Magellan—His early history—His disappointment—His change of nationality—Preparations for the expedition—Rio de Janeiro—St. Julian's Bay—Revolt of a part of the squadron—Terrible punishment of the guilty—Magellan's Strait—Patagonia—The Pacific—The Ladrone Islands—Zebu and the Philippine Islands—Death of Magellan—Borneo—The Moluccas and their Productions—Separation of the Trinidad and Victoria—Return to Europe by the Cape of Good Hope—Last misadventures.

No one as yet was aware of the immense size of the continent discovered by Christopher Columbus. Still was sought perseveringly on the coast of America—which was thought to be a collection of several islands—the famous strait which should lead at once to the Pacific Ocean and to those Spice Islands the possession of which would have made the fortune of Spain. While Cortereal and Cabot were seeking for it in the Atlantic Ocean, and Cortès in the furthest part of the Gulf of California, while Pizarro was coasting along Peru, and Valdivia was conquering Chili, the solution of this problem was found by a Portuguese in the service of Spain, Ferdinand de Magellan.

The son of a gentleman of Cota e Armas, Ferdinand de Magellan was born either at Oporto, at Lisbon, at Villa de Sabrossa, or at Villa de Figueiro, it is not actually known which; the date of his birth is unknown, but it took place towards the end of the fifteenth century. He had been brought up in the house of King John II., where he received as complete an education as could then be given him. After having made mathematics and navigation his special study—for at this time in Portugal there was an irresistible current which drew the whole country towards maritime expeditions and discoveries—Magellan early embraced a maritime career, and embarked in 1505 with Almeida, who was on his way to the Indies. He took part in the sacking of Quiloa, and in all the events of that campaign. The following year he accompanied Vaz Pereira to Sofala; then, on returning to the Malabar coast, we find him assisting Albuquerque at the taking of Malacca, and bearing himself on that occasion with equal prudence and bravery. He took part in the expedition sent by Albuquerque about 1510, to seek for the famous Spice Islands, under the command of Antonio de Abreu and of Francisco Serrão, which discovered Banda, Amboyna, Ternate, and Tidor. During this time Magellan had landed at the Malaysian Islands, distant 1800 miles from Malacca, and in the Archipelago of the Moluccas he had obtained the circumstantial information which gave birth in his mind to the idea of the voyage which he was destined to accomplish later on.

Magellan on board his caravel
Magellan on board his caravel.
From an old print.

On his return to Portugal, Magellan obtained leave, though not without difficulty, to search through the royal archives. He soon became certain that the Moluccas were situated in the hemisphere which the bull of demarcation adopted at Tordesillas by the kings of Spain and Portugal, and confirmed in 1494 by Pope Alexander VI., had given to Spain.

In virtue of this line of demarcation, which was destined to give rise to so many impassioned debates, all the countries situated at 360 miles west of the meridian of the Cape de Verd Islands were to belong to Spain, and all those lying to the east of the same meridian to Portugal. Magellan was of too active a nature to remain long without again taking service; he went next to fight in Africa at Azamor, a town in Morocco, where he received a slight wound in his knee, but one which by injuring a nerve made him lame for the remainder of his life, and obliged him to return to Portugal. Conscious of the superiority which his theoretical and practical knowledge and his services had earned for him above the herd of courtiers, Magellan naturally felt more keenly than another would have done the unjust treatment he received from Emmanuel with regard to certain complaints laid by the people of Azamor against the Portuguese officers. King Emmanuel's prejudices soon changed to a real dislike. It showed itself by the outrageous imputation that Magellan was pretending to suffer from a wound which was really of no consequence and was completely cured, that he might escape from accusations which he could not refute. Such an assertion was a serious matter for the honour of Magellan, so susceptible and suspicious; he thereupon came to a desperate determination which corresponded moreover with the greatness of the insult which he had received. That no one might be ignorant of it, he caused it to be legally set forth that he renounced his rights as a Portuguese citizen, and changed his nationality, and he then took out letters of naturalization in Spain. This was to proclaim, as solemnly as could possibly be done, that he intended to be looked upon as a subject of the crown of Castille, to which henceforward he would consecrate his services and his whole life. This was a serious determination, as we can see, which no one blamed, and which even the most severe historians, such as Barros and Faria y Sousa, have excused.