Gonçalo Velho

Gonçalo Velho bigraphy, stories - Portuguese explorer

Gonçalo Velho : biography

Gonçalo Velho Cabral (c. 1400 – c. 1460) was a Portuguese monk and Commander in the Order of Christ, explorer (credited with the discovery of the Formigas, the re-discovery of the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel in the Azores) and hereditary landowner responsible for administering Crown lands on the same islands, during the Portuguese Age of Discovery.



His sister Teresa’s only child João Soares de Albergaria, a physician by profession, succeeded Gonçalo Velho Cabral as second Donatary Captain of Santa Maria and São Miguel; João Soares was married twice: to Brites Godins (d. 1474), with whom they had no heirs, and later Branca de Sousa Falcão (daughter of João de Sousa Falcão, Lord de Figueiredo and Lord of the Manor de Fataúnços) whose son inherited the Capitania of Santa Maria.


He was son of Fernão Velho, Lord and Alcaide of Veleda, and his wife Maria Álvares Cabral (great-aunt of Pedro Álvares Cabral). His siblings Álvaro Velho Cabral, Teresa Velho Cabral, wife of Fernão Soares de Albergaria, and Violante Velho Cabral, wife of Diogo Gonçalves de Travassos also established settlements in the Azores with their families. Although referenced as Gonçalo Velho Cabral in most modern biographies, he is generally referred to as Gonçalo Velho in historical documents.


In 1431, Gonçalo Velho was in the Vila de Tancos, along the Tagus River, when he received a summonsPrince Henry’s summons was based on a general acceptance of the commander’s virtues and prudence, that made him trustworthy. from the Prince Henry, Governor of the Order of Christ, who ordered him to depart from Sagres in a caravel, by Infante D. Henrique, with instructions to navigate to the western sea, and to "discover some land, [and] return with notice".Ignacio da Costa Quintella, 1839, p.74 This first voyage was made to determine the location of "islands" first identified by the Portuguese pilot Diogo de Silves, in 1427.It was believed that Gonçalo Velho was the discoverer of the first seven Azores islands, in 1432, until the Portuguese historian Damião António Peres established that the first discoveries had occurred in 1427, after a reading of a Gabriel de Valsequa nautical chart of 1439, which credited Diogo de Silves with first identifying the islands. Although the noted chronicler Gaspar Frutuoso has attributed to Gonçalo Velho Cabral the discovery of the seven islands of the Azores, modern historiographer contest this record, limiting his discoveries to the eastern islands alone. In 1431, with less than a few days of travel, Gonçalo Velho discovered a scattering of rocky outcroppings, which he examined and named the "Formigas". He quickly returned to Sagres, probably due to bad weather.

The following year, under the same commission Prince Henry once again ordered the commander to travel into the ocean and investigate further. It was during this second expedition that Gonçalo Velho was to discover the easternmost island of the Azorean archipelago. With his crew he disembarked on a small beach in the north-western part of the island, which he named Lobos (English: wolves) owing to the existence of many fur seals (from the Portuguese for lobos-marinhos). As was the obligation, the Captain ordered the release of herd animals on the island for future colonization, a point that was later repeated in successive voyages through the archipelago’s islands. His group circled and explored the island, examining the forested interior, before finally returning to continental Portugal. For his discovery, Gonçalo Velho was given the hereditary fief (Portuguese: capitania) of the island.

In the following year, on the island of Santa Maria, a runaway slave, upon reaching the summit of a mountain, noticed another object in the northern horizon. As the story progressed, the slave returned to his master telling of the story, who along with others, verified the sighting and eventually related it back to the court of Prince Henry the Navigator, of a mysterious island. The Infante, upon receiving the communique, sent orders to Gonçalo Velho to explore the sea to the north of the island. He made port in Praia dos Lobos on Santa Maria, before embarking to discover a large island, that he named São Miguel on May 8. His expedition landed at the mouth of a large ravine in the south-east corner of the island (that was later named Povoação Velha), naming the island in honour of the archangel Michael.