THE POLAR EXPEDITIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NORTH-WEST PASSAGE, I
In all probability it was death—a sudden and unexpected death—which prevented John Cabot from taking the command of this expedition. His son Sebastian then assumed the direction of the fleet, which carried 300 men and provisions for a year. After having sighted land at 45°, Sebastian Cabot followed the coast as far as 58°, perhaps even higher, but then it became so cold, and although it was the month of July, there was so much floating ice about, that, it would have been impossible to go further northwards. The days were very long, and the nights excessively light, an interesting detail by which to fix the latitude reached, for we know that below the 60th parallel of latitude the longest days are eighteen hours. These various reasons made Sebastian Cabot decide to put about, and he touched at the Bacalhaos Islands, of which the inhabitants, who were clothed in the skins of animals, were armed with bow and arrows, lance, javelin, and wooden sword. The navigators here caught a great number of cod-fish; they were even so numerous, says an old narrative, that they hindered ships from advancing. After having sailed along the coast of America as far as 38°, Cabot set out for England, where he arrived at the beginning of autumn. This voyage had indeed a threefold object, that of discovery, commerce, and colonization, as is shown by the number of vessels which took part in it and the strength of the crews. Nevertheless it does not appear that Cabot landed any one, or that he made any attempts at forming a settlement, either in Labrador, or in Hudson's Bay—which he was destined to explore more completely in 1517, in the reign of Henry VIII.—or even to the south of the Bacalhaos, known by the general name of Newfoundland. At the close of this expedition, which was almost entirely unproductive, we lose sight of Sebastian Cabot, if not completely, at least so as to be insufficiently informed about his deeds and voyages until 1517. The traveller Hojeda, whose various enterprises we have related above, had left Spain in the month of May, 1499. We know that in this voyage he met with an Englishman at Caquibaco, on the coast of America. Can this have been Cabot? Nothing has come to light to enable us to settle this point; but we may believe that Cabot did not remain idle, and that he would be likely to undertake some fresh expedition: what we do know is, that in spite of the solemn engagements that he had made with Cabot, the King of England granted certain privileges of trading in the countries which he had discovered, to the Portuguese and to the merchants of Bristol. This ungenerous manner of recognizing his services wounded the navigator, and decided him to accept the offers which had been made to him on different occasions, to enter the Spanish service. From the death of Vespucius, which happened in 1512, Cabot was the navigator held in most renown. To attach him to himself, Ferdinand wrote on the 13th of September, 1512, to Lord Willoughby, commander in chief of the troops which had been transported to Italy, to treat with the Venetian navigator.
|Discoveries of John and Sebastian Cabot.|
As soon as he arrived in Castille, Cabot received the rank of captain, by an edict dated the 20th of October, 1512, with a salary of 5000 maravédis. Seville was fixed upon for his residence, until an opportunity might arise of turning his talents and experience to account. There was a plan on foot for his taking the command of a very important expedition, when Ferdinand the Catholic died, on the 23rd of January, 1516. Cabot returned at once to England, having probably obtained leave of absence. Eden tells us that the following year Cabot was appointed with Sir Thomas Pert to the command of a fleet which was to reach China by the north-west. On the 11th of June, he was in Hudson's Bay at 67½° of latitude; the sea free from ice spread itself out before him so far that he reckoned upon success in his enterprise, when the faintheartedness of his companion, together with the cowardice and mutinous spirit of the crews, who refused to go any further, obliged him to return to England. In hisTheatrum orbis terrarum, Ortelius traces the shape of Hudson's Bay as it really is; he even indicates at its northern extremity a strait leading northwards. How can the geographer have attained to such exactness? "Who," says Mr. Nicholls, "can have given him the information set forth in his map, if not Cabot?"
On his return to England, Cabot found the country ravaged by a horrible plague, which put a stop even to commercial transactions. Soon, either because the time of his leave had expired, or that he wished to escape from the pestilence, or that he was recalled to Spain, the Venetian navigator returned to that country. In 1518, on the 5th of February, Cabot was made pilot-major, with a salary which, added to that which he already had, made a total of 125,000 maravédis, say, 300 ducats. He did not actually exercise the functions of his office till Charles V. returned from England. His principal duty consisted in examining pilots, who were not allowed to go to the Indies until after having passed this examination.