Taming the Seas


Portuguese set sail!

The age of discovery started with the Portuguese navigators, once they designed new age ships. They made the break-through, in ship building that made ships to withstand rigours of the sea. The Portuguese Empire invested in the task of discovering sea routes to fare East and the west.

Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu reached the Cape of Good Hope and touched the tip of Africa. Turning Eastwards, their ships reached India. He landed in Calicut- Malabar Coast, in 1498. His cavalier approach did not help him but having the advantage of fire power he manages to get an unopposed access to Indian spice routes.

Thus, was the foundation laid for establishment of colonies in Africa. The discovery of sea route to India broke the monopoly of Arab and Italian traders who controlled trade land route. Indian spices were introduced to Europe. The investment Portuguese made in ship building paid off.

By 1549 European trade expanded to China. Portuguese started sending annual trade missions to Changchun island in China. In 1557 they managed to convince the Ming ruler to agree on a legal port treaty that would establish Macau as official Portuguese trade colony. Portuguese alerted Europe about the geography and goods produced in China.

The secret of sea route to India was well guarded till Jan Linschoten published his book Voyages which revealed the secret. The book was translated in many languages and rush for India began.


Spaniards set sail!

On 3rd August 1492, Columbus leaves with his armada of ships from Spain to discover an all water route to Asia. He instead landed at an island in the Bahamas that is San Salvador. The natives called it Guanahani. Before returning to Spain he left behind 39 men to build a settlement in present day Haiti. He kidnapped many native Americans. Only eight survived the voyage.

Columbus returned to Spain on 15th March 1493. He brought with him small amounts of gold, local birds and plants and presented to the King. He also wrote a letter that is quite revealing:

“They are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them; for which they are not adopted, not on account of any bodily deformity for they are well made. But they are timid and full of terror- Fearful and timid, guileless and honest. This land could easily be conquered by Spain and people can become Christians.”

800 years of religious conflict came to an end in Spain in 1492. Afterwards the Spanish culture was highly militarized and young Spaniards sought violent adventures as a means to social and economic status. Columbus convinced the King and Queen about the possibility of establishing colonies in the discovered land. The King in turn convinced the Pope and he gave Spain control over the Western Hemisphere in 1494 AD.

So, the die was cast. The willing fearless young men in search of adventure joined the maritime militia. They landed in Caribbean and fought locals to near extinction. Next, they laid Spanish style farms for agriculture production. By 1510 AD Cuba was completely pacified. It became an important economic and cultural centre. It was from here Ponce de Leon left the island to explore and in 1513 AD visited Aztec civilisation. The Aztec Empire was defeated in 1521 AD. Mexico there after became the cultural and administrative centre of the Spanish America. The abundance of gold and other trading items enthused them to push themselves into Inca Empire in Peru. Spain entered into South America. The further conquests followed till America united and decline of Spanish imperialism started.

Spain v/s Britain.

In 1560s, Phillip II of Spain faced the rising revolt by the Protestants. In Low Lands- Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherland protestants grew rapidly. As a defender of the Catholic Church, he sought help to suppress the rising protestant heresy in his territories. It exploded in 1566 AD-the Dutch revolt. Meanwhile, the relation with the regime of Elizabeth I of England continued to deteriorate. She restored the Royal Supremacy over the Church of England through an Act in 1559. This act was considered by Catholics as usurpation of the Papal authority. The British Protestants came out openly in support of the Dutch protestant rebels against Philips. This increased the tension further. The Catholic-Protestant conflict came openly out in France.

Francis Drake was a Pirate, a slave trader and explorer in the Elizabeth era. He carried out 2nd circumnavigation of the globe from 1577 to 1580. He identified the area of conflict with Spain on the coast of Western Coast. This area is now called California.

Elizabeth decorated Drake with a knighthood in 1581. In 1587 he destroyed 37 ships in the harbour in Candez. In 1588 he led a battle against Spanish Armada. He became a hero in England. In Spain he remained on the hit list and carried a reward of 20,000 Ducats on his head.

Trading in East Indies

By the end of 14th century maritime powers were set for trading in both the West & East. East India Co was initially a Joint Stock company. It was originally chartered “Governor and company into East Indies.” The company accounted for half of world trade dealing particularly with basic commodities: Cotton, Silk, Spices, Saltpetre, Tea, Opium. The company ended up seizing control over vast areas of Indian sub -continent, colonized parts of South-East Asia and Hong Kong after a war with Qing China.

The company received a Royal Charter on 31st Dec 1600. The Dutch and Portuguese had started a bit earlier. Dutch companies also united into East India Co and introduced to Joint Stock company meaning investors could not claim investments but shares could be traded at stock exchanges. On the contrary British EIC shares were held by wealthy business men and aristocrats who commanded influence in the royal court.


When we compare the desire of Europe to shake off the shackles of poverty with the take-it-easy approach of the psychology of the Indian mind the decline of Indian socio-political guiding force can be predicted even in present time. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” In India rulers run away from ruling. They only debate and pass laws which they can’t implement because the more laws you make more the State has to invest in the Police, Judges, Jails & maintain all including criminals.

And the frugal British governing model has been now reduced to negligee level by the slogan: Minimum government Maximum governance! Are the Centre and State governments keeping pace with providing HR hands for governance which is commensurate with growth of population graph? That is the question.