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Title: The Cabots and the Discovery of America - With a Brief Description and History of Brandon Hill, The - Site of the Cabot Memorial Tower
Author: Hodges, Elizabeth
Language: English
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[Ill 0001]


With A Brief Description And History Of Brandon Hill, The Site Of The
Cabot Memorial Tower.

By Elizabeth Hodges

Illustrated By S. Loxton


[Illustration: 0003]

[Illustration: 0006]

[Illustration: 0007]


|CHIEF among the attractions of Bristol has been for centuries past the
church of St. Mary Redcliffe; while few names on her roll of fame are
more widely known than that of the ancient citizen to whom the stately
fabric owes so much of its grace and beauty.

And we grudge not the mead of praise. He who gives of his best to the
service of God and his fellow men deserves high honour. But, when all
is said, the work of William Canynge was as a drop in the ocean compared
with that accomplished by the merchant-pilot, his contemporary and
probable neighbour. Canynge helped to re-build a church; John
Cabot discovered a continent, and secured it for all time to the
English-speaking race. Yet the one has been remembered and revered; the
other neglected and forgotten. An anomaly, perhaps accounted for by
the fact that Bristol has ever been slow to recognise merit outside her
borders, and John Cabot was an alien, while the claims of Sebastian, his
son, to citizenship are still hotly contested; which is not surprising,
as the evidence so far obtainable rests mainly upon the contradictory
accounts of Sebastian himself.

[Illustration: 9008]

To an unprejudiced mind, however, the assertion made by him to his
friend Eden in old age, when he had no purpose in view and nothing to
gain by it, "that he was borne in Bristowe, and at iiii. yeare ould he
was carried with his father to Venice, and so returned agayne to England
with his father after certayne years, whereby he was thought to have
been borne in Venice," appears far more likely to be true than his
statement in middle life to Contarini, the Venetian Ambassador, by which
he sought to obtain wealth and honour, "I was borne in Venice, but was
bred in England."

[Illustration: 0009]

Practically, the birthplace of either father or son is of little moment,
even to Bristolians; nor the question of earlier voyages, so long as the
great fact remains--That it was from Bristol port, in a Bristol ship,
manned by Bristol sailors, on the initiative of Bristol merchants, that
John Cabot sailed on that memorable May morning four hundred years ago;
and that to Bristol port he returned in the following August, after
having planted the flag of St. George on the eastern-most point of Cape
Breton, in the Dominion of Canada, and taken possession of that great
northern continent for the King of England!--An achievement, be it
remembered, preceding by more than a year the landing of Columbus on the
Southern continent.

[Illustration: 0010]

That land across the wide Atlantic had been discovered long before Cabot
sighted it is now generally admitted. Setting aside the claims of Madoc
the Welshman and the Irish sailor-saint Brendan as not yet proven, it
is certain that the Icelanders planted a colony in Greenland as early as
the tenth century. The colony perished, but its traditions remained and
were the inciting cause of later voyages; for Bristol merchants trading
with Iceland, heard thereof and sent out ships in search of the
"new land" for seven successive years before the the sailing of the
"Matthew"--thinking to get by way of it to the Indies, or "far Cathay,"
the name given to all countries east of the Persian Gulf.

Unfortunately for the future historian, Sebastian Cabot not only
"romanced" concerning his birth-place, but also concerning his voyages;
in consequence of which he has been, for centuries, honoured as the
commander of the "Matthew" and the discoverer of America. Thanks,
however, to modern research among musty rolls and ancient charters, it
has been proved beyond a doubt that the commander of the Bristol ship
and discoverer of the Continent was John Cabot. Whether Sebastian ever
sailed at all on that first voyage is entirely conjectural. The evidence
that he did rests mainly upon a reported conversation held with
a stranger at Seville, in which he appears to have mixed up the
discoveries of the first expedition with those of later ones, and
ignoring his father's share, himself claimed credit for the whole!

A modern writer suggests in excuse that he feared to excite the jealous
displeasure of the King of Spain, in whose service he then was, by
attracting attention to the prior discovery of a continent which his
Catholic majesty would fain claim as his own. Perhaps, however, as
the conversation was transcribed not at second, but at third hand, the
indictment may be best taken with the proverbial grain of salt; and,
certainly, both on Sebastian's portrait and on his famous "Mappamundi,"
the claims of the elder Cabot are acknowledged.

Of John Cabot's birthplace no record exists, though some writers claim
the honour for Bristol. Recent research, however, has proved him to have
been of Norman extraction, descended from the Jersey Cabots or Chabots.
In 1476, for purposes of commerce, he became a Venetian citizen. When he
first came to London "to follow the trade of merchandise" is uncertain;
but he ultimately found his way to Bristol, which he appears to have
made his home for some years. As strangers were not allowed to remain
within the city to trade longer than forty days, in all probability
he resided with his Venetian wife, among others of her nation, in the
eastern suburb (the north and west were occupied by Jews) near to St.
Mary Redcliffe, where a district still bears the suggestive name of

An enterprising and wealthy merchant, Cabot was also an expert seaman,
well versed in the science of navigation, and burning to take part
in the search for those golden lands across the western ocean, whose
existence mariners of all nations had so long suspected.

[Illustration: 0013]

Among Bristol merchants, baffled in their own attempts to reach the
goal, such a man was sure of meeting with not only sympathy, but ready
co-operation. And in 1496 we find him obtaining from Henry VII.
a charter, made out in the names of himself and his sons, Lewis,
Sebastian, and Sanctus, empowering him and those associated with him to
fit out sundry vessels to search for new lands, and take possession of
them in the name of the King, he and his heirs to occupy such lands as
Henry's vassals and trade therein.

The "Matthew," a small vessel, was accordingly fitted out, sixteen
Bristol men and a Burgundian forming the crew, and in her Cabot set sail
from the ancient port, May 2nd, 1497.

Voyaging nearly due west, he, to quote from the contemporary letter
of Lorenzo Pasqualigo, "wandered about a long time, and at length hit
land"--not Bonavista, Newfoundland, nor Cape Chidley, Labrador,--whose
shores are ice-bound at that season; but Cape Breton, the easternmost
point of Nova Scotia;--"he coasted 300 leagues and landed; saw no human
beings, but brought to the King certain snares which had been set to
catch game, and a needle for making nets; he also found some felled
trees, wherefore supposing there were inhabitants, he returned to his
ship in alarm." Two islands were subsequently sighted (St. John's and
Newfoundland), but shortness of provisions compelled Cabot to return
homewards without landing.

And so, after an absence of three months, the little ship, having safely
braved the perils of those unknown seas and inhospitable shores, sailed

```"Up the Avon's gentle flood and under Clifton's height"

to her old anchorage beside the Quay.

[Illustration: 0015]

On the 10th of August, her captain was in London relating his
discoveries to the King. Henry was so pleased with Cabot's success that
he gave him a pension of £20 for life, and "£10 to him who found
(first sighted) the new isle." Pasqualigo tells how he was styled the
"Great Admiral," dressed in rich silks, and had vast honours paid him,
the English running after him "like mad people."

[Illustration: 9016]

In these rejoicings Bristolians, we may be sure, took a prominent part,
and many a city father and wealthy merchant, when office and shop were
closed for the day, would wend his way across the ancient bridge and
up Redcliffe Street to Cabot's home in "Cathay," to hear his stories
of those distant lands, and see the wondrous things he had brought

One relic, and one only, of that voyage Bristol still retains--the
famous "rib of the Dun Cow" (cow-whale) preserved with religious care
in Redcliffe Church; the following interesting reference to which was
discovered in recent times among the City records. "1497--Item. Paid for
settynge upp ye bone of ye bigge fyshe and... (writing illegible) hys
worke brote over seas, vid. For two rings of iron iiijd."

According to Socino, who wrote on Dec. 18th of this same year, Cabot
recorded his discoveries on a map and also on a globe; but no trace of
either has been found, although La Cosa must have had access to them for
his map.

In the following year, 1498, the King granted a supplementary charter
in the name of John Cabot only, authorising him to take out six ships to
the "lande and isles of late founde by the said John," at his own
cost, to trade and colonize; giving him for the latter purpose "300
prisoners"--doubtless glad enough to be rid of them, the gaols being
full to overflowing just then in consequence of Perkin Warbeck's
rebellion. Bounties were also allowed to "James Carter, Thos. Bradley,
and Lancelot Thirkill, of Bristowe" for fitting out three of the ships.

The expedition sailed, made further discoveries, and returned; but
whether it was under the control of John Cabot is not known, for here
all record of the elder Cabot ceases.

[Illustration: 0018]

Sebastian says his father died about this time, but he gives neither
date or place of burial. It seems most probable that John Cabot's
death occurred at sea, and that Sebastian, who--though this has
been contested--accompanied him on this voyage, returned in command.
Strangely enough, no account of the expedition appears to exist among
English records; the sole fact of its return being gathered from the
presence in London of Lancelot Thirkill, June 6, 1501, and his repayment
of the loan he had had of the King. From foreign sources, however, we
know that it was John Cabot's intention in this expedition to follow the
shore from his former discovery till he reached the equinoctial regions;
and we also know that (whether under his command or that of Sebastian)
the plan was pursued until lack of provisions compelled its abandonment.

The second expedition, taking a more northerly course than the first,
visited Iceland, and then steering west, made the coast of Labrador,
named by Cabot "De la Terra de los Baccalaos," "The Land of the
Cod-fish," from the immense shoals of those fish which they encountered.
Landing the colonists, though whereabouts in that inhospitable region
is not stated, they sailed still farther to the north-west--through
Hudson's Straits--until "affrighted by the monstrous heaps of ice
swimming in the sea, and the continual daylight," they dared go no

[Illustration: 0020]

Retracing their course they found many of the colonists dead of cold and
hunger, and re-embarking the remainder, they sailed south as far as
Cape Hatteras, when provisions failing, the little flotilla returned
to England--Unsuccessful, the merchants who had freighted the vessels
deemed, for they had not found the golden goal of Cathay nor even
established a trading colony! But in reality successful beyond the
wildest dreams of King or people, for there is no doubt that the Cabot
charter and the voyages made pursuant to it, were always regarded as the
root of England's title to her American possessions, and that, "to
the daring and genius of Cabot is owing the occupation of the northern
continent by an English-speaking race, with their vast energies and
wealth. But for the Cabots Spain might have monopolized discovery in
North as well as in South America."

Eschewing the "trade of merchandise," Sebastian Cabot appears to have
devoted himself entirely to nautical science; attaining such eminence
that, on the death of Columbus, the King of Spain engaged his services
as Cartographer, at a salary of 30,000 maravedas, intending to send him
on another voyage. Before the design could be carried out, Ferdinand
died, and Sebastian returned to England.

Under the auspices of Henry VIII., he is said to have again crossed the
Atlantic, seeking a passage to India through Hudson's Bay. The attempt
failed, and after surveying the bay, and studying the variations of the
magnetic needle, Cabot returned.

A few years later he was again in the service of Spain, engaged under
the young Emperor, Charles V., as Pilot-major, at a largely increased
salary. This post he retained during the greater part of Charles' reign.
It was while holding it that he made to Contarini those dishonest offers
of information and those misleading statements concerning his birth,
which have proved so prolific in controversy to his biographers.

In 1526, Cabot commanded a Spanish expedition to Brazil, which although
he penetrated some distance into the interior, ended disastrously,
and resulted in his being imprisoned for a year on the charge of
"mismanagement and excesses."

The first count of the indictment may have been true. Very probably the
great cartographer was not skilled in the management of men. As Oviedo,
the Spanish historian, sapiently remarked, "it is not the same thing to
command and govern people as to point a quadrant or an astrolabe"; but
the "excesses" charged against him were far more likely to have been
committed by the Portugese, who had sent out a rival expedition, and to
whose malicious intrigues and jealous interference the disasters of the
Spaniards were mainly due. Untruthful and covetous of honours and gold,
Sebastian has been proved; but that he was also kindly, gentle, and
humane, there is no doubt; while his mode of treating the natives may
be gathered from his "Instructions" for the ordering of a similar
expedition in later years.

While in the employ of Spain, Cabot made his "Mappamundi," or Map of
the World. This famous map, which not only presented his own and his
father's discoveries, but those of Spain and Portugal down to his own
time, was drawn on parchment and illuminated with gold and colours. The
original was sold on the death of the President of the Council of the
Indies in 1575, and has never since been heard of. Several engravings
of it were made, only one of which is now known; that in the Galerie de
Géographie, Paris.

Soon after Henry VIII. death, the Council of the young King, Edward,
induced Cabot to return to England, and, according to Strype, he settled
in Bristol, 1548.

Charles V., through his ambassador, commanded his return; but the Privy
Council replied that "he refused to go either into Spain or to the
Emperor, and that, being of that mind, _and the King's subject_, no
reason or equity would that he should be forced against his will."

Charles immediately stopped his pension, but Edward replaced it by one
of 250 marks, and Cabot continued in the service of England until
his death, exercising a kind of general supervision over the maritime
affairs of the Kingdom, and adding to his store of charts and

[Illustration: 0024]

In 1551, a general stagnation of trade pervaded England, and the London
merchants consulted Cabot, who had just succeeded in breaking the
monopoly of the German "Merchants of the Steelyard," as to what steps
could be taken to revive it. Through his advice they formed themselves
into the "Company of Merchant Adventurers of London" (of which the
Bristol "Merchant Venturers" is an outcome) for the search and discovery
of the northern part of the world by sea, and to open a way and passage
to Cathay by the north-east.

Cabot, in recognition of his services, was made Governor for life, and
immediately set about building new ships, the keels of which he covered
with lead after the Spanish fashion, thus being the first to introduce
the custom of "sheathing" into England.

[Illustration: 0025]

Great was the rejoicing when the first expedition put to sea, May 20th,
1553. The ships were towed down the Thames by boats, "and being come
neare to Greenwich, where the Court then lay, the courtiers came running
out, and the common people flocked together upon the shores in crowdes;
the Privy Council they lookt out of the windowes of the Court, and the
rest ranne up to the toppes of the towers," while the "skies rang
agayne with the shouts of the mariners and the firing of the shippe's
ordnance." But, alas! the young king who would have taken so keen an
interest in the show, being well learned in all matters pertaining to
the sea, was lying sick unto death in his room in the Palace, and e'er
the ships were well on their way he had breathed his last.

The expedition, and others that followed, succeeded in opening up Russia
and extending English trade across the Caspian Sea into Central Asia--to
the jubilant delight of the organiser of them! Stephen Boroughs, who
commanded the last of these expeditions (a little pinnace called the
"Swiftsure") gives the following quaint picture of the Ancient Mariner,
who came aboard the pinnace to see them off:--

"The goode olde gentleman, Master Cabota, gave to the poore most
liberall almes, wishing them to praye for the good fortune and
prosperous successe of the 'Serchthrift,' our pinnesse. And then, at the
sign of the Christopher, he and his friends banketted, and made me and
them that were in the companie great cheere; and, for very joy that he
had to see the towardness of our intended discovery, he enter'd into the
dance himself, amongst the rest of the younge and lusty company; which
being ended, he and his friends departed, most gently commending us to
the governance of Almighty God."

This is the last public appearance of Cabot of which we have any record.
How long he lived, or where he died, is not known, and can only be
inferred from the facts that his pension ceased to be drawn after 1557,
and that Eden, who lived in London, was present at his deathbed.

The only literary relics of Cabot known to exist are the engraved map of
1544 and its facsimile. Of his other "remains," voluminous though they
must have been, there is no trace. Hakluyt, writing of Cabot in 1582,
says, "Shortly shall come out in print all his own mappes and discourses
drawne and written by himselfe, which are in the custody of the
Worshipful Master William Worthington." The publication was never made,
and no one knows what has become of them. It is, however,
strongly suspected that they found their way to Spain, through the
instrumentality of the said "Master Worthington" (Cabot's associate in
office), who seems to have been but indifferent honest. If this were
so, there is hope that they are still in existence and may some day be

[Illustration: 0028]

One relic we had of Cabot--the famous portrait, painted when he was an
old man, and which in 1625, hung in the King's gallery at Whitehall.
In 1792, this picture was presented to Charles J. Harford, Esquire, of
Bristol, who discovered it while in Scotland; but, unfortunately for
Bristolians, he sold it to Mr. John Biddle of Pittsburg, and it perished
in the destruction of that gentleman's house by fire in 1848. Several
copies exist in America, and an excellent engraving of the picture was
made by Rawle of Bristol. Cabot is represented in his robe and chain as
Governor of the Merchant Adventurers. There is also a painting of John
Cabot and his three sons in the Ducal Palace, Venice.

Although the maps and charts of the Cabots are so far, lost to us whom
they most concern, clear traces of them exist in the work of foreign
cosmographers, and especially in the famous map of Juan de la Cosa,
published in 1501, only three years after the voyage of John Cabot;
where the row of British flags, commencing at the southern end with _Mar
descubierta por inglese_, "sea discovered by the English;" and ending
at the north with _Cavo de ynglaterra_, "Cape of England," mark
unmistakably the discoveries of Cabot, and could have been obtained only
from his map.

The most curious evidence, however, comes from none other than the
supreme Pontiff himself, and testifies, not only to the fact of Cabot's
discoveries, but also that he hailed from Bristol!

In the British Museum is a facsimile, by Wm. Griggs, of the original
"Carta Universal," or Chart of the World, preserved in the "Propaganda"
at Rome, by which Pope Alexander VI. divided the unclaimed lands of
the globe between Spain and Portugal. On this unique chart the Northern
Continent ends at Labrador, which is described as a country "which was
discovered by the English of the town of Bristol, and which is of no


```"When a thing's beyond our power,

```We say in scorn, '_the grapes are sour!_"

[Illustration: 0030]


The Site of the Cabot Memorial.

Brandon Hill, the site of Bristol's memorial to the Cabots, lies between
the north-west portion of the city and the wooded heights of Clifton.

A fringe of houses encircles the base, but the remainder of its
twenty-five acres, up to the rounded summit, 250 feet high, is open
greensward, with gravelled paths, and seats under shady hawthorne
bushes--the happy haunt of children from all parts of the city; and,
as evening spreads her dusky mantle around, of whispering lovers, every
seat accommodating a pair, sometimes two!

[Illustration: 8031]

The Hill takes its name from the Irish saint, Brendan, a chapel and
hermitage dedicated to him having once stood on its summit.

This St. Brendan is said to have been a great sailor, and claims to have
himself discovered land across the Atlantic. Whether the claim be true
or false, certain it is that the story of his "voyages," and the golden
legends connected therewith, aroused men's curiosity and incited to
subsequent expeditions, which, nearly a thousand years after Brendan's
death, resulted in the discovery of the Northern Continent. The choice,
therefore, of "St. Brendon's Hill" for the site of the memorial of that
discovery is peculiarly appropriate; more especially as Brendan was
the patron saint of sailors, and his chapel much frequented by Bristol

[Illustration: 0032]

The first known occupant of the hermitage, in 1351, was "Lucy de
Newchurch," who, tired of the world, begged permission to immure herself
therein. Fifty years later it was tenanted by a hermit, Reginald Taylor.
Bluff King Hal, however, made short work of both chapel and hermitage,
and in the troubled times of the Civil War a fort took their place,
traces of which still remain. It is upon the site of this fort, recently
occupied by two Russian cannon, that the memorial tower will stand. In
digging out the foundations was discovered, beneath the soft concrete of
the chapel, a grave containing human bones, which, in all probability,
are those of the ancient denizens of the spot!

[Illustration: 9033]

No finer view of Bristol and its environs can be obtained anywhere than
from the Hill. On the right rise the woods and mansions of Clifton, and
its Parish Church, "severely simple!" In the valley between is Jacobs
Wells, the old Jewish quarter. The City schools were built on the
ancient burial ground, which gave rise to the witty if gruesome remark
that, "whatever the boys might lack they were always sure of a good
Hebrew foundation." Thanks to Queen Elizabeth, the boys' mothers have
been always sure of a good "drying ground!" Her Majesty having secured
to them for all time a portion of this side of the Hill for laundry
purposes; in recognition, it is said, of the faultless style in which
their progenitors "got up" the immense ruffles worn by herself when
visiting the City. Immediately on the left is St. Michael's Hill,
the site of another large fort; and Tyndall's Park and mansion, still
possessed by a branch of the family whence sprang William Tyndall, the
translator of the Bible, the only perfect copy of whose first edition
is still preserved in the Baptist College hard by. Beyond, and spreading
for miles along the valley, bounded on its opposite side by Bedminster
Downs and Dundry Hill, lies the City with its churches and schools,
its ancient buildings (now, alas! rapidly disappearing), its modern
warehouses and factories, its venerable cathedral and historic "green,"
encircled by avenues of limes. And, intersecting its southern side,
the floating harbour, formed by the Avon and Frome, and bearing on its
capacious bosom the merchandise of many lands, carried in craft of all
sizes, from the tiny coasting lugger to the huge, perfectly equipped
Atlantic steamer.

And not a ship among them all, going or coming, but must pass within
full view of Brandon Hill, whose long southern slope stretches to within
a few hundred yards of the water's edge!

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