Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Crossing the Pacific

Fair and calm were the days, and smooth and sparkling was the sea, during the first weeks of Magellan's progress over the ocean, hitherto untraversed by European prows. The weather preserved an even temperature and tranquility, which made the voyage seem more like a pleasure excursion than what it really was—a desperate and daring venture. The crews worked at their tasks with cheery good will; the ships sped on side-by-side; favorable breezes wafted them rapidly forward. It did not seem possible that aught could happen to disturb this prosperous setting-out.

Magellan, who was a good scholar, as well as a brave soldier and bold voyager, spent the long, sunshiny days poring over his charts, making calculations, and estimating the time it would take, if all went well, to reach the Moluccas. In the midst of these studies, a thrilling thought, one day, made him start to his feet, and clasp his hands. He was approaching the Moluccas by a westward route from Europe. But the islands had already been reached by an eastward route, around the Cape of Good Hope. If, then, after arriving at the Moluccas, he should, instead of retracing his voyage around South America, keep right on, double Africa, and thus get back to Spain, he would have circumnavigated the globe. No voyager had ever achieved this triumph; he would be the first to have encircled the earth!

He resolved on the spot, that he would add this new laurel to the crown of his fame. Alas! Though his glorious dream was realized, he was not destined to live to see it.

So tranquil did the waters of the ocean remain, from day to day, and from week to week, that Magellan, impressed by this striking contrast with the stormy and tempest-tossed Atlantic, resolved to bestow upon it a name suggestive of its serenity.

Calling his officers about him, one day, he thus spoke to them. My comrades, we are sailing on an unknown ocean. No European ship has ever before ploughed these gentle waters. On our charts, this vast expanse is nameless. Do you not see how smooth as a lake is its surface; how mild are its breezes; how soft and even is its temperature? Comrades, I will give this great sea a name, and christen it. Henceforth, let it be known as the PACIFIC!"

And so Magellan gave a name, not only to the stormy straits which he had discovered, but also to the mighty ocean which he was the first European voyager to cross.

After sailing for some weeks, the fleet was becalmed in mid-ocean. The winds which had sped the ships so buoyantly, fell, then died away. There was nothing to be done except to toss about on the lonely sea, and await the return of easterly breezes. But days, then weeks passed, and the dreary calm continued. Sometimes a brisk wind would come up, and the ships would then plough rapidly through the waves; but it would vanish again, and leave them once more idly floating.

At first, Magellan thought little of this. He was annoyed not to make greater speed; but there was plenty of time, he thought, before them. As weeks elapsed, however, the calms threatened evils to the adventurers far more serious than mere delay. On examining his supplies of provisions, Magellan perceived, to his dismay, that they were fast running short.

Long before this, he had hoped to come upon islands where his supplies could be replenished; but day after day the same dreary expanse of waters, unbroken by so much as a speck of dry land, greeted his eyes. At last, however, an island did appear in. sight. Magellan eagerly ordered the ships to make for it. They approached, only to find a heap of barren rocks, with a few stunted trees, and uninhabited, except by noisy sea-birds. Not even was there good anchorage; while all about the ships swam hideous swarms of sharks, ready to seize, in their vast and gaping jaws, any luckless sailor who fell into the water, or even exposed himself in a boat.

Magellan was forced to sail away from the island without adding a fish or an herb to his provisions. Another month passed, amid provoking calms, and out of sight of land; then another island came in sight. This, too, proved bitterly disappointing; for there was little vegetation, and not a living thing appeared on its dismal and desolate surface. Here, however, some of the sailors managed to land, and succeeded in catching a few fish, which served to postpone, for a time at least, the approach of actual hunger.

The fleet had now crossed the tropic of Capricorn, and was rapidly nearing the equator. The heat grew intense. The sun blazed remorselessly down upon the tar who ventured up the masts. Men fell fainting and sun-stricken to the deck. The platform actually burned under their feet; the pitch which filled the seams softened and melted, and oozed out.

What made the heat still more unendurable, the supply of fresh water was now almost exhausted; what remained had become so filthy and nauseous that the wanderers could not drink it without shuddering, and it often made them ill.

Then Magellan was grief-stricken to be forced to reduce the rations of his brave and suffering comrades. The only food left consisted of coarse biscuit; and these were, as one who was on board says, "reduced to powder, and full of worms." They had been gnawed and defiled by rats, and were scarcely eatable. But even such food was a rich and rare luxury compared to that to which the poor fellows were at last reduced. In no long time not a biscuit, not a crumb remained. Then they were obliged to do the very thing that Magellan had spoken of, when he said he would go forward, "even if they had to eat the leather off the yards." This miserable apology for food was now, indeed, all that was left. The gaunt and famished sailors tore off the ox-hides under the main yard, which had been placed there to protect the rigging from the strain of the yard. The leather was so tough that the hungry teeth could make no impression upon it. They attached pieces of it to strong cords, and let them trail in the sea for four or five days. When they were thus soaked through, the sailors made a poor pretense of cooking the leather. They placed it over the fire, until it was singed, and then ate it greedily.

When the leather was gone, they devoured saw-dust, and eagerly hunted down the very rats that infested the ships, and when they caught one, quarreled fiercely to secure a bit of him.

It seemed as if no misfortune were to be spared the unhappy voyagers; for, while they were suffering all the horrors of famine, that terrible sea distemper, the scurvy, broke out in their midst. The gums of its victims swelled, so that they could not eat even the wretched food still within their reach; and twenty of the sailors soon died of actual starvation. Others grew ill, and ere long there were scarcely enough to sail the ships.

An end came, however, to these terrible hardships at last. The fleet had sailed from Cape Desire early in December. In the first days of March, it came in sight of some islands, that rose green and blooming from the bosom of the sea, and even in the distance gave such promise of relief that the adventurers fell on their knees on deck, and fairly wept for joy.

There were three of the islands; one was larger than the others, and rose in wooded hills to quite a height. Towards this Magellan directed his course. When the ships approached to within a mile of it, of a sudden the water was covered with long, slender boats, with three-cornered sails, filled with a multitude of fantastic figures. The canoes came swarming towards the ships, their occupants crying out and making all sorts of uncouth noises, and seeming to be not in the least afraid of the strangers. It delighted Magellan and his famished comrades to perceive that, they brought with them an abundance of provisions. The natives went on board the ships as boldly as if they were in the habit of seeing Europeans every day; bringing in their arms banana stalks hung thick with the luscious fruit, cocoanuts, and other products of their island; and pretty soon the voyagers were devouring these good things with greedy eagerness.

The natives were really fine-looking men, with smooth, olive skins, handsome and pleasant faces, and tall, well-built forms. Many were quite naked; some, however, wore girdles, or matted aprons about the waist, and queer-looking hats, made of palm leaves. A few wore beards, and the thick hair fell, in some cases, down to the waist.

Magellan and his officers treated their visitors with grateful good will, and allowed them to roam freely about the ships, which they seemed anxious to do; and ere long the vessels fairly swarmed with them in every part. They seemed perfectly harmless and good-natured and danced and capered about wildly, when Magellan gave them some buttons and bells.

As he was standing on the deck, watching their pranks with an amused smile, one of the sailors came to him and said that the islanders had cunningly stolen the skiff, which had been fastened to the stern of the Trinidad." Looking over the side, Magellan saw them making off with it. At the same moment, other sailors came up, and reported that the natives were laying hold of everything in the ships to which they took a fancy, and were carrying what they thus appropriated to their boats.

Magellan then ordered that they should be driven off the ships; which was at once done. This evidently enraged the savages very much; for no sooner had they got into their boats than they began pelting the Spaniards with stones and burning torches. Magellan then caused the cannon to be fired over their heads. This, at first, produced the desired result. The boats fled, amid much shrieking and yelling, to the island. In the night, however, they returned, and did much damage to the ships with their rude missiles.

The next morning Magellan, indignant at the thieving propensities of the natives, and resolved to recover the skiff they had stolen—for he could ill spare even a small boat—manned several boats with forty men, armed to the teeth, and taking his place in the foremost, went ashore. He found the island a lovely one, overgrown with luxuriant tropical fruits and plants, and adorned with beautiful forests. Proceeding inland from the shore, he soon came to a native village, from whence the inhabitants, seeing him approach, fled in dismay. He burned the greater part of the village, killed several of the natives, and took others prisoners; and then returned to the shore, where he found his skiff, with many canoes, moored in an inlet out of view of the ships.

Among his prisoners were a number of the native women. These, Magellan observed with curiosity and interest, were pretty and delicate, much fairer than the men, with loose and flowing raven tresses, which fell to the very ground. They had no clothing, except aprons made of a thin and pliable bark; while their hair and faces were perfumed with cocoa oil. Magellan learned a great deal that was singular about the people and the island, from one of his male prisoners, who was very quick-witted, and who conversed with him by signs. It appeared that they subsisted chiefly on figs, sweet canes, birds, and fish. Both men and women were very fond of fishing in the sea, which was, indeed, their chief pastime; their fish-hooks were made of fish-bones. While the men worked in the fields, the women stayed at home in their huts, and made clothing and baskets of palm-leaves. The huts were built of wood, and thatched with fig-leaves; their beds had palm-leaf mats for covering, instead of blankets and quilts; the beds themselves being simply bundles of soft, fine palm straw. As for weapons, they used long sticks, with sharpened and pointed fish-bones at the end. The boats which Magellan found in the cove struck him as very odd. They were long, narrow affairs, painted red, black, or white. The masts consisted of crooked poles, which supported palm-leaf sails, shaped like lateen sails, both fore and aft. For paddles they had devices that looked like shovels.

Magellan remained off these islands three days. He gave them the name of the "Isles of Thieves," because of the depredations of the natives; and the islands are known by that name to this day.

On weighing anchor, and proceeding on its way westward, the fleet was followed by great crowds of the natives in innumerable boats, who chaffed the Spaniards by holding fish up to them, as if to taunt them with their hunger. Then they would throw showers of stones, most of which, however, fell harmlessly into the water, short of the ships. They rowed so swiftly and skillfully that it was, impossible to hit their boats with the cannon balls; nor did they desist and return to their islands until the fleet was far out to sea.

Magellan had now reached the eastern edge of that vast cluster of islands which comprises the Asiatic archipelago. He soon found himself constantly passing among groups of them; but, as he had taken care to replenish his store of provisions and water before sailing from the Isles of Thieves, and was uncertain what his reception might be, he did not care to cast anchor among them. In ten days he found the islands becoming more dense, larger, and more luxurious in vegetation; and now he came to one that seemed so inviting, that he could not resist the temptation to land. The group of islands among which he was then passing he named the St. Lazarus Islands, because it was on the day of that saint that he reached them; but they are now known as the Philippine Islands. The island at which Magellan cast anchor and went ashore proved to be uninhabited; and he was not sorry for this, as he might land in peace, and rest his crews. He caused two large tents to be set upon the smooth beach, and the sick sailors were taken out of the ships and carried into them. There they were carefully tended, and most of them, in the balmy air, and supplied with good food, soon recovered their customary vigor. On this island, too, Magellan found plenty of pure water, which had long been one of his direst needs.

Not far from this island was a larger one which is now called Samar. Magellan had not been at anchor more than two days, when one of the sailors espied a long canoe, which was rapidly approaching the shore where the Spaniards were. Magellan, with some of his officers, walked boldly down to the beach, as if to meet the new comers; at the same time cautioning his men not to move or speak without his permission.

The natives sprang fearlessly upon the beach, and went directly towards Magellan, whom they appeared to recognize at once as the chief officer of the fleet. As they came, they capered and danced about, and grinned with their big mouths, showing rows of dazzling white teeth, as a token of friendly welcome. Magellan made signs to them that he was glad to see them; whereupon, a number ran along the beach, calling out to some of their countrymen, who now appeared off the island in canoes, and were fishing, to come on shore.



It was a strange scene, this meeting of Asiatic savages, creamy in color, completely naked, were it not for the aprons of barks about their waists, with great masses of shaggy hair, with the Europeans, the chief of whom were as elegantly attired as if they were on the point of attending a royal court; the savages huddled together on one side, gazing curiously, and every now and then jumping up, and uttering hoarse exclamations; and the Europeans standing in a silent and attentive group, not forgetting to keep their hands on their weapons in case of a sudden attack.

But the natives evidently had no hostile purpose in their thoughts. They brought some just-caught and still wriggling fish, and laid them, with many signs of respect, at Magellan's feet. He was not less generous in his turn. Sending into the tents for some trinkets, he might soon have been seen, in the very midst of the natives, scattering among them a number of articles that fairly set them wild with delight. There were looking-glasses and combs, red caps and bells, toys of ivory, and gewgaws of silverware and brass. The natives were not content with lavishing fish upon the strangers. One of their canoes pushed off, and in a flash had disappeared; ere long, it was seen returning as rapidly as it went. Its occupants sprang ashore, bringing with them a huge jar. Placing this before Magellan, they produced cups made of cocoanut shells, dipped into the jar, and brought forth the cups overflowing with some kind of liquor. Magellan tasted it, and turning around, smiled and nodded his head, as if to say, "It is very nice." But this was only put on to please his visitors; it was really very unpleasant stuff, a sort of wine made of palms. The natives drank it with great gusto. Magellan liked much better the enormous figs they brought him, which were sweet and juicy; and the rich milk of the cocoanuts, which they cracked for his delectation.

The natives, indeed, proved so friendly, that Magellan not only secured from them what provisions he needed, with which to replenish his stores, but learned a great deal about that part of the great ocean where he now found himself. He was told that there were many larger islands ahead, all of which were inhabited by tribes with various traits and customs, and were very rich in their productions. He could not doubt that he was very near the far-famed Molucca Islands, so much coveted both by his adopted country, Spain, and his native country, Portugal. It seemed certain to him that the vast Continent of Asia lay not far to the North of him; those mysterious regions once comprising the dominions of the great Kubla Khan; and that, by sailing steadily westward, he should reach the shores of Africa, and find the kingdoms which Vasco da Gama had visited.

He found that he could trust his swarthy visitors; and no longer hesitated to take them on board the ships, and show them his cargo of spices and gold, his cabins, and his armament. On one occasion, he caused one of the cannon on board the Trinidad  to be fired; which so much frightened the natives, that several of them sprang overboard into the sea, and were with difficulty rescued.

At last, the chief of the island from whence the natives came, himself paid a visit to the ships in state. He was attended by many nobles, and had his face painted; while heavy gold earrings hung from his ears, and gold bracelets encircled his wrists. He was an old man, with gentle manners, and a pleasant smile. With him he brought two boats laden with oranges, palm wine, and—what very much pleased Magellan—some chickens.

Before sailing away from the place where he had met so pleasant a reception, Magellan visited several neighboring islands, in each of which he was welcomed in a most peaceful and friendly manner. On one of these he found people very different from those he had seen at first. They were of a tawny complexion, and very fat and sleek-looking; they painted their bodies all over; they had great holes bored in their ears; and wore, as did the others, aprons made of bark, or palm-leaves. They had a habit of anointing themselves from head to foot, with oil of cocoanuts and sesame, in order, as they said, to protect them from the sun and wind. Some of the chief men were arrayed in long gowns made of cotton, the ends of which were fringed with a kind of silk; their weapons were daggers and knives, the hilts, in some cases, ornamented with gold; and for fishing, they had harpoons and nets.

These savages had one habit which greatly disgusted Magellan and his companions. This was their habit of betel-chewing. A sort of pear-shaped fruit, called areca, grew on the islands. This, with some lime, they would wrap up in the betel-leaves, and putting it into their mouths, would chew eagerly by the hour together. It had the effect of keeping them continually excited; but when the Spaniards tasted it, it made them very sick.

Magellan remained among the Philippines a week. The ships fortunately needed but few repairs; and the great fruitfulness of the islands supplied him with an ample abundance of provisions. The two springs on the little island yielded plenty of good water; and the forests on the larger islands afforded an excellent stock of wood. It seemed as if the trials of the wanderers were passed, and as if the rest of their voyage were to be a holiday sail.