He was a fidalgo of the royal house and took part on three consecutive voyages to the Indian Ocean. Written sources deal with his sea voyages, but there is little information on his life back in the kingdom. He started a new era in the history of his family, when he got his own coat of arms for his deeds in the discovery of the sea route to India.
Pedro Coelho and Dona Luísa de Góis?s son, he married Brites Rodrigues de Ataíde, with whom he had three children. He first took part in the expansion process in 1497 in the expedition led by Vasco da Gama.
The reason why he was nominated captain of the carrack ship Bérrio remains unknown. Chronicler Gaspar Correia mentions the close relationship between Nicolau Coelho and the Admiral of the Fleet. His fidelity to King Dom Manuel I may have also played a role, an argument that should not be overlooked due to the court model that lay behind the social relations and dynamism that characterised the societies of the Ancien Régime.
At the beginning of the voyage, Nicolau Coelho was able to appease a rebellion onboard which had erupted due to the fear felt by the crew. The captain also played an important role in the exploration of the African coast, frequently contacting indigenous populations.
He was the first captain to contact the Sultan of Kilwa on the coast of Mozambique; they exchanged gifts, with Nicolau Coelho realising that the natives had ignored the religion of the Portuguese during the reception. However, they eventually became aware that they were mistaken, something which forced Vasco da Gama and his fleet to quickly weigh anchor. In India, Nicolau Coelho distinguished himself as the first representative of the fleet, with the Samorin of Calicut being impressed with his courtesy to the point of signing a commercial treaty with him. On the return voyage, Nicolau Coelho got separated from Vasco da Gama when he got to Cape Verde, arriving back in the kingdom two months before the Admiral of the Fleet.
He was a member of the fleet that King Dom Manuel I sent to India in 1500, captained by Pedro Alváres de Cabral. His experience in contacting indigenous populations was an asset on his second consecutive voyage to the Indian Ocean. After travelling for a month an a half, the fleet arrived in what would become Brazilian territory. He contacted the local native population, with whom he exchanged gifts. He was also assigned the task of bringing two Indians onboard along with a Portuguese deportee who was entrusted with the job of inquiring about the natives? lifestyle.
The King of Malindi rejoiced when he saw Nicolau Coelho again, receiving letters and gifts sent by both King Dom Manuel I and Vasco da Gama. In September 1500, the fleet reached Calicut, and Nicolau Coelho took part in some military actions, including the bombardments that the admiral of the fleet ordered in retaliation for the attack on the Portuguese trading post and the massacre of its garrison. They returned together to Lisbon.
He stayed for a year in the kingdom before being once again called in 1503 to captain a carrack ship destined to India and integrated in a fleet captained by Francisco de Albuquerque. On this occasion, there were clashes with rival forces from Calicut in which Nicolau Coelho stood out. He left for Portugal in January 1504, but he was probably the victim of a shipwreck on route, since nothing else is known about him.
RAMOS, Sónia Marisa Rodrigues, «Nicolau Coelho: um capitão e ?diplomata? ao serviço da Coroa Portuguesa nos primeiros contactos com o Índico», in Descobridores do Brasil. Exploradores do Atlântico e Construtores do Estado da Índia, Lisboa, Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, 2000, pp. 57-73.
Author: João Neves
Translated by: John Silva