John Cabot not only gave his name to a shopping mall in Bristol and the tower on Brandon Hill in the city centre, he also sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1497 in a ship called the Matthew; a replica of the Matthew is now moored in Bristol and going aboard it and seeing how small it is really makes you appreciate what an undertaking it was to have sailed, literally in uncharted waters.
Cabot was an Italian navigator born Giovanni Caboto, around 1450; he was a contemporary of Columbus, and he too understood that there might be a way to reach Asia by sailing west rather than the long journey round the southern tip of the African continent. He no doubt believed that after Columbus had struck land in 1892, there was a northern passage round the continent Columbus had found. He set out once, but had to turn back, and 1497 he set out again on board the Matthew with a crew of eighteen – yes only 18! I have been on the scale replica of the Matthew, I’ve had a little sailing trip on board, and I can tell you, it is jolly small! he set out in May and arrived in June on the morning of the 24th. No-one knows exactly where he landed, although there have been many guesses and many claims; it could have been Labrador, Newfoundland or Cape Breton. He returned safely to Britain believing he had reached the coast of Asia, and set off again the following year with five ships and about 200 men. One ship struggled in a storm off the coast of Ireland, and put into port, of the others there is no trace, no-one knows what happened to John Cabot. There are theories, that he died at sea, that he arrived in North America and died there, that he travelled south and was killed by some Spanish sailors and finally that he returned and lived in London… The first and the last idea are the most likely, but at the moment, no-one knows!