"History is past politics, and politics present history." John Robert Seeley

"The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see." Winston Churchill

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle


Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus: People-in-History-Christopher-Columbus

Born: 1451 in Genoa, Italy. (Italian port city) The eldest of five children.

Youth: worked in his father’s wool weaving business. At 14, went to work at sea on merchant ships.

Studied: Sailing & Cartography (the study of maps & map-making).

A quicker route to China & the Far East

Concept: ‘Entreprise of the Indies’ (theory that declared by sailing west, one would reach the Far East). At this time, European countries wanted to find new routes to China & the Far East, where valuable and precious spices were to be found. Most ships sailed down around the coast of Africa and across the Indian Ocean up to this time.

Columbus believed that there was a more direct way.


The Search for a Sponsor

1st Plea for Sponsorship: King of Portugal & other kings in Europe (all unsuccessful)

2nd Plea for Sponsorship: King Ferdinand II & Queen Isabella I of Spain. (1492 – after 7 years of pleas)

Ferdinand & Isabella’s Motives for Sponsorship: Wealth & spices, new territories to control and spreading Christianity. Their rivalry with Portugal was also a key motive in the Spanish Court backing his expedition. Columbus demanded 10% of all revenue accrued from successful explorations. He also demanded to be made Viceroy of all new lands found on his expedition.


The Expedition Begins


  • Santa Maria (a ‘Nao’,Columbus’ ship),
  • Pinta (caravel)
  • Nina (caravel).
  • 90 sailors


Sailors’ Fears & Superstitions

Many sailors believed that the open ocean held unknown dangers.

  • Sea monsters
  • ‘boiling’ seas
  • flat earth – sail off the edge of the world. (Although largely discredited by this time, sailors remained superstitious)
  • Many of the sailors would beg Columbus to return to Spain over the period of the three months of expedition.


The Voyage Begins

3rd of August 1492 from Palos.

1st Leg: sailed to the Canary Islands to take on supplies

2nd Leg: sailed out into the open Atlantic in the direction of the Far East.

New inventions used:

  • ‘Dead Reckoning’:
  • Compass
  • Traverse Board0


First Sighted Land: 12th October 1492. Columbus called it San Salvador. Claimed for Spain. Met by Native Americans. Columbus called them ‘Indians’, believing them to be in Asia.


Columbus’ Quest for Gold

Columbus exploited their lack of value in precious items such as gold. The natives were forced to show him where they found gold, on the island of ‘Hispaniola’ (present-day Haiti & Dominican Republic). On this part of the trip, the Santa Maria struck rocks and sank. Columbus left 39 men behind on Hispaniola to create a permanent settlement.

Lands Discovered:

  • San Salvador
  • Cuba
  • Hispaniola


A Hero’s Return

March 1493: Columbus returns to Spain a hero in March 1493, with Indian women, gold and exotic gifts. The Spanish Court then agreed to fund a much larger second voyage of 17 ships.


Later Voyages

2nd Voyage: (24th of September 1493) Columbus returned to the fort built on Hispaniola to find that many of his men had been killed. Natives over the age of 14 were then forced to mine for gold. Columbus returned to Spain in 1496.

3rd Voyage: (30th May 1498) Word spread about the lack of gold, sailors dying from unknown diseases and the dangers posed by travelling on Columbus’ expeditions. He set sail on his third voyage with ten prisoners who had been granted amnesties to make up a full crew compliment.
Columbus sailed further south on this voyage. Dealing with rebellious settlers in a harsh fashion, including hanging some of them, Columbus was returned to Spain in chains.


Columbus’ Last Voyage

4th Voyage: (11th May 1502): set sail on just four sub-standard ships. He tried to sail to present-day Central America, trying to find a route to Asia. His ships finally broke up after harbouring on present-day Jamaica. Returned on a ship to Spain in 1504.

Death: 20th May,1506


Legacy: accredited with finding the ‘New World’. Spaniards & Natives both suffered from new diseases which both sets of people were unable to recover from. Large-scale slavery and exploitation of indigenous people.




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