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Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan, Portuguese: Fernão de Magalhães (circa 1470 - April 27, 1521) was a Portuguese sea explorer who sailed for Spain. He was the first to sail from Europe westwards to Asia, and he named the Pacific Ocean. He is also remembered as the first to circumnavigate the globe, although not in a single voyage: in an earlier voyage he sailed to Indonesia 1511, and in his last voyage he reached the same longitude from the opposite direction.

Table of contents
1 Born to the nobility
2 Dismissal from the Portuguese court
3 His project: to sail around the world
4 The voyage around the world
5 The ships in 1519
6 The first man to circumnavigate the globe
7 The crew in 1522
8 What else did they discover?
9 Further reading

Born to the nobility

Born into the nobility as Fernão de Magalhães (or Magalhãens), he was raised a page at the royal court of King John II of Portugal and Queen Eleonora. At age 20 he was sent to India, to viceroy Francisco de Almeida for military training, where geography caught his interest. Returning from India, he was sent to Morocco, where he fought in the Battle of Azamor (28 - 29 August 1513) and received a knee wound. He was also accused of trading with the Moors. The accusation was subsequently dropped, but Magellan fell into disfavour with the Portuguese crown.

Dismissal from the Portuguese court

He returned to Portugal, and stayed at the royal court of King Emanuel I, but Emanuel let him understand that he would have no further employment in his country's service (after 15 May 1514). Magellan formally renounced his nationality, and went to offer his services to the court of Spain. He reached Seville on 20 October 1517, and thence went to Valladolid to see the Spanish King Charles I. With the help of Juan de Aranda, one of the three chief officials of the India House at Seville, and of other friends, especially Diogo Barbosa, a Portuguese like himself, naturalized as a Spaniard, who had acquired great influence in Seville, and whose daughter he now married, he gained the ear of Charles and of the powerful minister, Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, the persistent enemy of Christopher Columbus, the steady supporter of his great successor.

His project: to sail around the world

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 mouth 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 75° to realize his project.

Ruy Faleiro the astronomer, another Portuguese exile, aided him in the working out of his plan, and he found an invaluable financial ally in Christopher de Haro, a member of a great Antwerp firm, who owed a grudge to the king of Portugal. On 22 March 1518, Magellan and Faleiro, as joint captains-general, signed an agreement with King Charles by which one-twentieth of the clear profits would fall to them; further, they and their heirs would gain the government of any lands discovered, with the title of Adelantados.

The voyage around the world

On 10 August 1519 a fleet of five vessels, under Magellan's command, left Seville and dropped down the Guadalquivir 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 from sailing, but on September 20, 1519 Magellan's armada put to sea.

The ships in 1519

Magellan's ships, 1519
Ship Tonnage Crewmen:
Trinidad 110   55  
San Antonio 120   60  
Concepcion 90   45  
Victoria 85   42  
Santiago 75   32  

Upon hearing of his departure, King Emanuel of Portugal ordered a naval detachment to pursue him, but Magellan contrived to shake off the Portuguese. His next great challenge was a mutiny by his Spanish captains, which he put down by imprisoning his second-in-command. Soon the fleet reached the South American coast, where the weather and the natives were generally friendly. These good conditions caused them to delay, so that the southern winter struck while they were still on the Argentinian coast.

Magellan decided to spend the winter in a place he called Puerto San Julian in Patagonia. Another mutiny occurred here, involving three of the five ships' captains, but it was again put down, because the crew remained loyal, and two expedition leaders (one, a priest) were marooned on that inhospitable coast. One ship, 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 'exactly 52° south' latitude, on October 21, 1520 they started an arduous passage through what is now known as the Strait of Magellan. Magellan assigned San Antonio and Concepcion to explore the strait. Their crews concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine, deep inland. The four ships thus started the passage, three of them entering the South Pacific on November 28. Magellan named the waters the Pacific Ocean because of their apparent stillness.

Three ships were left now (after Estevan Gomez took the San Antonio and turned back during the Straits passage), crossed the Pacific and on March 6, 1521 found the Marianas and on March 16 the island of Homonhon in the Philippines. By this time, there were 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, at the Battle of Mactan, after intervening with about 50 armored crewmen in a local conflict between Lapu-Lapu of Mactan and Rajah Humabon of Cebu. Eight crewmen died as they faced 1500 warriors. The crew were forced to leave Magellan to die, surrounded by warriors, in the surf.

The first man to circumnavigate the globe

Magellan's Malay interpreter, who was baptized Enrique in Malacca 1511, returned from enslavement by Sumatran slavers to his home islands (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, 2 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). They returned to Spain, on September 6, 1522. The expedition actually eked a small profit, but the crew were not paid their full wages.

The crew in 1522

These 18 men returned to Seville with the Victoria
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.

What else did they discover?

Further reading

See also:
Military History of the Philippines