Vasco Nunez de Balboa

Vasco Nunez de Balboa Explorer

Vasco Nunez de Balboa - Explorer (1475 - 1519)

From humble beginnings as a page and squire, Vasco Nunez de Balboa became a Spanish explorer who was also a conquistador and Governor. He led the first European expedition across the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean.

This page details facts about Vasco Nunez de Balboa's life and the events that shaped his history.

Vasco Nunez de Balboa the Explorer - Fun Facts for Kids !

1: Born in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain, around 1475, Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the third of four boys born to a nobleman of little consequence and without much property or money.

2: Barely anything is known of his early life, except that Vasco Nunez de Balboa worked as a page and squire for the lord of Moguer, Don Pedro de Portocarrero.

3: In 1500 Vasco Nunez de Balboa joined an expedition heading for the Americas. The expedition, led by Rodrigo de Bastidas, was licenced to bring back treasure for the King and Queen of Spain. The expedition sailed across the Caribbean from Panama and explored the north east of South America before heading to Hispaniola.

4: In 1505 Vasco Nunez de Balboa settled on Hispaniola, setting himself up as planter and pig farmer with his share of the earnings.

5: The business was unsuccessful and, in 1509, Vasco Nunez de Balboa had got into debt and fled from his creditors in Hispaniola, as a stowaway. He found a ship and, with his dog Leoncico, hid in a barrel.

6: The ship, under the command of Martin Fernandez de Enciso, was bound for San Sebastian, however Vasco Nunez de Balboa was discovered by de Enciso before they arrived. De Enciso threatened to maroon him on a deserted island, but after learning that he had a good knowledge of the area from his previous expedition, decided to keep him on board.

7: De Enciso’s expedition had been sent to San Sebastian to help Alonso de Ojeda who, with a compliment of seventy men, had founded a settlement there. Unfortunately they had come under attack from the local natives who used poisoned weapons. De Ojeda sustained a leg injury and left the settlement in the temporary care of one of his soldiers, Francisco Pizarro, while he sailed for Hispaniola.

8: When de Enciso’s expedition arrived, the settlement had been destroyed by the natives and Pizarro was preparing to leave. Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who had gained popularity with his fellow crewmen, suggested that the settlement be re-established in the area of Darien. Darien had better soil conditions, and the natives were more peaceful.

9: Fernandez de Enciso, gave Vasco Nunez de Balboa’s idea serious thought then led them to Darien as suggested. When they arrived they encountered the local chieftain, Cemaco, with five hundred men all ready to go into battle. Against all odds, the Spanish managed to defeat them and established ‘Santa María la Antigua del Darién’, the first permanent settlement on the American mainland.

10: Encisco became increasingly detested by the settlers so, having gained respect and authority from this venture, Vasco Nunez de Balboa acted for the men and removed Encisco from the office of Alcalde Mayor. He used the reason that the area fell under the control of Diego de Nicuesa, Governor of Veragua, and not Encisco’s superior Alonso de Ojeda.

11: Not long after, a small fleet of ships, led by Rodrigo Enrique de Colmenares, arrived in Santa Maria while looking for de Nicuesa. After hearing what had recently transpired, he persuaded the settlers to accept the authority of de Nicuesa, and two representatives travelled with de Colmenares in order to offer control of Santa Maria to de Nicuesa.

12: De Nicuesa was found wounded with a few other men near Nombre de Dios. Following his rescue he was told of Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his exploits. He saw this a challenge to his authority and decided to punish Vasco Nunez de Balboa as soon as control of Santa Maria was gained. Armed with this information, the two representatives returned to Santa Maria and told Vasco Nunez de Balboa and the council.

13: When de Nicuesa arrived at Santa Maria, he was prevented from landing by the settlers and eventually set sail on 1st March 1511. Nicuesa disappeared with his ship and was never heard of again. Consequently, Vasco Nunez de Balboa became Governor of Veragua.

14: Having become governor of Veragua, Vasco Nunez de Balboa gained total control of Santa Maria, and put de Enciso on trial. De Enciso was imprisoned for undermining the Governor’s authority. Shortly after, Vasco Nunez de Balboa freed him on the condition that he returned to Spain via Hispaniola. Vasco Nunez de Balboa sent two representatives with de Enciso to request more supplies and men to carry on with the conquest of Veragua.

15: Vasco Nunez de Balboa continued his conquest while exploring and searching for gold, which he collected by force. Vasco Nunez de Balboa also gained much territory, whilst also earning fear and respect from the natives.

16: During late 1512, Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived in the area controlled by the Cacique (Tribal Chief) Careta. Vasco Nunez de Balboa defeated him, and then later allowed Careta to join him as a friend and ally. From there, Vasco Nunez de Balboa moved onto the lands of Cacique Ponca, who fled, and then onto the lands of Cacique Comagre who received him in peace.

17: While in these lands, Vasco Nunez de Balboa learned of a kingdom rich with gold near another sea. He was also told he would need around a thousand men to contend with the tribes living both, on the coast of the other sea, and on the land in between. In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa returned to Santa Maria to enlarge his forces. By this time, de Enciso had told what had happened at Santa Maria, and the news was circulating in the Spanish courts. This resulted in Vasco Nunez de Balboa being refused supplies and men.

18: On 1st September 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa set off on his expedition to cross the Isthmus of Panama with less than 200 men. When he landed back in Careta’s lands he was joined by 1,000 of Careta’s men. Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his men fought their way across the Isthmus with many of the defeated tribes joining him on his expedition.

19: On 25th September 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa saw the Pacific Ocean from the summit of a mountain range. After a successful battle with Cacique Chiapes, three groups were sent out to find ways to reach the coast. The group led by Alonso Martin was first to reach the sea. Alonso Martin became the first European to navigate the Pacific Ocean from the New World when he explored the coast in canoes.

20: After being informed of Martin’s success, Vasco Nunez de Balboa arrived at the Pacific coast on 29th September 1513. He walked knee deep into the sea with a flag, bearing the image of the Virgin Mary, in one hand and a sword in the other. Vasco Nunez de Balboa named the new sea the South Sea and claimed it for the Spanish Sovereign.

21: Vasco Nunez de Balboa had not lost sight of his real reason for this expedition, and continued to plunder gold and pearls from the lands he had conquered. Vasco Nunez de Balboa heard that there was an abundance of pearls on some islands nearby, so he set off for the islands giving them the name they are still known by, the Archipielago de las Perlas.

22: Following this successful expedition, Vasco Nunez de Balboa returned to Santa Maria by another route, which allowed him to add to his lands and plunder. Vasco Nunez de Balboa sent twenty percent of his treasure to the Spanish King along with news of his discovery.

23: Taking into account the information provided by de Enciso, the King sent a new Governor, Pedrarias Davila, a new Alcalde Mayor, Gaspar de Espinosa, and a Sheriff, de Enciso, to take over from Vasco Nunez de Balboa. The fleet that carried them consisted of 17 ships and 1500 men, making it the greatest expedition to travel from Spain to the new world.

24: When the expedition arrived in July 1514, Vasco Nunez de Balboa duly accepted the new Governor and Alcalde Mayor. Once the new administration had taken charge, de Espinosa arranged the arrest and trial of Vasco Nunez de Balboa on several charges. He was ordered to pay compensation to de Enciso, however he was freed after being found innocent of the murder of de Nicuesa.

25: Following an unsuccessful expedition into the Dabaibe area, searching for a temple reportedly filled with great treasure, Vasco Nunez de Balboa surreptitiously arranged for a ship and some men to form an expedition to explore the South Sea. Pedrarias uncovered the plot and arrested Vasco Nunez de Balboa. However he was spared any punishment as the King had recognised his services to Spain, giving him the titles of Adelantado of the South Seas and Governor of Panama and Coiba.

26: In 1517 a marriage had been arranged between Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Maria de Penalosa, Pedrarias’ daughter. The marriage was carried out by proxy as Maria de Penalosa was in Spain.

27: Shortly after, Pedrarias gave Vasco Nunez de Balboa permission to form an expedition to explore the South Sea. Vasco Nunez de Balboa went to Acla to build the ships and put the expedition together.

28: While Vasco Nunez de Balboa was there, Pedrarias wrote to him requesting his return to Santa Maria to meet with him. While on the journey, Vasco Nunez de Balboa was arrested by Francisco Pizarro and charged with attempting to establish a government in the South Seas and trying to depose Pedrarias. Vasco Nunez de Balboa denied the charges but Pizarro and Enciso ordered the trial to commence immediately.

29: In January 1519, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and four of his companions, were found guilty of the offences and sentenced to decapitation.

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