Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Preparations for the Voyage

King Charles of Spain, at the time that Magellan sought him at Valladolid, was scarcely more than a boy in years; but already he betrayed the bold and ambitious traits which were to make him famous, when afterwards, as the Emperor Charles V. of Germany, he engaged in the great wars with France.

At the age of eighteen, though beardless, slight, and short in form, with a head of thick, stubby, yellow hair, and the large jaw of the royal house of Castile, there was something in his presence and bearing that was not only kingly, but that inspired all who approached him with a respect which was as much a tribute to his character as to his rank.

Charles was especially earnest in his desire to maintain and increase the renown of Spain as the discoverer and conqueror of distant lands. He was proud of the noble traditions of Ferdinand and Isabella, his grandfather and grandmother; rejoiced to remember that it was by their help that Columbus was enabled to find a new continent beyond the Atlantic; and was deeply jealous of the triumphs of his neighbors, the Portuguese, in their conquests in India, and on the African coast.

When Magellan and Faleiro, therefore, were ushered into his presence, the king was prepared to give them a hearty welcome, and to listen with attentive ear to what they said.

In presence of the Spanish court, Magellan unfolded his project in an earnest and eloquent speech. He described to the king the discoveries already made in America, and declared that, if he were only permitted to make the attempt, he had no doubt of being able to find a passage around the newly-discovered continent. His enthusiasm at once inspired King Charles with confidence in him; and his words, describing in glowing terms the increased wealth and power which would come to the Spanish crown, if his proposed voyage were successful, aroused all Charles's eager ambition.

On being dismissed from the royal presence, Magellan and Faleiro returned to their lodgings, to await, in anxious suspense, the king's decision. His gracious bearing towards them led them to hope that he would grant their wishes; nor was this hope disappointed.

A few days after, they received a summons to appear before Fonseca, the president of the Council of India; and when they entered his apartment, he welcomed them with a cordiality which augured well for their project. His words soon relieved them of all doubt.

"The king," he said, has well considered what you said to him; and has consulted his grandees and counselors upon the matter. He decides to consent to your desires; to furnish you with a fleet, of which you, Magellan, are to have the command; and trusting in your loyalty, he will provide you with the men and materials necessary for your expedition."

The friends embraced each other in their joy, and warmly expressed their gratitude to Fonseca. Once more Magellan's heart beat with proud and ambitious anticipation. The chief longing of his life was about to be gratified. He would at last traverse the ocean, and search for the passage, the existence which had been a deeply-seated belief in his soul.

Full of exultation, he dispatched a messenger with a letter for his beloved Beatrix at Seville, which apprized her of his glorious success at court; and then, with Faleiro, cheerily set to work preparing for the expedition that had so long filled his thoughts.

King Charles was as good as his word. He agreed to fit out five sound and sturdy ships, and to man them with two hundred and fifty able seamen, who should be paid, for a period of two years, out of the royal treasury of Spain. He promised Magellan that, if he succeeded in discovering the desired passage, no other Spanish seaman should go through it for ten years; that he should have command of the fleet as its admiral, and be the governor of all the lands that he might discover.

The king further agreed that Magellan should have a twentieth part of all the revenues from these lands, which the Spanish treasury received; that he should be allowed to send cargoes of spices to Spain every year, to the value of one thousand ducats, a fifth of which he should have for himself; and that, of the islands he should discover, after the king had chosen six, he should have, as his own, the seventh and eighth.

Thus, if the voyage were only successful, Magellan would not only win great fame, but become speedily a rich man; for the islands in the seas to which he hoped to penetrate were well known to be teeming with precious spices and other valuable productions. But Magellan's path was not yet an altogether smooth one. Many Spanish courtiers and captains became jealous of the foreigner's success with the king, and whispered suspicions into the royal ear. It was an outrage, they said, for a Portuguese to be put in command of a Spanish fleet, and to reap the honors due to the faithful subjects of the crown. There were many Spaniards, they declared, who were as able and as eager as Magellan to undertake the voyage; and this task should have been confided to them.

These courtiers were not the only enemies Magellan had to face. King Manuel, on hearing of the success of his discarded soldier, became very much excited, and resolved, if possible, to stop the expedition. He began to see that he had made a great blunder in treating Magellan so rudely, and in haughtily rejecting his offer of service; and feared lest, after all, the king of Spain, should reap the benefits which he himself might have received, had he been less obdurate, from Magellan's zeal and genius.

At the Spanish court was a great Portuguese noble, named Alvaro da Costa, who was King Manuel's ambassador. To him King Manuel sent word to do everything in his power to prevent Magellan's expedition from setting out. Da Costa was very anxious to please his master, for he hoped for promotion if he served him well. He lost no time in undertaking the task now imposed upon him; and resolved that, at all hazards, Magellan should not sail, if he could possibly help it.

The first thing he did was to appeal to King Charles, and implore him to withdraw his promises. He told the king that if he allowed Magellan to go, he would mortally offend the Portuguese monarch. But this did not move King Charles, who stood stoutly by his word to Magellan; and in this he was encouraged by the good bishop of Burgos, who was one of Magellan's warmest friends.

Failing to persuade the king, Da Costa next tried with all his might to prevail on Magellan himself to give up his expedition.

Magellan had now returned to Seville, where he was busy making his preparations for departure, and also for his marriage; for he was eager to make his dear Beatrix his wife, before he went.

One day, as he was absorbed in packing some baskets and boxes of provisions and clothing at his lodgings, he heard a loud knock at his door, and Sebastian Alvarez, King Manuel's agent in Seville, an old acquaintance of Magellan's, entered the room.

Magellan greeted him cordially, and asked him to be seated; whereupon Alvarez began to try to persuade him to give up his expedition.

"The road you are going on," he said, has as many dangers as St. Catherine's wheel, and you ought to leave it, and take the straight road. In doing what you propose, you will mortally offend your liege lord, King Manuel, who will set you down as a traitor."

"Not justly," was Magellan's reply; "for I hope by my discoveries to shed luster on our name, and do honor to the Portuguese crown. If I should go back to Portugal, there would be nothing left for me but the seven ells of serge, and the beads of acorns of a hermit."

"Nay, if you obey the king, he will do you honor; if not, you must suffer his vengeance."

But Magellan could not be dissuaded from his purpose; and Alvarez was forced to leave him in despair, and report his ill-success to King Manuel. Then da Costa, the ambassador, concocted still darker schemes against Magellan. Resolved to prevent his departure at all hazards, he plotted to have him killed. He secretly hired an assassin, who one night fell upon Magellan in one of the by-streets of Seville. But the young cavalier, though lame, proved more than a match for his dastardly assailant. As the latter was about to plunge a dagger in his breast, Magellan whirled around, drew his sword quick as a flash, and dealt the fellow a frightful blow across the face, and drove him, howling with pain, into the darkness.



Failing in this cowardly crime, da Costa sent his agents to Seville, to stir up the common people against his countryman. They went about among the inns and wine-shops, and told the Spaniards they were fools to submit to it that a foreigner should command a Spanish fleet; and so excited them, that one day, as Magellan was passing along the street, he was attacked by a furious mob. He made haste to enter the house of a friend, which fortunately stood nearby, and thus escaped being pelted to death.

He was so happy just at this time, however, that these attempts upon his life were forgotten almost as soon as they were made; for the day rapidly approached when he would lead his fair Beatrix to the altar, and claim her forever as his own. The preparations for this event were carried forward in all haste; and for weeks the spacious mansion of Don Diego Barbosa, was full of bustle and excitement.

It was on a fresh, crisp winter's day that the bridal procession wended its way to the stately and beautiful cathedral of Seville: There was Magellan, attended by his own faithful friend, Faleiro, and a gay crowd of young nobles and soldiers; arrayed in his handsomest suit of velvet, silk and gold lace, and with a face beaming with proud pleasure. There was the bride, in her splendid wedding robe, surrounded by a sparkling bevy of dark Spanish beauties. There was the bluff old cavalier, Don Diego, in his official dress as mayor of the city, looking delighted and happy. And there, at the high altar, stood the bishop of Seville, in cope and mitre, ready to perform the solemn rites which should make the happy couple one.

The arches of the great cathedral resounded with the organ and the sacred chant; bride and bridegroom approached, and knelt at the altar; the momentous words were slowly spoken by the bishop; and then Magellan, with head erect, and a flush upon his cheek, advanced down the nave, with his blooming bride upon his arm. Alas! Neither knew how brief would be their married life, or that it would end with their happy honeymoon!

It was during this brief season of his honeymoon that Magellan tore himself away from the sweet companionship of Beatrix, to watch the preparations for his departure. One by one the good ships which were to sail under his command appeared in the harbor of Seville; one and all either newly built or newly repaired, with sturdy masts and unsoiled sails, and bedecked with fresh paint from stem to stern.

First, there was the Trinidad, a small ship, indeed, compared with those which we see to-day, for it was only of one hundred tons burden, but in that time a good-sized craft, well able, it seemed, to breast the storms and wild winds of the Atlantic. This was the flagship, in which Magellan himself was to go.

Then there were the San Antonio  and the Conception, smaller vessels, of eighty tons burden each, commanded, the first by Juan de Cartagena, a Spanish captain with whom Magellan was destined later to have much trouble; and the other by Gaspar de Quegada. There were finally the Victoria, and Santiago, of sixty tons each, commanded by Luis de Mendoza and Juan Serrano, a relation of that friend of Magellan who had told him such exciting stories about the Molucca islands, which he was now going to try to find.

These ships were all quickly provided with everything required for a long voyage. The Trinidad  carried four large iron cannon; and in all, there were eighty cannon on the five vessels. Ample provisions were packed in the holds, and an abundance of such clothing as the officers and crews would need for an uncertain period, was supplied.

Inasmuch as Magellan was going among savage tribes, who were pleased with gewgaws and bright-colored clothing, a part of the cargoes of the ships was composed of copper, quicksilver, colored cloths, and handsome silks, jackets ornamented with copper and silver buttons, and a great variety of bells, bracelets, rings, and other trinkets.

Magellan, while thus supervising the preparations of his expedition, did not neglect one important task; that of studying the art of navigation. This was not, it is true, a wholly new study for him. His boyish fondness for ships and voyages had interested him in the art of managing vessels, and in the uses of the astrolabe and other nautical instruments. From the conversations he had had with Vasco da Gama, and other heroes of the ocean, he had derived much precious knowledge; and his voyage to India and back had enabled him to observe closely the practical working of a ship.

In the long winter evenings, when he had returned from inspecting the progress made in his fleet, you might have seen him seated before a blazing fire in Don Diego's library—for Don Diego was a man of learning, and had many valuable books, for which he had paid great prices—with heavy tomes upon his knee, deep in their contents; or bending over a long table, where he had spread out some rude chart of the Atlantic or of the American coast, which had been drawn by an earlier navigator.

By his side, deeply absorbed in his pursuit, sat his fair young wife; her face now sad with the thought of separating from him; now lit up with tender pride, as she reflected what fame and wealth his genius might win from the voyage.

Thus usefully and pleasantly were spent the months that intervened between his marriage and the time for him to set out on his daring venture.

At last that exciting moment came. The ships were all ready, moored side by side along the quays of Seville. The sailors, some of whom were Portuguese and some Spanish, were gathered in the city, and had, for the most part, taken up their quarters on board the vessels; and they were one and all impatient to sail. The captains and pilots were on board, as anxious as the sailors to depart.

It was on a soft August morning in 1519, that Magellan rose, attired himself in his admiral's uniform, and lingered for awhile, locked in his wife's close embrace. He needed all his self-restraint to remain composed, and to utter every tender and consoling word that he could think of, to soften her sorrow at the parting. Then, gently withdrawing himself from her clinging arms, he gave her a last, long, loving look, and slowly passed into the street. There his attendants awaited him—his servants, and some of the sailors from the flagship. Don Diego was there, too, ready to accompany his son-in-law to the quays; and Don Diego's young son, Edward Barbosa, who was to go with Magellan and share his perils, was by his father's side. They mounted their horses and slowly rode through the streets.

Every thoroughfare was crowded. It was always a holiday with the gay and pleasure-loving Sevillians, when a great expedition was to set sail from their port on a voyage of discovery; and they had long known of Magellan's hardy project. There was now no trace of the miserable jealousy which had stirred a mob to assail him, but one and all, by their faces and cheers, seemed anxious to give him a hearty "God-speed."

Arrived at the quays, Magellan descended from his horse, embraced Don Diego and the other friends who had gathered to bid him adieu, and attended by Edward Barbosa, his officers and sailors, went on board the flagship and ascended to the deck. At the same time, the other captains appeared on their decks, and the crews began to weigh anchor and spread the white new sails.

It was a noble sight to see the five comely ships, almost side by side, slowly creep out of the lovely harbor; the sun flashing on the flags and pennons that floated from the masts, and making the new paint on the ships' sides glitter; a gentle breeze just ruffling the blue waves, and stirring them from a glassy calm; the quays alive with the chattering, noisy, and picturesquely attired crowd; the cannon pealing forth their deafening salvos from ship and shore; the captains erect on their decks, waving their plumed hats, and every now and then turning to shout their orders to their subalterns; and the lofty towers of cathedral and palace growing more and more dim and fairy-like as the little fleet floated away from the mole, and sped cheerily out upon the broad sweep of the river that flowed to the Atlantic!

Soon the eyes of the people on the quays were vainly strained seaward, and the eyes of those on the ships gazed without avail in the direction that the city stood.

Magellan was fairly off at last. What adventures would he meet with; what wonderful things would he discover on the surging deep?