Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Niccolo di Conti and the Chinese Discovery of Australia?

I had posted this item in our Yahoo Group some years ago. I'm glad that I did because I'm not able to find this text anywhere online now. It was written by someone in anticipation of the release of Gavin Menzies' 2004 book '1421: The Year China Discovered America.' Apparently a much better account of this is within this book, but I just wanted to make an entry for it here now, and perhaps we can look into this further sometime. I have some definite opinions around the basic information in the book, but I don't want to get offtrack right here. Niccolo di Conti may not have been one of the great explorers, but he likely did witness something important.

Niccolo di Conti (ca.1395-1469) - Venetian Merchant/Explorer

Nothing is known of his early life. Determined to further open up trade with the east, he left Venice in about 1419 and took up residence in Damascus, where he studied Arabic. From Damascus, and for the following 25 years, he embarked on a number of journeys in Asia. Like earlier Venetian Marco Polo, he made the trek overland before the European powers had rounded the tip of Africa. He first crossed the desert to Baghdad and sailed down the Tigris to Basra. After sailing through the Persian Gulf he touched at Colcus and Hormuz, then continued along the coast of Iran via Calacatia (where he learned Persian) to Cambay (in Gujerat).

He then preceded along the west coast of India to Pacamuria and Helly, moved inland to Vijayanagar (which was until its destruction in 1555 the capital of the principal Hindu state of the Deccan) and crossed to the east coast at Maliapur, where he visited the tomb of St. Thomas (the biblical Thomas who according to certain traditions had founded a Christian community there). In about 1421 he crossed to Pedir (north Sumatra), where he spent a year, gaining knowledge of its cannibalistic natives, camphor, pepper and gold. The account of his travels refers to this island as Taprobana, called by the natives Sciamuthera.

He was the first European traveler who distinguished Ceylon from Taprobane and identified the latter as Sumatra. He then continued (by a stormy passage of 16 days) to Tenassarim on the Malay peninsula, sailed to the mouth of the Ganges, visited Burdwan (in Bangla Desh), then passed overland to Arakan (in Burma). He then passed to the Racha River (in Burma) which he ascended, crossing the mountains to the River Irrawady at Ava, and returning to Panconia (in Pegu), from where he sailed to Java. He later described the Kingdom of Ava and it's King riding on his white elephant adorned with golden necklaces set with sparkling gemstones.

There he spent nine months before continuing to Vijaya in Champa (northwestern Vietnam). He sailed back to Coloen (c. 1440), then to Cocym, Calicut, Cambay, Sechutera (Socotra, which he described as inhabited by Nestorians), Aden, Barbora (in Somalia), Jidda and Aydhab (on the Egyptian coast), from where he traveled overland via Mt. Sinai to Cairo. He returned to Venice in 1444, where he remained as a respected merchant. As a penance for his compulsory renunciation of Christianity during his wanderings, Pope Eugenius IV ordered him to relate his history to Poggio Bracciolini, the Papal Secretary.

Conti's name-forms, often Latinized by Poggio to a point beyond recognition, make some aspects of his route difficult to identify, but his narrative remains as the best account of the East by a 15th century traveler. UPDATE APRIL 2002: Did Chinese sailing vessels reach Australia 350 years before Captain Cook? The evidence includes the travel manuscripts, including maps, written in 1434 by Niccolo di Conti, who was aboard one of the Chinese vessels. The Venetian wrote that he sailed from China to a great land mass to the south. A soon to be published book by Gavin Menzies will present evidence that this was the continent known today as Australia.

Menzies believes the maps were taken to Venice by di Conti, who had joined one of the Chinese junks in India. In his travel book published in 1434, da Conti seems to have sailed to China via Australia - 350 years before Captain Cook. Menzies argues that, on his way through Venice in 1428, the King of Portugal's eldest son obtained the salvaged maps and incorporated them into a map of the world. The most controversial part of his theory is that copies of parts of this mappa mundi were used by da Gama, Magellan, and Cook. Some of these still survive in museums: Patagonia (1513), North America (1507), Africa (1502) and Asia and Australia


I thought it was also worth mentioning that although the Chinese vessel on which di Conti apparently sailed, was a traditional Chinese "junk," Chinese builders did once construct a massive ship, apparently using the Western European model. However, it was much bigger, probably to the point of being impractical. They once sailed all the way to Kenya, but didn't colonize it. It would seem logical that they would have at least attempted to colonized Australia if they knew it was there, being that it's so much closer than the Americas or Africa, and was very uninhabited.

I came upon some 3-D images of a Venetian merchant ship, of a much different make than Venetian naval vessels I presume. Even though this type of ship was not used in di Conti's apparent voyage, I still wanted to put a link to it here:

3-D Model: Venetian Merchant Ship

Genoa also long possessed a trading empire and a very strong navy, and had competed with Venice for centuries. That's also something that we need to take a look at. In the nineteen century, Genoese sailers (Italian nationals from Italy, not California), on merchant ships, were traveling as far as San Francisco. Perhaps by coincidence, some of the ports that they traveled to then were the same ports which many Genoese/Ligurians migrated to (San Francisco, New Orleans, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo). As usual, I'm all over the place here, but we'll get to all of these subjects eventually.


7/26/08 - I wanted to add a link to the website The '1421' myth exposed. I had heard some of the rebuttals to this book, but this website really lays them out. I think we need to look at all the evidence regarding anything, and continue to sift through it. There are some countries in the world, and even in the West, in which people have been imprisoned for merely saying that.


geoffwade said...

www.1421exposed.com is worth a visit before citing Menzies

Brixia Fidelis said...


Thank you. I'll add the link into this entry.

-- Joe R.

Vangie said...

Great work.

Brixia Fidelis said...