Book III, Chapter IX
Which deals with the fleet that went missing with Comendador Bobadilla, and the last journey of discovery that the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus made to the Mainland.
Translated by Lilian (Lily) Carmichael ‘20
I have told in Chapter VII of this book how the Admiral came from Spain and arrived near the port of this city to complete his last journey of discovery to the Mainland; he was searching for the strait which he claimed could be used to reach the southern sea (but he fooled himself, because the strait that he thought was navigable is in fact a land strait, as will be told below). But the comendador mayor did not give him permission to enter the port of this city of Santo Domingo and the Admiral had to send word that the weather was such that he thought that Comendador Bobadilla and the fleet he had under his command ready to go to Spain should in no way attempt to depart from this city’s port—but the warning was not heeded and I will tell of the consequences here. The Admiral, however, as a prudent sailor, took shelter at Puerto Escondido, and after the storm passed continued his course to the discovery of the Mainland; and because he knew that Captain Rodrigo de Bastidas had already discovered up to the gulf of Urabá (which is at nine and a half degrees, toward the tip of Caribana, at the mouth of that gulf), he went on towards the west to discover the coast of the Mainland—all of this will be told in this chapter, since I do not want to neglect the deaths of Comendador Bobadilla and Antonio de Torres, the captain of the fleet and brother of the prince’s housekeeper, which happened in this way.
Ignoring the Admiral’s advice, these knight left this city’s river and port, and eight or ten leagues from here the fleet encountered weather so severe that of thirty ships and caravels no more than four or five escaped—some were shipwrecked along these coasts and many others sank and were swallowed by the sea, never to be seen again—and more than five hundred men drowned, among whom the most principal were those I have named; Roldan Ximenez, who had rebelled against the Admiral, and his brother Bartolomé also perished. Other fine hidalgos and a large number of good people drowned as well. That nugget of gold that I said weighed 3,600 pesos was lost in the wreckage as well, along with another 100,000 gold pesos and many other things—needless to say, it was a great loss and a bad day.
As I said, the Admiral took shelter in Puerto Escondido (a name he gave this port). From there, after the storm passed, he made his way to the Mainland without risk, as we can tell from the outcome. Because in addition to what I mentioned as having been explored by Bastidas, I was told by the pilots Pedro de Umbria and Diego Martin Cabrera, Martin de los Reyes, and others who were there of what I will now narrate: the Admiral went to survey the island of Jamaica and from there the cape of Higueras and the islands of Guanaxes (one of which they call Guanaxa); he then went to Puerto de Honduras, a land he named Punta de Caxines; from there he went to the cape of Gracias a Dios and then made his way up the eastern coast of the Mainland, where he discovered the province and river of Veragua; he then made his way to the other big river that lies further to the east, which he called the Belen River. This river was a league from the river the Indians call Yebra, which is the same as the Veragua River (which is believed to be one of the richest things in all that has been discovered); from there, going up the coast to the east, he reached a big river he named Río de Lagartos (the Christians now call this river Chagre, which has its source near the south sea and ends in the north sea, four leagues from Panamá); from there he arrived at an island off the coast of the Mainland, and he called the island Bastimentos; then he went to Puerto Bello, and from there he passed in front of Nombre de Dios (a name Captain Diego de Nicuesa gave it later, as will be told in its place); the Admiral then went to the Francisca River and to the port of Retrete; and from there he went up as far as the gulf of Secativa, which he called the Gulf of San Blas; and he went further up the coast until the islands of Pocorosa, which he called Cabo del Mármol. During this voyage, which was the last the Admiral made to these parts, he discovered between 190 and 200 leagues of Mainland coastline.
From there, the Admiral sailed across to the island of Jamaica, which is one hundred leagues northeast of the cape of Gracias a Dios. There he lost two ships, which were already in disrepair and damaged by shipworms; of the four ships he had brought with him, he had to abandon one in the Yebra river, and the other was left at sea because it could no longer keep afloat. Along the Mainland coastline, as there are many large rivers there is also plenty of shipworms in them, and thus ships are frequently lost. But in the thirty days that they traveled he went to survey the land of Omohaya, which is on the southern side of Cuba, almost at the tip of the island, where the village of Trinidad is now settled; from there he went to Jamaica, where, as I said, he lost sight of the other two ships and later found them run aground on the coast of what they now call Sevilla. From there he gave notice of his coming to the comendador mayor, who was in this city of Santo Domingo; he sent a canoe of Indians under the command of Diego Mendez, his servant, an hidalgo and a man of honor, resident of this city, who still lives today. Diego Mendez was quite daring, for the canoe was very small, and such canoes are not fit for sailing the high seas if one cares for one’s life, for they can easily flip over in open ocean and are best suited for traveling along the coast, close to land. But he, as a good servant and courageous man, seeing his lord in such great need, ventured and crossed all the sea that lies between that island and this one with the Admiral’s letters, so that the comendador mayor would come to his aid. For that service (which in truth was very notable and worthy of much praise), the Admiral always had much love for him and favored him—and once he got notice of his deed, the Catholic King granted him great favors and as an token of his loyalty gave him that same canoe as a coat of arms. Without a doubt, in those early days, for a man to venture out to sea with his enemies, being great swimmers as they are, and on a vessel and voyage as dangerous and uncertain, was a thing of great courage and notable loyalty and love for his lord. When the comendador mayor saw the Admiral’s letters he sent a caravel to find out if it was true, and to see how the Admiral was and assess the situation, but not to bring him back. But Diego Mendez bought a ship and supplies with the Admiral’s money and sent for his lord; and the Admiral came to this island in the ship while Diego Mendez went to Castile to give notice to the Catholic King and Queen of what the Admiral had done in that journey. There is no reason to leave in silence what happened to the Admiral on that island after he sent Diego Mendez to this one to bring news of his being marooned there, as has been told, for it is a memorable thing that should be noted, as I will do now.
It bears mentioning that the Admiral’s people and sailors had endured many hardships in this discovery—traveling through so many different regions with such bad food and so little rest—so there were many sick men, and those who were healthy mutinied against him, led by two brothers: Francisco de Porras, captain of one of the ships, and Diego de Porras, the fleet’s bookkeeper. The Porras brothers made it known that the Admiral had no intention of going to Castile, for he had told them to await word from Diego Mendez and that he would send ships that would take everyone to this island. But the brothers, ill-advised and not wanting to obey the Admiral’s commands, took all the Indians’ canoes and went into the sea, thinking they could make it to this island of Hispaniola; and despite many attempts, they could not succeed; and through their perseverance, some of the men that followed them drowned, and those who remained agreed to return to the Admiral’s encampment with the determination of taking over the ships that came for him. So while the mutineers had been enacting their plan, those who had been sick and had remained in the company of the Admiral had regained their health, although they were small in number. And as their malice came to be understood, the Admiral sent the Adelantado Don Bartolomé, his brother, out to resist the mutineers—and he fought and defeated them, killing three or four of them, and many others were left wounded. And this was the first known battle between Christians in these parts and Indies; and Francisco and Diego de Porras were imprisoned.
Before these battle and disagreements, as the Indians saw that the Christians who were healthy had gone and left the Admiral, and those who had remained with him were few and sick, they refused to feed or help them in any way. Seeing this, the Admiral brought together many of the Indians, and he told them that if they did not feed him and his men they could be certain that soon would come a pestilence so great that not a single Indian would remain, and that as a warning of the blood that would thus be spilled on a precise day (that he named to them) and a precise time, they would see the moon turn to blood. This he said, being a fine astronomer, for he knew that there would be a lunar eclipse on the day he named. Well, the time arrived, and as the Indians watched the eclipse they believed what the Admiral had told them, and many of them went to him, shouting and crying and asking for forgiveness, begging him not to be angry; and they gave him and his men whatever they wanted and needed for their sustenance, and they served him very well.
The Admiral and the Christians remained in these laborious circumstances for a year, sleeping and living in ships that were flooded to the deck, having run aground near the shore inside the port of what is now the village of Sevilla, the island’s main settlement. And the battle had taken place near there, at a port called Santa Gloria. Sometime later, the caravel Diego Mendez had sent for the Admiral arrived, and as he sailed the Indians cried at his departure, for they thought that he and the Christians were heavenly beings.
The Admiral arrived at this city of Santo Domingo and rested for a few days; and the comendador mayor fêted him, and he welcomed him in his home until the Admiral left in the first ships that went to Spain to give an account to the Catholic King of what he had done in his final discovery of part of the Mainland. And after that journey to Castile, as he was already old and sick and afflicted with gout, he died in Valladolid in May, 1506, being the Catholic King in Villafranca de Valcazar, at the time when the most serene King Don Felipe and the most serene Queen Doña Juana, father and mother of His Caesarean Majesty, our lords, came to reign in Castile. So, having died in Valladolid, the Admiral’s remains were brought to Seville, to the monastery that sits on the other bank of the Guadalquivir, called Las Cuevas, of the Order of the Carthusians, and there he was put to rest. May it please God to have him in his glory! For in addition to his service to the King and Queen of Castile, all the Spaniards owe him much, for although many of them have suffered and died in these parts in the conquests and pacification of these Indies, many others are now rich and remedied; and what is better yet is that in lands so far removed from Europe, where the devil was well served and obeyed, the Christians have banished him and planted and implemented our sacred Catholic faith and Church of God in such remote and strange places and among such great kingdoms and lordships—all through the means and industry of the Admiral Don Christopher Columbus; and that so many treasures of gold, silver and pearls, and many other riches and wares have been taken and will be taken to Spain, so that no virtuous Spaniard will ever forget such benefits as their homeland receives and have resulted, through God, from the hand of that first Admiral of these Indies. And he was succeeded in title, house, and estate by the Admiral Don Diego Columbus, his son, who married Doña Maria de Toledo, niece of the illustrious Don Fadrique de Toledo, Duke of Alba, she of good memory, daughter of his brother Don Fernando de Toledo, comendador mayor of Leon in the Military Order of Santiago; she who gave birth to the Admiral Don Diego Columbus’ children, among them the Admiral Don Luis Columbus, who then inherited his house and Estate, which he still holds at present.
 Sevilla La Nueva or New Seville, the first permanent European settlement in Jamaica, the first capital of Jamaica and the third capital established by Spain in the Americas.
Image: Illustration of Columbus and Bobadilla from the 1500s by an unknown artist.