And so made significant . . .

around the world, and through the centuries

11 October

1492
Christopher Columbus,
sailor and explorer

‘The course was WSW, and there was more sea than there had been during the whole of the voyage. They saw sandpipers, and a green reed near the ship. Those of the caravel Pinta saw a cane and a pole, and they took up another small pole which appeared to have been worked with iron; also another bit of cane, a land-plant, and a small board. The crew of the caravel Niña also saw signs of land, and a small branch covered with berries. Everyone breathed afresh and rejoiced at these signs. The run until sunset was 26 leagues.

After sunset the Admiral returned to his original west course, and they went along at the rate of 12 miles an hour. Up to two hours after midnight they had gone 90 miles, equal to 22 1/2 leagues. As the caravel Pinta was a better sailer, and went ahead of the Admiral, she found the land, and made the signals ordered by the Admiral. The land was first seen by a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana. But the Admiral, at ten in the previous night, being on the castle of the poop, saw a light, though it was so uncertain that he could not affirm it was land. He called Pero Gutierrez, a gentleman of the Kings bed-chamber, and said that there seemed to be a light, and that he should look at it. He did so, and saw it. The Admiral said the same to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the fleet as inspector, but he could see nothing, because he was not in a place whence anything could be seen. After the Admiral had spoken he saw the light once or twice, and it was like a wax candle rising and falling. It seemed to few to be an indication of land; but the Admiral made certain that land was close.

When they said the Salve, which all the sailors were accustomed to sing in their way, the Admiral asked and admonished the men to keep a good look-out on the forecastle, and to watch well for land; and to him who should first cry out that he saw land, he would give a silk doublet, besides the other rewards promised by the Sovereigns, which were 10,000 maravedis to him who should first see it.

At two hours after midnight the land was sighted at a distance of two leagues. They shortened sail, and lay by under the mainsail without the bonnets. The vessels were hove to, waiting for daylight; and on Friday they arrived at a small island of the Lucayos, called, in the language of the Indians, Guanahani [Watling Island, named San Salvador by Columbus]. Presently they saw naked people. The Admiral went on shore in the armed boat, and Martin Alonso Pinzon, and Vicente Yañez, his brother, who was captain of the Niña. The Admiral took the royal standard, and the captains went with two banners of the green cross, which the Admiral took in all the ships as a sign, with an F and a Y and a crown over each letter, one on one side of the cross and the other on the other.

Having landed, they saw trees very green, and much water, and fruits of diverse kinds. The Admiral called to the two captains, and to the others who leaped on shore, and to Rodrigo Escovedo, secretary of the whole fleet, and to Rodrigo Sanchez of Segovia, and said that they should bear faithful testimony that he, in presence of all, had taken, as he now took, possession of the said island for the King and for the Queen, his Lords making the declarations that are required, as is more largely set forth in the testimonies which were then made in writing.

Presently many inhabitants of the island assembled. What follows is in the actual words of the Admiral in his book of the first navigation and discovery of the Indies. “I,” he says, “that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see. They afterwards came to the ship’s boats where we were, swimming and bringing us parrots, cotton threads in skeins, darts, and many other things; and we exchanged them for other things that we gave them, such as glass beads and small bells. In fine, they took all, and gave what they had with good will. It appeared to me to be a race of people very poor in everything. They go as naked as when their mothers bore them, and so do the women, although I did not see more than one young girl. All I saw were youths, none more than thirty years of age. They are very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horse’s tail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear long and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the colour of the Canarians, neither black nor white. Some paint themselves white, others red, and others of what colour they find. Some paint their faces, others the whole body, some only round the eyes, others only on the nose. They neither carry nor know anything of arms, for I showed them swords, and they took them by the blade and cut themselves through ignorance. They have no iron, their darts being wands without iron, some of them having a fish’s tooth at the end, and others being pointed in various ways. They are all of fair stature and size, with good faces, and well made. I saw some with marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to ask what it was, and they gave me to understand that people from other adjacent islands came with the intention of seizing them, and that they defended themselves. I believed, and still believe, that they come here from the mainland to take them prisoners. They should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses, that they may learn to speak. I saw no beast of any kind except parrots, on this island.” The above is in the words of the Admiral.’

Columbus in the Bahamas

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1702
George Rooke,
naval commander

‘Having lain by from eight last night, at four this morning made sail, being about four leagues from the Islands, but it being very dirty, thick weather we had much ado to make the entrance in; and it was not till ten o’clock that the Kent, who had been in with the passage early in the morning, brought to and made the signal; upon which, the wind freshening very much, the whole fleet anchored before 11 o’clock in a range up almost to the chain which the enemy had placed before their ships. The town of Vigo fired some few shot, but none of them reached us, except two or three which did no harm.

Immediately called a Council of War.’

Rooke’s Battle of Vigo Bay

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1726
Benjamin Franklin,
politician

‘This morning we weighed anchor with a gentle breeze, and passed by Newcastle, whence they hailed us and bade us welcome. It is extreme find weather. The sun enlivens our stiff limbs with his glorious rays of warmth and brightness. The sky looks gay, with here and there a silver cloud. The fresh breezes from the woods refresh us; the immediate prospect of liberty, after so long and irksome confinement, ravishes us. In short, all things conspire to make this the most joyful day I ever knew. As we passed by Chester, some of the company went on shore, impatient once more to tread on terra firma, and designing for Philadelphia by land. Four of us remained on board, not caring for the fatigue of travel when we knew the voyage had much weakened us. About eight at night, the wind failing us, we cast anchor at Redbank six miles from Philadelphia, and thought we must be obliged to lie on board that night; but, some young Philadelphians happening to be out upon their pleasure in a boat, they came on board, and offered to take us up with them; we accepted of their kind proposal, and about ten o’clock landed at Philadelphia, heartily congratulating each upon our having happily completed so tedious and dangerous a voyage. Thank God!’

Founding Father Franklin

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1793
Joseph Farington,
artist

‘The Prince of Wales has desired N[athaniel] Dance to paint his portrait, which has much embarrassed the latter, who is very unwilling to do it.’

Farington on Dance

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1796
Thomas Green,
lawyer

‘Read Hawkesworth’s Life of Swift; of whose character and conduct but an imperfect idea is given by the narrative of Johnson. Hawkesworth is much more communicative and interesting; and the minuteness and simplicity with which he details the few, but deplorable, incidents of the four last years of Swift’s life, are highly affecting. The circumstance of his struggling to express himself, after a silence broken but once for more than a year; and, finding all his efforts ineffectual, heaving a deep sigh, quite cleaves the heart.’

Dipped into Bacon’s essays

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1896
Thomas Cobden-Sanderson,
craftsman

‘Morris is dead. He died on Saturday 3rd October at 11:30 in the morning. I saw him alive in Riverscourt Road the preceding Monday. I had been to the Bindery to get some of my books for the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and I was on my way to the Gallery on my bicycle, when on turning the corner into Riverscourt Road I saw before me, going in the same direction, Morris in a bathchair, with a shawl across his shoulders [. . .]. I had never seen Morris in his chair before. It was a strange sensation to see the strong man so reduced. Yet he looked clear of complexion and ruddy red, and though he said not a word he yet lifted his gloved hand and waved me farewell as I mounted again and turned and bade him good-bye. . . a last good-bye.’

Innumerable ripples; countless diamonds

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