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ID #5198

Bartolomeu Dias, Portuguese Explorer, South Africa.

Bartholomew Diaz (1451– 1500) was a Portuguese nobleman and the first European explorer to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa in 1488.

Dias was a knight of the royal court, superintendent of the royal warehouses and sailing-master of the man-of-war São Cristóvão. In the hope of finding a trade route to India, King John II of Portugal appointed him head of an expedition to sail around the southern tip of Africa in 1486. Another purpose was to visit countries reported by João Afonso de Aveiro (probably Ethiopia and Aden) with which the Portuguese desired friendly relations. Dias was also to search for lands ruled by Prester John, a fabled Christian priest and African prince.

In 1487 Dias left Lisbon with three ships.  His flagship, the caravel São Cristóvão, was piloted by Pêro de Alenquer. The São Pantaleão was commanded by João Infante and piloted by Alvaro Martins. Dias' brother Pêro Dias was the captain of the square-rigged support ship with João de Santiago as pilot.

The expedition sailed down the west coast of Africa. Provisions were picked up at Sao Jorge de Mina on the Gold Coast. He reached reached Golfo da Conceicão (Walvis Bay) in December. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope, Dias continued east and entered Aguada de São Brás (Bay of Saint Blaise - later renamed Mossel Bay) in February 1488. The expedition reached its most easterly point on March 12, 1488 when they anchored at Kwaaihoek, west of the Bushman's River where they erected a padrao-- the Padrão de São Gregorio. Dias wanted to continue to India but was forced to turn back when his crew refused to go any further. It was only on the return voyage in May 1488 that he actually discovered the Cape of Good Hope. Dias returned to Lisbon in December after an absence of sixteen months.

The discovery of a passage around Africa was significant because, for the first time, Europeans could trade directly with India and the other parts of Asia. Dias named the Cape the "Cape of Storms" (Cabo das Tormentas). It was later renamed the Cape of Good Hope (Cabo da Boa Esperança) by King John II because it represented a route to the east. After these attempts, the Portuguese took a break from Indian Ocean exploration. During the hiatus, they received valuable information from a secret agent, Pêro da Covilhã, who returned from India with reports useful to their navigators.

Dias helped with construction of the São Gabriel and its sister ship, the São Rafael that were used by Vasco da Gama to circumnavigate the Cape. Dias participated in the first leg of the voyage to the Cape Verde Islands. He was a captain on a second Indian expedition, headed by Pedro Alvares Cabral. The flotilla reached Brazil in 1500 and then continued eastwards to India. Dias perished near the Cape. Four ships encountered a storm and were lost on May 29, 1500. In 2008 a shipwreck was found by the Namdeb Diamond Corporation off Namibia that was thought to be Dias' ship. However, recovered coins subsequently revealed that it was from a later time. RSABD

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:22
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.4

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