Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

Success at Last

Having escaped many dangers, having suffered many misfortunes, having lost two of his ships, Vasco da Gama did at length, after a voyage of eleven months, reach India. The joy was great when at last the long-looked-for shore appeared, and the dream of years was realised.

Vasco da Gama landed some little distance from the town of Calicut, which was well known in Europe as the place from which calico came. But until that day no European had set foot there.

But even now that India was reached, the dangers were not over. The Arab merchants, who had grown rich through their Indian trade, were jealous of the newcomers. So they tried to make mischief between the Zamorin or King of Calicut and the Portuguese. They told him that these white-faced people had come not to trade, but to conquer his land.

By treachery the Arabs succeeded in taking Vasco prisoner. The Indians who helped them, however, did not dare to put him to death, and he was at length set free. But he never forgave the Moors and Arabs for their treachery, and swore to be avenged upon them.

Meanwhile, however, they had so set the people of Calicut against the Portuguese, that it was only with great difficulty that Vasco could gather a small cargo of spices and drugs. With this he was forced to be content, and set sail for home.

But, as the wind was against them, the Portuguese, instead of sailing straight across the Indian Ocean, sailed northward along the Indian coast until they came to Cannanore. Here the King received them with great honour. For it had been foretold long ago by one of his wise men that the whole of India should one day be ruled by a distant King whose people should be white, and who would do great harm to those who were not their friends. So the King of Cannanore and his counsellors, making sure that these were the white men who were one day to rule India, made haste to be friendly.

To Vasco da Gama the King sent such great presents of pepper and cinnamon, clove, mace. ginger, and all kinds of spice, that the ships could not hold it, and Vasco was obliged at last to refuse to take more.

Thus at length, well rewarded for their troubles and toil, Vasco and his men sailed home. And after more adventures and dangers they reached Lisbon in safety.

Great were the rejoicings when the ships arrived. For they had been gone two and a half years, and both King and people had given up all hope of their return.

Now that at length the route to India was found, Portugal was raised to great importance. Her kings took the proud title of "Lords of the Conquest, Navigation and Commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and China," and for a hundred years the flag of Portugal was honoured on every sea.

Vasco da Gama was richly rewarded. He was given the title of Dom or lord. And when every one was paid, and the widows and children of those who had lost their lives in the adventure had been cared for, it was found that the Portuguese had still made sixty times as much as they had spent on fitting out the expedition.

The way to India once found, the Portuguese were not slow to make use of it. Again and again expeditions set out, and soon not only traders went, but soldiers also, to guard them from the hatred and spite of the Moors and Arabs.

The Portuguese made friendly treaties with the Kings of Cannanore and Cochin. They built factories and left factors and clerks there, and thus the commerce of Europe with India was begun. These factories were not what we mean now by factories. They were not places where goods were made, but simply trading stations, houses where the natives brought their goods and exchanged them for other goods. A factor means really one who does trade for another.

With the King of Calicut and with the Moors there was war. Whenever the Portuguese met a Calicut vessel they attacked it, took what they wanted of the cargo, sunk or burned the ship, and killed all the sailors.

Those were terrible times, and trade was not the peaceful thing that it is now. It was almost as dangerous and quite as exciting as war, and traders were often little better than pirates.

When Vasco da Gama made his second voyage to India he avenged himself terribly on the Moors, as he had vowed to do. Coming upon a fleet of twenty-four of their vessels he captured them all. After having taken as much of the cargo as he wanted, he cut off the hands, noses, and ears of the sailors. He then tied their feet together, and so that they might not untie the knots with their teeth, he ordered his men to knock them out. Lastly he set fire to the ships, and with sails set to the shore, he let them drift homeward with their ghastly crew.

That a wise brave man like Vasco da Gama should be so brutal seems terrible now, but in those fierce times he seemed only to be taking a just revenge.

In a very short time the little Portuguese trading stations grew into forts, the forts grew into towns, where Christian churches rose beside Moslem mosques and Hindu temples; Portuguese vessels cruised along the coasts attacking any ship, no matter of what country, which might dare to enter Indian waters; Portuguese viceroys held sway on Indian shores from the Gulf of Cambay to what is now Madras; and the trade with Burma and Bengal, with China and Japan and all the East was in their hands. All this was not brought about without much fighting and many wars. But Portugal in those days was strong and powerful, and all over the world her merchants were as much feared for their might as envied for their wealth.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: How Brave Men Went Sailing upon Unknown Seas  |  Next: Dutch and English
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.