Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/50

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lands eagerly purchased the human chattels now imported in increasing numbers.

The project of Dom Henrique had now made an important advance. Its ultimate success appeared certain; and the Iffante resolved that a direct effort should be made to reach Bilad Ghana itself, through which the " Western Nile" rolled its waters from the highlands of Abyssinia and the Christian realm of " Prester John." A certain equerry was commanded to go with a caravel straight for Guinea, and to reach it without fail. He passed Cape Branco, but was unable to resist the temptation of a profitable capture on his route. Landing on one of the islands near the Bank of Arguin, he and his men were surprised by a large party of natives, who put off from the mainland in canoes, and killed most of the raiders, including their commander. Five only returned to Portugal. Diniz Diaz, an adventurer of Lisbon, claimed about the same time to have passed the Senegal river, to have sailed along the thirty-four leagues of coast which separate it from Cape Verde, and on the strength of having on his way picked up a few natives in canoes, to haye been the first to bring back real " Guinea negroes " for the Portuguese slave-market. How far his claim to this distinction is sustainable, is left an open question by the authorities. The wave of African enterprise was now steadily gaining strength. The Iffante readily licensed all intending adventurers, and the coast, long unfrequented by the European sailor, swarmed with caravels. In 1445 twenty-six vessels, fourteen of which belonged to Lagos, left that port under the command of the experienced Lanzarote, specially commissioned to avenge the IfFante's unfortunate equerry who had fallen as a protomartyr on the African shore, carrying the Cross-emblazoned banner of the Order of Christ. Six of these fulfilled the Iffante's direction to push on to the " River of Nile," and land in Bilad Ghana. The palm-trees and other rich vegetation, the beautiful tropical birds which flitted round their caravels, the strange kinds of fish observed in the waters, gave promise of the approaching goal; and at length the voyagers beheld the sea discoloured by the muddy waters of the Senegal to a distance of two leagues from land. Scooping these up in their hands, and finding them fresh, they knew that their object was attained, sought the river's mouth, anchored outside the bar, launched their boats, captured a few hapless negroes, and returned to Dom Henrique, picking up more captives on the way, with the welcome intelligence that his desires were at length accomplished, that the " River of Nile" had been reached, and the way opened to the kingdom of Prester John.

In the nineteenth year of his efforts to reach Bilad Ghana the Iffante thus saw them at length crowned with success; and his licensees pursued the trade thus opened up so vigorously that in 1448, seven years after the capture of the first natives, and three years after the Senegal had been reached, not less than 927 African slaves had been