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THE TRAINING OF SAILORS AND EXPLORERS. BY CLEMENTS R. MARKHAM, C.B.
THE nations which, during the last four centuries, have taken part in discovery and geographical research, have all been impressed with the necessity for instructing their explorers by land and sea in all such knowledge as would best enable them to perform the service entrusted to them with efficiency. There seems to be no such impression in England at the present day among many of those whom it most concerns. The Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch, and our own ancestors felt that their ships would not be safe on long voyages, that their travellers and maritime adventurers would make their journeys and voyages without bringing back any useful results, unless instruction was provided in all the knowledge that could be of service to them. It was found that in proportion as attention was given to the training and instructing of sailors and travellers by land, voyages and adventures were more profitable and discoveries were more successful and important.
Moreover, the instructed explorers, in numerous instances, improved upon the education they had received by bringing their acquired experience to bear upon it; while ignorant mariners returned as they went, without in any way increasing the general stock of knowledge. Such was the view taken by our ancestors, and it was this consideration which led to the efforts they made to supply the means of instruction.
I propose, in the remarks I shall submit to the Institute on this subject, to refer to the system of instruction adopted by Spain, and her Council of the Indies, when in the height of her greatness as a discovering nation, and to pass briefly
in review her writers on navigation and surveying; and I think it will be seen that Spain's maritime greatness could, in the opinion of her rulers, be maintained only by keeping up the standard of knowledge among her sailors and explorers. In Holland, experience taught the same lesson. When our own country began to enter upon her glorious career of discovery and maritime adventure, the absolute necessity for educating and thoroughly training our explorers was immediately felt. At first we sought for aid from Spain, and strove to take example from her in this respect. But soon our own trained seamen began to improve upon old methods, while our mathematicians provided books and instruction for their guidance. I will dwell upon these early efforts and upon their results; and I will endeavour to establish to your satisfaction the fact that our maritime greatness, in former days, was due to the care taken by our ancestors to supply instruction to our adventurers, and to the way in which the ablest and best among them profited by the advantages thus received. The conclusion will then, I believe, be inevitable that the same causes would now produce the same effects, and that if, in proportion to our increased wealth and population, equally good means of instruction are not provided, and equal importance is not attached to the subject, a mistake is being made. Finally, I will lay before you the existing provision for supplying the required instruction in Great Britain, as compared with the systems adopted in some other countries; and I will ask you to form your own conclusion as to whether some improvement is not very urgently needed here.
In the very dawn of the history of maritime discovery, there is a remarkable example of the value of careful training in enabling an explorer to improve upon the instruction he has received, and to make his theoretical learning bear useful practical fruit. In the fifteenth century there lived at
Nuremburg the most learned mathematician of his age. John Müller, better known as Regiomontanus, published a work on plane and spherical triangles with tables of sines, completed the translation of Ptolemy's "Almagest," invented several astronomical instruments, and published the first almanac. Among the pupils of Regiomontanus was a young Nuremburger, named Martin Behaim, who studied to such good purpose that, when he entered upon the life of a merchant adventurer in 1479, and went to Portugal, he was a skilful mathematician and cosmographer. He was a man of action and a good practical seaman. He accompanied Diogo Cam on his voyage along the coast of Africa to the mouth of the Congo in 1484. On his return he received the order of Christ from the King of Portugal, won the hand of a daughter of Jobst von Hurter-a nobleman of Bruges who had settled in the Azores, and passed the remainder of his life on those islands, making occasional visits to Lisbon. When he died, in 1506, he left behind him a number of charts, and the famous globe, now at Nuremburg, which is the most ancient in existence. Martin Behaim had learnt the use of the astrolabe from Regiomontanus. It was this theoretical training which enabled him, after having acquired practical experience, so to apply his knowledge as to produce a useful invention. Behaim adapted the astrolabe to the uses of navigation in 1480, and thus supplied to mariners that instrument for taking the altitude of the sun which guided Vasco da Gama in rounding the Cape, and Magellan in circumnavigating the globe. This illustrious Nuremburger was one of the first explorers who used his practical experience to improve upon his theoretical education. Both were necessary. Without having been well grounded in all existing knowledge, his experience would have availed him little. Without experience he could not have usefully applied his knowledge. It was the combination of knowledge and
experience which resulted in his invention of an instrument of inestimable value then, and for many years afterwards. So that at the very opening of maritime history we meet with a striking example of the importance of thoroughly grounding and training sailors and travellers in the knowledge that will be useful to them.
When the Spaniards began to send forth expeditions into unknown seas, and to explore the interior of vast continents, they were soon impressed with the necessity for thoroughly grounding and instructing not only their pilots and seamen, but also their explorers by land. With this object, the office of Cosmographer was established in the Council of the Indies, whose duties were not only to superintend the preparation of charts and sailing directions and to advise the Council in matters relating to navigation, but also to teach the subjects of the King of Spain. In the Royal Ordinances it was decreed that the Cosmographer, and his assistants, should deliver a course of instruction to extend over three years. The course was arranged as follows:
In the first year, from September to Christmas, the four rules of arithmetic, the rule of three, extraction of square and cube roots, and fractions were taught; as well as the
Sphera Mundi" of Sacrobosco, the universal text-book in the ancient schools of navigation, which was first printed in 1472, and passed through many editions. Sacrobosco himself was, in plain English, one John Holywood, a Yorkshireman from Halifax, and his work is a paraphrased translation of part of Ptolemy's "Almagest." From Christmas to April the pupils learnt Perbach's theory of the plants, which was first published in Venice, in 1480; and from April to the midsummer holidays they studied the Alphonsine tables, the famous astronomical work of Alfonso the Wise, King of Castille, which first appeared in 1252.
The course for the second year commenced with the first
six books of Euclid. During April and May arcs and chords, right sines, tangents, and secants were learnt, and then the spherical triangles of Regiomontanus. The rest of the second year's course was devoted to a study of Ptolemy's Almagest."
The third year was commenced with lessons in cosmography and navigation. Then the use of the astrolabe was taught, and the methods of observing the heavenly bodies and their movements. Finally, the use of the globes, and of various astronomical and mathematical instruments was explained.
Thus the Spanish candidates for appointments as pilots and captains, all went through a three years' course of study before they were considered to be qualified for any responsible post. When we read of the famous discoveries of this great people, of their successful voyages and wonderful adventures, we must remember that the Spanish discoverers and explorers were carefully instructed in all the knowledge of those days. It is to such training that a great deal of their success was mainly due; and we ought to bear this in mind when we read of, and reflect upon, the great geographical achievements of the Spaniards.
The lectures were given at the "Casa de Contratacion," in Seville, from the time of Charles V.; and some of the Cosmographers not only taught the Spanish mariners by word of mouth, but at least three of them, Alonzo de Chaves, Jeromino de Chaves, and Rodrigo Zamorano, published useful works on navigation. We are told by Richard Hakluyt, who had made diligent enquiries, that, after the pupils had completed their courses of study, there was "straight and severe examining, before the Chief Pilot, of all such masters as desired to take charge to the West Indies."
The first navigation book was the "Suma de Geografia" of Martin Fernandez Enciso; and here again we have the