On this the people were again ready to mutiny, and resumed their murmurs and cabals against him.
Continuing Columbus Discovers America,
our selection from The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand by Ferdinand Columbus. The selection is presented in 6 easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Columbus Discovers America.
Place: San Salvador Island
On the morning of Sunday, September 30th, four rabo-de-juncos came to the ship; and from so many of them coming together it was thought the land could not be far distant, especially as four alcatrases followed soon afterward. Great quantities of weeds were seen in a line stretching from west-north-west to east-north-east, and a great number of the fishes which are called emperadores, which have a very hard skin and are not fit to eat. Though the admiral paid every attention to these indications, he never neglected those in the heavens, and carefully observed the course of the stars. He was now greatly surprised to notice at this time that Charles’ Wain, or the Ursa Major constellation, appeared at night in the west, and was north-east in the morning. He thence concluded that their whole night’s course was only nine hours, or so many parts in twenty four of a great circle; and this he observed to be the case regularly every night. It was likewise noticed that the compass varied a whole point to the northwest at nightfall, and came due north every morning at daybreak. As this unheard-of circumstance confounded and perplexed the pilots, who apprehended danger in these strange regions and at such unusual distance from home, the admiral endeavored to calm their fears by assigning a cause for this wonderful phenomenon. He alleged that it was occasioned by the polar star making a circuit round the pole, by which they were not a little satisfied.
Soon after sunrise on Monday, October 1st, an alcatras came to the ship, and two more about ten in the morning, and long streams of weeds floated from east to west. That morning the pilot of the admiral’s ship said that they were now five hundred seventy-eight leagues west from the island of Ferro. In his public account the admiral said they were five hundred eighty-four leagues to the west; but in his private journal he made the real distance seven hundred seven leagues, or one hundred twenty-nine more than was reckoned by the pilot. The other two ships differed much in their computation from each other and from the admiral’s pilot. The pilot of the Nina, in the afternoon of the Wednesday following, said they had only sailed five hundred forty leagues, and the pilot of the Pinta reckoned six hundred thirty-four. Thus they were all much short of the truth; but the admiral winked at the gross mistake, that the men, not thinking themselves so far from home, might be the less dejected.
The next day, being Tuesday, October 2d, they saw abundance of fish, caught one small tunny, and saw a white bird with many other small birds, and the weeds appeared much withered and almost fallen to powder. Next day, seeing no birds, they suspected that they had passed between some islands on both hands, and had slipped through without seeing them, as they guessed that the many birds which they had seen might have been passing from one island to another. On this account they were very earnest to have the course altered one way or the other, in quest of these imaginary lands. But the admiral, unwilling to lose the advantage of the fair wind which carried him due west, which he accounted his surest course, and afraid to lessen his reputation by deviating from course to course in search of land, which he always affirmed that he well knew where to find, refused his consent to any change. On this the people were again ready to mutiny, and resumed their murmurs and cabals against him. But it pleased God to aid his authority by fresh indications of land.
On Thursday, October 4th, in the afternoon, above forty sparrows together and two alcatrases flew so near the ship that a seaman killed one of them with a stone. Several other birds were seen at this time, and many flying-fish fell into the ships. Next day there came a rabo-de-junco and an alcatras from the westward, and many sparrows were seen. About sunrise on Sunday, October 7th, some signs of land appeared to the westward, but being imperfect no person would mention the circumstance. This was owing to fear of losing the reward of thirty crowns yearly for life which had been promised by their Catholic majesties to whoever should first discover land; and to prevent them from calling out “Land, land!” at every turn without just cause, it was made a condition that whoever said he saw land should lose the reward if it were not made out in three days, even if he should afterward actually prove the first discoverer. All on board the admiral’s ship, being thus forewarned, were exceedingly careful not to cry out “Land!” on uncertain tokens; but those in the Niña, which sailed better and always kept ahead, believing that they certainly saw land, fired a gun and hung out their colors in token of the discovery; but the farther they sailed, the more the joyful appearance lessened, till at last it vanished away. But they soon afterward derived much comfort by observing great flights of large fowl and others of small birds going from the west toward the southwest.
Being now at a vast distance from Spain, and well assured that such small birds would not go far from land, the admiral now altered his course from due west which had been hitherto, and steered to the southwest. He assigned as a reason for now changing his course, although deviating little from his original design, that he followed the example of the Portuguese, who had discovered most of their islands by attending to the flight of birds, and because these they now saw flew almost uniformly in one direction. He said likewise that he had always expected to discover land about the situation in which they now were, having often told them that he must not look to find land until they should get seven hundred fifty leagues to the westward of the Canaries, about which distance he expected to fall in with Hispaniola, which he then called Cipango;[and there is no doubt that he would have found this island by his direct course, if it had not been that it was reported to extend from north to south. Owing therefore to his not having inclined more to the south, he had missed that and others of the Caribbee islands, whither those birds were now bending their flight, and which had been for some time upon his larboard hand.
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