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GoaCentral > History of Goa > Dom Vasco Da Gama

Dom Vasco Da Gama

Vasco da Gama , legendary Portuguese seafarer  discovered the sea route to India in 1498 and set the stage for Goa's conquest for the next 450 years. Click on for for more....

Early Years The First Voyage The Second Voyage
The Final Voyage Some Artifacts  


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Early Years

Vasco da Gama was born at Sines, Province of Alemtejo, Portugal, at around 1460. He was the third son of Estevão da Gama, who was Alcaide Moor of Sines, and also the Commendatory of Cercal. 

Not much is known about his early childhood. Like his father, he too served his King well, distinguishing himself when King John II of Portugal sent him to the port of Setubal 1492 to retaliate against French ships that encroached on Portuguese waters and shipping lanes.

It was around that time that much of the legwork to find a new sea route to India was completed by Bartholomew Dias and Pedro Corvilhao who had not only gone around the Cape of Good Hope but  has sailed all the way to East Africa. They had also met with Arab merchants who regularly traded with India and learned of a sea route to India. This set the stage for King John II to explore the possibility of  the Portuguese discovering a new sea route to India and thereby expand the trade that was until then the monopoly of the Arab muslim traders. Vasco da Gama's  father Estevão da Gama was the chosen one to lead the expedition, but his unexpected death led  King John II nominating Vasco da Gama to lead the expedition. King John II was succeeded by King Manuel in 1495 and he too approved his nomination. In the summer of 1497, Vasco da Gama was granted an audience with King Manuel at Monte Moro-O-Novo where he took an oath of Fealty to the Portuguese crown and was presented with a silk banner displaying the cross of the "Order of Christ". Vasco da Gama was not commissioned to conquer new lands but rather to seek out Christian kingdoms in the East and to secure for Portugal access to the greater markets of Asia.

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The First Voyage

Vasco da Gama sailed from Lisbon on July 8, 1497, with a fleet of four ships, namely the "São Gabriel" captained by him, the "São Rafael" captained by his brother Paulo Gama, the "Berrio" captained by Nicolau Coelho, and a store ship. They were accompanied to the Cape Verde Islands by another ship commanded by Bartholomew Dias, the Portuguese navigator who had discovered the Cape of Good Hope a few years earlier. They passed the Canary Islands on July 15, and reached the Cape Verde Islands on the 26th. They then  reached St. Helena Bay on November 7th  and finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope on November 22 1497. They then sailed off  the coast of Natal on Christmas Day 1497. On January 25th,  they reached the Quelimane River ( in today's Mozambique), which they called the Rio dos Bons Sinais (the River of Good Omens). After resting for a month, they set sail again and on March 2 reached the island of Mozambique. They then sailed to Mombassa on April 7 and then to Malindi on April 14 1498. There they picked up Ibn Majid, an Arab sea master  who knew the route to Calicut. With his help, after 23 days of non stop sailing the Indian Ocean, they finally sighted the the mountains along the coast of India (western ghats). 

They finally reached Calicut on May 20 1498. At Calicut, Vasco da Gama was welcomed by the Zamorin, the Hindu ruler, of Calicut ( then the most important trading center of southern India). He failed however, to conclude a treaty for initiating trade there. Very soon, tension between Vasco da Gama, his men, and the Zamorin of Calicut increased, resulting in Vasco da Gama leaving Calicut at the end of August. On his return leg of the journey, He visited Anjidiv Island (near Goa) before sailing for Malindi, which he reached on Jan. 8, 1499, and Mozambique on February 1499. On March 20 the "São Gabriel" and "Berrio" rounded the Cape together and the "Berrio" finally reached the Tagus River in Portugal on July 10. Vasco da Gama, in the "São Gabriel," continued to Terceira Island in the Azores. His brother Paulo died there. He then continued ahead and reached Lisbon on September 9 1499. A brilliant reception greeted him at Lisbon. King Manuel I granted Vasco da Gama the title of Dom , an annual pension of 1,000 cruzados, and also made him Admiral of the Indian Ocean. He was also assured feudal rights over Sines.

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The second voyage

In January 1502 Vasco da Gama was sent on his second voyage to India with a fleet of twenty ships of which he himself commanded 10, and was supported by two flotillas of five ships each, each flotilla being under the command of his uncle Vincente Sodre and nephew Estevao. Sailing in February 1502, the fleet called at the Cape Verdes, reaching the port of Sofala in East Africa on June 14. After calling briefly at Mozambique, the Portuguese fleet sailed to Kilwa, (today's Tanzania). Then coasting southern Arabia, they reached Goa before proceeding to Cannanore, a port in southwestern India, north of Calicut. There they lay in wait for Arab ships to plunder. After several days finally an Arab ship did arrive with merchandise which they looted and then killing all passengers on board set it on fire. Later on Vasco da Gama formed an alliance with the ruler of Cannanore, an enemy of the Zamorin. He then set sail for to Calicut. He bombarded the port of Calicut and laid siege to the city. Unable to subdue the Zamorin's forces, he then sailed south to the port of Cochin. The King of Cochin was also an enemy of the Zamorin and Vasco da Gama exploited this situation by forming an alliance with him. On February 20 1503, the fleet left Cannanore for Mozambique reaching the shores of Portugal on October 11 1503. It is reported that the value of his loot amounted to about a million in gold and he was again honored. In 1519, the previous order granting him the feudal rights to Sines was transferred to the Order of Santiago. Vasco da Gama was instead given the title of the Count of Vidigueira and the feudal rights and jurisdiction of the cities of Vidigueira and Villa dos Frades. He then settled down to domestic life with his wife, Caterina de Ataíde and settled in the town of Evora. He also fathered six children.

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The Final voyage

In 1524 he was nominated as Portuguese viceroy in India  by the new King of Portugal, King John III. He arrived in Goa in September 1524. He immediately immersed himself in administration and began rectifying policies set by his predecessor, Viceroy Eduardo de Menezes. Within three months of becoming the Viceroy, he fell ill and died in Cochin on December 1524. He was buried at the Franciscan church there. In 1538 his remains was taken back to Portugal and taken to Vidigueira where they were buried for over three centuries at the Convent of Our Lady of Relics. In 1880, together with the remains of poet Luis Camoes, they were moved to the Monastery of Jeronimos. There, their tombs sculpted by Costa Mota (uncle), are placed in the lower choir of the church. Here they rest finally amidst kings.

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Photos,   images & poetry

v de gama.gif (51663 bytes) v de gama.jpg (5500 bytes)
Dom Vasco da Gama Dom Vasco da Gama  
v de gama sign.jpg (61928 bytes) v de gama tomb.jpg (78631 bytes)
Document with the signature of Dom Vasco da Gama Tomb of Vasco da Gama at the Monastery of the Jeronimos, Portugal.      
 A piece from Os  Lusíadas by Luis Camões

Vasco da Gama, 

O forte capitão,

Que a tamanhas empresas se oferece,

De soberbo e de altivo coração,

quem Fortuna sempre favorece,

Pera se aqui deter não vê razão

Que inabitada a terra lhe parece.

Por diante passar determinava,

Mas não lhe sucedeu como cuidava.

Camões: Lusíadas, I, 44




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