Pedro Alvarez Cabral

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Pedro Alvarez Cabral (c.1467-1520), was the Portuguese navigator and commander most notable for the European discovery of Brazil.

Whilst of noble birth, not much is known of his early life. Like Vasco da Gama he was considered more of a soldier-nobleman than a seaman when chosen to repeat da Gama’s venture in pursuit of trade with India - with a larger, better armed and manned fleet, and with missionary priests aboard.

In early 1500 the fleet left Lisbon, retraced the now well-known route to the Cape Verde Islands then struck due south, as if to track down the centre of the Atlantic, well west of da Gama’s route three years previously. South of the equator and into the SE trade winds he veered south west and made landfall on the coast of Brazil. They only stayed long enough to admire the locals, take on water, and note that the land seemed well on the Portuguese side of the line agreed to under the Treaty of Tordesillas signed some 6 years before, and claim possession. Cabral sent one of his fleet back to Portugal to report the find, but Portugal, it seems was not particularly exited by the discovery, preferring to concentrate on the more immediate riches expected from the opening of the East.

They continued, sailing southeast to miss the south of Africa, encountering a storm on the way in which four ships were lost (including one commanded by the inestimable Bartholomew Diaz). Their progress up the east coast of Africa and across the Indian Ocean was similar to da Gama’s and they reached Calicut in India after about six months at sea, a time that was to remain fairly consistent for that voyage.

Cabral had many of the same problems as his predecessor in India, faced by strong and at times violent opposition from his Arab rivals and lack of respect from the local rulers. His fleet was well armed, however, and he was able to get permission to establish a trading factory down the coast in Calicut’s rival Cochis after leaving Calicut in the wake of bloodshed between his crew and Arabs.

Cabral with only four spice-laden ships arrived back in Lisbon in June 1501. Whilst the expedition was profitable and successful to the point that planning of another began immediately, Cabral was overlooked for further tasks and disappeared from history. It is believed he died in 1520.