Story of Columbus - G. M. Imlach

The Third Voyage

Queen isabella had always been Columbus' staunch friend. She saw clearly that even if there were, as was now generally believed, but little gold in the islands, that the Spanish Crown, which already owed so much to Columbus, might gain more glory through new discoveries. She also hoped to do something for the Indians. Accordingly she gave orders that eight ships should be provided, furnished with all Columbus required, that five hundred of her subjects might proceed to the colony, and that Juan de Fonseca should give all possible help to the Admiral.

Nevertheless there was great difficulty in finding men willing to embark. So mournful had been the tidings brought by the adventurers who had returned, and so wretched and sallow had been their appearance, that men shrank from the enterprise. Columbus was forced to take prisoners who had served part of their sentence, and other base men. These, of course, did much harm in the colony.

Fonseca took pleasure in hindering the preparations in every possible way. He had always hated Columbus, and it was only in these petty things that he dared show his spite. One of his servants was so rude and lazy that the Admiral lost his temper and kicked the man out of the ship. The tale that Columbus had kicked and ill-treated a Spanish officer was promptly carried to Ferdinand and Isabella, and unfortunately they thus learned to think of him as a man of violent temper.

Columbus sailed on his third voyage with six ships, for two had been sent on to the colony with provisions. He soon gave orders to three more to steer directly to Hayti, while with the other three he turned to the south. He had come to believe that he would find the mainland more easily, and escape the host of islands, if he kept nearer to the Equator. Moreover, he had been told that gold and precious stones would be found plentifully only where the sun's rays were hottest, and that the people of those favoured lands would be black with woolly hair as they were in Africa, instead of being brown and straight-haired like his Indians.

He touched at the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands, and soon found himself in the region of the Equator. It was stiflingly hot; the sun glared all day upon the decks, making the tar bubble in the seams of the planks, and spoiling the food. Columbus wrote in a letter to Spain: "I entered a climate where the intensity of the heat was such that I thought both ships and men would have been burnt up, and everything suddenly got into such a state of confusion that no man dared go below deck to attend to the securing of the water-cask and the provisions. This heat lasted eight days." As they advanced westward, however, the weather grew milder, and refreshing breezes blew, and at last three mountains were seen rising in the centre of an island. The Admiral was surprised to find this a green, well-watered land, for he had expected all countries so far south to be dry and parched. He gave it the name of Trinidad (Trinity) on account of its three hills.

As he passed along the south coast of Trinidad on the 1st of August 1498, he saw land in the distance which he took for another island. But really this was his first glimpse of the mainland of America, and the land he saw was the part of South America at the mouth of the river Orinoco. So that here truly for the first time Columbus discovered America, though he did not know it. He sailed up the channel between Trinidad and the continent for a good many days. At both ends of the channel he was nearly shipwrecked, for the water seethed and tossed in its haste to pass the capes. Because these passages were so dangerous he called them the Serpent's Mouth and the Dragon's Mouth, and he resolved not to venture there again.

The Indians of this district were fairer, and wore more clothing than those he had met before. Columbus was surprised, for he had expected them to be negroes; and he could only suppose that there was some change in the shape of the earth which made that region cooler than it otherwise would have been. He thought about the matter for a long time, and came to the clever but mistaken conclusion that, instead of being round, the world was pear-shaped, and that he had come to the place where the stalk of the pear should be. So even though the place lay on the Equator, it was on a mountain, and for that reason cool.

The Admiral tried to find a way into the sea among the islands in order not to pass through the Dragon's Mouth, but the land hindered him in every direction, and the Indians told him it was impossible. He noticed that many of their women wore necklaces of pearls, as well as gold ornaments. These pearls they obtained from the oysters in that gulf, which they called Paria. As the shores appeared to be covered with oysters, he was delighted with thoughts of the new treasures that would swell the King of Spain's hoards.

He left Trinidad by the Dragon's Mouth, and came to an island where he saw Indians diving for pearls. He bought a great many in exchange for gay china and bells, and would have stopped longer had he not suddenly fallen ill and become completely blind for a time. There was nothing for it but to sail to Hayti in hope of finding rest for his body and mind.

But trouble had again broken out in the island. For a time Bartholomew Columbus had kept order with a firm hand; but while he was building San Domingo, the new city, a plot was made in Isabella against him. Roldan, a proud, daring, and unscrupulous Spaniard, gathered round him discontented men of all ranks; they broke into the storehouses for weapons and provisions, and marched into the unexplored part of Hayti, where they spent their time in various pleasures. Not only did Roldan defy the Government: he began to stir up a revolt among the Indian chiefs. Bartholomew Columbus was not sure of the loyalty of his followers; he dared not lead them against their countrymen; but he did put down the Indian rebellion.

When the Admiral arrived he heard tidings of disaster on every side—of lands untilled, crops ungathered, mines unworked; of the country plundered by bands of white men and natives in turn. He had not enough soldiers to attack Roldan, so he wrote to him promising that, if he came quietly to Isabella, he and his men should receive either a free pardon in the colony or a passage home. But the rebel wanted more than this; he demanded lands for his followers, and a high post for himself. These too had to be granted. Roldan then returned to the city, where he bore himself as the Admiral's equal, and even insulted him in public. Most of his men sailed for Spain.

There they swelled the outcry against Columbus. King Ferdinand had already heard accounts of the disturbances in Hayti, and had begun to doubt the Admiral's prudence. For some years he had received none of the promised gold, but only requests for more provisions, tools, and ships. Queen Isabella had been angry at the enslavement of the natives against her wishes. "By what authority does Columbus venture thus to dispose of my subjects?" she asked. Fonseca too had always repeated every ill-natured tale he could hear.

Now there arrived two ships filled with angry Spaniards, who complained of enforced work, of lack of food, of the wretched state of the country, and declared that Columbus wished to make himself King of Hayti, instead of sending its wealth to Spain. The very mob of the Spanish cities spat at the Admiral's name. Young men gathered round Diego and Fernando Columbus, and insulted those "whose father had led so many brave nobles to seek graves in the land of vanity and delusion." Ferdinand and Isabella determined to send out an officer of high rank, with full powers to do anything he thought necessary for the good of the island—power even over Columbus.

But again they made an unfortunate choice in Francis Bobadilla, who was weak and pompous, and already considered the Admiral guilty of everything that had been laid to his charge.

On arriving at Isabella Bobadilla's eyes fell on the bodies of some Spanish rebels hanging on a gibbet. Horrified at this sight, he called for an explanation, and listened eagerly to every complaint brought against the Admiral. He ordered that Diego Columbus, who was then in the city, should be bound and imprisoned, he took possession of the Admiral's house and all his goods and papers, and he sent to bid him at once come to the town.

Columbus at first refused, not believing in Bobadilla's authority, but obeyed when he was shown the royal letters. He went unarmed before the new governor, who, without respect either for his rank or for the services he had rendered to the Spanish Court, ordered him to be put into chains. Silence fell upon the attendants, all gazed upon the stern and majestic figure of the fallen governor, and no one moved to obey. Bobadilla repeated his order, but his men were unwilling to have part in such a shameful deed. He offered a reward, and after some minutes a low cook stepped forward, who was ready to do anything for money. Then in the midst of the hushed gathering this fellow fastened on the fetters, and the prisoner was removed, calm and dignified, though ignorant what his fate would be.

Bobadilla was afraid that Bartholomew Columbus would take up arms; he ordered his prisoner to request his brother to give himself up. Columbus said he would obey the royal command in this also, and Bartholomew was put in irons.

The Admiral and his brothers were then confined on one of the ships in the harbour. They were not allowed to see each other, but were left to expect death. Meanwhile Bobadilla set to work to collect every sort of charge against them from the vilest Spaniards in the place. One man was found to declare that Columbus had kept for himself a sack of pearls which he should have sent to Spain; another that he had hidden a treasure of gold; others that he had starved and ill-treated his Spanish followers; and still others that he had tortured Indians to death. Bobadilla in great delight wrote down all these reports, and then, because he dared not execute the Admiral himself, resolved to send him and his brothers home for punishment.

Vallejo, captain of one of the vessels at Isabella, was ordered to take them on board. He went to the Admiral, saluted him, and begged him to accompany him.

"Vallejo, where are you leading me?" said the prisoner gravely, thinking the orders for his murder had come.

"On board, sir."

"Is this true, Vallejo?"

"On my honour, sir," said the captain, "you are to come on board my ship."

And Columbus followed, believing that when he came to Spain his cause would be safe in the hands of the King and Queen.



When he had been at sea a few hours Vallejo begged him to let him remove the chains, for there was now nothing to fear from Bobadilla. But the proud adventurer would not allow this. "No," he said, "I wear them by the King of Spain's orders; I shall wear them until he has me released." And all through the voyage, in spite of his own health and Vallejo's pleadings, he continued to wear them.

He felt his disgrace bitterly, and in a letter which he wrote to a friend at Court he said, "I have now reached that point that there is no man so vile but thinks it his right to insult me. The governor on his arrival at Hayti took up his abode in my house and made use of all that was there. Well and good; perhaps he was in want of it, but even a pirate does not behave in this way to the merchant whom he plunders." And he declared indignantly, "I am judged in Spain as a governor who had been sent to a city under regular government, and in this I receive enormous wrong. I ought to be judged as a captain sent from Spain to the Indies to conquer a nation numerous and warlike, a captain who for so many years has borne arms, never quitting them for a moment. If twelve years' hardships and fatigues, if continual dangers and frequent famines, if the ocean first opened and five times passed and repassed to add a new world abounding with wealth to the Spanish monarchy, if an infirm old age brought on by these services deserve these chains as a reward, it is very fit I should wear them to Spain and keep them by me as memorials to the end of my life."

As soon as the ships reached Spain, this letter was sent to the sovereigns, and both were moved with indignation when they heard of the treatment their great servant had received. They ordered that the brothers should be set free at once, that all honour should be shown to them, and that they should come to Court as soon as possible. But, when the fetters were removed, Columbus had them nailed on to his cabin wall, where he might always see them; and he made his friends promise that, when he died, they should be buried with him.

Then he went before the King and Queen, a grey-haired, bent old man, with the story of his misfortunes and sufferings written on his wrinkled face. When Isabella saw him tears came into her eyes, and she bade him rise from his knees, but he broke down and wept. She and Ferdinand talked with him, and heard of his wonderful discovery of gold and pearls in the Gulf of Paria, and of all his labours. And they told him how angry they were that Bobadilla should have used his power so ill, and promised that he should be recalled at once. And Columbus, who could never be idle, began to dream of a new voyage, which would bring still more glory to Spain.