From Iohn Huighen Van Linschoten. His
Discours of Voyages into ye Easte & West Indies

Wolfe, London, 1598.


The 12. of May, in the morning betimes, we discovered the Iland of S. Helena, whereat there was so great ioy in the ship, as if we had bene in heaven: & as then we were about 2. miles from ye land, the Iland lying from us West, south west: whereunto we sayled so close, that with a caliver shot we might reach unto the shore: being hard by it, we sayled about a corner of the land, that from us lay Northwest, which having compassed wee sayled close by the land, West, North west: the land on that side beeing so high and still, that it seemed to be a wall that reached unto the skyes. And in that sort we sayled about a mile and a half, and compassed about ye other corner that lay westward from us, which corner beeing compassed, we presentlie perceived the shippes that lay in the road, which were those ships that set sayle before us out of India, lying about a small half mile from the foresaid corner, close under the land, so that the land as then lieth South east from them: and by reason of the high land the shippes lie there as safe as if they were in a haven: for they may well heare the wind whistle on the top of their maine yards, but lower it can not come: and they lie so close under the land, that they may almost cast a stone upon the shore. There is good ground there, at 25. and 30. fadomes deep, but if they chance to put further out, or to passe beyond it, they must goe forward, for they can get no more unto ye land: and for this cause we kept so close to the shore, that the height of the land took the wind from us, & the ship would not steer without wind, so that it drave upon the land, whereby our boresprit touched ye shore, & therewith we thought that shippe & goodes had all beene cast away: but by reason of the great depth, being 10. fadomes deep, and with the help of the Boats, and men off the other ships that came unto us, we put off from the land, without any hurt, and by those Boates wee were brought to a place wher the other ships lay at Anker, which is right against a valley, that lyeth betweene two high hilles, wherein there standeth a little Church called Saint Helena. There we found five shippes, which were, the ship that came from Malacca, and the S. Mary that had beene there about 15. daies, which came both together to the Cape de Bona Speranza, the S. Anthonie, and the S. Christoper being Admiral that had arrived there 10. daies before, and the Conception, which came thether but the day before us, so that ther wanted none of the Fleet but the S. Thomas, and by the signes and tokens, that we and the other ships had seene at Sea, we presumed it to be lost, as after we understoode, (for it was never seene after) for the other shippes had seene Mastes, Deales, Fattes, Chestes, & many dead men that had bound themselves upon boards, with a thousand other such like signs. Our Admiral likewise had beene in great danger of casting away: for although it was a new ship, & this the first Viage it had made, yet it was so eaten with Wormes, that it had at least 20. handfuls deepe of water within it, and at the Cape was forced to throw halfe the goods over bord, into the Sea, and were constrained continually to Pumpe with two Pumpes, both night and day, and never holde still: and being before the Iland of S. Helena, had ther also sunke to the ground, if the other ships had not holpen her. The rest of the shippes coulde likewise tell what dangers and miseries they had indured. About three Monthes before our arrivall at S. Helena, there had beene a ship which the yere before set out of Ormus, with the goods & men that remained in the S. Salvador, that had beene saved by the Portingal armie, upon the coast of Abex, and brought unto Ormus, as in an other place I have declared. That ship had wintered in Mosambique, and had passed verie soone by the Cape, & so sayled without any companie unto Portingall, having left some of her sicke men in the Iland, (as the manner is) which the next ships that came thether must take into them. These gave us intelligence, that about foure monthes before our arrivall, there had beene an English ship at the Iland of Saint Helena, which had sayled through the Straits of Magellanaes, and through the south seas, & from thence to the Ilands of Phillippinas, and had passed through the Straits of Sunda, that lyeth beyond Malacca, betweene the Ilands of Sumatra and Iava: in the which way she had taken a shippe of China (such as they called Iunckos) laden with Silver and Golde, and all kind of Silkes, and that shee sent a letter with a small present to the Bishop of Malacca, telling him, that shee sent him that of friendship, meaning to come her selfe and visite him. Out of that ship of China, they tooke a Portingall Pilot, & so passed the Cape de Bona Speranca, and came to the Iland of Saint Helena; where they tooke in fresh water and other necessaries, and beate downe the Alter and the Crosse that stoode in the Church, and left behind them a Ketle and a Sword, which the Portingales at our arrival found there, yet could they not conceive or thinke what they might meane. Some thought it was left there for a signe to some other ships of his companie, but everie man may thinke what he will thereof ... By the pictures following, you may see the true description of the Iland of Saint Helena, and of the three sides therof as we passed by it, and as we sayled about it to the road, as also of the Iland of Ascention. The description of which two Ilands you may here perceive and learne, as I my selfe could marke the same.


The 94. Chapter.

A briefe description of the Iland Saint Helena.

The Iland of Saint Helena is so named, because the Portingales discovered it uppon Saint Helens day, which is the twentie one of May. It is in compasse sixe miles, little more or lesse, and lyeth under sixteene degrees and a quarter, on the South side of the Equinoctall 550. Spanish miles from the Cape de Bona Speranza, and from the coast called Angola or Ethiopia 350. miles, & from Brasilia 510. miles. These ar the two neerest lands adioyning to it. It is a verie high and hillie countrie, so that it commonly reacheth unto the cloudes: the countrie of it selfe is verie ashie and drie: also all the trees that are therein, whereof there are great store, & grow of themselves in the woodes, are little worth but only to burne: for it hath no special substance, but sheweth as if were halfe consumed, so that it should seeme that some mines of Brimstone, hath in times past beene in that Iland, as commonly all the Ilands are all much subiect to the same: for that in some places thereof they find Sulphur and Brimstone. When the Portingales first discovered it, there was not any beasts, nor fruite, at all within the Iland, but onely great store of fresh water, which is excellent good, and falleth downe from the mountaines, and so runneth in great abundance into the Valley, where the Church standeth, and from thence by small chanels, into the Sea, where the Portingales fill their vessels full of fresh water, and wash their clothes: so that it is a great benefit for them, and a pleasant sight to behold, how cleare & in how many streames the water runneth downe into the valley, which may bee thought a myracle, considering the drinesse of the country together with the stonie Rockes and hilles therein. The Portingales have by little and little brought many beastes into it, and in the valleyes planted al sorts of fruites: which have growne there in so great abundance, that it is almost incredible. For it is so full of Goates, Buckes, wild Hogges, Hennes, Partridges, and Doves, by thousands, so that any man that will, may hunt and take them: & ther is alwaies plentie and sufficient, although there came as many shippes more into the Iland as there doe: and they may kill them with stones and staves, by reason of the gret numbers of them. Now for fruites, as Portingall Figges, Pomgranets, Oranges, Lemons, Citrons, and such like fruites, there are so many, that growe without planting or setting, that all the valleyes are full of them, which is a great pleasure to beholde, for that it seemeth to bee an earthly Paradise. It hath fruite all the yeare long, because it raineth there by showers at the least five or sixe times everie day, and then againe the Sunne shineth, so that whatsoever is planted, there it groweth verie well: but because the Portingales are not over curious of new things, there groweth not of al sorts of fruites of Portingall and India in that Iland: for assuredly without any doubt they would growe well in that land, because of the good temperature of the ayre, besides this they have so great abundance of Fish, round about the Iland, that it seemeth a wonder wrought of God: for with crooked nayles, they may take as much Fish as they will, so that all the shippes doe provide themselves of Fish of all sorts in that place, which is hanged up and dried, and is of as good a taste and savor, as any Fish that ever I eate: and this every man that had beene there, affirmeth to be true. And the better to serve their turnes, upon the Rockes they find salt, which serveth them for their necessarie provisions, so that to conclude it is an earthly Paradise for ye Portingall shippes, and seem to have been miraculously discovered for the refreshing and service of the same, considering the smalnesse and highnesse of the land, lying in the middle of the Ocean seas, and so far from the firme land or any other Ilands, that it seemeth to be a Boye, placed in the midle of the Spanish Seas: for if this Iland were not, it were impossible for the shippes to make any good or prosperous Viage: for it hath often fallen out, that some shippes which have missed thereof, have indured the greatest miserie in ye world, and were forced to put into the coast of Guinea, and there to stay the faling of the raine, and so to get fresh water, and afterwardes come halfe dead and spoyled into Portingall. It is the fashion, that all the sicke persons, that are in the shippes, and can not wel sayle in them, are left there in the Iland, with some provision of Rice, Bisket, Oyle, and some Spices, for Fish and flesh they may have enough, for when the ships are gone, then all the beastes (which by reason of the great number of people fly into the mountaines) come downe againe into the valleyes, where they may take them with their handes and kill them as they list, those sicke men stay there till the next yeare, till other ships come thether, which take them with them, they are commonly soone healed in that Iland; as being a verie sound and pleasant countrie: and it is verie seldome seene, that any of them dyeth there, because they have alwaies a temperate ayre, and coole winde, and alwayes fruite throughout the whole yeare. The king will not suffer any man to dwell in it, because they should not destroye & spoyle the countrie, and holde it as there owne, but will have it common for everie man to take what he hath neede of. In time past there dwelt an Hermet in the Ile, who continued there for certaine yeares, under pretence of doing penance, and to uphold the Church, hee killed many of the Goates and Buckes, so that everie yeare hee sold at the least five or sixe hundred skinnes, and made great profit therof: which the King hearing, caused him presently to be brought from thence into Portingall. Likewise upon a certaine time two Caffares or blacke people of Mosambique, and one Iaver, with two women slaves stoale out of the shippes, and hid themselves in the Rockes of this Iland, which are verie high and wilde, whereby men can hardly passe them. They lived there together, and begot children, so that in the ende they were at the least twentie persons, who when the ships were gone, ran throughout the Iland and did much hurt, making their houses & dweling places betweene some of the hilles, where not any of the Portingales had beene, nor yet could easily come at them: and therein they hid themselves untill the shippes were gone, but in the end they were perceived, and the Portingales used all the meanes they could to take them: but they knew so well how to hide and defend themselves, that in many yeares they could not be taken: in the end, fearing that they might in time be hurtfull unto them, and hinder them much, by expresse commandement of the King, after long and great labour, they tooke them all and brought them prisoners into Portingall: so that at this present no man dwelleth therein, but only the sicke men, as I told you before. When the ships come thether, everie man maketh his lodging under a tree, setting a Tent about it: for that the trees are there so thicke, that it presently seemeth a little towne or an armie lying in the fielde. Everie man provideth for himself, both flesh, fish, fruite, and woode, for there is enough for them all: and everie one washeth Linnen. There they hold a generall fasting and prayer, with Masse everie daye, which is done with great devotion, with procession, and thankesgiving and other Himnes, thanking God that hee hath preserved them from the danger of the Cape de Bona Speranca, and brought them to that Iland in safetie. There they use sometimes to Carve their names, and markes in trees & plants for a perpetuall memorie: whereof many hundreth are there to be found, which letters with the growing of the trees, doe also grow bigger and bigger, we found names that had been there since the yeare of the Lord 1510 & 1515, and everie yeare orderly following, which names stoode upon Figge trees, every letter being of the bignesse of a spanne, by reason of the age and growing of the trees. This shal suffice for the description of the Iland of Saint Helena.
The 21. of May, being Saint Helenas day, and Whitsunday, after we had taken in all our fresh water, and other necessaries, we set sayle altogether in companie, and directed our course towardes Portingall, leaving about fifteene sicke men on the Ilande, & some slaves that ranne out of the ships.


Plates from the 1598 English edition of Linschoten:
     Insula D. HelenŠ ...
     Vera effigies ... HelenŠ
     Sancta Helena


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