St. Helena Island
For centuries trade between the East and Europe had been in the hands of the Merchants of the great Italian cities of Venice and Genoa. Silks and spices and much other valuable merchandise was carried overland, across Arabia, and by ship along the Mediterannean sea.
The Portuguese, a great Seafaring nation, excluded from the Mediterranean, explored further and further along the unchartered western coast of Africa and thus in 1487 the navigator Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
Emmanuel the Fortunate, King of Portugal, subsequently sent a fleet under the command of Vasco da Gama with orders to sail beyond the Cape of Good Hope in the hope of finding a direct sea route to India.
Da Gama eventually arrived on the west coast of the Indian Peninsula. and no time was lost in building forts and setting up trading posts, with Calicot being of prime interest.
The Arabs, who for centuries had had the monopoly of trade between the Mediterranean and India, were displeased at having competition and began to take measures to repel the interlopers from Europe with the consequence there was soon open warfare between the Portuguese and the King of Calicot.
I, Juan de nova Castella,
Admiral of the Portuguese navy
was given notice to despatch with all haste,
as an advance party with three ships,
to reinforce de Cabral, the Portuguese commander in India.
who was engaged in battle.
After a stormy passage along the West Coast of Africa
and around the Cape of Good Hope
we entered the Indian Ocean before finally arriving at our destination
There we met, attacked and defeated a fleet of the Zamorin,
ruler of Calicot and I was, thereafter,
appointed Commodore of the fleet returning to Europe.
Having rounded the tempestuous Cape of Good Hope
and steering a steady course through the great South Atlantic Ocean,
running my ships before the south-easterly trade winds,
a sailor at the mast-head called out ‘Land aho!’
On the horison lay what appeared to be a huge rock,
over which lay a blanket of cloud,
rising dramatically out of the ocean.
It being 21st May 1502, St. Helena’s day,
I immediately named the unknown island St. Helena.
We dropped anchor in a bay
on the sheltered, northerly side of the island,
under the lee of the towering cliffs and,
finding in the deep valley opposite our mooring
a stream of sweetest fresh water, immediately set out to explore.
Since the harbour at the Cape of Good Hope
was neither a good, nor a safe one
and in some situations an extremely dangerous one,
I was instantly aware of the vital importance
of the discovery of this unexpected, gigantic rock,
with sheer barren cliffs,
in the path of the constant south-easterly trade winds.
It was the very place needed as a victualling station
for our ships returning home from the east.
once a ship had successfully weathered her way around the Cape,
all that need be done was to set all sails and run before the trade-winds
until St. Helena and a safe anchorage was reached.
We found no inhabitants on the island
but sea-birds, sea-lions and turtles galore
which fed on the many fishes which teemed in the sea.
We regularly found numerous large flyingfish lying on the decks.
These night-time visitors,
of a very sweet and delicate taste,
probably attracted by the lights on the ship,
were often eighteen inches long and weighed up to twenty-six ounces.
Numerous porpoises, sometimes more than fifty together,
apparently following the abundant shoals of mackeral,
were perceived at the mouth of the bay,
and in the sandy sediments and rock crevices my men caught eels,
of which the bodies were scaleless, of a most delicious flavour.
The terrain was mountainous but,
in contrast to the precipitous coast,
the interior of the island was covered in dense forest,
and there was a plentiful supply of herbs and fruits
and many springs of fresh water.
Yet there was a surprising lack of land birds
and the only one apparent was small with spindly legs
which ran along the ground,
occasionally taking flight and skimming over the land for short distances.
Though so small
that one had sight of the ocean from every vantage point,
traversing the island was no easy feat
for it was criss-crossed by deep, break-neck valleys and ravines, which
appeared to have been hacked out by some gigantic hatchet.
The rock formations were bizarre
the earth of every conceivable hue.
The hills in the distance purple, red and all shades of ochre
against the deep blue of the atlantic ocean.
On the wetter, central peaks,
we found many strange plants.
Giant ferns, showing more resemblance to palm trees,
grew to a height of about twelve feet,
their trunks covered with hair-like, random roots;
their dark green fronds more than a meter in length.
What appeared to be a gigantic, spreading cabbage,
growing up to about twelve feet high,
was also conspicuous. The leaves, thick and fleshy,
crowd towards the ends of the branches
which are dark green in colour,
with dense clusters of terminal flowers surrounded by leaves.
And we noted that some of the seeds
fall on the rugged trunk of the giant ferns and germinate there.
The temperate weather,
though with stark differences between the arrid coastal areas
and the wetter interior zones,
bears a strong resemblance to the mediterrannean climate
and little what-so-ever
to that of main-land Africa at the same latitudes;
the mountainous terrain and the trade winds having an equable affect.
We remained many days on this earthly paradise.
My men regained their health and strength
after the long and arduous voyage from the East
and we replenished our provisions and water supplies.
At the upper part of the fertile, boulder-strewn valley,
at the base of a little, heart shaped waterfall,
we sowed many lemon, orange and lime seeds and vegetables.
And in the high-lands,
we left behind us a few goats to supply fresh meat and milk
for subsequent visitors.
One of our carracks,
having succumbed to the dreaded ships worms,
that grow the length and girth of a man’s arm,
was no longer seaworthy and had to be broken up.
Armory and tackling was drawn ashore,
and with her timbers
my men built a small chapel at the mouth of the fertile valley,
which shall, henceforth, be known as Chapel Valley.
ã Linsi of St. Helena