The Calicut Bombarding – The second visit of the Portuguese

Pedro Alvares Cabral

Pedro Alvares Cabral

Pedro Álvares Cabralwas to lead a Portuguese Armada of 13 ships, 500 handymen, 200 officials and commanders and 700 soldiers. This Armada set sail on the route discovered by Vasco Da Gama to Calicut. The fleet under the command of the young 35 year old Cabral left Lisbon on 9 March 1500. Cabral was promised a sum equivalent to 40 Kgs of Gold for this Voyage.

The fleet reached Cape Verde on the 14th of March. The next day a ship carrying 150 men disappeared without trace. Slowly regrouping they set sail towards Cape of Good Hope, after days of being lost they eventually arrived in Calicut on the 13th of September with just seven ships left. Cabral successfully managed Zamorin and obtained his permission to set up a factory and a warehouse  in Calicut.

Comparisson of Cabral's route to that of Vasco's

Cabral’s Route in Red, Vasco’s in Blue

Cabral asked permission from the Zamorin to venture out on foot further inwards. Cabral sent his military on several missions to scout for farmers farming spices which could earn him more repute in his homeland. Many of his officers breached the permissions given to them by mistreating the locals and raiding their houses and temples. Meanwhile Zamorin was constantly getting complaints from the Arab traders about Cabrals men destroying their trade and seizing the produce from the farms directly.

Cabral misjudged the tolerance levels of the locals and the Arab traders. He misused the permissions he had from Zamorin. On the 16th and 17th of December 1500 a angry mob of Traders and Farmers close to 300 strong attacked Cabral’s factory and Warehouse. They killed close to 50 Portuguese crossbowmen, entered the premises and set fire to the warehouse.  Cabral enraged stood ground with all his might and close to 800 soldiers demanded an explanation, apology and damages from the Zamorin. The Zamorin however ordered Cabral to leave before the next sunrise else face the wrath of his military might.

Cabral outraged by the response ordered his troops and ships to attack, bombard and destroy Calicut. His troops seized 10 fully laden Arab merchant ships and burnt the sailors and merchants alive. Cabral wanted the Portuguese alone to control the entire profitable spice trade. The Portuguese always demanded preferential treatment in all of their trade treaties.

Historian William Greenlee has argued that the Portuguese realized that “they were few in numbers and that those who would come to India in the future fleets would always be at numerical disadvantage; so that this treachery must be punished in a manner so decisive that the Portuguese would be feared and respected in the future. It was their superior artillery which would enable them to accomplish this end.”

Cabral then fled with the 10 Arab ships to the Indian port city of Kochi. Kochi then was a part of the Zamorin’s empire but was ruled by a feudal lord.  The city of Kochi was eager to attain its own freedom from the Zamorin’s rule and Cabral saw his chance and got ready to exploit the Indian intra fighting. He soon forged a trade treaty with the ruler of Kochi and other few neighboring cities (also ruled by feudal lords) At last he loaded his ships with more spices and set sail back to Portugal on the 16th of January 1501.

The way back Cabral’s original fleet reduced to only 2 ships and that those of the Arabs. He decided to wait for the remaining 4 but only 3 returned. He along with 5 of his ships fully laden and the Arab ships returned to Portugal on the 21st of July 1501. This brought back 800% of profits 200%  more than Vasco’s. The Portuguese now had started growing ever more greedy for Indian trade.

The crown had already sent ahead another exploration and trade fleet to India days before Cabral had arrived. As soon as Cabral landed, the King immediately started managing resources to launch another, a fourth fleet, now a complete invasion spearheaded by Cabral. This fleet was called the Revenge Fleet.

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