New Lands and a New Sky

  • 01-05-1500, (place unidentified)
  • 1 document of 2 folios, manuscript on paper,
  • 31,0×21,9 cm
  • Portuguese National Archive of Torre do Tombo
  • Ref Code: PT/TT/CC/3/0002/000002

The arrival of the Europeans in America, and the opening of maritime commercial lines between Europa and Asia, were epoch-defining events destined to transform the history of the world. Long distance ocean voyages were to become the backbone of the empires built by the European powers and it is no surprise that a great deal of thought and work was put into improving them and making them safer.

This manuscript page shows a letter to the King of Portugal, Manuel I, written by one ‘Master John’ a bachelor in Arts and Medicine, physician on board the fleet led by Pedro Álvares Cabral, that reached Brazilian shores for the first time in April 1500. He comments on the difficulties of navigating in the Southern Hemisphere, where the night sky is different to the one in the Northern Hemisphere. He also relates how he measured latitude when sailing in southern latitudes, with no Polar Star in sight. The letter contains one of the first depictions of the Southern Cross, a cross-shaped asterism that sailors could use to identify the South Celestial Pole.

It is interesting to note that the King is supposed to understand the astronomical discussion. Drawing from the experience he had