It was Spanish and Portuguese sailors who pioneered an eastern sea route to Asia across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Bartholomew Dias, in 1488, sailed around the southernmost tip of Africa, demonstrating in the process that there was open sea below the continent. He was followed ten years later by Vasco da Gama who extended the route to India. Then, in an extraordinary demonstration of seamanship Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition of 1519–1522 sailing into the southern Atlantic, passing round the Cape of South Africa and across the Indian Ocean into a new body of water that he named the Pacific Ocean. Although Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines the expedition then crossed the Pacific, returning to Europe via a strait that passed through the tip of South America, later named the Strait of Magellan to commemorate his feat. This passage through Patagonia proved an invaluable short-cut that avoided the punishing weather hazards of the Cape. The Strait of Magellan was to remain a trade route for 400 years until the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914. By sailing constantly westward Magellan’s ships had achieved the most difficult nautical feat of its day, a circumnavigation of the globe, thereby demonstrating that the world was a sphere, providing an approximation of the relative distribution of land and water, vital knowledge of the winds and currents of major oceans – but with terra australis incognito still unrevealed. A high price was paid. Five ships had set but only 15 of the original sailors returned to Seville, exhausted and wracked with scurvy.
So, by the early sixteenth century the naval strength of Spain and Portugal had given these countries a firm grip on world trade, especially the trade in the Indian Ocean with a period of greatest political and military power in the 1580s. By the end of the 16th century Spain had possessions in Central America, the West Indies, western South America and the Philippines. To facilitate trade along the new route a series of trading bases was now constructed as coastal forts and ports, thus avoiding the necessity for settlement or large-scale occupation. This was to be the path for mostly luxury goods – metals, cloth, silk, glass, wine, toys, spices, tea, indigo, calico, and saltpeter.[plants]
[Portuguese had held Timor since about 1516]
Columbus’s 1492 arrival in America was first recorded on European maps in 1507. The New World with its vast northern and southern continents was perceived by Europe as vast new territory and resource. Above all it was open land. First settlement by the Spanish was in Ecuador in 1532, the British not settling in Carolina in the north until 1670?. Certainly the precious metals and land resources unleashed by this phase in the Age of Discovery contributed to Europe’s march into the Industrial Revolution. However, the British northern and Latin southern continents followed very different paths with North America eventually dominating the region. Perhaps this northern dominance can be attributed to its geography, climate, natural resources or proximity to Europe. However, historian Niall Ferguson attributes this ascendancy to the way land was managed on the two continental land masses as the indigenous peoples were swept aside and the invaders devised different ways of dividing up the new territories.
Settlers in the north arrived with ideas that were to prove critical for the future of the two continents. English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s view of government, as expressed in his treatise Leviathan (1651), was that a strong and unchallenged (absolute) sovereign was needed to keep people in order. One of his influential successors, philosopher and historian John Locke in his Treatise of Government (1690) challenged this assumption by expressing the view that people should be able to replace a government that was not serving their interests and, in particular, that private property (land) should not be removed from a person without consent. The ‘Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina’ had been drawn up in 1669 by Locke himself and it established a critical link between political representation and private property (land) ownership. Three fifths of the land was to be divided amongst the people and there would be a parliament whose representatives were each required to possess at least 500 acres of freehold land. These parliamentarians would be voted into parliament by those within their constituency who possessed at least 50 acres of freehold land, which was nearly everyone. For those with voting rights there could be only one vote regardless of the amount of land owned. Although Locke envisaged a strictly hierarchical society this process subordinated the ruling class to the will of the people and it was combined with a rule of law as expressed in a Constitution. But people were needed to work the land and many of the first arrivals in the new land were landless indentured servants although after a period of 5-6 years of service they too were entitled to land grants. New labourers in North America could therefore arrive destitute and within a few years possess the dignity of both property and voting rights. Unfortunately this Constitution was also a charter for the expropriation of the land of indigenous people and Locke’s ‘property’ explicitly included slaves who had neither votes or land, an injustice that lead eventually to the American Civil War (1861–1865). So, as in Britain, political power was vested in those who owned land except that In Britain this constituted a very few wealthy landowners.
It was with Locke that the idea of land being owned if it was being ‘cultivated’ seems to have emerged giving rise to the idea of terra nullius (land owned by no-one) for land used as hunting ground by hunter-gatherers.
The English crown had set American colonization in train by granting rights to trading companies. Although Governors were royal appointments colonists would have representative assemblies and this was the case just prior to the American War of Independence (American Revolution) of 1775-1783 for most of the future 13 states. Along with grumbles about taxation, a republican resistance to potential corruption in hereditary rulers, and concern about lack of representation in the British parliament, there was also land at stake as the British government tried to prevent settlement west of the Appalachian mountains in protection of the native Indians. Independence was followed in 1787 by the American Constitution presided over by George Washington, and perhaps the world’s most influential political document ever, which was literally grounded in property rights.
In Latin America the Spanish crown, with the moral authority of God and the Pope, owned all the land which was managed in the form of vast hereditary estates called haciendas that were allocated native Indian labourers. Resistance to Spanish imperial influence came in the form of Simón Bolίvar a Venezuelan military and political leader, viewed as a revolutionary liberator “El Libertador” who, between 1821 and 1825 fought successfully to liberate the land from Spanish imperial rule to form the first union of independent Hispanic-America nations called Gran Colombia of which he was president from 1819 to 1830. But he did not have confidence in a North-America-style republicanism, mistrusting the political maturity of his subjects, the result being his own dictatorship with the right to appoint his successor and wealth remaining concentrated in a few people. For the general populace there was no prospect of social mobility – which was a recipe for the conflict and poverty that would follow. On the other hand Bolίvar’s anti-slavery views had resulted in a mixed racial population totally unlike the strict segregation that had been adopted in North America. In contrast in 1900 about 75% North Americans owned rural property, in Canada, New Zealand and parts of British Africa this was closer to 90%.
From the late 16th century Dutch naval power and political influence steadily increased undergoing, in the second half of the 17th century, a cultural flowering known as the Dutch Golden Age. The Netherlands dominated global commerce, their maritime charts of the 16th century included soundings, standardized symbols for navigation, the location of hazards etc. Between 1618 and1648 Europe descended into The Thirty Years War which from which only France emerged unscathed with France under Louis XIV (1638-1715) Europe’s greatest power although Amsterdam bankers still controlled world trade. An old rivalry was settled when Portugal threw off Spanish rule in ?. After defeating the great Spanish Armada the British now expected a share of the spoils in the Americas and in 1607 a British colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia. Inquisitive about the resources that might lie in lands to the south of the East Indies the Dutch began some exploration.
Holland & New Holland
By 1642 Abel Tasman, under the command of the Dutch East India Company, had sailed to New Zealand and inspected the north and west coasts of New Holland. Assessed as having negligible commercial potential it was then left to the French and British to refine Dutch groundwork by charting, in detail, the outline of New Holland, the South Pacific, Southern Ocean and Antarctica, thereby solving the riddle of the Great Southern Land.