Bartholomew Diaz portrait

Bartholomew Diaz

Bartholomew Diaz was born in 1450 in the Portuguese city of Algavre. Little is known about his youth. Before he began his travel life he was the overseer of the warehouses of King John II. On October 10, 1486, he was appointed as the commander of the expedition to circumnavigate the southern tip of Africa in the hopes of finding a new, safer and more profitable trade route with India and finding a mythical kingdom managed by the legendary Priest John.

He set out on the expedition in August the following year. Until then, the Portuguese sailors under the protectorate of Henry the Navigator were discovering the areas of the Atlantic Ocean, southern Europe and western parts of Africa to the Cape Verde Islands and today’s Sierra Leone. During these trips they gained enough knowledge about sailing and winds to enable future expeditions to travel further distances. In the early 1480s, Diego Cao discovered the estuary of the Congo River and sailed south of Ecuador to today’s Angola and Namibia.

Expedition to the south of Africa

Diaz’s ship, Sao Cristóvao, was controlled by Pero de Alenquera. The second caravel called Sao Pantaleao was commanded by Joao Infante and controlled by Álvaro Martins. Diaz’ brother, Pero, also took part in the expedition, who commanded a supporting ship expedition, and Joao de Santiago was the helmsman. The expedition sailed south along the west coast of Africa. Along the way, the travelers managed to replenish their supplies in the Portuguese fortress on the Gold Coast.

Sailing further south from the height of today’s Angola, Bartholomew Diaz swam to the Bay of Walvis (modern Namibia). Then he sailed further south, where he discovered Angra dos Ilheus and then the expedition experienced a terrifying storm. After two weeks, they found themselves in the open ocean from where Diaz wanted to find the coast, which he failed, but he discovered the western winds and oceanic whirlpools. Thanks to Venetian maps from 1460 and experiences from previous expeditions, he knew that on the other side of Africa there is the Indian Ocean, which is why it still went south-east.

Having circled the southern coast of Africa, it changed course eastwards and using the strong Antarctic winds further north-east. After a month in the open sea, he came across a place he called the Bay of St. Blaise (later Mossel Bay). The expedition of the Portuguese reached the farthest point of the expedition on March 12, 1488, when they reached Kwaaihoek next to the mouth of the Boesmans River.

Bartholomew Diaz wanted to continue his journey towards India, but the rebellion of his crew resulting from the ending food supplies forced him to take the return course. For the return to Portugal, all officers also voted unanimously. And really, it was only on the way back that Diaz discovered the Cape of Good Hope, it was May 1488. Originally Diaz called this place Cape Storms, but King Jan II decided to change its name, because it bode well for future trade activities with the East. Diaz returned to Lisbon in December of the same year after a nearly 16-month absence in his home pages.

Preparations for Vasco da Gama’s trip to India

After this success, the Portuguese for 10 years abandoned the further exploration of the Indian Ocean, received valuable information from the crown of the Portuguese diplomat and traveler Pero da Covilha, who was sent to India from where he brought useful information for navigators. Based on his travel experience, Diaz helped to build two ships – Sao Gabriel and Sao Rafaela, which were used by Vasco da Gama in 1498, who continued Bartholomew’s mission. What’s more – Diaz participated in the expedition, but only in its first stage, until the expedition arrived at the Cape of Good Hope. The discovery of an alternative route to India was very significant, because for the first time in history Europeans could trade with India and the Far East bypassing the land, without using the services of incredibly expensive brokers and guides.

The second expedition of Bartholomew Diaz

Two years later he was one of the captains of the second expedition, which was to lead the Portuguese to India. The expedition was commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral. In 1500, the fleet reached Brazil and continued its journey east to India. Unfortunately, it was the last expedition of the Portuguese explorer, on May 29, 1500, he died near Cape of Good Hope during the storm. Bartholomew Diaz was married and had two children.

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