The Matthew

Glancing at a photograph, of Her Late Majesty and Prince Philip, being welcomed at Bonavista, Newfoundland, a quarter-century ago: one is surprised by the passage of time. They are in turn welcoming the Matthew, a replica of the little ship that brought John Cabot and eighteen sailors this way, precisely five hundred years before. She — unmistakeable with high sterncastle and three tall masts — had just made the Atlantic crossing, through the winds and the combers, from her re-assembly by naval carpenters in her home port of Bristol.

And now, 527 years have passed. Henry VII (Tudor) is no longer on the throne. Charles III (Windsor) has now replaced him. The replica Matthew is already rotting away.

The fishermen and traders of the Bristol Channel, and also the adventurous Basque mariners, had probably floated over the Grand Banks a generation earlier; and the Norsemen, we now know, came across a half-millennium before them. Cabot preceded Jacques Cartier by thirty-seven years. God alone knows the exact, true order, and the location of the first landfall in Newfoundland or elsewhere, but He does not fuss with the number of hairs on a man’s head, nor the minutiae of historical sequence.

It is only men who care, and will make war to dispute a priority. We are a savage lot, and continue to be savages to the present day, except where some elevated doctrine (such as the peaceful Christian) has checked our behaviour. And then we fish, and celebrate.

How marvellous it was, to be greeted by the Queen, and not by a wretched, self-serving politician.