THE POLAR EXPEDITIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE, I
When Vaz Cortereal was settled at Terceira from 1490 to 1497, he caused a fine palace to be built in the town of Angra, where he lived with his three children. His third son, Gaspard, after having been in the service of King Emmanuel, when the latter was only Duke de Beja had felt himself attracted while still young to the enterprises of discovery which had rendered his father illustrious. By an act dated from Cintra the 12th of March, 1500, King Emmanuel made a gift to Gaspard Cortereal of any islands or terra firma which he might discover, and the king added this valuable information, that "already and at other times he had sought for them on his own account and at his own expense."
For Gaspard Cortereal this was not his first essay. Probably, his researches may have been directed to the parts where his father had discovered the Island of Cod. At his own expense, although with the assistance of the king, Gaspard Cortereal fitted out two vessels at the commencement of the summer of 1500, and after having touched at Terceira, he sailed towards the north-west. His first discovery was of a land of which the fertile and verdant aspect seems to have charmed him. This was Canada. He saw there a great river bearing ice along with it on its course—the St. Lawrence—which some of his companions mistook for an arm of the sea, and to which he gave the name of Rio Nevado. "Its volume is so considerable that it is not probable that this country is an island, besides, it must be completely covered with a very thick coating of snow to produce such a stream of water."
The houses in this country were of wood and covered with skins and furs. The inhabitants were unacquainted with iron, but used swords made of sharpened stones, and their arrows were tipped with fish-bones or stones. Tall and well-made, their faces and bodies were painted in different colours according to taste, they wore golden and copper bracelets, and dressed themselves in garments of fur. Cortereal pursued his voyage and arrived at the Cape of Bacalhaos, "fishes which are found in such great quantities upon this coast that they hinder the advance of the caravels." Then he followed the shore for a stretch of 600 miles, from 56° to 60°, or even more, naming the islands, the rivers, and the gulfs that he met with, as is proved by Terra do Labrador, Bahia de Conceiçao, &c., and landing and holding intercourse with the natives. Severe cold, and a veritable river of gigantic blocks of ice prevented the expedition from going farther north, and it returned to Portugal bringing back with it fifty-seven natives. The very year of his return, on the 15th of May, 1501, Gaspard Cortereal, in pursuance of an order of the 15th of April, received provisions, and left Lisbon in the hope of extending the field of his discoveries. But from this time he is never again mentioned. Michael Cortereal, his brother, who was the first gentleman-usher to the king, then requested and obtained permission to go and seek his brother, and to pursue his enterprise. By an act of the 15th of January, 1502, a deed of gift conveyed to him the half of the terra firma and islands which his brother might have discovered. Setting out on the 10th of May of this year with three vessels, Michael Cortereal reached Newfoundland, where he divided his little squadron, so that each of the vessels might explore the coasts separately, while he fixed the place of rendezvous. But at the time fixed, he did not reappear, and the two other vessels, after waiting for him till the 20th of August, set out on their return to Portugal.
In 1503, the king sent two caravels to try to obtain news of the two brothers, but the search was in vain, and they returned without having acquired any information. When Vasco Annes, the last of the brothers Cortereal, who was captain and governor of the Islands of St. George and Terceira, and alcaide mõr of the town of Tavilla, became acquainted with these sad events, he resolved to fit out a vessel at his own cost, and to go and search for his brothers. The king, however, would not allow him to go, fearing to lose the last of this race of good servants.
Upon the maps of this period, Canada is often indicated by the name of Terra dos Cortereales, a name which is sometimes extended much further south, embracing a great part of North America.
All that concerns John and Sebastian Cabot has been until recently shrouded by a mist which is not even now completely dissipated, notwithstanding the conscientious labours of Biddle the American in 1831, and of our compatriot M. d'Avezac; as also those of Mr. Nicholls the Englishman, who taking advantage of the discoveries made among the English, Spanish, and Venetian archives, has built up an imposing monument, of which some parts, however, are open to discussion. It is from the two last-named works that we shall draw the materials for this rapid sketch, but principally from Mr. Nicholls' book, which has this advantage over the smaller volume of M. d'Avezac, that it relates the whole life of Sebastian Cabot.