Tag Archives: Magellan’s Navigator

Magellan in the Philippines. A Tale of Religion, Sex, and Gold

Magellan’s approach to all natives that he met was to awe them with European martial invincibility, convert them to the one true God, while accumulating as much gold as possible.

He’d previously seen this done during his years with the Portuguese in India and Malaysia. There a relatively small number of Portuguese with armor and cannon had diverted much of the lucrative spice trade from Venice to Portugal. Magellan intended to do the same in the Philippines.

So, upon meeting the first raja in the Philippines, Magellan put on a demonstration of how one man with armor could defeat many without. He also immediately started his proselytizing.

I think Magellan probably underestimated the sophistication of the local rajas. I am no expert on this time in Philippine history, but it is clear that there were many local fiefdoms dotted through the islands. Through these the Okinawan traders plied their business along with Moslem traders from the south. While the Portuguese hadn’t yet penetrated to the Philippines, tales of their ruthlessness and power had. Magellan’s ships looked like those of the Portuguese despite his calling them Spanish, and the local rajas knew that they best beware of these intruders.

Magellan soon made his way to Cebu, a local trading center. There he triumphantly, he thought, converted the local raja, Humabon, to Christianity. Hundreds, if not thousands, of baptisms followed. Magellan was elated. One wonders what the ‘converted’ thought was happening. Next, at the bequest of Humabon, he conducted a successful punitive raid on a local rival of the Cebu raja. At this time, I believe Magellan thought he was well on his way to establishing a local kingdom for himself.

Meanwhile, many of Magellan’s crewmen, including his trusted brother-in-law Duarte Barbosa, were lost in an orgy of sex and drink. This certainly did nothing to endear the Europeans to the locals, and resentment against them steadily grew.

This all came to a rapid climatic end. Humabon convinced Magellan to bring the raja of Mactan, Lapulapu, into line. Magellan refused an offer of assistance from Humabon. However, by this time most of Magellan’s officers were eager to get along with their chartered mission to the Spice Islands, and refused to help Magellan in his empire-building. So, Magellan went to Mactan with sixty volunteers, and few of his better fighters. There, on April 27th, 1521, he died fighting bravely, albeit futilely, against a throng of Lapulapu’s warriors in a battle completely peripheral to his chartered objective.

The defeat at Mactan was a disaster for the armada. The idea of European martial invincibility was shattered and their leader dead. Pressure grew on Humabon to rid himself of these randy interlopers. And soon, from Magellan’s own camp, would come the plan to decapitate the Europeans.

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Characters and Their Names in Magellan’s Navigator

A recent review of Magellan’s Navigator complained that it was “boring and hard to follow all the names.” ‘Boring’ I can’t address. That is a personal reaction, and the book may be boring to some.

The number of names comes from the nature of the story. It could be worse. Some forty crewmen of the armada had their moment of glory, or infamy, during the voyage. My initial draft of the book in 2006 had all forty. Even I, at that time a rookie novelist, realized that was too many. So, I worked hard at cutting down the number of characters while at the same time retaining the strict faithfulness to the truth.

The book was still too complicated after doing that, and so I set it aside for some years while working on my science fiction books. Returning to the book in 2015, I had the epiphany of telling the story from Albo’s perspective. This eliminated many characters, and made the story work. Finally, I took care to not introduce too many people at once, and to wait until a few characters had met their fate before introducing more characters.

There remained the issue of names. Indeed, my editor in 2016 pointed this out. The problem is that Spaniards and Portuguese typically have two or three names, with the spelling different in Spanish and Portuguese. For example, Ferdinand Magellan is Fernando de Magallanes in Spanish and Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese. My solution was to give the full English name upon a character entering the story, while subsequently using just a single name an Anglo reader could comprehend.  Hence Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa becomes Espinosa. Another problem was similar names. There was a Pilot Major Esteban Gomez while also the master-at-arms Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa. In the book these men are referred to as Gomez and Espinosa.

As a final assist to the reader, a convenient list of important characters is in the appendix.

So, that’s how I attempted to deal with the character names.

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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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Magellan’s Fleet Enters the Pacific Ocean – November 28, 1520

Magellan took thirty-eight days in all to transit the “Strait of Magellan.” His time there was blessed by unusually good weather, but complicated by the search for the San Antonio after its defection.

While the Victoria searched for the wayward San Antonio, Magellan’s Trinidad and the Concepcion anchored in the sheltered ‘Bay of Sardines.’ There they made repairs, netted, not surprisingly, sardines, and some ate the watercress like vegetation that grew in the streams entering the bay.

Magellan knew there was another sea or ocean to the west of the Americas. On September 25, 1513 Balboa was the first European to see it from a mountain on the Isthmus of Panama. He later waded in its waters and claimed it for Spain as the “South Sea.” However, no European knew its true extent. Magellan seems to have thought the Spice Islands were a short two to three-week sail to the west.

While waiting for the Victoria, Magellan sent a shallop to explore the maze of fjord-like waterways to the west. On the shallop were a Flemish gunner, Roldan de Argot, Bocacio Alonso, a seaman, and Hernando de Bustamente, the surgeon barber. (Interestingly, all three of these men would eventually make it back to Spain.)

The shallop returned some days later. Roldan de Argot announced that there was an ocean to the west. He had climbed a mountain peak and only seen open water to the northwest. What he probably saw was the Ocean Reach, an over twenty-mile wide and sixty-mile long fjord that does end at the Pacific Ocean.

Magellan rejoiced. All he’d work towards was finally coming to be. After rendezvousing with the Victoria, on November 21, 1520 he sent a notarized order to the captains, masters, pilots, and mates of the armada, asking their opinions on how they should proceed. Of course, at the time Magellan’s main adversaries had either left on the San Antonio, been marooned, or executed. In this order, Magellan pointedly says that he is “a man who never scorns the opinion and counsel of anyone.” And despite the executions at San Julian “you need not be afraid, for all that happened was done in the service of His Majesty, and for the security of his fleet.” What went through the officers’ minds? I wouldn’t have wanted to be on Magellan’s ‘bad’ list. Not surprisingly all the officers agreed to proceed.

The small fleet then sailed on November 26 and actually entered the Pacific Ocean on November 28, 1520.

My next blog will discuss Magellan’s sail across the Pacific. This didn’t take weeks. The three ships wouldn’t see Guam, their first landfall, until March 6, 1521. By this time the crews would be wracked by scurvy and starvation. Despite the longer than expected transit, fewer lives would have been lost had the stores aboard the San Antonio been available, and had weeks not been wasted in search of the San Antonio.

The Strait of Magellan would never be a common passage for ships. It is simply too tortuous and dangerous in the stormy weather that often prevails there. Most ships sail further south around Cape Horn.

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November 8, 1520 – Magellan’s Largest Ship Defects

Magellan began methodically exploring the Strait of Magellan upon discovering it on October 21st, 1520. This wasn’t any easy task. The strait is a maze of different channels through a myriad of islands stretching east and west and to the south. To hasten the search, Magellan made a fateful decision. He sent the San Antonio in one direct while he sailed with the armada’s other three ships in a different direction, with the plan being to rejoin in three days.

The San Antonio never appeared at the agreed upon meeting place. Fearing the San Antonio had encountered troubles, Magellan’s ships then spent nearly two weeks searching for the missing ship. The Victoria went all the way back to the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of finding it. Finding no evidence of the ship, Magellan asked pilot and astrologer San Martin to divine its fate. With uncanny perception, and perhaps inside knowledge, San Martin said that the San Antonio’s captain Mesquita was now a prisoner and that the San Antonio was sailing back to Spain.

This was indeed the case. Mesquita, a relative of Magellan, and Pilot Gomez had had a violent argument, with Gomez stabbing Mesquita in the leg and Mesquita returning the favor to Mesquita’s hand. Gomez was one of the most experienced mariners of the armada after Magellan. They weren’t friends. Gomez’s proposal to sail to the Spice Islands had been rejected by King Charles in favor of Magellan’s plan. Furthermore, off Brazil Magellan had essentially demoted Gomez from his position as Pilot Major of the armada. Gomez didn’t harbor warm and fuzzy feelings for Magellan, and given the opportunity he deposed the hapless Mesquita, who earlier, despite warnings, allowed the mutineers to capture his ship in San Julian. And so, Gomez convinced his crew to side with him, and they defected.

The loss of the San Antonio was a serious blow to Magellan’s plans. At 120 tons, it was the largest ship in the armada. The Trinidad was 110 tons while the Victoria and Concepcion were 85 and 90 tons respectively. Thus, the San Antonio carried a disproportionate amount of the armada’s supplies. This loss, and the time lost and food consumed while needlessly searching for the San Antonio, would haunt the armada in the last days of crossing the Pacific Ocean, leading to unnecessary deaths due to starvation and scurvy.

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August 24, 1520 – Magellan Sails South

Nearly five months after taking winter refuge in Porto San Julian harbor on the stark Patagonian coast, Magellan and his men were sick of the place. Their stay started off poorly with the mutiny, which had led to the death of three men, one a trusted officer plus two of the mutineers. Ironically, here fifty-eight years later Francis Drake would also execute one of his captains for mutiny. This was done near the gibbet where the remains of Magellan’s drawn and quartered captains were exhibited. It is said that a cooper of Drake’s ships cut up Magellan’s gibbet and carved drinking cups from it. For me personally, it would have ruined the taste of any wine drunk from them.

The enclosed harbor of San Julian offered them excellent protection from the winter gales that swept through, but little else. The only available water was brackish. Game and fish were limited. Apparently, they had little success hunting the fleet rhea and guanaco that lived in the surrounding hills. I believe that during their stay their food stores continued to dwindle…and they still had miles upon miles to sail once they got around the continent that blocked them.

Fortunately, while in an earlier exploration Serrano had lost his ship, the little Santiago, he had discovered the River Santa Cruz a little south of San Julian. Santa Cruz offered fresh water and abundant game and fish.

And so, Magellan decided to move to Santa Cruz despite the southern hemisphere winter not yet being over. The fleet raised anchor on August 11, 1520 after first marooning Juan de Cartagena and a priest on an island in the bay along with ample food, wine, and swords. Cartagena was the third ringleader of the mutineers. Magellan had initially spared his neck from the fate of his fellow mutineer Quesada. It isn’t clear why he did this, although Cartagena had been appointed conjunta persona of the armada by King Charles, and was apparently the bastard son of Archbishop Fonseca, who oversaw the Spanish bureaucracy that oversaw all New World exploration. So, Cartagena had friends in high places. But then, before departure, Magellan all but killed Cartagena by marooning him. Once again, we don’t know the details, but apparently Cartagena was once again attempting to foment a mutiny. In the end, Cartagena got what he deserved after blundering again.

Despite marooning Cartagena on August 11th, the fleet didn’t actually leave San Julian until the 24th. Presumably the delay was due to problems with a ship or, more likely, bad weather. Two days later the armada arrived at Santa Cruz after two days of fighting stormy seas.

Compared to the austere San Julian, Santa Cruz was a land of milk and honey. The men got to work netting fish, killing seals and other game, and salting or smoking their meat for the voyage ahead. The armada stayed in Santa Cruz until spring came to the southern hemisphere.

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Works in Progress

COVID has kept me home and writing.

I’ve begun the final editing of The Sultan’s Galley. In this book, Albo is now captain of his own galley, the Napolitana. Albo reunites with his old friend, Antonio Pigafetta from Magellan’s Navigator, who is joining the Knights Hospitaller (better known by its later name, the Knights of Malta.) When they learn of a galley loaded with tribute for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, they join forces to waylay it. Like The King’s Galley, this book stands on its own, or can be read as part of the Albo series. These is some serious galley action in this book. The Sultan’s Galley should be out in December.

Meanwhile, I’ve started a new historical novel that, like Magellan’s Navigator, will focus on one of the great voyages of exploration. Writing this will be a slower process, due to the research necessary. Like Magellan’s Navigator, I want it as historically accurate as possible. Now, if the USPS will only deliver a book for this…it sat in a mail facility in Las Vegas for over a week. Supposedly it left there a week ago, but still hasn’t arrived!

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A Rescue in Patagonia – Magellan’s Armada of the Moluccas

The first ship overhauled in San Julian harbor was the small caravel Santiago. Despite it being late fall and stormy, on May 1, 1520 Magellan sent it south under its able captain Serrano to explore. Serrano was the sole remaining captain of the original five, other than Magellan. Unlike the troublesome Spanish captains, he was a professional sailor, probably of Portuguese descent, and possibly a distant relative of Magellan. Serrano was to find a better harbor in which to spend the worst of winter as the armada’s hardtack and salt cod stores became more depleted each day, the game around San Julian was elusive, and even the water was brackish.

Each day Magellan expected the Santiago and its thirty-eight men to return. As each day passed, hopes fell and fear grew about what might had befallen them. In mid-June a hunting party spied two strange man-like creatures. It wasn’t until these apparitions were with speaking distance that the hunters realized these were two of their shipmates from the Santiago. They had a woeful tale.

The Santiago had found a good harbor, with cold, sweet water, and bountiful fish after five days of tacking against headwinds. They named it Santa Cruz. (It is about seventy miles south of San Julian.) Serrano stayed there for three weeks, catching fish and seals, smoking the meat. Upon departing to explore further, a storm immediately caught them, and drove them upon the shore. Thirty-seven of the crewmembers escaped, but one was swept away to his death. This was Juan, Serrano’s black slave. Juan, so far as I can tell, was one of two slaves on the armada, the other being Enrico, who Magellan had purchased in Malaysia, and who would play a major role in the armada’s fate.

Serrano and his men salvaged what they could and returned overland to Santa Cruz. Arriving there, they had water, wood for fire and shelter, and fish for food, but little else. Two of the strongest young men were then sent overland to return to San Julian. The shore was too rocky to follow, so they were forced to go inland over a frozen, bitterly cold pampas. Nearly two weeks later the hunters sighted them.

His ships not being ready, Magellan immediately sent an overland rescue party laden with hardtack, which reached the survivors some ten days later. All the Santiago’s crew were back at San Julian in late July. So, Magellan had now lost the smallest of his five ships. At this time, his losses in men were minimal for an expedition of this era. There was the execution Master Salomon for sodomy in Rio, William the Irishman drowned in the Plate, and in San Julian the suicide of Antonio Baresa, the young man sodomized by Salomon. Also, killed or executed in San Julian were the two Spanish captains. And, as related above, Juan drowned in the Santiago’s wreck.

Magellan now knew food and water was a short sail south, but he needed his ships repaired and good weather before attempting that move. The elusive passage around this continent was yet to be found, that would have to wait until spring.

Unfortunately, more deaths would come before finding the passage, and there were tragic encounters with the indigenous Patagonians, which is the topic of my next post.

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Mutiny in Patagonia!

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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:

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.

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