Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 in Sabrosa, Portugal. Magellan took part in his first sea voyage in 1505 when Portugal sent him to India to help establish Francisco de Almeida as the Portuguese viceroy. He also experienced his first battle there in 1509 when one of the local kings rejected the practice of paying tribute to the new viceroy.


Similar to his predecessor Columbus, Magellan believed that the Spice Islands could be reached by sailing west through the New World. He proposed this idea to Manuel I, the Portuguese king, but was rejected. Looking for support Magellan moved on to share his plan with the Spanish king.


In 1510, he was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1512, he was stationed in Morocco and made preliminary plans to find a western shortcut to the Spice Islands.


After three long months of sailing the Atlantic, Magellan and his crew anchored near Rio de Janeiro in the present day South American nation of Brazil. After trading with local natives, Magellan and his men quickly set sail again ever worried about the threat of Portuguese ships.


As the expedition continued, the weather got worse and several crew members were executed for trying to take over the ship. Others were starving or suffering from frostbite. As the ships neared the southern tip of South America, one smashed into the beach and lost all supplies.


As the expedition passed through the straits, they entered the vast Pacific Ocean. Things got worse before they got better. The crew suffered from extreme hunger and were forced to survive by eating rats, sawdust, leather and even maggots. At least 20 men died from disease, particularly Scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C) and starvation.


In 1517 after a quarrel with King Manuel I, who denied his persistent demands to lead an expedition to reach the spice islands from the east (while sailing westwards, seeking to avoid the need to sail around the tip of Africa), he left for Spain.


In Seville he befriended his countryman Diogo Barbosa and soon married his daughter by his second wife María Caldera Beatriz Barbosa. On 10 August 1519, the five ships under Magellan’s command left Seville and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river.


There they remained more than five weeks. Finally they set sail on 20 September. On the morning of 27 April 1521, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small attack force. During the resulting battle against Lapu-Lapu’s troops, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear, and later surrounded and finished off with other weapons.


After Magellan’s death, Sebastian Del Cano took command of the two remaining ships, the Trinidad and the Victoria (the Conception was burned because there were not enough men left to operate it). A former mutineer, Del Cano led the ships to the Spice Islands.


Though Magellan did not make it around the world, he did lead the first expedition to do so and though the Strait of Magellan was too dangerous to be used as a regular route, its mapping proved invaluable to the European understanding of the world.


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