Faith & Life

Missionaries From Macau to the World – Saint Lazarus Island (60)

September 10, 2021

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The achievement of Vasco da Gama’s grandson is clearly demonstrated in the work of Joseph Nicolas Delisle, to whom, in 1731, the Russian Academy of Sciences entrusted the task of mapping the North Pacific. 

His map of the Americas, where the enigmatic territory is accompanied by the caption “Land seen by Don Juan de Gama,” would determine the choice of route for Vitus Bering’s second voyage, in 1732. 

“Gamaland” would also be represented by Jean Baptiste Nolin as a gigantic piece of land connected to the mainland and simply identified as “Partie de L’Amerique.” The unexplored areas of western Canada and Alaska, along with the Canadian islands in the Arctic Ocean and the northern coast of Greenland, are called Terra Esonis, a mythical land similar to Terra Incognita Australis in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Baptiste Homann, Nuremberg, 1707, Planiglobii Terrestris Cum Utroque Hemisphaerio Caelesti Generalis Exhibitio shows us the west coast of North America, with both Californias as a single island and the caption: “Costa Terrae borealis incognitae detected by D. João da Range sailing from China to New Spain”; this caption is repeated in another map of his authorship, dated 1720, already with the Californias linked to the continent. 

Adam Friedrich Zurner’s later cartographic work (1679-1742) brings together up-to-date information about America, including, however, ancient geographic myths. The main body of North America reflects the newly corrected information, the Mississippi River valley and the Rio Grande that flows properly into the Gulf of Mexico. The map also presents us with a gigantic Terra Esonis Incognita, a remnant of the previous century, when popular (mythical) cartography showed an almost continuous land bridge from the Anian Strait to Asia. 

The primacy of João da Gama in northern lands in relation to his peer navigators – such as João Rodrigues Cabrilho, Bartolomé Ferrer, Francis Drake (had with him the Portuguese pilot Nuno da Silva, who the English captured off Cabo Verde), Francisco Gali or Sebastião Rodrigues Soromenho, about whom we’ll talk in more detail here – lacks direct evidence that allows us to confirm what seems more obvious given the route taken by the route from the East. There are more than likely possible (even logical) landings off the coast of the present state of Washington or even the Canadian province of British Columbia. 

Unfortunately, the loss of a large part of the documentation referring to the North American route of João da Gama does not allow us to fill this gap. We only have news of a successful arrival in Acapulco in March 1590. The maps are not deceiving. And several of them, from different origins, attest to João da Gama’s exploration and discovery of a large part of the then unknown (and also of the already recognized) west and northwest coasts of North America.