CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, 1436-1506, V
Fourth Voyage: A Flotilla of four vessels—Canary Islands—Martinique—Dominica—Santa-Cruz—Porto-Rico—Hispaniola—Jamaica—Cayman Island—Pinos Island—Island of Guanaja—Cape Honduras—The American Coast of Truxillo on the Gulf of Darien—The Limonare Islands—Huerta—The Coast of Veragua—Auriferous Strata—Revolt of the Natives—The Dream of Columbus—Porto-Bello—The Mulatas—Putting into port at Jamaica—Distress—Revolt of the Spaniards against Columbus—Lunar Eclipse—Arrival of Columbus at Hispaniola—Return of Columbus to Spain—His death, on the 20th of March, 1506.
Christopher Columbus saw himself now reinstated in favour, as he deserved to be, at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Perhaps the king may have still evinced a certain degree of coldness towards him, but the queen was his avowed and enthusiastic protectress. His official title as viceroy had not, however, been restored to him, but the admiral, with his usual magnanimity, did not demand it. He had the satisfaction of seeing Bovadilla deposed, partly for his abuse of power, and partly because his conduct towards the Indians had become atrocious; his inhuman proceedings towards them being pushed to such a length, that under his administration the native population of Hispaniola, sensibly decreased.
During this time the island began to fulfil the hopes of Columbus, who had prophesied that in three years the crown would derive from it a revenue of sixty millions. Gold was obtained in abundance from the best worked mines; a slave had dug up on the banks of the Hayna, a mass, equal in weight to 3600 golden crowns; it was easy to foresee that the new colonies would yield incalculable riches.
The admiral, who could not bear to remain inactive, earnestly demanded to be sent on a fourth voyage, although he was by this time sixty-six years of age. In support of his request he adduced some very plausible reasons. One year before the return of Columbus, the Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama, had returned from the Indies, after having doubled the Cape of Good Hope. Columbus felt certain that by sailing to India by the much safer and shorter western route, the Spaniards might enter into profitable competition with the Portuguese traders. He constantly maintained, believing as he did that he had been alongside the Asiatic territory, that the islands and continents discovered by him were only separated by a strait from the Moluccas. He therefore wished, without even returning to Hispaniola and the colonies already settled, to direct his course at once to the Indies. It is evident that the ex-Viceroy had again become the hardy navigator of his earlier years. The king agreed to the admiral's request, and placed him in command of a flotilla composed of four vessels, the Santiago, Gallego, Vizcaino, and a caravel, as admiral's galley. These ships were of small tonnage, the largest being only of seventy tons, and the smallest of fifty; they were in fact, little better than coasting-vessels.
Columbus left Cadiz on the 9th of May, 1502, with crews numbering in all 150 men. He took with him his brother Bartolomeo, and his son Fernando, the child of his second marriage, and at this time scarcely thirteen years old. On the 20th of May, the vessels stopped at Gran Canaria, and on the 15th of June arrived at Martinique, one of the Windward Islands; afterwards they touched at Dominica, Santa-Cruz, and Porto-Rico, and at length, after a prosperous voyage, reached Hispaniola, on the 29th of June. The intention of Columbus, acting on the queen's advice, was not to land upon the island whence he had been so unworthily expelled; but his badly-constructed ship was scarcely sea-worthy, and repairs to the keel were greatly needed. Therefore the admiral demanded permission of the governor to enter the harbour.
The new governor, successor to Bovadilla, was a just and moderate man, a knight of the order of Alcantara, named Nicholas Ovando. His excessive caution, however, made him fear that the presence of Columbus in the colony might be a cause of disorder; he therefore thought it right to refuse the request. The admiral concealed the indignation which such treatment could not but cause him, and returned good for evil, by offering wise counsel to the governor in the following instance. The fleet which was to take Bovadilla back to Europe, and to bear with it, besides the enormous lump of gold already mentioned, other treasures of great value, was ready to put to sea. But the weather was very threatening, and Columbus, with a sailor's penetration, having observed the signs of an approaching storm, implored the governor not to expose the ships and passengers to such danger. Ovando would not listen to the advice, and the ships put to sea; scarcely had they reached the eastern point of the island before a terrible hurricane arose, causing twenty-one of the ships to founder with all on board. Bovadilla was drowned, and with him the greater part of the enemies of Columbus, but by an exception which may be called providential, the ship which carried the poor remains of the admiral's fortune, escaped destruction. In this storm ten millions' worth of gold and precious stones was engulfed by the ocean.