A replica of John Cabot's small three-masted caravel, the Matthew, will leave Bristol on 3 May, and retrace the Italian-born navigator's epic 1497 voyage to "New Founde Landes". Although there are no drawings of the original Matthew, the renowned naval architect Colin Mudie undertook extensive research into ships of the period and designed what everyone involved with the project believes is an authentic three-masted, square-rigged caravel.
Having been turned down by the kings of Spain and Portugal, Giovanni Caboto approached King Henry VII of England, seeking sponsorship for a voyage to the West. His aim was to try and open an easier trading route to the silks and spices of Asia, On 5 March 1496, Henry granted "the well-beloved John Cabote", or John Cabot, as his name had become anglicised, "Letters Patent" to "seeke out, discover and finde whatsoever isles, countries, regions or provinces... which before this time have been unknown to all Christians."
Backed by wealthy Bristol merchants and the king, Cabot set sail in the 50-ton Matthew with a crew of 19. He did not find his intended China or Japan, but instead landed on the mainland of North America. Although Columbus had earlier landed in the Caribbean, it was Cabot's voyage that finally opened up the Americas to European settlement, not least his discovery of the Grand Banks fishery.
A conference, "Bristol and the Sea", will take place aboard the SS Great Britain, to coincide with the sailing of the Matthew. Topics will include slavery, emigration of pauper children from Bristol and homosexuality among sailors. For more information, contact Peter Fleming or Marie Mulvey Roberts at the University of the West of England, on 0117 965 6261; fax: 0117 975 0402.
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