Ferdinand Magellan - Early Years, Expedition and Legacy

Ferdinand Magellan - Early Years, Expedition and Legacy

In search of fame and fortune, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480-1521) set out from Spain in 1519 with a fleet of five ships to discover a western sea route to the Spice Islands. En route he discovered what is now known as the Strait of Magellan and became the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean. The voyage was long and dangerous, and only one ship returned home three years later. Although it was laden with valuable spices from the East, only 18 of the fleet’s original crew of 270 returned with the ship. Magellan himself was killed in battle on the voyage, but his ambitious expedition proved that the globe could be circled by sea and that the world was much larger than had previously been imagined.

Ferdinand Magellan’s Early Years

Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480–1521) was born in Sabrosa, Portugal, to a family of minor Portuguese nobility. At age 12 Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese and Fernando de Magallanes in Spanish) and his brother Diogo traveled to Lisbon to serve as pages at Queen Leonora’s court. While at the court Magellan was exposed to stories of the great Portuguese and Spanish rivalry for sea exploration and dominance over the spice trade in the East Indies, especially the Spice Islands, or Moluccas, in modern Indonesia. Intrigued by the promise of fame and riches, Magellan developed an interest in maritime discovery in those early years.

In 1505, Magellan and his brother were assigned to a Portuguese fleet headed for India. Over the next seven years, Magellan participated in several expeditions in India and Africa and was wounded in several battles. In 1513 he joined the enormous 500-ship, 15,000-soldier force sent by King Manuel to Morocco to challenge the Moroccan governor who refused to pay its yearly tribute to the Portuguese empire. The Portuguese easily overwhelmed the Moroccan forces, and Magellan stayed on in Morocco. While there he was seriously wounded in a skirmish, which left him with a limp for the rest of his life.

Magellan: From Portugal to Spain

In the 15th century, spices were at the epicenter of the world economy, much like oil is today. Highly valued for flavoring and preserving food as well as masking the taste of meat gone bad, spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and especially black pepper were extremely valuable. Since spices could not be cultivated in cold and arid Europe, no effort was spared to discover the quickest sea route to the Spice Islands. Portugal and Spain led the competition for early control over this critical commodity. Europeans had reached the Spice Islands by sailing east, but none had yet to sail west from Europe to reach the other side of the globe. Magellan was determined to be the first to do so.

By now an experienced seaman, Magellan approached King Manuel of Portugal to seek his support for a westward voyage to the Spice Islands. The king refused his petition repeatedly. In 1517, a frustrated Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality and relocated to Spain to seek royal support for his venture.

When Magellan arrived in Seville in October 1517, he had no connections and spoke little Spanish. He soon met another transplanted Portuguese named Diogo Barbosa, and within a year he had married Barbosa’s daughter Beatriz, who gave birth to their son Rodrigo a year later. The well-connected Barbosa family introduced Magellan to officers responsible for Spain’s maritime exploration, and soon Magellan secured an appointment to meet the king of Spain.

The grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had funded Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World in 1492, received Magellan’s petition with the same favor shown by his grandparents. Just 18 years old at the time, King Charles I granted his support to Magellan, who in turn promised the young king that his westward sea voyage would bring immeasurable riches to Spain.

Strait of Magellan

On August 10, 1519 Magellan bade farewell to his wife and young son, neither of whom he would ever see again, and the Armada De Moluccas set sail. Magellan commanded the lead ship Trinidad and was accompanied by four other ships: the San Antonio, the Conception, the Victoria and the Santiago. The expedition would prove long and arduous, and only one ship, the Victoria, would return home three years later, carrying a mere 18 of the fleet’s original crew of 270.

In September 1519 Magellan’s fleet sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, which was then known simply as the Ocean Sea. The fleet reached South America a little more than one month later. There the ships sailed southward, hugging the coast in search of the fabled strait that would allow passage through South America. The fleet stopped at Port San Julian where the crew mutinied on Easter Day in 1520. Magellan quickly quelled the uprising, executing one of the captains and leaving another mutinous captain behind. Meanwhile Magellan had sent the Santiago to explore the route ahead, where it was shipwrecked during a terrible storm. The ship’s crew members were rescued and assigned out among the remaining ships. With those disastrous events behind them, the fleet left Port San Julian five months later when fierce seasonal storms abated.

On October 21, 1520 Magellan finally entered the strait that he had been seeking and that came to bear his name. The voyage through the Strait of Magellan was treacherous and cold, and many sailors continued to mistrust their leader and grumble about the dangers of the journey ahead. In the early days of the navigation of the strait, the crew of the San Antonio forced its captain to desert, and the ship turned and fled across the Atlantic Ocean back to Spain. At this point, only three of the original five ships remained in Magellan’s fleet.

Magellan: Circumnavigating the Globe

After more than a month spent traversing the strait, Magellan’s remaining armada emerged in November 1520 to behold a vast ocean before them. They were the first known Europeans to see the great ocean, which Magellan named Mar Pacifico, the Pacific Ocean, for its apparent peacefulness, a stark contrast to the dangerous waters of the strait from which he had just emerged. In fact, extremely rough waters are not uncommon in the Pacific Ocean, where tsunamis, typhoons and hurricanes have done serious damage to the Pacific Islands and Pacific Rim nations throughout history.

Little was known about the geography beyond South America at that time, and Magellan optimistically estimated that the trip across the Pacific would be rapid. In fact, it took three months for the fleet to make its way slowly across the vast Mar Pacifico. The days dragged on as Magellan’s crew anxiously waited to utter the magic words “Land, ho!” At last, the fleet reached the Pacific island of Guam in March 1521, where they finally replenished their food stores.

Magellan’s fleet then sailed on to the Philippine archipelago landing on the island of Cebu, where Magellan befriended the locals and, struck with a sudden religious zeal, sought to convert them to Christianity. Magellan was now closer than ever to reaching the Spice Islands, but when the Cebu asked for his help in fighting their neighbors on the island of Mactan, Magellan agreed. He assumed he would command a swift victory with his superior European weapons, and against the advice of his men, Magellan himself led the attack. The Mactanese fought fiercely, and Magellan fell when he was shot with a poison arrow. Ferdinand Magellan died on April 27, 1521.

Magellan would never make it to the Spice Islands, but after the loss of yet another of his fleet’s vessels, the two remaining ships finally reached the Moluccas on November 5, 1521. In the end, only the Victoria completed the voyage around the world and arrived back in Seville, Spain, in September 1522 with a heavy cargo of spices but with only 18 men from the original crew, including Italian scholar and explorer Antonio Pigafetta. The journal Pigafaetta kept on the voyage is a key record of what the crew encountered on their journey home.

Impact of Ferdinand Magellan

Seeking riches and personal glory, Magellan’s daring and ambitious voyage around the world provided the Europeans with far more than just spices. Although the trip westward from Europe to the east via the Strait of Magellan had been discovered and mapped, the journey was too long and dangerous to become a practical route to the Spice Islands. Nevertheless, European geographic knowledge was expanded immeasurably by Magellan’s expedition. He found not only a massive ocean, hitherto unknown to Europeans, but he also discovered that the earth was much larger than previously thought. Finally, although it was no longer believed that the earth was flat at this stage in history, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe empirically discredited the medieval theory conclusively.

Though Magellan is often credited with the first circumnavigation on the globe, he did so on a technicality: He first made a trip from Europe to the Spice Islands, eastward via the Indian Ocean, and then later made his famous westward voyage that brought him to the Philippines. So he did cover the entire terrain, but it was not a strict point A to point A, round-the-world trip, and it was made in two different directions. His slave, Enrique, however, was born in either Cebu or Mallaca and came to Europe with Magellan by ship. Ten years later, he then returned to both Cebu (with Magellan) and Mallaca (after Magellan died) by ship on the armada’s westward route. So Enrique was the first person to circumnavigate the world in one direction, from point A to point A.


Biography of Ferdinand Magellan, Explorer Circumnavigated the Earth

Ferdinand Magellan (February 3, 1480–April 27, 1521), a Portuguese explorer, set sail in September 1519 with a fleet of five Spanish ships in an attempt to find the Spice Islands by heading west. Although Magellan died during the journey, he is credited with the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

Fast Facts: Ferdinand Magellan

  • Known For: Portuguese explorer credited with circumnavigating the Earth
  • Also Known As: Fernando de Magallanes
  • Born: February 3, 1480 in Sabrosa, Portugal
  • Parents: Magalhaes and Alda de Mesquita (m. 1517–1521)
  • Died: April 27, 1521 in the Kingdom of Mactan (now Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines)
  • Awards and Honors: The Order of Magellan was established in 1902 to honor those who have circumnavigated the Earth.
  • Spouse: María Caldera Beatriz Barbosa
  • Children: Rodrigo de Magalhães, Carlos de Magalhães
  • Notable Quote: “The church says the earth is flat but I have seen its shadow on the moon, and I have more confidence even in a shadow than in the church.”

The Controversy Over Who was First

There has been considerable debate around who were the first persons to circumnavigate the globe. The easy answer is Juan Sabastian Elcano and the remaining crew of Magellan’s fleet starting from Spain on September 20, 1519, and returning in September 1522. But there is another candidate who might have gone around the world before them — Magellan’ servant Enrique. In 1511, Magellan was on a voyage for Portugal to the Spice Islands and participated in the conquest of Malacca where he acquired his servant Enrique. Fast forward ten years later, Enrique is with Magellan in the Philippines. After Magellan’s death, it is reported that Enrique was grief-stricken and when he found out he was not going to be freed, contrary to Magellan’s will, he ran away. At this point the record gets murky. Some accounts state Enrique fled into the forest. Official Spanish records list Enrique as one of the men massacred in the attack, but some historians question the records’ credibility or accuracy, citing a bias against Indigenous peoples.

So, it is possible that if Enrique had survived after his escape, he might have made his way back to Malacca where he was originally enslaved by Magellan back in 1511. If true, it would mean Enrique — not Elcano and the surviving members of the crew — was the first person to circumnavigate the globe, albeit not in a single voyage.  


The Proposal Of Ferdinand Magellan’s Voyage

Disappointed by the constant denials from King Manuel I, Magellan turned to Charles I, the king of Spain (pictured above). Magellan proposed a route towards the Spice Islands in the Moluccas through the West instead of going around Africa. Charles I, in the hopes that this might economically benefit Spain should a trade route be established, agreed to fund the voyage. The fleet for this voyage consisted of five ships and around 270 men, most of them of Spanish origin.


Dire straits: the story of Ferdinand Magellan’s fatal voyage of discovery

The renegade Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan masterminded a Spanish expedition that completed the first circuit of Earth, although it cost him his life. Writing for BBC History Revealed, Pat Kinsella tells the story and timeline of a triumph beset by mutiny, malnutrition and disaster

This competition is now closed

Published: April 27, 2021 at 12:00 pm

If all had gone to plan during Ferdinand Magellan’s life-defining expedition, almost no one would know his name now. As it happened, everything went disastrously wrong for the Portuguese sea captain, yet he has gone down in history as the first explorer to circumnavigate the planet, even though he died in the middle of the journey.

Magellan did, however, become the first European to lead a voyage into the Pacific Ocean – although future sailors would regularly raise alarmed eyebrows at the name he bequeathed to it. The expedition he led (or at least one of the five ships that set out from Spain in 1519) performed the first known complete loop of the globe.

Although Magellan could never have predicted the extraordinary events that would follow, perhaps the thought of reputational immortality would have provided the 41-year-old with a crumb of comfort on 27 April 1521, as he floundered in the shallows of a beach on the island of Mactan in the Philippines, mortally injured and weighed down by his armour. He had been identified as the leader of the invading alien force by the enraged warriors of island chief Lapu-Lapu, and was about to suffer a pointless and wholly avoidable death after his ill-advised show of military might spectacularly backfired.

Magellan’s final moments were frenzied and violent. But if he hadn’t made the fateful decision to lead a small force against a defending army of 1,500 battle-ready men, then perhaps he wouldn’t have been remembered as one of the greatest explorers of his era.

Who was Ferdinand Magellan?

Born into an aristocratic Portuguese family in 1480, Ferdinand Magellan was orphaned as a young boy and at the age of 12 he entered the royal court in Lisbon as a page of Eleanor of Viseu, consort of King John II. Thirteen years later, he enlisted in the fleet of the Portuguese viceroy to the Indies and spent seven years learning the ropes of his future career during action-packed voyages in Asia and Africa.

Magellan was part of the invading force that saw Portugal secure control of the region’s most important trading routes when it conquered Malacca on the Malay Peninsula in 1511, and he may have ventured as far east as the Moluccas (Spice Islands) of modern-day Indonesia. During these adventures he bought a Malay-speaking man, Enrique de Malacca, to be his slave, interpreter and companion – and he remained so on all Magellan’s later voyages.

By 1512, Magellan was back in Lisbon with a promising-looking career ahead of him. He soon joined the huge expeditionary force of 500 ships and 15,000 soldiers that John II’s successor, King Manuel I, sent to punish the governor of Morocco for failing to pay his tribute to the Portuguese crown in 1513. It was during a skirmish that he sustained an injury that left him with a lifelong limp. But he was then accused of illegal trading with the Moors, which saw him fall from favour.

A dedicated student of maps and charts, consumed with an urge to explore, Magellan had hatched a plan to pioneer a westward route to the Spice Islands, avoiding the perilous route around the Cape of Good Hope. However, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas and the expeditions and achievements of explorers such as Vasco da Gama had already granted Portugal full control of the eastwards route around southern Africa, and Manuel was disinterested in Magellan’s ideas.

This snub left the ambitious and capable captain dangerously disaffected – a blessing for the Spanish, who were desperately seeking an alternative way of accessing the riches of India and the Far East. In 1517, Magellan decamped to Seville in Spain, where he quickly married the daughter of another Portuguese exile, had two children and began bending the ear of Charles I about a western route to the Spice Islands.

The 18-year-old Spanish king – grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had commissioned the adventures of Columbus – was desperate to make his mark and smash the dominance his Iberian rivals had over the enormously lucrative spice trade. He seized the potential opportunity to bypass Africa, while avoiding breaking the terms of the treaty with the powerful Portuguese, and commissioned Magellan to undertake the expeditionary mission he had been itching to pursue.

Of course, Magellan wasn’t the first European explorer to sail west in search of a backdoor route to the treasures of the Orient. Columbus had ventured that way across the Atlantic looking for the East Indies in 1492, before bumping into the Bahamas instead, while John Cabot (aka Giovanni Caboto), a Venetian captain commissioned by Henry VII of England, had sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497.

Unlike Columbus – who made a further three journeys across the western ocean, but died in denial that he was actually exploring a totally new continent – the Spanish soon realised this was a different land mass (the Americas). While this revelation would ultimately return riches beyond their wildest dreams in terms of gold, Magellan’s focus was on how to get past this ‘New World’ in order to reach the Spice Islands beyond.

No European had sailed around Cape Horn – or indeed even laid eyes on it – but a Spanish adventurer named Vasco Núñez de Balboa had discovered the ocean beyond the New World in 1513, by traversing the Isthmus of Panama. Magellan, a visionary who was working with the most advanced cartographers and cosmographers of the era, was convinced there was a way of getting around the Americas.

Westward ho

In September 1519, Magellan led five vessels, manned by a multinational, 270-strong crew, into the Atlantic – his flagship the Trinidad, plus the Santiago, San Antonio, Concepción and Victoria. Word of his mission reached Manuel I, who jealously dispatched a Portuguese naval detachment to follow the expedition, but Magellan outran them.

But he couldn’t escape all his enemies so easily, especially as some were among his own men. Many of the Spanish sailors in the expeditionary party were suspicious of their Portuguese commander. Some of his crew were criminals released from prison in return for undertaking the dangerous voyage. Others joined just because they were avoiding creditors.

The fleet was hit by a storm, which caused a delay and resulted in food rationing. Here, Juan de Cartagena – who had been appointed captain of the largest ship, the San Antonio, because of his good connections, despite being green in the business of exploration and an inexperienced seaman – began openly criticising Magellan’s competence and refusing to salute his captain-general. Magellan had Cartagena arrested, relieved of his command and imprisoned in the brig of the Victoria until they reached South America. The incident was a precursor to the much more dramatic and bloody events to come.

In December, the expedition reached South America and made landfall in Rio de Janeiro. For two weeks they interacted with indigenous people, trading trinkets for food and sexual favours, before the fleet sailed south, scouring the coastline in search of an opening. They spent fruitless weeks exploring the estuary of Río de la Plata for this elusive passage, before freezing conditions forced the party to seek shelter for the winter in Port St Julian in Patagonia.

Timeline: Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage

Ten landmark moments in Magellan’s voyage into the unknown, as plotted out on a 1544 copy of the Agnese Atlas, produced by the Italian mapmaker Battista Agnese

20 September 1519: The fleet sets sail

Magellan’s fleet of five ships with a crew of 270 leave Sanlúcar de Barrameda in south-west Spain. Supported by the Habsburg emperor Charles V, the voyage is funded by German banking money. The crew is drawn from across Europe and even Africa, and equipped for a voyage of two years.

26 September 1519: A supply crisis

The fleet reaches the Canary Islands, but is already dogged with problems. Magellan realises he has been swindled out of supplies before departure. He also has to outrun Portuguese ships trying to arrest him as a traitor in the pay of Spain.

December 1519: Tensions rise

The fleet successfully crosses the Atlantic and arrives in Rio de Janeiro Bay. Tensions are already running high between the Portuguese commander and the Spanish nobles on the voyage, who continue to question his authority. Sailing down the coast of Patagonia they meet ‘giants’, one of whom is taken onboard.

October 1520: Mutineers strike

After a gruelling journey south, putting down a mutiny and wrecking a ship, Magellan discovers ‘Magellan’s Strait’, a route through the southern tip of South America to the Pacific. Navigating his way takes over a month through unknown waters in terrible conditions with the loss of another ship.

November 1520: Into the Pacific

Magellan finally emerges into open sea. He names it ‘Mare Pacificum’, or ‘peaceful sea’. He is the first European to sail across the Pacific, though having underestimated its size by almost half, the next leg of the voyage is anything but peaceful. Many of the crew die from scurvy.

March 1521: Land at last

After more than three months sailing out of sight of land, the ravaged crew land in Guam, Micronesia. Attempting to trade with locals, Magellan and his crew accuse them of theft, naming the islands ‘Ladrones’: the ‘Islands of Thieves’.

27 April 1521: Magellan is slain

Magellan becomes embroiled in conflicts between rival chieftains and attempts to assert his authority by attacking the ruler of Mactan in the Philippine archipelago. Magellan and many of the crew are killed on the beach. His body is never recovered.

November 1521: A new commander

The Spanish captain Juan Sebastián Elcano takes command and finally reaches Tidor in the Moluccas Islands. Exploiting local hostility towards the Portuguese, he loads the two remaining ships with a large consignment of spices whose profit recoups nearly twice the voyage’s initial investment.

December 1521: Elcano heads home

Elcano makes the decision to send one ship back via the Pacific, but it is caught by patrolling Portuguese vessels. The crew are arrested, and the ship lost at sea. Elcano’s remaining ship heads back to Spain via the Indian Ocean and Cape of Good Hope.

6 September 1522: The odyssey ends

Elcano arrives back in Sanlúcar, nearly three years after the fleet’s departure. Only 18 of the original crew of 270 survive, including the Venetian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, whose book remains the key eyewitness account of the voyage. News of the voyage spreads throughout Europe and causes a diplomatic conflict over the Moluccas between Spain and Portugal.

Morale was already plummeting when, in April 1520, Cartagena made his move. He escaped Victoria, reboarded the San Antonio, and begun fermenting trouble and securing support from the Spanish crew and officers, playing on bad blood about Magellan’s Portuguese nationality.

In the mutiny that followed, the San Antonio was declared independent of Magellan’s command. The captains of the Concepción and the Victoria (Gaspar de Quesada and Luiz Mendoza) joined them, as did the Victoria’s pilot Juan Sebastián Elcano, and many of the officers and crew. A letter was sent to Magellan on the Trinidad, demanding he acknowledge that the fleet was no longer under his command.

Magellan coolly sent his reply back in the hands of an assassin. After coming alongside the Victoria in a small boat, while pretending to hand over the letter to Mendoza, the man fatally stabbed the errant captain instead. Simultaneously, crew loyal to Magellan stormed aboard the ship and attacked the mutineers, who were overcome.

The rebels maintained control of the San Antonio and Concepción, with Cartagena having boarded the latter prior to the fighting breaking out. Magellan positioned the three ships he had at his disposal across the mouth of the bay, and prepared for combat.

During the night, heavy winds caused San Antonio to drag its anchor and drift towards the Trinidad. Magellan met the oncoming ship with a cannon broadside, causing the mutineers aboard the stricken carrack to surrender. Conceding defeat, Cartagena followed suit and gave up the Concepción without resistance the following morning.

Having quelled the revolt, Magellan immediately sentenced 30 men to death, but then (mindful of his threadbare resources) commuted their punishment to hard labour. The leaders of the mutiny weren’t so lucky. Quesada was beheaded for treason, and both his body and that of Mendoza’s were mutilated and put on sticks. Too fearful of Cartagena’s connections to order him executed, Magellan instead left him marooned with Padre Sánchez de la Reina, a priest who’d supported the mutineers. They were never heard of again.

The real deal

The scientific and cartographic legacy of Magellan’s expedition was huge. To plan his expedition, the explorer partnered with cosmographer Rui Faleiro, a pioneer in determining latitude and longitude, and Portuguese cartographers Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, who developed maps for the journey. Yet no one could have prepared Magellan for the crushing magnitude of the previously unexplored Pacific Ocean, which the men thought they would cross in a few days. Instead it took them more than three months, meaning they were woefully undersupplied and suffered terribly with scurvy. Ribeiro used data from Magellan’s expedition to make improvements and updates to the first scientific world map, the Padrón Real.

Back on course

In July, Magellan dispatched the Santiago to scout ahead for the elusive passage. She discovered the Rio de Santa Cruz in what is now Argentina, but sank in a storm while trying to make the return journey. Remarkably, the crew survived, and two men trekked overland for 11 days to alert Magellan, who mounted a rescue mission.

In October, the entire fleet set off, and Magellan at last sighted the strait that now bears his name, a route between the tip of mainland South America and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. However, conditions continued to be rough, and when the fleet split to explore either side of an island, the crew of the San Antonio forced their captain to desert and return to Spain (where they spread scurrilous rumours about Magellan’s brutality to avoid punishment).

While the main fleet waited in vain for the San Antonio, Gonzalo de Espinosa led an advance party along the strait, returning after six days with news that made Magellan weep with joy: they’d sighted open ocean. On 28 November, the expedition emerged into an ocean that seemed so relatively benign on the day, Magellan named it Mar Pacifico, or Peaceful Sea.

The true nature and enormity of the Pacific was soon revealed to the explorer, however. !e fleet left the coast of Chile to sail across the new-found ocean, a journey Magellan expected to last four days, but which took almost four months. The fleet was woefully underprepared and the sailors savaged by scurvy and thirst, many dying.

Magellan crossed the equator in February 1521 and reached the Pacific island of Guam in March, where the fleet replenished its exhausted supplies. Not long afterwards they finally arrived at the Philippine archipelago. This, though, was just the beginning of Magellan’s real troubles his erstwhile planning and leadership came dramatically undone when he needlessly embroiled himself in a dispute between two local chiefs.

In the Philippines, Magellan communicated with local rajahs through his Malay slave, Enrique. At the evangelical explorer’s behest, a number of island chiefs – including Cebu’s Rajah Humabon – converted to Christianity.

In return for his soul, however, Humabon sought Magellan’s support in a disagreement with a neighbour, Lapu- Lapu, a chief on Mactan Island, who had already irked the explorer by declining to convert or bow to the Spanish crown.

On 27 April 1521, 60 heavily armed Europeans accompanied a fleet of Filipino boats to Mactan, where Lapu- Lapu again refused to recognise the authority of Humabon or the Spanish. Facing 1,500 warriors, Magellan – confident in the shock-and-awe capability of his superior weaponry, which included guns, crossbows, swords and axes – instructed Humabon to hang back, while he waded ashore with an attack party of 49 men.

They torched several houses in an attempt to scare the islanders, but this only served to whip Lapu-Lapu’s warriors into a battle rage. In the resulting beachfront mêlée, where the Europeans were weighed down by their armour, Magellan was identified and injured by a bamboo spear thrust. Felled, he was then surrounded and killed, along with several others. With their captain dead, the survivors retreated to the boats.

After the battle, when the Europeans refused to release Enrique (despite Magellan’s orders to do so in the event of his death), Humabon turned against the Spanish. Several were poisoned during a feast, including Duarte Barbosa and João Serrão, who had assumed leadership of the expedition following the demise of Magellan.

Rounding the circle

João Carvalho took command of the fleet and ordered an immediate departure. By this time, however, too few men remained to crew the three ships. The Concepción was burnt, and the two remaining vessels made for Brunei, indulging in a spot of piracy en route, and attacking a junk bound for China. Espinosa then replaced Carvalho as leader, as well as being captain of the Trinidad, while Elcano was made the captain of the Victoria.

In November, the expedition finally reached the Spice Islands and managed to trade with the Sultan of Tidore. Loaded with cloves, they attempted to return home by sailing west across the Indian Ocean – which had never been Magellan’s intention – until the Trinidad started leaking. The wounded ship stopped for repairs, and eventually tried to return via the Pacific, but was captured by the Portuguese and subsequently sank.

Meanwhile, under the captaincy of Elcano, the Victoria continued across the Indian Ocean, eventually limping around the Cape of Good Hope in May. Tragically, 20 men starved on the last leg along the Atlantic coast of Africa, and another 13 were abandoned on Cape Verde – Elcano had put into port to resupply, but the Portuguese there caught on that they were part of a Spanish expedition fearing for his cargo, Elcano fled.

On 6 September 1522, after three years’ absence, Victoria arrived in Spain, becoming the first ship to have sailed around the planet. Only 18 of Magellan’s original 270-man crew arrived with her. Though ultimately successful in finding a western passage that opened up the Pacific and the west coast of the Americas, the Strait of Magellan proved too far south to be a viable trade route to the Orient, which intensified the search for the elusive Northwest Passage from the mid-16th century.

Although Magellan didn’t make it home, he did complete a full circumnavigation of the globe (Philippines to Philippines, albeit in two chunks separated by several years), a feat probably matched by his Malaysian slave Enrique. But the first European to definitively do so in a single voyage was the man who captained Victoria on her final leg – the mutineer Elcano.

Drake’s fortune

The next European to complete a circumnavigation of the globe was the English sea captain and privateer Francis Drake. During his second expedition (1577–1580), Drake also sailed west, returning into Plymouth with the Golden Hind on 26 September 1580, laden with spices and Spanish bounty, winning himself a knighthood.

Pat Kinsella specialises in adventure journalism as a writer, photographer and editor


Early life

Magellan was the son of Rui de Magalhães and Alda de Mesquita, members of the Portuguese nobility. At an early age he became a page to Queen Leonor, wife of John II (reigned 1481–95) and sister of Manuel I (reigned 1495–1521), in Lisbon. In early 1505 he enlisted in the fleet of Francisco de Almeida, first viceroy of Portuguese India, whose expedition King Manuel sent to check Muslim sea power along the African and Indian coasts and to establish a strong Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean. During a naval engagement at Cannanore (now Kannur) on the Malabar Coast of India, Magellan is said by the chronicler Gaspar Correia (also spelled Corrêa) to have been wounded. Though Correia states that during this early period of his Indian service, Magellan acquired considerable knowledge of navigation, little is known of Magellan’s first years in the East until he appears among those sailing in November 1506 with Nuno Vaz Pereira to Sofala on the Mozambique coast, where the Portuguese had established a fort.

By 1507 Magellan was back in India. He took part, on February 2–3, 1509, in the great Battle of Diu, in which the Portuguese defeated a Muslim fleet and thereby gained supremacy over most of the Indian Ocean. Reaching Cochin (now Kochi, India) in the fleet of Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, he subsequently left for the Malay city-state of Malacca (now Melaka, Malaysia). Magellan is mentioned as being sent to warn the commander of the Portuguese ships in Malacca’s waters of impending attack by Malays. During the subsequent fighting he saved the life of a Portuguese explorer, his close friend Francisco Serrão. (Serrão, possibly a relative of Magellan’s, had sailed with Magellan to India in 1505.) Magellan attempted to return to Portugal afterward but was unsuccessful. At a council held at Cochin on October 10, 1510, to decide on plans for retaking Goa—which the Portuguese had captured earlier in the year but then lost—he advised against taking large ships at that season. Nevertheless, the new Portuguese governor in India, Afonso de Albuquerque, did so, and the city fell to the Portuguese on November 24. Magellan’s name does not appear among those who fought.

The Portuguese victories off the eastern coast of Africa and the western coast of India had broken Muslim power in the Indian Ocean, and the purpose of Almeida’s expedition—to wrest from the Arabs the key points of sea trade—was almost accomplished. Yet without control of Malacca, their achievement was incomplete. At the end of June 1511, therefore, a fleet under Albuquerque left for Malacca, which fell after six weeks. This event, in which Magellan took part, was the crowning Portuguese victory in the Orient. Through Malacca passed the wealth of the East to the harbours of the West, and in command of the Malacca Strait the Portuguese held the key to the seas and ports of Malaysia. It remained only to explore the wealth-giving Moluccas (now part of Indonesia), the islands of spice. Accordingly, early in December 1511 they sailed on a voyage of reconnaissance, and after reaching Banda they returned with spice in 1512. The claim made by some that Magellan went on this voyage rests on unproven statements by Italian geographer Giovanni Battista Ramusio and Spanish historian Leonardo de Argensola, and the want of evidence argues against its acceptance. However, it is known that Magellan’s friend Serrão was in command of one of the ships and that he later sent Magellan helpful information from the Moluccas about those islands.

By mid-1513 Magellan was back in Lisbon, but he soon joined the forces sent against the Moroccan stronghold of Azamor (Azemmour). In a skirmish that August he sustained a leg wound that caused him to limp for the rest of his life. Returning to Lisbon in November 1514, he asked King Manuel for a token increase in his pension as a reward. But unfounded reports of irregular conduct on his part had reached the king: after the siege of Azamor, Magellan was accused of having sold a portion of the war spoils back to the enemy. Refusing Magellan’s request for a reward, Manuel ordered him back to Morocco. Early in 1516 Magellan renewed his petition the king, refusing once more, told him he might offer his services elsewhere.


Ferdinand Magellan


Ferdinand Magellan by Charles Legrand
  • Occupation: Explorer
  • Born: 1480 in Portugal
  • Died: April 27, 1521 in Cebu, Philippines
  • Best known for: First to circumnavigate the globe

Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to sail all the way around the world. He also discovered a passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean that is today called the Straits of Magellan.

Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 in northern Portugal. He grew up in a wealthy family and served as a page in the royal court. He enjoyed sailing and exploring and sailed for Portugal for many years.

Magellan had traveled to India by sailing around Africa, but he had the idea that there may be another route by traveling west and around the Americas. The King of Portugal did not agree and argued with Magellan. Finally, Magellan went to King Charles V of Spain who agreed to fund the voyage.

In September of 1519 Magellan set sail in his attempt to find another route to Eastern Asia. There were over 270 men and five ships under his command. The ships were named the Trinidad, the Santiago, the Victoria, the Concepcion, and the San Antonio.

They first sailed across the Atlantic and to the Canary Islands. From there they sailed south to Brazil and the coast of South America.

As Magellan's ships sailed south the weather turned bad and cold. On top of that, they had not brought enough food. Some of the sailors decided to mutiny and tried to steal three of the ships. Magellan fought back, however, and had the leaders executed.

Magellan continued to sail south. Soon he found the passage he was seeking. He called the passage the All Saints' Channel. Today it is called the Straits of Magellan. Finally he entered into a new ocean on the other side of the new world. He called the ocean the Pacifico, meaning peaceful.

Now that they were on the other side of South America, the ships sailed for China. There were only three ships left at this point as the Santiago had sunk and the San Antonio had disappeared.

Magellan thought it would only take a few days to cross the Pacific Ocean. He was wrong. It took nearly four months for the ships to make it to the Mariana Islands. They barely made it and nearly starved during the voyage.

After stocking up on supplies, the ships headed to the Philippines. Magellan became involved in an argument between local tribes. He and around 40 of his men were killed in a battle. Unfortunately, Magellan would not see the end of his historic journey.

Only one of the original five ships made it back to Spain. It was the Victoria captained by Juan Sebastian del Cano. It returned in September of 1522, three years after first leaving. There were only 18 surviving sailors, but they had made the first trip around the world.

One of the survivors was a sailor and scholar named Antonio Pigafetta. He wrote detailed journals throughout the voyage recording all that happened. Much of what we know about Magellan's travels comes from his journals. He told of the exotic animals and fish they saw as well as the terrible conditions they endured.


The Discovery of the New World

While the Portuguese were opening new sea routes along Africa, the Spanish also dreamed of finding new trade routes to the Far East. Christopher Columbus, an Italian working for the Spanish monarchy, made his first journey in 1492. Instead of reaching India, Columbus found the island of San Salvador in what is known today as the Bahamas. He also explored the island of Hispaniola, home of modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Columbus would lead three more voyages to the Caribbean, exploring parts of Cuba and the Central American coast. The Portuguese also reached the New World when explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral explored Brazil, setting off a conflict between Spain and Portugal over the newly claimed lands. As a result, the Treaty of Tordesillas officially divided the world in half in 1494.

Columbus' journeys opened the door for the Spanish conquest of the Americas. During the next century, men such as Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro would decimate the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas of Peru, and other indigenous peoples of the Americas. By the end of the Age of Exploration, Spain would rule from the Southwestern United States to the southernmost reaches of Chile and Argentina.


The spice race

In the 15th Century, the great luxury commodity of the world was spices, and they were pivotal to the economy., Spice merchants became very wealthy, and lived lives of luxury, and this appealed to Ferdinand. Europe didn’t have the right climate for cultivating spices, so voyages had to be made to the countries that had them. Spain and Portugal led the expeditions to the Spice Islands, both trying to outdo the other at every turn. While some sailors had reached the Spice Islands, none of them had sailed around the globe, and Magellan wanted to be the first to do this.


Ferdinand de Magellan

Born in 1480 in Sabrosa, Portugal, Ferdinand Magellan at age 12 traveled to Lisbon to serve as page at Queen Leonora’s court.

Exposed to stories of the great Portuguese and Spanish rivalry for sea exploration and dominance over the spice trade and intrigued by the promise of fame and riches, he developed an interest in maritime discovery in those early years.

MAGELLAN: FROM PORTUGAL TO SPAIN

In the 15th century, spices were at the epicenter of the world economy.

Highly valued for flavoring and preserving food spices were extremely valuable.

Portugal and Spain led the competition for early control over this critical commodity. Europeans had reached the Spice Islands by sailing east, but none had yet to sail west from Europe to reach the other side of the globe. Magellan was determined to be the first to do so.

By now an experienced seaman, Magellan approached King Manuel of Portugal to seek his support for a westward voyage to the Spice Islands. The king refused his petition repeatedly. In 1517, frustrated, Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality and relocated to Spain to seek royal support for his venture.

Soon Magellan secured an appointment to meet the king of Spain.

The grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had funded Columbus’ expedition to the New World in 1492, received Magellan’s petition with the same favor shown by his grandparents. Just 18 years old at the time, King Charles I granted his support to Magellan, who in turn promised the young king that his westward sea voyage would bring immeasurable riches to Spain.

STRAIT OF MAGELLAN

On August 10, 1519 the Armada De Moluccas set sail. Magellan commanded the lead ship Trinidad and was accompanied by four other ships: San Antonio, Conception, Victoria, and Santiago.

On October 21, 1520 Magellan finally entered the strait that he had been seeking and that came to bear his name. At this point, only three of the original five ships remained in Magellan’s fleet.

MAGELLAN: CIRCUMNAVIGATING THE GLOBE

After more than a month spent traversing the strait, Magellan’s remaining armada emerged in November 1520 to behold a vast ocean before them. They were the first known Europeans to see the great ocean, which Magellan named Mar Pacifico, the Pacific Ocean, for its apparent peacefulness, a stark contrast to the dangerous waters of the strait from which he had just emerged.

Magellan’s fleet then sailed on to the Philippine archipelago landing on the island of Cebu, where Magellan befriended the locals and, struck with a sudden religious zeal, he sought to convert them to Christianity. Magellan was now closer than ever to reaching the Spice Islands, but when the Cebu asked for his help in fighting their neighbors on the island of Mactan, Magellan agreed. He assumed he would command a swift victory with his superior European weapons, and against the advice of his men, Magellan himself led the attack. The Mactanese fought fiercely, and Magellan fell when he was shot with a poison arrow. He died on April 27, 1521.

Magellan would never make it to the Spice Islands, but after the loss of yet another of his fleet’s vessels, the two remaining ships finally reached the Moluccas on November 5, 1521. In the end, only the Victoria completed the voyage around the world and arrived back in Seville, Spain, in September 1522 with a heavy cargo of spices but with only 18 men from the original crew.

Seeking riches and personal glory, Magellan’s daring and ambitious voyage around the world provided the Europeans with far more than just spices. European geographic knowledge was expanded immeasurably by Magellan’s expedition. He found not only a massive ocean, hitherto unknown to Europeans, but he also discovered that the earth was much larger than previously thought. Finally, although it was no longer believed that the earth was flat at this stage in history, Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe empirically discredited the medieval theory conclusively.


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