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Vasco da Gama (c. 1460s – 1524) was a Portuguese explorer and became the first European sailor to reach India by sea. He is credited with linking Europe and Asia by an ocean route that connected the Atlantic and Indian Oceans by going around the southern tip of Africa known as the Cape of Good Hope.
See the fact file below for more information on the Vasco da Gama or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Vasco da Gama worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
VASCO DA GAMA’S BACKGROUND
- Vasco da Gama was born in southwest Portugal in a seaport town called Sine. He was the third of five sons and had one sister.
- Da Gama’s father, Estêvão da Gama, was a knight and had a successful military career. He also became the civil governor of Sine around the time of Vasco’s birth. Vasco’s mother was João Sodré and came from a well-connected family.
- Little is known of da Gama’s early life.
- Around 1480, da Gama followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Order of Santiago. The master of Santiago was Prince John who would go on to be King John II of Portugal in 1481.
- John was very fond of the Order of Santiago and da Gama’s career benefited from this attention.
NAVIGATION BEFORE DA GAMA
- Portugal had a long history of exploration before da Gama. In the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator had already explored the coastline of West Africa in search of gold, ivory, slaves and other riches.
- In 1474, Prince John II asked his father, the king, to allow him to take over the business of African exploration.
- When John became king, he wanted to make the crown wealthy so that it was less dependent on the nobility for income. He decided that royal commerce and trade with Africa was the way to do that. While expanding trade with Africa, he wanted to start trading profitable spices from Asia, but this was mostly done by land and dominated by Venice. John challenged his captains to find a sea route.
EARLY VOYAGES OF VASCO DA GAMA
- Vasco da Gama was now in his 20s and captain Bartolomeu Dias had returned from going around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.
- The king wanted an explorer to investigate the new African coastline and find a way to India and da Gama was the man for the job.
- On 8 July 1497, da Gama set sail with a fleet of four ships and a crew of 170 men from Lisbon. The four ships were the São Gabriel, São Rafael, Berrio and an unnamed storage ship.
- The journey around the southern tip of Africa to India and back again was long and dangerous. Despite having the most experienced navigators of the time on the voyage, two ships were lost and only 55 men survived.
- The expedition at first followed the route established by early explorers past Tenerife, the Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone.
- Da Gama then went south across the open ocean using the South Atlantic westerly winds that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered. Four months later, and having sailed more than 6000 miles of open ocean, the expedition made landfall in Southern Africa in November.
- Come 16 December, da Gama’s expedition had reached the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa and then continued into unchartered waters.
- Nearing Christmas, da Gama’s expedition arrived in an area they named Natal, meaning “the birth of Christ” in Portuguese.
- By March of 1498, the voyage had reached Mozambique.
- The region was Muslim and hostile to Christians, so da Gama impersonated being Muslim in order to speak with the Sultan and arrange trade. The meeting was unsuccessful, however, and da Gama and his crew fled to their ships and fired cannons to escape.
- Da Gama again encountered hostility when reaching Mombasa in modern-day Kenya in April 1498 as he and his crew had resorted to piracy of unarmed Arab trading ships.
- Continuing north, the expedition reached Malindi in Kenya and the first evidence of trade with India was observed. Da Gama commissioned a pilot with knowledge of the monsoon winds to guide the fleet of ships to Calicut, on the southwest coast of India. They departed for India on 24 April 1498.
- The fleet finally arrived in Kappadu, near Calicut, on 20 May 1498. Da Gama was received with grand hospitality and he gave the king gifts of scarlet cloth, hats, coral, brass vessels, sugar, oil and honey. This did not impress the king who preferred gold and silver.
- Come 29 August 1498, and with strained relations with Calicut the leadership, da Gama left for Portugal in October, ignoring warnings of the monsoon wind patterns. The journey across the Indian Ocean was treacherous and took 132 days to complete, rather than the 23 days it took to get to India. Many of his crew died of scurvy and there were only enough to man two ships.
- The remaining vessels split up and the Berrio returned to Lisbon in July 1499. Da Gama had stayed back in Cape Verde because his brother was gravely ill.
- When da Gama’s brother was well enough, they attempted to return to Portugal, but he died, so da Gama stopped in the Azores to bury him. After a time of grieving, he returned to Lisbon on 29 August 1499 where he was given a hero’s welcome.
LATER LIFE OF VASCO DA GAMA
- Despite the mission failing in its original ambition of developing a spice trade for Portugal and the high death toll, da Gama is celebrated for finding a direct sea route to Asia.
- Da Gama was rewarded with the town of Sines but because of competing Orders, was eventually forced to change from the Order of Santiago to the rival Order of Christ in 1507 to claim his reward.
- Nevertheless, he still received substantial monetary reward from the crown and was given the title of Dom (lord). In 1502 he was awarded the title of Admiral of the Seas of Arabia, Persia, India and all the Orient.
- Da Gama married Catarina de Ataíde in 1501 and had six sons and one daughter.
- In 1502, he embarked on a follow-up expedition with the Fourth India Armada in order to take revenge on conflict with the previous India Armada. The Fourth Armada reached India with substantial amounts of gold by suppressing the island of Kilwa and from captured Arab vessels. Tragically, the Armada killed everyone on a pilgrim ship returning from Mecca.
- The Portuguese fleet then bombarded Calicut after failed negotiations and news of da Gama’s violent treatment of people quickly spread but he failed to subdue the region.
- After waging war in Calicut, da Gama returned to Portugal in 1503 where he lived quietly for nearly 20 years. In 1521, King John III took the throne and da Gama rose to become an advisor and eventually Viceroy.
- He set out on his third voyage to India in April 1524 to India. He contracted malaria and died on 24 December 1524. He was buried first at St. Francis Church in Kochi, Portugal, then re-interred in Vidigueira in a casket decorated with gold and jewels.
Vasco da Gama Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Vasco da Gamaacross 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Vasco da Gama worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Vasco da Gama (c. 1460s – 1524) who was a Portuguese explorer and became the first European sailor to reach India by sea. He is credited with linking Europe and Asia by an ocean route that connected the Atlantic and Indian Oceans by going around the southern tip of Africa known as the Cape of Good Hope.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Vasco da Gama Facts
- Da Gama’s Story
- Travels Through Time
- Explore the Truth
- Da Gama’s Legacy
- Navigational Gaps
- Letters of Adventure
- Two Sides of History
- Learning from the Past
- Plan Your Own Expedition!
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