Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/174

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

chants of London, who for a long period had suffered from the monopolies exercised by the former. For his good offices on this occasion Cabot was awarded by the crown in March 1551 a further gratuity of 200l. (Strype, ii. ii. 76).

This brings us to the crowning work of Cabot's career. He was not the discoverer of North America—an honour never claimed for him by his contemporaries or the chronicles of the sixteenth century—but he was the first governor of the Merchant Adventurers, and founder of a new era in the history of commerce and British merchant shipping. Having brought to so successful an issue the steelyard grievances, Cabot's further advice was sought by ‘certain grave citizens of London’ for the removal of the great stagnation in trade resulting from the disturbed and warlike state of the continent. ‘After much speech and conference together,’ the merchants were induced by him to make an effort ‘for the searche and discoverie of the northern part of the world by sea to open a way and passage to Cathay by the North-East.’ Cabot's advice was adopted, and the Company of Merchant Adventurers was formed and incorporated on 18 Dec. 1551, with Cabot as governor for life. In May 1553 a fleet of three vessels was prepared, and set forth under the supervision of Cabot, with Sir H. Willoughby for admiral, and R. Chancellor for chief pilot. The first results of this expedition were the accidental discovery of Russia by the latter in the following August, and the opening up five years later by Ant. Jenkinson of the first English trade across the Caspian Sea to Central Asia. Although Cabot's pension had been renewed to him by Queen Mary on 27 Nov. 1555, the tide in Cabot's affairs appears to have reached its height in the latest sketch of him afforded us in the account of the setting forth of the Searchthrift in the adventurers' third voyage to Russia in May 1556. Stephen Borough writes: ‘The good old gentleman, Master Cabot, accompanied with divers gentlemen and gentlewomen,’ went to Gravesend to inspect the ship previous to its departure. ‘Master Cabot,’ adds Borough, ‘gave to the poor most liberal alms, wishing them to pray for the good fortune and prosperous success of the Searchthrift; and then, at the sign of the Christopher, he and his friends banqueted, and made me and them that were in the company great cheer; and, for very joy that he had to see the towardness of our intended discovery, he entered into the dance himself among the rest of the young and lusty company; which being ended, he and his friends departed, most gently commending us to the governance of Almighty God’ (Hakluyt, i. 274). Within a week of King Philip's entry into London on 27 May 1557, Cabot was called upon to resign his pension, only to be allowed to share it two days later with William Worthington, perhaps out of royal spite for withdrawing himself from the service of Spain. Concerning the date and place of Cabot's death we have no information, but there is evidence of a negative character from which it may safely be inferred that he was already dead soon after the middle of 1557. The only account of Cabot's death on record is by his friend Eden, who writes: ‘Sebastian Cabot, on his deathbed, told me that he had the knowledge [of the art of finding longitude] by divine revelation, yet so that he myght not teach any man. But I think that the goode olde man, in that extreme age, somewhat doted, and had not yet, even in the article of death, vtterly shaken of () all worldly vayne glorie’ (J. Taisnierus, Book concerning Navigation. Translated by R. Eden, London, n. d.—circa 1574).

With the exception of the engraved map of 1544 and its facsimile, natural size, executed by M. Jomard, no literary relics of Cabot are extant. All that Bristol has to show as a relic is what is known as the Dun Cow, the rib of a cow whale preserved in the western entrance of St. Mary Redcliffe Church, supposed to have been placed there in 1497 as a trophy of Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland (Arrowsmith, pp. 100, 255). A street near the church is still known as Cathay. There was formerly a portrait of Cabot in the time of James I in the king's private gallery at Whitehall. This, or another copy of it, was discovered in Scotland in 1792 by Mr. C. J. Harford of Bristol, who purchased it some years later. It was afterwards purchased by Mr. R. Biddle, the author of the memoir of Cabot, but was destroyed by fire with his mansion at Pittsburg in 1845. It bore the following inscription: ‘Effigies Sebastiani Caboti filii Johanis Caboti Veneti, militis aurati primi invētoris Terræ Novæ sub Henrico VII, Angliæ Rege.’ An engraving of it was made for Seyers's ‘Memoirs’ (ii. 208). Cabot is here represented with a pair of compasses and a globe, dressed in his fur robe and gold chain, believed to be his official dress as governor of the Merchant Adventurers. To this day, in the Saba della Scudo in the ducal palace (Venice), there is a full-length portrait of Sebastian Cabot, copied (in the year 1763) apparently from a picture attributed to Holbein. It bears an additional inscription as follows: ‘Henricus VII Angliæ Rex Joannem Cabotam et Sebastianum Filium … Hac spe amissa eo tamen navigatore Terra nova