Pedro Álvares Cabral - Portuguese Explorer

Pedro Álvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabral was a Portuguese explorer, navigator and military commander who is best remembered today as the leader of the expedition that first reached that lands of South America that are today regarded as Brazil.

He was born in 1467 as the in the noble Portuguese family and was a member of a royal Portuguese court of King Manuel I and the King John II. On the turn of the century, King John II appointed Cabral with a mission to lead the 13-ship expedition to the India following the route that Vasco de Gama discovered in 1497. Although he had navigation charts that contained the information of Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus and Bartolomeu Dias' journey he did not go directly to the India via the Cape of Good Hope. Instead, he went west and on April 23, he landed on the coast of the Brazil. Believing that he discovered an island he named it Island of the True Cross and claimed it for the Portugal crown. After that, he resumed his trip to India losing four ships in a storm around west coast of Africa and three more on a later date, including the ship of the Bartolomeu Dias who first discovered Cape of Good Hope. Six remaining ships continued their journey but soon after that ship commanded by Diogo Dias become separated from the main fleet and they wandered alone following the east coast of Africa discovering the island of Madagascar.

On 13 September, he finally reached Calicut, India. There he negotiated the trade with current ruler of the city and even started to build factory and warehouse. That December however, he came under attack by the several hundred natives of that area and more than 50 Portuguese were killed. Outraged by this attack and the lack of explanation or apology from rule of Calicut he raided more than 10 local trade ships killing over 600 Indian sailors and bombarded the city with his cannons for an entire day.

After that massacre, he headed to the Indian city of Kochi where he managed to secure support of the local leaders and finally fill his ships with spices and other trade items from the east. On 16th of January 1501 he started his journey back to Europe where returned on 23rd of June.

Very soon after his return, King John II sent Amerigo Vespucci to a mission to explore this newfound land of South America. On that journey, Vespucci proved that South America was indeed part of a new continent and not just an island. In addition, a military fleet started forming with a mission to avenge Portugal's victims at the Calicut's attack but Pedro Álvares Cabral was not named as the expedition leader. In 1503, he married Isabel de Castro, and because of illness that he contained during the voyage, he remained in Portugal until his death in 1520.

Up to this day, it is not known why Cabral did not go straight to India, and instead went westward and discovered Brazil. Some speculations note that several other explorers visited lands very close to Brazil but historians claim that those journeys did not influence Cabral.