In the early 15th century European merchants became accustomed to vast trade with various regions of the East and wanted to improve their productivity and route time by finding a shorter route to the east by sea. Many European nations were becoming maritime powers and were starting to invest in training and the production of large boats that would be able to endure the long journey through the ocean. Portugal being the westernmost country in Europe; with most of its borders surrounding the Atlantic ocean made it a very popular destination for explorers, navigators and maritime enthusiasts.It was during this time that the prince of Portugal also known as Henry the Navigator was taking great interest in the expansion of the Portuguese empire. While hoping to find new riches for the Kingdom of Portugal and himself which by decree of his brother the King, gave him 20% of all wealth found in the new world. It is said that he founded a small nautical training school in the south of Portugal in Lagos, however historians have argued this fact saying there was no physical structure or documentation proving its existence. Portugal was soon becoming the center of maritime exploration with some of the brightest and most talented men coming to the country with the ambitions of persuading the prince to finance their possible voyages to uncharted lands. It was during a coastal mission in 1418 when 2 Portuguese navigators were returning home to Portugal from Africa when they were hit by a bad storm and were blown off course, resulting in the discovery of the small island of Porto Santo. It was only when day broke that they noticed a small coastline in the distance where the sailors eagerly rushed to its harbor to find shelter and repair their damaged boat. Once they noticed that it was uninhabited and covered in the rare Laurisilva forest they were eager to return to Portugal and notify the King of their discovery. When the King of Portugal found out he decided to populate the island to ensure they did not loose it to Spain; like they did the Canary islands decades earlier. A year later in 1419 on an organized expedition returning to the Porto Santo to populate the island with herd animals they discovered the much larger island of Madeira just 70 km away. It is here on the island of Madeira that João Gonçalves Zarco, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and Tristão Texeira made land arriving in now Camara de Lobos. Here they began to start fires to clear the lands for cultivation. It is said it took 7 years to burn some of the heavily forested areas to be able to begin cultivation and construction of homes etc.
The reward given to Joao Goncalves Zarco; who was a loyal knight in the Portuguese court was the title of captaincy of half the island of Madeira. The title gave him the highest powers to control and develop the island as he saw fit creating the capital of the island and naming it Funchal. It didn’t take long for Madeira to become one of Portugal’s most profitable regions by the 16th century with the large sugarcane plantations that were cultivated on the island which were bringing in lots of money to Portugal’s coffers. The title and feudal control of the island was passed down to Joao Goncalves Zarco’s heirs with the first born male in the family given the responsibility of governing the island.Tristao Teixeira was given the captaincy of the other half of the island of Madeira to govern and develop as he saw fit under the crown. A title passed on to his descendants.
Bartolomeu Perestrelo was given the captaincy of the island of Porto Santo which is located about 70 km off the coast of Madeira. It was a title that had all the same privileges of a modern-day viceroy being able to govern and develop the island as he saw fit under the name of the crown. This title was passed on to his descendents. It is ironic that he was not on the first voyage that discovered the island of Porto Santo and while accompanying Zarco and Teixeira to populate the island in 1419 they discovered Madeira, however he was given the island of Porto Santo. He felt since he had the entire island at his control that he could create a great fortune but a female rabbit that he released on the island and was pregnant gave rise to a mass overpopulation of rabbits on the island which devoured all the local plants and greenery which devastated the islands ecosystem.It was his daughter Filipa that married Christopher Columbus and gave birth to their son Diogo. Columbus was able to marry into Portuguese high society, where he resided in the Governor’s mansion until their home on the island was built. It was the material and numerous maps of Atlantic wind patterns that belonged to his father in law that intrigued Columbus. After studying the vast information that was passed on to him from his wife’s family Christopher Columbus used it to capitalize on getting the financing he needed for his first voyage. After years of appealing to the King of Portugal to finance his journey, Columbus approached King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain who eventually funded his famous expedition, which lead to the discovery of the new world.