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Bartolomeu Dias de Novais
+/-1450 - 1500
 


Bartolomeu Dias de Novais was a Portuguese explorer who discovered the Cape of Good Hope and opened the sea route to the Indian Ocean.
 

 

It is not known when or where Bartolomeu Dias was born, and no information has survived about his early life. He emerged from obscurity only in 1487, when he sailed from Portugal with orders from King John II to continue exploration beyond a landmark raised by Diogo Cão in 1486 on the coast of South-West Africa. The King instructed Dias to discover a sea route to India which bypassed Moslem-dominated routes between the East and Europe and to seek information about the Christian empire of Abyssinia.


Journey of Discovery

In command of two caravels, each of about 100 modern tons, and of a storeship of about double that size, Dias left the Tagus River in August 1487. Beyond the farthest point reached by Cão, Dias made a close coasting. On Jan. 6, 1488, off the Serra dos Reis, in modern South Africa, Dias left the coast and was out of sight of land for 13 days. He steered eastward and found no land so altered course to the north. He closed the coast again opposite a river, the Gouritz of today. The coast ran eastward, and on February 3 he entered and named the bay of São Bras (modern Mossel Bay). Here he took in fresh water and bartered livestock from the local inhabitants, the Khoi-Khoi (Hottentots).

Continuing east, Dias came to a bay which he called Golfo da Roca; it was soon to be known as the Baia da Lagoa, a name subsequently corrupted to Algoa Bay. In this bay the crews verged on mutiny: they protested their shortage of provisions, pointed out that they had reached the extremity of the continent, and urged Dias to turn for home. A council agreed to this course, but Dias won consent to continue for a few more days.

At the end of the stipulated term the caravels reached a river which Dias called the Infante (probably modern Keiskama) after the captain of the second caravel. The coast was running decisively to the northeast, the sea became warmer, and it was clear that the expedition had indeed rounded Africa and reached the Indian Ocean. At the earliest conjunction of suitable site and favorable weather, at what came later to be called Kwaaihoek, 4 miles west of the Bushman's River, Dias landed and supervised the erection of a padrão, a square limestone pillar cut and inscribed in Portugal and surmounted by a block with the Portuguese coat of arms and a cross. It was a landmark, an assertion of Portuguese sovereignty, and a symbol of Christianity. Dedicated to St. Gregory, it was raised on March 12, 1488.

On May 16 Dias gave the name St. Brandon to a cape which soon became known as Agulhas. Dias discovered and named the Cape of Good Hope because, a contemporary recorded, "it gave indication and expectation of the discovery of India." There, on June 6, 1488, he probably raised another Padrão, dedicated to St. Philip. On Dias Point, west of Lüderitz, on July 25 he raised another padrão, dedicated to St. James. The caravels returned to the Tagus in December 1488. Dias had proved the sea route into the Indian Ocean.
 


Later Career

Dias helped administer the Guinea gold trade until 1494, when King Manuel I appointed him to supervise the construction of two square-rigged ships for Vasco da Gama's expedition. Dias kept the squadron company as far as the Cape Verde Islands, when he turned off to Guinea.

On the return of Vasco da Gama, Manuel dispatched a fleet of 13 vessels under Pedro álvares Cabral to the Indian Ocean to profit by the discoveries. In the fleet were 4 caravels under Bartolomeu Dias, who was instructed to found a trading station and fortress at the gold-exporting port of Sofala. The expedition left Brazil on May 2, 1500. On May 12 a comet came into view, "a prognostication of the sad event that was to take place," the Portuguese chronicler João de Barros remarked. The comet disappeared on May 23. The next day a sudden storm over whelmed 4 ships, which sank with all hands; among those lost was Dias.
 


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Bartolomeu Dias; Anglicized: Bartholomew Diaz (c. 1450 – May 29, 1500), a Nobleman of the Royal Household, was a Portuguese explorer who sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488, the first European known to have done so.

Travels

In 1481 Dias accompanied Diogo de Azambuja on an expedition to the Gold Coast. Dias was a cavalier of the royal court, superintendent of the royal warehouses and sailing-master of the man-of-war São Cristóvão (Saint Christopher). King John II of Portugal had appointed him on October 10, 1486 as the head of an expedition that was to endeavor to sail around the southern end of Africa in the hope of finding a trade route leading to India. Another important purpose of the expedition was to try to find the country of which recent reports had arrived through João Afonso de Aveiro and with which the Portuguese wished to enter into friendly relations. Dias was searching for the lands of Prester John, too, who was known as Christian priest and African Prince, though there is no evidence he ever existed. He was also sent to challenge the Muslims, who were in control of trading in Asia.

Dias sailed, at first, towards the mouth of the Congo River, discovered the year before by Diogo Cão and Martin Behaim, then, following the African coast, he entered Walvis Bay. From 29° south latitude (Port Nolloth), he lost sight of the coast and was sailing south in a violent storm, which had lasted thirteen days. He did not know that he had sailed well beyond the tip of the continent. When calm weather returned he sailed in an easterly direction and, when no land appeared, turned northward, landing at the "Baía dos Vaqueiros" (Mossel Bay) on 12 March 1488. Dias had rounded both the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa without ever having been to them before.

Continuing east, he sailed as far as the Great Fish River. Once it had become clear that India could be reached by sailing north up the coast, he turned back. It was only on the return voyage that he discovered the Cape of Good Hope in May 1488. Dias returned to Lisbon in December 1488 after an absence of sixteen months and seventeen days. He had explored a total of about 2,030 km of unknown African coast.

He originally named the Cape of Good Hope the "Cape of Storms" (Cabo das Tormentas). It was later renamed by King John II of Portugal as the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of the opening of a route to the east. The discovery of the passage around Africa was significant because for the first time Europeans could trade directly with India and the other parts of Asia, bypassing the overland route through of the Middle East, with its expensive middle men. The official report of the expedition to the Cape of Good Hope has been lost.

It appears that the Portuguese took a decade-long break from Indian Ocean exploration after Dias' return. In that hiatus, it is likely that they got valuable information from a secret agent, Pêro da Covilhã, who had been sent overland to India and provided valuable information useful to their ocean navigators.

In early 2008 Namdeb discovered an early 16th century wreck off the coast of Namibia. It was originally speculated that this might be the wreck of Dias' ship, but the gold coins were identified as "Português" which were minted after 1525, thus excluding the possibility of it being Dias' ship.
 


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A famous Portuguese navigator of the fifteenth century, discoverer of the Cape of Good Hope; died at sea, 29 May, 1500.

Several Portuguese historians state that he was a relative or descendant of João Dias who sailed around Cape Bojador in 1434, and of Diniz Dias who is said to have discovered the Cape Verde Islands. As early as 1481Bartolomeu Dias had accompanied Diogo d'Azambuja on an expedition to the Gold Coast.

Dias was a cavalier of the royal court, superintendent of the royal warehouses and sailing-master of the man-of-war "San Christovao", when KingJohn (João) II appointed him on 10 October, 1486, as the head of an expedition which was to endeavour to sail around the southern end of Africa. Its chief purpose was to find the country of the Christian African king known as Prester John, concerning whom recent reports had arrived (1486) through João Alfonso d'Aveiro, and with whom the Portuguese wished to enter into friendly relations.

After ten months of preparation Dias left Lisbon the latter part of July or the beginning of August, 1487, with two armed caravels of fifty tons each and one supply-ship. Among his companions were Pero d'Alemquer, who wrote a description of Vasco da Gama's first voyage, Leitao, João Infante, Alvaro Martins, and João Grego. The supply-ship was commanded by Bartolomeu's brother, Pero Dias. There were also two negroes and four negresses on board who were to be set ashore at suitable spots to explain to the natives the purpose of the expedition.

Dias sailed first towards the mouth of the Congo, discovered the year before by Cao and Behaim, then following the African coast, he entered Walfisch Bay, and probably erected the first of his stone columns near the present Angra Pequena. From 29° south latitude (Port Nolloth) he lost sight of the coast and was driven by a violent storm, which lasted thirteen days, far beyond the cape to the south. When calm weather returned he sailed again in an easterly direction and, when no land appeared, turned northward, landing in the Bahia dos Vaqueiros (Mossel Bay). Following the coast he reached Algoa Bay, and then the limit of his exploration, the Great Fish River, which he named after the commander of the accompanying vessel, Rio Infante. It was only on his return voyage that he discovered the Cape, to which, according to Barros, he gave the name of Cabo Tormentoso. King John , in view of the success of the expedition, is said to have proposed the name it has since borne, Cape of Good Hope. In December, 1488, Dias returned to Lisbon after an absence of sixteen months and seventeen days. He had shown the way to Vasco da Gama whom in 1497 he accompanied, but in a subordinate position, as far as the Cape Verde Islands.

In 1500 Dias commanded a ship in the expedition of Cabral; his vessel, however, was one of those wrecked not far from the Cape of Good Hope, which he had discovered thirteen years before. An official report of the expedition to the cape has not yet been found. Besides the account by Barros there is a note written on the margin of page 13 of a manuscript copy of Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's "Imago Mundi", which is of importance, as this copy was once the property of Christopher Columbus. Ravenstein has attempted, and not unsuccessfully, by the aid of contemporary charts to reconstruct the entire voyage with the different stopping-points of the route.

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 20 December, 2008