April 1, 1520 – Mutiny
The Spanish captains finally made their move on the night of Easter, April 1, 1520 and by the following morning controlled three of the armada’s five ships. However, by the following morning, the mutiny was crushed and Magellan once again in control. Several factors contributed to Magellan’s victory. He was bold while the Spanish captains’ were indecisive. Also, many of the sailors and officers were hesitant to support the mutineers. Sailors have an aversion to mutiny…and for a good reason. Death, and often a painful death, is the common fate of mutineers.
What follows is a brief description of the known facts of the mutiny. Interestingly, the tides played a major role in the mutiny as they dictated when ships could move or attempt to exit to the ocean. I suspect the important factor of the tides was lost on the landlubber Spanish Captains.
The ships on Easter Sunday:
Trinidad – captained by Magellan
San Antonio – captained by Mesquita, Magellan’s cousin
Concepcion – captain by Quesada of the Spanish clique
Victoria – captained by Mendoza of the Spanish clique
Santiago – captained by Serrano, a professional mariner.
The ships’ positions:
These are open to dispute, but accounts indicate that the San Antonio and Concepcion were furthest into the small harbor and the Trinidad and Santiago barred, to an extent, their access to the ocean. The Victoria was anchored closest to the bay’s narrow mouth to the ocean.
The tides at San Julian vary around twenty feet from high to low and the ebbing and flooding tides are swift. The only way a ship could leave the harbor was on an ebbing tide, which apparently happened in the early morning and twelve hours later in the late afternoon.
The Spanish captains already were in control of the Concepcion and Victoria. Late Easter night Quesada and Cartagena, the demoted captain of the San Antonio and once co-commander of the armada, boarded the San Antonio. They threw Mesquita into chains. When the Basque master of the San Antonio protested, Quesada knifed him, mortally wounding him. The Portuguese pilot of the San Antonio also refused to join the mutiny. The capture of the San Antonio was critical for the mutineers as it was the largest ship in the fleet and it carried a disproportionate amount of the armada’s supplies.
The mutineers could have left San Julian on the next morning’s tide with their three ships and sailed back to Spain, as Magellan wasn’t even aware of the mutiny until later in the morning. Instead, they chose to negotiate with Magellan for joint control of the fleet.
When Magellan became aware of the mutiny, he sent a skiff around to the ships, to determine who was loyal, and who not. Learning that Serrano was the only loyal captain, he ordered Serrano to move the Santiago closer to the Trinidad to better bottle the mutineers in the harbor. The Santiago, however, was by far the smallest of the five ships and really didn’t count for much in a fight.
Negotiations went on the remainder of April 2nd. Magellan wanted the captains to come to the Trinidad to discuss their grievances. The Spanish captains, while stupid, were not that stupid. The day ended with nothing resolved, except Magellan did detain the crew of a longboat of the mutineers, leaving the San Antonio and Concepcion shorthanded.
That night Magellan sent his loyal Spanish alguacil major, his sergeant at arms, to the Victoria with a message for Mendoza. Mendoza laughed in his face after reading it. It was his last laugh, as the alguacil major fatally stabbed him. The ship’s crew immediately swore allegiance to Magellan. The majority of them weren’t Spanish, but Italians, Portuguese, or French along with a few other nationalities, so it’s doubtful many supported the mutiny. Its pilot was Portuguese and its mate was Albo’s friend, Miguel of Rhodes.
Magellan’s brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa took command of the Victoria and moved it alongside Magellan’s other two ships. Now, it was three of Magellan’s ships against the two of the mutineers, and Magellan still blocked the exit from the harbor. Magellan now had the advantage.
The final events happened just before dawn. The tide was ebbing and only one anchor held the San Antonio in place. Somehow, this came loose. Did Albo cut it as he claims? However it came loose, it wasn’t by accident as Magellan expected it and was ready. Quesada wasn’t ready. The San Antonio began floating towards the Trinidad on the tide. Magellan fired at least one cannon into the San Antonio and prepared to board the mutineer’s ship. Quesada postured in armor while flourishing a sword, but his men weren’t interested in fighting against Magellan, and surrendered. Soon afterward, Cartagena surrendered the Concepcion.
The mutiny was over.
Mesquita presided over the trial of the mutineers. Forty were found guilty and sentenced to death. Magellan commuted this sentence for all but Quesada. Quesada’s squire beheaded him on April 7th, and the bodies of Mendoza and Quesada were drawn and quartered on the shore. Drake saw the gibbet from which their remains had hung when he visited San Julian fifty-eight years later. Interestingly, Drake also executed an officer that he accused of mutiny while in San Julian, an odd coincidence for a bleak bay in Patagonia.
The mutineers with commuted sentences then labored in chains throughout the winter before finally being freed when the armada sailed in August. The loyal Basque master of the San Antonio stabbed by Quesada seemed to recover…until an infection set in and he died three months later. While a prisoner Cartagena attempted to foment another mutiny, once again confirming his general lack of intelligence. This finally exhausted Magellan’s patience, and Cartagena and an accomplice priest were left behind when the fleet sailed.
Magellan was finally rid of the ‘Spanish captain’ problem, but other resentments still simmered amongst his officers.