Who Discovered the Seychelles?

Date Posted: 21/06/2017

The famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, was the first person to make a definitive identification of the Seychelles archipelago in 1502. Prior to this, historians believe the islands had remained undiscovered for centuries because trade winds didn't blow in their direction.

Some historians have suggested Malays people, from Borneo, may have lived briefly in the Seychelles between 200AD and 300AD, before settling on Madagascar.

Navigators on Arab trading ships may have known of the islands' existence. A document from 851AD, written by an Arab merchant, referred to the "Tall Islands" beyond the Maldives, which may have meant Seychelles.

It was also known that Arab traders sold the coco de mer nuts that grew on the islands of Curieuse and Praslin. They were highly valued and made into decorated ornaments for rich buyers, with their shells covered in precious jewels, to be displayed in private galleries.

Vasco de Gama

However, it wasn't until the early 16th century that Vasco de Gama became the first European to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route. Between 1497 and 1499, his initial voyage to India was the first to connect the Atlantic and the Indian oceans.

Vasco de Gama

Vasco da Gama was born between 1460 and 1469 in Sines, a fishing port on Portugal's south-west coast. His father, Estêvão da Gama, was a knight in the Order of Santiago under the leadership of Prince John and Vasco followed in his footsteps. The prince became King John II of Portugal in 1481 and began many reforms that were aimed at breaking the monarchy's dependence on feudal nobility.

One of these reforms was intended to build up the royal treasury through improved commerce, including increased trading in gold and breaking into the lucrative spice trade between Asia and Europe. He set his sea captains a goal of finding a route by ship to Asia.

Vasco de Gama was already a favoured captain, having been successfully dispatched to the port of Setúbal and the Algarve in 1492 to seize French vessels, in retaliation for the French fleet's plundering of Portuguese ships in peacetime. He also led a fleet of ships, with 170 crew members, on the massive voyage from Lisbon to India via Africa and back in 1497.

Mapping the Seychelles

During his second fact-finding voyage in 1502, the intrepid explorer was the first person to identify the Seychelles islands, while crossing from India to Africa. By this time an admiral, he named the coral islands Les Amirantes - the Admiral Islands - after himself. The Portuguese completed mapping the area in 1517, retaining the name "Amirantes" for the coral islands and calling the granite islands "Seven Sisters".

However, it was Englishmen rather than Portuguese who were first to alight on the Seychelles' golden shores, early in 1609. A trading vessel from England, the East India Company's "Ascension", lost its course near the Portuguese island of Pemba after coming under attack.

Englishmen arrive

On 19th January, the Ascension's boatswain spotted what is now North Island, so the ship was anchored in its natural harbour. The company merchant, John Jourdain, wrote that it was a good place for water, wood, nuts, fish and fowl, without fear or danger because it appeared no people had ever gone there previously. At this point, they didn't attempt to settle on the islands, instead favouring a return to England.

Over the next century and a half, the only people to set foot on Seychelles were pirates, who hid their spoils that had been plundered from the rich merchant ships sailing by.

It was the 18th century before the first French settlement was established on the island of Mahé - the beginning of more than 200 years of colonial rule by the French and then the English, which only ended in 1976, when the nation finally gained its independence.

Seychelles Beach

Combine Seychelles' ancient heritage with the luxury of the modern Savoy Seychelles Resort and Spa on Mahé and live the Indian Ocean dream!