Ferdinand Magellan


MAGELLAN, muh JEL un, FERDINAND (1480?-1521), a Portuguese navigator, commanded the first expedition that sailed around the earth. He did not live to complete the expedition, but he received most of the credit for it. He is considered by many to be the greatest navigator who ever lived. His voyage provided the first positive proof that the earth is round.

Early Life.

Magellan was born of a noble family in northern Portugal. His name in Portuguese was Fernao De Magalhaes. As a boy he served as a page to the queen of Portugal. He was about seventeen years old when the Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India. When he was about 25 years old, he enlisted as a soldier for service in India. He fought in several campaigns, and traveled as far east as Malacca, near Singapore. Later, while fighting against the Moors in Morocco, he received a wound that made him lame for life.

His Plans.

Meanwhile, Magellan had become interested in geography, and was a competent navigator. But he did not know the size of the Pacific Ocean and thought that the Spice Islands, or Moluccas, where the best cloves grew, lay not far west of Spanish America. He also believed that by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, these islands rightly belonged to Spain. The fact that King Manuel I of Portugal disliked him and treated him badly caused Magellan to enter Spanish service in 1518. When he offered to discover a western route to the Spice Islands for Spain, King Charles V eagerly accepted his proposal.

The king agreed to supply Magellan with a fleet of ships for his voyage, and give him one twentieth of the profits. With five ships, the Concepción, San Antonio, Santiago, Trinidad, and Victoria, and about 240 men, Magellan set sail from Sanlúcar on Sept. 20, 1519. He had no intention of sailing around the world, but intended to return to Spain by his outward-bound route.

His Voyage.

Magellan arrived at the bay of Rio de Janiero early in December, 1519. He explored the South American coast, looking for a strait that would lead him through the continent. From March to October, 1520, he stayed in San Julián and Río de Santa Cruz in what is now southern Argentina. The sailors called this region Patagonia, or land of the big feet, because they believed that the Indians there had big feet.

Magellan's men soon became dissatisfied because the food was running short and they were tired of the hardships that they had already endured. They were also jealous of Magellan. They started a mutiny, but Magellan quickly suppressed the uprising, and put some of the leaders to death. He was determined not to turn back. He declared that he would push on southward even if they had "to eat the leather rigging."

Entering the Pacific.

When he resumed the voyage, he discovered the Strait of Magellan leading from the Atlantic to the Pacific around the southern end of South America. This proved to be the passage to the west that he had been seeking. As the seamen passed through the strait, they saw many Indian campfires at night on land to their left. For this reason they called it Tierra del Fuego (Fireland). Magellan had searched for this strait for 38 days. He told his men that they had discovered the "nearest" route from Spain to the East Indies. He ordered a day of feasting and thanksgiving. He encouraged his men with the thought of the fame and riches they would gain by this discovery. Many of the men thought they had done enough, and wanted to return home for more supplies. But Magellan was determined to finish the trip.

Soon he entered the smooth waters of the western ocean, with only three ships. The Santiago had been wrecked in a storm, and the San Antonio had sailed back secretly to Spain. Magellan named the new ocean the Pacific, because it seemed so calm compared with the stormy waters of through which he had sailed. For 98 days he sailed westward and saw no land, except two desert islands. The provisions gave out or spoiled, and the water supply ran low. Hunger and disease made the condition of his men serious. They ate sawdust and rats. Many died from the starvation. By the time the fleet reached the Marianna islands, those who survived were weak from hunger and sickness. The Spaniards seized food and water from the Micronesians who lived on the islands. Magellan called these islands Ladrones, or islands of robbers, because he believed the inhabitants were thieves.

His Death.

Again Magellan sailed west, and, in a few days, he reached the island of Cebu in the southern Philippines. He estimated that he had passed the longitude of the East Indies. He knew that the way was open to return to Spain through the Indian Ocean.

Magellan converted the chief of the island of Cebu to Christianity. But he made the mistake of assisting him in a war against his enemies. Magellan was cut down by a sword on April 27, 1521, while fighting the enemies of the chief of Cebu on the island of Mactan. The Christian chief then turned against the Spaniards, murdering some and driving the rest from the island.

The End of the Voyage.

The Spanish ships wandered around the East Indies for many months. The Concepción became unseaworthy and was burned. The Trinidad and the Victoria finally reached the Spice Islands and each took a load of cloves. The commander of the Trinidad tried to sail to the isthmus of Panama, but the ship was wrecked by unfavorable winds. The remaining ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain, traveling through the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope. The ship reached St. Lucar, Spain, on Sept. 6, 1522. It was commanded by Juan Sebastián del Cano who properly receives credit for being the first man to sail around the earth. Only Del Cano and 17 men returned with the Victoria.