Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Magellan Crosses the Atlantic

Some time elapsed, after sailing from Seville, before Magellan put out into the open sea. After passing down the Guadalquivir, and narrowly escaping being stranded on two ruined pillars, which were in the bottom of the river, and had once supported a fine bridge built by the Moors, the ships reached the hoary old castle of St. Lucar, that lifted its towers high above the stream.

This castle belonged to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, one of the greatest nobles in Spain; and just below it was a good port, at the mouth of the river, whence vessels could readily sail out upon the ocean.

Finding, when he reached this port, that the winds were contrary, and being in no hurry, Magellan anchored, and awaited more favorable breezes. The interval was employed in adding to the ships' stores some necessaries that had been overlooked, and in religious exercises. Magellan caused all his sailors to go ashore, attend mass, and make confession before their departure; and he himself set the example.

One day, Magellan summoned all his captains and officers on board the flagship, and told them the rules by which he wished the fleet to be guided.

"First," he said, "my flagship shall sail ahead, and the other ships follow; and that you may not lose sight of me at night, I will cause a burning torch to be set upon the poop-deck, which shall be kept burning as long as it is dark. When I wish to tack, the wind being contrary, or to make less way, I will show two lights. I have on board, you know, some torches made of reeds, well soaked in water, beaten flat, and dried in the sun; these will burn brightly. When I wish you to lower your small sail, I will burn three lights; and if I suddenly put out two of these, and leave a single light burning, you may know that you are to stop and turn. Should I espy any land or shoal ahead, I will cause a bombard to be fired off; and if I desire to make all sail, I will show four lights. Your answering signals will be similar lights, displayed in response to mine. As to watches, you will cause three to be kept at night; one at dusk, a second at midnight, and the third at break of day; and you must change the watches every night. Now, observe well these rules; that you may not forget them, here they are in writing, a copy for each of you."

At last, to Magellan's great relief, the wind shifted, and blew from the right quarter; and on the 10th of September, 1519, the little fleet set forth from the harbor of St. Lucar, and was soon buffeting the waves of the Atlantic.

Magellan directed his course northwesterly. He knew that in order to pass, as he felt confident it was possible for him to do, around the South American continent, he must steer more to the south than had the previous expeditions. Already a Spanish expedition had reached the fortieth degree of latitude south, on what is now the coast of Brazil; and thrilling news had come of Balboa's discovery of a farther Ocean. That a great ocean lay beyond the newly-found continent, was therefore certain; and if that could be gained by doubling the land, there should be no doubt that the Molucca Islands, with all their bounteous wealth, could be reached; and perhaps the globe itself might be encompassed by the doughty little fleet.

It did not take the ships long to reach the Canary Islands, grouped in the midst of the sea, off the African coast, and already occupied by little European settlements. They anchored at Teneriffe, one of these islands, and took in wood and water; and, soon after, stopped at another island, where they supplied themselves with an abundance of pitch.

On this island, Magellan was surprised to hear of a curious freak of nature, which, it was said, always took place there. He was told that every day at mid-day, a cloud came down from the sky, and enveloped a large tree; the rain fell from it on the leaves of this tree, and water was distilled from it, and formed a sort of fountain at the foot of the tree. This, he was assured, was the only supply of water that the inhabitants of the island, man or beast, had.

The fleet again set sail, and in no long time reached the Cape Verde Islands, not far from the Canaries, in a southwesterly direction. These were the last land that the adventurers were to stand upon until they sighted the long, dim coast of the New World; but so eager were one and all to strike across the ocean, and to see what was to be seen beyond, that Magellan made but a brief stay at the Cape Verdes. For some time they skirted the coast of Guinea, and saw the majestic group of the Sierra Leone in the hazy distance; and as they approached the equinoctial line, they began to be assailed by fierce gales and blinding rainstorms.

But they kept steadily on their way, Magellan's flagship, with its ever-glimmering lantern swinging on the poop-deck, and lighting up the billows, taking the lead; and at last found themselves quite out of sight of land.

As the ships rode through storm and sunshine, the voyagers observed many wonderful things, new to their astonished eyes. Often they were becalmed, and lazily floated hither and thither on the waves, waiting for the return of favorable breezes; and during these calms, they saw with amazement many monsters of the deep, of whose existence they had been utterly ignorant.

Sometimes great sharks, with long teeth and awful jaws, followed the ships for leagues and for days; and as soon as the sailors recovered from their surprise, they began to catch them—which was no difficult matter—with huge iron hooks, baited with pieces of colored cloth. When they had caught their first shark, they tried to eat him; but found his flesh anything but a savory morsel.

They saw, too, many curious birds, such as they had never before known of; and observed in one kind, that the females laid their eggs on the backs of the males. On one occasion, Magellan espied so large a number of flying fish, that they seemed to him to form an island in the sea.

Men in those days, even the wisest, were all superstitious, and believed in miracles, and strange appearances; and on voyages, often imagined that they saw spirits, and were guided by spiritual agencies.

One dark night, when a storm of wind and rain was tossing the little fleet frantically to and fro, and rolling the waves high above the decks, and the sailors were moaning and praying, fearing that every instant would be their last, they thought that the spirit of Saint Anselm appeared to them, in the form of a dazzling light at the masthead; that he stayed there to comfort, and cheer, and give them courage, for several hours; and that when the spirit was about to depart, the light increased to such brilliancy as fairly to blind them.

No sooner had the spirit, as they believed it to be, departed, than the waves subsided, the wind fell to a gentle breeze, and the sea-birds began to gambol gaily among the sails.

It took Magellan and his companions a little more than two months to cross the Atlantic. Happily he had charts which enabled him to sail in the direction he desired, and which indicated the points at which he wished to arrive.

One morning in mid-December, the eyes of the voyagers were greeted with the sight of the long line of gray coast, which they had strained their eyes for many a day to espy. Thanks to Magellan's plan of showing lights, the ships had kept steadily together from first to last; and they now rode side-by-side, rapidly drawing near to the new continent.

When Magellan came near enough to distinguish the features of the coast and the appearance of the country beyond, he looked about for a convenient harbor towards which to steer. It was fortunate that the coast itself did not present to his eye any very formidable difficulties; instead of being rocky and forbidding, it looked fair, sloping, and hospitable.

Running along about a league from the shore, parallel with it, he finally discovered a wide inlet, which seemed to be the mouth of a river. Here he resolved to put in; although, notwithstanding his charts, he was not quite certain where he was.

At first the region seemed to be deserted. The ships entered the wide inlet and anchored; and the sailors, crowding into the boats, pulled ashore, and leaped joyfully upon the strand. It was a hot day, but they were so glad to find themselves on land again, that they paid little attention to the burning rays of the sun, which blazed down on their heads from his zenith.

Then Magellan assembled all his officers and crews on the shore, and the priests, who were with them, set up a little altar on the beach. The men kneeled in a close body in front of the altars, the captains kneeling in front; and now, in this strange solitude, where all nature seemed to be in slumber, and where no vestige of any human habitation was yet visible, the solemn service of the mass was performed.

Magellan and his companions soon found that plenty of people dwelt on the shore they had reached, although these did not at first make their appearance. One of the pilots, named John Carvagio, had been in Brazil before, having gone with a previous expedition; and he relieved the anxiety of his comrades by assuring them that the natives were peaceable and friendly, at least to Europeans, whom they regarded as superior beings.

It was not long before little groups of almost naked men and women began to make their appearance a little distance away, gazing curiously and timidly at the white men, and apparently afraid to approach nearer until they were reassured as to the intentions of the new-comers. The pilot Carvagio, who happily knew a few words of their language, at once went forward towards the nearest of these groups, and shouted out to them that they need fear nothing, for the Spaniards and Portuguese meant no harm, but were come as friends.

Upon this the natives drew nearer, and at last came up to the strangers, nodding and grinning, and chattering as fast as they could make their tongues go. At this moment, a warm, soft, pleasant rain began to fall, which was exceedingly welcome and refreshing on account of the heat.

No sooner had the savages perceived the rain, than they commenced playing all sorts of strange pranks, which filled the Europeans with astonishment. They capered wildly about, and lifted up their hands towards the clouds, holding their swarthy faces so that the drops should fall upon and run down them; sang a loud, discordant song, and finally, rushing forward, fell on their knees at the feet of the strangers, and began to repeat some words very fast, at the same time stretching their arms out, and clasping their hands.

Magellan asked the pilot what they meant by these capers; and Carvagio replied:

"They say that we have come from heaven, bringing the blessed rain with us; that it has been many weeks since it has rained in these parts, and that they worship us for causing it to fall."

It was fortunate that, at the beginning of their sojourn, the adventurers should have created so favorable an impression; for now the natives set to work with a will, and built a long, low hut wherein their visitors might dwell and be sheltered as long as they remained. They brought them some pigs, which the sailors forthwith roasted and ate with great gusto. The pig's flesh was very refreshing after the salt meat and hard-tack with which they had been forced to content themselves during their long and weary voyage. The natives also laid before them some very curious bread, which proved, on being eaten, not nearly so nice as the pigs. It was made of the marrow of certain trees, and tasted something like very poor cheese.

Magellan found himself so hospitably treated on this coast, that he was in no great hurry to set sail again. The ships needed some repairs, and it was prudent to procure and store such provisions as could be found in the vicinity, and preserved for a voyage.

While the repairs were being made, and the provisions stored, Magellan and his officers had leisure to look around them. They observed the natives with great curiosity. These lived in very long, low huts, as many as a hundred, sometimes, occupying a single hut. The natives did not possess any iron implements, but built both their houses and their boats with tools made of stones. In their dwellings, which Magellan found himself quite free to enter whenever he pleased, he saw that the beds were a sort of cotton hammocks, fastened to large timbers, and extending across the wide room; and he was amused to observe that the natives built their fires, to warm themselves, directly under these hammocks.

Their boats they built all in one piece, out of a single tree, and called them "canoes;" these boats were large enough to hold thirty or forty men, and were provided with oars shaped like shovels.

As for the natives themselves, they were not bad-looking people for savages. They were of a brown color, with almost straight hair; many of the women were almost fair, and quite comely. The men did not wear any beards; for these, it seemed, they were wont to pluck out, hair by hair. Both men and women went nearly naked, having for apparel only a belt made of parrot's feathers about their waists. It was a very common thing to see a man with three holes in his under lip, from which hung small round pebbles; and some of the women displayed the same strange ornament. Many of the natives, too, were branded in the face with curious figures, impressed in the flesh by means of fire.

When the men went to their work, their wives carried them luncheons in small baskets, which they poised on their heads; while in bags, fastened to their necks, they supported their babies. The men had, as weapons, long bows made of the black palm, and quivers full of arrows, made of cane, were hung across their shoulders.

One thing that surprised Magellan and his comrades, was the great number of parrots that were to be seen in that region. These were of all sizes, and their plumage was of the most variegated and gorgeous description. They also observed many small monkeys, yellow in color, and extremely amusing in their quick and lively ways; and there were also some strange-looking birds, which had beaks like a spoon, and no tongues.

As to the natural productions, they were very various and abundant. The fruit was large and luscious, and the grain rich and plentiful.

Magellan was sorry to make one discovery during his stay in this place, which greatly lessened his good opinion of the natives. On one occasion, after they had been having a fight with a neighboring tribe, they brought in several men and women, whom they had taken prisoners, and proceeded to kill them and cut them up. Soon after Magellan found these pieces of human flesh hung up at the chimney of one of the huts, and being dried by the fire. On asking what this meant, he was told that the pieces were dried to be eaten. He thus found that his savage friends were cannibals.

An amusing incident happened on the flagship, a few days before the departure of the fleet. The natives had become so familiar that they were in the habit of going freely on board the ships, and doing there pretty much as they liked. One day, a beautiful young girl, about seventeen, went on board the Trinidad, and was observed by Magellan to be peering cautiously about, and trying to escape being noticed. Curious to know what she was about, he watched her; and presently saw her creep up to a nail, two or three inches long, that was driven into the door of his cabin. She seized it, pulled it out, and in a flash hid it in her long, abundant hair. As she was without any other clothing than the belt of parrot's feathers, her hair was her only place of concealment. Magellan laughed heartily to himself, and let her go away thinking she had not been seen committing this little theft. Her anxiety to possess herself of the nail is explained by the great value the natives set on iron, which seemed much more precious to them than gold or silver.