Bartolomeu Dias

The first known European to have sailed around Africa's southernmost tip, Bartolomeu de Novaes Dias (c. 1450 – 1500) was a squire of the royal household and superintendent of the royal warehouses when João II appointed him to head an expedition to find a trade route to India in October 1486

Little is known of his early life, though he was possibly a descendant of one of Henry the Navigator’s pilots and probably had much more maritime experience than his one recorded stint aboard the São Cristóvão.

 The flotilla he was given to carry out the commission consisted of three ships. Dias commanded the São Cristóvão, with Pêro de Alenquer as the pilot. The São Pantaleão had his associate João Infante as commander and Álvaro Martins as pilot, and a supply ship commanded by Dias’s brother Pêro (a.k.a. Diogo) with João de Santiago as pilot

Dias’ three ships departed from Lisbon in August 1487, replenished their provisions at the Portuguese stronghold of São Jorge de Mina on the Gold Coast and followed the same route as Diogo Cão as far as Cape Cross in Namibia.

The expedition carried six Africans brought to Portugal by earlier explorers who were dropped off at different ports along the coast of Africa with gold, silver and messages of goodwill the local people. The last two Africans went ashore at Angra do Salto in Angola, where the supply ship was left with a crew of nine.

From there, Dias passed Cão’s furthest point, reaching Walvis Bay on 8 December and Elizabeth Bay on the 26th December. Violent storms pushed the ships away from the coast on 6 January 1488  and forced them to spend almost a month out of sight of land. 

Around the Bottom of Africa

© Ian Hughes 2017