Tag Archives: Age of Exploration

QUINCE PRESERVES: MAGELLAN’S ANTIDOTE FOR SCURVY?

quince marmeladaScurvy took its deadly toll on every long voyage during the age of exploration. Twenty years before Magellan left Spain, Vasco da Gama lost over half his men to scurvy on his return voyage from India. In comparison, Magellan lost only eleven percent of his crew when sailing across the immense Pacific Ocean.

Many authors I have read claim quince preserves accounted for Magellan’s low losses to scurvy. Quince preserves were a medicinal item during the Renaissance, as opposed to a tasty accompaniment to hardtack. Magellan’s quince preserves or marmelada probably were not like grocery store cherry or blueberries preserves. Instead, it was more likely the aged quince marmelada still sold today in Portugal, which has a firm texture. (Please see the accompanying photograph of quince marmelada purchased by my wife last year in Portugal.) Quince in this form should have stood up well to the rigors of Magellan’s long voyage. We know Magellan still had his quince preserves after sailing across the Pacific and reaching the Philippines as he gave it to the sick brother of the Cebu rajah per Antonio Pigafetta in his book Magellan’s Voyage. That Magellan still had the preserves confirms that he considered it medicine, as the crew consumed anything remotely edible in the long voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

Quince preserves has only about a third the vitamin C as citrus fruit, but it still packs enough punch to ward off scurvy. The importance Magellan attributed to quince can be measured by the 5,779 maravedis he spent on it in Seville, as compared to the 23,037 maravedis he spent on hundreds of pounds of beans. Did quince account for the relative healthiness of Magellan’s crew?

It probably helped, but a deep dive into the data gives us a better answer.

Deaths for all reasons because of the Pacific transit were as follows*:

Trinidad                                                     4 of 60-70       6%

Victoria                                                    14 of 45-52     29%

Concepcion                                                1 of 44-52       2%

Total                                                            19 of 174      11%.

These figures raise several questions. First, the bulk of the deaths are on the Victoria. Furthermore, these deaths started a month after leaving the strait, while scurvy usually takes three months to develop. The fleet took 94 days from raising anchor in the Straits of Magellan to landfall on Guam, where fresh food was procured. So, the fatalities on the Trinidad and Concepcion are as might be expected, but why was the Victoria so savaged by scurvy and why did in occur so soon?

The key can be found in Pigafetta’s book, where we learn the Victoria spent two weeks searching the Straits of Magellan for the San Antonio, which had defected back to Spain. Meanwhile, the other two ships spent some of that time anchored in the “Bay of Sardines.” There Pigafetta says, “…we found…a very sweet herb called appio, of which there is also some of the same sort that is bitter. And this herb grows near springs, and (because we had nothing else) we ate of it for several days.” Appio is believed to be a wild celery rich in vitamin C.

Mystery solved. Those aboard the Trinidad and Concepcion had ample vitamin C stored in their bodies on leaving the strait, except for a few finicky eaters, like the Englishman Andrew of Bristol, who died soon after leaving Guam. The last fresh food eaten by the crewmen of the Victoria, on the other hand, was over a month earlier before Magellan even entered the strait. By landfall at Guam, 132 days at sea had elapsed for these men, and so the terrible death toll on the Victoria.

Perhaps the quince preserves had a role in preventing scurvy, but it was not the deciding factor during the crossing of the Pacific. In my novel Magellan’s Navigator, I built in a role for quince on the return voyage to Spain. My protagonist Albo remains scurvy free until he exhausts his last supply of quince marmelada. Soon afterward, his teeth start to loosen.

*The exact crew size of each ship is uncertain because around twenty-two of the crew of the wrecked Santiago transferred to these three ships. Some deaths occurred weeks after arriving in the Philippines, but are documented as being from effects of the Pacific transit

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Here’s What Happened to the Rajah Almanzor and Others in Magellan’s Navigator

Here’s what happened to the Rajah Almanzor, Cano, Espinosa, and other characters after they left the pages of Magellan’s Navigator. 

Rajah Almanzor – Rajah Almanzor’s fears were realized when the Portuguese and their Ternate allies joined forces and attacked Tidore. The Rajah Almanzor fled into Tidore’s mountains. The Spanish did send a second Armada to the Moluccas with Cano as its Pilot Major. Only one ship from this Armada, the Santa Maria de la Victoria, arrived in the Moluccas during 1526. (See Cano below.) Nonetheless, these Spanish were enough to leave the Portuguese and Ternate balanced against the Spanish, Tidore, and the Rajah of Bacchian. This stalemate ended when Emperor Charles V on April 23, 1529 relinquished all claims to the Moluccas for 350,000 ducats in the Treaty of Saragossa. The Emperor Charles was desperate at this time for money to support his European empire. (Therefore, because Portuguese King Manuel refused to pay Magellan a half ducat per month stipend, causing him to go to Spain, his successor King João III ended up paying 350,000 ducats.) The Portuguese and Ternate then overwhelmed Tidore. Almanzor fled to his larger ally, the Rajah of Bacchian. His final fate is not certain, although one account has a Portuguese physician poisoning him.

Juan Sebastián el Cano – Cano received many honors from King Carlos. Nonetheless, he had domestic problems with children from two different women. There is a record of a petition to King Carlos for a guard because of threats to his life. In 1525 Cano was Pilot Major of the Loaísa’s seven-ship fleet to the Spice Islands, the first fleet to retrace the track Magellan had blazed. He was also captain of the Sancti Spiritus. The crew of this fleet was predominantly Basque, which should have led to a more cohesive fleet than Magellan’s armada. Cano’s piloting skills were not up to the task. He was initially unable to find the entrance to the Straits of Magellan and once he did find the straits, a storm wrecked his ship. Of the six remaining ships, one deserted in the straits. It wrecked off Brazil. Sebastian Cabot rescued a few of its survivors. (See Michael de Rodas.) A storm blew another ship out of the strait into the Atlantic, where it vanished. Cano took four and half months to navigate the straits, as compared to five weeks for Magellan.

Once in the Pacific Ocean a storm separated the four remaining ships. One was lost, another, the smallest, managed to reach Mexico. The flagship, with Loaísa and Cano proceeded alone. Scurvy took a high toll in the voyage across the Pacific. Loaísa died first. Cano died a week later two-thirds the way across the Pacific. The flagship reached Tidore with around a hundred men. The fourth ship managed to sail to Mindanao in the Philippines, where it wrecked. Three of its men survived.

Magellan’s fleet had its difficulties, but it fared much better than this second fleet. This is true even considering Magellan was sailing into the unknown, while Cano’s fleet had the knowledge of Magellan’s voyage. Magellan’s success is a testament to his skills and preparation, and Cano’s lack of them.

Rajah Checchili of Ternate – Prince Checchili had an uneasy peace with the Portuguese. Tensions rose after the Portuguese constructed a fort on Ternate. The Portuguese took several of Prince Checcili’s younger brothers as hostages in the fort along with his mother. Prince Checchili died childless in 1529, likely another victim of poison.

Pilot Major Estéban Gómez – Despite the questionable circumstances of Pilot Gómez’s return with the San Antonio, he remained employed as a pilot for the Casa de Contratación. In 1524, he searched for a northwest passage to the Indies. He sailed along the coast of North America from Florida to Canada, but returned in 1525 with no success. He then became a West Indies slaver. In 1535, he was a pilot on the Mendoza expedition to the Rio de la Plata. The last written record that mentioned him is in 1537 at the Rio de la Plata. At that time, he was old for the times at fifty-three years of age.

Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa – Espinosa was first held prisoner in the Moluccas, but then transferred to Cochin, the hub of Portuguese India. Da Gama had returned to India as viceroy. He was not about to let the Spanish interloper free. After da Gama’s death, Espinosa was allowed to depart for Lisbon with the Ginés Mafra and Hans Bergen, only to be thrown in prison on their arrival in Lisbon in July, 1526. Hans Bergen died there. Espinosa was released in early 1527 after the personal intervention of the Emperor Charles V with his now brother-in-law King João III of Portugal. Espinosa was reunited with his wife after eight years apart. Emperor Charles received him in May, 1527 and granted him a pension in reward for his services. After the usual Spanish bureaucratic snafus, this started in 1529. He also inherited the small estate of Hans Bergen who had died when in prison with Espinosa in Lisbon. The last known record of Espinosa is in 1543, when at age sixty he was living in Seville.

Ginés Mafra – He was one of the four survivors of the Trinidad to return to Spain. He was released from a Portuguese prison in 1527 after his papers, including all the Trinidad’s roteiros were confiscated. He had an audience with the Emperor Charles V and then returned home to find his beloved wife Fidelia had remarried. She had sold his house and all his property.

A few years later Ginés returned to the sea. In 1536, he was pilot major of a fleet in the Pacific Ocean operating from the Americas. Ginés sailed as a pilot in a six-ship expedition bound to Asia from Mexico. The expedition discovered many islands and gave the Philippines their current name. None of the ships and few of the men ever returned to Spain. There is no record of Ginés Mafra returning and he is presumed one of those lost, but how, where, and when is not known.

Manual – The Spanish scribe Herrera writes of a Moluccan on the Victoria: “One of these was so sharp, that the first thing he did was to inquire how many reals a ducat was worth, and a real how many maravedis, and how much pepper was given for a maravedi; and he went from shop to shop to get information of the value of spices.” This had to be Manual. He had learned too much, and, unlike his countrymen, was not allowed to return to his homeland.

Álvaro Mezquita – This somewhat inept cousin of Magellan was released from prison in 1522, upon the return of the Victoria. He returned to Portugal.

António Pigafetta – Pigafetta was miffed at not being one of the two chosen to accompany Cano to the first audience with Charles V. Pigafetta went to the Emperor Charles V’s court on his own and presented him with his written record of the circumnavigation of the globe. No record remains of this book. He was paid his wages in arrears and his share of the Victoria’s cargo. He then went to visit the Portuguese King João III, followed by King Francis in France, where he presented another book to his fellow Italian, the Queen Mother, Marie Louise of Savoy. He returned to his home in Vicenza, where he recreated his book for publication. He completed it in 1524 in Rome, where he was invited to an audience with Pope Clement VII.

Pigafetta then became a knight-errant of the Order of Saint Rhodes and vowed to defend Christianity from the Moslem Turks. At this point, the written record ends. He is believed to have died as a member of the Order fighting the Turks.

Pigafetta’s original folio is lost. Four copies are left. Three are in French and one in Italian. There are differences between the four, as might be expected as they were copied and mistakes when made translating from Italian to French. Albo’s log gives a much more precise, but sparse, description of the voyage. Pigafetta gives a much more in-depth description of the people, places, flora, and fauna that he encountered. He does lapse into fanciful travelogue recounts of tall tales told to him by natives during the voyage. His folio also suffers from being written after the fact, which introduces some inaccuracies as to the timing of some events. His account is remarkable in that very few members of the crew are mentioned by name other than Magellan. Cano is not mentioned.

Giovanni de Polcevera – Polcevera, along with Espinosa, Ginés, and most of the other surviving Trinidad sailors were taken from Ternate to Cochin, India in 1525. Permission to return to Europe was denied them. Polcevera befriended some fellow Genoese sailors in the service of Portugal in late 1525, and sailed for Lisbon. He was discovered by Portuguese officers and put ashore in Mozambique. There he remained with little food or clothing until he died of disease in Mozambique in 1526 at age fifty-eight.

Michael de Rodas – Michael sailed in 1525 as Pilot Major of a fleet to the Moluccas under Sebastian Cabot. Michael’s appointment was made by King Carlos over the objections of Cabot. Cabot was a prickly character who got along with few people. He marooned Michael on an island off Brazil along with Martín Méndez, the clerk of the Victoria. Both are believed to have died attempting to reach the mainland.

Tupas – Tupas became rajah of Cebu upon Humabon’s death. He was still rajah in 1565 when Michael López de Legazpi’s expedition reached Cebu. Tupas resisted Legazpi, but his men were overwhelmed by superior Spanish firepower. Tupas survived to negotiate a treaty. His defeat marked the beginning of the long Spanish occupation of the Philippines.

Get Magellan’s Navigator on Amazon. It’s free with Kindle Unlimited, $4.99 for Kindle, and $9.99 for paperback.
 

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Magellan’s Navigator, a crafty Greek named Francisco Albo

Magellan’s Navigator is my most recent book. It’s a meticulously researched tale of the first circumnavigation of the globe as seen through the eyes of Francisco Albo, who navigated the sole remaining ship of Magellan’s fleet halfway around the world. Sail along with Albo through storms, mutinies, and the intrigues of native rajahs.

Buy it in print or ebook at Amazon: http://amzn.to/2i46ZZw

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