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Ferdinand Magellan

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A portrait of Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan (In Portuguese, Fernão de Magalhães) (Spring of 1480April 27, 1521) was a Portuguese sea explorer who sailed for Spain. He was the first to sail from Europe westwards to Asia, the first European to see and name Pacific Ocean, and the first to lead an expediton for the purpose of circumnavigating the globe. Though Magellan himself died in the East Indies before returning to Europe, some of the crew and fleet he organized and guided for half the journey did return there in 1522, having circumnavigated the globe.

Table of contents
1 Birth and early years
2 Plans for circumnavigation
3 The Journey
4 Further reading

Birth and early years

Magellan was born in a stone farmhouse in Sabrosa in Vila Real, in the province of Trás-os-Montes in northern Portugal. The son of Pedro Rui de Magalhães, the mayor of the town, and Alda de Mesquita, Magellan had two siblings: his brother, Diogo de Sousa, named after his grandmother, and his sister, Isabel.

Magellan's parents died when he was 10. At 12, Magellan became a page to King John II and Queen Eleonora at the royal court at the capital of Lisbon, where his brother had gone two years before. Here, with his cousin Francisco Serrano, Magellan continued his education, becoming interested in geography and astronomy. Some speculate that he may even have been taught by Martin Behaim. In 1496, Magellan became a squire.

It was at age twenty that Magellan had his first taste of the sea. In 1505 he was sent to India to install Francisco de Almeida as a Portuguese viceroy there and establish military and naval bases along the way. It was here that Magellan would also first experience battle: when a local king refused to pay tribute, Almeida's party attacked, conquering the Muslim city of Kilwa in present-day Tanzania.

Magellan next journeyed to the East Indies in 1506, taking part in expeditions to the Spice Islands. In 1510, Magellan was promoted to the rank of captain. However, after secretly sailing a ship east without permission, he lost his command and was forced to return to Portugal.

In 1511, Magellan was sent to Morocco where he fought in the Battle of Azamor (August 28 and 29, 1513) and received a severe knee wound while fighting against the Moorish-Moroccan stronghold. Although wounded and the recipient of several medals, Magellan was accused of illegal trade with the Islamic Moors. He had also been involved in conflict with Almeida: after Magellan took a leave of the army without permission, Almeida gave a poor report of the sailor to the Portuguese court. Several of the accusations were subsequently dropped, but Magellan fell into disfavor with King Emanuel I, who refused to raise Magellans pension.

The King also told Magellan that he would have no further employment in his country's service after May 15, 1514. Magellan formally renounced his nationality and went to offer his services to the court of Spain, changing his name from "Fernão de Magalhães" to "Fernando de Magallanes."

Plans for circumnavigation

Magellan reached Seville, the Spanish capital, on October 20, 1517, and from there went to Valladolid to see the teenaged king, Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V).

With the help of Juan de Aranda, one of the three chief officials of Seville's India House, and of other friends, especially Diogo Barbosa, a Portuguese, Magellan became naturalized as a Spaniard. Acquiring great influence in Seville, he gained the ear of Charles and the powerful Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos and the persistent enemy of Christopher Columbus.

By this time, Magellan had found a map, based on reports from prior voyages, that indicated the Rio de la Plata, a large bay-like river delta in South America, as a passage through that continent to the Pacific Ocean. He decided to pioneer this route to reach the Moluccas (Spice Islands), the key to the strategic and tremendously lucrative spice trade. He allegedly declared himself ready to sail southwards to 75ð to realize his project.

Ruy Faleiro, an astronomer and Portuguese exile, aided him in his plan, and he found an invaluable financial ally in Christopher de Haro, a member of a great Antwerp firm who had a grudge towards the king of Portugal. On March 22, 1518, King Charles approved Magellan's plan and granted him generous funds. Under the contract, Magellan and Faleiro, as joint captains-general, would receive one-twentieth of all profits and they and their heirs would gain the government of any lands discovered, with the title of Adelantados.

Magellan took an oath of allegiance in the church of Santa María de la Victoria de Triana, giving money to the monks of the monastery so they would pray his success.

With the money that Magellan and Faleiro had received from the king, the pair obtained five ships: the Trinidad (tonnage 110, crew 55), the San Antonio (tonnage 120, crew 60), the Concepcion (tonnage 90, crew 45), the Victoria (tonnage 85, crew 42), and the Santiago (tonnage 75, crew 32). The Trinidad was Magellan's flagship, and the captians for the other four were Juan de Cartegena, Gaspar de Quesada, Luis de Mendoza, and respectively.

The Journey

The arrow points to the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda on the delta of the Guadalquivir River, in AndalusiaEnlarge

The arrow points to the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda on the delta of the Guadalquivir River, in Andalusia

On August 10, 1519, a fleet of five ships under Magellan's command left Seville and traveled south from the Guadalquivir River to San Lucar de Barrameda at the mouth of the rivers, where they remained more than five weeks. Spanish authorities were wary of the Portuguese admiral and almost prevented Magellan from sailing, but on September 20, Magellan set sail from Sanlucar de Barrameda with 270 men.

The voyage

Upon hearing of his departure, King Emanuel ordered a naval detachment to pursue him, but Magellan eluded the Portuguese. After a brief stop at the Canary Islands, Magellan arrived at the Cape Verde Islands, where they set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On November 20, the equator was crossed; on December 6, the crew sighted Brazil.

Since Brazil was Portuguese territory at the time, Magellan avoided it, and on December 13 anchored near present-day Rio de Janiero, where the weather and the natives were generally friendly. There the fleet was resupplied, but these good conditions caused them to delay. Afterwards, they set sail south next to South America's east coast, stopping at Río de la Plata on January 10, 1520. While still looking for a passage to the Pacific Ocean, it was already late, and the southern winter struck while they were still on the Argentinian coast.

Magellan decided to spend the winter in Patagonia. On March 31, the crew established a settlement that they called Puerto San Julian. Another mutiny occurred here, involving three of the five ship captains. This, too, was unsucessful, mainly because the crew remained loyal. Quesada and Mendoza were executed, and Cartagena and a priest were marooned on the coast.

A map of the Straits of MagellanEnlarge

A map of the Straits of Magellan

On August 24, the journey resumed. The Santiago,was sent down the coast on a scouting expedition, but it was wrecked on the return trip. Only two sailors returned, overland, to inform Magellan of what had happened. At 52ð south latitude on October 21, 1520, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine and deep inland. Four ships began an arduous passage through the 373-mile long passage that Magellan called it the Estreito (Canal) de Todos los Santos , or "All Saints' Channel," because All Saint's Day, November 1, occurred when when the fleet was navigating through it. Now, the strait is named the Strait of Magellan.

Magellan first assigned San Antonio and Concepcion to explore the strait, but the latter, commanded by Gomez, deserted and returned to Spain. On November 28, the remaining three ships entered the South Pacific. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness.

Death of Magellan

Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on February 13, 1521. On March 6, they reached the Marianas and on March 16, the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crewmen left. Magellan was able to communicate with the native peoples because his Malay interpreter could understand their language. They traded gifts with Rajah Calambu of Limasawa, who guided them to Cebu, on April 7. Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly to them, and even agreed to accept Christianity. Magellan died in the Philippines on April 27, in the Battle of Mactan.

Antonio Pigafetta, a wealthy tourist who paid to be on the Magellan voyage, is the only extant eyewitness account of Magellan's death. He writes:

"When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries... The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly... Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice... An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off."

The circumnavigation

Route of Magellan's expeditionEnlarge

Route of Magellan's expedition

Magellan's Malay interpreter, who was baptized Enrique in Malacca 1511, returned from enslavement by Sumatran slavers to his home islands (some of which were to become named the Philippines), making him the first man to circumnavigate the globe (in multiple voyages). The surviving ships' masters refused to free Enrique, but Enrique escaped his indenture on May 1, with the aid of Rajah Humabon, amid the deaths of almost 30 crewmen. However, Antonio Pigafetta had been making notes about the language, and was apparently able to continue communications during the rest of the voyage.

The three ships fled westward to Palawan, which they left on June 21 1521, where they were guided to Brunei, Borneo by Moro pilots, who could navigate the shallow seas. They anchored off the Brunei breakwater for 35 days, where the Venetian Pigafetta mentions the splendor of Rajah Siripada's court (gold, two pearls the size of hens eggs, etc.). In addition, Brunei boasted tame elephants and armament of 62 cannon, more than 5 times the armament of Magellan's ships. Brunei disdained the cloves which were to prove more valuable than gold, upon the return to Spain. Pigafetta mentions some of the technology of the court, such as porcelain (which was not yet widely available in Europe), and spectacles (eye-glasses were only just becoming available in Europe).

After reaching the Moluccas (the Spice Islands) November 6 1521, 115 crew were left. They managed to trade with the Sultan of Tidore, a rival of the Sultan of Ternate, who was the ally of the Portuguese.

The Concepcion was abandoned, and her spices were transferred to Victoria and Trinidad, but Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, when attempting to return via the Pacific route. The Victoria set sail via the eastern route home on December 21 1521. By May 6, 1522, the Victoria, commanded by Juan Sebastián Elcano, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, with only rice for rations. Twenty crewmen died of starvation before Elcano put in to the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese holding, where he abandoned 13 more crewmen July 9 in fear of losing his cargo of 26 tons of spices (cloves and cinnamon).

The return

On September 6, 1522, the remaining crew of Magellan's voyage and the last ship of the fleet, Victoria, arrived in Spain, almost exactly three years after leaving. The expedition actually eked a small profit, but the crew were not paid their full wages.

These 18 men returned to Seville with the Victoria in 1522
Name Rating
Juan Sebastian de Elcano Master  
Francisco Albo Pilot  
Miguel de Rodas Pilot  
Juan de Acurio Pilot  
Antonio Pigafetta Supernumerary  
Martin de Judicibus Chief Steward  
Hernando de Bustamente Mariner  
Nicolas the Greek Mariner  
Miguel Sanchez Mariner  
Antonio Hernandez Colmenero Mariner  
Francisco Rodrigues Mariner  
Juan Rodrigues Mariner  
Diego Carmena Mariner  
Hans of Aachen Gunner  
Juan de Arratia Able Seaman  
Vasco Gomez Gallego Able Seaman  
Juan de Santandres Apprentice Seaman  
Juan de Zubelita Page  
Four crewmen of the original 55 on the Trinidad finally returned to Spain in 1525.

The discoveries

Magellan's expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe and the first to navigate the strait in South America connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The men among Magellan's expedition were also the first Eurpoeans to discover the following:

Further reading

See also:
Military History of the Philippines, Spanish Empire, Age of Exploration