22 April 1500: Pedro Álvares Cabral discovers Brazil

Portuguese seafarer Pedro Álvares Cabral landed on what he named Terra da Vera Cruz – what would eventually become Brazil – on this day in 1500.

Pedro Alvares Cabral and his 13 ships departed Lisbon on 9 March 1500 on a diplomatic and trading mission to India. The Portuguese nobleman steered to the west, hoping to hitch a ride off advantageous winds in the South Atlantic as Vasco da Gama had done before him.

That's one theory. Less charitable historians say he was simply blown off course. Either way, on 22 April 1500, Cabral unexpectedly found himself staring at a lush and vibrant land that would one day be known as Brazil, after the wood – an important early commodity.

But for now, it would be called Terra da Vera Cruz – land of the true cross. Jumping ashore near modern-day Porto Seguro, Cabral bartered with the local Tupinamb people, celebrated mass and staked Portugal's claim to the land with a Portuguese cross. He then sent a ship home to tell King Manuel the good news.

Cabral's “discovery” – Brazil's existence wasn't news to the Tupinamb, after all – was fortuitous for Portugal in another sense. A few years earlier in 1494, the pope had divided the new world between Spain and Portugal along a line agreed on in the Treaty of Tordesillas. It was generally believed the Americas lay to the west of the line, giving the Spanish exclusive rights to settle. That left the Portuguese with the Cape Verde islands. But Cabral had landed east of the line, so Portugal would have its colony in the Americas after all.

On 2 May, Cabral and his sailors clambered back aboard their ships and carried on; first to Africa, and then on to India, arriving back in Lisbon the following summer.

Lavish celebrations were planned to mark the 500th anniversary of Cabral's landing in 2000. A fleet of 13 ships even departed Lisbon to retrace the famous voyage, scheduled to arrive at Porto Seguro on 22 April. But this time when the ships arrived, the indigenous peoples, angered by centuries of discrimination and social exclusion, were understandably less welcoming.

Recommended

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed
This day in history

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed

On this day in 1937, Volkswagen, now the world's second-biggest vehicle-maker, was founded as the 'Society to Prepare the German People’s Car'.
28 May 2021
1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed
This day in history

20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed

The Dutch East India Company – considered by many to be the world’s first multinational company – was founded on his day in 1602.
20 Mar 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021

Most Popular

Don’t worry about the global population explosion – it’s unlikely to happen
Investment strategy

Don’t worry about the global population explosion – it’s unlikely to happen

One of the many things we are taught to worry about is the fast-rising global population. But in fact, says Merryn Somerset Webb, the opposite is tru…
15 Nov 2021
Four of the best new investment trust listings
Investment trusts

Four of the best new investment trust listings

Diversify your portfolio and benefit from rising dividends with these four new investment trusts coming to the market soon.
15 Nov 2021
Making sense of the new minimum pension age rules
Pensions

Making sense of the new minimum pension age rules

The rules surrounding the minimum age at which you can start tapping into your retirement savings have been tweaked, but are still confusing. David Pr…
23 Nov 2021