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Ferdinand Magellan

Portuguese Navigator

Born: c. 1480

Died: 1521

Magellan was born into a noble family in Sabrosa, northern Portugal. He spent his youth serving as a Page in the Portuguese court, and in 1505, sailed to India as part of Francisco Almeida’s expedition as a supernumerary. For seven years he fought with the Portuguese in their campaigns to secure the Indian trade. Magellan returned to Portugal and then spent three years fighting in Portugal’s war with the Moors in North Africa. Although he received medals and war injuries that left him physically maimed for life, the Portuguese King Manuel II was unwilling to raise Magellan’s pension and rudely dismissed him from service. After this removal from the court of Portugal, he offered his services to the King of Spain, King Charles I.

Magellan believed that there was a way around the Americas to the East Indies. With his partner, Ruy Faleiro, a Portuguese astrologer and cosmologer, Magellan convinced King Charles that the Spice Island lay within the sphere of influence granted to Spain by the treaty of Torsedillas. Magellan offered to lead a fleet west through the Americas or around them into the Pacific (Then known as the “South Sea”). Magellan believed that from there he would quickly reach the Indian Ocean and the Spice Islands, thereupon seizing them for the Spanish crown. King Charles agreed to finance an expedition of five ships and this fleet launched in 1519.

Magellan crossed the Atlantic, eventually landing on the coast of Brazil. For several months they searched for a strait through the mainland until the weather became too cold and they were forced to make camp for the winter on the coast of Patagonia. After facing such hardships as losing a ship in a storm and a mutiny, Magellan resumed his journey in the Spring.

The found the Straits at 49.5 degrees south latitude, but there another ship mutinied and returned to Spain. The remaining ships continued on into the Straits that today bear the explorer’s name: The Straits of Magellan. Once they emerged from the straits and reached the Pacific Ocean, which Magellan named due to their peacefulness. During the Pacific crossing, the expedition began to run out of supplies and many died from starvation and scurvy. In March 1521, Magellan reached Guam, and then the Philippines. At long last, Magellan had succeeded in reaching the Orient by sailing west from Europe.

Unfortunately, he was killed in a skirmish while defending a local chief, soon after having established diplomatic ties with him on behalf of Spain.

One of the three remaining ships was salvaged for useful materials and equipment, and then burned for the lack of men left to crew it. The remaining two ships, the Trinidad and the Victoria loaded cargoes of clove in the Moluccas, but when the Trinidad sprung a leak, the Victoria left for Spain without her.

The Trinidad’s crew attempted to sail back to Spain on their own, but were intercepted by the Portuguese and captured. Eventually, only four members of the Trinidad’s crew ever made it back to Spain alive. On the Victoria, only 18 men survived to see Spanish soil again, landing home in 1522, led on their voyage by Sebastian del Cano. Del Cano was initially honored for his part in the voyage’s adventure, but later the real credit for conceiving and directing the voyage as well as for maintaining the fleet though it’s hardships went to Ferdinand Magellan.

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