Portuguese mariner, explorer
Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to lead an expedition that circumnavigated the globe. Like many of his contemporaries, Magellan underestimated the size of the oceans, and thought he could find a faster route to the Spice Islands by sailing west. He began his voyage in September of 1519 with five ships. After an arduous voyage, only one ship returned. Magellan, the expedition leader, was not onboard.
Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480. His parents were low-ranking nobles, active in the Portuguese royal court. Through his education at court, Magellan learned navigation. He attained the rank of squire while in royal service as a merchant marine clerk. He joined Francisco de Almeida's voyages to explore the eastern coast of Africa in 1505 and 1506. By 1509, Magellan had traveled to Africa, Turkey, and India. In 1511, Magellan ventured to the Far East on a Portuguese expedition to Malaysia. Magellan returned to Europe but, soon after arriving home, then departed to fight for Portuguese interests in Morocco. He was wounded, and left the royal service soon after. He then turned his attention to gaining a charter for a fleet of his own, in hopes of returning to the Far East. In 1517, he began lobbying the Portuguese crown to fund a large expedition. He was denied a ship from the Portuguese crown, and then turned to the rival king of Spain.
Interested in Magellan's proposal to find a faster shipping route to the Far East, the Spanish king granted Magellan abundant funds. With the money, Magellan purchased five ships: the Conception, the Santiago, the San Antonio, the Trinidad, and the Victoria. The fleet left harbor in September of 1519 with 275 men and adequate provisions for only a few months.
From the start of the voyage, Magellan's fleet was plagued by problems. Magellan himself was Portuguese, but he was sailing under the Spanish flag. The rival nations were competing for trade routes and land in the New World, as well as for control of the seas in general. Thus, Magellan needed to avoid armed Portuguese ships, as well as Portuguese controlled ports in the New World. This limited the places where Magellan and his crew could stop to restock provisions, and made them wary of crossing Portuguese trade routes.
Magellan's Spanish captains, who sailed the other four ships, threatened his command of the fleet. On November 20, 1519, when a plot to mutiny against Magellan, organized by the captain of the San Antonio, Juan de Cartegena, was discovered, Cartegena was relieved of his command and imprisoned aboard the Victoria.
When Magellan set forth to discover an expedient trade route to the Spice Islands, he knew he would have to either find a passage through the New World, or sail around it. However, Magellan made two fatal miscalculations. He thought that both the New World (the landmass of the Americas) and the Pacific Ocean were much smaller than they actually are. The crew did not have adequate supplies, and had to make frequent stops to restock provisions on the ships. They spent several months on the open seas, and many sailors fell victim to scurvy, typhus, and various fevers. The extended duration of the voyage, coupled with the appalling conditions onboard, further disposed the crew against Magellan.
The voyage itself was arduous. Magellan did not reach the coast of Brazil until the December of 1519. He anchored off of the Portuguese port of Rio de Janeiro, but because of hostile relations between Spain and Portugal, kept most of the men onboard the ships. The fleet then sailed along the coast of South America looking for an inland passage, but as the weather grew colder and seas rougher, the fleet anchored and wintered in Patagonia (present-day southern Argentina). While in Patagonia, another mutiny was attempted. As an attempt to quell dissent in the fleet, Magellan executed some rebels and marooned the leaders of the insurrection when the fleet departed. Magellan sent the Santiago ahead to scout for a passage through the continent, but the ship sank in rough seas. Soon after, the remainders of the fleet departed to look for a passage to the Pacific. They arrived at the southern tip of South America in October. Magellan named the connecting waters the Strait of All Saints, but the strait now bears his name. Frightened of a longer and more grueling voyage ahead, the captain of the San Antonio turned his boat and sailed back towards Spain.
The remaining three ships reached the Pacific, but there were no navigational charts of the entire ocean. Magellan assumed the ocean was rather small, and predicted that the journey to the Spice Islands would take little more than a week. After three months, the crew reached the island of Guam. Without the food stores that were aboard the San Antonio, the remaining sailors lived off of rats, hard tack, sawdust, and any fish they could catch. Magellan anchored in Guam for several weeks to let his beleaguered crew recover. The crew then continued on to the Philippines. There, Magellan established good relations with the local king, but he and his men became involved in a tribal dispute. Several men were wounded and killed in the fighting, including Magellan. He died on April 27, 1521.
Though Magellan never fully circumnavigated the globe himself, the expedition he began did accomplish that monumental task. Stripped of her crew, the Conception was intentionally burned. The surviving 120 men of Magellan's crew, in two ships, departed the Philippines in May. Sebastian del Cano assumed control over the expedition. The two vessels reached the Spice Islands. Cano decided that the chances of one ship making it back to Spain were greater if the boats took different routes. Carrying a full hull of valuable cargo, the Trinidad sailed east, and the Victoria continued westward. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, but the Victoria returned to Spain, with only 18 crewmembers left. Magellan's flagship was the first to circumnavigate the earth.
See also History of exploration II (Age of exploration); Oceans and seas
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