Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

The Beginning of the Voyage


Dom Manoel had not played his last card, even when his ambassador, his factor, and their despicable tools, the hired assassins, gave up the game in despair. They had found Fernan Magellan sturdy as an oak, impregnable as a castle on a cliff; they assailed him in vain, with arguments, remonstrances, and with physical violence, for he remained unshaken.

Then the king, as a last resort, sent ships to the Cape of Good Hope, and to the Rio de la Plata, with strict orders to intercept the Spanish fleet should it arrive at either point, —orders equivalent to a declaration of war against a nation with which Portugal was at peace. Such was the misguided monarch's determination to repair the error he had committed, in allowing Magellan to leave his kingdom scathless, and to prevent the King of Spain from benefiting by that error, that he commanded six ships of the Indian fleet to rendezvous at the Moluccas, with the same intention as the others—which was nothing less than the destruction of the Spanish squadron.

Whether aware of these mighty preparations for his discomfiture or not, Fernan Magellan pursued his course without deviation, and on August lo, 1519, dropped his vessels down the Guadalquivir to San Lucar de Barrameda. This is a port at the mouth of the river whence many an expedition had taken its departure, for it was spacious and secure, and was protected by the castle of the great Duke of Medina Sidonia. Once there, Magellan felt personally more secure than in Seville, since he was less liable to be interrupted by his former sovereign's minions, and the men he had enlisted for the voyage could not be tampered with. In Seville, where the ships were moored to the banks of the river, his crews were constantly enticed to desert by Portuguese agents; but in the broad harbor of San Lucar the fleet swung at anchor far from shore, and thus this danger was obviated. Here, then, he completed his preparations for the voyage, and there was so much to be done—so many trips had to be made to Seville—that it was more than a month before the final departure was taken.

In these latter days of preparation, undoubtedly, Fernan made the most of opportunities for visiting his wife and family at the house of Dom Diego Barbosa. We have but scantly mentioned that wife, the amiable and lovely Beatrix Barbosa, whom he married after a brief courtship, and either left at Seville while he and Ruy Faleiro went northward to meet the king, or took with him on this eventful journey. Owing to the fact that no mention is made of her at the various places in which they tarried, and also from his frequent letters to her on the journey, we infer that she remained with her father while the great transactions took place which were to bestow fame upon her husband, as well as a reflected glory upon herself, but which, as well, were to be the means soon of separating them forever.

Fernan's home life, brief as it was, shows him at his best estate. He passionately loved his Beatrix, and when a son was born to them his happiness was supreme. This boy they named Rodrigo, and in the will which Magellan drew and executed a few days before his departure, he was made heir to whatever fortune might accrue, after certain pious legacies had been paid to religious institutions. Little Rodrigo was six months old when his father sailed away, and lived but five months after Magellan was killed, in April, 1521. His mother survived him only six months, passing away in March, 1522, within less than a year of her husband's death. Thus perished the last of the Magellans, and thus ended the loves and lives of Fernan and his Beatrix. Fate, it would seem, bore hard upon these two, and who can but lament the unhappy termination of their wedded life, as brief as it was nearly perfect?

Fortunately for Fernan and Beatrix, no gift of prescience was theirs, to inform them of the ills in store for them, and they enjoyed their lives together to the full. Buoyant and hopeful, Fernan impressed his wife with his belief: that this one voyage would make him rich and famous, so that after it was ended they might dwell together all the time. And yet, how could she prevent the tears from welling at the thought of the long separation, and of the many dangers to which her husband would be exposed in that voyage through the unknown seas?

Doubtless, Fernan comforted her with repeated assurances that the dangers had been exaggerated; that, furnished as he was with a fleet perfectly equipped, and manned by honest sailors, the voyage would prove merely a matter of time and persistence. And when, in the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria, at Seville, Dona Beatrix saw her husband intrusted with the royal standard, and heard the plaudits lavished upon him as he took the oath of allegiance to the king, surrounded by the greatest and noblest of Spain's dignitaries, doubtless her heart swelled with pride, and sorrow was for a time thrust into the background.

In the will executed by Magellan, to which reference has been made, he provided, so far as human foresight could provide, for his wife, his son, and the perpetuation of his name. To his wife, in case he predeceased her, his pension of fifty thousand maravedis was to be paid, while his son, who was named as residuary legatee to his estate, was to assume the Magellan arms and reside and marry in Spain. He was to be Spanish, not Portuguese, and his endeavors were to be for Spain, and not for Portugal; yet the intent of Magellan's will was frustrated by the very government for which he gave his life. One of the executors of this will was Fernan's father-in-law, Dom Diego Barbosa, who survived his daughter, his son Duarte, who went with Magellan and was killed on the voyage, and Magellan himself; yet when this old man died, in 1525, the crown stepped in and wrested his estate from the rightful heirs, thus defrauding those who had rendered it inestimable service.

However we may hold Portugal in contempt for her treatment of Magellan, we may also reflect that Spain was no less ignoble—that these two countries, in fact, were twin sisters in crime, and always have been. The individuals who served them most and achieved greatest for them were scantily rewarded, or not rewarded at all, in their old age being turned out like cattle to die in a pasture where sustenance was scarce.

While Dom Manoel was jealous of Spaniards in his own employ, Don Carlos was still more jealous of Portuguese in his, and issued an order that not more than five should accompany Magellan on his voyage. This was because his mind had been poisoned by Portuguese spies, who represented that it was Dom 1Vlanoel's intention to have so many of his subjects on the ships that they could, when the proper time came, take them from the Spaniards. There were many foreigners in the fleet, comprising Genoese, Sicilians, Germans, Greeks, French, Flemings, Neapolitans, Malays, and one Englishman, who was the master-gunner of the flag-ship. Even when Ruy Faleiro wished to take with him his brother Francisco, the king assented only on condition that he should be one of the five prescribed by him. But many more than five went on the expedition, and to their presence Magellan owed, perhaps, the fact that the fleet was preserved intact when a mutiny occurred.

As for the unfortunate Faleiro—to make one more reference to the crazy astrologer—at the very last he was enjoined from going, though he was so generous as to present Magellan with a book he had written, containing original information of great value, and which the latter desired. This would indicate that, notwithstanding his well-known moroseness and freaks of temper, he bore no ill-will towards his friend Fernan at the last. What immediately became of him is uncertain, but that he remained ashore when the fleet set forth is well established. He had the temerity to return to Portugal, where he was promptly arrested and imprisoned by Dom Manoel. Finally released, on intercession of Don Carlos, he returned to Seville, where he died in 1523, surviving Magellan by two years.

It is a matter of note that few of those directly connected with the outfitting and sailing of the fleet survived by many years its departure and return. Fatalities attended upon it and the voyage almost from its very inception; and even while they were kneeling before the altar in the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria  several of Magellan's captains were plotting treason in their hearts. They swore an oath of allegiance to him and to the king, but within seven months some of them were in open mutiny against him, and doing their king disservice by opposing his authority.

These are the names of the captains, of those who sailed out of San Lucar de Barrameda with their vessels on September 20, 1519, when, favorable winds assisting them, their course was shaped for the southward. Fernan Magellan himself commanded the Trinidad, as, though not the largest ship of the fleet, she was considered the stanchest and most seaworthy. From her mast-head flew his pennant, and the castle-deck, at night, bore a lighted lantern for the others to follow. The San Antonio, largest craft of the five, had as captain Juan de Cartagena, who was later marooned by Magellan on account of the sedition he had already planned. Next in size was the Concepcion, with Gaspar Quesada in command, while the Victoria  (which alone of all the fleet survived the voyage around the world) was captained by Luis de Mendoza, the armada's treasurer. He had already been chided by the king for insolence to his commander, and the reproof rankled in his heart.

Last of all, the Santiago, though the smallest of the fleet, was commanded by one of the most experienced men in the expedition, Joao Serrao, whose brother Fernan Magellan had rescued in the bay of Malacca. He should have had a more important command—and, in fact, rose to it a few months later—but as a Portuguese, brother of one who was then in the Spice Islands, supposedly a servant of Dom Manoel, he was an object of suspicion. As already mentioned, though the king had ordered the number of Portuguese aboard the ships to be limited to five, even including the commander, the squadron actually sailed with thirty-seven. All the pilots were Portuguese, as well as the chief cosmographer and the navigators, while the gunners all were foreigners; for in those times, as in the present, the Spaniards were poor marksmen and unaccustomed to the serving of great guns.

Ships of Magellan


Sixty-two culverins, ten lombards, and ten falconets comprised the artillery, and this was thought to be a large, even formidable, armament. Of the smaller fire-arms then in vogue, such as arquebuses, only fifty were taken, for the Spaniards had greater confidence in cross-bows, of which there were sixty, with three hundred and sixty dozen arrows, ten dozen javelins, ninety-five dozen darts, two hundred pikes, and one thousand lances. Gunpowder to the amount of fifty-six hundred pounds was on board the various ships, so there was ammunition in plenty, there being a corresponding supply of balls and bullets. The captains were all furnished with swords, and one hundred suits of armor were taken for them and the foot-soldiers, such as corselets, gauntlets, shoulder-pieces, grieves, casques, and cuirasses.

Few expeditions previously sailing had been better furnished with charts, compasses, quadrants, astrolabes, hour-glasses, and compass-needles, while articles for barter were supplied by the score. There were, for example, five hundred pounds of "crystals," or artificial diamonds, two thousand pounds of quicksilver, knives and fish-hooks by the gross, and twenty thousand cascabels. These last were small bells, which had been found favorite objects of barter with the aborigines of America, often commanding more than their weight in gold.

The equipment of the fleet has been shown by papers yet extant in the archives of Seville, where everything, even to the last knife and fish-hook, is set down in detail. By these we are informed that Magellan was not stinted in his outfit, which cost, ships and all, a total of about twenty-five thousand dollars. If the king had doubted his ability, or suspected his loyalty, would he have intrusted him with such a powerful armada? That neither King Charles nor the Bishop of Burgos faltered in their support, through the months of preparation and while Magellan was badgered and. tempted by the King of Portugal, speaks volumes in his favor. But their support was, perforce, nugatory after the coast of Spain had slipped out of sight and the vessels were tossing on the waves of the Atlantic.

During the long wait of a month in the harbor of San Lucar, Magellan had time to instruct his sailors in many things pertaining to their special duties; and he daily drilled his captains, it is said, in the fleet formation to be observed when at sea. First of all, he cautioned them, he was to lead, and the others were to follow, as nearly as possible, in prescribed order, the largest ship next after the Trinidad, and so on down the list to the little Santiago, which came last.

It seems wonderful that the five ships kept together, almost within speaking distance of one another, throughout the long voyage down the African coast, then across to South America; but that they did so was owing to the precautions of Magellan, who omitted attention to no detail, however minute. His ship, he informed his captains, would always precede the others if possible, especially at night, and they were to follow his farol, or lantern, which would be borne on the poop of the Trinidad, high above the sea. He had other lights, produced by flaming torches made of reeds, first soaked and softened in water, then beaten flat and dried in the sun. When he wished them to veer or tack he would show two of these torches besides the farol; three torches meant "lower small sails"; four signified that all sails were to be taken in; a greater number would warn them of shoals, and if dangerously near a lombard would be fired. Four lights, again, meant "all sails set full"; two indicated that he was about to alter his course, and one light was a signal for each ship to answer similarly, that he might know they were following.

All the men aboard ship were divided into three watches, the first in charge of the master, the second in charge of the boat-swain, and the third under the boatswain's mate. These watches were to stand alternately, the first to go on at dusk, the second at midnight, and the third at dawn, which was known as "the watch of the morning star." The next day they were changed, in accordance with rules laid down by the India house at Seville.

Within six days the fleet arrived at Tenerife, where a tarry was made for wood, water, and fresh fish. While these supplies were being taken on board, a caravel arrived from Spain, the master of which brought a letter for Magellan from his father-in-law, Diego Barbosa. "Beware, my son, beware!" was the purport of the letter. "Keep a good watch, for it has come to my knowledge, from some friends of your captains, that if any trouble occurs they will kill you!"

This, however, was no news to Fernan Magellan, for he had surmised as much before they left Seville. Already, he suspected the captain of the San Antonio, Juan de Cartagena, of treason, and was keeping watch on his actions. He had not thus far displayed any irritation over the various slurs let fall by several of his under officers, and they were encouraged thereby to repeat them, with added emphasis, as occasion offered; but that they had mistaken their man and grievously erred in their judgment, they were not long in finding out. Magellan had not resented the slights implied in his captains' remarks to their crews; but he wrote to Diego Barbosa that, be they good men or bad men, he feared them not, severally or collectively. When the time came they should learn their position and keep it; but meanwhile he, Magellan, remembered only that he was a servant of the king, to whose service he had offered his life. He concluded with a loving message for his wife and son, after chiding Dom Diego playfully for his fears, which, he said, were unworthy an hidalgo of his standing. When the letter was shown the corregidores of Seville, they all agreed that Fernan Magellan's heart was a stout one, and his character firm.

"Magellan's captains hated him exceedingly," says one who made the voyage; "though I know not why, unless because he was a Portuguese, and they Spaniards." Whatever their reasons, and they were probably trivial as well as various, their ill-nature was not long in showing itself. Soon after Tenerife had been left, on a day in the first week of October, the San Antonio  ran under the stern of the flag-ship with a demand from her captain as to their course. In common with the other craft, she had been bobbing about in the wake of the flag-ship, sometimes steering southerly, and sometimes southwesterly. The seemingly erratic course had worn upon the nerves of Captain Cartagena, who, in rejoinder to the pilot's answer that it was south by west, asked impatiently why it had been changed. When Magellan sent word to Cartagena that he was to follow his ship and ask him no questions, the latter retorted: "You should have consulted with the captains and pilots. It is an error of judgment to keep so near the African coast."

This was a breach of discipline which the commander had a good excuse for punishing at the time; but he kept his temper, however, and shouted through his speaking-trumpet: "Back to the line! Error or no, you are but to follow my flag by day, and my lantern by night, Juan de Cartagena!"

The San Antonio  fell behind, as ordered, her captain too surprised to open his mouth; but while he gazed sourly in the direction of the Trinidad, it was being borne in upon him that perhaps there was a different Magellan on board the flag-ship from the one he thought he knew. He held his peace then, and thereafter for the space of many days; but all the time he was brooding over the affront to his dignity, and speculating upon the manner in which he could show his resentment. He had the grim satisfaction of knowing that Magellan's course was an error of judgment, which the latter himself could not but admit, when, between the Cape Verdes and Sierra Leone, they encountered twenty days of calm and of 'baffling winds, succeeded, as they neared the equator, by quite a month of head-winds, squalls, and finally storms so fierce that the vessels dipped their yard-arms in the boiling ocean.

Ever in the lead was the flag-ship, however, with its pennant flying by day, and its farol  by night gleaming at times steadily, again most fitfully. Finally the four lights were displayed, which signified "take in all sail," and under bare poles the fleet ran for many a night and day, until the equinoctial line was reached and passed. Two long months of almost continuous rains, the disconsolate sailors experienced in the equatorial region; and they wandered hither and yon on the ocean, says one of them. "When it rained there was no wind, when the sun shone it was calm"; so what did they but complain, and place the blame for their sad situation upon the commander? They were fearsomely diverted, at times, by great, man-eating sharks with terrible teeth, some of which, after they had mustered up their courage, they caught with hooks; "although they are not good to eat unless they are small, and even then they are not very acceptable as food." The time arrived, before that voyage was ended, when these same sailors would have been very thankful for some of the shark-flesh which they cast overboard so loathingly.

In the region of storms and calms they were greatly delighted to observe flocks of birds sporting about the vessels, some species of which, the writer sagely remarks, make no nest, being forever on the wing. They have no feet, he says, and hence can build no nests; so when the hen-bird is ready to lay she deposits her eggs on the back of the male, and there they are hatched. These birds were probably stormy-petrels, since known as "Mother Carey's chickens," which, though apparently always in flight, go ashore in the breeding season and dig deep holes, in which they lay their eggs and rear their young.

While the wonder of the sailors was excited by flocks of never-resting birds and shoals of flying-fish so dense that they appeared at a distance like islands, their fears and superstitions were aroused by frequent electrical exhibitions about the mast-heads of their ships. One night of inky darkness, when the wind was howling through the rigging of the fleet, and the great seas rushing past like troops of white-maned horses, there appeared about the main-top of the flag-ship a star-shaped body like a blazing torch. There it stayed for more than two hours, with an effulgence so bright that it illuminated the ship. When their fears were allayed, the sailors recognized in the fiery apparition "the holy body of St. Elmo," which, says one of them, was a blessed consolation, for they were weeping and praying, expecting to be lost in the midst of the waters. "When that blessed light was about to leave us," continues the narrator, "so dazzling was the brightness it cast into our eyes that we all remained for many minutes as though blinded, and calling for mercy. And then, of a truth, when we thought we were but dead men, the sea suddenly calmed, and was no longer furious."

Nearly two months in duration, was the voyage across the Atlantic from the coast of Africa to that of South America, for it was the last week in November when they first sighted land, off Cape Augustine, not far from Pernambuco. Its unusual length alarmed even Magellan, who consequently placed the crews on short allowance, which fact gave rise to a great deal of murmuring. Captain Cartagena took advantage of the sullen temper of the sailors to point out how inefficient was the man whom the king had placed over them as commander. Much better would it have been, said he, if a Spaniard were in command, for then he would have known what to do. Presuming upon Magellan's complaisance, he one day conveyed a studied affront by omitting to address him by his proper title of captain-general. The king himself had commanded, in his letters of instruction to the officials of the fleet, that every evening, when the weather permitted, the flag-ship should be signalled and the captain-general saluted. One fine evening the San Antonio  sailed within hailing distance, and her quarter-master, previously instructed by his captain, sent the greeting: "God save you, captain of the Trinidad, and your good company."

Magellan flushed with indignation at this classing him with the captains, and immediately sent word to Cartagena that he must be properly addressed in future. The sulky Spaniard tartly replied: "I sent my best man to salute you, and if that isn't satisfactory, another time I'll do so through one of my pages!"

Several days passed, during which he failed to salute the flag-ship at all, and as Magellan seemed to have ignored the slight, when they next met, which was within a week, he insulted him to his face. It was at a gathering for a court-martial on board the Trinidad, at which all the captains had assembled. In a general discussion that followed, over the wine and refreshments set forth by Magellan, the captain of the San Antonio  made use of an expression in reference to his commander which amazed all who heard it. Slow to wrath as he was, yet Fernan Magellan had been reflecting upon the proper punishment to inflict upon his recreant subordinate, and awaiting only a fit opportunity. Beyond a doubt it had arrived, and leaping upon Cartagena he seized him by the throat, exclaiming: "Now you are my prisoner! Men-at-arms, take him away to the stocks!"

Captain Cartagena then saw his mistake, but too late. His calls for help were ignored by the captains present; though some of them responded later, to their sorrow. Struggling and cursing, he was borne away to the stocks and given into the keeping of Luis de Mendoza, master of the Victoria, while his own ship was captained by his contador, or purser, one Antonio de Coca. The prompt action taken by Magellan shows that he had planned it in advance, and Cartagena's subsequent treason exculpates him from any charge of premature or undue severity.