Tag Archives: Circumnavigation

The First Circumnavigation: Lost in the East Indies

Magellan sailed with Armada of the Moluccas five hundred years ago in 1519, and my blog has been a real time (five hundred years apart) account of this voyage. My last entries were on April 24th when Magellan died in a senseless battle at Mactan in the Philippines in 1521. Then on May 1st most the ship’s officers and many of the more senior sailors died or were enslaved at a banquet hosted by the sultan of Cebu. The surviving crew then fled south towards their objective of the spice islands of the Moluccas.

You say, okay Ken, I remember that. So why haven’t you written about them arriving at the Moluccas? You’re letting us down. Francis Drake took only twelve days to sail from the Philippines to the Moluccas…and it’s been over three months since Magellan’s three ships left Cebu.

Amazingly enough after over three months the Spanish ships were no closer to the Moluccas than when they started. Why? Sheer incompetence.

Upon hurriedly leaving Cebu, the three ships, the Trinidad, Victoria, and Concepcion sailed south in a panic, commanded by Carvalho. Once safely away, they anchored in a bay of the island of Bohol, south of Cebu. There were decisions to be made. First, they only had enough men to man two ships, so the Concepcion was stripped and then burnt.

Next, they needed a new leader, since their most recent co-commanders were lost at Cebu. There weren’t too many of the former officers to choose from, scurvy and the banquet having taken most. Of the original captains, there were none. Of the masters, there was the master of the Trinidad, Polcevera, and Cano, the master of the Victoria. The only original pilot was Carvalho, while Francisco Albo was appointed pilot in the Atlantic as they approached Brazil.

An election was held with all crew members voting. Carvalho became the new captain general and captain of the Trinidad. Polcevera remained that ship’s master. Espinosa, the former master-at-arms, became captain of the Victoria while Cano remained its master. Albo moved to the Victoria and became its new pilot.

A few things can be gleaned from these moves. Carvalho was an obvious choice. He was the most senior officer left. However, prior events off Brazil should have led his shipmates to doubt Carvalho’s abilities. As it turned out, he was wholly incapable of finding the Spice Islands despite having access to all of Magellan’s charts and knowing that these islands were on the equator. I can only surmise that Carvalho was more impressive in person than he demonstrated in practice.

Espinosa was a more junior officer, and hence his leapfrog over Cano to become captain of the Victoria says that he impressed his shipmates. In his case, unlike Carvalho, the men were justified in their trust. Interesting, Pigafetta, the author of the book describing the circumnavigation, moved to the Victoria from the Trinidad at that time. His motives? I can only assume he was trying to get away from Carvalho and to stay near to Espinosa and Albo. He ignores Cano in his book about the circumnavigation, so I don’t believe that was a reason for Pigafetta’s move.

The small fleet went in search of food after leaving Bohol around May 4th. This resulted in a haphazard path through the island. Most islanders were friendly and willing to trade, but non-perishable food, like rice, was difficult to obtain. Given that plants in the tropics are productive the year around, most the natives did not need large amounts of storable food.

Finally on July 9th, the pulled into Brunei’s harbor. Brunei rivaled most cities in Europe. Initially the sultan feared they were Portuguese, who had a justifiably bad reputation. Once convinced they were Spanish, trading began and lasted three weeks. Two Greek seamen deserted, preferring to stay and become Moslems than to risk the voyage back to Europe.

Near the end of July, three large junks entered the harbor and anchored near the European ships. At the same time three of crew visiting the city didn’t return on time. The next day a small fleet issued from Brunei. Fearing the worst, Carvalho ordered his men to attack the junks, which apparently were peaceful. The Spanish easily defeated the junks, and then departed after taking a rajah and several beautiful noblewomen from the junks.

Later Carvalho returned. The Brunei sultan was not pleased. He claimed that his fleet had sailed to attack a rebellious rajah. Exactly what happened next isn’t clear, but was is clear is that when the ships sailed several days later, the captured rajah was gone. Later substantial gold was found in Carvalho’s cabin, with the obvious conclusion he’d gotten the gold from the Brunei sultan in exchange for the rajah. The three seamen, one of them Carvalho’s son, still in Brunei were abandoned. The three noblewomen were still aboard the Trinidad, serving as Carvalho’s personal harem.

Not long after their departure from Brunei, Carvalho ran the Trinidad aground. She was refloated only with difficulty. The ships were now in desperate need of careening to clean their hulls of growth, repair rotten planks, recaulk the planks, and finally tar their hulls. They finally found a suitable beach to do this, which took until late September.

While there, the crew deposed Carvalho seeing as how he “hadn’t carried out the King’s instructions.” It was at this time the gold hidden in Carvalho’s cabin was discovered. Espinosa became the new captain general, although some claim Polcevera had that distinction.

The two ships sailed in late September 1521, their hulls now sound and, even more important, with a competent commander. Unfortunately, they still didn’t have a pilot to get to the Spice Islands, and food was, once again, running low. This led to them becoming pirates. The local junks were helpless against the stout hulls and cannon of the Spanish. Their piracy finally yielded ample food and, more important, a pilot to guide them, finally, to the Spice Islands on November 8, 1521. Their arrival ended a sorry period for the circumnavigation. About the only good thing that can be said good of this period is that few of the locals died in their depredations, and the Spanish ships finally had competent leaders.

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March 16, 1521 – Magellan Is Across the Pacific Ocean. Now What!

Magellan was finally across the Pacific, only he landed at the Philippines, instead of the Spice Islands. And he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the destination. Why? Also, five hundred years ago the first person ever circumnavigated the globe. Who was this?

Before I answer these questions, what did happen five hundred years ago on this day?

Magellan’s small fleet completed its transit of the Pacific Ocean with the sighting of the island of Samar on March 16, 1521. The most direct course from the Strait of Magellan to Samar is 9400 miles meaning the fleet averaged 87 miles per day for 108 days, making over 3.6 miles per hour. However, the fleet didn’t sail the most direct route and spent several days at Guam, and hence its speed was even better. Magellan could be proud of his fleet’s comparative swiftness, and the crew thankful. Had they been slower, most would have died of scurvy and starvation.

The men rejoiced at seeing the huge island before them. Magellan named it San Lazaro. (The name Philippines came from a later Spanish expedition.) Unfortunately, landfall was too late for young Gutierrez de Bustillo of Castile, a cabin boy on the Trinidad. He succumbed to scurvy on this day.

Magellan turned south along the island in his search for food. A dozen men were still deathly ill despite the provisions obtained at Guam. Canoes were sighted, but these fled upon seeing Magellan’s fleet. Later that day, they anchored off a small island. Tents were set up ashore for those most ill, and two creeks of sweet water used to refill the ships’ water casks. Crewmen at these streams sighted flecks of gold, igniting the imagination that riches were somewhere near.

Friendly islanders appeared willing to trade food. After several days Magellan moved on to the larger island of Limasawa, where Magellan befriended the Raja Colambu. Four more men died from the rigors of the voyage. Another five would die over the next few weeks.

Another momentous event occurred at Limasawa. Magellan’s slave Enrique de Malacca recognized the language of the locals! This meant he had circumnavigated the globe, and was surely the first man to do so.

Enrique was a most interesting man. Magellan purchased him in Malacca in present day Malaysia while sailing for the Portuguese. By all accounts he was a trusted servant and ally of Magellan. His birth name is unknown, Magellan having given him the Christian name of Enrique. On the Armada’s roster he was listed as an interpreter, and received a salary of 1500 maravedis a month. This was a significant sum, equal to that of the experienced gunners and carpenters as well as the more senior supernumeraries. It was more than Antonio Pigafetta got, and only 500 maravedis less than Francisco Albo initially got as mate.

One can surmise that since Enrique recognized the language in the Philippines, he had originally been captured and enslaved there before being taken to Malacca. Enrique was home! I wonder how he felt. Enrique would play a critical role in Magellan’s dealings with the local Raja’s, and, after Magellan’s death, the fate of the expedition.

Magellan knew that the Spice Islands lay on the equator, yet Samar lies some twelve degrees north latitude. It is logical that his landfall this far north was intentional to give his men some time to recover from their Pacific voyage before potentially encountering the Portuguese, who’d certainly violently defend their current dominance in this part of the world. However, Magellan would linger far longer in these islands than necessary. Several of his captains and officers even urged him to proceed south to the Spice Islands, but Magellan stayed, and ultimately died, in the Philippines.

The reason for this likely lies in his contract with King Charles. Article Four of this contract says that if Magellan should find more than six islands (unoccupied by Christians) he would grant Magellan two of these. Magellan got to choose the two, which his heirs and successors would then be entitled to. Magellan had visions of a small empire in the Philippines. I think this incentive clearly drove Magellan’s actions over the next several weeks, leading to his death.

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February 13, 1520 – Seventy-eight Days Across the Pacific and Magellan’s Men Are Desperate

Magellan’s three ship fleet crossed the equator five hundred years ago on this date after having left the Strait of Magellan on November 28th, 1519. Seven men had already died, leaving one hundred and sixty men still crammed aboard the three small ships. Each day was the same as the day before: an endless sea and a pitiless sun. The food was all but gone. Starvation and scurvy stalked all the ships. All seven deaths were aboard Victoria. Another twenty or more men were deathly ill, including the pilot of the Victoria, Vasco Gomes Galego, the pilot of the Concepcion, Juan Rodriguez de Mafra, the Fleet Accountant, Antonio de Coca, and the Trinidad’s master gunner, Andrew of Bristol.

Hunger was understood by all. Scurvy, the scourge of long voyages out of the sight of land, was less well understood. But Magellan knew his men desperately needed fresh food.

Unless land was found soon, all aboard realized death was their fate.

Magellan continued on a northwest course until he reached ten degrees north latitude, at which time he turned due west to take advantage of the trade winds. Apparently, given the weakened state of his crew, he sought landfall to the north of the Spice Islands, and hence away from the Portuguese bases further south in the Indies. The Portuguese would certainly fiercely defend their dominance of the spice trade, and in his crew’s current state any battle would mean Magellan’s certain defeat. Magellan needed a safe place for his men to recover their health.

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February 4, 1521 – Magellan’s Sailed for Ten Weeks on the Pacific – Where Are the Indies?

Magellan’s fleet sails onward in the trackless Pacific, propelled by strong trade winds. It’s been nearly seven weeks since Magellan ordered for a course northwest, away from the coast of South America, and ten weeks since Magellan’s three ships raised their anchors in the Strait of Magellan.

When will they reach land? Fresh food is a memory. In Antonio Pigafetta’s words, “We ate biscuit that was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuit swarming with worms, for they had eaten the good. It strongly stank of rat’s urine. We drank yellow water that had been putrid for many days.”

They sighted one tiny, uninhabited islet on January 24th. Finally, on February 4th the lookout yells out that land is ahead. Everyone hurries to the gunwale. Disappointed, all they see is an atoll rimmed by a coral reef. A few trees dot its land and sharks circle the reef. It is clearly uninhabited and offers little potential for food or water. (The island was probably the Caroline Atoll at ten degrees south latitude.)

They sail on.

One can only surmise what was going through Magellan’s head. When setting off from the South American coast he’d probably thought he was only a few weeks from the Indies and the Spice Islands. I believe this was the case, because, eager to reach the Spice Islands, he made no effort to water or obtain food before leaving South America behind. Had he known the ocean was this vast, he certainly would have first obtained fresh provisions. Like Columbus, he had seriously underestimated the circumference of the Earth and size of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, it was too late to return. The strong, favorable winds that had sped him on his way also barred his return to South America.

How his crew is weakening. Those unwilling to stomach the moldy biscuit, or roasted rats, are weakening. Most men are showing signs of the scurvy, loose teeth and swollen gums, except for those with access to Magellan’s quince preserves. Those on the Victoria fare the worse, probably because while the men on the Trinidad and Concepcion ate the wild vegetables at the Bay of Sardines, the Victoria was futilely searching for the San Antonio.

There is no choice but to pray to God for deliverance and sail on.

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November 29, 1519 — Brazil is Sighted

Fifty-six days after departing the Canary Islands, Brazil was sighted. The armada had survived hurricanes, the equatorial doldrums, and simmering insurrection.

Francisco Albo started his logbook on this date: “Tuesday. 29th day of November, I began to take the altitude of the sun…” Why did he wait until now? The best explanation seems to be that he was then appointed as an acting pilot. He’s documented as becoming a pilot later upon exiting the Straits of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean. These appointments are evidence of Magellan’s high regard for Albo.

Albo’s logbook and Antonio Pigafetta’s book about the circumnavigation are the most complete source documents about the circumnavigation. Doubtlessly there were many valuable papers taken by the Portuguese when they captured the Trinidad in the Spice Islands. Unfortunately, these all appear to have been destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Ironically, Albo’s logbook was also almost lost. It lay unnoticed in the Spanish archives until its rediscovery in 1788.

The armada now heads south along the Brazilian coast for some much needed rest at Rio de Janeiro. There the dispute with the clique of Spanish captains will begin to fester anew.

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November, 1519 Off Africa…the Trouble Begins for Magellan

Tensions are high among the Armada of the Moluccas officers.

Soon after leaving the Canary Islands, Magellan altered the fleet’s course to a southerly one. Magellan has done so to avoid the Portuguese ships that wait ready to waylay him near the Cape Verdes Islands. When Cartagena, captain of the San Antonia and conjunta persona of the fleet along with Magellan, questions the course change, Magellan refuses to explain. And so begins the overt rift between Cartagena and Magellan.

The fleet initially makes good time, but after a few weeks, a series of hurricanes or tropical depressions hit it. They survive these only to become mired in the hot, humid tropical doldrums for three weeks. The ships barely move. The men are miserable. All fresh food is gone or rotten. The water becomes fetid.

Tempers flare. Cartagena refuses to make the evening salute to Magellan…which is a huge insult to these touchy Iberians. Cartagena and Magellan both stew about the offensive behavior of the other. The scene for more trouble is set when Anthony Salomon, the Sicilian master of the Victoria, is found committing sodomy with a grumete.

 Magellan will have none of that. He convenes a trial by the fleet’s officers his flagship. Salomon is sentenced to death, although not immediately executed. After the trial, the officers discuss the course and their tedious time in the doldrums. Cartagena insults Magellan, and Magellan seizes him by his shirtfront and puts him under arrest. Cartagena appeals to his fellow Spaniards for support, but they don’t move.

Magellan has Cartagena placed in stocks on the main deck…used mainly for the punishment of drunken common sailors. Many officers are aghast at this. Finally, it’s decided Cartagena will be released into the custody of Mendoza, the Spanish Captain of the Victoria. Another of the Spanish clique, de Coca, becomes captain of the San Antonio.

 Things then settle down…for now. But nothing is settled. Magellan’s mistakes will haunt him later. He could have communicated the course change more diplomatically. And then, when Cartagena is deposed, he’s placed in the custody of a confederate. It isn’t clear if de Coca was a ringleader of the Spaniards opposing Magellan, but he wasn’t definitely a friend of Magellan. In any event, Magellan should have placed his brother-in-law in charge of the San Antonio since it carried a substantial portion of the fleet’s supplies.

Finally, the equatorial current carries the fleet into the trade winds, and the fleet begins making good time towards Brazil and the next confrontation between Magellan and Cartagena.

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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.

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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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