Story of Columbus - G. M. Imlach

In Spain

Because Columbus was living in Portugal, he went first to the King of that country and told him of his plans. King John was a wise man, and wished to have new lands to rule over, but he was also very crafty. He asked his counsellors what they thought of Columbus' proposal, and when they said it would cost too much money to send the ships he listened to them. Then he did a mean thing; he secretly sent a vessel of his own to see whether Columbus was right and there was any land beyond the ocean or no. This ship sailed out for some days, and the crew saw only the waves and the sky, and they became afraid and put back to Portugal, saying scornfully that Columbus was only a dreamer, and that of course no land was there. But when he heard of this voyage, and understood that the King had kept him at Court by false promises only to deceive him, Columbus was very angry, and swore that he would leave Portugal for ever. Then he went to the Courts of many of the princes of Europe, and even to his own city Genoa, and found faith nowhere. He sent his brother Bartholomew to our own King Henry VII. of England, but on his way the ship was captured by pirates, and poor Bartholomew was taken a prisoner to a foreign land, where he remained for a long time.

Meanwhile King John repented of his folly, and sent to Columbus and begged him to come back, promising all he had asked for. But the latter was too prudent to trust any man a second time, who had once played him false.

At last Columbus went to the Spanish Court. Ferdinand and Isabella, the King and Queen of Spain, were rich, powerful, and fortunate, and Isabella was very kind-hearted. She liked Columbus from the first, and he was a man to be liked, for he was tall and dignified, and spoke pleasantly and well. He had a fine head too, with keen blue eyes and a well-cut nose, though his hair grew white while he was still young. And he was sure of the success of his plans, and very proud, and determined that when he found the far-off lands he would not give up all the glory of their discovery to the King and Queen who had sent him. So he told them, "You must make me Admiral of your ships in the new western seas, and Viceroy, or under-king, in the lands I shall gain for you. More than that, you must give me a tenth part of all the riches I find, for I shall need money when I am great. And I wish my little son Diego and his children to have these rights when I am dead, so that the family of Columbus may be honoured for evermore."

Ferdinand and Isabella thought that Columbus asked for too great a reward, and their ministers told them that the voyage could never be made; so they hesitated instead of giving him an answer at once. Then a war broke out, and they were too busy to think of him, though he waited patiently for a long time.



When he could not bear any further delay, he resolved to go to the King of France. On the way he passed through the little port of Palos, from which he was afterwards to sail. Near this port there was an old convent. At its gate Columbus stopped to ask if he and his young son Diego, who was with him, might rest for a little. The friar who came to them readily gave permission, and brought them some bread and a pitcher of water. Columbus talked with him about his hopes, and he became so much interested that he asked the prior of the convent to listen to the strange story. The prior was delighted with Columbus and believed him, and told him not to leave Spain yet, for he would try to help him. Accordingly he sent to his friends among the merchants of Palos, and one of them, Martin Alonzo Pinzon, said he would go on the voyage, and would help to provide the ships.

The prior then rode to the Court to see the Queen, and came to her, and told her that Columbus had given up hope of Spanish help, and was setting off for France. She said, "No, he must not go, even though I sell my own jewels to get the money." And, remembering how poor he was, Isabella sent a mule for him and a costly suit of clothes, that he might not be ashamed to come to Court. When he arrived she summoned him at once, and she and Ferdinand promised that he should be Viceroy, and Admiral, and have part of the riches, if he discovered the lands across the ocean. Lest he should fear to leave his children alone in a strange land, they made Diego page to their own son Juan, and promised to take great care of Fernando, who was only four years old.

So Columbus thanked the King and Queen, and hastened back to Palos to get together ships and men for the long voyage. After all these weary years his opportunity had come.

He went to the chief magistrates of Palos and gave them the royal orders to furnish three ships for his enterprise. They marched in a procession to the great church of the town, and from its porch they read these orders to the citizens of Palos.

Then fear spread among the seamen, who said they would not come back from the rash adventure, and among the ship-owners, who thought they would lose their vessels. But Columbus' friend, the prior, reassured them, and Martin Pinzon and his brothers offered to provide one ship. The merchants dared not disobey the King's command, and the other two ships were also found. They were all small—the largest was only sixty-three feet long, the length of a short cricket-pitch—but perhaps that was a good thing, for they were needed to sail among islands and up rivers as well as on the seas; and only one, the Santa Maria, was completely decked, the other two, the Pinta  and the Niņa, merely had cabins at the prow and stern.

There was trouble with the sailors. Some tried to escape; some hid; some pretended to be ill; some had wives and mothers, who hung about the ships weeping. Columbus was forced to be harsh, and to refuse to let any stay behind; so that before he left Palos he was hated by all the poor people in the port. Besides ninety seamen, one of whom was an Englishman, and another an Irishman, there were on board some reckless young men in search of adventure, a doctor, some artisans, and some clerks,—in all about a hundred and twenty persons.

By the beginning of August all was ready, and Columbus made confession and took communion before sailing. So, too, did all the crew. Then, on Friday the 3rd of August 1492, he embarked as Admiral on the Santa Maria, Martin Pinzon took command of the Pinta, his brother of the Niņa, and the three ships moved slowly out of Palos harbour. They had begun the great voyage.