Friday, May 29, 2015

Rough Draft: Magellan's story

Ferdinand Magellan

            Fernão de Magalhães was born in Portugal about 1480. He was the son of a wealthy, noble family with connections to the Portuguese royalty. His parents died when he was ten, and he became a page to Queen Lenore. As a page he ran errands and attended the queen and her guests. When grown, he sailed and fought for the Portuguese king, sailing around Africa and fighting battles with an Arab fleet. Magellan was accused of illegal trading but was found innocent. The accusation was enough to leave him unemployed. He received one insulting offer to work as a common seaman but refused the job.
            Magellan studied the newest maps. Likely, one of these was drawn by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. While not showing the exact tip of South America, it shows the continent narrowing to a tip and with reasonable accuracy shows the west coast of South America for some miles up the coast. Magellan wanted to sail around the tip of South America and on to India.
            King Charles V of Spain funded his quest, providing him with five small ships. The Spanish mistrusted Magellan, and removed many of the Portuguese sailors from his crew, replacing them with Spaniards. His crew was of mixed nationality. They included men from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, what is now Belgium, Greece, England and France. Despite opposition from the King of Portugal, who sent his navy to stop Magellan, they set sail August 10, 1519, reaching South America in 1520. One of his men kept a record of the voyage, and it was later published as a book.
            Many of them were unreliable. Many of the Spanish sailors hated sailing under the command of a Portuguese captain. They spent the winter months in barren country. The crew of three of his ships plotted against him, and he had to fight the mutineers. One of the ships was wrecked. In the spring, one of the ships deserted, returning to Spain. Three ships were left.
            Not everything written about these early voyages is accurate. When Magellan and his crew reached Patagonia, (Find it on a map) they spied a native dancing on shore. To them he appeared to be ten feet tall. In fact, Patagonian natives were about six feet tall, still taller than many Europeans then were. Magellan had his crew kidnap some of the natives to prove his story, but they died on the way back to Spain.
            Most accounts of Magellan’s voyage say he and his crew were the first to sail through the narrow, storm filled passage at the tip of South America. It’s named after him and shows on maps as the Straits of Magellan, but though we don’t know who preceded him early maps show someone did. Magellan sailed across the Pacific Ocean, a long and perilous journey. Food was exhausted. They ate rats and soaked old leather and ate it. Their water went bad, turning thick and yellow, but it was all they had to drink.
Eventually they reached the Philippine Islands where they met Humabon, Rajah of Cebu. (Find it on a map.) Humabon became a Roman Catholic, and appealed to Magellan to fight an enemy chief. This did not go well. Magellan was killed.

            One of Magellan’s crew wrote that “a native hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face.” Magellan killed the native with his lance. Leaving the lance in the native’s body, Magellan tried to draw his sword but couldn’t. His arm was wounded. “When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide.” Without Magellan, the remaining adventurers finally returned to Spain. Only one ship remained and only twenty-five of the original crew.
            Trade with China and India over the Pacific Ocean route would develop later, but not as a result of Magellan’s voyage. In the early 1500s it was still impractical. Magellan’s voyage is significant to us because it prompted further exploration, including to lands now part of the United States. His voyage showed just how big the world was, and how much was left to know about it. It showed that there was more water on the earth than there is land. Others followed, using Magellan’s route or looking for a shorter passage far to the north.


  1. I like a good hack and slash history.

  2. Griffin12:03 PM

    Will this history be illustrated?

  3. Yes, but probably not by anything found in tinypics or any such thing.

  4. Griffin12:43 AM

    Sorry, but what exactly is your objection to 'any such thing'?