Magellan’s Voyage Around the World: The Obsession to Reach the Spice Islands and His Tragic Death

Ferdinand Magellan, the protagonist of a story whose end could not come

The year 1517 was a busy year for the Portuguese, who was debilitated after disobeying his king and limping from a wound he had received in a battle with the Moors at Azamor, on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast. Hernando de Magallanes, born in Porto, shared his efforts in arranging her marriage with Beatriz de Barbosa and Calderathe daughter of a general, and in persuading the young Spanish king Carlos I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire to reissue the expedition Solís had attempted: reach the Moluccas, known as the Spice Islands. But following the opposite path known until then.

It was key -getting access to royal approval- financial support Christopher from Haro, a banker who had financed various expeditions. The sailor, who had several maps of South America, drawn by the cosmologist Martin Behaim and a geographer and cartographer Martin Waldseemüllerhad designed the project in collaboration with the Portuguese astronomer Ruy Falero. Much to his chagrin, he must have been left behind on Earth due to their bickering over who should be the general.

Five ships were registered: Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria and Santiago. 237 people were distributed in them. They sailed from the port of San Lúcar de Barrameda and in Tenerife, where they loaded meat, water and firewood, more men joined them. There were a total of 265 of them, a third of whom were foreigners who left the Canary Islands on October 3, 1519 on their way to what they called Speciería.

The efforts of the Portuguese and their smear campaign to prevent the expedition were of no avail.

During his journey to the African coast, there were days and days where it did not stop raining. From Sierra Leone they took the “Land of Verzin”, what is now Brazil. When they arrived on December 13, Magellan named the place where they landed Santa Lucía, what is now Rio de Janeiro.. With the natives of the place they devoted themselves to barter: a hook or a knife for half a dozen chickens; comb for a pair of geese and for a mirror or scissors, fish for a dozen people.

Replica of Nao Victoria, the only one to complete the long journey around the world
Replica of Nao Victoria, the only one to complete the long journey around the world

They continued south and saw a mountain cut out in the shape of a hat which they christened “Monte Vidi”.. They confused the Río de la Plata with the route to the Pacific Ocean and entered part of the Uruguay River. They could not communicate with the natives because of the great distrust they displayed..

They bordered the coast of Patagonia and passed through Puerto Deseado and found winter season in Puerto San Julián. They stayed there for about two months. The Spanish were surprised by the natives they found: they were very tall. The expedition’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, who kept a detailed diary (“First trip around the world“), assured that “we were up to his waist” and had very large feet. They called them Patagones.

On April 1, 1520 – Palm Sunday – a mass was held, which was the first in Argentine territory. Later Magellan knew that a conspiracy was afoot and invited his captains to dinner. Three did not show up: Juan de Cartagena – who was also the guardian of King Carlos V, Luis de Mendoza and Gaspar de Quesada. The men had to put up with the dictator Magellan, who made no promises about the course and had changed course more than once without explanation. They lacked supplies, it was cold, and they understood that they were going to die. For them, the only way to the east was through the Cape of Good Hope. they would kill him.

Magellan, with a strong personality, managed to put down the rebellion, thanks to a group of loyal captains, and maneuvers in which he managed to deceive the conspirators. There were 40 death sentences commuted at the last minute. But he had Luis de Mendoza killed and put in the fourth place by his men; Quesada was beheaded by his own servant and left ashore in Cartagena with the priest Pedro Sánchez de Reina. Another priest of the expedition was Peter Valderrama.

Among those pardoned was Juan Sebastián Elcano.

This is how the Europeans saw the indigenous people they found in Patagonia
This is how the Europeans saw the indigenous people they found in Patagonia

At the end of August he reached the mouth of the Santa Cruz River. Food was scarce and they killed their hunger by eating mussels. To drink, they melted the snow. In the area they would lose the first ship, the Santiago, when it hit the beach.

October 21 They found a cape that they baptized as “Of eleven thousand virgins”, where the strait opens, today Magellan, which will take them to the South Sea. The navigator had found a way to reach the Spice Islands without passing through the Portuguese domains established in the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Magellan sent out San Antonio and Concepción to explore the strait. The crew of the first, under command Alvaro from the mosque, the general’s cousin, rebelled. The pilot Esteban Gomez he hated Magellan ever since the king had given him the support he had previously asked for. Mosque he was captured and the ship returned to Spain. It is assumed that on the return trip he passed through the Falkland Islands.

The regions they knew, from the point of view of Magellan and his men
The regions they knew, from the point of view of Magellan and his men

Unaware of the mutiny at San Antonio, the sailor had a flag planted with a letter indicating the route they would take, as was the custom. With the San Antonio they lost the largest ship and the one carrying the most supplies.

They called the channel “Patagonian”. On November 28, 1520, they headed for the Pacific. The stillness of its waters and winds caught their attention. But they had other things to worry about: hunger and thirst. They had not had fresh food for three months. The only food they had was a kind of biscuit, which had turned to dust and wormed. “The cracker smelled like rat urine,” Pigafetta said. The drinking water was yellowish.

Some pieces of dry skin were put in salt water for four or five days and boiled on the coals. Rat meat was priced at half a ducat.

Few members of the expedition survived. Many had died of disease, including a Patagonian they had brought with them, and others looked ill.

Death of Magellan.  Knee-deep in water and badly injured, he tried to defend himself until the end (Wikipedia)
Death of Magellan. Knee-deep in water and badly injured, he tried to defend himself until the end (Wikipedia)

After a few days of sailing, they saw two islets, but could not disembark because the natives were sneaking onto the ship and stealing. The schooner – the boat used to get ashore – had been moored to the stern. Magellan had to land with 40 crossbowmen, set fire to houses and canoes, kill seven Indians and capture the boat. The Spanish christened them the Islas de los Ladrones, today the Mariana Islands.

However, in those played in the future, the settlers were very friendly and during that trip they converted many natives to Christianity and were able to access valuable shipments of spices and various goods.

On April 7, they arrived in Leyte and the King of Cebu, although suspicious at first, welcomed them and even agreed to be baptized. When Magellan learned that this king was at loggerheads with Celapulapu, king of Mactam, the Portuguese decided to submit to the latter.

He made the attack on Saturday, April 27, 1521. He chose that day because it was the day of his consecration. He went to this king’s island in three boats with 60 people. He landed with 49 but the other 11 were left in the care of the boats. The wonder was great: Hundreds of natives were waiting for him, armed with arrows and cane spears.

They were still a long way off when his men started shooting with their crossbows, to no avail. They disobeyed Magellan’s orders not to fire. A rain of arrows and spears began to fall on them.

It was Juan Sebastián Elcano's turn to finish the long journey.  He came to Spain at the head of 18 men
It was Juan Sebastián Elcano’s turn to finish the long journey. He came to Spain at the head of 18 men

He ordered some houses to be burned, with the intention of scaring them, but he succeeded in making them angrier. They became bold when they realized that crossbows were ineffective. And they attacked the Spaniards.

A poisoned arrow went through Magellan’s right leg. When he ordered a retreat, his men fled in disarray. Between six and eight you stayed with him.

The natives shot their arrows into the legs as the Spaniards had no defense. Magellan and his few men fell back until they were knee deep in water. The Indians had fired at him.

They had resisted for an hour. Magellan’s helmet had three holes. A native wounded him in the face with the spear and he succeeded in killing him. Then he was speared in the elbow and they all jumped on him. One, with a kind of jerk, seriously wounded him on the left leg and made him fall face down.

They all threw it. He signaled his men with his eyes to flee. Eight Spaniards and four baptized Indians were killed and 25 wounded in the Battle of Mactan. The Spaniards demanded, without luck, the body of their chief.

Spaniards ordered Duarte Barbosa at the head of the expedition, who made the terrible mistake of accepting an invitation from the King of Cebu and was killed along with his companions.

At that point, there were only three men in the Caravel Concepción and she was set on fire. The men split between the two ships. They continued sailing around various islands to Borneo. But the Spaniards had to leave in a hurry because the king was going to deceive them and kill them. They were robbing the natives and as a ransom they demanded peace, food and spices.

On November 8, 1521, they arrived at the port of Tidore in the Moluccas. Gonzalo Gomez was the captain of the expedition, meanwhile Juan Sebastian Elcano -who had started as the master of the Concepción- was the captain of the Victoria.

With the warehouses loaded with spices, they left for Europe on December 18. But Trinidad, since it was leaking, decided to return to the east for repairs. It would fall into the hands of the Portuguese and the crew experienced a harrowing voyage.

Meanwhile, in January 1522, Elcano had to put down a rebellion and two of his leaders fled to the island of Timor.. Sailing continued through the Indian Ocean and on May 16 they rounded the Cape of Good Hope. They touched no ports and the people had only minimal amounts of rice and water. Then about 25 people died.

In Cape Verde, Elcano sent a party to bring supplies. When the Portuguese discovered that they came from the Moluccas, a Portuguese domain, they did not allow them to return. Elcano continued the journey with 20 men, two of whom would die. They arrived in Spain on September 6, 1522, the next day the ship entered San Lúcar de Barrameda. Pulled it up the Guadalquivir to Seville. They had traveled 14,460 leagues.

Weeks later the men who had been imprisoned in Cape Verde arrived. And the five survivors of the Trinity did so in 1525 or 1526.

On the day of arrival, people crowded into the port. Elcano and his people were dressed in rags, they were weak, lying on the deck. The next day, more spare parts, they fulfilled the promise they had made if they arrived alive: barefoot they went in a procession with a candle in their hands to pray to the virgin Santa María de la Antigua in the Cathedral of Seville to thank her for returning with life and tell him that the impossible was possible, to go around the world.

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