¤ Sailing of San Gabriel To India
When the San Gabriel sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to finally dock at Calicut, a prosperous port and an independent principality on the Malabar Coast in May, 1498, half a century of the Portuguese tentative to find a sea route to India was finally crowned with success.
The man behind the quest was Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) – a devout Roman Catholic whose nightlong vigil in a Lisbon chapel before commending himself to the unsure waters had finally paid off. and if ‘Christians and spices’ were his twin pretext at the outset, da Gama’s successive visits to India, first in 1500 to set up a ‘factory’ or a trading base, then in 1502 to wreak havoc on the port and Arab trading vessels alike, proved that Portugal and its prime sailor had other things on their mind as well. The Portuguese were probably here to stay, and da Gama was to earn himself the distinction of Governor of all Portuguese possessions in India in the twilight of his life.
While da Gamma paved the way for the Portuguese to India, Dom Alphonso D’Albuquerque (1495-1515) chalked out and consolidated Portugal’s trade routes to India during the sixteenth century.
¤ Portuguese Emerged As New Ruler
Albuquerque was an imperial rather than a commercial emissary of Portugal. Harnessing strategic ports mainly in the Persian Gulf, along the west coast of India and beyond, overrode the need to garner support of the local rulers. This drove him to capture Goa on the west coast of India in 1510, Melaka (Malacca) on the Malay peninsula in 1511, Hormuz at the opening of the Persian Gulf in 1515, Bassein in 1534, Daman and Diu in 1535 and Colombo in 1597. The series of offensives proved that the Portuguese were the new rulers of the roost.
Their mercantile and imperial strategies were paralleled by a drive to convert the masses to Roman Catholic Christianity. Temples disappeared from the Goan landscape to be replaced with churches, monasteries and seminaries. As the Portuguese Viceroy in India, Albuquerque encouraged mixed marriages with the intent of procuring fresh recruits, especially in the form of offsprings, to serve the Portuguese project in India and elsewhere.
However, with the rise of military, political and maritime mights like the Dutch and the English, History forced the Portuguese in India into the wings.
Unable to cast its net much further than Goa after being united to Spain, Portugal’s focus of interest shifted from India to more lucrative lands.
¤ The Arrival of Dutch
The Dutch sailed their ships eastward for the first time in 1595. However, their first stop was not India but Jakarta in Indonesia where they lost no time in establishing their monopoly over the spice trade. India was significant only insofar as it constituted part of the great Asian trade route that the Dutch had developed and that cut through Ceylon and Cape Town.
Even though in 1602, when the Dutch East India Company was chartered, the Dutch harboured no military ambitions about India, around 1605, a fleet of thirty-eight ships dispatched by the Dutch East India Company inflicted a crushing defeat on Portuguese ships off Johore and the Dutch wrested the fortress at Ambiona from Portuguese control. The unstoppable Dutch then went on to seize secret Portuguese maps and oceanic charts detailing the trade routes with India. These were soon to serve as guides to the eastern waters.
¤ Arrival of English
The English entered the East Indies almost as the same time as the Dutch. However, the English were quick to realise that the Dutch were unwilling to share their turf in the East Indies with them. The tenacity with which the Dutch refused to relent on the East Indies forced the British to turn to India. Spices in India abounded in the south but the trade monopoly of the local rulers and other Europeans had to be broken.
The British East India Company was established by the Royal Charter in 1600, and in...