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Ferdinand Magellan

Famous Portuguese People: Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese navigator and explorer who is credited as being the first European to sail across the Pacific Ocean and the first man to lead an expedition that circumnavigated the globe, though he himself did not survive the journey.

Born in Sabrosa, near Vila Real in northern Portugal around 1480, Fernão de Magalhães became a page to the Portuguese queen as a child after he was left an orphan by the death of his parents.

In 1505 Magellan was part of a Portuguese expedition to India and is believed to have spent around seven years in Goa, Cochin and Quilon. Later, Magellan sailed on to Malacca in present-day Malaysia where he distinguished himself in a skirmish with the natives there, thus earning a promotion. Returning to Lisbon in 1512, Magellan was again active in a Portuguese military action in North Africa and was wounded. It was during this campaign that Magellan was accused of illegal trade with the Moors and fell out of official favor.

Magellan left Portugal for Spain where he took Spanish nationality as Hernando de Magallanes and married. However, his wife and two children were soon to die of illness. The earlier voyages of Columbus had proved to the Spanish that Columbus had discovered a new continent and they would have to press on westwards to reach the Indies. The Treaty of Tordesillas (which divided up any new lands discovered in the Americas and Indies between Spain and Portugal) and Vasco da Gama's voyages to India, spurred the Spanish into attempting to find a westward passage to the Indies in order to compete with the Portuguese expansion into South East Asia.

Ferdinand Magellan.
Ferdinand Magellan

In 1517 Magellan presented his ideas of sailing west to reach Asia to the Spanish king, Charles V. After his project was accepted and finance secured from the Spanish crown, the usual financial problems and political intrigue delayed the sailing. Finally five ships (Magellan's flagship the Trinidad, the Concepción, the San Antonio, the Santiago and the Victoria) with 234 men including a number of Portuguese, Italians and French set sail from Seville in 1519.

Avoiding a Portuguese flotilla sent to stop him, Magellan sailed to what is present day Rio de Janeiro in Brazil via the Canary Islands and Cape Verde Islands. Sailing south in search of a strait to lead them into the Pacific an unsuccessful mutiny broke out which lead to the execution of some of its instigators and the marooning of others on the South American coast.

Continuing his journey Magellan finally found the strait that bears his name to this day and leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Magellan is credited with naming the "new" sea the Mar Pacifico (Pacific Ocean) due to its apparent stillness. Sailing northwest via the Marianas and Guam, Magellan's, by now depleted, expedition reached the Philippines. It was here on the small island of Macatan that Magellan was to meet his end when his small raiding party of around 50 men were overwhelmed by a force of around 1500 natives.

Magellan was attacking the local leader on Macatan, Datu Lapu-Lapu at the behest of a another chieftain, Rajah Humabon, who had befriended the Spaniards on Cebu. Magellan's death and failure to subdue Lapu-Lapu, lead to Humabon also turning against the Spanish, who were forced to abandon one of their vessels and flee. Only two of the original five ships remained as the adventurers reached Brunei. Here the Trinidad began to take on water and tried to return to Spain the way it had come. The vessel was captured by the Portuguese and eventually sank in a storm.

The final surviving ship - the Victoria - under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano began the return voyage around Africa laden with spices but short of food. Many of the sailors perished from starvation before the ship reached the relative safety of Cape Verde. Of the original 237 men who had set out three years earlier only 18 returned to Spain.

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