Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

The Spiceries at Last


It would be a pleasure to tarry, with the amusing and loquacious Chevalier Pigafetta as guide and companion, on the coast of wonderful Borneo; but we must not lose sight of the real object we have in mind—the route to the Spice Islands. The explorers we are following allowed themselves to be diverted too easily from their course; first by rumors of pearls as big as hen's eggs, and "so round that they would not stand still on a table," a pair of which pearls were somewhere on the very sea they were sailing, in a junk bound for Borneo, as a present to its sultan.

They pursued and overhauled junk after junk, but all to no purpose, and in their devious wanderings found themselves back again on the coast of Mindanao, which they reached by way of the Sulu Archipelago. The Sultan of Sulu was the original possessor of the pearls, and he owned the richest fisheries in those seas; but, he told the seekers for the Spice Islands, those particular pearls had been taken from him by pirates from Borneo, and he knew not where they were. As for the Spice Islands, however, they were southeast of his capital; ten degrees they must sail, first through the Celebes Sea, then into that of the Moluccas, where they would find the islands Ternate and Tidor, with others, that produced nutmegs, cloves and cinnamon.

This information was confirmed by the captain of a piratical proa, which they attacked and captured, between Sulu and Mindanao. They slew seven of his crew, and they put him in irons, so that he was in despair; but when he learned that they were in search of the Spiceries, he offered to pilot them there, provided they gave him his liberty and his proa to command again. Most gladly they promised, for their provisions were failing once more, and after sailing hither and thither so many months, on a quest which it seemed might be endless, they desired rest and refreshment.

Then said the captain of the piratical proa: "Lo, I can take ye there, for I have friends in those islands whom I have visited oft. Among them one of your countrymen, Francisco Serrao, who was my friend, but now is no more, for the King of Tidor caused him to be poisoned." Then indeed they rejoiced—though their joy was tinctured with sadness, to learn of the passing away of that gallant Portuguese, Serrao. Upon close questioning of the pirate captain, it was found that he had been murdered the very week that Magellan, his most intimate friend, and Joao Serrao, his brother, met death by violence at Mactan and Cebu.

Francisco Serrao, it will be recalled, was wrecked on one of the Moluccas, in the year 1511, while in the King of Portugal's service. He gained the confidence of a native ruler, the King of Ternate, whom he enriched at the expense of the King of Tidor; whose beautiful daughter, also, Serrao captured and presented to his liege lord. Though ten years had passed since that event, the King of Tidor held it in remembrance, and having lured him to his island, on a pretence of trading in spices, poisoned him, out of revenge.

Thus had perished the reckless soldier, Francisco Serrao, who, during at least seven or eight years of his residence in the Moluccas, had maintained an occasional correspondence with his dearest friend Fernan Magellan. To him, more than to any other mortal, Magellan was indebted for the idea of reaching the Spice Islands by sailing westward from Africa, and for information concerning their resources. Francisco Serrao, in fact, not only lighted the beacon-flame that guided Magellan and beckoned him on, but fed that flame for years, in the hope of bringing his friend to him at last. He probably knew of the expedition commanded by Magellan, as the King of Portugal had despatched an armada to the Spice Islands for the purpose of intercepting and destroying it. Only a few months more of life to each, and these old comrades would have met; but the hand of grim Death stretched forth and dragged them both into the grave.

With the captive pirate at the helm of the flag-ship, the two ships in company sailed across the Celebes Sea—or, rather, they skirted it, dodging in and out among volcanic islands—until finally, in the morning of November 6, 1521, four lofty islands rose on the horizon. These, the pilot told them, were the Moluccas, of which they had been in search no less than twenty-six months, that being the time that had elapsed since they sailed out of Seville. Two pointed peaks, they said, the conical tips of insular volcanoes covered with a vegetation ravishingly beautiful to behold, were the cloud-wreathed crowns of Ternate and Tidor. As they approached them, fragrant gales were wafted to the fleet, and the weary sailors needed not to be told that here before them, at last, were the long-sought, long-looked-for Islands of Spices!

"Three hours before sunset of Friday, November 8th," says Pigafetta, "we entered the harbor of an island called Tidor, and anchoring near the shore, in twenty fathoms of water, fired off all our artillery as a salute to its king. Next day the said king came to the ships in a proa, and circled about them once. He was seated under a silk awning; in front of him was one of his sons, with the royal sceptre, and a person on each side with a gilded casket and a gold jar, containing betel-nuts and water. The king said to us we were welcome, and that he had dreamt some time before that we were coming; for he was an astrologer, and his name was Almanzor."

In short, the new-comers received the King of Tidor as Magellan had received the Prince of Cebu. The red-velvet chair of state was brought out and sat on deck, he was clothed in a robe of yellow silk, and presented with such articles as beads, knives, mirrors, drinking-cups, webs of linen, bales of silk, the robe in which he was draped, and the chair of state he sat in.

So rejoiced were the commanders and crew at having arrived in these islands much desired, that they would have given the king whatever he wanted; but he himself begged them to desist, as he had nothing worthy, he said, to present them in exchange, for the acceptance of their king, unless, indeed, he sent himself! But he had cloves and cinnamon, and for these the ships had been laden with goods to barter many, many months before. The spices, King Almanzor informed his guests, were on the way to the coast, being products of the interior country, and especially of the mountain districts, where the fragrant groves covered hills and vales alike.

So anxious were the Spaniards to please this king of the Spiceries that they presented him with the three beautiful females taken from the Prince of Luzon, for his harem, and as he was a "Moro," or Mohammedan, they killed all the pigs on board the two ships, in order not to offend his religious sensibilities. For the Spaniards knew quite well that they were trespassing upon a Portuguese dependency, and that this same sovereign was bound by treaty to trade exclusively with their rivals.

Only by suffrance, they realized, could they procure the precious spices they had come so far to find, and the sultan was treated as though he were, "in very truth, a king." This policy had its effect, as was soon shown by the stream of runners from the country, each one bearing on his back a bale of cloves. The trading then "waxed fast and furious," for not only the factors of the ships began purchasing, but all the common sailors as well, each man being entitled to a quintalada, or percentage of the lading-space aboard ship, ranging from eighty quintals allowed the captain-general, to a quintal and a half for a sailor.

Trading began on the night of November 24th, at which time the van-guard of the spice-army arrived. The sultan launched his proa, with its gorgeous banners and silken awnings, and,, with drums beating furiously, circled around the ships, which saluted him repeatedly by discharges of cannon, "for the joy that was felt over the arrival of the cloves." The first loads were scarcely aboard the ships, when the sultan invited officers and crews to join him at a banquet in his palace among the palm-trees on shore; but, with the horrors of Cebu's massacre in mind, the invitation was declined.

The king was not offended thereby, but continued friendly, for there was great rivalry between him and several other sovereigns for the trade and good-will of the Spaniards. In this merry war joined the kings of Ternate, of Batchian, and Gilolo, who vied with each other in their efforts to win the regard of the strangers. The first sent vast quantities of cloves, the second a slave for the Emperor of Spain, and the third skins of the bird-of-paradise, which had never been seen by Spaniards before. These skins were without feet, and this fact, together with their wonderfully beautiful plumage, led the Spaniards to believe what the natives told them: that the birds descended from paradise, where they lived with the souls of the saints; that they never touched the earth, but pursued a strictly aerial existence, ever floating about in the air, not even alighting in trees.

Judging from the regal state of these island sovereigns, they were kings, indeed, and more than semi-savage chiefs. The King of Tidor, for example, had a palace in town and another in the country, with a hundred wives in each. When he ate he sat alone, or with the wife he loved best, in a high gallery, with the other ninety-and-nine looking on in admiration. When he had finished, they were permitted to partake, or remove from the table what they liked best and eat it alone in their chambers. This king had eight sons and eighteen daughters; but the Moro kings of Gilolo surpassed him, for one rejoiced in the possession of six hundred children, and the other five hundred and twenty-five. At least, this is what the veracious Pigafetta tells us; though he probably received his information at second-hand.

While the Spaniards were so merrily lading their ships with the spices they had come so far to procure, and enjoying to the utmost the material delights of these paradisiacal isles, they were reminded occasionally, by rumors from Ternate, that they were yet in a position of peril. These islands were considered appanages of Portugal, because a Portuguese navigator had, first of all Europeans, visited and traded with them. One day there came over from Ternate a Portuguese named Lorosa, who informed them that not long before a fleet of armed traders under Don Tristan de Meneses had been there, looking for Magellan as well as for trade. The King of Portugal had also sent an armada to the Cape of Good Hope, in order to intercept that "renegade," as well as one to the coast of Patagonia; but all had failed to find and capture him. It was almost time, however, he said, for the fleet to return, and in case of its coming the Spaniards would certainly be in peril, for although Portugal and Spain were at peace as to the Iberian Peninsula, they were likely to war over their colonial possessions; and the coming armada was a strong one, far surpassing in tonnage, guns, and men that of the Spaniards.

This information caused the commanders such anxiety that they hurried forward the lading by night and by day. By mid-December both ships had so much cargo that no more could be taken without risk of over-lading, and the king was told that soon they must take their departure. He was both astonished and grieved, says Pigafetta, and immediately went to the flag-ship to express his displeasure.

"He said that we should not depart then, for that was not the season for sailing among those islands. However, if it was our determination to depart then, we should take back all our merchandise, else all the kings roundabout would say that the King of Tidor had received so many presents from so great a king, and had given nothing in return; and that, also, they would think we had departed only for fear of some treason, and would always call him a traitor. Then he had his Koran brought, and, first kissing it and placing it four or five times above his head, at the same time muttering certain words to himself, he declared in the presence of all that he swore, by Allah and the Koran, that he would always be faithful to the King of Spain. He spoke all those words nearly in tears, and in sympathy for him we promised to wait yet a few days longer; but not many, as the time had come to go."

While the sailors were awaiting orders to sail, they amused themselves by making ecursions into the country, where they found fruits and flowers in profusion. On one of these trips they met a strange procession consisting almost entirely of women, each woman nude to the waist, but with a silken skirt from the waist to the knees. On their heads they bore large wooden trays filled with food, as also jars of wine. Some of the men followed them and ascertained that they were taking the material for a banquet to the King of Batchian, then a guest of the King of Tidor, who received them sitting on a carpet, beneath a red-and-yellow canopy. Perceiving the Spaniards on their return, some of the women captured several, and refused to allow them their freedom until they had made presents to the company. When the king heard of this adventure, he warned the Spaniards against going abroad at night, as there were certain men in his island who, though headless, could see in the dark, and who rubbed a poisonous ointment on the faces of all strangers they met, from which they fell sick and died.

The inhabitants of the islands in general were so peace-loving and gentle, and the islands themselves so entrancingly sweet and attractive, with their various vegetation and delicious atmosphere, that the strangers felt more disposed to remain than to depart. But the time arrived when, as the winter monsoon had set in, they must take their leave of the hospitable king and his beautiful island. They had found the famed Spice Islands even more attractive than had been represented to Magellan; and many there were on board the ships who sighed at thought of him in his grave at Mactan, while they were enjoying what he had given his life for them to find.

New sails were bent to the ships; a banner adorned with the cross of St. James flew from the mast-head of the flag-ship; eighty barrels of water and heaps of sandal-wood cumbered the decks of each vessel; the holds were filled with fragrant spices, which, together with vast quantities of native provisions, had taken the place of tons of goods brought for barter. Everything was in readiness for departure on the morning of December 18th, with the pilots and navigators gathered around the helms, the seamen at their stations, and the kings of Tidor, Batchian, and Gilolo in their royal proas, with their musicians drumming and trumpeting like mad. A gun was fired as a signal, and the Victoria, first aweigh, stood out of the harbor and made for the outlet amid the coral reefs. Finding that she was not followed, her commander, Del Cano, ordered the sails aback, then, with some anxiety, the helm about, and returned to the harbor.

What was the consternation of the Victoria's  crew, to find their consort incapacitated from proceeding by a leak, through which the water rushed with great force. It was discovered by a sailor, at the time the order was given to "up anchor and away." A consultation was held, at which the commanders of the two ships and the King of Tidor were present, and it was soon decided that, the Trinidad  being unable to proceed in her leaky condition, the Victoria  should sail alone, in order to avail of the eastern monsoon, then at its height, and most favorable for the intended voyage to the Cape of Good Hope.

The most timorous of her crew, and the invalids, were put ashore, the cargo was lightened of some six thousand pounds of cloves, and then, after the disappointed sailors on board the flag-ship had written letters to their friends at home—few of whom were ever to see any of them again—the solitary vessel again turned her prow towards the harbor-mouth. The sailors wept and huzzaed, lombards woke the echoes of the mountains by repeated discharges, and the King of Tidor, with the prince, and his suite, waved the voyagers farewell from the Trinidad's  deck. Fifty-three Portuguese and Spaniards were left aboard the flag-ship, and forty-seven sailed in the departing Victoria—all that remained—a total of one hundred—of the number that had sailed from Seville.

While the fortunate Victoria  is threading the labyrinths of the Moluccan Archipelago, let us pause for a space beside the hapless Trinidad, and after glancing at her condition, follow her to the end of her career—which was short and sorrowful. The crew worked desperately at the pumps, during a day and a night, but were unable to gain on the leak. Then the King of Tidor sent for his most expert divers, who, with hair hanging loose, in order to locate the inrush of water, crawled along the keel beneath the bottom for hours, but without avail. The leak could not be discovered, and it was necessary to beach the vessel, discharge her cargo, and remove her artillery to shore, that she might be careened and thoroughly overhauled.

The king loaned Captain Espinosa two hundred carpenters, who worked by shifts for months, and finally, on April 6, 1522, the Trinidad  departed from Tidor, with the port of Panama as the destination her commander hoped to attain. Fifty-four men were left to her, and she carried almost a ton of cloves to each member of her crew—or fifty tons in all. But neither vessel, cargo, nor crew was to reach their destination, for, pursued by one misfortune after another, the voyage was made but haltingly. Even before the Ladrones were reached the provisions began to fail, and, as the alguacil-captain, Espinosa, persisted in sailing a northeasterly course, directly in the teeth of head-winds and howling gales, inevitable disaster was the result. The main-mast was lost in a gale of five-days' duration, and the ship compelled to turn about and limp backward to the Moluccas, where she arrived just in time to be captured by a Portuguese fleet under Antonio de Brito.

With seven ships and three hundred men at his command, De Brito did not long hesitate as to the course to pursue. He took possession of the crippled Trinidad, her log-books, nautical instruments, and cargo; but most of the cloves were lost in a gale while she was unlading, and in which she drifted ashore and went to pieces.

That was not quite the last of Magellan's unfortunate flag-ship, however, for her timbers were used in the construction of a Portuguese fort in Ternate. Her captain and crew were imprisoned, and treated with such barbarity that no less than fifty of them perished, only four surviving to reach their native land. Espinosa was one of the four who, wasted and wan, arrived in Spain early in 1525. They were graciously received by the emperor; but though Espinosa was granted a pension and a patent of nobility, he was denied payment for his services while a prisoner, on the ground that, being a prisoner, he could then render no service. And the victim of this unparalleled meanness on the part of Spain had endured sufferings untold in defence of her honor!