RGSSA Library Catalogue

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Discovering Asia: The Stolen East Indian "Rutters"

Discovering Asia: continuing the series on early voyages
from the collection of the Royal Geographical Society
of South Australia

The Stolen East Indian “Rutters”
How the Dutch Broke the Portuguese Trade Monopoly

During most of the 16th century the East Indian trade routes of the Portuguese remained a closely guarded secret. However, the demand for spices in Europe was too strong for their unwieldy supply system, and by the last decade of the century the Dutch, notably Jan van Linschoten, Cornelis de Houtman, and Jacob van Neck, had discovered the routes. The Portuguese were too firmly established on the West Coast of India, where the huge pepper trade was centred, for the Dutch to make much impression there, but the fabled “Spice Islands” were a different story. There they could get the important three spices of cloves, nutmeg and mace. Pepper, which had been grown and traded in Java, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula for centuries, was also available in large quantities.

Typvs orbi terrarvm”: map of the world
from the first English edition of Linschoten’s Itinerario:
Iohn Huighen van Linschoten his Discours of voyages into ye Easte & West Indies.
Printed at London By Iohn Wolfe, [1598]. Library of Congress.

Linschoten is one of the most important names in the history of Dutch exploration—far more important to the Dutch economy than was Abel Tasman. It was due directly to him that the Dutch got to know of the Portuguese routes to the East and were thus able to break the Portuguese monopoly on trade with Asia—in particular, the enormously lucrative spice trade.

Jan Huyghen van Linschoten (1563-1611) emigrated from Holland to Seville in Spain when he was still in his teens, joining his brothers who had gone there earlier, and then going to the Portuguese city of Lisbon, one of the most important trading ports of Europe. Having got an appointment as Secretary to the new Archbishop of the Portuguese colony of Goa, on the western coast of India, he sailed there on a Portuguese ship in 1583. There he kept a diary, full of descriptions of people and places he saw, and of stories other people told him of places even further east. More importantly for the history of exploration, he also illicitly copied Portuguese nautical maps.

He left India in 1590 when the archbishop died. The ship was attacked by English pirates and wrecked, and Linschoten was forced to spend two years in the Azores, finally getting back to Lisbon in 1592. The books he wrote when he was back in Holland had a huge impact on Dutch navigation and hence trade. The second, larger work, which incorporated the text of the first, was “an exposé” that “turned out to be a bestseller, not only in Holland but in England and France, too.” (Krondl, The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, 2008, p.140). Why? Not only because Linschoten was a fascinating and colourful writer, but because he provided a route to the East Indies which would open up the Far East to an onslaught of Dutch mariners and traders.

Sixty-Seven Pirated Route Guides
Linschoten’s astounding achievement was to provide Dutch navigators with the text of sixty-seven Portuguese or Spanish pilots’ roteiros. The contemporary English was “rutters” or “ruters.” If we used the word today it would be “routers.” It means precisely that: guides enabling the navigators to find their bearings from one port to another, in an age when there was no exact method of calculating longitude. Linschoten’s pirated “rutters” gave the Dutch a huge number of routes, covering Portugal to Goa, and thence the Strait of Malacca in the East Indies, the route to Macao, the coasts of Siam (Thailand), “Kambodja” and “Anam” in Southeast Asia, the route from Java to China, the Chinese coast and Japan. Also, crucially, the rutters gave the routes to the Spice Islands, covering the area east of Sumatra to “Bantam”, that is, Banten, near the western end of Java, a strategically important site and a major trading city, with a secure harbour on the Sunda Strait. The Dutch would use this route as a way to the Spice Islands of the Moluccas further east, avoiding the Portuguese-dominated Strait of Malacca.

Linschoten’s first book, containing the rutters and some accounts of eastern voyages, was published in Dutch as Reys-gheschrift van de navigatien der Portugaloysers in Orienten... (Amsterdam, 1595) (“Travel Accounts of Portuguese Navigation in the Orient”). It was then included in the much fuller Itinerario: Voyage ofte schipvaert van Jan Huyghen van Linschoten naer Oost ofte Portugaels Indien, 1579-1592 (1596) (“Travel Account of the Voyage of the Sailor Jan Huyghen van Linschoten to Portuguese East India”), which was translated, reprinted and adapted by other chroniclers many times over the next forty-odd years.

Portrait of Linschoten
(The Voyage..., Hakluyt Society ed., 1885, vol, 1,
frontis., reproduced from the English ed. of 1598)

Linschoten did not stay at home after this: his later life was as exciting as his early years. He sailed on two expeditions with Willem Barentsz, the Dutch cartographer and explorer, in search of a Northeast Passage to the East above Siberia. Linschoten was one of the two crewmembers who published journals on Barentsz’s travels.

Linschoten: Early Texts
The RGSSA Library holds Latin translations of Linschoten’s work on the East and some accounts of other early Dutch ventures to the East Indies in Parts II, III and IV (1599-1601) of the important collection of early travel narratives collated and published by the De Bry brothers, known as “India Orientalis” or “Petits voyages.”

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 2. Latin]
    II. pars Indiae Orientalis, in qva Iohan. Hvgonis Lintscotani nauigatio in Orientem, item regna, littora, portus, flumina, apparentiae, habitus moresque Indorum & Lusitanorum pariter in Oriente degentium: praeterea merces, monetae, mensurae, & pondera, quae quibus in locis, quóve compendio prostent, accurate proponuntur. Ea Lintscotvs ipse spectator atq; autor primùm vernaculo sibi idiomate Belgice in publicum dedit: deinde superioribus Germanis Germanice, & nunc Latinis item auribus Latine vtcunq, reddita enunciauit. Francofordii, ex officina Wolffgangi Richteri, 1599
    (York Gate Library 2044)

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 3. Latin]
    Tertia pars Indiae Orientalis: qua continentur I. Secunda pars nauigationum à Ioanne Hvgone Lintschotano Hollando in Orientem susceptarum ... II. Nauigatio Hollandorum in insulas Orientales, Iavan & Svmatram ... III. Tres nauigationes Hollandorum in modò dictam Indiam per Septentrionalem seu glacialem oceanum ... Fideli stvdio et opera de Germanico in Latinum translata, & bono ordine disposita à Bilibaldo Strobaeo Silesio. Adiectae svnt huic operi multae eaeqve accuratissima tabula seu mappa chorographica. Francofvrti, excudebat Matthaeus Beckerus, 1601.
    (York Gate Library 2045)

BRY, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
    [India Orientalis. Pt. 4. Latin]
    Pars qvarta Indiae Orientalis: qva primvm varij generis animalia, fructus, abores: item, aromata  seu species & materialia: similiter & margarita seu uniones, ac gemmarum species pleraqz, sicut in India tum effodiantur, tum generentur; quo itidem in censu, pretio & appellatione sint, accuratè describuntur. Per Ioannem Hvgonem Lintschotanum, & nonnullos alios. Descriptioni huic adiectae nonnullibi sunt annotationes clariss. Dn. Bernhardi Palvdani ..., apprimè vtiles & eruditae. Secvndo: Nouissima Hollandorum in Indiam Orientalem nauigatio, ad veris Anni 1598 introitum suscepta, & quatuor exinde reducibus nauibus mense Iulio An. 1599 confecta, exponitur. Francofurti, apud Matthaevm Becker, 1601.
    (York Gate Library 2046)

Two early depictions of “Bantam” (Banten):
above, Shipping; below, Foreign merchants
(India Orientalis, Pt. 3)

The De Bry family was responsible for publishing some of the greatest collections of travel narratives of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Theodor de Bry (1528-1598), the father, started off in life as a goldsmith and engraver. When the first accounts of Dutch, Spanish and English explorers in Asia and the Americas began to be published in the 1580s, De Bry became interested in producing illustrated editions of them. He was born in Liège but fled to Strasbourg around 1570 when the Spanish invaded the Low Countries. He travelled to France and England in the 1580s, meeting the English geographer and  historian Richard Hakluyt. It was not until he was in his sixties, by which time he was settled with his family in Frankfurt-am-Main, that he published his first great set of books, America, or Les grands voyages, as they have become
known. This monumental compilation documents the European discoveries of North and South America.

It is the second set, India Orientalis, that deals with the exploration of the East Indies. Theodor de Bry died well before it was completed and it was his sons, Johann Theodor de Bry (1561-1623) and Johann Israel de Bry (d.1611), who followed in his footsteps and issued this large set of volumes, which certainly merits more than the title by which it has become known to bibliophiles: Les petits voyages.

India Orientalis is probably the greatest single collection of material on early voyages to the East Indies, and is unique in its extraordinary wealth of cartographical and visual material on Africa, India, the Spice Islands, and South Asia.

Linschoten: Translations, Reprints & Facsimiles of Early Texts

Linschoten, Jan Huygen van, 1563-1611
    [Itinerário. English]
    The voyage of John Huyghen van Linschoten to the East Indies: from the old English translation of 1598, the first book, containing his description of the East, edited, the first volume by the late Arthur Coke Burnell ; the second volume by P.A. Tiele. London, Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1885. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; no. 70-71) 2 vols.

This edition of the Itinerario, translated into English in 1598, was published by the Hakluyt Society in 1885 using an edited version of the early translation, supplemented with explanatory notes. It is a rich source of information about Portuguese trade with the East Indies, as well as descriptions of the fauna, flora and indigenous peoples of the regions Linschoten visited or learned about. Small wonder that his book was so popular in so many languages in its day: it is detailed, thorough, and extremely colourful.

Here are Linschoten’s descriptions of mace and cloves from the Hakluyt Society edition’s English translation. They are so vivid you can almost see and smell them!

Of Mace, Folie, or Flowers of Nutmegges, and Nutmegges
... The fruite is altogether like great round Peaches, the inward part whereof is the Nutmegge. This hath about it a hard shell like wood, wherein the Nut lyeth loose: and this wooden shel or huske is covered over with Nutmeg flower, which is called Mace, and over it is the fruite, which without is like the fruite of a Peach. When it is ripe it is a verie costly meate, and of a most pleasant savor. ... When the Nuttes begin to be ripe, then they swell, and the first shell or huske bursteth in peeces, and the Nutmegge flowers doe continue redde, as Scarlet, which is a verie faire sight to behold, if the trees bee full of fruite. Sometimes also the Mace breaketh, which is the cause that the Nutmegges come alltogether without the Mace, and when the Nutmegge drieth, then the Mace falleth off, and the red changeth into Orenge colour, as you see by the Mace that is brought hether. The Ilands where they grow, specially Banda, are very unholesome countries, as also the Ilands of Maluco, many that traffique thether die or are in great perill of their lives, by sicknesse, notwithstanding great gaine maketh men to travel thether.

This is what mace looks like when the outer, peach-like husk is just about to fall off:

Linschoten just nailed it, didn’t he?

And “Of Cloves” he writes:

Cloves are by the Turkes, Persians, Arabians, and most part of the Indians called Calafur, and in the Ilands of Maluco, where they are only found and do grow Chamke. These Ilands are five, lying under the Equinoctiall line, as in the descriptions thereof is declared. They have nothing else but Cloves, which are caried from thence, throughout the world, the trees whereon they grow, are like Bay trees, the blossomes at the first white, then greene, and at the last red and hard which are the Cloves, and when the blossomes are greene, they have the pleasantest smell in all the world.

I’ll end this entry on Linschoten, whom I found to be one of the most fascinating of the early European writers on the “discovery” of Asia, with the sort of meat recipe that would have been eaten in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. This is an English recipe which uses several spices, including cloves. Today in English cookery cloves are almost entirely confined to cakes and desserts.

Bibliophiles, please skip!

(From: A Noble boke off cookry ffor a prynce houssolde or eny other estately houssolde: reprinted verbatim from a rare ms. in the Holkham collection, edited by Mrs. Alexander Napier. London: Elliot Stock, 1882.)

“Buknad” or “buknadde,” etc., was just a name for a veal stew thickened with eggs. The modern English spelling would be:

To make buknade, take veal small and veal parboiled, then gather up the flesh and strain the broth through a strainer and put it in to the pot and set it on the fire and put thereto onions minced, powder of pepper, powder of cloves and canelle [cinnamon], and in the boiling put in the flesh; then take raw yolks in a bowl and cast thereto the heated broth and mele [mix] it well together and in the setting down put in the egg and stir it together in the setting down and give it a little colour of saffron and salt it and serve it.

Today we’d probably brown the small veal pieces before stewing them. I think it’d be yummy! No wonder they wanted spices so much in Linschoten’s day.

Note: Early recipes never give you precise quantities. Be careful with the cloves: of all the spices it’s cloves which can very easily dominate and overpower a dish. If you try it, watch how you mix the “het brothe” with the bowl of egg yolks “in the setting down.” I'm not sure exactly what the writer is trying to describe here, but I think it’s the way we’d approach it today, which is to add a little of the hot spiced meat liquid to the egg yolks, stirring well, and then, with the pan off the heat, slowly add the egg mixture to the stew, stirring all the time, until the egg is well mixed in and not curdled. If necessary, you can then reheat it gently on a low heat to thicken it up a little.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Discovering Asia: A New Way East - Across the Peaceful Ocean

A New Way East
Across The “Peaceful Ocean”

Continuing the "Discovering Asia" series; the exhibition opens at the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia in May.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century only the Portuguese had a right to claim new lands of the East, according to a treaty* ratified by the Pope. The Spaniards had the rights to the new lands of the West, but as Columbus and those who came after him had found, these weren’t the source of the much-prized spices. But what if they could go west, not east, and reach the Spice Islands that way? No-one had ever done it before.
  * Treaty of Tordesillas (1494, ratified by the Pope, 1506) establishing a new “line of demarcation” which allotted the Spanish most of the Americas except for Brazil, but all the new lands to the east to the Portuguese

Magellan’s voyage around Cape Horn and across the Pacific resulted both from his disaffection with the Portuguese and from the Spanish discontent with the treaty which effectively cut them off from a share of the spice trade. Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães, as he is listed in modern catalogues) was a Portuguese navigator, not Spanish, and so he had been to the East Indies—but going east, taking Da Gama’s route around Africa and then across the Pacific. From 1506 he made several voyages to India, helping to wrest control of key Indian trading ports from the Arabs. In 1509 he and his friend Francisco Serrão were involved in an unsuccessful attempt to take the Malayan port of Malacca. Serrão went on to the spice island of Ternate in the Moluccas in 1511-1512. It is possible that Magellan went with him, though he was back in Portugal in 1512.

The King of Portugal having refused alike his request for an increased allowance and his proposal of a voyage to the Spice Islands, Captain Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality and in 1517 offered his services to the King of Spain.

The Circumnavigation of the Globe
Magellan is often credited with being the first person to sail right around the world, but in fact he died in 1521 in the Philippines, only halfway. The one remaining ship from the small fleet of five he started out with in 1519 was the first European vessel to complete the circumnavigation of the world. Nevertheless his achievements are very real.

On 21st October 1520 Magellan sailed into the passage to the Pacific Ocean that is now named after him, the Strait of Magellan. By this time he had already survived a mutiny and the loss of one ship. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait: during the rough voyage one ship deserted and returned to Spain. Sighting fires along the shore, Magellan named the place Tierra del Fuego (“land of fire”). The journey round Cape Horn was 530 kilometres long. In November 1520 Magellan’s three remaining ships sailed into the great westward ocean, which Magellan named Pacific (“peaceful”) because it seemed so calm.

Heading first northwards along the western coast of South America, they then turned west to cross the Pacific. Magellan’s exact route is not known but it was to the north of the many scattered islands of the South Pacific, missing several places where he could have found fresh supplies. Desperately short of food and water, with many of the crew dead from scurvy, they were reduced to eating boiled leather, rats, and sawdust.

Landfall at Last: the Marianas (“Ladrones”)
At last they reached land: Guam, in the Mariana Islands. It was March 6, 1521.

In the Marianas pilfering incidents, very possibly merely a cultural attempt to share possessions and not intended as malicious, were seen by the Europeans as theft: Magellan called the islands the “Ladrones” (“Thieves”) and took revenge.

Discovering the Philippines
Sailing westward, looking for the spice islands of the Moluccas, but in fact far to the north of them, Magellan became the first European to see the Philippines. He landed there on the island of Cebu on April 7 1521.

He was killed during an attack on the neighbouring island of Mactan, which he made in cooperation with the ruler of Cebu. His men then burned one ship to stop it falling into enemy hands, and escaped in the other two vessels. They reached the Moluccas on 6th November 1521.

Return to Spain
One ship, the Santa Maria de la Victoria, under the command of Juan Sebastián de Elcano (or “del Cano”), sailed back to Europe with a cargo of spices, crossing the Indian Ocean and rounding Africa by way of the Cape of Good Hope. They reached Seville on September 9, 1522, thus completing the circumnavigation of the world.

Spices, a New Trading Empire, and a New World Map
The cargo of spices carried back to Spain paid for the entire cost of the expedition. However, Magellan’s route round Cape Horn via the Strait of Magellan was too long and difficult to be a practical way to the Spice Islands, and Spain sold her interests there to Portugal. But Magellan’s bold expedition laid the foundations for trade across the Pacific between the New World of the Americas and the East. Spain did not at first recognize the importance of the Philippines, but by the end of the century Manila had become the greatest Spanish trading centre in Asia.

Magellan’s voyage demonstrated incontrovertibly that the world’s oceans were linked and finally abolished the belief dating back to ancient Greek times that the Indian Ocean was landlocked. Cartographers were at last able to estimate the true size and shape of South America, and the full vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

 Above: The new map of the world:
A 1599 2-hemisphere map from the engraved title of part 8 of De Bry’s “Grands voyages” , i.e. Americae pars VIIII (YG 2037)
“Mare Pacificum” is in the centre, where the 2 hemispheres meet

Magellan: Early Texts from an Eyewitness: Antonio Pigafetta
Antonio Pigafetta was an Italian nobleman from Vicenza who sailed with Magellan in 1519. Little is known of his earlier life. Pigafetta was wounded in the Philippines, but survived. Officially a supernumerary, he acted as Magellan’s assistant and kept an accurate journal which later helped in his translation of a Philippine language, Cebuano, the first recorded document on this language. His account of the first circumnavigation of the globe, Primo viaggio intorno al globo terraqueo, is a seminal work used as the basis, often unacknowledged, for subsequent accounts of the voyage.
    Pigafetta’s account of Magellan’s voyage appears in the collections of travel narratives of both Ramusio and Purchas (see previous blog for full bibliographical details):

“Viaggio atomo il Mondo, 1519-22” page 352, In:

Ramusio, Giovanni Battista, 1485-1557
    Delle navigationi et viaggi... Volume Primo. In Venetia, appresso I Givnti, 1613.
    (York Gate Library 2027)

“F. Magalianes. The occasion of his Voyage, and the particulars of the same, with the Compassing of the World; gathered out of Ant. Pigafetta, who was in the said Circumnavigation, also from divers other authors, 1519-22” (Vol. I, p. 33), In:
PURCHAS, Samuel, 1577?-1626.
    Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes. London, 1625. 4 vols.
    (York Gate Library 2071-2076)

Magellan: Translations, Reprints & Facsimiles of Early Texts

Pigafetta, Antonio, ca. 1480-ca. 1534
    [Primo viaggio intorno al globo terraqueo. French]
    Premier voyage autour du monde par le chevr. Pigafetta sur l'escadre de Magellan, pendant les anneés 1519, 20, 21 et 22: suivi de l’extrait du Traité de navigation du même auteur: et d’une notice sur le chevalier Martin Behaim, avec la description de son globe terrestre. A Paris, chez H.J. Jansen, l’an IX [i.e. 1801]
    (York Gate Library, 2311)

This is Pigafetta’s eyewitness account of the circumnavigation of the globe undertaken by Magellan in 1519. The manuscript used was probably a copy of one of the ones Pigafetta presented to several illustrious persons of his time (preface, p.l [50]). It is a faithful translation, including the author’s errors of fact, and with copious footnotes by the editor. A set of maps is included, some taken from the MS, others supplied by the editor. This is a vivid account, with many details of places, peoples, food plants, spices, and animals and birds observed—Pigafetta was the first to describe a penguin. Also included are an extract from his treatise on navigation and his notes on the early German cartographer Martin Behaim’s extraordinary globe, the “Erdapfel” (“earth apple).

After Magellan’s feat, other expeditions under Spanish auspices would venture into the great ocean from the Americas, most notably that of the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (d.1615), who features in Australian literature because of his claim to have discovered the “great southern land”. In terms of the European discovery of Asia his earlier voyage with Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1595 is much more significant. After reaching the Marquesas, Mendaña died. Queirós took command and managed to reach the Philippines against strong odds, in February 1596, “one of the greatest feats in the record of Pacific navigation.” (ADB).

Magellan’s voyage of course began European contact with the Philippines. The RGSSA’s May exhibition, “Discovering Asia”, will include books on the later contact between East and West in the Philippines.

In the centuries immediately following Magellan, however, the principal way to the East and its precious spices was to be Da Gama’s way.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Discovering Asia: East Indies - The Quest for Spices

Secret maps, perilous sea voyages, fabulous wealth... It’s all there!

An exhibition “Discovering Asia” will feature at the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia http://www.rgssa.org.au/ in May 2015. It will have a wide scope, featuring works of exploration and travel about many of the countries of southeast and eastern Asia, including Indonesia, Japan, and China.

In the blog I’ll be looking at some of the books which recount the early voyages of discovery from Europe to the East. Because the RGSSA’s collection was founded on the purchase of S. William Silver’s York Gate Library from London, compiled during the 19th century, it’s very Anglocentric. But as well as early English translations and the great 16th-century English compilations of travel narratives it does include some interesting and significant works in Latin and the European languages.

The Spice Rush
The European push into Asia from the time of Columbus was all about spices. When he got to the West Indies Columbus was positive he'd reached Asia—which explains why the hot chillis his men found there got called “peppers”, even though they are capsicums (Capsicum frutescens spp.), native to Central and South America, and are not botanically related to the genus Piper, which includes the black pepper we still use today.

In its time, Columbus’s voyage was a bit of flop, because he hadn't found the quick way to the lands of spices:

“In respect of spices, which is to say in respect of one of the primary reasons why it was discovered, the New World was something of a disappointment.”
            (Jack Turner. Spice: the history of a temptation. Vintage Books, 2005)

In the blog I’ll look at how the frantic scramble for spices opened up Asia to the West. It’s fair to say that the Portuguese and the Dutch in particular ran mad over them—but the Spanish, English and French weren’t very far behind. My friends at the Art Gallery of SA library suggested, when I was telling them about the Dutchman who gave his countrymen the secret Portuguese maps, that maybe the mad Dutch frenzy for spices was due to something in the Dutch psyche, like the later tulip bubble. Fair enough—but most of the world ran mad over gold in the 19th century. I’d say it's something in the human psyche, common to all of us. Mad fads on the one hand (like, your cell phone or tablet, indispensable to life, can you breathe without one?) and the lust for wealth on the other. With, in the case of the men who actually sailed to Asia under tremendously dangerous conditions, a true spirit of adventure. The sea captains went East not just for the riches that cargoes of spices would bring them, but because it was there.

The Quest For Spices

Imagine a world in which pepper was so valuable it had to be bought with gold. This is what Europeans had to pay—and gladly paid—when they finally managed to sail to the “East Indies,” that is, to India at the end of the 15th century, and then points further east during the 16th century.

Spices have been used since time immemorial, and traded all over the world at least from the time of the Egyptian pharaohs—it is a documented fact that one pharaoh’s mummy had peppercorns, used as a preservative, in his nose and body cavity. Cloves dating back to 1721 BC have been found in Syria, and they were known as breath fresheners to the Chinese Han Dynasty in the third century BC. In Europe during the Middle Ages spices were important for flavouring food, in medicines, as preservatives, and for perfuming, but they were hugely expensive. The spice trade monopoly was held by the Arabs during the Middle Ages, and Ibn Batuta (1304-1377) mentions the clove trade in his Tuhfat al-nuzzar (“Travels”). Their spice trade with Europe was largely through Venice.

Ibn Batuta, 1304-1377.
    The travels of Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1325-1354, translated with revisions and notes from the Arabic text edited by C. Defrémery and B. R. Sanguinetti by H.A.R. Gibb. Cambridge [England], Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1958-2000. 5 vols. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; 2nd ser., no. 110, 117, 141, 178, 190)

If we read about the cookery books of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance we tend to get the wrong idea: spices abound in these recipes.

“A stew of chicken summered with cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, and a little vinegar and thickened with ground almonds was standard Portuguese fare during the sixteenth century.”
            (Lizzie Collingham. Curry: a tale of cooks and conquerors.
            Oxford, University Press, 2006, p. 59)

This was a dish from Portugal itself, not from Portuguese India. And here is a combination of meat with ginger, cloves, and mace that we wouldn’t be surprised to find today in Indian cuisine, but that was common in English cuisine until well after Shakespeare’s time.

With modern spelling, the recipe reads:
Coney in Gravy
Take blanched almonds, grind them with wine  And good broth of beef and mutton, and draw it through a strainer, and cast it into a pot, and let boil; and cast thereto powder of ginger, cloves, mace, and sugar. And then take a coney, and seethe him enough in good fresh broth, and chop him. And take off the skin cleanly, and pick him clean. And cast it [in]to the syrup, And let boil once. And serve forth.
 (From Harleian MS 4016)

(See http://www.godecookery.com/nboke/nboke51.htm This website also provides a modern version, using either rabbit or chicken.)

Wonders of the East: “Spetierie, Droghe, Gioie, & Perle”
But the very early cookery books (and most of those who write about them) give us the wrong idea. By the early Renaissance printing had only just been invented and books themselves were luxury items. Ordinary people didn’t read and they certainly did not have access to cookery books! The cookery books were written for the very rich, who could afford spices: the great households often kept a “spicer,” a person whose sole rôle was to mix and prepare spices for foods and medicines. Spices were a luxury item. Contemporary accounts such as Ramusio’s, quoted above, list spices along with fabulous gems, pearls, gold and silks as wondrous treasures of the East, the stuff that dreams were made of.

During the Middle Ages pepper was enormously expensive in Europe. By the end of the Middle Ages, when supplies had become more regular, it was still very dear, but not as outrageously so as it had been earlier, when only the rich could afford it. It was extremely important in cuisine but, as supplies increased, it had become less fashionable. The other spices, in particular the aromatics such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmegs and mace, were still only affordable to the comfortably off. The expanding middle classes could afford reasonable amounts of pepper but only small amounts of the other spices, perhaps for special dishes and special occasions. Spices were still, as they had been throughout the previous centuries, a status symbol.

Pepper is native to South Asia and Southeast Asia, and the main early trading centres were on the Malabar Coast on India’s western coast. The spice is the dried fruit of the pepper vine (Piper negrum). Cinnamon is the inner bark of the cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum verum, and other species), dried and rolled into small quills. It is native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Malabar Coast of India, Bangladesh, and Burma. Its source was unknown to Europeans for centuries. The exact source of cloves, nutmegs and mace, which occur naturally only in the small islands of the Moluccas (modern Malaku, in Indonesia), remained unknown even longer.
    Cloves are the dried buds of the clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum), found naturally only on a few islands within the Moluccas. Nutmegs and mace both come from the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans). Nutmeg is the inner nut and mace is the dried membrane which surrounds it, within the outer shell. Nutmeg trees grew only in the tiny Banda Islands within the Moluccas, in particular on little Run Island or Pulau Run (“Poolaroone” in early English texts). From these small scattered groups of islands, cloves, nutmeg and mace were traded all over the world centuries before Europeans reached the East Indies.

Opening Up The East: The First Portuguese Ventures
In 1498 Vasco da Gama (1469-1524) became the first European to reach India by sailing around Africa. His goal was the thriving sea port and trading centre of Calicut, on the western coast of southern India, in the area known as the Malabar Coast. It is now in the modern state of Kerala. “Calicut” is still the name generally used today, though its official name is Kozhikode. The major trading point for eastern spices, it was known during the Middle Ages and even earlier as the “City of Spices”. Arab merchants were trading there as early as the 7th century. Asked by Spanish- and Italian-speaking Arabs there why Da Gama’s ships had come, the Portuguese replied that they “came in search of Christians and spices” (Ravenstein (ed.). A Journal of the first voyage... p.48).

Discovering the spice route brought the Portuguese immense wealth. Their ships brought back pepper and cinnamon, both native to the Malabar Coast and grown there to this day. Pepper alone was worth a great fortune. For several decades after Da Gama the Portuguese had a monopoly on the pepper trade.

Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India paved the way for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. His success had been preceded by many disastrous shipwrecks, but Da Gama’s route meant that the Portuguese could make the whole voyage by sea, avoiding the highly disputed Mediterranean waters and the dangerous land trek over the Arabian Peninsula. Counting the outward and return trips, this was “the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.” (“Vasco da Gama”, Wikipedia) Da Gama was given the newly created County of Vidigueira in 1519 and the title that went with it, and made Governor of India in 1524, with the title of Viceroy.

Da Gama: Early Texts
The RGSSA holds many rare volumes of collected early voyages and travels from the York Gate Library of S. William Silver. The following collections by Ramusio and Purchas are identified in the Catalogue of the York Gate Library (2nd ed., 1886) as including sections on Vasco da Gama:

“Navigatione dal Capo Buona Speranza, fino in Calicut, 1497. Discorso,” page 119 (Narrative of Thome Lopes, 1502): In:

RAMUSIO, Giovanni Battista, 1485-1557
Delle navigationi et viaggi : raccolte da M. Gio. Battista Ramvsio, in tree volvmi divise : Nelle quali con relatione fedelissima si descriuono tutti quei paesi, che da già 300. anni sin’hora sono stati scoperti, cosi di verso Leuante, & Ponente, come di verso Mezzo di, & Tramontana; Et si hà notitia del Regno del Prete Gianni, & dell’Africa fino a Calicut, & ll’Isole Molucche. Et si tratta dell’Isola Giappan, delle due Sarmatie, della Tartariam Scitia, Circasia, & circonstante Prouincie : della Tana, & dell’Indie tanto Occidentali, quanto Orientali, & della Nauigatione d’intorno il Mondo. ... Et nel fine con aggiunta nella presente quinta impressione del viaggio di M. Cesare de’ Federici, nell’India Orientale, nel quale si descriue le Spetierie, Droghe, Gioie, & Perle, che in dette Paesi si trouano. ... Volume Primo. In Venetia, appresso I Givnti, 1613.

Ramusio’s three-volume “Navigationi et viaggi” has been adjudged the most highly valued collection of voyages of the sixteenth century. The set comprises accounts of voyages which had already been published, translated from the French, Spanish and Latin, together with manuscript accounts appearing in print for the first time. The choice of published narratives has been praised by later writers, as has his scholarship. Ramusio’s collection was very successful in the 16th and early 17th centuries, each volume appearing in several editions, some containing more narratives than others, and with small differences in the maps. Experts consider that the collection began a new area in the literary history of voyages and navigation. The work contains early maps of great significance, including those of Brazil, Canada, New England, Africa, Asia and Japan. The RGSSA holds the three-volume set of Ramusio (YG 2027, 2028, 2029). As with most sets known to collectors, the three are from different editions published at different times (1613, 1583, 1606). The illustration shows the engraved title page to the first volume.

“Gama’s Acts at Calicut and his Return, 1499”, page 28 (YG 2072, Vol. I Part II): In:

PURCHAS, Samuel, 1577?-1626.
Haklvytvs posthumus, or, Pvrchas his Pilgrimes: contayning a history of the world, in sea voyages, & lande-trauells by Englishmen and others, wherein Gods wonders in nature & prouidence, the actes, arts, varieties & vanities of men, w[i]th a world of the worlds rarities are by a world of eyewitnesse-authors related to the world, some left written by Mr. Hakluyt at his death, more since added, his also perused, & perfected, all examined, abreuiated, illustrated w[i]th notes, enlarged w[i]th discourses, adorned w[i]th pictures, and expressed in mapps, in fower parts, each containing fiue bookes; by Samvel Pvrchas, B.D. Imprinted at London for Henry Fetherston at ye signe of the rose in Pauls Churchyard, 1625. 4 vols.
The title is from the engraved title page. Each of the 4 parts also has a special title page with title: Pvrchas his Pilgrimes; and with imprint: London, Printed by William Stansby for Henrie Fetherstone ... 1625.

“a world of travellers to their domestic entertainment”

1625 Edition. Title page of the first volume
Samuel Purchas (1577?-1626), one of the great early compilers of travel narratives, published his Hakluytus posthumus, or Purchas his pilgrimes, in 1625. His earlier works had concentrated rather on the history of religion than on voyages and travel: he took a divinity degree at Cambridge. His compilation is called Hakluytus posthumus because Purchas saw it as the successor to the already famous works of Richard Hakluyt (1552?-1616). He wrote that he had assisted Hakluyt: “I was therein a labourer also,” and that he helped him to arrange papers which were unpublished when he died.

1625 edition: Engraved title page

In an age where few people could travel beyond their native shores, Purchas’s compilation offered: “a world of travellers to their domestic entertainment, easy to be spared from their smoke, cup, or butterfly vanities and superfluities, and fit mutually to entertaine them in a better school to better purposes.” It is generally agreed that although Purchas was not the equal of Hakluyt in either scholarship or accuracy, his work is an extremely important source, often the only one, of information on important questions relating to geographical history and early exploration.

Da Gama: Translations, Reprints & Facsimiles of Early Texts
Velho, Alvaro
Ravenstein, E. G. (Ernest George), 1834-1913 (editor)
    [Roteiro da viagem de Vasco da Gama. English]
    A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-1499, translated and edited, with notes, an introduction and appendices by E.G. Ravenstein. London, Printed by the Hakluyt Society, 1898. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society; no. 99)
This account of the navigator’s historic first voyage round the Cape of Good Hope to India’s Malabar Coast is now generally attributed by scholars and bibliographers to Alvaro Velho (cf. Library of Congress, LCCN 2009016532). Ravenstein, the editor of this first English translation, concludes that there is insufficient evidence to make an attribution, but favours João de Sa. The journal, or “Roteiro,” is an anonymous account written by a member of Da Gama’s fleet. It has become an important documentary source for accounts of the voyage. For several hundred years it existed only in manuscript form, several copies being in existence but incomplete. The first Portuguese edition was only published in 1838.

The volume includes letters of King Manuel and Girolamo Sernigi, 1499, and early seventeenth-century Portuguese accounts of Da Gama’s first voyage.

The journal itself is detailed and very colourful: here is the description (p.49-50) of the people of Calicut on the Malabar Coast:

    “They are of a tawny complexion. Some of them have big beards and long hair, whilst others clip their hair short or shave the head, merely allowing a tuft to remain on the crown as a sign that they are Christians [sic: a common mistake of the time]. They also wear moustaches. They pierce the ears and wear much gold in them. They go naked down to the waist, covering their lower extremities with very fine cotton stuffs. But it is only the most respectable who do this, for the others manage as best they are able.
    “The women of this country, as a rule, are ugly and of small stature. They wear many jewels of gold round the neck, numerous bracelets on their arms, and rings set with precious stones on their toes. All these people are well-disposed and apparently of mild temper. At first sight they seem covetous and ignorant.”

Berjeau, J. Ph. (Jean Philibert), 1809-1891 (translator)
    Calcoen: a Dutch narrative of the second voyage of Vasco da Gama to Calicut, printed at Antwerp circa 1504, with introduction and translation by J. Ph. Berjeau. London, Pickering, 1874.

“Calcoen” means Calicut. The volume reprints the Flemish original in facsimile and adds a map of Africa “taken from ‘Ptolemæi C. Tabula noua totius orbis’, Lugduni 1541.” (Introd. p.[9]).

Berjeau supplies a most readable introduction to this text, deciphering the place names used and simultaneously tracing the route. He writes that “the name of Vasco da Gama is not even mentioned in the ... narrative, but there is no doubt it applies to the second voyage of the great navigator to India.” The unknown narrator, he explains, must have been a “Dutch officer or sailor” on the voyage, for it is clearly not a translation of any other known work and it adds details not available elsewhere. Berjeau highlights the understandable errors of interpretation made by the author, such as thinking that the local Hindus and Buddhists who showed reverence for statues of the Virgin Mary were Christians. In fact these worshippers mistook the figures for representations of an Indian goddess. Points which struck the narrator, as they did other early European travellers to the East, were the chewing of betel and the use of musk: Berjeau writes: “The civet cat is so clearly described that it was impossible not to translate by musc the word iubot, although it is not to be found in any modern Flemish or Dutch dictionary.”

R: Page of the facsimile of the Flemish original.

As Berjeau points out, Vasco da Gama’s known cruelty and barbarism is well supported by the text. Here is the translation of the arrival in Calicut:

“On the 27th day of October we ... arrived in a kingdom called Calcoen, ... and we mustered our forces before the town, and we fought with them during three days, and we took a great number of people, and we hanged them to the yards of the ships, and taking them down, we cut off their hands, feet and heads; and we took one of their ships and threw into it the hands, feet and heads, and we wrote a letter, which we put on a stick, and we left that ship to go a-drift towards the land. We took there a ship which we put on fire and burnt there many of the subjects of the king.”

Circa 1531-1583
Corrêa, Gaspar, 16th cent.
    The three voyages of Vasco da Gama and his viceroyalty: from the Lendas da India of Gaspar Correa. ... Translated from the Portuguese, with notes and an introduction by Henry E.J. Stanley. London, Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1869. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; 42)

Gaspar Corrêa’s account of Vasco da Gama’s voyages to India in his Lendas da India existed only in manuscript form until about 1860. In his introduction to the first English edition of the part dealing with Vasco da Gama, Henry E.J. Stanley writes: “Correa’s work ... enters into much more detail than the other chroniclers, frequently differs from them, and has not been made use of by the great majority of the historians who wrote subsequently to him.” Corrêa himself went to India when he was very young, “sixteen years after India was discovered—that would be in 1514.” It is not known exactly when he wrote his history but it was certainly from 1561 to some time before 1583, when he died. While serving as secretary to Alfonso d'Albuquerque, then Viceroy of Portuguese India, he came across a diary written by Joam Figueira, a priest who accompanied Vasco da Gama, which inspired him to write his history. His full narrative covers fifty-three years of the Portuguese exploits in India, up to the government of Jorge Cabral. The account of Vasco da Gama’s exploits translated for this Hakluyt Society volume is extensive and detailed.

Just imagine the excitement when Da Gama arrived back in Portugal. Not only had he found the sea route to the wealth of the East Indies, he had brought home a big cargo of pepper. He had bought it for 3 ducats per hundredweight in Calicut. In Portugal it was selling for 22 ducats:* more than seven times what he’d had to pay!

“Within three years, the Portuguese were back in India. In 1505, Lopo Soares’s fleet of nine vessels departed from the Malabar Coast with a cargoi that included 1,074,003 kilograms of pepper, 28,476 kilograms of ginger, 8,789 kilograms of cinnamon, and 206 kilograms of cardamom.” *
* (Collingham, Op.cit., p. 51)

Portugal’s fortune was made for the next hundred years.

That very dear commodity, pepper, was used in Europe in Da Gama’s time, and for several hundred years afterwards, not only with meat and savoury dishes, but with fruit as well. Let’s end this blog entry with a 15th-century English recipe that you might like to try. (I speak as one who likes freshly ground pepper on sliced raw apple and adores it on fresh pear, like an Indian chaat, but don’t let that influence you!)

Fifteenth-Century Apple Fritters:
“Fretoure owt of Lente”
            6 large eating apples; sugar; 1 liqueur glass brandy
            Batter: 125 g flour; 2 eggs; 1 tablespoon oil or clarified butter;
            up to 300 ml. milk; pinch saffron; freshly ground black pepper
            oil for frying
Peel, core & slice apples about 1 cm (1/4 to 1/2 in.) thick. Put into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar, & pour on the brandy. Leave for several hours or overnight, turning occasionally. Drain well.
Batter: Pour 2 tblsps of almost boiling water over the saffron & leave to steep until “a good crocus yellow.” Mix flour, 1 whole egg, the 2nd egg yolk, & the oil. Beat in about 150 ml. of milk. Stir in the saffron water. Add more milk if batter is too thick. Add 2 or 3 grinds of pepper & stir in. Whisk the 2nd egg white until stiff & fold into the batter.
Dip the drained apple slices into the batter & fry in oil until golden brown. Serve sprinkled with sugar. Enjoy!
    (Based on: Jane Grigson. English Food. Penguin, 1977, p. 207)