Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Erédia, Manuel Godinho de (1563–1623)

by O. H. K. Spate

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Manuel Godinho de Erédia (1563-1623), Malay-Portuguese author, was born in Malacca, on the Malayan Peninsula, on his father's side of Aragonese descent, while his mother was a Macassarese of good family, according to his own account a princess. He was educated at Malacca and at the Jesuit seminary at Goa, and soon after leaving there in 1580 conceived the design of finding the Isles of Gold which figured prominently in Malayan legend. In Erédia's conception they lay approximately in the position of north-west Australia. It is just possible that Australia may have been sighted in 1521 by Cristovão da Mendonça, who led one of several Portuguese expeditions in search of the islands about that time, for it is difficult to explain the remarkable series of 'Dieppe maps' without assuming some Portuguese knowledge of the continent. Erédia, however, based himself essentially on Ptolemy, Polo, and Ludovico di Varthema, and on reports of contemporary Malay voyages, accidental and deliberate, to the south-east of Timor. Armed with this documentation, he secured in 1594 a commission from Philip I of Portugal as Descobridor e Adelantado da Nova India Meridional; this title later misled Henry Major into acclaiming him as the actual first discoverer of Australia, though Erédia clearly shows that it was a rank and he never made the claim himself. By 1602 the viceroy, Aires de Saldanha, had appointed ships and men for the project, but local wars intervened and Erédia was called upon to play his part as a soldier and military engineer. The Portuguese dominion in the East sank into decrepitude, and in his last years Erédia, like Quiros, was reduced to endless memorializing to unsympathetic officials.

The main source for Erédia's life and views is his own Declaracam de Malaca e da India Meridional com Cathay existing in his own manuscript at Brussels and published there by L. Janssens in 1882. Erédia was a good surveyor and cartographer and an excellent observer, and his work retains its importance as one of the best early accounts of the Malay peninsula, as well as its significance in the proto-history of Australian discovery. Although nothing came of his project, it seems probable that, buried in much fantasy, there is a core of genuine evidence as to Malay knowledge of Australia, or at least of Australian waters.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Rainaud, Le Continent Austral (Paris, 1893)
  • O. H. K. Spate, ‘Manuel Godinho de Erédia: Quest for Australia’, Meanjin, vol 16, no 2, 1957, pp 109-22
  • O. H. K. Spate, ‘Terra Australis — Cognita?’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 8, no 29, Nov 1957, pp 1-19.

Citation details

O. H. K. Spate, 'Erédia, Manuel Godinho de (1563–1623)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eredia-manuel-godinho-de-2027/text2497, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Eredia, Manuel Godinho de
Birth

1563
Malaysia

Death

1623

Cultural Heritage
Occupation