Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

Malacca, Morocco, and Home


The "Portuguese Mars," great and mighty Albuquerque, was a genial, venerable-appearing commander, with pleasant countenance and affable manners, but with a will of his own which few men dared oppose. Magellan, at the council of war called for the purpose of deciding upon laying siege to Goa, an important city and island off the Indian coast, ventured to offer an opinion contrary to that which Albuquerque held, and was henceforward persona non grata  with the viceroy. It mattered little to the great man what Magellan thought or advised; but it mattered much that he should demur at the proposal to take the merchant-ships to Goa, since it was advocated by the commander.

"If we do so," said Magellan, stoutly, "they cannot pass, this year, to Portugal, for which their cargoes are already prepared; and if we fail this annual voyage, there will be great disappointment at home."

There was no quarrel, there was no outward display of irritation; but the viceroy caustically remarked that if there were any who did not wish to go to Goa, he would not compel them, inferring thereby that Magellan may have had an ulterior reason for his dissent. Nothing more was said, however, for Dom Affonso had decided to take the merchant-vessels; and take them he did, though it turned out as Magellan had said: there was great disappointment and murmuring, and much loss to those whose rights should have been respected.

Still, Fernan Magellan was with the viceroy at Goa. He participated in the assault by which the city was taken, and though he was not mentioned among the "honorable cavaliers" recommended to the king's favor, he certainly deserved that honor. On the contrary, indeed, Albuquerque is said to have sent an intimation to Dom Manoel that his ward had proved perverse and unworthy of confidence. Whatever may have reached the king, from that time forward Fernan Magellan no longer enjoyed the light of his countenance, and when he returned to Portugal he met with a very cold reception.

The last expedition in which we can authoritatively place Magellan as a member, holding the rank of captain, is that which Albuquerque undertook for the reduction of Malacca. It sailed from Cochin in the month of August, 1511, an armada of nineteen vessels, and was successful from the start, capturing junks and merchant-ships at various points on the voyage. In one of the ships, it is said, they found the body of King Nahodabeguea, the treacherous Malaccan who had conceived the plot for taking Sequeira's fleet and the lives of his men.

Magellan and Serrao must have gazed upon the cadaver with grim satisfaction, and have felt that the scheme of revenge for the slaughter of their comrades was to be fulfilled. They arrived at Malacca July 1st; but though the city had no strong defences, it held out six long weeks, so fierce were the men who defended it, and so numerous the cannon with which it was provided. There were, the historians tell us, twenty thousand fighting-men and three thousand pieces of artillery, while Albuquerque had scant fifteen hundred men, among whom were included six hundred native archers from the Malabar coast.

By the capture of Malacca, the viceroy gained the gate of the Indian Ocean, as it has been termed, "through which the entire commerce of the Moluccas, the Philippines, Japan, and China passed on its road to the Mediterranean." Most important of all were the Spice Islands, the riches of which the Portuguese were anxious to obtain, dominance over which was the object aimed at by Portugal and some time later by Spain.

The energetic viceroy lost no time in sending a squadron in search of the Spice Islands, and three galleons, in charge of Captain Antonio d'Abreu, sailed for the Moluccas as soon as they could be detached from the fleet and fitted for the voyage. Abreu was commander of the squadron and captained one of the trio of galleons; the other two were commanded, respectively, by Francisco Serrao and (according to one historian) Fernan Magellan.

It is really quite provoking, the doubt that exists as to whether or not Magellan took this voyage beyond Malacca to the Moluccas; but we are unable to decide the question. It is probable that he took it, since one historian, Argensola, makes the statement absolutely, while against him is merely the silence of the several others who wrote of Magellan's doings at this time. They may not have thought it worth while to mention his command of a galleon, when there were so many captains equally celebrated with himself, for he had done nothing up to that time to attract particular attention. The chief importance of this question lies in its bearing upon his future actions in respect to these same Spice Islands, for eight or nine years later we find him representing to the King of Spain that he knew of a route thither until that time untraversed. Either he learned of these islands and this route through his own observations, or gained the knowledge from his friend Francisco Serrao, with whom he is known to have maintained a correspondence for years.

Respecting Serrao we have full information, especially relating to this voyage, and it is of such adventurous character that we could wish Magellan might have been connected with it, instead of the man whose life he saved. After successfully accomplishing the voyage to the Moluccas, and lading his galleons with most precious spices, more than worth their weight in gold, Abreu set sail for Malacca. The weather was "heavy," the seas were uncharted and full of reefs and shoals unknown to man, so it is not strange that one of the vessels, that commanded by Serrao, struck on a coral reef and became a total wreck.

The island upon which the unfortunate Portuguese lost their vessel was uninhabited, save by pirates and wreckers who visited it occasionally to glean what the reefs had brought them. The morning after the disaster, as Serrao was looking out to sea, he beheld a piratical proa approaching the island. He knew at a glance the character of the craft and hiding with his men in a cave, awaited developments. Seeing the wreck on the reefs, the pirates landed for the purpose of finding the survivors, who they knew must be on the island.

They made a great mistake in going ashore in a body, leaving no one on board their craft, and Serrao and his men, who had hidden near the shore, silently swam off to the vessel and took possession with out opposition. When the pirates found out what had been done they were in dismay, and promised the Portuguese anything if they would not leave them on that desert island without food or water. Their prayers were granted, and together all sailed for Amboina, one of the Moluccas, where Serrao found favor with the king, and whence, during the years in which he continued to reside there—from about 1512 to 1520—he wrote frequent letters to Magellan.

But the two never met after the termination of this voyage—whether Fernan Magellan went on it or not—for, while Serrao remained in the Moluccas, as the captain-general of a native king, his friend returned to Lisbon, where we find him in the year 1512. After seven years spent in distant lands in the service of his king, cruising and fighting continually, Magellan made his way back to the country of his birth, where only paltry honors, without substantial emolument, were his reward.

In token that he belonged to the king's household, and was really a "servant of his majesty," he was entitled to a stipend, hardly more than nominal—in fact, contemptible—called the moradia. In his case it amounted to about a dollar a month and an alqueire, or measure containing not quite thirty pounds of barley, daily. In consideration of his great services, he was promoted to the rank of nobleman, entitled to a coat of arms, and his pension was doubled, so that he was privileged to draw from the royal treasury the sum of twenty-four dollars per annum.

As he had lost all properties acquired in the Indies (though his share of the plunder must have been quite large), he returned to Portugal relatively poor, and soon after retired to the small estate at Saborosa. But he did not stay there long, for to one who had sniffed the smoke of battle on many a field, who had participated in the scenes attendant upon the extension of Portugal's great eastern empire—founding settlements, subjecting strange peoples, and erecting fortresses—country life was tame and uneventful. He soon bade adieu to secluded Saborosa, and probably for the last time, as soon after he was compelled to quit the country by the king's compulsion.

He wandered back to Lisbon, seeking an opportunity to sail again for India, but, soldier-like, followed along the line of least resistance, and, finding no good chance for the East, enlisted for Morocco. An armada was to be despatched to the Moroccan coast consisting of four hundred ships and eighteen thousand fighting-men, merely for the sake of avenging an insult to his majesty Dom Manoel. It set sail in August, 1513, and arrived off Azamor, the offending city and port, within two weeks after. The mere sight of such a mighty fleet brought the Moors quickly to terms, and the city was taken by the Portuguese without the loss of a man. They held it through the succeeding winter, during which it was the custom of the most venturesome of the cavaliers to make armed forays into the country roundabout.

Among these mounted hidalgos who delighted in scampering about the country at night, for the purpose of returning at morn with spoils of the Moors, was Fernan Magellan. He was equally at home on ship or on horseback, and always anxious to be in motion, whether on one or the other. On one of his excursions he discovered the patrols of a vast army advancing, which proved to be one that had been assembled by the kings of Fez and Mequinez for the relief of Azamor. So rapidly and so silently had the Moors advanced—most of them having embarked on the famed "ships of the desert," their swift and tireless dromedaries—that they were almost upon the city before Magellan ran against the van of that formidable host. He turned his horse towards Azamor and, with several well-mounted Arabs in pursuit, dashed towards and into the gateway of the city, shouting lustily: "The Moors! the Moors!"

The pursuing Arabs halted so abruptly at the city portal that their foam-flecked barbs were thrown upon their haunches. Disappointed of their prey, they returned to the main army, which encamped at the river Azamor, where the Portuguese troops promptly attacked them. They routed the vanguard with loss, but the main body of the army was so vast that it forced those in front ahead, filling the gaps caused by the Portuguese artillery and almost over-whelming the city, in spite of terrible slaughter. When at last the Arab host was forced to retreat, a thousand prisoners remained in the hands of the Portuguese, and more than eight hundred horses.

The booty was so vast that a special board was named to apportion it, and one of its members was Fernan Magellan, who, having been wounded by a lance-thrust in the knee, was incapacitated for active service. This wound, in fact, which was received in a charge he led upon the Arab vanguard, was the cause of lameness during the remainder of his life, and ever after he walked with a perceptible limp. It was also the indirect cause of a final rupture of his relations with Dom Manoel, for as soon as he had completed his labors on the board of apportionment, he hastened home to prefer a claim for an increase of his moradia. It was on account of the wound, primarily, but ostensibly for his long term of service in the king's armies.

Unable, as he was, to sit in his saddle and fight, and there being no longer any Moors to contend with at Azamor, he saw no reason why he should not return to Lisbon, especially as his old commander, Dom Joao de Meneses, with whom he was a favorite, had been replaced by another, who treated him badly from the outset. The new commander, in fact, sent word to Dom Manoel that Captain Fernan Magellan had left Africa without his permission, and that, moreover, he was charged with irregularities in the division of the booty obtained from the Moors. He was accused, in company with another of the board, Captain Alvaro Monteiro, of selling horses and cattle to the Moors and pocketing the proceeds; but Magellan contended that on the contrary he had refused to do so, and thereby had incurred the enmity of the very people who denounced him.

The king, probably with the charges of Albuquerque in mind, refused to listen to Fernan's excuses, and ordered him to return at once to Azamor. Dom Manoel had always loathed him, one historian tells us, but gives no reason for the king's aversion, except it might have been that Magellan deserved greater rewards than he accorded him. Having spent seven years in India and a year in Africa—having wasted in the king's service the very best years of his manhood's prime—Magellan was certainly entitled to great consideration. But he did not get it, nor even scant recognition of what he had done, for when, having once more returned to Lisbon, with papers proving his innocence of any misdemeanor, he asked for an increase in his pension, he was peremptorily refused.

Lest Fernan Magellan be accused of sordidly estimating his services at a money value, let it be stated that the increase was but half a cruzado  per month, or a paltry sum of twenty-six cents; and it was not this augmentation of his moradia that he desired so much as the enhancement of reputation and the promotion that it carried. The larger the moradia, the higher its recipient stood in favor with the king and in rank, hence the rivalry among the cavaliers to obtain an increase whenever possible.

But Magellan had to do with a sovereign every way as mean and niggardly as Henry VII. of England; one who was "suspicious of his servants, even, and very jealous of directing personally all the details of government." Whatever sentimental value the cavaliers may have attached to the moradia, he viewed every extension of it as an increased drain upon his treasury. It is told of him that, when Albuquerque doubled the pay of his men who had been wounded at Calicut, the king was greatly incensed. They should have been satisfied, he said, with the pittance they received and the glory they won; and so with Magellan: the royal boor insinuated that he had feigned his lameness in order to excite sympathy for his claim to an increase of pension!

After that, could a self-respecting subject again approach such a parsimonious, base-minded monarch and request a favor of him? Magellan steeled himself to once more crave an interview with Dom Manoel, though it was for the purpose of bestowing a favor, not requesting one; but the king's jealousy and short-sightedness prompted him to set aside a gift which went to his rival the King of Spain.