Gama,Vasco da, a Portuguese navigator, born at Sines, died in Cochin, India, Dec. 25, 1524. Bartholomew Dias, a Portuguese explorer, Laving visited the cape which he called Cabo Tor-mentoso, or Stormy cape, brought back such interesting accounts of his discoveries that the Portuguese sovereign Emanuel determined to urge discovery beyond the point where Dias left it, and if possible to reach by sea the countries of the Indies. Accordingly an expedition was placed under the command of Vasco da Gama, a gentleman of the king's household, and a skilful and experienced mariner. The fleet consisted of the Sao Gabriel, Hag ship, of 120 tons, the Sao Rafael of about 100 tons, a caravel of 50 tons, and a store ship, with a total force of 160 men. On July 8, 1497, the expedition departed from Lisbon for the Cape Verd islands, whence it set sail on Aug. 3 southward along the African coast. Delayed by storms, it was not till Nov. 7 that they reached the bay of St. Helena, near the cape. Departing on the I6th, they encountered a succession of tempests such as had gained for the southern promontory of Africa the name of the cape of Storms. The courage of Gama's companions failed, and they besought him to put back, which he not only refused to do, but put the ringleaders of the movement in irons, and held on his course into the stormy sea.
AWhen they were beating about oft the promontory, Gama fancied that he saw the spirit of the cape. Camoens has sung this incident as a fact, while moderns, less poetical, say that the apparition could have been nothing more than that peculiar cloud whose sudden envelopment of the cape is the forerunner of a storm. On Nov. 20 (according to Barros, but more probably on the 22d) they doubled the cape of Storms, or, as Emanuel himself had named it ere the expedition set out, the cape of Good Hope. Proceeding along the coast, they touched at various points, among others at Natal. Further N. they discovered Mozambique, and came upon a country which exhibited a high stage of commercial advancement, the inhabitants having regularly built ports, with mosques. The natives were Mohammedans, carrying on a trade in pearls, rubies, silver, linen, and spices with Arabia and India. Gama took with him a pilot from this place. On April 1, 1498, the explorers discovered the island of Acoutado, so named by Gama from a flogging he gave his pilot there; and on the 7th the island of Mombassa, where the inhabitants were bravely apparelled in silken stuffs and jewelry.
As these men tried to cut his cable, Gama seized a boat containing 17 of them, and carried them off to Melinda, 3° S. of the equator, where the king of the place entered into friendly relations with the Portuguese, and gave them a pilot to conduct them across the Indian gulf. Melinda was described as a regularly built city, with wide streets, and houses of more than one story. The Melindese pilot is supposed to have been acquainted with the astrolabe, compass, and quadrant. Under his guidance the voyagers steered 750 leagues across the open sea. In 23 days they arrived off the Malabar coast, and on May 20, 1498, they reached Calicut, the object of their search. Their mission was thus accomplished, and a new route to the East established. Gama met with a cordial reception at the court of Samou-dri Rajah (abbreviated to Zamorin); but the Arabs at that place, foreseeing that the Portuguese would eventually take the trade with the East out of their hands, instigated Zamorin against them, and Gama narrowly escaped, lie immediately set sail on his homeward voyage, calling at Melinda on the way to take on board an ambassador to Emanuel's court, and arriving in the Tagus on Aug. 29, 1499, after an absence of 26 months.
He brought back only 55 men and one ship, a caravel which he had chartered at Cape Verd. The San Rafael had been lost on the coast of Africa, the store ship burned according to Gama's instructions, the Sao Gabriel condemned at Cape Verd, and Nicolao Coelho had slipped away with the remaining vessel, in order to be the first to tell the great news in Portugal. The king received Gama splendidly, and permitted him to bear the title of "lord of the conquest of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, and India." Emanuel immediately fitted out a second fleet of 13 ships, with 1,200 men, under the command of Pedro Alvarez Cabral, to establish trading posts. The most remarkable incident of the voyage was the accidental discovery of Brazil. From there Cabral got to India, and established a factory at Calicut; but on the departure of the fleet the inhabitants massacred all the Portuguese who had been left behind. The Portuguese government now sent out a fleet of 20 ships under command of Gama, which sailed early in 1502. On reaching the Indian seas Gama made a treaty with the kings of Sofala and Quiloa, the latter agreeing to pay tribute to Portugal. Determined now to strike terror into the hostile kings of the Indian coast, he seized a large ship containing 300 male and female pilgrims of the highest rank and of various nationalities on their way to Mecca, and killed them all, excepting 20 children, whom he saved to bring up in the Christian faith, as an atonement for one of the Portuguese who had apostatized to Mohammedanism. This affair at once opened to him the port of Cananore, whence he sailed to Calicut, seizing on the way 50 of the natives.
Here he demanded the right to trade, with immediate reparation for past indignities, and, not receiving it promptly, he hung his 50 prisoners at the yard arm and burned the town. Thence he proceeded to Cochin, where he entered into friendly relations with the king, and presented him a golden crown from the king of Portugal. The Calicut Zamorin, however, made war on Cochin for his alliance with the strangers. Gama, leaving five ships to cruise on the coast, returned home with 13 ships, having a battle on the way with the Calicut fleet, which he utterly routed. On his return the king created him admiral of the Indian ocean and count of Vidigueira. For the next 21 years Gama lived in retirement. In 1524, the Portuguese dominion having largely expanded in the East, John III. appointed him viceroy of the Indies. He proceeded to his seat of government, but died at the close of the year. In 1528 his body was brought to Portugal and interred with honor. Barros has published an account of his voyages, and Camoens celebrates them in his" Lusiad."