Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Magellan at the Wars

Fernan had not been long at court, when an event occurred which threw Lisbon into excitement, and which was destined to turn the current of Fernan's future life. This was the return of the famous discoverer, Vasco da Gama, from his second voyage to India.

The victories which da Gama had gained, his successful voyages to and from India, the splendid reception with which he was welcomed home, the honors of nobility and fortune that were showered upon him, the praises of him that rang through Portugal, all excited Fernan's ambition, and stimulated anew his longing to enter upon a career of adventure. In no long time he made Vasco da Gama's acquaintance, and was soon admitted to his intimacy; and many an hour did the young man spend at da Gama's house, listening to the soul-stirring tales of his exploits by sea and land. Da Gama told him of the marvelous riches of India; of the customs of the people, and the struggles in which they had engaged with the Portuguese; and in such glowing colors described the romance of that distant land, the perils which there awaited the Portuguese warriors, and the glories which they might achieve, that Fernan burned to take part in its further conquest.

There was then at the Portuguese court, a brave and enterprising captain, named Francisco D'Almeyda. He had won renown at the famous siege of Granada, and in fighting the Moors in Africa; and he was descended from one of the noblest families of Portugal. King Manuel had no more courageous or courtly subject.

Sometime after Vasco da Gama's return, D'Almeyda was chosen as the first viceroy, or governor of India. So much loved and trusted was he, that no sooner was his approaching departure for the East announced, than a crowd of seekers after adventure, of all ranks and conditions, flocked to him and begged to be allowed to go with him.

D'Almeyda knew Fernan Magellan, whom he had long been in the habit of meeting about the court. He had seen more than one instance of his bravery, and was deeply impressed with the restless ardor of his ambition. No sooner did Fernan, therefore, appear before him, and eagerly ask for a place under his command, than the viceroy freely promised him what he desired.

Fernan now set eagerly about his preparations for departure. He besought and easily obtained the consent of King Manuel; and finding that he had plenty of spare time before D'Almeyda sailed, he employed it in revisiting his home in Traz os Montes, to bid adieu to his parents, brothers and sisters, and take a last look at the familiar scenes of his childhood. He was going a long way off, into the midst of many dangers, and might never behold those beloved haunts again.

He was in the flower of young manhood, being about twenty-five years of age, when, from the deck of the flagship of D'Almeyda's fleet, he saw, with contending emotions, the shores of Portugal growing dim and fading away in the distance. He found himself at last a soldier, in a large and well-appointed force; and he was impatient that the voyage should be rapidly pursued, and that they should quickly reach the scene of their future exploits.

No untoward mishap marked the progress of the fleet. Gentle winds wafted it on its course; scarcely a gale assailed it as it sped on, touching now at the Cape Verde Islands, now at the pretty harbor at St. Helena, and at last near the Cape of Good Hope.

D'Almeyda's first task was to secure Portuguese garrisons at certain points on the East African coast, where, according to the reports that had reached King Manuel, there was an abundance of gold and other riches. Entering the harbor of Quiloa, a town on the coast ruled over by a barbarian king who was hostile to the Portuguese, he assailed, captured, and plundered it. Fernan here had his first taste of the excitements and dangers of battle, and side-by-side with his noble commander, he fought with a headlong and lion-like courage which at once marked him out as a hero among his comrades.

From Quiloa, where he built a fort, D'Almeyda went to Mombaza, further up the coast; and here, too, the Portuguese met with a stout resistance from the natives. These natives had already had a taste of European warfare; for some years before Vasco da Gama had attacked them. He had, it seems, lost some of his cannon overboard. These the natives had managed to haul up from the bottom of the sea; and, somehow, they had learned how to use them; so that, when D'Almeyda assailed them, he was amazed to be welcomed with the roar of artillery. He succeeded, however, after a desperate fight, in capturing Mombaza, where he found an abundance of spoil; and he remained in this place some days.

One morning, as Fernan was looking about him in this strange African town, he was surprised to see, propped up near the gate of the palace, a large iron anchor. On examining it further, he found that it had, without doubt, come from Portugal. He hastened to report the discovery to D'Almeyda; who, on questioning some of the natives, learned that it was an anchor which Vasco da Gama had lost in the harbor, and which had been hauled up, and by order of the king, placed at his palace gate as a curiosity.

The next place at which the fleet stopped was the friendly town of Melinda, where Vasco da Gama had been welcomed and treated with lavish hospitality. The old king, who had shown him so much attention, was dead; but in his stead ruled his son, who proved equally well-disposed towards the Portuguese. D'Almeyda was received with cordial greeting, visited the king in his flourishing city, and was allowed to build a fort on the heights that rose above it.

All this time, the fleet had been gradually drawing nearer to India, its final destination; and on leaving Melinda, it struck directly across the ocean, favored by the trade winds, and after a rapid voyage, reached Malabar.

Fernan, who had shown conspicuous bravery in all the battles in which the Portuguese had been engaged with the Africans, and had become a great favorite, both with D'Almeyda and with his fellow-soldiers, was delighted to see at last the land of which he had heard so much, and where he hoped to fight his way up to fame and fortune. He gazed in wonder at the singular costumes of the natives, the gorgeous turbans and tunics that adorned the persons of the princes and great men, the bazaars, full of rich cloths, fine carvings, and luscious fruits; and marveled at the luxurious vegetation that crowned the hills and clustered in the valleys.

But he was soon called away from all this sight-seeing, by his duties as a soldier. He had not come merely to visit a strange land, and idly observe its curiosities and customs. There was stern work before him; and he cheerily obeyed the summons that called upon him to follow his commander.

He served gallantly with D'Almeyda in his many attacks upon the Indian chiefs and towns that still resisted the Portuguese sway; went with him to Cochin and Cananore, took part in the desperate siege of Coulam, and that of Onor, and engaged in many a fight with the Moors, who, jealous of the Portuguese, exerted their utmost energies to drive them from India.

It happened that, after Fernan had been in India some time, a famous Portuguese general, Alfonso de Albuquerque, arrived with a large force, with the purpose of carrying the conquests of Portugal still further east. Albuquerque was one of the greatest soldiers of his time. He had a noble nature, was refined, generous, energetic, and as brave a man as there was in the world. His soldiers idolized him, because, though very stern when offended, he cheerfully shared their hardships, and always led them in person. He had a pleasant, genial face, which was rendered yet more benign by the long, snow-white beard that fell over his breast, almost to his waist; his eye was bright and kindly, but in battle was lit up with the fierce fire of his valor and enthusiasm; his bearing was at once dignified and gracious.

To Albuquerque, Fernan was at once attracted, and; as D'Almeyda was now busy with the civil affairs of his viceroyalty, and matters were, for the time, quiet in India, he hastened to enlist under Albuquerque's standard.

Near the straits between the Indian Ocean and the Persian gulf lies an island, on which stood, and still stands, the city of Ormuz. It is an old saying in the East that "the world is a ring, and Ormuz is the gem set in it." At the time of which we speak, Ormuz was, in consequence of its position as commanding the straits between the two oceans, one of the most important places in all Asia. Its harbor was always full of the quaint craft of the Eastern waters; Arabian, Moorish, Persian, Indian, Malay, Tartar, and Armenian boats might have been seen crowded together in its roadstead; while its markets teemed with the various wares produced in the countries to which they belonged. The city itself was alive with trade; its streets and squares were spread over a wide area; and it possessed many stately buildings.

The Portuguese had long looked with covetous eyes upon so fine a military position, and so rich an emporium; and Albuquerque was resolved to add this "gem of the world" to the crown of his royal master.

It was in September, 1507, that he set sail, with a fleet of seven ships and a force of less than five hundred men, to attack a city which, he knew well, was defended by a large garrison of Indians and Persians. With Albuquerque went, his heart aglow with excitement and hope, Fernan Magellan. There was not a soldier in the little army that looked forward more cheerily than he to what was nothing less than a recklessly audacious enterprise. His experience in war made him confident of his prowess; and he longed to meet foemen, like the Persians and Arabs, more worthy of the steel of Portuguese cavaliers than the African barbarians and the half-civilized Hindoos.

In due time the fleet arrived off the busy harbor of Ormuz; and Albuquerque hastened to attack the ships which defended it. One by one the native ships, riddled by Albuquerque's cannon, sank beneath the waves; the town itself was set on fire; and soon a message came from the grand vizier, that he would yield to the Portuguese, acknowledge King Manuel as the lord of Ormuz, allow a fort to be built, and pay a large tribute. Content with this submission, Albuquerque sailed back to India again.

But when he had gone, the vizier, (who was reigning as regent in Ormuz, during the infancy of its prince), refused to fulfill his pledges; and the next year, Albuquerque again attacked the city. This time he was badly repulsed; and was at last forced to give up the purpose of capturing it.

In these conflicts young Fernan took an eager and gallant part. More than once he fell seriously wounded, but as soon as his wounds were dressed, he was up again, fighting with all his might; and soon was known throughout India as one of the bravest captains in the Portuguese camp.

He went on many of the expeditions that were undertaken by Albuquerque and other generals, everywhere displaying conspicuous valor and military skill; and he at the same time made himself beloved by his fellow-soldiers, by sharing their dangers and hardships, and devoting himself heart and soul to their welfare.

On one occasion, a small fleet was sent by Albuquerque from Cochin back to Portugal, and two ships, one of them commanded by Magellan, were dispatched to convey this fleet into the open sea. These two ships set out towards night; but had not proceeded far, when, in the darkness, they both struck on the shoals of Padua, remaining aground, and upright on their keels. It was a situation of great peril, for the ships were likely to break up and founder at any moment. In all haste the boats were got out, and a great clamor now arose among the men as to who should return in them to the main land.

At this critical juncture, Magellan displayed the true nobility of his nature. Although, as an officer, he was entitled to return in the boats, he resolutely refused to do so. He declared that he would remain with the men, while the rest of the officers went back; and he went around among the sailors, exhorting them to stand by the ships as long as they remained above water.

His example put to shame those who had been clamoring to return to the main land, and his cheery words turned their terror into confidence.

He happened, just as one of the boats, full of its human freight, was about to pull away to the shore, to step into it for a moment, to speak to its captain. One of the sailors, alarmed at this, cried out to him:

"Sir, did you not promise to stay with us?"

"Yes," shouted back Magellan; "and see, I am coming;" with which he climbed back upon the stranded ship again, and took his place among those who were to stay by the ships.

The boats having departed, Magellan set vigorously to work to save the ships and their cargoes. He ordered shores to be set with the yards on each side of the vessels, their sides to be raised as well as possible, and biscuits and water to be put within. These tasks done, Magellan saw to it that the men committed no robberies, and completely won their confidence by the promptness and vigor of his measures.

In this dangerous situation the crew remained for a week; when some caravels, sent out to succor them, arrived, took them on board, and transferred so much of the cargoes as remained uninjured by the salt water. The stranded ships were then burned, and Magellan and his companions returned safely to Cochin.

Soon after this, Magellan committed an act which not only deprived him of the affection of Albuquerque, but had a very important influence on his future career. He was now one of the most distinguished of the Portuguese captains in Portugal, and was called into the councils of the viceroy and the generals, to take part in the decisions which those councils made.

Albuquerque was anxious to make an attack on a town called Goa, which was situated on an island, just off the coast of India. It had a good harbor, and was one of the chief trading-places on the coast. He therefore called a council of war, and proposed his project to the assembled chiefs. Among these was Magellan. On hearing the general's plan, he was bold enough to oppose it. He reminded Albuquerque that the winds were now contrary, and that if the ships were taken to Goa, they could not return that year to Portugal; and did his utmost to dissuade the general from the expedition.

Magellan's opposition did not please Albuquerque, who, though not an unamiable man, was impatient of contradiction. He declared that in spite of what Magellan said, he should go to Goa, with such ships as he had, and such men as chose to go with him; and he accordingly sailed out of Cochin with twenty-one vessels, and sixteen hundred soldiers, to execute his purpose.

Having thus displeased the old warrior, under whose lead he had fought so long and well, Magellan found himself out of service in India. But he could not rest idle. His ambition still stirred him to attempt deeds of daring, to share the thrilling perils of the camp and field.

Besides alienating the good will of Albuquerque, he had lost nearly all the property he had acquired during his residence in India; and to continue his military life was not only a satisfaction but a necessity.

He accordingly turned his eyes to another part of the world, where the Portuguese were contending for dominion, just as they were in India. They had long engaged in fierce wars with the Moors; and had managed to secure some foothold in Morocco. Thither Magellan, pining for active service, wended his way; and soon found himself in command of some Portuguese troops at a settlement called Azamor. Here he engaged in almost continual conflicts with the Moors and Arabs, who struggled fiercely against the European intruders upon African soil.

Magellan would sally out from the town, at the head of a body of his brave troopers, and recklessly assail the Arab camps that threatened to attack it. He rode or marched at the head of his soldiers, and was the first to fire at or cut down with sword the swarthy foes who rushed out to meet him.



On one of these rash sallies, Magellan fell hotly upon an Arab camp, and was dealing Herculean blows, right and left, when a poisoned javelin, hurled from the midst of the enemy, entered his leg. He had so often been wounded before, that he made light of the circumstance; but on being carried back to Azamor, it was found that the wound was a serious one. The skill of the surgeons soon restored him to health; but from that day till his death, Magellan was lame.

Magellan, through all the exciting events in which he had taken part since leaving the royal court at Lisbon, had never lost sight of the chief ambition and desire of his youth. This was, to win the laurels of a great discoverer, and to leave his name renowned in history, as were those of Columbus and Vasco da Gama. He had now seen much service, and felt that there was little glory to be gained in the petty wars with the Moors; and he became impatient to enter upon some long and hazardous voyage, and search the strange and obscure regions of the world.

He therefore repaired to Lisbon, to entreat King Manuel to fit up and give him the command of an expedition of discovery.