Cristóvão de Mendonça

Cristóvão de Mendonça (Mourão?, 1475 – Ormus, 1532)[1] was a Portuguese noble and explorer who was active in South East Asia in the 16th century.

Cristóvão de Mendonça
Died1532 (aged 56–57)
Parent(s)Diogo Furtado de Mendonça[contradictory]
Brites Soares de Albergaria

Son of D. Diogo Furtado de Mendonça,[contradictory] Alcaide-mor (lord mayor) of Mourão, captain of crossbowmen, and his wife, Brites Soares de Albergaria. Another daughter of the marriage, D. Joana, was married to D. Jaime, 4th duke of Bragança. Cristóvão de Mendonça married D. Maria de Vilhena, daughter of Sancho de Tovar, but there was no issue of this marriage.[2][3][4]

Mendonça in João de Barros's Décadas da ÁsiaEdit

Mendonça is known from a small number of Portuguese sources, notably João de Barros.[5] Barros was one of the first great Portuguese historians, most famous for his work Décadas da Ásia (Decades of Asia), a history of the Portuguese Empire in India and Asia, published between 1552–1615. Barros mentions that Cristóvão de Mendonça was the son of a Pedro de Mendonça[contradictory] of Mourão, but his date of birth is not given.[6] Mendonça later governed Hormuz (Ormus) as Captain-Major from 1527. He died there in 1532.[7]

Mendonça is named by Barros as the captain of a ship that left Lisbon in 1519 and, after arriving at Goa, as having been given instructions to search for Pliny's legendary Isles of Gold (Chryse), said to lie to "beyond Sumatra":

At the end of June of the year 1520, a ship arrived that had departed the Kingdom that year, the Captain and Pilot being Pedro Eanes, nicknamed the Frenchman, who being a diligent man and one well versed in matters of the sea, King Manuel had entrusted with letters for Diogo Lopez concerning matters of service. And among other things that the King ordered Diogo Lopez to do that year, was to send some person in the same ship with Pedro Eanes, to who would be entrusted to go to discover the Isles of Gold beyond Sumatra, of which we have already written above, for many persons who had gone to these parts of India had given him great hope that they could be discovered. Diogo Lopez then entrusted this to Christovão de Mendoça, the son of Pero Mendoça the lord mayor of Mourão; of whose voyage we will make mention below.[8]

Barros promises to return to the topic of the voyage to the Isles of Gold, and subsequently does so, relating how Mendonça was diverted from the quest by the requirement to assist with the building and defence of a fort at Pedir in the territory of the Sumatran principality of Pacem (Pasai). Mendonça and other Portuguese captains are described as assisting with the construction of a fort at Pedir (Sumatra), after which he proceeded to Malacca:

And there came to the port of Pedir Raphael Catanho and Christovão de Mendoça with his three ships for the discovery of the Isles of Gold… Antonio de Brito was still commanding there… as the construction of the fortress had taken much time, and Raphael Catanho, Raphael Perstrello, and Christovão de Mendoça had to provision and take on pepper and other things for their voyages, and also as the monsoon season by which they each had to go, principally Christovão de Mendoça, had already passed, they were all ordered to stay there to assist and support the fortress, as it was not yet in a state where it could be defended… After putting the fort in a good state of defence, Christovão de Mendoça and Dinis Fernandez departed for Malacca.[9]

As there is no further mention by Barros of the quest by Cristóvão de Mendonça for the Ilhas do Ouro, it is not clear whether he ever carried out this commission, or whether Barros intended to explain why it was not carried out by relating how he was diverted by the defence of Pedir.[10][11]

Barros relates that prior to Mendonça being ordered to discover the Isles of Gold they had already been sought by Diogo Pacheco, whose attempt came to grief on the coast of Sumatra:

Diogo Pacheco came there a little before Manuel Pacheco from Malacca, and brought great information on the Isles of Gold that were generally known in India to be to the south of Sumatra. For the discovery of which Diogo Lopez ordered him to go, for he, Diogo Pacheco was most knowledgeable in matters of the sea and had great ability as a discoverer, besides being himself a gentleman… The weather was such that the sea swallowed the brigantine, and the ship came onto the coast ... this destruction of Diogo Pacheco, was the first of those of us who lost their lives for the discovery of this Isle of Gold.[12]

The belief in the Isles of Gold/Ilhas do Ouro derived from the legendary Suvarnadvipa and (Suvarnabhumi) mentioned in ancient Indian literature and incorporated into Graeco-Roman geography as the Islands of Gold and Silver (Chryse and Argyre) and the Golden Chersonese (Chersonesus Aurea).[13]

Mendonça and the theory of the Portuguese discovery of AustraliaEdit

In the 1970s, Mendonça's name became well known in Australian history discussions when it was connected to the Theory of the Portuguese discovery of Australia by Kenneth McIntyre.[14] While there are few Portuguese documents or maps beyond Barros that mention Mendonça, and none directly connect Mendonça with Australia, McIntyre hypothesized that in 1521-4 Mendonça captained a fleet of three caravels which charted the east coast of Australia. McIntyre suggested that the voyage was kept secret because it would likely violate the ambiguous Treaty of Tordesillas, under which Portugal agreed that Spain would have exclusive rights to exploration in most of the Americas and the regions between the Americas and Asia (Pacific).[15] In addition he argued, many Portuguese records were lost in the disastrous Lisbon earthquake of 1755.[16]

McIntyre's identification of Mendonça as the likely commander of a Portuguese fleet that charted Australia's east coast c1521-4 has also been accepted by other writers of the Theory of the Portuguese discovery of Australia, including Lawrence Fitzgerald (1984)[17] and Peter Trickett.[18] McIntyre suggested that one of Mendonça's caravels sailed along the southeast coast of Australia and was wrecked somewhere near Warrnambool, Victoria, becoming the Mahogany Ship of Australian folklore. Although this wreck has not been seen since the 1880s, it is now often described in the Australian media as a Portuguese caravel or one of Mendonça's fleet, largely on the basis of McIntyre's theory.[19] However, writing in one of his last pieces on the topic in 1994, McIntyre acknowledged that the identity of the Portuguese discoverer remained unclear. "Whether the discoverer was Mendonça or some other, at least (I am) certain he was Portuguese."[20]

Recent workEdit

In his 2007 book Beyond Capricorn, science journalist Peter Trickett revealed other information relating to Mendonça's life, including a fragment of stone engraved with Mendonça's name found in South Africa[21] and clearly dated 1524, and a drawing that may show the 1519 fleet on its way to Goa.[22] Trickett also connected Mendonça with the discovery of the North Island of New Zealand.

Luis Felipe Thomaz, Professor of Oriental Studies at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Lisbon, contributed a study of the expedition of Cristóvão de Mendonça to the conference, “Portugueses na Austrália”, held at the Museu da Ciência, Coimbra, Portugal in May 2008.[23]

Other points of viewEdit

Commenting on McIntyre's theory in 1984, Captain A. Ariel[24] suggested it was extremely unlikely any sixteenth century mariner would have taken a voyage southwards down Australia's eastern coast, through uncharted dangerous waters and against prevailing winds, on the assumption Magellan was sailing westwards, in southern latitudes, against the Roaring Forties.

Writing in 2006, Associate Professor W.A.R.(Bill) Richardson of Flinders University, South Australia suggested the claim that Cristóvão de Mendonça sailed down the east coast of Australia is sheer speculation, based on voyages about which no real details have survived.[25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ National Archives, Torre do Tombo, Lisbon, Portugal
  2. ^ Cristovão Alão de Morais; Eugénio de Andrea da Cunha e Freitas (1699). Alexandre António Pereira de Miranda Vasconcellos; António Cruz (eds.). Pedatura lusitana (nobiliário de famílias de Portugal) ... (in Portuguese). Volume 2. Livraria Fernando Machado. p. 276. Retrieved 2014-02-02. |volume= has extra text (help)
  3. ^ Cristovão Alão de Morais; Eugénio de Andrea da Cunha e Freitas (1673). Alexandre António Pereira de Miranda Vasconcellos; António Cruz (eds.). Pedatura lusitana (nobiliário de famílias de Portugal) ... (in Portuguese). Volume 4. Livraria Fernando Machado. p. 463. Retrieved 2014-02-02. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ GAYO, M. Filgueiras. Nobiliário das famílias de Portugal (v. VII). Braga, 1989. p. 295.
  5. ^ João de Barros, Decada III da Asia, Lisbon, 1563 (1628 edn.), lib.IV, cap.iii, fol.92-93; lib.V, cap.iiii, fol.112-113, 121-123.
  6. ^ "Christovão de Mendoça filho de Pero de Mendoça alcaide môr de Mourão". João de Barros, Decada III da Asia, Lisbon, 1563 (1628 edn.), lib.V, cap.iii, fol.92; cited in Trickett, P.(2007) Beyond Capricorn. How Portuguese adventurers discovered and mapped Australia and New Zealand 250 years before Captain Cook p.79 East St. Publications. Adelaide. ISBN 978-0-9751145-9-9
  7. ^ "World Statesmen - Iran".Hormuz was ruled by Portugal from 1515 to 1622 under the submission of Goa, then a Portuguese possession, before being incorporated into Persia in 1622.
  8. ^ "sendo já no fim de Iunho do anno de quinhentos & vinte, chegou huma nao que deste Reyno partio aquelle anno, capitão & piloto Pedro Eanes, Frances de alcunha: ao qual por ser homem diligente, & que sabia bem as cousas do mar, el Rey dom Manuel mandava com cartas a Diogo Lopez dobre algunas cousas de seu serviço. E entre outras cousas que el Rey mandavo a Diogo Lopez que fezesse aquelle anno [1520], era que na mesma nao que Pedro Eanes enviasse alguna pessoa, de que elle confiasse este a ida a descobrir as ilhas do ouro, traves da ilha Çamatra, de que já atras escrevemos, por lhe muitas pessoas que andarão naquellas partes da India, darem grande esperança de se poderem descobrir. A qual ida Diogo Lopez logo ali deu a Christovão de Mendoça filho de Pero de Mendoça alcaide môr de Mourão: da viagem do qual a diante faremos menção". João de Barros, Decada III da Asia, Lisbon, 1563 (1628 edn.), lib.V, cap.iii, fol.92-93, Como Iorge de Brito com sua armada foi ter ao Reyno Achem, onde elle & outros capitães cõ muita gente forã mortos em hũa peleja,que teverão com o Rey da terra: e vindo seu irmão Antonio de Brito com os nauios a Pedir onde os achou, tomou posse da capitania delles, e do mais que elle e Iorge d’Alboquerque passarão tè chegarem a Malaca, & acontaceo aos outros capitães que ficerão em Pacem. [1]
  9. ^ E sendo tanto avante como o porto de Pedir: acharão Raphael Catanho, & Christovão de Mendoça, com os tres navios do seu descobrimento paro as ilhas do Ouro… todavia Antonio de Brito ficou com a sua capitania… Porque como o acabamento do fortaleza avia mister muito tempo, & Raphael Catanho, Raphael Perstrello, & Christovão de Mendoça ali se avião de prover, & carregar de pimenta & de outras cousas pera fazerem suas viagems, & tambem o tempo não era de monção pero onde cadahum avia de ir, principalmente a Christovão de Mendoça, que era já passada: mandou a todos que ficassem ali em ajuda & favor daquella fortaleza, em quanto ella não estava em estado pera se poder defender… A qual despois que foi posta em estado que bem se podia defender: Christovão de Mendoça & Dinis Fernandez forãose pera Malaca. João de Barros, Decada III da Asia, Lisbon, 1563 (1628 edn.), lib.V, cap.iii, fol.123.
  10. ^ McIntyre, K.G. (1977) The Secret Discovery of Australia, Portuguese ventures 200 years before Cook, p.241-243 Souvenir Press, Menindie ISBN 0-285-62303-6
  11. ^ João de Barros quoted in Trickett, P.(2007) p.79
  12. ^ Diogo Pacheco… o qual avia pouco que com Manuel Pacheco viera de Malaca, & trouxera grandes informações das ilhas do ouro, de que avia géral fama na India estarem ao Sul de Çamatra. Sobre o qual descobrimento Diogo Lopez o mãdava, por elle Diogo Pacheco ser mui experto nas cousas do mar, & ter grande habilidade pera descobridor, alem de ser cavalleiro de sua pessoa. João de Barros, Decada III da Asia, Lisbon, 1563 (1628 edn.), lib.III, cap.iii, fol.60-62. See also Gabriel Ferrand, "Suvarņadvīpa", in L'empire sumatranais de Crivijaya, Paris, Imprimerie nationale, 1922, p.185-189.
  13. ^ Pliny, Natural History vi, 23; Paul Wheatley, The Golden Khersonese, Kuala Lumpur, 1961, pp.131-6; Himansu Bhusan Sarkar, Trade and Commercial Activities of Southern India in the Malayo-Indonesian World, up to A.D. 1511, Calcutta, Firma KLM, 1986, p.11; R.K. Dube, “Southeast Asia as the Indian El-Dorado”, in Chattopadhyaya, D. P. and Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture (eds.), History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1999, Vol.1, Pt.3, C.G. Pande (ed.), India's Interaction with Southeast Asia, Chapter 6, pp.87-109.
  14. ^ McIntyre, K.G. (1977) P.239-248
  15. ^ McIntyre, K.G. (1977) p.42-51
  16. ^ However, a significant library of Portuguese discovery maps and documents apparently still exists in Goa. See
  17. ^ Fitzgerald, L (1984). Java La Grande p. 69+. The Publishers, Hobart ISBN 0-949325-00-7
  18. ^ Trickett, P.(2007) p.11+
  19. ^ See for example; Adams, D, "Buried in the dunes…" The Age, March 10, 2000
  20. ^ McIntyre, K.G. (1994) Quoted by Peter Schumpeter "Great Questions of Our Time Series; Who Discovered Australia?" The Age, 26 January 1994
  21. ^ Trickett, P. (2007) p.180 Plate 11
  22. ^ Trickett, P. (2007) p.180 Plate 1
  23. ^ Luis Felipe Thomaz, "A expedição de Cristóvão de Mendonça e o descobrimento da Austrália", in Carlota Simões, Francisco Contente Domingues (coordenadores), Portugueses na Austrália: as primeiras viagens, Coimbra,Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, 2013, pp.59-126, p.98.
  24. ^ Ariel, A. "Navigating with Kenneth McIntyre" in The Great Circle, Vol 6, No 2, 1984. p135-139
  25. ^ Richardson, W.A.R. (2006). Was Australia charted before 1606? The Jave La Grande inscriptions. Canberra, National Library of Australia, p.39, ISBN 0-642-27642-0

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