Christopher Columbus - Explorer - Part Two Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Christopher Columbus - Explorer - Part Two

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Part One in this series of entries covered Columbus from his early life to his first voyage. This entry will cover Columbus's second and third voyage.

The Second Voyage

While the first voyage was about discovery, the second voyage was for colonisation. Columbus took with him 17 large ships, over 1,500 men, as well as European livestock such as sheep and cattle. It would be the first time such livestock would see America, but they would help to populate it as well.

The fleet set sail from Cadiz, Spain on 25 September, 1493. The ships went to the Canary Islands, just as they had done on the first voyage, but they did not stay as long, as Columbus' crew was eager and his ships were well prepared. He left the islands on 13 October and began a quicker and less eventful journey to the Americas than he had seen before. His men were ready for adventure, which is unsurprising, judging by the number of professional adventurers of the time.

Columbus planned to land in Hispaniola, so that he could pick up the 39 men that he had left behind in his first voyage in the La Navidad settlement. He made it to the Indies in only 21 days, which was very fast by the standards of the 1400s. The fleet spotted land at the small island of Domincana and landed there on 3 November. It was considerably off-course from Hispaniola and hundreds of miles southeast from their goal.


Columbus and his fleet went northwest, toward Hispaniola and discovered several islands, including what are now the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Columbus's group soon suffered some skirmishes with the cannibalistic Carib tribe. They had three islands, and often invaded or raided nearby islands. They were very cruel, eating men and keeping women as slaves. At one point, six Caribs and 25 Europeans had a small battle in which two Europeans were injured and one Carib hurt badly. They were bold and strong warriors.

Columbus found Hispaniola on 22 November, about 11 months since he had left La Navidad. He found the small settlement on 28 November, burned and destroyed. Apparently, all of the 39 men he had left behind were killed. According to the natives, there had been dissent amongst the colonists at La Navidad. Some left, and the remaining settlers kidnapped a neighbouring tribe's women. That tribe killed the Europeans and burned the fort.


He sailed East of Hispaniola and, on 8 December, founded what would be the first European colony1 in the Americas, named La Isabella. However, it soon became apparent to the Europeans that this colony was not ideal, for a number of reasons-

  • The Europeans were not used to the climate, and many, including Columbus, suffered from disease there.

  • The amount of metal resources had been vastly exaggerated - there was not much gold to be seen.

  • There were some unfriendly tribes nearby, and while La Isabella didn't suffer from them, scouting parties sent ahead experienced unfriendly people.

More Exploration

On 24 April, 1494, Columbus left the settlement with three of the fleet's ships to search for the Chinese Mainland (still thinking he had landed in the Orient). About six days later, he found Cuba again, and sailed along the south of the island. But an island with a great deal of gold was brought to his attention by the natives, and after only three days of inspecting Cuba, Columbus went in search of this island. He found the island of Jamaica on 5 May, but the natives on the island were not friendly, and he chose to leave on 13 May, arriving back to Cuba the following day. He gave up his expedition in June though, when exploration around the island became difficult. However, Columbus refused to admit he failed in his search for a mainland, and forced the crew of his three ships to sign a document that simply said that Cuba was probably the mainland because it was very big.

More Colonisation

By this time though, Columbus was becoming seriously ill. He went back to Jamaica again but fell unconscious and was returned to Hispaniola on 20 August, 1494. He stopped exploring and returned to La Isabella soon, where he was pleased to find that his brother Bartholomew had come in from Spain. Columbus, who had not seen his brother in eight full years, made him the first lieutenant of the colony. Columbus spent about two years there, and the Europeans discovered new islands and colonised the areas.

Columbus also noticed that the natives of the island were organising and planning to destroy the Europeans. Columbus captured more natives and fought with them periodically. He established the Tower of the Conception, which he used for protection against the natives occasionally.

Three ships were sent back to Spain with some Carib prisoners and items from the Indies. Columbus asked that they be enslaved, but they were treated with the same courtesy that the natives from the first voyage had seen. Failing slavery, he hoped that they might be taught Spanish and be used as translators, but Queen Isabella turned it away. This made Isabella upset, and she never supported Columbus quite as readily after this.

The Spanish throne had clearly said that Columbus was to be peaceful and nice to the natives. However, by 1495, the Caribs were becoming a major problem for the Europeans. Columbus requested that the Crown allow him to enslave the Caribs, but the monarchs refused. At some point, Columbus became determined to stop the problems with the natives. So despite the orders of the monarchs, Columbus enslaved 1,600 Arawak people in February, 1495 and 550 were sent to Spain. He treated many of these slaves harshly, and was very cruel to those who disobeyed him. The slaves he shipped to Spain were quickly shipped back, though only a small part of the 550 survived.

The 1,600 Arawak were mostly used as slaves for the Europeans, but 400 were freed, as there was no use for them. Columbus decided that they would be useful though, and tried to gather them back to captivity; this led to the first major battle between the indigenous people and the Europeans.

Later, Columbus implemented a system in which each native of a certain area had to gather a certain amount of gold, or have his hands chopped off. This was not a particularly successful system though, as the area was depopulating and the workforce was getting smaller because natives were dying from European diseases to which they had no immunity.

Back to Spain

On March 10, 1494 Columbus set sail back for Spain, and saw the coast on June 8, to end a particularly long journey home. With that, Columbus's second voyage was finished, but his troubles didn't end. Spain was, to say the least, disappointed in the output of gold considering the amount of money that the country had spent on the voyage.

Many people believe that Columbus realised that he hadn't reached Asia on his return to Spain. He could have heard about the voyage of John Cabot in 1497, who found parts of Canada and the Grand Banks. He never told anyone of his doubts though.

Other people from the voyage had complained to the King and Queen about Columbus, as well. He was disobeying orders by taking slaves and was being very cruel to them. However, the monarchs invited Columbus to their home and the throne did not acknowledge the complaints, but believed the Columbus would do them well. Columbus asked them for funding for a third voyage, so that he could expand the colonisation efforts. He asked for eight ships for it.

The crown intended to fulfil his wishes, and ordered the funding to be gathered. However, the money he had been promised was used for other purposes, as Spain had lost some interest in the expeditions. He was told to repay the money he needed from the gold of Hispaniola when he returned to the Indies.

The Third Voyage

Columbus organised his third voyage to have six ships. He had more difficulty gathering these men, as the element of adventure and the hope of wealth was ruined by the poor results of the second voyage. While the crew of the second voyage had many experienced, good sailors, the third voyage had considerably less.

He left with his fleet from Sanluca, Spain on 30 May, 1498. The course of the voyage was the most southern yet, because the Queen thought that the mainland might be south of the islands Columbus was exploring. Interestingly, she was correct that the mainland (South America) was south of the Caribbean islands, thought it wasn't the mainland she was thinking of.

So Columbus sailed on his third voyage, despite rumours of his misconduct and increasing dissatisfaction at the results of his second voyage. He stopped at the islands of Porto Santo, Madeira and Gomera in the Canary Islands. There, his fleet of six ships split up into two groups. One group of three vessels was sent to Hispaniola to give supplies to La Isabella (which were desperately needed, because a ship with supplies from months before was lost at sea and unable to deliver to the European Colony) and the other group, led by Columbus, went to explore new lands. His course was originally more southerly than it ended up being though, because he changed it in the middle of his voyage to avoid hot weather. His group saw land on 31 July, and landed on the southeastern cape of what is today the island of Trinidad. There they saw what appeared to be a large island - South America. They were probably the first Europeans to ever see the continent.

Columbus went along the area, and soon found a large canoe that held what appeared to be 24 native warriors. Columbus encountered a brief skirmish with these natives, but continued exploring the island of Trinidad and the gulf of Paria2 where he found pearls (also the Peninsula of Paria, which he named La Isla Santa, or Holy Island, thinking it was an island) and indeed gave this island its name, after the Holy Trinity. He soon came upon the great water outflow of the Orinoco River, from which he realised that this area had to be the mainland, because no island could provide this much water outflow. He wrote in his journal-

I believe that this is a very great continent which until today has been unknown.

At some point during this journey, Columbus also decided that the earth was pear-shaped with a bump on top.

Later, Columbus took ill from gout. With his supplies running low, and after several months of exploring and mapping the mainland and the outlying islands, Columbus went back to Hispaniola. He arrived at the colony of Santo Domingo on 30 August, hoping to find respite on the island, but instead found a colony torn apart, despite the presence of his smart and wise brother Bartholomew, who was governing it.


Natives had become distrustful of the colonists and the colonists wanted to leave. Bartholomew had made some decisions that earned him rivals, but Columbus defended him. The settlers were also feeling betrayed because of Columbus misleading them of riches. A group of rebel colonists, led by a man known as Roldan, were organised and severely annoyed. Columbus complained to the crown that many of his men were worthless and that he wanted to enslave natives. The rebels complained to the crown that the Columbus brothers were being unfair and were trying to severely crush their opposition. The rebels and the Columbus brothers anticipated an answer from the Spanish monarchs, living in relative peace among themselves the whole time. They received no definite answer from the King and Queen as to what they should do, but they promised an investigation. Roldan and Columbus increased their demands after this, but nothing came of it.

Columbus had to handle natives and the rebels often, but the rebels and Columbus never really had a war.

Just when Columbus decided to return to Spain, a squadron of ships appeared on the island, which belonged to a Spanish explorer named Alonso de Ojeda. He had come in search of pearls and riches, as well as exploration. The rebels of Hispaniola selected Ojeda as their new leader.

Meanwhile in Spain, Columbus was falling more and more out of favour with the King and Queen. Columbus, who had many rivals and enemies back in Spain, such as Juan Rodríguez de Fonesca, were convincing the King and Queen of his misdeeds. Finally, in May, 1499, the King and Queen decided to take away Columbus's rights to govern the colonies, and sent in a new commander. Alonso de Bobadilla arrived at Hispaniola on 23 August, 1500, and took over command of the colony from Columbus' son Diego, who had been in charge since Columbus and his brother had left to try to restore order to the area around the colony. Bobadilla took control of all of Columbus' possessions and the area's fortress.


Immediately on Columbus's return, Bobadilla ordered that Columbus should be captured and held in the colony's fort. For this, Bobadilla received the favour of many of the rebels. Columbus had faith in the justice of the Spanish crown and didn't defy their orders. Bobadilla ordered Columbus to bring his brother into the colony for imprisonment, which he did. Diego was also imprisoned and they were all placed on a caravel for Spain.

Back to Spain

I was commanded by the king and queen, to submit to whatever Bobadilla should order in their name. He has put these chains on me by their authority. I will wear them until the king and queen bid me take them off. I will preserve them afterwards as relics and memorials of the reward of my services.

The whole way to Spain, Columbus was in irons, and despite that he was offered to have them removed, he refused to take them off. He maintained it was the orders of the Spanish crown, which he respected and admired.

During his return to Spain, news spread that the famous and great Columbus had been treated poorly by Bobadilla, which created some sympathy for the navigator and some annoyance at Bobadilla. The King and Queen made sure that Columbus was treated well on his return to Spain, and when he landed at Cadiz he was well received. When he went before the King and Queen, Columbus broke down and cried, and fell on his knees.

Columbus spent some time in Spain, and learned that he had done a better job of governing than Bobadilla, who essentially worked the natives harder than before and gave the rebels many advantages. Nicolas de Ovando was made the new governor of the settlement and set sail for Hispaniola on 13 February, 1502, with a large fleet. One of the ships was lost in a bad storm. Ovando found the colony on April 15.

Columbus felt disgraced by his failure and convinced the monarchs to give him another chance. It was his last hope to end his career on a high note. Unfortunately, he didn't…

Further Reading

  • Read the conclusion to this series of entries with Part Three.

1La Navidad can not be considered a colony, considering that no houses were built (the Spaniards slept in the nearby homes of the natives) and it was never really settled in.2The gulf south of Trinidad in South America

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