Newfoundland Landfall Argument
There is no doubt that great passions have been aroused in Newfoundland concerning Cabot's landfall. The strongest local tradition is that he sighted Cape Bonavista, with less attention given to his subsequent coasting. The notion goes back at least to the map of Newfoundland prepared by Captain John Mason in about 1617 and published in several editions.
This map contains many familiar place names on the English Shore. Over Cape Bonavista, called 'North Faulkland', is marked 'Bona Vista Caboto primum reperta'. Many believe that Mason, who was governor of the London and Bristol Company in Newfoundland for three and a half years, obtained information from an older chart now lost, or from West Country fishermen. This is the sole historical document to support a Bonavista landfall, and it may possibly be supported by the belief that some of the fishermen who knew Mason also knew the sons or grandsons of those who sailed with Cabot. But it could also be claimed that Mason, and perhaps his informants, adopted the Cape Bonavista simply because they themselves used that place as their point of arrival and departure over the years.
To champion Bonavista as the landfall is sound enough. However, he argument is strengthened if one assumes latitude sailing from the mouth of the Bristol Channel, the Matthew encountering those natural forces - currents and magnetic variation - which many scholars have suggested would make Cabot's course swerve southwards. This is, in general, the line of argument taken by Fabian O'Dea in the most convincing modern article supporting the Bonavista landfall (O'Dea, 1988). He thinks it probable that Cabot sailed west from Fastnet, and was then carried south by the Labrador Current as he approached North America, a point in the voyage when he also encountered a storm. Thus Bonavista emerges as a realistic landfall.
Another Newfoundlander who supported Bonavista, W. A. Munn, suggested that Mason deliberately placed the Cabot discovery claim over the cape in Latin because he wanted every map-maker in Spain, Portugal, France or Italy to understand the meaning correctly; and he saw an immediate response, in that a French map by Du Pont of Dieppe (1625) called Cape Bonavista 'Primum Inventa'(first named). Munn scathingly dismissed the Cape Breton theorists, going so far as to claim that Canadians have over-stepped the bounds of courtesy by asserting what they could not prove (Munn, 1936). O'Dea follows Munn in criticising the arguments in favour of Cape Breton, though less strenuously.
But if Bonavista was the landfall, where did Cabot go next? W. A. Munn (1936) argued that because Cabot was sailing west, he would have gone northwest, to the Northern Peninsula, southern Labrador and home. Munn located La Cosa's fifth flag, the Cape of Engand, in Labrador. L.E.F. English (1962) considered that La Cosa's flag-waving coast was a representation of the east coast of Newfoundland, and brought Cabot to the Avalon Peninsula. Baccalieu Island was Cabot's Isle of St. John, or even the south-eastern portion of the Avalon, because coming south into Conception Bay this appears as an island. Not wholeheartedly for Bonavista, English brought Cabot through the Narrows and into the harbour of St. John's on June 24 (English, 1962). F. O'Dea (1988) agreed that Cabot would have sailed south. However, the route that best fits the evidence, he thinks, has Cabot rounding Cape Race and possibly reaching Cape Breton, where he turned back to explore the coast more thoroughly.
One further map, neglected by many landfall theorists, is Gastaldi's of 1556. This still showed Newfoundland and Labrador as the familiar series of islands they were to remain (with certain exceptions) during much of the first century after discovery. He illustrated Indians, birds of prey, and fishing activities but most interesting of all, is a tall cross located north of Cape Race and 'C.de Speranza' but south of 'Bacalaos' and 'Bona Vista', on the east, Atlantic-facing coast.
This led E.G.R. Taylor to suggest that Cabot's only landing was at the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, with a departure for home from Cape Bauld (Taylor,1963).
©1997, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site.