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CABOT ENTERS THE LA PLATA-NECESSITY FOR CAUTION-HIS PREDE
CESSOR AS PILOT-MAJOR KILLED IN ATTEMPTING TO EXPLORE THAT
RIVER-CARRIES THE ISLAND OF ST GABRIEL-HIS PROGRESS TO ST
SALVADOR WHERE A FORT IS ERECTED-ITS POSITION-LOSS IN TAKING
Cabot was left in the neighbourhood of the La Plata at the moment when, by a determined effort, he “shook to air” the mutiny that sought to fasten on him.
It is plain, that after expelling the three individuals who, in the event of his death, were named, in succession, to the command in chief, he would not have been justified in proceeding, with the squadron which the Emperor had confided to him, on the long and perilous voyage originally contemplated. He determined, therefore, to put into the La Plata and send advice of what had occurred. His predecessor in the office of Pilot-Major, Diego de Solis, had been slain in attempting to explore this river; Cabot now resolved to renew the experiment.
An additional reason for postponing, until further orders, the prosecution of the enterprise was the loss, by shipwreck, of one of the vessels. This fact is mentioned by Richard Eden (Decades, fol. 316), who has a chapter on the region of the La Plata in which he adverts to the expedition, in terms* that bespeak the reports conveyed to England, probably, by Robert Thorne, then at Seville, and his two friends who were engaged in it. He states the loss of the vessel, and
*"The Emperoure's Majestie and Kynge of Spayne Charles the fifte, sente forthe Sebastian Cabot (a man of great courage and skylfull in Cosmographie, and of no lesse experience as concernynge the starres and the sea) with command, ment,” &c.
that the men that saved their lyves by swymmynge were receaved into the other shyppes.
It is the more necessary to understand the considerations by which Cabot was influenced, as in a recent work (Dr Lardner's Cyclopædia, History of Maritime and Inland Discovery, vol. ii. p. 89), the following strange assertion is found amidst a tissue of errors: “On touching at the mouth of the river in which Solis had lost his life, Cabot found two Spaniards who had deserted from that Commander, besides fifteen other stragglers from subsequent expeditions. All these men concurred in representing the country up the river as singularly rich in the precious metals, and easily persuaded Cabot to proceed in that direction!” Not the slightest allusion is made to the mutiny, or to the loss of one of the vessels. Thus, an Officer in command of the Emperor's squadron with specific orders, and under bond, moreover, to the merchants of Seville, is represented as abandoning his duty and becoming an easy dupe to the idle stories of some runaways!
At this point we have again to deplore the loss of Cabot's Maps. One of them described his course up the La Plata, and would seem to have been made public, for Eden (Decades, fol. 316) says, “From the mouth of the river, Cabot sayled up the same into the lande for the space of three hundreth and fiftie leagues, as he wryteth in his own Carde.” This statement is the more important, as the extent of his progress has been singularly misrepresented.
In the Conversation reported by Ramusio, and usually connected with the name of Butrigarius the Pope's legate, Cabot is made to say that he sailed up the La Plata more than six hundred leagues.* This is the passage, it may be remembered, which the Biographie Universelle could not find in Ramusio. Eden correctly translates it (Decades, fol. 255), but Hakluyt, who adopts his version with anxious servility up to this point, has 6 more than six score leagues !” (vol. iii. p. 7) thus furnishing a new proof of his utter faithlessness. The
• “Et andai all'insu per quello piu de secento leghe.” Ramusio, tom.i. fol. 415.
exaggeration of the original, as honestly given by Eden, prepares us for Ramusio's remark, to which reference has already been made, that he could not pretend to trust his memory about the exact terms of the Conversation. Hakluyt, by an arbitrary and absurd reduction, not only obscures this presumptive evidence of general error, but leads us to infer—as such matters are usually over-rated—that, in point of fact, Cabot did not proceed so far. It will appear, presently, that there was no exaggeration in the statement of the Card.”
The career on which Cabot was now entering demanded circumspection as well as courage. De Solis with a party of fifty men had been fiercely assailed and cut off, the bodies of himself and his companions devoured by the ferocious natives, and the survivors of the expedition, who witnessed the scene from the ships, had left the river in dismay, and returned to Spain with the horrid news.* In accompanying Cabot we take Herrera as our principal guide (Dec. iii. lib. ix. cap. iii.). Running boldly up the river, which is to this day the dread of navigators, he reached a small island about half a league from the Northern shore, nearly opposite the present Buenos Ayres, and gave to it the name of Gabriel, which it yet bears. It is a short distance from Martin Garcia's island, so called after the Pilot of De Solis who was buried there (Eden's Decades, fol. 316). The natives had collected and made a very formidable show of resistance, but Cabot, according to Eden, 6 without respect of peril, thought best to expugne it by one meanes or other, wherein his boldness tooke good effecte as oftentymes chaunceth in great affayres” (Eden, fol. 316).
At this island Cabot left his ships, and proceeding seven leagues further in boats, reached a river to which he gave the name of St Salvador. As it offered a safe and commodious harbour, he returned and brought up the ships, but was
• Herrera, Dec. ii. lib. i. cap. vii. Peter Martyr, Dec. iii. cap. x. Gomara, cap. Ixxxix. “Lo mataron; i comieron con todos las Espanoles que saco, i aun quebraron el batel. Los otros que de los Navios miraban, alcaron anclas i velas, sin osar tomar venganca de la muerte de su Capitan.”
obliged to lighten them at the entrance of the river. Here he erected a Fort.
It is obvious, on looking at a map of this reign, and comparing it with the statement of Herrera, that the river spoken of might be either the Uruguay, which, on the right, takes a northern direction, or one of the various streams into which the Parana is broken by the islands at its mouth. Ca-' bot would hardly follow the Uruguay, because it evidently struck into Brasil, and, at a much higher point of ascent, he is found avoiding, expressly for that reason, a great river on the right hand. In speaking of the position occupied by his ships he states it, according to Herrera, to be on the Brasil, meaning the northern side of the river, a mode of designation, which, supposing him, as we reasonably may, to have been aware of the general course of the great stream discovered by De Solis, would not distinguish any position up the Uruguay, both sides of which were equally within that region, according to the distribution with reference to which he spoke. But the position of St Salvador is conclusively settled by information from another quarter. In Hakluyt (vol. iii. p. 729), is " a Ruttier for The River Plate.” The pilot who prepared it gives the various methods of striking the mouths of the Parana in proceeding from the island of Martin Garcia. A caution is interposed —" and if you fall into the mouth of the river which is called the Uruay you must leave it on the right hand.” He adds that all the mouths of the Parana, which are five in number, have their eastern termination infested with shoals for an extent of more than two leagues. Describing one of the routes more particularly, he says, “ From the isle of Martin Garcia unto St Salvador, is nine or ten leagues. This is an island which standeth two leagues within the first mouth, where Sebastian Caboto took possession.” The pilot, it will be seen, gives the name of St Salvador, not to the river, but to a port. Cabot himself does the same, for in describing the assault finally made on the upper fort by the natives, he speaks of a similar attack on
the port of St Salvador, where the ships lay.* It seems certain, then, that the first position fortified by Cabot was in the most northern mouth of the Parana, on an island about two leagues from where it reaches the La Plata. On the map of Louis Stanislaus d'Arcy de la Rochette,f this most northern avenue is divided into two parts, the upper of which is designated as “ Rio Paca," and the lower, that issues into the La Plata, as " Rio Naranjos.” St Salvador was, of course, situated on the latter, or perhaps on the stream next in order to the south, which also communicates with the Rio Paca and thus forms with the Rio Naranjos a considerable delta. In a Memoir drawn up by Lopez Vaz, a Portuguese, and taken with the author by the fleet sent forth in 1586 by the Earl of Cumberland, the fort where Cabot left his ships is said to be then standing. Its distance from the sea is, however, misstated either by him or the translator (Hakluyt, vol. iii. p. 788).
It is desirable to fix this first point of occupation, not only as a matter curious in itself, but because Charlevoix (Histoire du Paraguay, tom. i. p. 27), with his usual wild inaccuracy, would throw the whole subject into confusion. He represents Cabot to have finally left the ships at the island of St Gabriel, and proceeded in boats up the Uruguay, by mistake, and he imagines two reasons why such a blunder was committed. He does not even allow the Uruguay to have been the
*“Lo mesmo hizieron de la poblacion que avian hecho en el puerto que llaman de S. Salvador adonde estaban los navios” (Herrera, Dec. iv. lib. viii. cap. xi.).
t“Colombia prima or South America, in which it has been attempted to delineate the extent of our knowledge of that continent, extracted chiefly from the original manuscript Maps of His Excellency, the late Chevalier Pinto; likewise from those of Joao Joaquim da Rocha, Joao da Costa Ferreira, El Padre Francisco Manuel Sobreviela, &c. And from the most authentic edited accounts of those countries. Digested and constructed by the late eminent and learned Geographer, Louis Stanislas D'Arcy de la Rochette. London, published by William Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, June 4th, 1807.” This Map is in the Topographical Department of the King's Library, British Museum.