The principal navigations, voyages, traffiques, and discoveries of the English nation, by Richard Hakluyt

A Letter written from Goa, the principall City of all the East Indies, by one Thomas Steuens an English man, and sent to his father, M. Thomas Steuens: Anno 1579.

After most humble commendations: These shall be to crave your dayly blessing, with like commendations vnto my mother; and withall, to certifie you of my being: according to your will and my duety. I wrote vnto you taking my iourney from Italy to Portugall, which letters I thinke are come to your hands, so that presuming therupon, I thinke I haue the lesse need at this time to tell you the cause of my departing, which nevertheless in one word I may conclude, if I do but name obedience. I came to Lisbon toward the end of March, eight dayes before the departure of the shippes, so late that if they had not bene stayed about some weighty matters, they had bene long gone before our comming: insomuch that there were others ordained to goe in our places, that the kings prouision and ours also might not be in vaine. Neuerthelesse our sudden comming tooke place, and the fourth of Aprill fiue ships departed for Goa, wherein besides shipmen and souldiers, there were a great number of children which in the seas beare out better than men, and no maruell, when that many women also passe very well. The setting foorth from the port I need not to tell how solemne it is with trumpets, and shooting of ordinance, you may easily imagine it, considering that they go in the maner of warre. The tenth of the foresayd moneth we came to the sight of Porto Santo neere vnto Madera, where an English shippe set vpon ours (which was then also alone) with a few shots, which did no harme, but after that our ship had layed out her greatest ordinance, they straight departed as they came. The English shippe was very faire and great, which I was sorry to see so ill occupied, for she went rouing about, so that we saw her againe at the Canarian Iles, vnto the which we came the thirteenth of the sayd moneth, and good leisure we had to woonder at the high mountaine of the Iland Tenerif, for we wandred betweene that and great Canaria foure dayes by reason of contrary windes: and briefly, such euill weather we had vntill the foureteenth of May, that they despaired, to compasse the Cape of Good hope that yeere. Neuertheless, taking our voyage betweene Guinea and the Ilands of Capo Verde, without seeing of any land at all, we arriued at length vnto the coast of Guinie, which the Portugals so call, chiefly that part of the burning Zone, which is from the sixt degree vnto the Equinoctiall, in which parts they suffered so many inconueniences of heats, and lacke of windes, that they thinke themselues happy when they haue passed it: for sometimes the ship standeth there almost by the space of many dayes, sometimes she goeth, but in such order that it were almost as good to stand still. And the greatest part of this coast not cleare, but thicke and cloudy, full of thunder and lightening, and raine so vnholesome, that if the water stand a little while, all is full of wormes, and falling on the meat which is hanged vp, it maketh it straight full of wormes. Along all that coast we often times saw a thing swimming vpon the water like a cocks combe (which they call a ship of Guinea) but the colour much fairer; which combe standeth vpon a thing almost like the swimmer of a fish in colour and bignesse, and beareth vnderneath in the water, strings which saue it from turning ouer. This thing is so poisonous, that a man cannot touch it without great perill. In this coast, that is to say, from the sixt degree vnto the Equinoctiall, we spent no lesse than thirty dayes, partly with contrary windes, partly with calme. The thirtieth of May we passed the Equinoctiall with contentation, directing our course as well as we could to passe the promontory, but in all that gulfe, and in all the way beside, we found so often calmes, that the expertest mariner wondred at it. And in places where there are alwayes woont to be most horrible tempests, we found most quiet calmes which was very troublesome to those ships which be the greatest of all other, and cannot go without good windes. Insomuch, that when it is tempest almost intollerable for other ships, and maketh them maine all their sailes, these hoise vp, and saile excellent well, vnlesse the waters be too furious, which seldome happened in our nauigation. You shall vnderstand, that being passed the line, they cannot straightway go the next way to the promontory: but according to the winde, they draw always as neere South as they can to put themselues in the latitude of the point, which is 35 degrees and an halfe, and then they take their course towards the East, and so compass the point. But the winde serued vs so, that at 33 degrees we did direct our course toward the point or promontory of Good hope.

You know that it is hard to saile from East to West, or contrary, because there is no fixed point in all the skie, whereby they may direct their course, wherefore I shall tell you what helps God prouided for these men. There is not a fowle that appereth, or signe in the aire, or in the sea, which they haue not written, which haue made the voyages heretofore. [Sidenote: The variation of the compasse.] Wherfore, partly by their owne experience, and pondering withall what space the ship was able to make with such a winde, and such direction, and partly by the experience of others, whose books and nauigations they haue, they gesse whereabouts they be, touching degrees of longitude, for of latitude they be alwayes sure: but the greatest and best industry of all is to marke the variation of the needle or compasse, which in the Meridian of the Iland of S. Michael, which is one of the Azores in the latitude of Lisbon, is iust North, and thence swarueth towards the East so much, that betwixt the Meridian aforesayd, and the point of Africa it carrieth three or foure quarters of 32. And againe in the point of Afrike, a little beyond the point that is called Cape das Agulias (in English the needles) it returneth againe vnto the North, and that place passed, it swarueth againe toward the West, as it did before proportionally. [Sidenote: Signes about the Cape of Bona Speransa.] As touching our first signes, the neerer we came to the people of Afrike, the more strange kindes of fowles appeared, insomuch that when we came within no lesse then thirty leagues (almost an hundred miles) and sixe hundred miles as we thought from any Iland, as good as three thousand fowles of sundry kindes followed our ship: some of them so great that their wings being opened from one point to the other, contained seuen spannes, as the Mariners sayd. A maruellous thing to see how God prouided, so that in so wide a sea these fowles are all fat, and nothing wanteth them. The Portugals haue named them all according to some propriety which they haue: some they call Rushtailes, because their tailes be not proportionable to their bodies, but long and small like a rush, some forked tailes because they be very broad and forked, some Veluet sleeues, because they haue wings of the colour of veluet, and bowe them as a man boweth his elbow. This bird is alwayes welcome, for he appeareth neerest the Cape. I should neuer make an end if I should tell all particulars: but it shall suffice briefly to touch a few, which yet shall be sufficient, if you marke them, to giue occasion to glorifie almighty God in his wonderfull works, and such variety in his creatures. [Sidenote: Fishes on sea coast of Africa.] And to speake somewhat of fishes in all places of calme, especially in the burning Zone, neere the line (for without we neuer saw any) there waited on our ship fishes as long as a man, which they call Tuberones, they come to eat such things as from the shippe fall into the sea, not refusing men themselues if they light vpon them. And if they finde any meat tied in the sea, they take it for theirs. These haue waiting on them six or seuen small fishes (which neuer depart) with gardes blew and greene round about their bodies, like comely seruing men: and they go two or three before him, and some on euery side. Moreouer, they haue other fishes which cleaue alwayes vnto their body, and seeme to take such superfluities as grow about them, and they are sayd to enter into their bodies also to purge them if they need. The Mariners in time past haue eaten of them, but since they haue seene them eate men their stomacks abhorre them. Neuerthelesse, they draw them vp with great hooks, and kill of them as many as they can, thinking that they haue made a great reuenge. There is another kind of fish as bigge almost as a herring, which hath wings and flieth, and they are together in great number. These haue two enemies, the one in the sea, the other in the aire. In the sea the fish which is called Albocore, as big as a Salmon, followeth them with great swiftnesse to take them. This poore fish not being able to swim fast, for he hath no finnes, but swimmeth with moouing of his taile, shutting his wings, lifteth himselue aboue the water, and flieth not very hie: the Albocore seeing that, although he haue no wings, yet he giueth a great leape out of the water, and sometimes catcheth him, or els he keepeth himselfe vnder the water going that way on as fast as he flieth. And when the fish being weary of the aire, or thinking himselue out of danger, returneth into the water, the Albocore meeteth with him: but sometimes his other enemy the sea-crow, catcheth him before he falleth. [Sidenote: Note.] With these and like sights, but alwayes making our supplications to God for good weather and saluation of the ship, we came at length vnto the point, so famous and feared of all men: but we found there no tempest, only great waues, where our Pilot was a little ouerseene: for whereas commonly al other neuer come within sight of land, but seeing signes ordinary, and finding bottome, go their way sure and safe, he thinking himselfe to haue wind at will, shot so nigh the land that the winde turning into the South, and the waues being exceeding great, rolled vs so neere the land, that the ship stood in lesse then 14 fadoms of water, no more then sixe miles from the Cape, which is called Das Agulias, and there we stood as vtterly cast away: for vnder vs were rocks of maine stone so sharpe, and cutting, that no ancre could hold the ship, the shore so euill, that nothing could take land, and the land itselfe so full of Tigers, and people that are sauage, and killers of all strangers, that we had no hope of life nor comfort, but onely in God and a good conscience. Notwithstanding, after we had lost ancres, hoising vp the sailes for to get the ship a coast in some safer place, or when it should please God, it pleased his mercy suddenly, where no man looked for helpe, to fill our sailes with wind from the land, and so we escaped, thanks be to God. And the day following, being in the place where they are alwayes wont to catch fish, we also fell a fishing, and so many they tooke, that they serued all the ship for that day, and part of the next. [Sidenote: Corall.] And one of them pulled vp a corall of great bignesse and price. For there they say (as we saw by experience) that the corals doe grow in the maner of stalks vpon the rocks in the bottome, and waxe hard and red. The day of perill was the nine and twentieth of Iuly. [Sidenote: Two wayes beyond the cape of Good hope.] And you shall vnderstand that, the Cape passed, there be two wayes to India: one within the Ile of S. Lawrence, which they take willingly, because they refresh themselues at Mosambique a fortnight or a moneth, not without great need, and thence in a moneth more land in Goa. The other is without the Ile of S. Lawrence, which they take when they set foorth so late, and come so late to the point, that they have no time to take the foresayd Mosambique, and then they goe heauily, because in this way they take no port. And by reason of the long nauigation, and want of food and water, they fall into sundry diseases, their gummes waxe great, and swell, and they are faine to cut them away, their legges swell and all the body becommeth sore, and so benummed, that they cannot stirre hand nor foot, and so they die for weaknesse, others fall into fluxes and agues, and die thereby. And this way it was our chance to make: yet though we had more then one hundred and fifty sicke, there died not past seuen and twentie; which losse they esteemed not much in respect of other times. Though some of ours were diseased in this sort, yet, thanks be to God, I had my health, contrary to the expectation of many: God send me my health so well in the land, if it may be to his honour and seruice. This way is full of priuy rocks and quicke-sands, so that sometimes we durst not saile by night, but by the prouidence of God we saw nothing, nor neuer found bottom vntill we came to the coast of India. When we had passed againe the line, and were come to the third degree or somewhat more, we saw crabs swimming on the water that were red as though they had bene sodden: but this was no signe of land. After about the eleuenth degree, the space of many days, more than ten thousand fishes by estimation followed round about our ship, whereof we caught so many, that for fifteene days we did eate nothing els, and they serued our turne very well: for at this time we had neither meate nor almost any thing els to eate, our nauigation growing so long that it drew neere to seuen moneths, where as commonly they goe it in fiue, I mean when they saile the inner way. [Sidenote: They commonly sail from Lisbon to Goa in 5 moneths.] But these fishes were not signe of land, but rather of deepe sea. At length we tooke a couple of Birds which were a kinde of Hawks, whereof they ioyed much, thinking that they had bene of India, but indeed they were of Arabia, as we found afterward. And we that thought we had bene neere India, were in the same latitude neere Zocotoro, an Ile in the mouth of the Red sea. [Sidenote: Running seas very dangerous.] But there God sent vs great winds from the Northeast or Northnortheast, wherevpon vnwillingly they bare vp towards the East, and thus we went tenne dayes without seeing signe of land, whereby they perceived their errour: for they had directed their course before always Northeast, coueting to multiply degrees of latitude, but partly the difference of the Needle, and most of all the running seas, which at that time ran Northwest, had drawen vs to this other danger, had not God sent vs this winde, which at length waxed larger, and restored vs to our right course. These running seas be so perillous that they deceiue the most part of the gouernours, and some be so little curious, contenting themselues with ordinary experience, that they care not to seeke out any meanes to know when they swarue, neither by the compasse, nor by any other triall. [Sidenote: Certaine signs of land.] The first signe of land were certaine fowles which they knew to be of India: the second, boughes of palmes and sedges: the third, snakes swimming on the water, and a substance which they call by the name of a coine of money, as broad and as round as a groat, wonderfully printed and stamped of nature, like vnto some coine. And these two last signes be so certaine, that the next day after, if the winde serve, they see lande, which we did to our great joy, when all our water (for you know they make no beere in those parts) and victuals began to faile vs. [Sidenote: They arriued at Goa the 24 of October.] And to Goa we came the foure and twentieth day of October, there being receiued with passing great charity. The people be tawny, but not disfigured in their lips and noses, as the Moores and Cafres of Ethiopia. They that be not of reputation, or at least the most part, goe naked, sauing an apron of a span long, and as much in breadth before them, and a lace two fingers broad before them, girded about with a string and no more: and thus they thinke them as well as we with all our trimming. Of the fruits and trees that be here I cannot now speake, for I should make another letter as long as this. For hitherto I haue not seene a tree here whose like I haue seene in Europe, the vine excepted, which neuerthelesse here is to no purpose, so that all the wines are brought out of Portugall. The drinke of this countrey is good water, or wine of the Palme tree, or of a fruit called Cocos. And this shall suffice for this time. If God send me my health, I shall haue opportunity to write to you once againe. Now the length of my letter compelleth me to take my leaue, and thus I wish your most prosperous health. From Goa the tenth of Nouember, 1579.

Your louing sonne Thomas


Last updated Monday, March 10, 2014 at 22:20