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Francisco Barreto (occasionally Francisco de Barreto, 1520 - July 9, 1573) was a Portuguese soldier and explorer. An officer in Moroccomarker during his early life, Barreto sailed to Portuguese Indiamarker and was eventually appointed viceroy of the colony. After his return to Lisbonmarker, he was tasked with an expedition to southeast Africa in search of legendary gold mines. Barreto died in what is now Mozambique, having never reached the mines.

Early life

Barreto was born in Faro, Portugal, in 1520, to Rui Barreto and Branca de Vilhena. He received military training in Moroccomarker, and eventually became captain and governor of Azemmourmarker, near Casablancamarker.

Viceroy in Goa

In 1547 Barreto arrived in Portuguese Indiamarker. He took up the position of viceroy in Goamarker, headquarters of the colony, on June of 1555, following the death of Pedro Mascarenhas. On the occasion of his investiture, a play by Luís de Camões, Auto de Filodemo, was put on. Barreto later ordered Camões exiled to Macaumarker (also a Portuguese colony) for his satirical Disparates da Índia, which criticized Portuguese life in India.

According to Robert Kerr in A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Mascarenhas, in a bid to gain a Portuguese ally in the region, had supported an usurper against one Adel Khan, King of Visapurmarker. Mascarenhas died shortly after sending soldiers to aid in the usurper's takeover, and Barreto continued Portuguese support of the usurper until his capture. In 1557, Barreto clashed with Khan's army at Pondamarker and was victorious.

Return to Lisbon

Barreto was succeeded by Constantino de Bragança in 1558, and he left Goa for Lisbonmarker aboard the Aguia on January 20, 1559. After a damaging storm she was repaired in what is now Mozambiquemarker, and set sail again on November 17 of the same year. Soon after she sprang a leak, and returned to the African coast.

Barreto returned to Goa on a different boat, almost dying of thirst on the trip. Once back he again set sail for Lisbon, this time on the São Gião. She reached the Portuguese capital in June of 1561, 29 months after Barreto first left the city.

In 1564, King Philip II of Spain requested Portuguese naval aid in capturing Peñón de Vélez de la Gomeramarker, an island off the coast of Morocco. Portugal supplied and Barreto commanded a fleet consisting of a galleon and eight caravels alongside Spaniard Garcia de Toledo, and the combined navy took over the island's fort in two days.

Expedition to Monomotapa

After Barreto's return to Portugal, King Sebastian gave him the job of leading an expedition to Monomotapa (Great Zimbabwe) to take over the empire's legendary gold mines. According to historian Diogo do Couto, the reason for the expedition was that Portuguese mercantilists thought that the country needed mines to bring in gold similar to Spain's in the Americas (the country's colonies in Asia were not bringing sufficient wealth back to Portugal). Barreto was given instructions to "undertake nothing of importance without the advice and concurrence" of Jesuit Francisco Monclaros.

Barreto set sail from Lisbon on April 16, 1569, with three ships, 1000 men, and the title of Conqueror of the Mines, bestowed upon him by the king. The first boat arrived in Mozambique in August of 1569, Barreto's on March 14 of the next year, and the third ship months later. Although Barreto opted to take the easier route, via Sofalamarker, to the location of the mines, Monclaros demanded that the expedition take the Senamarker route, as this would lead them to where another Jesuit, Gonçalo da Silveira, had been thrown into a river and killed in 1561. So the expedition set out for Manicamarker, the reputed location of the great mines, via the Sena route.

The expedition sailed up the Cuama river in November of 1571, armed with weapons and mining tools, and arrived in the Sena region on December 18. Barreto sent an envoy to the Emperor of Monomotapa with a request for permission to attack a people called the Mongas, whose territory lay between the Portuguese and the mines. The emperor granted Barreto permission to attack them and even went so far to offer his own men. Barreto, however, declined assistance, and marched onward upriver.

The Portuguese fought several battles against the Mongas, victorious in all of them despite the overwhelming numbers due to their guns. According to Kerr, when their king sent ambassadors to Barreto in hopes of securing a peace, the soldier tricked them into thinking that the camels used by the Portuguese, creatures foreign to southeastern Africa, subsisted on flesh, leading the Mongas to provide the Portuguese with beef for the camels.

Before the expedition could further progress Barreto was recalled to the Island of Mozambiquemarker to deal with one Antonio Pereira Brandão, who was spreading false information about Barreto. The governor removed him from duty as commander of the St. Sebastiaomarker fort, and returned to Sena where his men were waiting. At this point, however, many of the men were sick with tropical diseases, and Barreto too fell ill. He died at Sena on July 9, 1573, having never reached the mines, and was buried at the Igreja de São Lourenço in Lisbon alongside his wife, Brites de Ataíde.

Homem continues the search

Barreto's deputy, Vasco Fernandes Homem, succeeded him as governor and returned with the remaining company to the coast. After Monclaros had left for Lisbon, the expedition to Manica was resumed via the Solafa route. The mines, when finally reached, did not resemble the legends, with the natives only producing very small amounts of gold. After further failure looking for different mines in a neighboring kingdom, Homem abandoned the search for gold.

See also


  1. Kerr, p. 447
  2. Kerr, pp. 453-455.
  3. Kerr, pp. 456-458

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