Hudson Tercentenary An historical retrospect regarding the object and quest of an all water route from Europe to India; the obstacles in the way; and also Hudson's voyage to America in 1609 and some of its results
AN HISTORICAL RETROSPECT
REGARDING THE OBJECT AND QUEST OF AN ALL-WATER ROUTE FROM EUROPE TO INDIA; THE OBSTACLES IN THE WAY; AND ALSO HUDSON’S VOYAGE TO AMERICA IN 1609 AND SOME OF ITS RESULTS
J. B. LYON COMPANY, PRINTERS
By Frank Chamberlain
Let us turn back the pages of history and takea cursory view of what gave the wonderful stimulusto maritime adventure; and what so longdelayed the discovery of the western world by theEuropeans.
Civilized mankind scarcely secures the necessariesof life before the desire for the luxuriessprings up and is cherished.
For untold centuries all of eastern Asia forbadethe entrance of foreigners into its territories. ToEuropeans it was an unknown land.
In the year 326 B. C. Alexander the Greatmarched his conquering Macedonian legionsagainst the myriads of Asiatic troops, subduedthem and marched on to the Hindus, where he“improvised a fleet” for his army, sailed downthat river, called Sacred, to the Indian ocean.Astonished at the wealth of the country and havingamassed precious gems and hundreds ofmillions of dollars he returned loaded with histreasures up the Euphrates, to that most wonderful4city of ancient times, Babylon, where he died.He opened the western doors of India, whichexposed its great wealth, excited the avarice ofthe small number of Greeks who knew of hisexploits; and for centuries it was the Europeans’Eldorado, which ultimately, by its luxury andeffeminacy, undermined western manhood and ledto the decay of Greece and Rome.
Asia, beyond the Euphrates, except by a few,was an unknown country to Europeans untilMarco Polo in 1271 A. D., in the company of hisfather and uncle, met Kublai Khan, the MongolEmperor, won his confidence and esteem and byhim was entrusted with the most important missions.During the seventeen years he remainedhe visited the most important places in China,India and the East Indies, and returned to Italyloaded with the rarest, most precious gems andimmense wealth, published a book telling hisexperience and picturing the East in the mostroseate colors, generally emanating from fancy,but in this case resting upon facts of which hewas able to furnish satisfactory proof.
The fact established that India—the EastIndies had the gold, silver, precious gems and5stones, ebony, ivory, cloves, cinnamon, cassia,spices and the most beautiful and costly fabrics,articles not obtainable elsewhere and the greatdesiderata of the Europeans, the question aroseas to how they could the most easily, quickly andcheaply be obtained. They could, without muchdifficulty, find their way to the Indian ocean, butthe transportation thence to Europe must be by“the ship of the desert,” the camel, across theArabian desert and the Isthmus of Suez, “thebridge of nations” to the Mediterranean or by amore northerly route through the Caspian andBlack seas. Caravans must be formed by themerchants and armed troops to protect themagainst the robbers. The land route by the caravanswas slow and very expensive, and the hopewas cherished that an all-water route might befound which would not only shorten the time, butgreatly lessen the expense of transportation. Fora considerable time the Phœnicians, occupying alittle skirt of land on the eastern end of theMediterranean, and the first distinctly commercialnation in the world’s history, virtually monopolizedthis land transportation; and then distributedthe articles along the shore of the Mediterranean,6where they had planted colonies clear up to thePillars of Hercules. But Venice and Genoa, rivaland wealthy cities of Italy, with fine harbors onthis inland sea, sought the India trade, supplantedPhœnicia and became greatly enriched by it. Thegreat desideratum—an all-water route from westernEurope to the Indies—had not yet been found,but after the Italian cities had enjoyed, monopolizedthe trade with India for a period of 150years, another little skirt of land on the west endof the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic ocean,Portugal, brought about a complete change in thetransportation which deprived Venice and Genoaof that business.
Henry, Prince of Portugal, surnamed the Navigator,far in advance of his time in geographicalknowledge and in the science of navigation, introducedthe compass and the astrolabe, which hefurnished with nautical maps and other guides forhis mariners, whom he inspired to sail along thewestern coast of Africa and double the Cape ofGood Hope. This, Bartholomew Diaz, a Portuguesenavigator, did in 1486, and then it seemedcertain that an all-water route from westernEurope to India had been found, but it was not7an accomplished fact until Vasco da Gama, aPortuguese navigator, availing himself of Diaz’sdiscovery of 1486, made a voyage in 1497 fromLisbon to Calicut (not Calcutta) in southwesternIndia.
Henry “the Navigator” was the father of whatmay be called ocean, in contradistinction to coast,navigation, scientific, instead of chance navigation,although he died before the Cape of Good Hopehad been doubled. After Diaz had doubled theCape of Good Hope in 1486, the furor of everymariner was to point the prow of his vesseltoward India to share in its precious gems, itsbeautiful and costly fabrics, articles of luxury,and its great wealth. The India fever seized allthe maritime nations of Europe, Portugal, Spain,France, the Netherlands, England, Sweden andDenmark. Christopher Columbus in 1492 sought,and thought he had found India by sailing westward.Then Rodrigo Lenzoli Borgia, a Spaniard,and the Pope, under the title of Alexander VI,assuming to be vice-gerent of the world, made adivision of all the newly-discovered, or subsequentlyto be discovered, heathen lands betweenthe two great Catholic powers, Spain and Portugal,8by drawing a line from pole to pole one hundredleagues west of the Azores and the Cape deVerde islands (this line was subsequently changed)and declared that all lands discovered west of thatline and not belonging to some Christian princeshould belong to Spain, and all similar lands eastof that line should belong to Portugal. The twogreat maritime and exploring nations of the fifteenthand sixteenth centuries were Portugal andSpain—the former in the east and the latter inthe west. Alas! their great fame is in the past.Spain hoped to reach the Indies by a shorter all-waterroute, sailing westward, and that wasColumbus’s mission, purpose and hope.
The edict of the Pope did not, in the least,restrain France, England or the Netherlands fromattempting to make discoveries, and France, England,the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmarkgranted charters to companies of their own subjects,granting them great and exclusive rights,and calling them East India companies. At theclose of the year A. D. 1600, Queen Elizabeth charteredthe English East India Company with mostextraordinary rights and privileges, and thus laidthe foundations for Great Britain’s Asiaticempire.
The Dutch East India Company charter wasgranted in 1602, to trade to the East Indies by theCape of Good Hope and the Strait of Magellanfor twenty-one years, and no other of the EastIndia companies has been so successfully managed.The Dutch have derived large revenue fromthe islands they still hold there, viz.: Java, theMoluccas or Spice islands, a large part of Borneo,Sumatra, Celebes and several small islands inthe Malay Archipelago.
Cornelius Hartman, a Dutch navigator, who hadspent some time in Lisbon, Portugal, returned in1594 to Amsterdam, where he gave such a glowingaccount of the rich and wonderful products of theEast, which covered the quays of the Tagus, inLisbon, that nine prominent merchants of Amsterdamformed a company, equipped a fleet of fourships, fitted for war (a war then prevailing betweenHolland and Spain) and for trade, and putHartman in command. He followed the Portugueseroute, and two years later returned withcargoes far surpassing the expectations or eventhe hopes of the company.
Seeing this Indian wealth upon their own docks,other associations and companies were formed in10the Netherlands to engage in this lucrative trade.Rivalry between them became so great as to diminishthe profits that a consolidation of the companieswas effected by Barneveldt. This companyconsisted of six branches called chambers, eachof which was to be managed by its own directors(originally fifty-three in all) in different parts ofthe country.
A general council of seventeen directors (Amsterdameight, Zealand four, Rotterdam, Hoornand Enkhuizen each one, and the seventeenth to bechosen by the chamber of Zealand, the Maas andNorth Holland) were by a majority of votes todetermine all voyages. This arrangement wasmade to protect the small chambers against thepower and policy of Amsterdam if against theirinterests. Each locality was secured in its dueproportion of the business of the company. Eachchamber had the exclusive management of its shipssent out by it and was held responsible for theproperty coming into its possession. The generalcouncil of seventeen did not meet often, but thesubordinate chambers could legislate upon subjectsappropriate, and which did not trench upon thegeneral policy and course of the company.
The Dutch East India Company was clothedwith extraordinary powers and privileges andbecame very wealthy; not alone in the pursuit ofthe East India trade, but by capturing in the WestIndies galleons containing great quantities of goldand silver, which the Spaniards, by the most cruelmethods, had taken in Mexico and Peru.
The ancients held different opinions about theform, dimensions, the proportion of land to water,of the earth, and as to whether it was motionless,around which all the universe revolved, as thegreat center, and of supreme importance, orwhether it was merely a satellite revolving aroundthe sun. It seems flat and the heavenly bodiesseem to revolve around it. Others thought theearth was a sphere because “the sphere is themost perfect form; it was the center of the universebecause that is the place of honor; and it ismotionless, because motion is less dignified thanrest.” Some believed that the earth is round andrests upon the ocean. Homer (900 B. C.) taughtthat the earth is flat, and so, too, did some of thelearned men of Greece and Rome, in the Augustanage. The great Church of Rome, of unequaledinfluence and power, taught that the earth is flat12and the center of the universe and interdicted, andfor centuries punished as heretics, those denyingthe infallibility of the Popes and teaching otherwise.It is probable that about 600 B. C., Thalesof Miletus, one of the “Seven Wise Men ofGreece,” a famous astronomer and geometer, wasthe first to teach that the earth is round. About550 B. C. Pythagoras, the renowned Greek philosopherand mathematician, taught that “theearth is a globe which admits of antipodes; thatit is in motion; is not the center of the universe,but revolves around the sun.” Plato, Aristotle,Hipparchus, Pliny, Cicero, Virgil, Ovid, Eratosthenesand many others, the most eminent scholarsof their times, believed that the earth is asphere; and Eratosthenes, an Alexandrian philosopher,astronomer, geometer and geographerabout 210 B. C. thought that he had not onlyproved that by scientific astronomical observationsbut also the speed of the earth in its revolutions;its magnitude and also the relative proportion ofits constituent elements of land and water.
Claudius Ptolemy, about 150 A. D., a celebratedAlexandrian astronomer, geographer and mathematician,held the opinion and promulgated it,13that the earth is a sphere and that the sun, planetsand stars revolve around it as the grand center.He was the founder of the Ptolemaic System whichwas almost universally received for 1,350 years,when the system of Copernicus (a revival of thesystem of Pythagoras) permanently displaced it,notwithstanding the violent opposition, extendingto persecution, of the Church of Rome against it.
Claudius Ptolemy had calculated the equatorialgirth of the earth to be 20,400 miles. Makingallowance for latitude, the circumference at theCanaries would be about 18,000 miles and thediameter about one-third of that, or 6,000 miles.Columbus was a student of everything accessibleconcerning geography and navigation and a devoutRoman Catholic. He credited the statement in theApochrypha of the Bible, Second Esdras, chapter6, verse 42, which says: “Upon the third dayThou didst command that the waters should begathered in the seventh part of the earth, six partshas Thou dried up and kept them,” etc., etc.
If Ptolemy’s calculation had been correct andEsdras’s statement reliable, 18,000 miles dividedby 7, giving a quotient of 2,571 miles, would havebeen the distance Columbus would have had to14sail from the Azores to Japan. He estimated hemight have to sail 4,000 miles (to reach the westcoast of India facing Europe) by being deflectedfrom a straight course. The real distance fromthe Canaries to Japan is 12,000 miles, and therelative proportion of salt water on the surfaceof the earth to the land is three-quarters. Columbus,believing that he was inspired and commissionedby God to convert the heathen, sailed andthought he had reached