Rio – Party, Execution, and Seeds of Mutiny – December 16-26, 1519

The ten days Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas spent in Rio de Janeiro was one long party interrupted by an execution and more tension between Magellan and the Spanish Captains. The fleet arrived on December 16, 1519 to what was then a sleepy native village. After two and half months at sea the men were eager for alcohol and sex, and they got their fill of both.

The Portuguese had discover Rio some twenty years before, but only visited periodically to obtain rosewood, Aniba rosaeodora, for its oil and dye. This wood is different than the beautiful rosewood used in furniture. One of Magellan’s pilots, Carvalho, had previously spent four years there and had left behind a young son by a local woman.

Rio couldn’t have been more different than Europe. The weather was warm and the alcohol cheap. But the biggest shock was the women were naked and willing to sell their bodies for almost, for the perspective of the sailors, nothing. A week long orgy ensued, which Magellan did nothing to stop. This would be a pattern around the globe. The randy Europeans would wear out their welcomes, at least with the local men, with their bacchanals.

There was one sobering event, the execution of Antonio Salomon, the master of the Victoria, who’d been caught committing a homosexual act in the doldrums. Salomon was ceremoniously garroted with all in attendance. At this time, garroting was a favorite method of execution for the Spanish. Salomon sat in a chair while a rope was tightened around his death. Unlike a properly done hanging, where death comes swiftly after the neck is broken, with the garrote death comes slowly from asphyxiation.

Inevitably, the drunken orgies produced more trouble. While Magellan tolerated the common sailors’ behavior, he expected his officers would do better. When his brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, went on a bender, Magellan had him brought back in chains. This was especially unfortunate as Barbosa was Magellan’s most capably ally with experience in the Portuguese Indies spice trade.

Probably the most important developments in Rio was that Magellan managed to further infuriate the Spanish captains as well as his Portuguese Pilot Major, while promoting an inept member of his own clique. The somewhat complicated details of this follow. Captain de Coca, who had replaced Cartagena in the doldrums as captain of the San Antonio. De Coca was to keep Cartagena in custody, but he let Cartagena ashore, which infuriated Magellan. In retribution Magellan removed de Coca as captain. The two men most deserving the captaincy of the San Antonio were probably Barbosa and Pilot Major Gomez. However, Barbosa was in chains, and there must have been bad blood between Magellan and Gomes. (In competition with Magellan, Gomez had proposed an expedition to the Moluccas to King Charles.) Magellan appointed de Mesquita, his cousin, as captain. This proved unfortunate as events proved de Mesquita not quite up to the job. Furthermore, he demoted Gomez from pilot major and made him pilot of the San Antonio, probably to cover up the inadequacies of his cousin. Magellan then appointed Carvalho as Pilot Major, another unfortunate choice as Carvalho proved to have had professional and moral limitations.

The slight of Gomez and Mesquita’s inattentiveness would lead to Gomez’s later defection with the San Antonio in the Straits of Magellan, taking with it much of the fleet’s supplies. Magellan was an excellent pilot, mariner, and planner, but his mismanagement of his officers would contribute greatly to the later troubles.

 

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