Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

His Heroic Exploits


Fernan Magellan's career really began off the Malabar coast, or what is now the southern part of British India bordering on the Arabian Sea. The cities of that coast offered rich prizes for the Portuguese, some of which they acquired by treaty, some they seized. Though friendly at first sight of these strangers coming into their seas (the trade of which had long been in control of the Arabs, who had hitherto supplied Europe and the West with the rich products of India), the natives soon changed front and became openly hostile.

Dom Francisco and his fleet, however, were too strong for them to resist successfully, and at the first great port he was deputed to govern, that of Cananor (now known as Kananur, and possessed by the British since 1791), he was received with open arms by the people. Amid salvos of artillery, and with flags and standards flying, the armada entered the harbor. Troops were landed, visits of ceremony exchanged between Almeida and the native governor, and an embassy received from the great King of Narsinga. At Cananor, immediately after landing, Almeida assumed the rank and title of viceroy, for he had now arrived at the land which the king had appointed him to govern. He tarried here five days only, during which, with his customary energy, he hurried forward the construction of a fort, and after leaving a garrison of one hundred and fifty men, departed for Cochin.

The Portuguese had been at Cochin about two years, having planted a settlement there in 1503, so Almeida felt sure of a welcome. Native royalty outdid itself, in truth, at the reception given the viceroy, for King Nambeadora came out of the city to receive him mounted upon an enormous elephant with trappings of gold, and attended by an immense retinue with trumpets and kettle-drums. An elephant was furnished the viceroy, and together the two returned to the city, accompanied by an imposing cavalcade, and there the king was recrowned by Almeida, in the great square of his capital. At Cochin and at Cananor vast stores of pepper and spices had been accumulated against the coming of the Portuguese, and these were laden on board the ships of a squadron which sailed for Europe the first week in January, 1506, arriving at Lisbon the last week in May. This voyage was made eventful and noteworthy by the fact that on the way, about the middle of February, the island of Madagascar was discovered—or for the first time seen by Europeans—though it had long been known to the Moors as the "Island of the Moon."

Everything had thus far gone smoothly with Dom Francisco, the first viceroy of India. He had shown himself to be the very man for the position; he had impressed the Arabs and the natives with his terrible prowess, and they were thrown into consternation. The former saw their commerce, which they and their predecessors had controlled for centuries, threatened with extinction; the latter saw their liberties invaded, and territory taken away without prospect of recompense. So they plotted together, the Arabs and the powerful Zamorim of Calicut, and a cloud of war appeared upon the horizon.

Calicut is situated on the Malabar coast about mid-way between Cananor and Cochin. It was the first city of India visited by Gama, in 1498, and hence had known the Portuguese longer than any other. It is a well-known fact that the longer those people knew the Portuguese the less they liked them, for they were arrogant, oppressive, cruel, and avaricious. Though the Arabs had preceded them in those seas by hundreds of years, yet the Portuguese lay claim to everything the seas contained, both by right of "discovery" and of authority from the pope, who had obligingly divided the world then unknown between Spain and Portugal; and it was for them to share and conquer it, without regard to opposition by the inhabitants thereof. The people in the East Indies were as indignant over the act of the Roman pontiff, in giving away that to which he had no right, as were those of the West Indies, and, being more civilized and powerful, they took action accordingly.

In short, the Zamorim of Calicut, aided by the Arabs, raised and equipped an immense armada, consisting of more than two hundred vessels, of which eighty were ships and the others large proas. So many there were, and so densely packed together, as they advanced upon Cananor, that their masts resembled a forest. Thousands of fighting-men were aboard of them, but against this armada Dom Lourenzo, the viceroy's indomitable son (who was compelled to bear the brunt of the battle, his father being away), could bring only a dozen ships and less than a thousand soldiers. They were ships of great size, however, and the Portuguese were men of great valor, so Dom Lourenzo drove his compact squadron into the centre of the enemy's fleet, like a wedge, and split it asunder. In his great nao, the Rodrigo Rebello, he bore down upon the Moorish flag-ship, grappled and boarded her. Six hundred of the enemy fiercely opposed him and his men; but in vain, for shortly after all had been killed or swept into the sea.

Shaking himself free, from the flag-ship, he sought and boarded a heavier craft, containing fifteen hundred men, and this time, doubtless, would have been overwhelmed had not Nuno Vaz Pereira, captain of another Portuguese vessel, grappled with the same ship on the other side. There were more Moors aboard than there were Christians in both attacking vessels combined, but, hemmed in as they were, between the two bodies of boarders, they were cut down by hundreds.

Fernan Magellan was with Nuno Vaz Pereira, on whose ship he held a commission. He led a party of boarders against the mass of Moors huddled on the decks between the contending Christians, and with his sword hewed a bloody lane from one side to the other. Having done this he came face to face with Dom Lourenzo, who was also hacking at the enemy with his halberd. The slaughter was frightful, for quarter was neither given nor asked. The decks were ankle-deep in blood, and but for the fact that they were tightly wedged together the savage contestants could scarcely have kept their footing.

"God be praised!" shouted Dom Lourenzo, as they met. "We shall yet gain the victory over these dogs, if we but follow it!" And follow it they did, until all the unfortunate wretches were slain, or driven overboard into the sea, which was red with their blood on every side. Similar scenes were being enacted in other parts of the fleet, and finally the Moors, seeing the tide of battle turning against them, drew off their scattered proas and left the Portuguese victors.

Fernan Magellan received a wound in this battle, and was for many weeks in hospital at Cananor. Scarcely had he recovered than he was again on duty with his old commander, Pereira, and off for the African coast. There they were detained many months, building fortresses and engaging in conflicts with the Moors. They lost heavily in these various battles, but the greatest losses were occasioned by the deadly climate of Mozambique, on the coast of which the northeast monsoons held them for months, unable to return to India.

At the first change of the monsoon they hastened back to the Malabar coast, there to find the fortresses they had previously erected razed to the ground, and not only the Zamorim and the King of Calicut in open rebellion, but a new and more powerful enemy opposed to the Portuguese. This new foe was no less than the Sultan of Egypt, who, at last aroused over the prospective loss of the vast caravan trade which passed through his country from the Red and Arabian seas, sent his admiral to build a fleet of ships and launch them against the predatory infidels. This admiral, Emir Hoseyn, was as dauntless and energetic as he was skilled in warfare. Without a single vessel on the Red Sea, he caused timber to be cut in Asia Minor and transported on camel-back to Suez, where ten ships were built, launched, and equipped. With these ten ships as the nucleus of a fleet, he gathered around him others at various ports, and then sought Dom Lourenzo's squadron, which was lying in the Chaul River. Though Dom Lourenzo fought his ship, after having been cut off from the vessels of his own fleet, until the decks were level with the water, he would not surrender, but went down, wounded and dying, with all his valiant sailors.

The victory was a costly one for the Egyptian, since it brought upon him the vengeance of the viceroy, who, enraged at the death of his son, sought to bring the enemy at close quarters during more than a year succeeding to the battle. When, finally, on the point of sailing forth to engage Emir Hoseyn, and while his fleet lay at Cananor, Almeida received an order from Dom Manoel to resign his viceroyship to Dom Affonso Albuquerque, who had wrought great havoc among the fleets of the Arabian Sea. Though destitute now of ambition, having lost his favorite son, Almeida refused to resign the seal, keys, and papers of his office until he had taken revenge of the Egyptian admiral. Fiercely he repulsed Albuquerque and his proffers of assistance, fiercely he sailed away with his avenging fleet of nineteen vessels, containing twenty-three hundred men. Whatever came in his way he destroyed, whether ship or city, and he spared no Mussulman who fell into his hands; for he held the enemy collectively responsible for the death of his son.

The Egyptian's victory was won the last of December, 1507; the great Portuguese captains, Almeida and Albuquerque, met at Cananor the first week of December, 1508, and it was not until February, 1509, that Almeida found opportunity for sating his vengeance. In the first week of that month he discovered the Egyptian fleet anchored off the harbor of Diu, one hundred sail, containing thousands of men, among whom were eight hundred fierce Mamelukes in chain armor. The attack was led by Captain Nuno Vaz Pereira, in the great galleon Holy Ghost, and close by his side was Fernan Magellan, whose wound was now healed, and who led a party of boarders to the decks of the Egyptian flag-ship. The slaughter that ensued was so great that of the eight hundred Mamelukes but a score survived, and in all more than four thousand men were killed, on both sides, before victory finally perched upon the standards of the Portuguese. The Egyptians surrendered, and that was their last expiring effort to check the advance of the infidels, for by this battle Portuguese supremacy in the Indies became assured.

Magellan was again wounded, though slightly, and his beloved captain, Pereira, shot in the throat and killed. He was thus compelled to sail under the flag of another, and as Almeida practically withdrew from active campaigning after he had crushed the Egyptians, he transferred his allegiance to Albuquerque. In the heart of Almeida there was, and perhaps with good reason, a deep and rankling jealousy of Albuquerque, who had been sent out to supersede him, after he had nearly accomplished the conquest of the Indian coasts. He felt, indeed, that there was much more yet to be done, and as he had carried out the schemes of the king with great success he was reluctant to resign the authority into the hands of another.

The sequel proved that Almeida's forecast was correct, for, though he had done wonders in the short time at his disposal, Albuquerque so far exceeded him in the extent of his conquests, and the results of organized governments which he founded, that he is much the better known of the two. Albuquerque "the Great," also known as the "Portuguese Mars," though the second viceroy of Portuguese India, and successor to one who was in many respects his equal, became celebrated as the virtual founder of Portugal's vast empire in the Far East. He was a typical (and his men enthusiastically declared an ideal, soldier) with his dignified bearing and flowing, snow-white beard commanding respect, and by his gracious presence and genial nature winning the hearts of his followers, whose hardships he freely shared.

After the differences between the two warring viceroys had been adjusted, we find Ferran Magellan enlisted under Albuquerque's banner and, in the month of April, 1509, sailing on an expedition to Malacca. His captain's name was Sequeira, and that he was not the equal of the lamented Pereira, Magellan was soon convinced. He obeyed him implicitly though, and when Sequeira ran into the harbor of Malacca and anchored his ships in the midst of the Malay fleets, he took the post of danger assigned him without a protest. Still, he had his suspicions aroused by what he observed, and when the king of Malacca sent an invitation to the captain and all his officers to dine with him ashore (intending to murder them and then attack the ships), he warned Sequeira in time to save his life and the lives of his shipmates.

There was no proof of the design, however, and feeling, perhaps, that he had judged the king too hastily, the captain allowed the Malays free access to his ships, which had been divested of nearly all their small boats under a pretext by the king of Malacca that he had a large quantity of pepper and spices ready for shipment. Francisco Serrao, an experienced captain, had been sent ashore with a large party of sailors, and thus the fleet was weakened by being depleted of its best men.

A massacre had been planned, the signal for which was to be the discharge of a gun from the citadel. Although he had no more proof of it than he had before of the king's intention to massacre the Portuguese while his guests were at a banquet, Magellan could not but believe the evidence his eyes afforded him. He became uneasy, and, though he was stationed on deck, he sought Captain Sequeira in his cabin, with the intention of confiding to him his suspicions. He found him playing chess with a Malay official and surrounded by seven or eight fierce-looking natives armed with krises.

Without removing his eyes from the board, Sequeira listened to Magellan's whispered warnings, and then, as though still unsuspicious, ordered him ashore to assist Serrao, and a sailor into the main-top to keep watch on proceedings in the harbor. Hardly had the sailor reached his position aloft than, chancing to glance downward, he saw one of the Malays standing behind Sequeira draw his kris, or crooked dagger, and glanced significantly at a companion. The latter shook his head, as if to warn him that the signal had not been given, when at that moment the cannon boomed from the citadel, its report mingled with the sailor's cry of "Treachery, captain! Your life is in danger!"

Whether the captain heard, or whether he had been cognizant of what was transpiring, he bounded from his seat so suddenly as to baffle the Malay with the kris, and escaped to the deck. There he quickly assembled a rescue party and, attacking the Malays in the cabin, killed some and drove the others overboard.

He had scarcely freed the ship from the foe when a fleet of armed proas was seen rounding a promontory and making for the harbor. Slipping his cables, Sequeira sailed into the centre of them, serving his great guns right and left, so that such of the proas as were not crippled or sent to the bottom scrambled hastily out to sea again. Meanwhile, Fernan Magellan had gone to the rescue of Francisco Serrao and his men, whose craft had been boarded by a horde of Malays. They were in imminent peril, for the Malays held virtual possession of their boats and were bent upon their destruction. Magellan arrived at the opportune moment, and with his assistance the treacherous rascals were driven over the rail; so it may be said that he actually saved the lives of Serrao's crew. This fact Serrao himself never forgot, and henceforth the two were intimate friends. After Magellan had left India for home, Francisco Serrao wrote him frequently, and it was due to information in one of his letters, sent from the Spice Islands about ten years later, that Fernan undertook to sail to those islands by the way of South America and the Pacific.

About sixty Portuguese were taken captive on shore, but after waiting several days in a vain attempt to ransom them, Sequeira landed two of his own captives, each with an arrow through his brain, with the significant message to the king that some one would be sent by his sovereign to avenge the treason of his enemies, even if he did not return. Then he sailed for India, but before reaching Cananor learned that Almeida, whose cause he had espoused against Albuquerque's, had departed for Portugal, and hence changed his course to follow after. The superseded viceroy never reached Portugal, for when on the coast of Africa, home-bound, he landed at Saldanha Bay for water and provisions, and there became involved in a skirmish with the Kafirs, by whom he was slain. His rival and successor, Albuquerque, survived him about five years, and like him perished in Indian waters, dying at sea off Goa, in December, 1515.

Magellan and Serrao did not accompany their commander home to Portugal, but kept on from Cochin, where they probably met Albuquerque, shortly after his disastrous defeat at Calicut. He was then about sending away the home-bound fleet for Portugal, laden with spices and other precious commodities. He ordered Fernan Magellan, who was now captain of a ship (having won this position by promotion for valorous conduct), to convoy a portion of the fleet into the open ocean. Through a mistake of the pilot, Magellan's vessel ran on a reef, in the group of islands known as the Laccadives, about one hundred miles from Cananor. It sat bolt upright on the reef, as in a cradle, but the seamen feared it would break up on a change of the tide, or coming of a storm, and promptly took to the boats. Though the situation was perilous, there was still a semblance of discipline, and only the officers and hidalgos were allowed in the boats, which were so few that there was no room for others. As captain of the ship, Magellan was entitled to a passage in one of the boats but, seeing that the crew were on the verge of mutiny, left as they were with no officers in control, he declared he would remain with the wreck until assistance arrived. This decision put heart into the seamen, who stood by him most loyally. By his direction they shored up the hull with the spars, removed the provisions from the hold to the deck, and with the sails made tents, in which they lived a week, until rescued by a caravel sent from Cananor.

The young captain's action won him the affection of the seamen and the approval of Albuquerque the Great; but, shortly after, he incurred the displeasure of the latter at a conference of the captains called to discuss the siege of Goa, which the viceroy desired to prosecute but which Magellan opposed.