Landfall of Cabot, The
DESCRIPTION: "There's an argument unfinished Twixt his lordship and the Judge, And the doctor takes a hand in For to settle an old grudge." All disagree on where John Cabot first discovered Newfoundland. Many claim to have special information from Cabot's family
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Doyle1)
KEYWORDS: Canada humorous home travel
1497- John Cabot's voyage
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Doyle4, p. 71, "The Landfall of Cabot" (1 text)
NOTES: The dispute over where John Cabot reached North America is very real; according to Roberts, p. 4, "Of the great mariner John Cabot... on whose 1497 voyage England's whole claim to North America rested, no portrait exists today, nor a single scrap of his handwriting. By the middle of the 16th century the facts of John Cabot's life had passed completely out of common memory." No real chronicle of English exploration was published until the time of Richard Hakluyt in 1582; our records are very few.
Brown, p. 20: "Cabot (born Giovanni Caboto) understood, like his Italian contemporary Christopher Columbus, that a direct and possibly shorter route to the spice trades of the Far East might be found by sailing west. Finding backers in England for a reconnaissance on a more northerly latitude than Columbus's, he probably landed in Northern Newfoundland, spent a month sailing this new coast, and returned to Bristol to acclaim and a royal pension."
Brebner/Masters, pp. 16-17: "The Bristol merchants outfitted [Cabot] with a tiny bark, named the 'Matthew,' and a crew of seventeen; King Henry VII gave him letters patent for the discovery of "whatsoever lands... which before this time were unknown to all Christians.' The expedition, which set sail on May 2, 1497, reached North America (probably near the southwest corner of Newfoundland, possibly near the northern tip of Cape Breton Island, or less possibly on the Labrador coast), on June 24. After a little coasting along those forbidding shores, they hurried home with the news that they had reached northeastern Asia, with Japan awaiting them to the south and west. They had found no gold, no inviting lands, no imperial cities. The rare natives whom they encountered were primitive folk, useful only as slaves."
Henry VII, ever the cheapskate, gave Cabot ten pounds in cash and a 20 pound annuity -- but from the receipts of Bristol, not his own revenue.
Bothwell, p. 13, "The great port of the English West Country was Bristol, in May 1497, sailed another Genoese, Giovanni Caboto, known to his English hosts as John Cabot. Cabot was sponsored by the English king, Henry VII. Henry was a prudent monarch and did not risk much.... By that time Columbus had made not one but two voyages to the New World, and it was clear that a sailor with a good compass and a certain amount of skill could sail west and enounter land -- possibly China or India, which Columbus had so far failed to locate.
"Cabot didn't find China, but he did find land, probably Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and he claimed it for his patron, King Henry. Yet Cabot's discovery of land had far less immediate significance than his discoveries at sea.... Cabot's English companions described an ocean alive with fish, the northern cod." It was these fish, on the Grand Banks and elsewhere in Canadian waters, that brought about most English contact with Newfoundland.
From this standpoint, it didn't really matter just where Cabot had reached land; the land was there, and the fish were near it, and England had a claim to it. But, to this day, no one knows where Cabot landed. Indeed, his son, Sebastian Cabot, may have organized another trip in 1508, and there is disagreement over whether it even happened (Roberts, pp. 3-6). All that uncertainty forms the backdrop to this poem. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Bothwell: Robert Bothwell, The Penguin History of Canada, Penguin, 2006
- Brebner/Masters: J. Bartlett Brebner, Canada, revised and enlarged by Donald C. Masters, University of Michigan Press, 1970
- Brown: Craig Brown, editor, The Illustrated History of Canada, Key Porter, 1987-2000
- Roberts: David Roberts, Great Exploration Hoaxes, Sierra Club, 1982 (use the 2001 Modern Library edition with an Introduction by Jan Morris)
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