S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Pacheco, Duarte (exploration)

Born: 1450, Lisboa, Portugal.
Died: 1533, Portugal.

Duarte Pacheco (or Duarte Pacheco Pereira), Portuguese navigator and soldier, belonged to a prominent family. In 1471 he did military service against the Moors in Morocco. Afterwards King Joao II of Portugal sent him out to explore the coast of Guinea in west Africa and he was probably a member of the expedition that built the fortified trading station, Sao Jorge de Mina, on the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1482. In 1888 he was again on an expedition in the Gulf of Guinea, to explore the rivers of that coast and prospects for trade. However, while he was ill on the island of Principe his ship was wrecked and with some survivors he was stranded on the island. There Bartholomeu Dias* found him when returning from his voyage to South African waters, and took him back to Portugal. Pacheco therefore acquired first hand knowledge of the results of Dias's expedition. During the next ten years he became a recognised expert on maritime affairs, for in 1494 he represented King Joao II at the signing of the Treaty of Tordesillas. It seems that in 1498 King Manuel I sent him to explore the western Atlantic Ocean and that he may have discovered Brazil in that year. In March 1500 he probably accompanied a fleet under Pedro Alvares Cabral on a trading expedition to India. The fleet first sailed south-westwards and found the coast of Brazil, thus becoming the first Europeans definitely known to have landed there. On their way east from South America four of the ships, including that commanded by Bartholomeu Dias, were lost in a storm. Most of the remaining ships found one another again on the coast of Mozambique and continued to India. They returned to Portugal around the middle of 1501. In April 1503 Pacheco again sailed to India, this time commanding one of three ships under the leadership of Alfonso d'Albuquerque. There he distinguised himself in the defence of Cochin in 1504 and upon his return to Portugal in 1505 was honoured by King Manuel I.

During the next three years Pacheco wrote a manual for seafarers along the African coast entitled Esmeralda de situ orbis. The book included brief accounts of the voyages of discovery of Dias and Vasco da Gama* and a description of the west and south coasts of Africa, including Luderitz Bay in Namibia and the first mention of the Cape Peninsula. He remarked that the vegetation at the Cape was quite similar to that at Lisboa, probably because the Cape was more or less as far south of the equator as Lisboa was north of it, and mentioned the wild olive tree, heaths, mint, camomile, and watercress. His latitudes for places on the South African coast were fairly accurate (an average error of only 11 minutes of arc), considering that the marine astrolabe used to determine them was marked in degrees with no subdivisions. However, his description of the South African coast was rather brief, mentioning relatively few of the topographical features and providing some inaccurate distances, which suggests that he was not too familiar with it. Furthermore, he described the coast only as far as the mouth of the Fish River in the Eastern Cape, intending to continue the work in a second volume which was, however, not written. The book included a number of maps, but these and the original manuscript were later lost. A copy of the manuscript was eventually published in 1892, with a critical edition following in 1905 and an English translation in 1937.

In January 1509 a fleet commanded by Pacheco captured the notorious French pirate Mondragon along the Spanish coast, and in 1511 he commanded an armada sent to the aid of Tangier. Later he served as governor of Sao Jorge de Mina (1519-1522). He was brought back to Portugal on a charge of fraud, but was exonerated and reinstated in his position by 1526. However, he died a poor man.

List of sources:
Axelson, E. (ed.) Dias and his successors. Cape Town: Saayman & Weber, 1988.

De Kock, W.J. Portugese ontdekkers om die Kaap. Kaapstad: Balkema, 1957.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Theal, G.M. History of Africa south of the Zambesi (3rd ed., Vol. 1). London: Allen & Unwin, 1916.

Compiled by: C. Plug