Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

In the East Indies


Aroused at last, after long years of lethargy, Magellan applied for permission to absent himself from court and join an expedition then in preparation for the East Indies. In the latter part of the year 1504, after making a hasty and final visit to Saborosa, and taking an affectionate farewell of his father and family, he enlisted as a volunteer in the armada then being fitted out for Dom Francisco d'Almeida, who was to sail as India's first viceroy. While the gallant Da Gama had been ennobled and showered with honors for his great achievement, still he was not considered by Dom Manoel as the proper person to represent him in authority, as vice-king with unlimited sway, in the new settlements to be established in India.

Though a son of the Portuguese Duke of Abrantes, Dom Francisco d'Almeida had been a soldier in the Moorish wars of Spain, where he had acquired immense prestige, aside from that which came to him as the scion of a distinguished family. He possessed great talent as an organizer, and his fame was such that when it was announced that he was to command the expedition, the noblest of Portugal's citizenry swarmed to sail beneath his banner. Of all the fleets that had left Lisbon for Africa and the East, none was so large, so well equipped, armed, and manned as this, the last, commanded by Almeida. There were twenty vessels in all, comprising eight great caracks, called naos, six caravels, and six of intermediate size, which carried, also, material for the construction of two galleys and a brigantine, to be put together at some port in India. They contained two thousand men, fifteen hundred of whom were soldiers, four hundred seamen, and the remainder artisans, merchants, and scheming adventurers.

After a winter of feverishly active labor, the great fleet was finally pronounced ready for sea. It would seem that all the artisans of Portugal had been employed in hastening and perfecting its equipment, and the great naos, as well as the caravels and brigantines, were stored to overflowing with everything necessary for the voyage, as well as for the founding of the projected settlements. Assembled from every nook and corner of Portugal, and including wealthy fidalgos as well as impecunious fortune-seekers, sailors, soldiers, mechanics, professional men, the motley crowd that swarmed aboard the ships became the envy of Lisbon's populace.

Before taking to the sea, however, they marched in procession to the venerable cathedral, there solemnly to celebrate their departure and witness the blessing of the banner presented to Almeida by the king. It was a square of white damask, with a cross in crimson satin edged with gold. Standing in front of the high altar, Dom Manoel held the banner suspended above the bowed head of his deputy, while the royal herald proclaimed him governor and viceroy of the Indies, "for our lord the king,"

Fernan Magellan was present at this ceremonial, standing near the viceroy and the king, and was deeply impressed with its solemnity as well as with the significance of his mission. He was going forth, he realized, not only to seek his fortune at the sword's point, but as a fighter for his king and for his faith.

A few miles down the river stands the tower of Belem, with its church and monastery, erected in honor of the great seaman of Portugal. It was then but recently completed, for its corner-stone was laid only four years previously, in commemoration of Da Gama's great voyage and successful return. Within this magnificent structure to-day rest the bones of the great navigator, those of the king by whose orders he sailed, and of the poet Camoens, who immortalized in verse his vast achievements. But at the time Almeida's fleet dropped anchor off Belem, in order that prayers for its success might be offered on the spot hallowed by association with Prince Henry the Navigator, who erected his chapel here, only seven years had passed since Vasco da Gama had himself knelt here and prayed for heavenly guidance. After the voyagers had performed their orisons, King Manoel came down from Lisbon with a great retinue, and, taking his stand on the viceroy's ship, greeted the captains of the squadron as they swept past him on the tide towards the bar at the mouth of the river. And with his sovereign's wishes for a prosperous voyage in his ears, perhaps with the pressure of his fingers on his palm, Fernan Magellan went with the rest over the bar of Tagus and out upon the sea.

Tower of Belem


Nothing had been omitted to make the departure impressive, yet it was not without its amusing incidents, which provoked some laughter and relieved the tense feelings of the sailors, if not of the cavaliers. One of these incidents was connected with the then recent introduction of the terms "larboard" and "starboard" (or their equivalents in Portuguese) into the nautical language of the navy. Great confusion ensued on weighing anchor off Belem, and at a time when every sailor wished to do his best, in view of his sovereign's presence in person, some of the captains were put to shame.

One of them, Joao Homem, becoming impatient at his sailors' confusing the terms "bombordo,"  or larboard, with "estribordo,"  or starboard, cast his cap to the deck with an oath, exclaiming: "Pilot, you must speak to my men in a speech they can understand! Here, cook, bring me a bunch of garlic and a bunch of onions. There, see, I hang the garlic on this side the helm, and these onions on the other. Now, when I say 'garlic' I mean starboard, and when I say 'onions' I mean larboard; which is a language any fool can understand!" Onions and garlic are said to have saved the situation, by making the sea-terms apparent to the most stupid of sailors, through their senses of hearing and smelling, as well as of seeing; and as there were vast stores of both aboard the fleet, all the captains quickly followed the example of clever Joao Homem.

Portuguese sailors were no longer compelled to crawl slowly and timorously from cape to cape, as in Prince Henry's time, so the fleet proceeded directly southward. The Tagus had been left on March 25th, and four days over a month later, or on April 29th, the equator was crossed. Sailing on forty degrees to the southward, Almeida then reckoned upon having passed the meridian of the Cape of Storms, or Good Hope, and on June 20th bore northeasterly and entered the Indian Ocean, with the loss of two ships.

On July 22nd, or four months after the departure from Portugal, the monotony of the long weeks of sea-sailing was relieved by an engagement with the Arabs of Quiloa, a port to the southward of Zanzibar. Following the instructions of the king, which were peremptory, as well as comprehensive, Almeida was to construct a fort at Quiloa, and also to build there the brigantines, material for which he had brought with him. But the residents here, who may have descended from the founders of the place, which was first settled by Arabs in the tenth century, strenuously objected. They wanted neither the fort nor the presence in their harbor of the Portuguese fleet, and Dom Francisco found himself compelled to storm the city. He landed a party of soldiers, and while they advanced upon the forts amused the Arabs with cannon-play from the ships so successfully that the outworks were soon carried, and within a short time the city itself fell into his hands. At this assault, it is said, Fernan Magellan first drew sword in battle with an enemy; but he bore himself so creditably as to be complimented by his superior officer, and henceforth was regarded as a veteran fighter.

We do not know the position Magellan occupied aboard the fleet, nor the name of the ship he sailed in; but he was probably one of the sobresalientes—or supernumeraries, as the Spaniards described the free-lances that sailed on these voyages without stated occupations—being in search of adventure, merely, without a thought as to what sort it should be. He had borne the discomforts of the voyage with equanimity, but when this opportunity offered for a dash on land, had accepted it most eagerly.

What position he held we know not, nor is there aught to enable one to determine the manner of man he was at twenty-five, which was his age when he set sail with Almeida. We may, however, glimpse his character and gain an impression of his affairs by inspecting the will and testament he executed, previous to setting forth on what he had good reason to consider a hazardous undertaking. It is dated at Belem, December 17, 1504, but was not brought to light until three hundred and fifty years later, when it was discovered by a descendant of his family.

"I desire," he states, in the first clause of this instrument, "if I die abroad, or in this armada in which I am about to proceed for India in the service of my sovereign, the most high and mighty king, Dom Manoel (whom may God preserve), that my funeral may be that accorded to an ordinary seaman, giving to the chaplain of the ship my clothes and arms, to say three requiem masses.

"I appoint as my sole heirs my sister, Dona Teresa de Magalhaes, her husband, Joao da Silva, their successors and heirs, with the understanding that the aforesaid my brother-in-law shall quarter his arms with those of the family of Magalhaes, which are those of my ancestors, and among the most distinguished and oldest in the kingdom; founding, as I hereby found, a bequest of twelve masses yearly, to be said at the altar of the Lord Jesus in the church of San Salvador in Saborosa, in connection with my property, the quinta  [country-seat] de Souta, in the aforesaid parish of Saborosa; that it may be a legacy in per petuo, and that it may remain forever as a memorial of our family, which it will be the duty of our successors to re-establish, should it, through chance or misfortune, fall into desuetude, without increase or diminution in the number of masses, or other alteration.

"And everything that I thus ordain I desire may be carried out justly, and remain without alteration, henceforth and forever, should I die without legitimate offspring; but should I have such, I desire that he or she may succeed to all my estate, together with the same obligation of the entailed bequest, that it may remain established as such, and not in any other form; in order that the barony may increase, and that it may not be deprived of the little property I own, the which I cannot better, or in any other manner, bequeath."

The provisions of this will were never complied with, owing to Magellan's change of residence from Portugal to Spain; and in another, executed later, the little quinta and church of Saborosa are not mentioned. But the instrument shows the serious trend of the young man's thoughts, his love for home, and his desire to transmit to posterity an honorable name. There is nothing in his East-Indian record to belie this intention; and that he was studiously inclined, at least during the long voyage outward to the East, is shown by the fact that, thrown as he was in company with Da Gama's veteran sailors, he became an expert navigator.

Leaving a garrison in the fort which the Portuguese had hastily constructed at Quiloa, Dom Francisco sailed next for the port of Mombaza, where again opposition was encountered which gave him an excuse for bombarding the city, one of the largest and most important trading-posts on the east coast of Africa. He was surprised by an answering cannon-fire to the roar of his artillery, for he had supposed the natives destitute of guns of large caliber. After the city was taken—as taken it was, following a two days' siege and storm—an explanation was found in the fact that these were once Vasco Da Gama's cannon which had been turned upon the invaders. He had lost them overboard during an attack from the harbor a few years before, and after his departure the natives had fished them up, somehow obtained ammunition, and loaded them for use against Da Gama's countrymen. These cannon aided materially in the resistance offered by the Mombazas; but the Portuguese were at that time invincible, having supreme confidence in themselves, and being armed in a superior manner; so the native army, though said to number ten thousand men, was put to ignominious flight.

Another fort was erected, though the King of Mombaza professed the most ardent friendship for the Portuguese, after the chastising they had given him, and presented Dom Francisco with a sword and collar of pearls, together valued at more than fifteen thousand dollars. Thirty thousand crusados  was the value placed upon the gifts by Dom Francisco's treasurer, and probably at that time this was equal to as many dollars of our money. To make it seem yet more magnificent, it may be stated that this would be equivalent to more than a million reis;  or, again, to swell it to its greatest proportions, let us say a billion milreis—a very magnificent gift, indeed!

A marble column was set up at Mombaza in commemoration of the conquest, and, the king having agreed to pay a yearly tribute of ten thousand serafins, Almeida sailed away with his fleet. It had been his intention to proceed yet farther northward, to the port of Melinda, where Da Gama had found his pilot for the voyage across the Indian Ocean. This pilot was an Arab, and without him the voyage might never have been accomplished. But the Portuguese now had pilots of their own, and it was not necessary to seek one at Melinda; hence, Almeida pushed straight out towards the Malabar coast, where the fleetest ships of the squadron arrived the last week of October.

Thus, after a voyage of seven months' duration, and mainly following in the track of Vasco da Gama, who had led the way less than eight years previously, Fernan Magellan arrived in the Indies. He had, so far as opportunity offered, given a good account of himself on the way, having been foremost in the fights that had occurred, and won a reputation as an expert swordsman as well as a gallant soldier. By his alertness, and willingness to perform whatever came in his way, he had acquired great favor with the energetic viceroy, who the very next morning after his arrival at the island of Anchediva, in the Indian Ocean, began the construction of a fortress. Then he despatched some ships of his squadron in search of three Arabian galleons laden with spices for Mecca, which he desired to intercept with their precious cargoes, and while they were absent laid the keels of a caravel and two brigantines. There was no rest for soldier or sailor under such an active commander as Dom Francisco, whose example was not lost upon Fernan Magellan; while his son, Dom Lourenzo, displayed such brilliant prowess that he became renowned throughout the East.