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Practically nothing is known of Jaume Ferrer, save that he was a Majorcan captain, who set out in a galley in 1346, and sailed down the West African coast in an attempt to reach the legendary "River of Gold". The results of this expedition, including whether Ferrer survived the journey, are unknown. Some recent research tentatively identifies Jaume Ferrer as "Giacomino Ferrar di Casa Maveri", a second generation Genoese immigrant in Majorca.
Nearly the only information for his expedition is the depiction and note given in the Catalan Atlas of 1375, attributed to the Majorcan cartographer Abraham Cresques (correct patronymic Cresques Abraham). In the bottom left corner of the map, there is a brightly painted Aragonese-flagged vessel and a note indicating merely that "Jacme Ferrer" set out in an uxer on August 10, 1346, to search for the "Riu de l'Or" (River of Gold). An uxer is a single-mast, square-rigged and oar-powered cargo galley, with rounded stern and low prow, commonly used to freight horses.
The geographic position of the ship (below the Canary Islands) suggest Ferrer probably sailed past Cape Bojador, at that time the non plus ultra of navigation, beyond which European ships dared not sail. If Ferrer survived and returned, then his feat preceded, by nearly a whole century, the famous successful passage of that cape by the Portuguese explorer Gil Eanes in 1434.
There is a sliver of additional information found in a note in the secret archives of the Republic of Genoa (uncovered in 1802), which refers to the expedition, noting that "Joannis Ferne", a Catalan, left "the city of the Majorcans" in a galeass on July 10, 1346 but the vessel was never heard of again, that he went searching for the Riu Auri ('River of Gold') because he heard that it was a collection point for "aurum de paiola" (gold nuggets?), that the people on the shores were all engaged in gold collection, and that the river was wide and deep enough for the largest ships.
The "River of Gold", frequently spoken of by Trans-Saharan traders, were references to the Senegal River that flowed into the heart of the gold-producing Mali Empire. The Genoese note refers to it also by the alternate name of Vedamel - almost certainly a derivation from the Arabic, probably Wad al-mal ('river of treasure') or possibly, by transcription error, Wad al-Nill ('river of Nile - the Senegal was also long known as the 'Western Nile'). Vedamel might also be the origin of Budomel used by early Portuguese explorers in the 15th century to refer to a Wolof statelet on the Grande Côte, below the Senegal River.
Despite the sparse information, Jaume Ferrer is memorialized in his native city of Palma, in Majorca, by a street name, a statue in the Plaça de les Drassanes and a relief in the town hall. The Atlas's ship is reproduced on a monumental sundial on the city's maritime promenade.
- Río de Oro, a former Spanish province in northwest Africa
- Russell, p.118
- Riera i Sans (2000)
- "Partic l'uixer d'en Jacme Ferrer per 'nar al Riu de l'Or al jorn de Sent Llorenç qui és a X d’agost e fo en l'any MCCCXLVI"
- Russell, p.385n
- First found in Gråberg, G. (1802) Annali di geografia e di statistica, Genoa, vol. II, p.290, the note is unsigned and reads in (garbled) Latin: "Recessit de civitate Majorigarum Galeatia una Joannis Ferne catalani, in festo sancti Laurentii quod est in decima die mensis augusti anno Domini 1346, causa eundi ad Rujaura (riu Auri?) et de ipsa Galeatia numquam postea aliquid novum habuerunt. Istud flumen vocatur Vedamel similiter vocatur riu Auri, quia in eo collegitur aurum de paiola. Et scire debeatis quod major pars gentium in partibus istis habitantium sunt electi ad colligendum aurum in ipso flumine, quod habet latitudinem unius legue, et fundum pro majori nave mundi".
- R.H. Major, Life of Prince Henry of Portugal, 1868, p.113 interprets 'Paiola' not as 'nugget', but as the name of a river island depicted in the 1367 Pizzigani map.
- Major, p.114; Russell, p.118
- The "River of Wealth" interpretation of Vedamel can be found in J.G.H. "'Histoire du commerce entre le Legant et l'Europe' in 1831, Antologia; giornale di scienze, lettere e arti, Vol. 3 (Aug.) p.27. R.H. Major (p.113) proposes the "Western Nile" interpretation.
- Fernández-Armesto, F. (2007) Before Columbus: exploration and colonisation from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic 1229-1492. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Betz, R.L. (2007) The Mapping of Africa: a cartobibliography of printed maps of the African continent to 1700, Hes & de Graaf
- Russell, Peter E. (1995) Portugal, Spain, and the African Atlantic, 1343-1490: chivalry and crusade from John of Gaunt to Henry the Navigator, Varorium.
- Russell, P.E. (2000) Prince Henry 'the Navigator': a life. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.
- Llompart, Gabriel (2000) "La Identitat de Jaume Ferrer, El Navegant (1346)", Memòries de L'Acadèmia Mallorquina d'Estudis Genealògics, Heràldics i Històrics, 10, Palma. (English translation online