Magellan was a Portuguese Explorer who became known for having organised and captained the first expedition from Europe to Asia by the west, rounding the Americas by the south and crossing the Pacific Ocean for the first time, which resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth.
The circumnavigation was actually completed after Magellan’s death during the Voyage by the Basque Juan Sebastian Elcano.
Here is Magellan’s story. In March 1505 at the age of 25, Magellan enlisted in the fleet of 22 ships sent to deliver Dom Francisco de Almeida the first viceroy of Portuguese India to his posting.
Magellan’s name does not appear in the chronicles, but it is known that he remained eight years, in Goa, Cochin & Quilon.
He participated in several battles, including the Battle of Cannanore in 1506, where he was wounded. In 1509 he fought in the Battle of Diu.
Later, Magellan sailed under Diogo Lopes de Sequeira in the first Portuguese embassy to Malacca, with Francisco Serrão, his friend and possibly cousin.
In September, after arriving at Malacca, the expedition fell victim to a conspiracy ending in retreat. Magellan had a crucial role, warning Sequeira and saving Francisco Serrão, who had already landed. These actions earned him honours and a promotion.
In 1511, under the new governor Alfonso de Albuquerque, Magellan and Serrão participated in the Conquest of Malacca. After the conquest their ways parted: Magellan was promoted, with a rich plunder and, in the company of a Malay he had indentured and baptized Enrique of Malacca, he returned to Portugal in 1512.
Serrão, on the other hand, departed in the first expedition sent to find the “Spice Islands” in the Molucca’s, where he remained. He married a woman from Amboina and became a military advisor to the Sultan of Ternate, Bayan Sirrullah. His letters to Magellan would prove decisive, giving information about the spice-producing territories.
After taking a leave without permission, Magellan fell out of favour with the King. He was serving in Morocco where he was wounded, resulting in a permanent limp. He was accused of trading illegally with the Moors. The accusations were proved false, but he received no further offers of employment after 15 May 1514.
In 1515, he got an employment offer to be a crew member on a Portuguese ship, but rejected this.
In 1517 after a quarrel with King Manuel I, who denied his persistent demands to lead an expedition to reach the spice islands from the east (i.e., while sailing westwards, seeking to avoid the need to sail around the tip of Africa), he left for Spain.
While in Seville he befriended his countryman Diogo Barbosa and soon married his daughter by his second wife María Caldera Beatriz Barbosa. They had two children: Rodrigo de Magalhães and Carlos de Magalhães, both of whom died at a young age. His wife died in Seville around 1521.
Meanwhile Magellan devoted himself to studying the most recent charts, investigating, in partnership with Cosmographer Rui Faleiro, a gateway from the Atlantic to the South Pacific and the possibility of the Moluccas being Spanish according to the demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas. This treaty basically granted to the Portuguese the ‘exclusive rights’ to travel to ‘Asia’ via what is now the Cape of Good Hope (the southern most Cape of Africa). To avoid conflict the Spaniards wanted to explore to western route around the Americas, through what would become known as the Straights of Magellan.
Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the West (1492–1503) had the goal of reaching the Indies and to establish direct commercial relations between Spain and the Asian kingdoms.
The Spanish soon realized that the lands of the Americas were not a part of Asia, but a new continent. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas reserved for Portugal the eastern routes that went around Africa, and Vasco de Gama and the Portuguese had arrived in India in 1498.
Spain urgently needed to find a new commercial route to Asia. After the Junta de Toro conference of 1505, the Spanish Crown commissioned expeditions to discover a route to the west. Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and Juan Diaz de Solis died in Rio de la Plata in 1516 while exploring South America in the service of Spain.
In October 1517 in Seville, Magellan contacted Juan de Aranda, Factor of the Casa de Contratación. Following the arrival of his partner Rui Faleiro, and with the support of Aranda, they presented their project to the Spanish king, Charles I, future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Magellan’s project, if successful, would realize Columbus’ plan of a spice route by sailing west without damaging relations with the Portuguese. The idea was in tune with the times and had already been discussed after Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific.
On 22nd March 1518 the king named Magellan and Faleiro captains so that they could travel in search of the Spice Islands in July. He raised them to the rank of Commander of the Order of Santiago. The king granted them:
- Monopoly of the discovered route for a period of ten years.
- Their appointment as governors of the lands and islands found, with 5% of the resulting net gains.
- The right to levy one thousand ducats on upcoming trips, paying only 5% on the remainder.
- Granting of an island for each one, apart from the six richest, from which they would receive a fifteenth.
The expedition was funded largely by the Spanish Crown, which provided ships carrying supplies for two years of travel. Expert Cartographers Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese who had started working for Charles V in 1518 as a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación, took part in the development of the maps to be used in the travel.
Several problems arose during the preparation of the trip, including lack of money, the king of Portugal trying to stop them, Magellan and other Portuguese incurring suspicion from the Spanish, and the difficult nature of Faleiro.
Finally, thanks to the tenacity of Magellan, the expedition was ready. Through the bishop Juan Rodriquez de Fonseca they obtained the participation of merchant Christopher de Haro, who provided a quarter of the funds and goods to barter.
The fleet provided by King Charles V included five ships: the flagship Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55), under Magellan’s command; San Antonio (120 tons; crew 60) commanded by Juan de Cartagena; Concepcion (90 tons, crew 45) commanded by Gaspar de Quesada; Santiago (75 tons, crew 32) commanded by Juan Serrano; and Victoria (85 tons, crew 43), commanded by Luis Mendoza. (The last ship was named after the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Triana, where Magellan took an oath of allegiance to Charles V.) Trinidad was a caravel, and all others rated as carracks (Spanish carraca or nao; Portuguese nau).
The crew of about 270 included men from several nations: including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and France. Spanish authorities were wary of Magellan, so that they almost prevented him from sailing, switching his mostly Portuguese crew to mostly men of Spain. It included about 40 Portuguese, among them Magellan’s brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, João Serrão, a relative of Francisco Serrão, Estêvão Gomes and Magellan’s indentured servant Enrique of Malacca.
Faleiro, who had planned to accompany the voyage, withdrew prior to boarding. Juan Sebastian Elcano, a Spanish merchant ship captain settled at Seville, embarked seeking the king’s pardon for previous misdeeds, and Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and traveller, asked to be on the voyage, accepting the title of “supernumerary” and a modest salary. He became a strict assistant of Magellan and kept an accurate journal. The only other sailor to report the voyage would be Francisco Albo, who kept a formal logbook .
Juan de Cartageña was named Inspector General of the expedition, responsible for its financial and trading operations.
On 10th August 1519, the five ships under Magellan’s command left Seville and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river where they stayed until 20th September when they finally set sail.
King Manuel I ordered a Portuguese naval detachment to pursue Magellan, but the explorer evaded them. After stopping at the Canary Islands, Magellan arrived at Cape Verde, where he set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On 27th November the expedition crossed the equator and on 6th December the crew sighted South America.
As Brazil was Portuguese territory, Magellan avoided it and on 13th December anchored near present-day Rio de Janeiro. There the crew was re-supplied, but bad conditions caused them to delay.
Afterwards, they continued to sail south along South America’s east coast, looking for the strait that Magellan believed would lead to the Spice Islands. The fleet reached Rio de la Plata on 10th January 1520.
[The Río de la Plata was first explored by the Portuguese in 1512-1513. The Spanish first explored it in 1516, when the navigator Juan Diaz de Solis traversed it during his search for a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, naming it the Mar Dulce, or fresh water sea. The Portuguese navigator Magellan briefly explored the estuary in 1520 before his expedition continued its circumnavigation, and in 1521 Cristóvão Jacques also explored the Plate River estuary and ascended for the first time the Parana River, entering it for about 23 leagues (around 140 km), to near the present city of Rosario]
On Easter (April 1 and 2), a mutiny broke out involving three of the five ship captains.
Magellan took quick and decisive action. Luis de Mendoza, the captain of Victoria, was killed by a party sent by Magellan, and the ship was recovered. After Concepcion’s anchor cable had been secretly cut by his forces, the ship drifted towards the well-armed Trinidad, and Concepcion’s captain de Quesada and his inner circle surrendered. Juan de Cartagena, the head of the mutineers on the San Antonio, subsequently gave up.
Antonio Pigafetta reported that Gaspar Quesada, the captain of Concepcion, and other mutineers were executed, while Juan de Cartagena, the captain of San Antonio, and a priest named Padre Sanchez de la Reina were marooned on the coast. Most of the men, including Juan Sebastian Elcano were needed and forgiven. Reportedly those killed were drawn and quartered and impaled on the coast; years later, their bones were found by Sir Francis Drake.
[Puerto San Julian was given its name by Magellan who arrived there on 31st March 1520 and over wintered in the harbour. They met the native people who were described by Pigafetta as giants, and called them Patagonians, meaning “Big Feet”, since they wore guanaco hide shoes or boots stuffed with straw. At the start of April, Magellan was faced by a mutiny led by his Spanish captains at midnight on Easter day, but succeeded in overcoming it, executing mutineers including one captain and leaving another behind. He left the port on 21st August 1520 and on 21st October found the eastern entrance to the passageway he was looking for, the strait that now bears his name.]
As a side note, on April 1st, 2014 the Roman Catholic faithful of Puerto San Julian celebrated the 404th anniversary of the first mass celebrated in Argentina. It was on April 1st, 1520, which was Palm Sunday, that the first mass was celebrated by Friar Pedro de Valderrama, a Franciscan Friar and member of the expedition.
He is also credited as the priest who celebrated the first mass in the Philippines after the Expedition landed on an Island in southern Leyte called: Mazaua. It was Easter Sunday March 31, 1521.