Aug 102018

On this date in 1519, five ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan’s command left Seville to begin the first ever circumnavigation of the world. One ship and 18 of the original crew made it back to Spain. Magellan died en route, but he is remembered in numerous place names, most especially the Strait of Magellan, and in modern discoveries such as the Magellanic Clouds (two irregular dwarf galaxies) as well as animal species, such as Magellanic penguins (which I saw when I visited Tierra del Fuego in 2011).

Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the West (1492–1503) had the goal of reaching the Indies and establishing direct commercial relations between Spain and Asian kingdoms. The Spanish soon realized that the lands of the Americas were not a part of Asia, but a new continent. The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas reserved for Portugal the eastern routes that went around Africa, and Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498. Castile urgently needed to find a new commercial route to Asia. After the Junta de Toro conference of 1505, the Spanish Crown commissioned expeditions to discover a route to the west. Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa reached the Pacific Ocean in 1513 after crossing the Isthmus of Panama, and Juan Díaz de Solís died in Río de la Plata in 1516 while exploring South America in the service of Spain.

In October 1517 in Seville, Magellan (already an experienced sailor, explorer, and soldier), contacted Juan de Aranda, Factor of the Casa de Contratación. Following the arrival of his partner Rui Faleiro, and with the support of Aranda, they presented their project to the Spanish king, Charles I, future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Magellan’s project, if successful, would realize Columbus’ plan of a spice route by sailing west without damaging relations with the Portuguese. The idea was in tune with the times and had already been discussed after Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific. On 22nd March 1518 the king named Magellan and Faleiro captains so that they could travel in search of the Spice Islands in July. He raised them to the rank of Commander of the Order of Santiago, and granted them a number of monopolies on their discoveries. The expedition was funded largely by the Spanish Crown, which provided ships carrying supplies for two years of travel. Expert cartographer Jorge Reinel and Diogo Ribeiro, a Portuguese who had started working for Charles V in 1518 as a cartographer at the Casa de Contratación, took part in the development of the maps to be used in the travel. Several problems arose during the preparation of the trip, including lack of money, the king of Portugal trying to stop them, Magellan and other Portuguese incurring suspicion from the Spanish, and the difficult nature of Faleiro. Finally, thanks to the tenacity of Magellan, the expedition was ready. Through the bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca they obtained the participation of merchant Christopher de Haro, who provided a quarter of the funds and goods to barter.

The flagship Trinidad (110 tons, crew 55), under Magellan’s command

San Antonio (120 tons; crew 60) commanded by Juan de Cartagena

Concepción (90 tons, crew 45) commanded by Gaspar de Quesada

Santiago (75 tons, crew 32) commanded by João Serrão

Victoria (85 tons, crew 43), named after the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria de Triana, where Magellan took an oath of allegiance to Charles V; commanded by Luis Mendoza.

The crew of about 270 included men from several nations, including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and France. Spanish authorities were wary of Magellan, who was Portuguese, so that they almost prevented him from sailing, switching his mostly Portuguese crew to mostly Spaniards. It included about 40 Portuguese, among them Magellan’s brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, João Serrão, a relative of Francisco Serrão, Estêvão Gomes and Magellan’s indentured servant Enrique of Malacca. Faleiro, who had planned to accompany the voyage, withdrew prior to boarding. Juan Sebastián Elcano, a Spanish merchant ship captain living in Seville, embarked seeking the king’s pardon for previous misdeeds. Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar and traveler, asked to be on the voyage, accepting the title of “supernumerary” and a modest salary. He became a strict assistant of Magellan and kept an accurate journal. The only other sailor to report the voyage would be Francisco Albo, who kept a formal logbook. Juan de Cartagena was named Inspector General of the expedition, responsible for its financial and trading operations.

The fleet left Seville on this date in 1519 and descended the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river. They remained there until 20th September 1519 when they left Spain. King Manuel I ordered a Portuguese naval detachment to pursue Magellan, but he evaded them. After stopping at the Canary Islands, Magellan arrived at Cape Verde, where he set course for Cape St. Augustine in Brazil. On 27th November the expedition crossed the equator; on 6th December the crew sighted South America. On 13th December they anchored near present-day Rio de Janeiro. There the crew was resupplied, but bad conditions caused them to delay. Afterwards, they continued to sail south along South America’s east coast, looking for the strait that Magellan believed would lead to the Spice Islands. The fleet reached Río de la Plata in early February, 1520.

For wintering over, Magellan established a temporary settlement called Puerto San Julian on March 30 [my birthday], 1520. On Easter (April 1 and 2), a mutiny broke out involving three of the five ship captains. Magellan took quick and decisive action. Luis de Mendoza, the captain of Victoria, was killed by a party sent by Magellan, and the ship was recovered. After Concepción’s anchor cable had been secretly cut by his forces, the ship drifted towards the well-armed Trinidad, and Concepcion’s captain de Quesada and his inner circle surrendered. Juan de Cartagena, the head of the mutineers on the San Antonio, subsequently gave up. Antonio Pigafetta reported that Gaspar Quesada, the captain of Concepción, and other mutineers were executed, while Juan de Cartagena, the captain of San Antonio, and a priest named Padre Sanchez de la Reina were marooned on the coast. Most of the men, including Juan Sebastián Elcano, were needed and so pardoned. Reportedly those killed were drawn and quartered and impaled on the coast; years later, their bones were found by Sir Francis Drake.

The journey resumed. The help of Duarte Barbosa was crucial in facing the riot in Puerto San Julian; Magellan appointed him as captain of the Victoria. The Santiago was sent down the coast on a scouting expedition and was wrecked in a sudden storm. All of its crew survived and made it safely to shore. Two of them returned overland to inform Magellan of what had happened, and to bring rescue to their comrades. After this experience, Magellan decided to wait for a few weeks more before resuming the voyage with the four remaining ships.

At 52°S latitude on 21st October 1520, the fleet reached Cape Virgenes and concluded they had found the passage, because the waters were brine and deep inland. Four ships began an arduous trip through the 373-mile (600 km) long passage that Magellan called the Estrecho (Canal) de Todos los Santos, (“All Saints’ Channel”), because the fleet travelled through it on 1st November or All Saints’ Day. The strait is now named the Strait of Magellan. He first assigned Concepcion and San Antonio to explore the strait, but the latter, commanded by Gómez, deserted and headed back to Spain on 20th November. On 28th November, the three remaining ships entered the South Pacific. Magellan named the waters the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) because of its apparent stillness. Magellan and his crew were the first Europeans to reach Tierra del Fuego just east of the Pacific side of the strait.

Heading northwest, the crew reached the equator on 13th February 1521. On 6th March they reached the Marianas and Guam. Pigafetta described the “lateen sail” used by the inhabitants of Guam, hence the name “Island of Sails” but he also writes the inhabitants “entered the ships and stole whatever they could lay their hands on”, including “the small boat that was fastened to the poop of the flagship.” “Those people are poor, but ingenious and very thievish, on account of which we called those three islands the islands of Ladroni.”

On 16th March Magellan reached the island of Homonhon in the Philippines, with 150 crew left. Members of his expedition became the first Europeans to reach the Philippine archipelago. Magellan relied on Enrique, his Malay servant and interpreter, to communicate with the indigenous peoples. He had been indentured by Magellan in 1511 after the colonization of Malacca, and had accompanied him through later adventures. They traded gifts with Rajah Siaiu of Mazaua who guided them to Cebu on 7th April.

Rajah Humabon of Cebu was friendly towards Magellan and the Spaniards; both he and his queen Hara Amihan were baptized as Christians and were given the image of the Holy Child (later known as Santo Niño de Cebu) which along with a cross (Magellan’s Cross) symbolizes the Christianization of the Philippines. Afterward, Rajah Humabon and his ally Datu Zula convinced Magellan to kill their enemy, Datu Lapu-Lapu, on Mactan. Magellan wanted to convert Lapu-Lapu to Christianity, as he had Humabon, but Lapu-Lapu rejected that. On the morning of 27th April 1521, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small attack force. During the resulting battle against Lapu-Lapu’s troops, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear, and later was surrounded and finished off with other weapons.

Pigafetta and Ginés de Mafra provided written documents of the events culminating in Magellan’s death:

When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, [the natives] had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred people. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries… The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly… Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice… A native hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the native’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.

Magellan provided in his will that Enrique, his interpreter, was to be freed upon his death. But after the battle, the remaining ships’ masters refused to free the Malay. Enrique escaped his indenture on 1 May with the aid of Rajah Humabon, amid the deaths of almost 30 crewmen.

Pigafetta had been jotting down words in both Butuanon and Cebuano languages – which he started at Mazaua on 29 March and his list grew to a total of 145 words. He continued communications with indigenous peoples during the rest of the voyage.

Nothing of Magellan’s body survived. That afternoon the grieving rajah-king, hoping to recover his remains, offered Mactan’s victorious chief a handsome ransom of copper and iron for them but Datu Lapulapu refused. He intended to keep the body as a war trophy. Since his wife and child died in Seville before any member of the expedition could return to Spain, it seemed that every evidence of Ferdinand Magellan’s existence had vanished from the earth.

(click to enlarge)

It took another 16 months after Magellan’s death for the one surviving ship, Victoria, the smallest carrack in the fleet, to make it back to Seville after completing the first circumnavigation of the Earth. Only 18 men out of the original 237 men in the fleet were on board.

There are plenty of original accounts for you to read concerning the rigors and losses on the return. Meanwhile I will turn to the taste buds.

Magellan gin is a blue gin inspired by Magellan’s voyage, particularly the spices that Victoria had on board (notably cloves). Magellan is also the name of a camp cooking equipment company, and I have certainly cooked on stoves such as this one on camping trips (as well as in my first apartment in Buenos Aires).

I could certainly  you numerous pointers on how to turn out a feast using only a 2-burner camp stove, or how to waste an evening drinking blue gin, but instead I will focus on an indigenous Filipino ingredient, the kalamansi, in honor of the place where Magellan met his end. Kalamansi (Citrus microcarpa) is a citrus fruit used mostly for the sourness it gives to a dish. Despite its outer appearance and its aroma, the taste of the fruit itself is quite sour, although the peel is sweet. Kalamansi can be made into marmalade in the same way you make orange marmalade (see  ).


The fruit can be frozen whole and used as ice cubes in beverages such as tea, soft drinks, water, and cocktails. The juice can be used in place of that of the common Persian lime. The juice is extracted by crushing the whole fruit, and makes a flavorful drink similar to lemonade. A liqueur can be made from the whole fruits, in combination with vodka and sugar.


 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.