Ferdinand Magellan


Ferdinand Magellan organized the first voyage which successfully circumnaviated the globe, and in the process discovered the Straights of Magellan, the Philippines, and several other important geographical landmarks. His momentous expedition was considred a great success even though only 18 of over 200 crewmen returned alive, and Magellan himself was not one of them. He is credited with being the first person to circumnaviate the globe, however, since he was not killed until after reaching the Far East, and he had traveled extensively in the region on prior voyages.

In 1498 the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and established a trade route for the Portuguese to the Far East. Seven years after his return, Ferdinand Magellan joined another Portuguese expedition, led by Francisco Almeida to India. He participated in the Battle of Dui and spent years sailing the region for Portugal under both Almeida and Albuquerque. Eventually, however, Magellan fell out of favor with his superiors due to accusations of illegal trading. Magellan sought to defend himself from these charges, but to no avail. By 1514 he was back in Portugal without employment, and with powerful enemies at the Portuguese court.

In 1513, Balboa had discovered the Pacific Ocean. Magellan was a talented sailor with a broad knowledge of the Far East, and conceived of the idea of sailing to the far east by finding a passage through the new world. After presenting his idea first to the King of Portugal, he proceded to the Court of Charles V, where he gained a much more positive reception. Spain was especially eager to pursue the idea of a western route to the east in order to rival Portugal, which had already established itself in the region.

After several years of preparation, Magellan was provided with five ships and about 250 sailors for his voyage. They embarked from Seville, in August 1519 and by January 1520 reached Rio de la Plata, south of Brazil. At this point, Magellan had to proceed carefully. No passage around the Cape of South America was known at the time, and the waters were rocky and treacherous. One of the ships was lost on a scouting expedition, one returned to Spain, and a minor mutiny was averted. Finally, on November 28, three of the ships successfully negotiated the Straights of Magellan, and entered the Pacific Ocean.

It took only a little over three months to cross the Pacific, and the fleet reached Guam safely in March 1521. From there they proceded to the Philippines, which were unknown to Magellan, since his previous travels in the region had not taken him so far North. It occurred to Magellan to befriend the local king and claim the region for Spain, and so he agreed to aid a local chieftain in one of his battles. This turned into a very costly skirmish—the natives used poison arrows and Magellen and many of the other sailors were killed. The command of the expedition turned to Juan Elcano, who loaded up two of the remaining ships with spices and other valuables before attempting to return to Spain. The return journey was complicated by the fact that the Portuguese were dominant in the region, and were somewhat hostile to the Spanish venture. On of the ships was captured by the Portuguese, and the other was forced to dock at a Portuguese station before returning to Spain. Nevertheless, Juan Elcana piloted the Victoria back to Spain, a little less than the years after beginning the momentous journey.

Key events during the life of Ferdinand Magellan:

Born to a noble family in Portugal.
Traveled with Francisco de Almeida to the far East.
Participated in the Battle of Diu
Balboa discovers the Pacific Ocean.
Accused of trading illegally with the Moors and relieved for service for Portugal.
Presented plan to sail beyond the New World to reach East Asia to the King of Portugal, but was rejected.
Gained audience with Charles 5 of Spain and presented his plan with some success.
Five ships and a crew of over 250 men were commisioned for the journey.
Reached Rio de la Plata in South America in January, 1520.
Passed the Magellan Straights in November, 1520.
Reached the Island of Guam in March, with over 150 crewmen still alive.
Death of Magellan in the Philippines in April, after being shot with poison arrows.
Remainder of Magellan's crew reach the Spice Islands in November.
The Victoria, under command of Juan Elcano rounds the Cape of Good Hope in May.
The Victoria returns safely to Spain, on September 6.

Book Links
Ferdinand Magellan  by  Frederick Ober

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Other Great Explorers  in  American History Stories, Volume I  by  Mara L. Pratt
Magellan's Great Plan  in  The Discovery of New Worlds  by  M. B. Synge
Magellan Sails Round the World  in  A Book of Discovery  by  M. B. Synge
Ferdinand Magellan Leads First Voyage Round World  in  European Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

Ferdinand Magellan
 in Ferdinand Magellan

The ships of Magellan
 in Ferdinand Magellan

Monument to Magellan on the spot where he was killed
 in Ferdinand Magellan

Magellan planting the cross in the Philippine Islands
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Ferdinand Magellan
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Ferdinand Magellan, the first circumnavigator of the world
 in A Book of Discovery

 in European Hero Stories

Magellan leaving home
 in The Adventures of Magellan

Magellan wounded.
 in The Adventures of Magellan

An attempt to assassinate Magellan
 in The Adventures of Magellan

The Giant and the mirror
 in The Adventures of Magellan

Meeting with the Natives.
 in The Adventures of Magellan

The baptism of the kings.
 in The Adventures of Magellan

The Death of Magellan
 in The Adventures of Magellan

The Reception at Borneo
 in The Adventures of Magellan

Short Biography
Francisco de Almeida Portuguese general who served in the wars against Granada, and was appointed the first governor of Portuguese India.
Alfonso de Albuquerque Portuguese commander who won numerous naval conflicts in Asia and helped establish a colony in India at Goa.
Juan Elcano Took command of Magellan's expedition after his death, and completed the journey to Spain.
Vasco da Gama Portuguese explorer who voyaged to Calicut, India by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
Charles V 16th century Hapsburg Emperor who ruled Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and parts of Italy.
Manuel I of Portugal King of Portugal during the era of discovery of the Far East Trade.