There is nothing so corrupt as history when it enters the service of the state. — Edgar Quinet

Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle




Discovery of the Spice Islands

Espinosa had learned that, in searching for the Moluccas, he had sailed too far westward; and on leaving Borneo he deemed it wisest to return on the track by which he had come, and to pass around the island of Borneo by the north and east. Scarcely were the ships fairly out to sea, when the Admiral discovered that they were both leaky, and sadly needed repairs; and he was obliged to look about for a convenient island to haul them over and caulk them. Seeing a place that seemed fit for this purpose, he approached it; but, as the Victoria  was nearing the shore, she struck on some shoals, and came near being lost. She was got off, however, though with great difficulty:

About the same time the Trinidad  came very near being blown up, with all on board. A sailor was snuffing a candle, and very incautiously threw the lighted wick into a chest of gunpowder which was standing nearby. Quick as a flash he sprang, grasped and extinguished the wick. In another instant, a terrible explosion must have occurred.

Finally the ships found a harbor on an island called Cinbonbon, where the repairs might be made with great convenience; and here they cast anchor. On examining the ships more narrowly, Espinosa found that they were yet more unseaworthy than he had at first thought. It was necessary to take time to put them in thorough order again. He therefore resolved to remain at Cinbonbon, as long as was necessary for this purpose.

While the carpenters were busy with the ships, the sailors went on shore, and built little huts, where they could stay with more comfort than on shipboard. Cinbonbon, like nearly all the islands in the Archipelago, was very picturesque and fruitful. Some of the men were set to gathering wood in the forest, for the repairs on the ships; and this they found no easy matter, as the ground was fairly covered with briars and thorny shrubs, and most of the men having no shoes, were obliged to go among them barefoot.

Some amused themselves with hunting the wild boars, which were plentiful and very savage in the island; others went crocodile shooting; others contented themselves with the gentle sport of catching fish, oysters, and turtles, with which to regale their comrades. These caught many fish, the like of which they had never before seen; one had a head which resembled that of a pig, and which had two horns. Pigafetta saw with astonishment the leaves of a certain kind of tree, which, when they fell to the ground, moved about as if they were living things. "I kept one," he said, "nine days in a box. When I opened it, the leaf skipped round the box. I believe they live upon air." The mystery of this is, however, easily explained. If Pigafetta had examined his animated leaf a little more closely, he would have seen that its motions came from an insect which lived inside of it.

While the ships were at Cinbonbon, the sailors captured a junk that was passing by, loaded with cocoanuts, which they appropriated; allowing the natives to escape as best they could among the islands.

It was more than a month before the ships were ready to sail for Cinbonbon. They then continued their voyage northward and eastward, taking in Mindanao, where they had before tarried. On their way, as they went, the Spaniards captured all the junks they could lay their hands on, compelling them to give up their cargoes, which in some cases consisted of rice, pigs, goats, fowl, figs, sugar-canes, and palm wine. They passed among many islands which they had not before seen; and at one of these they obtained some cinnamon, of which they had long been in search, and for which they willingly exchanged some knives.

At last they reached a region where there were more signs of thrift and commerce, where the natives were tall, robust, and intelligent-looking men, and where the vessels were larger and better made even than those of Borneo. Then Espinosa felt sure that he was approaching the far-famed Moluccas, or Spice Islands, which it was one of the main objects of Magellan to find. At one of the islands at which the ships stopped, a chief told him that he knew where the Moluccas were; and he proceeded to describe the quarter in which they lay. Espinosa lost no time in following the directions given by this chief. He now took a southeast course, and made as much speed as the winds and current would permit.

The ships had not, however, gone far, when a furious tropical storm burst upon them, and for awhile threatened their destruction. For some days the Spaniards were overwhelmed with fear, lest they should be dashed upon the rocks of the islands and reefs that thickly studded the seas. When the tempest subsided a little they made all haste to seek shelter in a bay. It happened that, on the island where this bay was, there was a Malay familiar with the whole region of the Archipelago; and Espinosa was not long in persuading him, by means of presents, to undertake to pilot the ships to the Spice Islands.

It was a mild morning, early in November, when Espinosa, standing on the deck of the flagship, with the Malay pilot by his side, espied in the dim distance four islands, lying near together, all of which were very uneven and hilly.

The Malay, as soon as he caught sight of them, exclaimed that they were the Moluccas. The Admiral delighted to hear this, at once told the crew, and signaled the good news to the Victoria, which was following at the distance of about a half-a-mile. The wanderers had been more than two years on their voyage; and were now to behold with their own eyes, the islands, the report of whose riches had dazzled all Europe. In their joy they fired the cannon, and made merry on the decks.

Espinosa only feared one thing. He had heard, in Spain, that these Spice Islands, which promised so much to their conqueror, were well-nigh inaccessible to ships. They were said to be surrounded with dangerous shoals, and to be usually enveloped in dark, dismal fogs. The islands now stood out distinct and bold, however, in an atmosphere which grew clearer as the morning advanced; and his anxiety ceased, when, on approaching the nearest, he found the water many fathoms deep, close up to the shore.

In the middle of the afternoon the ships entered a wide and fine harbor, and were able to cast anchor in twenty fathoms of water. On the shore stood a town of prosperous and almost civilized appearance; and along the beach, and the rocks that rose from the water's edge on either side, the natives were gathered in large numbers, gazing curiously at the European vessels as they lay in the roadstead. The island the Spaniards thus reached was one of the larger Moluccas, and was called Tidor.

Early the next morning the sultan of the island, whose name, as the Spaniards soon learned, was Almansor, came out in a gorgeous barge, and rowed around the two ships. When the barge passed under the bows of the Trinidad, Espinosa was able to perceive that the sultan was of a cream-colored complexion, with a black flowing beard, about forty-five years of age, well-built, and strikingly handsome. He wore a fine white tunic, the ends of the sleeves of which were embroidered with gold lace; and a long skirt, or robe, which fell to his feet. On his head he had a thin silk veil, over which he wore a garland of flowers. His appearance was very gay and picturesque. Above him was spread a silk umbrella, to protect him from the sun.

Espinosa made all haste to welcome the sultan's friendly advances. He caused a long-boat to be lowered, got into it, and rowed to the side of the barge. The sultan smiled, stretched out his hands, and beckoned pleasantly to the Admiral to come on board his vessel. This Espinosa did willingly and with alacrity.

He was invited to take a seat beside the monarch. On the other side sat the young prince, the sultan's son, who held a long gold scepter; while in front of the sultan crouched two of his attendants with gold ewers full of water, with which the sultan moistened his fingers after taking betel, which two other attendants had ready for him in gold boxes.

It appeared that the sultan was a Mohammedan, and a man of no inferior intelligence. Espinosa had taken care to have an interpreter with him; and through him he now entered into conversation with his royal host.

"I long ago dreamed," said the sultan, "that some ships were coming hither from distant countries. I am an astrologer as well as a king, and have examined the moon to see if this was true; and the moon assured me it was so. And now I see that the moon did not deceive me."

"We have come to offer you the friendship of our great sovereign, the king of Spain," replied Espinosa; "and to trade peaceably with your people; and I am very grateful to you for this kind reception."

"If you are true and sincere," returned the sultan, "you shall be welcome; and I shall receive and return your sovereign's friendship with delight."

Espinosa then invited the sultan to go on board the flagship. He consulted apart a few moments with several of his nobles, and then, turning to the Admiral, signified his willingness to comply with his proposal.

As the barge drew near the Trinidad, the cannon bellowed forth their hoarse welcome; the flags were run up at the mastheads; and the officers and sailors, gathering at the side of the deck, waved their hats and loudly cheered. Preparations to receive the monarch were hurriedly made; and when he had mounted the ladder, followed by some of his attendants and by Espinosa, he was conducted to a red velvet chair, which had been placed in the middle of the deck. Espinosa then advanced, and bowing low, threw over the royal shoulders a rich yellow velvet rug. Each Spaniard came forward and kissed the sultan's hand, and then sat down on the deck in front of him. He was regaled with wine and cakes, and appeared highly pleased with his reception. He declared to Espinosa that he was now quite sure of the good faith of the strangers; and as a proof of this, he gave full permission to them to go on shore as much as they pleased, and to use the houses of his subjects just as if they were their own.

Not content with this concession, the sovereign said that, in honor of the sovereign of his guests, his island should no longer be called Tidor, but Castile.

Before the sultan departed, Espinosa, who was most anxious to make sure of his good will, overwhelmed him with presents. He gave him the red velvet chair in which he had sat on the deck; he had a number of pieces of cloth, linen, brocade, and damask, brought, and laid at the royal feet; he begged him to accept some large mirrors, some glass beads, knives, scissors, combs, and goblets. To the young prince he was not less generous, presenting him with a fine cap, a robe of silk and gold, and a handsome mirror; while he lavished other gifts of knives, caps, and cloths upon the principal men of the sultan's retinue.

It may well be believed that the sultan and his people, after this, were fairly delighted with their visitors. As the sultan descended into his barge, he called out to Espinosa to bring his ships yet closer to the shore; and told him that if any of the natives approached them at night, he might fire at them as much as he pleased. The departing barge was saluted with the cannon and the loud acclamations of the men; and that night Espinosa gave a bountiful supper to the officers of both ships, who made merry over their good fortune in finding the Moluccas, and in being so well received there.

The following days were employed much as the time had been when the ships were sojourning at Borneo. The men went on shore freely, and were regaled very hospitably in the town, and by the royal court. They opened a lively trade with the natives, their main object being to fill up their cargoes with spices; and they also took in an abundance of provisions of all kinds. The sultan grew every day more cordial in his professions and more hospitable in his conduct; and it was not long before he was ready to swear that Tidor and Tarenate, (a neighboring island) should be subject to the king of Spain, for whom he himself would "fight to the death," as his faithful vassal. Finding that the Spaniards were anxious to obtain a quantity of cloves, he went in person, in his barge, to one of the other islands, and brought back several loads of cloves for them.

Espinosa might have suspected that this sudden and profuse friendship could scarcely be sincere; but at first he had full faith in the sultan's good faith. He had not been long in Tidor, however, before events took place that put him on his guard, and caused him to hasten as much as possible the loading of his ships.

Some years before, it seemed, Francisco Serrano, a Portuguese voyager, and the friend of Magellan who had first put it into his head to make this expedition, had found the Moluccas by sailing round the Cape of Good Hope, and eastward from India. He had won the friendship of the king and natives of the isle of Tarenate, near Tidor; and had there established a Portuguese trade station. The king of Tidor, who had long been at war with the king of Tarenate, entertained a violent hatred of the Portuguese; and Espinosa heard that, on one occasion, when the king of Tidor had conquered his enemy, he had caused Serrano to be poisoned, and had killed all the Portuguese he could lay his hands on. Meanwhile, the Portuguese trade station at Tarenate was still in existence, at the time Espinosa came to Tidor.

One day a fleet of barges appeared at the head of the bay, sailing from the direction of the island of Tarenate; and when they came within a short distance of the ships, they cast anchor, and sent a messenger on board the Trinidad." From him Espinosa learned that the prince of Tarenate, though an enemy of the king of Tidor, had arrived to make peace and friendship with the Spaniards, and desired to come on board the flagship. Espinosa replied that he could not receive the prince without first obtaining the consent of the king of Tidor. This the king readily granted; but now the prince grew suspicious, and moved away from the ships. Espinosa thereupon sent him some presents, and begged that the Portuguese factor in Tarenate, Pedro de Lorosa, should come and visit the ships. A few days after Lorosa made his appearance. He told Espinosa that he had been in the Moluccas ten years, and that he had already heard of Magellan's expedition. He surprised the Admiral, moreover, by declaring that the king of Portugal, angry that Magellan had sailed in Spanish ships, had sent out a fleet by way of the Cape of Good Hope to contest his passage; but that this fleet had been compelled to turn back, on account of contrary winds.

Espinosa finally persuaded Lorosa to return to Spain with him; and they soon became fast friends. It was not long before Lorosa grew more confidential, and began to warn Espinosa against trusting too much to the sincerity of the king of Tidor. He related how the Portuguese had been assassinated, and expressed his suspicions that the Spaniards should meet the same fate unless a strict watch were kept.

Some things that happened about this time served to arouse Espinosa's fears of the king's intentions. The king wished to give a great feast to the officers and crews. Espinosa remembered that it was by giving such a feast that the perfidious king of Sebu had decoyed the other captains into his house, only to murder them without mercy; and prudently declined the invitation. He saw, too, that the Tidor chiefs took every chance they could get to whisper mysteriously to the prisoners he had brought with him from the other islands; and guessed that this was for no good purpose.

Meanwhile, the Spaniards made excursions among the other islands, and busied themselves with completing their cargoes. In these excursions they saw and heard many curious things, a description of which we will reserve for another chapter.