was dispatched, but it returned after a brief absence, the sailors having lost heart, and having refused to venture farther. Upon discovering this dishonourable transaction Columbus felt so outraged and indignant that he sent off his brother Bartholomew to England with letters for Henry VII., to whom he had communicated his ideas. He himself left Lisbon for Spain (1484), taking with him his son Diego, the only issue of his marriage with Felipa Munnis, who was by this time dead. He departed secretly,—according to some writers, to give the slip to King John, according to others, to escape his creditors. Three years after (20th March 1488) a letter was sent by the king to "Christopher Colon, our especial friend," inviting him to return, and assuring him against arrest and proceedings of any kind; but it was then too late.

Columbus next betook himself to the south of Spain, and seems to have proposed his plan first to the duke of Medina Sidonia (who was at first attracted by it, but finally threw it up as visionary and impracticable), and next to the duke of medina Celi. The latter gave him great encouragement, entertained him for two years, and even determined to furnish him with the three or four caravals. Finally, however, being deterred by the consideration that the enterprise was too vast for a subject, he turned his guest from the determination he had come to of making instant application at the court of France, by writing on his behalf to queen Isabella; and Columbus repaired to the court at Cordova at her bidding.

It was an ill moment for the navigator’s fortune. Castile and Leon were in the think of that struggle which resulted in the final defeat of the Moors; and neither Ferdinand nor Isabella had time to listen. The adventurer was indeed kindly received; he was handed over to the care of Alonso de Quintanilla, whom he speedily converted into an enthusiastic supporter of his theory. He made many other friends, and here met with Beatriz Enriquez, the mother of his second son Fernando.

From Cordova Columbus followed the court to Salamanca, where he was introduced to the notice of the grand cardinal, Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, "the third of Spain." The cardinal, while approving the project, though that it savoured strongly of heterodoxy; but an interview with the projector brought him over, and through his influence Columbus at last got audience of the king. The matter was finally refered, however, to Fernando de talavera, who in 1487 summoned a junta of astronomers and cosmographers to confer with Columbus, and examine his design and the arguments by which he supported it. The Dominicans of San Estebán in Salamanca entertained Columbus during the conference. The jurors, who were more of them ecclesiastics, were by no means unprejudiced, nor were they disposed to abandon their pretensions to knowledge without a struggle. Columbus argued his point, buy was overwhelmed with Biblical texts, with quotations from the great divines, with theological objections; and in a short time the junta was adjoured. In 1489 Columbus, who had been following the court from place to place (billeted in towns as an officer of the king’s, and gratified from time to time with sums of money toward his expenses), was present at the siege of Malaga. In 1490 the junta decided that his project was vain and impracticable, and that it did not become their highnesses to have anything to do with it; and this was confirmed, with some reservation, by their highnesses themselves, as Seville.

Columbus was now in despair. He at once betook himself to Huelva, where his brother-in-law resided, wit the intention of taking ship for France. He halted, however, at Palos, a little maritime town in Andalusia. At the monastery of La Rabida he knocked and asked for bread and water for his boy Diego, and presently got into conversation with Juan Perez de Marchena, the guardian, who invited him to take up his quarters in the monastery, and introduced him to Garci Fernandez, a physician and an ardent student of geography. To these good men did Columbus propound his theory and explain his plan. Juan Perez had been the queen’s confessor; he wrote to her, and was summoned to her presence; and money was sent to Columbus, to bring him once more to court. He reached Granada in time to witness the surrender of the city; and negotiations were resumed. Columbus believed in his mission, and stood out for high terms; he asked the rank of Admiral at once, the vice-royalty of all he should discover, and a tenth of all the gain, by conquest or by trade. These conditions were rejected, and the negotiations were again interrupted. An interview with Mendoza appears to have followed; by nothing came of it, and in January 1492 Columbus actually set out for France. At length, however, on the entreaty of Luis de Santangel, receiver of the ecclesiastical revenues of the crown of Aragon, Isabella was induced to determine on the expedition. A messenger was sent after Columbus, and overtook him at the Bridge of Pines, about two leagues form Granada. He returned to the camp at Santa Fé; and on 17th April 1492, the agreement between him and their Catholic majesties was signed and sealed.

His aims were nothing less than the discovery of the marvelous province of Cipango and the conversion to Christianity of the Grand Khan, to whom he received a royal letter of introduction. The town of Palos was ordered to find him two ships, and these were soon placed at his disposal. But no crews could be god together, in spite of the indemnity offered to all criminals and broken men who would serve on the expedition; and had not Juan Perez succeeded in interesting Martin Alonso Pinzo and Vicente Yañez Pinzon in the cause of Columbus’s departure had been long delayed. At last, however, men, ships, and stores were ready. The expedition consisted of the "Santa Maria," a decked ship, with a crew of 50 men, commanded by the Admiral in person; and of two caravels, the "Pinta," with 30 men, under Martin Pinzon, and the "Niña," with 24 men, under his brother Vicente Yañez, afterwards (1499) the first to cross the line in the American Atlantic. The adventures numbered 120 souls; and on Friday, 3d August 1492, at eight in the morning, the little fleet weighed anchor, and stood out for the Canary Islands.

An abstract of the Admiral’s diary made by the Bishop Las Casas is yet extent; and from it many particulars may be gleaned concerning this first voyage. Three days after the ships had set sail the "Pinta" lost her rudder; the Admiral was in some alarm, but comforted himself with the reflection that Martin Pinzon was energetic and ready-witted; they had, however, to put in (August 9) at Teneriffe, to refit the caravel. On the 6th September they weighted anchor once more with all haste, Columbus having been informed that three Portuguese caravels were on the look-out for him. On 13th September the variations of the magnetic needle were for the first time observed; on the 15th a wonderful meteor fell into the sea at four or five leagues distance. On the 16th they arrived at those vast plains of seaweed called the Sargasso Sea; and thenceforward, writes the Admiral, they had most temperate breezes, the sweetness of the mornings being most delightful, the weather like an Andalusian April, and only the song of the nightingale wanting. On the 17th the men began to murmur; they were frightened by the strange phenomena of the variations of the compass, but the explanation Columbus have restored their tranquility. On the 18th they saw many birds, and a great ridge of low-lying cloud; and they expected to see land. On the 20th they saw two pelicans, and were sure the land must be near. In this, however, they were disappointed, and the men began to be afraid and discontented; and thenceforth Columbus, who was keeping all the while a double reckoning, one for the crew and one for himself, had great difficulty in restraining the men from the excesses which they meditated. On the 25th Alonso Pinzon raised the cry of land, but it proved a false alarm; as did the rumour to the same effect of the 7th October, when the "Niña" hoisted a flag and fired a gun. On the 11th the "Pinta" fished up a cane, a log of wood, a stick wrought with iron, and a board, and the "Niña" sighted a stake covered with dog-roses; "and with these signs all of them breathed, and were glad." At then o’clock on that night Columbus perceived and pointed out a light ahead; and at two in the morning of Friday, the 12th October. 1492, Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor aboard the "Niña," announced the appearance of what proved to be the New World. The land sighted was an island, called by the Indians Guanahani, and named by Columbus San Salvador.1

The same morning Columbus landed, richly clad, and bearing the royal banner of Spain. He was accompanied by the brothers Pinzon, bearing banners of the Green cross, a device of his own, and by great part of the crew. When they all had "given thanks to God, kneeling upon the shore, and kissed the ground with tears of joy, for the great mercy received," the Admiral named the island, and took solemn possession of it for their Catholic majesties of Castile and Leon. At the same time such of the crews as had shown themselves doubtful and mutinous sought his pardon weeping, and prostrated themselves at his feet.

Into the detail of this voyage, of highest interest as it is, it is impossible to go farther. It will be enough to say that it resulted in the discovery of the islands of Santa Maria del Conception, Exuma, Isabella, Juanna or Cuba, Bohio, the Cuban Archipelago (named by its finder the Jardin del Rey), the island of Santa Catalina, and that of Hispaniola, now called Haiti, or San Domingo. Off the hast of these the "Santa Maria" went aground, owing to the carelessness of the steersman. No lives were lost, but the ship had to be unloaded and abandoned; and Columbus, who was anxious to return to Europe with the news of his achievement, resolved to plant a colony on the island, to build a fort out of the material of the stranded hulk, and to leave the crew. The fort was called La Navidad; 43 Europeans were placed in charge; and on 16th January 1493, Columbus, who had lost sight of Martin Pinzon, set sail alone in the "Niña" for the east; and four days afterwards the "Pinta" joined her sister-ship off Monte Christo. A storm, however, separated the vessles, and a long battle with the trade winds caused great delay; and it was not until the 18th February that Columbus reached the Island of Santa Maria in the Azores. Here he was threatened with capture by the Portuguese governor, who could not for some time be brought to recognize his commission. On 24th February, however, he was allowed to proceed; and on 4th March "Niña" dropped anchor off Lisbon. The king of Portugal received the Admiral with the highest honours; and on 13th March the "Niña" put out from the Tagus, and two days afterwards, Friday, 15th March, dropped anchor off Palos.

The court was at Barcelona; and thither, after dispatching a letter announcing his arrival, Columbus proceeded in person. He entered the city in a sort of triumphal procession, was received by their majesties in full court, and, seated in their presence, related the story of his wanderings, exhibiting the "rich and strange" spoils of the new-found lands,—the gold, the cotton, the parrots, the curious arms, the mysterious plants, the unknown birds and beasts, and the nine Indians he had brought with him for baptism. All his honours and privileges were confirmed to him; the title of Don was conferred on himself and his brothers; he rode at the king’s bridle; he was served and saluted as a grandee of Spain. And, greatest honour of all, a new and magnificent scutcheon was blazoned for him (4th May 1493), whereon the royal castle and lion of Castile and Leon were combined with the four anchors of his own old coat of arms. Nor were their Catholic highnesses less busy on their own account than on that of their servant. On 3d and 4th May Alexander VI. granted bulls confirming to the crowns of Castile and Leon all the lauds discovered,2 or to be discovered, beyond a certain line of demarcation, on the same terms as those on which has Portuguese held their colonies along the African coast. A new expedition was got in readiness with all possible dispatch, to secure and extend the discoveries already made.

After several delays the fleet weighed anchor on 25th September and steered westwards. It consisted of three great carracks (galleons), and fourteen caravels (light frigates), having on board about 1500 men, besides the animals and material necessary for colonization. Twelve missionaries accompanied the expedition, under the orders of Bernardo Buil, a Benedictine friar; and Columbus had been directed (29th May 1493) to endeavour by all means in his power to Christianize the inhabitants of t eh islands, to make them present, and to "honour them much," while all under him were commanded to treat them "well and lovingly," under pain of severe punishment. On 13th October the ships which had put in at the Canaries, left Ferro; and so early as Sunday, 3d November, after a single storm, "by the goodness of God and the wise management of the Admiral" land was sighted to the west, which was named Dominica. Northwards from this new found island the isles of Maria Galante and Guadaloupe were discovered and named; and on the north-western course to La Navidad those of Montserrat, Antigun, San Martin, and Santa Cruz were sighted, and the island now called Porto Rico was touched at hurriedly explored, and named San Juan. On 22d November Columbus came in sight of Hispaniola, and sailing eastward to La Navidad, found the fort burned and the colony dispersed. He decided on building a second fort; and coasting on forty miles east of cape Haytien, he pitched on a spot where he founded the city and settlement of Isabella.

The character in which Columbus had appeared had till now been that of the greatest of mariners; but form this point forward his claims to supremacy are embarrassed and complicated with the long series of failures, vexations, miseries, insults, that have rendered his career as a planter of colonies and as a ruler of men most pitiful and remarkable.

The climate of Navidad proved unhealthy; the colonists were greedy of gold, impatient of control, and as proud, ignorant, and mutinous as Spaniards could be; and Columbus, whose inclinations drew him westward, was doubtless glad to escape the worry and anxiety of his post, and to avail himself of the instructions of his sovereigns as to further discoveries. In January 1494 he sent home, by Antonio de Torres, that dispatch to their Catholic highnesses by which he may be said to have founded the west Indian slave trade. He founded the mining camp of San Tomaso in the gold country; and on 24th April 1494, having nominated a council of regency under his brother Diego, and appointed Pedro de Margarite his captain-general, he put again to sea. After following the southern shore of Cuba for some days, he steered southwards, and discovered the island of Jamaica, which he named Santiago. He then resumed his exploration of the named Santiago. He then resumed his exploration of the Cuban coast, thread his way through a labyrinth of islets supposed to be the Morant Keys, which he named the Garden of the Queen; and after coasting westwards for many days, he became convinced that he had discovered continuous land and caused Perez de Luna, the notary, to draw up a document attesting his discovery (12th June 1494), which was afterwards taken round and signed, in presence of four witnesses, by the masters, mariners, and seamen of his three caravels, the "Niña," the "Cardera," and the "San Juan." He then stood to the south-east, and sighted the island of Evangelista; and after many days of difficulties and anxieties, he touched at and named the island La Mona. Thence he had intended to sail eastwards, and complete the survey of the Caribbean Archipelago. But he was exhausted by the terrible tear and wear of mind and body he had undergone (he says himself that on this expedition he was three and thirty days almost without any sleep), and on the day following his departure from La Mona, he fell into a lethargy, that deprived him of sense and memory, and had well nigh proved fatal to life. At last, on 29th September, the little fleet dropped anchor off Isabella, and in his new city the great Admiral lay sick for five months.

The colony was in a sad plight. Every one was discontented, and many were sick, for the climate was unhealthy and there was nothing to eat. Margarite and Buil had quitted Hispaniola for Spain; but ere his departure, the former, in his capacity of captain-general, had done much to outrage and alienate the Indians. The strongest measures were necessary to undo this mischief; and backed by his brother Bartholomew, a bold and skilful mariner, and a soldier of courage and resource, who had been with Diaz in his voyage round the Cape of Good Hope, Columbus proceeded to reduce the natives under Spanish sway. Alonzo de Ojeda succeeded by a brilliant coup de main in capturing the cacique Caonabo, and the rest submitted. Five ship-loads of Indians were sent off to Seville (24th June 1495) to be sold as slaves; and a tribute was imposed upon their fellows, which must be looked upon as the origin of that system of repartimientos or encomiendas which was afterwards to work such cruel mischief among the conquered. But the tide of court favour seemed to have turned against Columbus. In October 1495 Juan Aguado arrived at Isabella, with an open commission from their Catholic majesties, to inquire into the circumstances of his rule; and much contest and recrimination followed. Columbus found that there was no time to be lost in returning home; he appointed his brother Bartholomew "adelantado" of the island; and on 10th March 1496 he quitted Hispaniola in the "Niña." The vessel, after a protracted and perilous voyage, reached Cadiz on 11th June 1496. The Admiral landed in great dejection, wearing the costume of a Franciscan. Reassured, however, by the reception of his sovereigns, he asked at once for eight ships more, two to be sent to the colony with supplies, and six to be put under his orders for new discoveries. The request was not immediately granted, as the Spanish exchequer was not then well supplied. But principally owing to the interest of the queen, an agreement was come to similar to that of 1492, which was now confirmed. By this royal patent, moreover, a tract of land in Hispaniola, of 50 leagues by 20, was made over to him. He was offered a dukedom or a marquisate at his pleasure; for three years he was to receive an eighth of the gross and a tenth of the net profit on each voyage; the right of creating a mayorazgo or perpetual entail of titles and estates was granted him; and on 24th June his two sons were received into Isabella’s service as pages. Meanwhile, however, the preparing of the fleet proceeded slowly; and it was not till the 30th May 1498 that he and his six ships set sail.

From San Lucar he steered for Gomera, in the Camaries, and thence dispatched three of his ships to San Domingo. He next proceeded to the cape Verd Islands, which he quitted on 4th July. On the 31st of the same month, being greatly in need of water, and fearing that no land lay westwards as they had hoped, Columbus and turned his ship’s head north, when Alonso Perez, a mariner of Huelva, saw land about 15 leagues to the south-west. It was crowned with three hill-tops, and so when the sailors had sung the Salve Regina, the Admiral named it Trinidad, which name it yet bears. On Wednesday, 1st August he helped for the first time in the mainland of South America the continent he had sought so long. It seemed to him but an insignificant island, and he called it Zeta. Sailing westwards, next day he saw the Gulf of Paria, which was named by him the Golfo de la Balena, and was borne into it at immense risk on the ridge of waters fromed by the meeting with the sea of the great rivers that empty themselves, all swollen with rain, into the ocean. For many days he coasted the continent, esteeming as islands the several projections he saw, and naming them accordingly; nor was it until he had looked on and considered the immense volume of fresh water poured out through the embouchures of the river now called the Orinoco, that he concluded that the so-called archipelago must be in very deed a great continent.

Unfortunately at this time he was suffering intolerably from gout and ophthalmia; his ships were crazy; and he was anxious to inspect the infant colony whence he had been absent so long. And so, after touching at and naming the island of Margarita, he bore away to the north-east, and on 30th August the fleet dropped anchor off Isabella.

He found that affairs had not prospered well in his absence. By the vigour, and activity of the adelantado, the whole island has been reduced under Spanish sway, but at the expense of the colonists. Under the leadership of a certain Roldan, a bold and unprincipled adventurer, they had risen in revolt, and Columbus had to compromise matters in order to restore peace. Roldan retained his office; such of his followers as chose to remain in the island were gratified with repartimientos of land and labour; and some fifteen, choosing to return to Spain, were enriched with a number of slaves, and sent home in two ships which sailed in the early part of October 1499.

Five ship-loads of Indians had been deported to Spain some little time before. On the arrival of these living cargoes at Seville, the queen, the stanch and steady friend of Columbus, was moved with compassion and indignation. No one, she declared, had authorized him to dispose of her vassals in any such manner; and proclamations at Seville, Granada, and other chief places ordered (20th June 1499) the instant liberation and return of all the last gang of Indians. In addition to this the ex-colonists had become incensed against Columbus and his brothers. They were wont to parade their grievances in the very court-yards of the Alhambra, to surround the king when he came forth with complaints and reclamations, to insult the discoverer’s young sons with shouts and jeers. There was not doubt that the colony itself, whatever the cause, had not prospered so well as might have been desired. And, on the whole, it is not surprising that Ferdinand, whose support to Columbus had never been very hearty, should about this time have determined to suspend him. Accordingly on March 21, 1499. Francisco de Bobadilla was ordered "to ascertain what persons had raised themselves against justice in the island of Hispaniola, and to proceed against them according to law." On May 21st the government of the island was conferred on him, and he was accredited with an order that all arms and fortresses should be handed over to him; and on May 26 he received a letter for delivery to Columbus, stating that the bearer would "speak certain things to him" on the part of their highnesses, and praying him "to give faith and credence, and to act accordingly." Bobadilla left Spain in July 1500, and landed in Hispaniola in October.

Columbus, meanwhile had restored such tranquility as was possible in his government. With Roldan’s help he had beaten off an attempt on the island of the adventurer Ojeda, his old lieutenant; the Indians were being collected into villages and Christianized. Gold-mining was actively and profitably pursued; in three years, eh calculated, the royal revenues might be raised to an average of 60,000,000 reals. The arrival of Bobadilla, however, speedily changed this state of affairs into a greater and more pitiable confusion than the island had ever before witnessed. On landing, he took possession of the Admiral’s house and summoned him and his brothers before him. Accusations of severity, of injustice, of venality even, were poured down on their heads, and Columbus anticipated nothing less than a shameful death. Bobadilla put all three in irons, and shipped them off to Spain.

Alonso de Villejo, captain of the caravel in which the illustrious prisoners sailed, still retained a proper sense of the humour and respect due to Columbus, and would have removed the fetters; but to this Columbus would not consent. He would wear them, he said, until their highnesses, by whose order they had been affixed, should order their removal; and he would keep them afterwards "as relics and as memorials of the reward of his services." He did so. His son Fernando "saw them always hanging in his cabinet, and he requested that when he died they might be buried with him." Whether this last wish was compiled with is not known.

A heart-broken and indignant letter from Columbus to Doña Juana de la Torre, the governess of the infante Don Juan, arrived at court before the dispatch of Bobadilla. It was read to the queen, and its tidings were confirmed by communications from Alonso de Villejo, and the alcaide of Cadiz. There was a great movement of indignation; the tide of popular and royal feeling turned once more in the Admiral’s favour. He received a large sum to defray his expenses; and when he appeared at court, on 17th December, he was no longer in irons and disgrace, but richly apparelled and surrounded with friends. He was received with all honour and distinction. The queen is said to have been moved to tears by the narration of his story. Their majesties not only repudiated Bobadilla’s proceedings, but declined to inquire into the charges that he at the same time brought against his prisoners, and promised Columbus compensation for his losses and satisfaction for his wrongs. A new governor, Nicolas de Ovando, was appointed in Bobadilla’s room, and left San Lucar on 18th February 1502, with a fleet of 30 ships. The latter was to be impeached and sent home; and Admiral’s property was to be restored and a flesh start was to be made in the conduct of colonial affairs. Thus ended Columbus’s history as viceroy and governor of the new Indies which he had presented to the country of his adoption.

His hour of rest, however, was not yet come. Ever anxious to serve their Catholic highnesses, "and particularly the queen," he had determined to find a strait through which he might penetrate westwards into Portuguese Asia. After the usual inevitable delays his prayers were granted, and on 9th May 1502, with four caravels and 150 men, he weighed anchor form Cadiz, and sailed on his fourth and last great voyage. He first betook himself to the relief of the Portuguese fort of Arzilla, which had been besieged by the Moors, but the siege had been raised voluntarily before he arrived. He put to sea westwards once more, and on 13th June discovered the island of Martinique. He had received positive instructions from his sovereigns on no account to touch at Hispaniola; but his largest caravel was greatly in need of repairs, and he had no choice but to abandon her or disobey orders. He preferred the latter alternative, and sent a boat ashore to Ovando, asking for a new ship and for permission to enter the harbour to weather a hurricane which he saw was coming on. But his requests were refused, and he coasted the island, casting anchor under lee of the land. Here he weathered the storm, which drove the other caravels out to sea, and annihilated the homeward-bound fleet, the richest that had till then been sent from Hispaniola. Roldan and Bobadilla perished with others of the Admiral’s enemies; and Fernando Colon, who accompanied his father on his voyage, wrote long years afterwards, "I am satisfied it was the hand of God, for had they arrived in Spain they had never been punished as their crimes deserved, but rather been favoured and preferred."

After recruiting his flotilla at Azua, Columbus put in at Jaquimo and refitted his four vessels; and on 14th July 1502 he steered for Jamaica. For nine weeks the ships wandered painfully among the keys and shoals he had named the Gardens of the Queen, and only an opportune easterly wind prevented the crews from open mutiny. The first land sighted was the islet of Guanaja, about forty miles east of the coast of Honduras. Here he got news from an old Indian o a rich and vast country lying to the eastward, which he at once concluded must be the long sought for empire of the Grand Khan. Steering along the coast of Honduras, great hardships were endured, but nothing approaching his ideal was discovered. On 12th September cape Gracias-á-Dios was sighted. The men has become clamorous and insubordinate; not until the 5th December, however, would he tack about, and retrace his course. It now became his intention to plant a colony on the river Veragua, which was afterwards to give his descendants a title of nobility; but he had hardly put about when he was caught in a storm, which lasted eight days, wretched and stained his crazy, worm-eaten ships severely, and finally, on the Epiphany, blew him into an embouchure which he named Bethlehem. Gold was very plentiful in this place, and here he determined to found his settlement. By the end of March 1503 a number a huts had been run up, and in these the adelantado with 80 men was to remain, while Columbus returned to Spain for men and supplies. Quarrels, however, arose with the natives; the adelantado made an attempt to seize on the person of the cacique, and failed; and before Columbus could leave the coast he had to abandon a caravel, to take the settlers on board, and to relinquish the enterprise. Steering eastwards, he left a second caravel at Porto Bello; and on May 31st he bore northwards for Cuba where he obtained supplies from the natives. From Cuba he bore up for Jamaica, and there, in the harbour of Santa Gloria, now St Anne’s Bay, he ran his ships aground in a small inlet still called Don Christopher’s Cove.

The expedition was received with the greatest kindness by the natives, and here Columbus remained upwards of a year waiting the return of his lietenant Diego Mendez, whom he had dispatched to Ovando for assistance. During his critical sojourn her, the admiral suffered much from disease and from the lawlessness of his followers, whose misconduct had alienated the natives, and provoked them to withhold their accustomed supplies, until he dexterously worked upon their superstitions by prognosticating an eclipse. Two vessels having at last arrived for their relief from Mendez and Ovando, Columbus set sail for Spain, and after a tempestuous voyage he landed once more at Seville on 7th September 1504.

As he was too ill to go to court, his son Diego was sent thirther in his place, to took after his interest and transact his business. Letter after letter followed the young man from Seville,—one by the hands of Amerigo Vespucci. A license to ride on muleback was granted him on 23rd February 1505; and in the following May he was removed to the court at Segovia, and thence again to Valladolid. On the landing of Philip and Juana at Coruña (25th April 1506) although "much oppressed with the gout and troubled to see himself put by his rights," he is known to have sent off the adelantado to pay them his duty and to assure them that he was yet able tot do them extraordinary service. The last documentary note of him contained in a final codicil to the will of 1498, made to Valladolid on 19th May 1506. By this the old will is confirmed; the mayorazgo is bequeathed to his son Diego, and his heirs male, failing these to Fernando, his second son, and failing these to the heirs male of Bartholomew; only in case of the extinction of the male line, direct or collateral, is it to descend to the females of the family; and those into whose hands it may fall are never to diminish it, but always to increase and ennoble it by all means possible. The head of the house is to sign himself "The Admiral." A tenth of the annual income is to be set aside yearly for distribution among the poor relations of the house. A chapel is founded and endowed for the saying of masses. Beatriz Enriquez is left to the care of the young admiral in most grateful terms. Among other legacies is one of "half a mark of silver to a Jew who used to live at the gate of the Jewry, in Lisbon." The codicil was written and signed with the Admiral’s own hand. Next day (20th May 1506) he died.

He was buried at Valladolid; but his remains were soon after transferred thence to the Carthusian monastery of Las Cuevas, Seville, where the bones of Diego, the second Admiral, were also laid. Exhumed in 1536, the bodies of both father and son were taken over sea to Hispaniola (San Domingo), and interred in the cathedral. In 1795-96, on the occasion of that island to the French, the august relics were re-exhumed, and were transferred with great state and solemnity to the cathedral of the Havana, where they yet remain. The male issue of the Admiral bcame extinct with the third generation, and the estates and titles passed by marriage to a scion of the house of Bragança.

In person Columbus was tall and shapely, long-faced and aquiline, white-eyed and auburn-haired, and beautifully complexioned. At thirty his hair was quite grey. He was temperate in eating, drinking, and dress; and "so strict in religious matters, that for fasting and saying all the divine office, he might he thought professes in some religious order." His piety, as his son has noted, was earnest and unwavering; it entered into and coloured alike his action and his speech; he tries his pen in a Latin distich of prayer; his signature is a mystical pietistic device. He was pre-eminently fitted for the task he created for himself. Through deceit and opprobrium and disdain he pushed on towards the consummation of his desire; and when the hour for action came the man was not found wanting.

See Washington Irving, Life and Voyages of Columbus, London, 1831; Humboldt, Examen Critique de l’Histoire de la Géorgraphie du Nouveau Continent, Paris, 1836; Spotorno, Codice adiplomatico Columbo-Americano, Genoa, 1823; Hernan Colon, Vita dell’ Ammiraglio, 1571 (English translation in vol. ii. of Churchill’s Voyages and Travels, third edition, London, 1744; Spanish, 1745); Prescott, History of Ferdinand and Isabella, London, 1870; Major, Select Letters of Columbus, Hakluyt Society, London, 1847, and "On the landfall of Columbus," in Journal of the Royal Geograhical Society for 1871; Sir Arthur Helps, Life of Columbus, London, 1868; Navarrete, Coleccio de Viages y Descubrimientos desde Fines del Siglo xv., Madrid, 1825; Ticknor, History of Spanish Lietrature, London, 1863. See also Pierto Martire d’Anghiera, Opus Epistolarum, 1530, and De Rebus Oceanicis et de Orbe Novo, 1511; Gomora, in Historiadores Primitives de Indias, vol. xxii. Of Rivadaneyra’s collection; Oviedo y Valdes, Cronica de las Indias, Salamanca, 1547; Ramusio, Raccolta delle Navigatione et Viaggi, iii., Venetia, 1575; Herrera de Tordesillas, Historia de las Indias Occidentales, 1601; Antonio Leon Pinelo, Epitome de la Biblioteca Oriental y Occidental, Madrid, 1623; Muñoz, Historia del Nuevo Mundo, Madris, 1798; Cancellieri, Notizia di Christoforo Colombo, 1809; Bossi, Vita di Christiforo Colombo, 1819; Charlevoix, Histoire de San Domingo; Lamartine, Christoph Colomb, Paris, Histoire de San Domingo’ Lamartine, Christoph Colomb, Paris, 1862 (Spanish translation, 1865; Crompton, Life of Columbus, London., 1859; Voyages and Discoveries of Columbus, sixth edition, London, 1857; H. R. St. John, Life of Columbus, London, 1850.


FOOTNOTES (page 173)

(1) Helps refers to the island as "one of the Bahamas." It has variously identified—with Turk’s Island, by Navarette (1825); with Cat Island, by Irving (1828) and Humboldt (1836); with Mayaguarra, by Varnhagen (1864); and finally, with greatest shew of probability, with Watling Island, by Munoz (1798), supported by Becher (1856), Peschel (1857), and Major (1871).

(2) "the counties which he had discovered were considered as a part of India. In consequence of this notion, the name of Indies is given to them by Ferdinand and Isabella in a ratification of their former agreement which granted to Columbus after his return."—Robertson’s History of America.

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