Volume 7, Chapter 9 -- Early Voyages of the English to the East Indies, before the establishment of an exclusive Company.
*Section 1* -- Voyage to Goa in 1579, in the Portuguese fleet, by Thomas Stevens
*Section 2* -- Journey to India over-land, by Ralph Fitch, Merchant of London, and others, in 1583
*Section 3* -- Supplement to the Journey of Fitch
*Section 4* --  Voyage of Mr John Eldred, by Sea, to Tripoli, in Syria, and thence, by Land and River, to Bagdat and Basora, in 1583
*Section 5* -- Of the Monsoons, or Periodical Winds, with which Ships depart from Place to Place in India; by William Barret
*Section 6* -- First Voyage of the English to India in 1591; begun by Captain George Raymond, and completed by Captain James Lancaster
*Section 7* --  Supplementary Account of the former Voyage, by John May
*Section 8* -- The unfortunate Voyage of Captain Benjamin Wood, towards the East Indies, in 1596
*Section 9* -- Voyage of Captain John Davis to the East Indies, in 1598, as Pilot to a Dutch Ship
[Section 10 -- Voyage of William Adams to Japan, in 1598, and long Residence in that Island]
*Section 11* -- Voyage of Sir Edward Michelburne to India, in 1604

Volume 7, Chapter 9, Section 1 -- Voyage to Goa in 1579, in the Portuguese fleet, by Thomas Stevens.


We now begin to draw towards India, the following being the first voyage we know of, that was performed to that country by any Englishman. Though Stevens was only a passenger in the ship of another nation, yet the account he gave of the navigation was doubtless one of the motives that induced his countrymen to visit India a few years afterwards in their own bottoms. Indeed the chief and more immediate causes seem to have been the rich caraks, taken in the cruizing voyages against the Spaniards and Portuguese about this time, which both gave the English some insight into the India trade, and inflamed their desire of participating in so rich a commerce.

The account of this voyage is contained in the following letter from Thomas Stevens,[396] to his father Thomas Stevens in London: In this letter, preserved by Hakluyt, several very good remarks will be found respecting the navigation to India, as practised in those days; yet no mention is made in the letter, as to the profession of Stevens, or on what occasion he went to India. By the letters of Newberry and Fitch,[397] which will be found in their proper place, written from Goa in 1584, it appears that he was a priest or Jesuit, belonging to the college of St. Paul at that place; whence it may be concluded that the design of his voyage was to propagate the Romish religion in India. In a marginal note to one of these letters, Hakluyt intimates that Padre Thomas Stevens was born in Wiltshire, and was sometime of New College, Oxford. He was very serviceable to Newberry and Fitch, who acknowledge that they owed the recovery of their liberty and goods, if not their lives, to him and another Padre. This is also mentioned by Pyrard de la Val, who was prisoner at Goa in 1608, at which time Stevens was rector of Morgan College in the island of Salcet."[398] --Astley.

[Footnote 396: Hakluyt, II, 581. Astley, I. 191.]
[Footnote 397: In Hakluyt's Collection, new edition, II. 376. et seq.]
[Footnote 398: Purchas his Pilgrims, II. 1670.]


After most humble commendations to you and my mother, and craving your daily blessing, these are to certify you of my being alive, according to your will and my duty. I wrote you that I had taken my journey from Italy to Portugal, which letter I think came to your hands, in which hope I have the less need to tell you the cause of my departing, which in one word I may express, by naming obedience. I came to Lisbon towards the end of March, eight days before the departure of the ships, so late that if they had not been detained about some important affairs, they had been gone before our arrival; insomuch that others were appointed to go in our stead, that the king's intention and ours might not be frustrated. But on our sudden arrival, these others did not go, and we went as originally intended.

The 4th of April, five ships departed for Goa, in which, besides mariners and soldiers, there were a great number of children, who bear the sea much better than men, as also do many women. I need not tell you, as you may easily imagine, the solemnity of setting out, with sound of trumpets and discharges of cannon, as they go forth in a warlike manner. The 10th of the same month we came in sight of Porto Sancto near Madeira, where an English ship set upon ours, now entirely alone, and fired several shots which did us no harm: But when our ship had run out her largest ordnance, the English ship made away from us. This English ship was large and handsome, and I was sorry to see her so ill occupied, as she went roving about the seas, and we met her again at the Canaries, where we arrived on the 13th of the same month of April, and had good opportunity to wonder at the high peaked mountain in the island of Teneriffe, as we beat about between that island and Grand Canary for four days with contrary winds, and indeed had such evil weather till the 14th of May, that we despaired of being able to double the Cape of Good Hope that year. Yet, taking our course between Guinea and the Cape de Verd islands, without seeing any land at all, we arrived at the coast of Guinea, as the Portuguese call that part of the western coast of Africa in the torrid zone, from the lat. of 6° N. to the equinoctial; in which parts they suffer so much by extreme heats and want of wind, that they think themselves happy when past it. Sometimes the ships stand quite still and becalmed for many days, and sometimes they go on, but in such a manner that they had almost as good stand still. The atmosphere on the greatest part of this coast is never clear, but thick and cloudy, full of thunder and lightning, and such unwholesome rain, that the water on standing only a little while is full of animalculae, and by falling on any meat that is hung out, fills it immediately with worms.

All along that coast, we oftentimes saw a thing swimming in the water like a cock's comb but much fairer, which they call a Guinea ship.[399] It is borne up in the water by a substance almost like the swimming bladder of a fish in size and colour, having many strings from it under water, which prevent it from being overturned. It is so poisonous, that one cannot touch it without much danger. On this coast, between the sixth degree of north latitude and the equator, we spent no less than thirty days either in calms or contrary winds. The 30th of May we crossed the line with great difficulty, directing our course as well as we could to pass the promontory,[400] but in all that gulf of Guinea, and all the rest of the way to the Cape, we found such frequent calms that the most experienced mariners were much astonished. In places where there always used to be horrible tempests, we found most invincible calms, which were very troublesome to our ships, which being of the greatest size cannot go without good winds; insomuch that when it is almost an intolerable tempest for other ships, making them furl all their sails, those large ships display their sails to the wind and sail excellent well, unless the waves be too furious, which seldom happened in our voyage. You must understand that, when once past the line, they cannot go direct for the Cape the nearest way, but, according to the wind, must hold on as near south as they can till in the latitude of the Cape, which is 35° 30' S. They then shape their course to the east, and so get round the Cape. But the wind so served us at 33 degrees, that we directed our course thence for the Cape.

You know that it is hard to sail from east to west, or the contrary, because there is no fixed point in all the sky by which they can direct their course, wherefore I shall tell you what help God hath provided to direct them. There is not a fowl that appeareth, neither any sign in the air or in the sea, that have not been written down by those who have formerly made these voyages; so that partly by their own experience, judging what space the ship was able to make with such and such a wind, and partly by the experience of others recorded in the books of navigations which they have, they guess whereabouts they may be in regard to longitude, for they are always sure as to latitude. But the greatest and best direction of all is, to mark the variation of the needle or mariner's compass; which, in the meridian of the island of St/ Michael, one of the Azores in the same latitude with Lisbon, points due north, and thence swerveth so much towards the east, that, between the foresaid meridian and the extreme south point of Africa, it varieth three or four of the thirty-two points. Again, having passed a little beyond the cape called das Agulias, or of the Needles, it returneth again towards the north; and when it hath attained that, it swerveth again toward the west proportionally, as it did before eastwards.

In regard to the first-mentioned signs from fowls: the nearer we came to the coast of Africa, the more kinds and greater number of strange fowls appeared; insomuch that, when we came within not less than thirty leagues, almost 100 miles, and 600 miles as we thought from any other land, as good as 3000 fowls of sundry kinds followed our ship; some of them so great, that, when their wings were opened, they measured seven spans from point to point of their wings, as the sailors said. It is a marvellous thing to think how God hath so provided for these fowls in so vast an expanse of sea, that they are all fat. The Portuguese have named them all, according to some obvious property. Thus they call some rushtails, because their tails are small and long like a rush, and not proportionate to their bodies; some fork-tails, because their tails are very broad and forked; others again velvet-sleeves, because their wings are like velvet, and are always bent like a man's elbow. This bird is always welcome, as it appears nearest the Cape. I should never have an end, were I to tell you all particulars, but shall touch on a few that may suffice, if you mark them well, to give cause for glorifying God in his wonderful works, and in the variety of his creatures.

To say something of fishes: in all the places of calms, and especially in the burning zone near the line, there continually waited on our ship certain fishes, called tuberones[401] by the Portuguese, as long as a man, which came to eat such things as might fall from the ship into the sea, not even refusing men themselves if they could light upon any, and if they find any meat hung over into the sea, they seize it. These have waiting upon them continually six or seven small fishes, having blue and green bands round their bodies, like finely dressed serving men. Of these two or three always swim before the shark, and some on every side, [whence they are called pilot fish, by the English mariners.] They have likewise other fishes [called sucking fish] which always cleave to their bodies; and seem to feed on such superfluities as grow about them, and they are said to enter into their bodies to purge them, when needful. Formerly the mariners used to eat the sharks, but since they have seen them devour men, their stomachs now abhor them; yet they draw them up with great hooks, and kill as many of them as they can, thinking thereby to take a great revenge.

There is another kind of fish almost as large as a herring, which hath wings and flieth, and are very numerous. These have two enemies, one in the sea and the other in the air. That in the sea is the fish called albicore, as large as a salmon, which follows with great swiftness to take them; on which this poor fish, which cannot swim fast as it hath no fins, and only swims by the motion of its tail, having its wings then shut along the sides of its body, springeth out of the water and flieth, but not very high; on this the albicore, though he have no wings, giveth a great leap out of the water, and sometimes catcheth the flying fish, or else keepeth in the water, going that way as fast as the other flieth. When the flying fish is weary of the air, or thinketh himself out of danger, he returneth to the water, where the albicore meeteth him; but sometimes his other enemy, the sea-crow, catcheth him in the air before he falleth.

With these and the like sights, but always making our supplications to God for good weather and the preservation of our ship, we came at length to the south cape of Africa, the ever-famous Cape of Good Hope, so much desired yet feared of all men: But we there found no tempest, only immense waves, where our pilot was guilty of an oversight; for, whereas commonly all navigators do never come within sight of land, but, contenting themselves with signs and finding the bottom, go their course safe and sure, he, thinking to have the winds at will, shot nigh the land; when the wind, changing into the south, with the assistance of the mountainous waves, rolled us so near the land that we were in less than 14 fathoms, only six miles from Capo das Agulias, and there we looked to be utterly lost. Under us were huge rocks, so sharp and cutting that no anchor could possibly hold the ship, and the shore was so excessively bad that nothing could take the land, which besides is full of tigers and savage people, who put all strangers to death, so that we had no hope or comfort, but only in God and a good conscience. Yet, after we had lost our anchors, hoisting up our sails to try to get the ship upon some safer part of the coast, it pleased God, when no man looked for help, suddenly to fill our sails with a wind off the land, and so by good providence we escaped, thanks be to God. The day following, being in a place where they are always wont to fish, we also fell a-fishing, and caught so many, that they served the whole ship's company all that day and part of the next. One of our lines pulled up a coral of great size and value; for it is said that in this place, which indeed we saw by experience, that the corals grow on the rocks at the bottom of the sea in the manner of stalks, becoming hard and red.

Our day of peril was the 29th of July. You must understand that, after passing the Cape of Good Hope, there are two ways to India, one within the island of Madagascar, or between that and Africa, called the Canal of Mozambique, which the Portuguese prefer, as they refresh themselves for a fortnight or a month at Mozambique, not without great need after being so long at sea, and thence in another month get to Goa. The other course is on the outside of the island of St. Lawrence or Madagascar, which they take when they set out too late, or come so late to the Cape as not to have time to stop at Mozambique, and then they go on their voyage in great heaviness, because in this way they have no port; and, by reason of the long navigation, and the want of fresh provisions and water, they fall into sundry diseases. Their gums become sore, and swell in such a manner that they are fain to cut them away; their legs swell, and all their bodies become sore, and so benumbed that they cannot move hand nor foot, and so they die of weakness; while others fall into fluxes and agues, of which they die. This was the way we were forced to take; and, although we had above an hundred and fifty sick, there did not die above seven or eight and twenty, which was esteemed a small loss in comparison with other times. Though some of our fraternity were diseased in this sort, thanks be to God I had good health the whole way, contrary to the expectation of many: May God send me as good health on the land, if it may be to his glory and service. This way is full of hidden rocks and quicksands, so that sometimes we dared not sail by night; but by the goodness of God we saw nothing all the way to hurt us, neither did we ever find bottom till we came to the coast of India.

When we had again passed the line to the northward, and were come to the third degree or somewhat more, we saw crabs swimming that were as red as if they had been boiled; but this was no sign of land. About the eleventh degree, and for many days, more than ten thousand fishes continually followed, or were round about our ship, of which we caught so many that we ate nothing else for fifteen days, and they served our turn well; for at this time we had no meat remaining, and hardly anything else to eat, our voyage drawing nigh to seven months, which commonly is performed in five, when they take the inner passage. These fishes were no sign of land, but rather of deep sea. At length two birds were caught of the hawk tribe, which gave our people great joy, thinking they had been birds of India, but we found afterwards that they were from Arabia; and when we thought we had been near India, we were in the latitude of Socotoro, an island near the mouth of the Red Sea. Here God sent us a strong wind from the N.E. or N.N.E. on which they bore away unwillingly toward the east, and we ran thus for ten days without any sign of land, by which they perceived their error. Hitherto they had directed their course always N.E. desiring to increase their latitude; but partly from the difference of the needle, and most of all because the currents at that time carried us N.W. we had been drawn into this other danger, had not God sent us this wind, which at length became more favourable and restored us to our right course.

These currents are very dangerous, as they deceive most pilots, and some are so little curious, contenting themselves with ordinary experience, that they do not take the trouble of seeking for new expedients when they swerve, neither by means of the compass nor by any other trial. The first sign of approaching land was by seeing certain birds, which they knew to be of India; the second was some sedges and boughs of palm-trees; the third was snakes swimming at the surface of the water, and a certain substance which they called money, as round and broad as a groat-piece, and wonderfully printed or stamped by nature, as if it had been coined money. These two last signs are so certain, that they always see land next day, if the wind serve; which we did next day, when all our water, for you know they have no beer in these parts, and victuals began to fail us.

We came to Goa the 24th day of October, and were there received in a most charitable manner. The natives are tawny, but not disfigured in their lips and noses, like the Moors and Kafrs of Ethiopia. The lower ranks go for the most part naked, having only a clout or apron before them of a span long and as much in breadth, with a lace two fingers breadth, girded about with a string, and nothing more; and thus they think themselves as well dressed as we, with all our finery. I cannot now speak of their trees and fruits, or should write another letter as long as this; neither have I yet seen any tree resembling any of those I have seen in Europe, except the vine, which here grows to little purpose, as all their wines are brought from Portugal. The drink used in this country is water, or wine made from the coco palm-tree. Thus much must suffice for the present; but if God send me health, I shall have opportunity to write you once again; but the length of this letter compelleth me now to take my leave, with my best prayers for your most prosperous health. From Goa, the 10th November 1579.--Your loving Son,


[Footnote 399: Otherwise called, by the English sailors, a Portuguese man-of-war.--E.]
[Footnote 400: The Cape of Good Hope must be here meant.--E.]
[Footnote 401: Evidently sharks, from the account of them.--E.]


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