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Ferdinand Magellan

The first circumnavigator of the world; b. about 1480; d. during his voyage in 1521

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Magellan, FERDINAND (Portuguese Ferneio Magalhaes), the first circumnavigator of the world; b. about 1480 at Saborosa in Villa Real, Province of Traz os Montes, Portugal; d. during his voyage of discovery on the Island of Mactan in the Philippines, April 27, 1521. He was the son of Pedro Ruy de Magalhaes, mayor of the town, and of Aida de Mezquita. He was brought up at the Court of Portugal and learned astronomy and the nautical sciences under good teachers, among whom may have been Martin Behaim. These studies filled him at an early age with enthusiasm for the great voyages of discovery which were being made at that period. In 1505 he took part in the expedition of Francisco d’Almeida, which was equipped to establish the Portuguese viceroyalty in India, and in 1511 he performed important services in the Portuguese conquest of Malacca. He returned home in 1512 and took part in the Portuguese expedition to Marocco, where he was severely wounded. On account of a personal disagreement with the commander-in-chief, he left the army without permission. This and an unfavorable report that had been made upon him by Almeida led to his disgrace with the king. Condemned to inactivity and checked in his desire for personal distinction, he once more devoted himself to studies and projects to which he was mainly stimulated by the reports of the recently discovered Moluccas sent by his friend Serrao. Serrao so greatly exaggerated the distance of the Moluccas to the east of Malacca that the islands appeared to lie within the half of the world granted by the pope to Spain. Magellan therefore resolved to seek the Moluccas by sailing to the west around South America. As he could not hope to arouse interest for the carrying out of his plans in Portugal, and was himself, moreover, misjudged and ignored, he renounced his nationality and offered his services to Spain. He received much aid from Diego Barbosa, warden of the castle of Seville, whose daughter he married, and from the influential Juan de Aranda, agent of the Indian office, who at once desired to claim the Moluccas for Spain. King Charles I of Spain (afterwards the Emperor Charles V) gave his consent as early as March 22, 1518, being largely influenced to do this by the advice of Cardinal Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca. The king made an agreement with Magellan which settled the different shares of ownership in the new discoveries, and the rewards to be granted the discoverer, and appointed him commander of the fleet. This fleet consisted of five vessels granted by the government; two of 130 tons each, two of 90 tons each, and one of 60 tons. They were provisioned for 234 persons for two years. Magellan commanded the chief ship, the Trinidad; Juan de Cartagena, the San Antonio; Gaspar de Quesada, the Concepcion; Luis de Mendoza, the Victoria; Juan Serrano, the Santiago. The expedition also included Duarte Barbosa, Barbosa’s nephew, the cosmographer Andres de San Martin, and the Italian Antonio Pigafetta of Vicenza, to whom the account of the, voyage is due.

Magellan took the oath of allegiance in the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Trialdia in Seville, and received the imperial standard. He also gave a large sum of money to the monks of the monastery in order that they might pray for the success of the expedition. The fleet sailed September 20, 1519, from San Lucar de Barameda. They steered by way of the Cape Verde Islands to Cape St. Augustine in Brazil, then along the coast to the Bay of Rio Janeiro (December 13), thence to the mouth of the Plata (January 10, 1520). In both these bodies of water a vain search was made for a passage to the western ocean. On March 31 Magellan decided to spend the winter below 49° 15′ south latitude, and remained nearly five months in the harbor of San Julian. While in winter quarters here a mutiny broke out, so that Magellan was forced to execute Quesada and Mendoza, and to put Cartagena ashore.

The voyage was resumed on August 24, and on October 21 the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and, with it, the entrance to the long-sought straits. Those straits, which are 373 miles long, now bear the name of the daring discoverer, though he himself called them Canal de Todos los Santos (All Saints‘ Channel). The San Antonio with the pilot Gomez on board secretly deserted and returned to Spain, while Magellan went on with the other ships. He entered the straits on November 21 and at the end of three weeks reached the open sea on the other side. As he found a very favorable wind, he gave the name of Mar Pacifica to the vast ocean upon which he now sailed for more than three months, suffering great privation during that tine from lack of provisions. Keeping steadily to a northwesterly course, he reached the equator February 13, 1521, and the Ladrones March 6.

On March 16 Magellan discovered the Archipelago of San Lazaro, afterwards called the Philippines. He thought to stay here for a time, safe from the Portuguese, and rest his men and repair his ships, so as to arrive in good condition at the now not distant Moluccas. He was received in a friendly manner by the chief of the island of Cebu, who, after eight days, was baptized along with several hundred other natives. Magellan wished to subdue the neighboring Island of Mactan and was killed there, April 27, by the poisoned arrows of the natives. After both Duarte Barbosa and Serrano had also lost their lives on the island of Cebu, the ships Trinidad and Victoria set sail under the guidance of Carvalho and Gonzalo Vaz d’Espinosa and reached the Moluccas November 8, 1521. Only the Victoria, with Sebastian del Cano as captain, and a crew of eighteen men, reached Spain (September 8, 1522). The ship brought back 533 hundredweight of cloves, which amply repaid the expenses of the voyage.

Magellan himself did not reach his goal, the Spice Islands; yet he had accomplished the most difficult part of his task. He had been the first to undertake the circumnavigation of the world, had carried out his project almost completely, and had thus achieved the most difficult nautical feat of all the centuries. The voyage proved most fruitful for science. It gave the first positive proof of the earth’s rotundity and the first true idea of the distribution of land and water.



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