Ferdinand Magellan (1480?-1521), Portuguese-born Spanish explorer and navigator, leader of the first expedition to circumnavigate, or sail completely around, the world. He was born in northern Portugal.
Magellan set out to reach the East Indies by sailing westward from Europe, which no one was sure could be done. He intended to return by the same route, but after his death his crews found that the prevailing winds required them to keep sailing west, around the world.
Magellan was born Fernão de Magalhães to a noble Portuguese family; later the Spanish knew him as Fernando de Magallanes. He served as a court page in his youth, and in 1505 he sailed with a fleet carrying the first Portuguese viceroy to India. He then served with the fleet in the exploration and conquest of the East Indies. Twice wounded in battle, he took part in expeditions that captured the kingdom of Malacca (Melaka) in the Malay Peninsula of southeast Asia. He explored the islands of present-day Indonesia as far east as the Moluccas, or Spice Islands. By 1510 he was promoted to the rank of captain.
In 1512 Magellan returned to Portugal, and in 1513 he battled the Moors in Morocco. He was wounded again and left with a permanent limp. Soon afterward he lost favor with King Manuel of Portugal, probably because of charges of financial irregularities while he was in Morocco. The king canceled a promotion Magellan had received for his valor against the Moors and later denied his request for a fleet to prove that the Moluccas could be reached by sailing west.
|III||THE PLAN FOR THE VOYAGE|
Magellan renounced his Portuguese citizenship and in 1517 went to Spain to seek support for his plan from King Charles I (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). Magellan believed there was a passage to the west through or around South America. Such a passage would be of great value to the Spanish, who wanted a share in the lucrative trade in spices from the Moluccas. Portugal controlled the eastward route to the East Indies, around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and would not allow Spanish ships to pass.
Magellan offered an additional argument to the king. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal had divided the world between the two powers. The Portuguese hemisphere was east of a north-south line that ran through Brazil. The Spanish half was west of the line. However, the position of the line on the other side of the globe was unknown. Magellan argued that at least some of the Moluccas might lie within the Spanish hemisphere. The only way to be sure was to measure the distance around the earth by sailing west to the Moluccas, since their distance from Spain by the eastern route was known.
|IV||START OF THE EXPEDITION|
Magellan won the king’s approval for his voyage. A fleet of five vessels was outfitted and sailed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain, with about 250 men on September 20, 1519. Magellan sailed through familiar waters along the west coast of Africa and then south to the equator. There the fleet turned south-southwest and crossed the Atlantic to a point near Recife in Brazil.
Magellan searched down the coast of South America for a passage through the continent. In December he stopped at Rio de Janeiro, where the sailors traded with the Native Americans for provisions. Continuing south, he explored every likely inlet, especially the mouth of the Río de la Plata, which he briefly thought was the passage because it was so wide. As the southern winter approached in April, the ships took shelter from storms in Port San Julián, now in Argentina. During five months there, Magellan suppressed a mutiny of his Spanish officers, who were jealous because Magellan was Portuguese. One ship was lost when it was driven ashore during an exploratory voyage.
In August the voyage resumed. The four small craft pressed farther south, past the 50th parallel to the Rio Santa Cruz, where additional provisions were acquired. Three days after leaving this refuge, they rounded a large cape and found a wide inlet. Against his sailors’ advice, Magellan sent out two ships to explore this body of water. After two days the vessels were thought to be lost, but then they returned to report that they had passed through two bays connected by narrow passages and had seen a third bay beyond.
Uncertain but hopeful, Magellan pressed on through the strait, which was dangerously narrow and winding in many places. On the other side of the third bay, two passages were sighted; Magellan ordered them to be explored. During the night one ship mutinied and sailed back to Spain. Undaunted, Magellan pressed on. To the south was a stark, forbidding land, dotted with fires, which he named Tierra del Fuego, Spanish for “Land of Fire.” After several days the western passage led into a long channel, running northwest, that opened onto a great ocean. The ships sailed forth on November 28, 1520, having taken 38 grueling days to negotiate 579 km (360 mi) of icy water lined with snow-clad mountains. The route they used is now known as the Strait of Magellan.
Because it was calm, Magellan named the ocean Pacific. Although favored by the weather, the fleet suffered greatly in another way. Magellan had underestimated the ocean’s size, and his course was too far north to encounter the fruitful southern island groups such as Tuamotu and Samoa Islands. The fresh food and water were used up, causing scurvy, a wasting disease that results from lack of vitamin C in the diet. They were reduced to eating the leather rope guards, then sawdust and even rats. Many died. After 98 days, the fleet finally reached an island—probably Guam—in the western Pacific. During bargaining for supplies, the natives stole a wide variety of objects, and for this reason Magellan named the islands the Islas de Ladrones (Islands of Thieves). Later they were renamed the Mariana Islands.
From the Marianas, Magellan sailed southwest to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where he converted two local rulers to Christianity. From Mindanao he sailed to Cebu Island, where he made more converts. After converting Humabon, ruler of Cebu, he supported Humabon in a battle with a rival chieftain, Lapulapu. Magellan was killed in the battle, April 27, 1521, while defending the withdrawal of his landing party. Lapulapu is a Philippines national hero for resisting this first European invasion.
Although Magellan did not complete the voyage, he is considered the first person to circle the world because Cebu is west of the Moluccas. Sailing west, he had reached a point beyond the point he had reached earlier when sailing east.
|VI||RETURN TO SPAIN|
After Magellan’s death, one ship was abandoned because not enough sailors were left to handle three vessels. Captain Juan Sebastián del Cano took command of the reduced fleet and brought it to its goal, the Moluccas, where he took on a cargo of cloves. One ship tried to return across the Pacific but was forced back by the winds and then captured by the Portuguese, who interned its crew. Cano made the long westward return voyage with one last ship, the Victoria. After a difficult voyage, with a remaining crew of 18, the Victoria reached Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, almost three years to the day after setting forth. The cargo of cloves sold for such a high price that, despite losing four out of five vessels, the voyage earned a profit.
|VII||RESULTS OF THE VOYAGE|
The voyage strengthened the Spanish claim to the Moluccas, although Portugal never accepted it. More importantly, Magellan’s great achievement was to confirm that the earth is round, measure its circumference, determine the length of a degree of latitude, and show that the world’s oceans were connected. Magellan’s secretary, an Italian named Antonio Pigafetta, who published his journal of the voyage, was among the first persons to note that the westward circling of the earth results in the loss of one calendar day (see International Date Line).
The passage through the Strait of Magellan was an impractical route to the Moluccas, and Spain sold its interests there to Portugal. Nevertheless the voyage laid the foundation for trade across the Pacific. Spain did not immediately recognize the importance of the Philippines, but that country’s chief city, Manila, became the greatest Spanish trading center in East Asia by the end of the 16th century.