The revelation that the islands where spices grew lay some fifty degrees of longitude to the east of Calicut could not fail to revive the old Columbian project to reach them by sailing west. That it was now again first proposed to the king of Portugal, rejected by him, laid before the king of Spain, and under his patronage at last brought to a successful issue by a Portuguese sailor, is one of those "artistries in circumstance"1 which give its infinite variety to history and baffle all efforts to reduce its course to the regulated bounds of discernible natural law.
Fernão de Magalhães was born in the interior of Portugal of a family of the lesser nobility, about the year 1480. Early transplanted to the capital, he became a page of Queen Leonora, but at the accession of King Emmanuel in 1495 he passed into his service. In the impressionable years of his early manhood he saw the return of Da Gama from India. p116Then came the equipment of great fleets for the Indies, the discovery of Brazil and its exploration. No wonder that the youth sought service in the far East and joined the great expedition of Almeida in 1505. In this service Magellan, to adopt for convenience this anglicized form of the name, remained for seven years, during which he visited Malacca and took part in its conquest in 1511. His return to Portugal soon followed, and next came a campaign or two in Morocco.2
Africa was a "pent-up Utica" compared with the Indies, and the letters which Magellan received from his intimate friend Francisco de Sarrão, who penetrated still farther East, and was living in the Molucca islands and writing of "another new world larger and richer than that found by Vasco da Gama,"3 hardened to a fixed purpose the project to seek the Spice Islands by the west. The decisive moment came when King Emmanuel denied Magellan's request for promotion and a slight increase in his stipend, and rejected his proposal for the western voyage.4 Magellan was not the man to sit quiet with a great idea in his head. If the door was closed against him in Portugal he would find an opening elsewhere.
Hence he went to Seville in 1517, and, taking out naturalization papers, became a subject of Charles I, p118more familiarly known under his imperial title as Charles V. He soon found an opportunity to lay his plan before the officials of the Casa de Contratacion, or India House. He told them that Malacca and Maluco (the Moluccas), "the islands in which cloves grow, belonged to the emperor on account of the demarcation line."5 They assented, but replied that it impossible to go thither without trespassing within the demarcation of the king of Portugal. Magellan asserted that he could go thither without touching the seas or land of the king of Portugal.
The officials shelved the matter, but after prolonged effort Magellan was able to have an interview with the youthful king and his immediate advisers. Maximilianus Transylvanus, the earliest historian of the expedition, describes the interview with Charles as follows: "They both showed Caesar that though it was not yet quite sure whether Malacca was within the confines of the Spaniard or the Portuguese, because as yet nothing of the longitude had been clearly proved, yet that it was quite plain that the Great Gulf and the people of Sinae [China] lay within the Spanish boundary. This, too, was held to be most certain, that the islands which they call the Moluccas, in which all the spices are produced, and are thence exported to Malacca, lay within the Spanish western division, and that p119it was possible to sail there; and that spices could be brought thence to Spain more easily, and at less expense and cheaper, as they came direct from their native place."6
The historian Las Casas was present in Valladolid when Magellan came thither to present his plan to the king, and he records a conversation with him. "Magellan had," he writes, "a well-painted globe in which the whole world was depicted, and on it he indicated the route he proposed to take, saving that the strait was left purposely blank so that no one should anticipate him. And on that day and at that hour I was in the office of the high chancellor when the bishop [Fonseca] brought it [i.e., the globe] and showed the high chancellor the voyage which was proposed, and speaking with Magellan I asked him what way he planned to take, and he answered that he intended to go by Cape Saint Mary, which we call the Rio de la Plata, and from thence to follow the coast up until he hit upon the strait. 'But suppose you do not find any strait by which you can go into the other sea?' He replied that if he didn't find any strait that he would go the way the Portuguese took. . . . This Hernando de Magallanes must have been a man of courage and valiant in his thoughts and for undertaking great things, although he was not of imposing presence because he was small in p120stature and did not appear in himself to be much."7
The appeal to the sovereign was successful, and in a few days (March 22, 1518) Magellan received a patent under which the king was to equip five ships with provisions for two years for the expedition, upon the condition that it was to be within "the limits which belong to us in the ocean within the bounds of our demarcation."8 No sooner had the preliminary arrangements been completed than the most strenuous efforts were made by the Portuguese minister in behalf of his sovereign to prevent the expedition; but Charles was firm and Magellan refused to give way to appeals or threats.
The fleet prepared for this momentous enterprise consisted of the San Antonio, of one hundred and fifty tons burden; the Trinidad, of one hundred and ten tons; the Concepcion, ninety tons; the Victoria, eighty-five tons; and the Santiago, seventy-five tons. It was far from easy to get together the crews, and when the list was finally made up it was singularly cosmopolitan. In this great world-voyage nearly all the seafaring peoples were represented: besides Spaniards and Portuguese, there were Basques, "Genoese, Sicilians, French, Flemings, Germans, Greeks, Neapolitans, Corfiotes, Negroes, and Malays;" one Englishman, Master Andrew, of Bristol;9 p121natives of the Azores, Madeira, and Canary Islands; and at least two of American birth and partly of American blood.10 The total equipment numbered about two hundred and seventy men. On board were several young men who went to see the world, among whom, fortunately for posterity, was the Italian Antonio Pigafetta, whose journal of his experiences and observations is our best history of the expedition.
Finally, on Tuesday, September 20, 1519, the little fleet weighed anchor and set sail from the harbor of San Lucar de Barrameda. The earlier part of the voyage was without startling incident save for an ominous clash with some of the captains, who questioned the wisdom of Magellan's course, and were obviously restive under the authority of a Portuguese.11 Reaching the coast of Brazil near Pernambuco, they followed it south till they found (January 11) the mouth of the great river where Magellan's forerunner Solis had met his death. This was carefully examined, and from thence to the south not an inlet was overlooked. It was a slow process, and the name "Bahia de los Trabajos" (Bay of Labors) attached to one of the indentations on that bleak shore records its tedium and difficulties.
Cold weather was now approaching, and Magellan decided, March 31, 1520, to spend the winter in Port p122St. Julian, in latitude forty-nine degrees south. The region was almost uninhabited, and the climate as well as the latitude corresponded to that of southern Newfoundland. It was the first attempt in history on the part of an exploring expedition to winter in a high latitude,12 and the prospect to Magellan's associates was forbidding. They urged a return to Spain, satisfied with having carried the exploration of the coast beyond previous navigators. This was a natural attitude for ordinary men, especially as they were now fifteen degrees farther south than the Cape of Good Hope; but Magellan was not an ordinary man. He was bound to accomplish his purpose at any cost. He assured his commanders that although winter was upon them it could be weathered, and that it would be easy to succeed in the summer of that region, where, if they continued their course beyond the south, "the whole of its summer would be one perpetual day."13 He further reminded them that the greater the difficulties the greater the reward.
Far from being reassured, the commanders conspired. On the night of April 1 Captain Quesada of the Concepcion, with body of armed men boarded the San Antonio, at that time commanded by Mesquita, a cousin of Magellan, overpowered him, and put him in irons. Captain Mendoza, of the p123Victoria, sided with the mutineers, whose plan was to take control of the fleet and return to Spain. Magellan woke to find three ships in their control. Open force would be hopeless; to give in would be humiliation and failure; to go on with the little Santiago was out of the question. With instant resolution Magellan risked all in a single stroke. Having retained the boat of the San Antonio, which brought the terms that the rebellious captains offered, he used it to despatch Gonzalo Gomez, the alguacil, with a written order to Mendoza to come on board Magellan's ship. Gomez and his five companions bore concealed weapons. When Mendoza refused to obey the order he was instantly stabbed by Gomez in the neck and struck down dead by one of his companions. At almost the same moment the vessel was boarded and carried with a rush by Magellan's brother-in‑law Barbosa and fifteen picked men, the crew making little resistance; and the day was won!
With the recovery of the Victoria the odds now were three to two against the mutineers, with Magellan blocking their exit from the harbor. During the night the San Antonio, dragging her anchors, bore down upon Magellan's ships. The Trinidad opened fire and grappled her, and she was boarded from both the Trinidad and the Victoria. Without loss of life the San Antonio was recovered. There was now no hope for Juan de Cartagena, on the Concepcion, and he surrendered. The next day the p124body of Mendoza was quartered, and then the living mutineers were tried and forty found guilty and condemned to death. Magellan pardoned all but three of the ringleaders. Quesada was beheaded and when the fleet left the bay in the August following Juan de Cartagena and the priest Sanchez were put ashore. After this grim crisis Magellan's authority was unquestioned.14
After four months and a half of waiting a new start was made August 24, 1520. During this period the sprightly Pigafetta had not failed to make many interesting observations of the wandering bands of natives whose immense footprints suggested to Magellan the name "Patagones" ("big feet"). Their unusual stature led the Italian to call them giants; and the quaint name of their devil god, to whom they cried in anger or terror, which he records, gave Shakespeare his Setebos, to whom Caliban appeals in "The Tempest."15 The season, however, was not advanced enough for pushing farther south, and another tarry of two months followed in the mouth of the Santa Cruz. By October 18 the weather invited a renewal of the search, and on the 21st the entrance to the looked-for westward strait was discovered.
Threading its windings and exploring its branches took thirty-eight days, but they were days of excitement and expectation, as hitherto unknown p125wonders of nature were revealed from hour to hour. Magellan found himself in a great cut some •three hundred and twenty-five miles long and from two to five miles wide. For the first half of the distance it runs southwesterly through a region of pampas; then it turns to the northwest and cuts through the ridge of the lower Andes. Lofty precipices rising several thousand feet, snow-topped, forest-clad mountains, vast glaciers, tempestuous winds rushing down the mountain-sides like avalanches, fathomless depths of black water beneath, long antarctic days, new and strange forms of life, the great issues at stake — all combined to make the first passage of the Straits of Magellan one of the most thrilling of human experiences. That the strain told even on Magellan's "heart of triple bronze"16 is clear from Pigafetta's record of the announcement brought back by a reconnoitring party "that they had found the cape and the sea great and wide. At the joy which the captain-general had at this he began to cry, and he gave the name of Cape of Desire to this cape, as a thing which had been much desired for a long time."17
Yet anxiety was mixed with joy, for Estevan Gomez, with the San Antonio, during the passage of the strait, had slipped away to return to Spain, and no trace of him could be found. As they entered the ocean again they were so favored with quiet p126waters and fair winds that the name "Mare Pacificum" ("Peaceful Sea") was bestowed upon it. Fortunate, indeed, was it that this vast expanse of waters deserved this name, otherwise these first venturers upon its bosom must have perished. Columbus found land approximately where he expected to; Magellan pursued his way for weeks over a pathless sea about whose width nothing was known and all conjectures were hopelessly wrong. That he faced an ocean more than twice as wide as the Atlantic or Indian oceans he could have no intimation, for no one suspected the existence of such a mass of water on the globe.
As the weeks rolled by the provisions gave out, and nothing was left but wormy crumbs. The water was thick and yellow. In their want the weatherworn ox-hides with which the main-yard was covered to prevent chafing were soaked in the sea for days and then broiled; and rats were sold for half a ducat apiece.18 Twice their hopes were raised by sight of land, but it was only small coral islands which were uninhabited save by birds.
March 6, 1521, they discovered a group of islands which they called the "Ladrones" (Robbers) because the natives were so thievish. Securing some provisions, they proceeded, and on March 16 sighted the island of Samar of the now familiar Philippines. That they had reached the outlying p127portions of the Asiatic world was evident a few days later when Magellan's Malay slave Enrique, of Malacca, was able to make himself understood. But Magellan's triumph was to be short-lived: in a little over a month he fell in a battle with the natives on the island of Matan. He was denied the proud and happy moments enjoyed by Columbus upon his return, but he was also spared the agony of declining fortunes.
Columbus and Magellan are the great figures of this heroic age in American history, but though their lives overlapped a quarter of a century, they really belong to different ages. There was none of the prophetic mysticism of Columbus in the make-up of the great Portuguese. Magellan was distinctly a man of action, instant, resolute, enduring. The first voyage across the Atlantic broke down the barriers of the ages and was a sublime act of faith; but the first navigation of the Straits of Magellan was a far more difficult problem of seamanship than crossing the Atlantic. More than half of the English and Dutch navigators who later attempted it towards the end of the sixteenth century gave it up and turned back.19 Columbus's voyage was over in thirty-five days; but Magellan's expedition had been gone a year and weathered a subarctic winter before its real task began — the voyage over a trackless waste of waters exactly three times as long as the first crossing of the Atlantic. For p128these and other similar reasons it seems to be the mature judgment of the historians of the discoveries that Magellan is to be ranked as the first navigator of ancient or modern times, and his voyage the greatest single human achievement on the sea.20
The rest of the voyage lay for the most part over a region already traversed by the Portuguese. A few days after Magellan's death his two successors in command, Barbosa, his brother-in‑law, and his faithful friend João Serrão, with several companions, were treacherously killed by the natives. The numbers were now reduced to about one hundred and fifteen men, and they decided to leave the unseaworthy Concepcion and to proceed with the Victoria and the Trinidad. After leaving the Philippines they touched on the west coast of Borneo, then turned back and went down to the Moluccas. Here they loaded with spices, refitted and started on the long return, the Victoria and across the Indian Ocean and up the coast of Africa, the Trinidad for Panama across the Pacific, an attempt which had to be given up because little headway could be made against trade winds. Of the fifty-four who set sail with her only nineteen survived when the voyage21 was finally given up; and p129only four of these ever saw Spain again, and that after years of captivity.22
On the Victoria there was much suffering from cold and later from lack of food; and under absolute necessity a stop was made at the Cape Verd Islands. There it leaked out that the weather-worn navigators were returning from India with spices, and the Portuguese held a boat-load of the sailors as captives. The Victoria herself barely escaped with the scanty number of eighteen Europeans and four natives. At last, after an absence of three years lacking thirteen days, on September 7, 1522, they arrived at San Lucar and two days later at Seville. In response to the urgent request of the emperor the men detained at the Cape Verd Islands were sent home by the Portuguese, and then the emperor received at court the thirty-one who had been round the world. Sebastian del Cano, the commander, was given five hundred ducats, and granted a coat of arms surmounted by a globe bearing the sublime legend "Primus circumdedisti Me" ("First thou didst encompass me"). Of the two hundred and eighty-nine men who started probably about eighty returned from the Straits with the San Antonio;23 of the remainder, perhaps one hundred and sixty in number, only thirty-six ever saw home again.24 Yet the financial results were such as to tempt other voyages, for the cargo of spices brought by the little Victoria, p130consisting principally of twenty-six tons of cloves, exceeded in value the total net cost of the expedition.25
Among the novel experiences of going round the world is the gain or loss of a day. As the Victoria went round to the west, those on board saw the sun rise once less than those who stayed at home. This was first noticed upon their arrival at the Cape Verd Islands on Wednesday, July 9, as they supposed, but really on Thursday, July 10, as they were assured by the Portuguese. The discovery was alarming, for none could tell how many fasts had been violated or saints' days neglected. Absolution was sought and obtained, but the explanation of the problem apparently was beyond the historian Peter Martyr, who tried to convince the men they had miscounted or forgotten that 1520 was a leap year and so lost the 29th of February; but, no, they insisted that no mistake had been made. Finally, Gaspar Contarini, the Venetian ambassador, gave the true solution,26 which curiously enough was perfectly familiar to the Arabian geographer Abulfeda two centuries earlier.27
The approach to the Spice Islands from the east and the assertion that they lay within the Spanish field of discovery by the demarcation line precipitated a controversy which lasted several years. After some preliminary negotiations it was agreed p131to hold a scientific congress made up on each side of three astronomers and three pilots as scientific experts, and of three lawyers as judges of documentary proofs. This body, known as the Badajos Junta, held its opening session April 11, 1524, on the bridge over the Caya River, the boundary between Spain and Portugal, meeting therefore alternately in Badajos and Yelves until May 31. But nothing came of the congress, for the lawyers could not agree as to the priority of possession, nor the scientific experts as to the longitude of the Moluccas or the proper location of the demarcation line.28
King Charles then sent out an expedition to the islands under Loaysa, which met with many disasters. The difficulty of navigating the straits was such that it took Loaysa four months to make the passage. It was not discovered until 1616 that Cape Horn could be rounded. When the survivors reached their goal they could neither go on nor return. The stubbornness with which the king of Portugal maintained his claims to the islands, the impossibility of a scientific and exact determination of the demarcation line in the absence of accurate means for measuring longitude, and the pressure of financial needs led Charles V in 1529 to relinquish all claims to or rights to trade with the Moluccas p132for three hundred and fifty thousand ducats; and to accept a new demarcation line in the antipodes, drawn north and south seventeen degrees on the equator east of the Moluccas. This agreement in reality renounced all claim to the Philippines, but this feature of the treaty was subsequently violated or ignored by Spain.29
The scientific results of Magellan's voyage were far more important than the political advantages derived from it. Once for all it gave a practical demonstration of the sphericity of the earth and convinced the ordinary mind unreached by the scientific proofs. It revolutionized all ideas as to the relative proportions of the land and water of the globe, and dissipated the traditional error on which Columbus's voyages and his whole geographical system were based, that the area of the land exceeded that of the water. The vast width of the Pacific revealed that America was a new world in a more comprehensive sense than had been suspected. That America was entirely detached from Asia was not definitely proved until the voyage of Vitus Bering, in 1728, through the strait named for him.
1 Hardy, The Dynasts, 1.
2 Guillemard, Life of Magellan, 17 ff.
3 Ibid., 71.
4 That Magellan made such a proposal is an inference. Ibid., 81, 82.
5 Lord Stanley's version of the extracts from Correa, Lendas da India, in his First Voyage Round the World, 245.
6 Lord Stanley, First Voyage Round the World, 187; Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, I, 309.
7 Las Casas, Historia, IV, 376, 377.
8 Navarrete, Viages, 116‑121.
9 Guillemard, Magellan, 137.
10 Guillemard, Magellan, 154, n.
11 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 492.
12 Günther, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 77.
13 Maximilianus Transylvanus, in Lord Stanley, First Voyage Round the World, 193.
14 Guillemard, Magellan, 163‑174.
15 Pigafetta, in Lord Stanley, First Voyage Round the World, 53.
16 John Fiske, Discovery of America, II, 204.
17 Pigafetta, in Lord Stanley, First Voyage Round the World, 60.
18 Pigafetta, in Lord Stanley, First Voyage Round the World, 65. Guillemard, Magellan, 221.
19 Ruge, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 474.
20 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 526; Guillemard, Magellan, 258; Günther, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 76; First Voyage Round the World, p. xlvi.
21 Guillemard, Magellan, 302.
22 Guillemard, Magellan, 306.
23 Ibid., 267.
24 Ibid., 336‑339.
25 Guillemard, Magellan, 310.
26 Peter Martyr, De Rebus Oceanicis, dec. V, lib. VII.
27 Peschel, Zeitalter der Entdeckungen, 530.
28 Bourne, Essays in Historical Criticism, 209‑211; the opinions are extracted in Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, I, 165‑221.
29 Bourne, "Historical Introduction" to Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands, I, 29, 30. For the important articles of the treaty, see ibid., 223‑239.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Spain in America
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 17 Jan 08