India Route Shipwrecks Project

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The objective of this project is the study of the Portuguese Indiamen that sailed annually from Lisbon to India, from 1498 to the 17th century, engaged in the commerce of pepper, spices, cotton, and many other goods.

Introduction

(View of Lisbon with ships from Genealogia do Infante D. Fernando, 1530-34, London, British Library.)

With his successful trip to India, around the Cape of Good Hope, Vasco da Gama opened a maritime route to the Asian markets of spices and exotic goods. The Portuguese crown sought to keep this commerce under state control, and sent a fleet to India almost every year, for over a century.

These voyages are reasonably well documented, as well as their routes, their ports of call, the names of the ship's captains, the Asian governors, and the notable soldiers.

The India Route

We know a good deal about the economics of this trade, its impact in 16th-Century Europe, the business networks that were generated and developed in various countries, and the role of the Church in the European expansion to East.

At present we don't know much about the principal vehicle of this expansion: the Portuguese Indiaman. In fact, it is amazing how little is known about the Portuguese naus that plowed the maritime route to India from 1498 to about 1650.

A handful of interesting texts and treatises, a small number of representations in charts, drawings, and paintings, and around twenty shipwrecks are all the clues we have to interpret, in the attempt to understand and reconstruct these ships.We know almost nothing about the standard Portuguese Indiaman, its routes, evolution, and performance at sea.

We know very little about the way in which these vessels were conceived and built, and there are enormous gaps in our knowledge about their size, shape, construction details, structural strength, design of upper work, or even basic rigging solutions.

View of Lisbon with ships from the so-called Livro de Horas de D. Manuel, 1517-c.26, MNAA, Lisbon.

From an estimated total of around 220 shipwrecks, only a few Portuguese naus have been found in the 20th century, and almost all were looted by curious divers or destroyed by treasure hunters.

Very few have been excavated or even surveyed by archaeologists, and the rare scholarly publications that resulted from the archaeological recording of these shipwrecks have become precious, considering the scarcity of information available.

This page is intended as a contribution to this understanding, and a guide through the bibliography and other information available pertaining to the Portuguese naus da Índia.

The main objective of this project is to gather, organize, and make easily accessible all available information on Portuguese Indiamen.

Shipwrecks

Portuguese Indiamen Shipwrecks
Armada Ship Captain Place Date Cause
1497 Unknown Gonçalo Nunes Near Aguada de S. Brás Nov 25 to Dec 6, 1497 Burnt
1497 São Rafael Paulo da Gama Baixos de São Rafael Jan 13, 1499 Burnt
1500 Unknown Vasco de Ataíde South Atlantic May 23 or 24, 1500 Storm
1500 Unknown Simão de Pina South Atlantic May 23 or 24, 1500 Storm
1500 Unknown Bartolomeu Dias South Atlantic May 23 or 24, 1500 Storm
1500 Unknown Aires Gomes da Silva South Atlantic May 23 or 24, 1500 Storm
1500 Unknown Sancho de Tovar Coast of Melinde 1501 Burnt
1502 São Pantaleão? Pedro Afonso de Aguiar Parcel de Sofala 1502 Stranded after storm
1503 N Sra da Conçeição Pedro de Ataíde shallows of São Lázaro 1504 Stranded?
1503 Rainha Francisco de Albequerque Baixos de São Lázaro? 1504 Unknown
1503 Unknown Pedro Vaz da Veiga Close to the Cape of Good Hope? 1503, 1504? Unknown
1503 Faial or Faia Nicolau Coelho Shallows of São Lázaro 1504 Unknown
1504 Unknown Pedro de Mendonça Close to Aguada de São Brás 1505 Stranded
1505 Unknown Lopo Sanches Close to Cabo das Correntes June or July 1505 Storm
1505 Bela Pedro Ferreira Fogaça Coast of Guinee, latitude of Equador May 4, 1505 Storm and bad shape of ship
1505 Santiago Pedro de Anhaia Barra of Lisbon March 25, 1505 Poor navigation
1505 São João Francisco de Anhaia Mozambique or Quiloa 1505 Unknown
1505 Santiago «Galega» Pedro Barreto de Magalhães Leaving the barra of Quiloa April 6, 1506 Poor navigation?
1506 Leitoa Leonel Coutinho Mozambique 1507 Bad shape of ship
1506 São Vicente Rui Perreira Coutinho Coast of São Lorenço or Terra do Natal 1506 Shipwrecked
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