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Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532 - 1592) was a Spanishmarker explorer, author, historian, astronomer, scientist, and humanist. His birthplace is not certain and may have been Pontevedramarker, in Galiciamarker, where his paternal family originated or Alcalá de Henaresmarker in Castile, where he later is known to have studied . His father Bartolomé Sarmiento was born in Pontevedra and his mother María Gamboa was born in Bilbaomarker , Basque Country.

At the age of 18, Sarmiento de Gamboa entered the royal military in the European wars. Between 1550 and 1555 the future navigator fought in the armies of Emperor Charles V. In 1555 he began his exploring career, sailing across the Atlantic Oceanmarker. His first destination was what is today Mexicomarker, where he lived for two years. Little is known of this period in his life, other than that he encountered difficulties with the Inquisition. He then sailed to Perumarker, where he lived for more than twenty years.

In Lima he was accused by the Inquisition of possessing two magic rings and some magic ink and of following the precepts of Moses.

He then joined Álvaro de Mendaña expedition through the Southern Pacific Ocean to find the Terra Australis Incognita, which, should Mendaña followed Sarmiento's indications, had reached New Zealandmarker or/and Australia; but they discovered the Solomon Islandsmarker instead, in 1568.

In order to take credit of the discoveries for himself Mendaña threw the journals and maps made by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa overboard and abandoned him in Mexicomarker. A trial was then held in Limamarker, with the result giving Sarmiento credit for the discoveries.

In 1572 he was commissioned by Francisco de Toledo, the fifth Viceroy of Peru, to write a history of the Incas. Toledo hoped such a history would justify Spanish colonisation by revealing the violent history of the Incas. Sarmiento collected oral accounts first hand from Inca informants and produced a history that chronicles their violent conquest of the region. In his final history, he claimed that the origin inhabitants of Peru are descended from the mythical island of Atlantis. Historia de los Incas was then presented to King Phillip II with a covering letter dated March 1 1572.

Strait of Magellan

He became the commander of the naval station in the Pacific in 1578, when Sir Francis Drake attacked the coasts of Peru and Mexico. He sailed out of the port of Callaomarker with eleven vessels in 1579 to capture Drake. He did not find Drake, who had gone westward through the Pacific Ocean, but he explored the southern pacific coast of South America, passed the Magellan Straitmarker from West to East for the first time, drawing precious maps of many points of the Strait, and, after an impressive sailing of the Atlantic Ocean from SouthWest to NorthEast, a first-time too, he reached Spain in late 1580.

On his reporting the results of his expedition to King Philip II of Spain , the latter resolved to fortify the Strait, and in 1581 sent an expedition of twenty-four vessels with 2,500 men from Cadizmarker, under the command of Sarmiento de Gamboa and Diego Flores Valdez. The expedition was unfortunate, as eight vessels were lost in a storm, and Flores, on account of rivalry with Sarmiento de Gamboa, abandoned him with twelve vessels in the entry of the strait and returned to Spain. With only four vessels, Sarmiento de Gamboa continued the voyage, arriving in January 1583 at a favorable point, where he established a fort and colony garrisoned by 300 men which he called Rey Don Felipe. The settlement failed shortly after he left, and when Thomas Cavendish visited the ruins in 1587 he renamed the place Port Faminemarker.

In 1584 Sarmiento de Gamboa sailed for Europe, but he was captured by an English fleet under to Sir Walter Raleigh and carried to Englandmarker where he was presented to Queen Elizabeth I of England. They had a conversation in Latin, which was their only common language. She gave him a "letter of Peace" to be carried to King Phillip II of Spain. He left England and on his way back to Spain he was captured by French Huguenots. He was kept prisoner until 1588. During that time Spain mounted the Spanish Armada and attacked the English fleet. If Queen Elizabeth's "Letter of Peace" had been delivered in time to Spain, there might not have been a war. Meanwhile his colony dissolved and gradually perished of starvation; one of the survivors was rescued by Cavendish's fleet in 1587, and another by Meriche in 1589. After his liberation, Sarmiento de Gamboa made a representation of his experience and a complaint against Flores to King Philip II; it seems that his complaint was neglected.

Later life

Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa spent the rest of his life dedicating himself to his writings and worked as an editor of poetry. On his last naval mission in the service of the king he was made Admiral of an armada of galleons en route to the Indies. He died on board ship, near the coast of Lisbon.

References

  1. Relación y derrotero del viaje y descubrimiento del Estrecho de la Madre de Dios - antes llamado de Magallanes. Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, según Amancio Landín, uno de sus más reputados biógrafos, nació en Pontevedra, hacia 1532. Julio Guillén --el marino-académico--, por su parte, dice que es posible fuera Colegial Mayor en la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, ciudad que fue --asegura-- cuna del gran marino español. Este, no ha dejado aclarada la duda sobre su origen geográfico, pues afirmó ser natural de ambos lugares.


  • Miriam Estensen Terra Australis Incognita Allen & Unwin 2006
  • Sarmiento de Gamboa, Pedro 1943. Historia de los Incas. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores.
  • Narratives of the voyages of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa to the Straits of Magellan (translated and edited by Clements R. Markham)
  • Eric Vaccarella 'Fábulas, letras, and razones historiales fidedignas: The Praxis of Renaissance Historiography in Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa's Historia de los Incas' Colonial Latin American Review 16: 1, pp. 97-103


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