Ferdinand Magellan


Was a Portuguese explorer who organised the Castilian expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, resulting in the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

In the spring of 1480, at Sabrosa, in northern Portugal, Fernão de Magalhães was born. He was a Portuguese-Spanish navigator and explorer and was the first European to transverse the Pacific Ocean and to make the first journey around the Earth, even though he himself didn’t reach to its end. Fernão proved beyond any doubt that the Earth is round and that the Pacific and Atlantic are two separate oceans. He was the son of Pedro Rui Magalhães, a little nobleman and mayor of the city where Ferdinand was born. Magellan grew up at the royal court in Lisbon, one of the largest centers of expedition and discovery expeditions that opened new frontiers for the Europeans.

He started sailing since he was just a young boy, he navigated and fought in the Portuguese expeditions sent in Africa and India, to take control over the Arabian Sea and to establish commercial ports in the Indian Ocean. Magellan also took part in the conquest of the Malacca port, a rich gateway of trade with the East, by the Portuguese. From this port, the Portuguese advanced to Moluccas or to the Spice Islands. In 1512, Magellan came back at home with the rank of Captain and the following year, he was severely wounded in the battle of Morocco, leaving him with a walking disability. In 1513, he is hurt again in the Portuguese expedition in Morocco. During the same period, he rebuked with the King of Portugal. King Manuel I refused to give him a higher salary and, more importantly, he refused to listen to Magellan’s plan to sail westwards, bypassing South America to find an alternative route to the Spice Islands.

Fernão de Magalhães did not give up and he went to the neighbor and rival of Portugal, offering his services to the young king, Charles I of Spain. His plan seemed very attractive to the Spanish King because, according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, the then known world was divided into two parts: what lied east of the line of demarcation belonged to Portugal, while everything lied west of the line, belonged to Spain. If Magellan would have found a way towards west, bypassing South America, the Spice Island would have been opened to the Spaniards. Spain has thus totally adopted Magellan. He took the Spanish nationality, was married to the daughter of a senior official from Seville, and had a child.

However, Magellan wasn’t a dreamer. He planned the trip well in advance and had consulted with astronomer, Faleiro to ensure that he will be financed by Christopher de Haro, which by the way, he begrudged the Portuguese King as well. By signing an agreement with King Charles I of Spain, Magellan and Faleiro, both in the office of general captains, were to receive 5% of the profits dispatch and the conquered territories were to enter under their own governance, remaining to their heirs as well.

On 10 August 1519, the five ships that made up the fleet expedition: Trinidad (110 tons, 55 sailors), San Antonio (120 tons, 60 sailors), Concepción (90 tons, 45 sailors), Victoria (85 tons, 42 sailors) and Santiago (75 tons, 32 sailors) left Seville, sailing on the Guadalquivir River to San Lucar de Barrameda, where they remained for more than five weeks, during which the last supply was complete and the last service was made. In September 1519, he left Spain, in charge of a fleet of five ships and 250 men. After he managed to transverse the Atlantic Ocean, his fleet sailed along the coast of South America, in a territory still unexplored. The fleet initially tried to find a pass through the Rio de la Plata estuary, then they headed southwards and wintered for six months in southern Patagonia, where Magellan has suppressed a revolt, executing its leaders and discarding ashore one of the conspirators. In 1520, after the loss of a ship, the fleet rounded the southern tip of the continent on 21 October and entered the gorge which is now known as the Strait of Magellan. Thirty-eight days lasted the crew’s fight against the agitated waves and gusts of wind coming from the west, until the ships managed to make their way through the treacherous strait. The crew of the San Antonio ship deserted and returned to Spain.

They traveled 530 km, less than 16 km a day, until they finally managed to get out to the sea, in the Pacific Ocean. Like Columbus when he first arrived in the Caribbean Islands thirty years ago, the crew had no idea where they were, and certainly did not know that the ocean that stretched before them was so vast. Magellan went to the north and then changed the course to west, entering in the of the Pacific. As most supplies were now on their way back to Spain, aboard the deserting San Antonio fleet, Magellan used all the courage and all the leadership qualities that he possessed to lead his fleet further. During the passage across the ocean, Magellan has developed such a good signaling system that no ship from the fleet got lost, though they were totally different. The misunderstandings with the Spanish captains shortly occurred. To Cartagena’s claims about changing the itinerary, Magellan replied: “Your lordship’s duty is to follow my flag during the day and my lantern from the ship’s stern during the night.”

In 1521, Magellan continued to sail to the Philippines, becoming the first European to arrive in these islands, then foolishly got involved in a local war, on the side of the leader from Cebu. He was killed by a poisoned arrow while attacking the Mactan Island. In 1522, two of his remaining ships have continued on to the Spice Islands, where they loaded very valuable goods and one of them, Victoria, managed to complete its journey around the world, bypassing the Cape of Good Hope and reaching back to Seville, on 9 September. Only the load of spices was valuable enough to pay for the entire expedition, but aboard the ship, there were only eighteen Europeans and four Indians left.

Launched in the quest for wealth and glory, the ambitious Magellan brought to Europe not only spices, but geographical information and knowledge that were more valuable than any vessel laden with spices. These information would change the world upside down. Ferdinand Magellan discovered not only the largest ocean on Earth, but he discovered that the world was much larger and more varied than it was previously thought. Finally, his adventure proved forever that the Earth was not flat as it was known in those times. His circumnavigation was certainly the first great step of mankind. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his dream and achievements fulfilled. Incidentally, he also was the first European who saw and described penguins.

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