Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

Treachery and Massacre


In the afternoon of the day in which Magellan was killed a message was sent to the victorious Mactans, imploring them to surrender his body to the Spaniards for burial. They were offered as much merchandise as they desired in exchange; but the chief, Chilapulapu, returned the haughty reply that they would not give him up for all the riches in the world, as he intended to keep him as a memorial of their triumph. At the same time, it is said, he sent a messenger to the King of Cebu, threatening him with death, and all his people, unless he joined with him and his brother chiefs in slaughtering the Spaniards and seizing their vessels.

The Malays are prone to treachery, and it is possible that Cebu's ruler had already planned the dark deed which he later executed; but another story relates that it was suggested by Magellan's interpreter, Enrique, who, having received a slight wound in the fight, was nursing it in his bunk, when Duarte Barbosa approached him with a demand to go ashore with a message for the king. He addressed him at first gently, having a feeling of sympathy on account of his wound; but when the interpreter answered that he was no longer a slave, his master being dead, Barbosa burst forth: "What? No longer a slave, and Dona Beatrix, my sister, and the Admiral's widow, still living? Yet a slave art thou, ingrate, and if thou dost not do as I command thee, a sound flogging wilt thou get!"

In sullen silence, Enrique arose and received the message, then leaped into a skiff and rowed ashore. Instead of going to assist the men in removing the goods from the warehouse, however, as he had been directed, after delivering the message to the king he lingered at the palace, afraid to return. He had, in fact, rendered his return to the fleet impossible, for he had told the king that the Spaniards intended to take him captive, after first destroying the town; but that, while they were still unsuspicious, he might forestall them by a massacre.

Immediately upon the arrival at Cebu of the boats containing the survivors of that ill-fated expedition against Mactan, a council was called on board the flag-ship, for the election of a captain-general. No one man could well replace their lamented commander, so a dual command was decided upon, Duarte Barbosa and Joao Serrao being chosen. The first was Magellan's brother-in-law, and the second his most intimate friend, while both had seen service in India, with Almeida and Albuquerque. These veteran's decided to vacate their dangerous position at once, and as a first step ordered the goods they had sent on shore for barter to be returned to the fleet. They knew that their prestige was gone, that their days of usefulness at Cebu were over, so nothing was to be gained by remaining. Three days were thus employed and in putting the ships in order for departure.

Meanwhile, the treacherous King of Cebu had matured his plans, and on the morning of the 1st of May, which was Wednesday, he sent word to Barbosa that some jewels which he had promised to collect as a present to the King of Spain, were ready for delivery. In celebration of the event he had prepared a feast, to which he invited all the officials of the fleet, and as many of the crew as chose to come. Barbosa and Serrao consulted together, and finally agreed to accept the invitation; though the latter, from his long experience with the islanders, was at first suspicious. Accompanied by twenty-seven others, they were rowed to the beach, where the king and a multitude of his subjects awaited them.

They were received with shouts of welcome, and at once escorted in the direction of the palace, the people seemingly wild with joy. As they were moving slowly along, the chaplain of the fleet, Pedro de Valderrama, was seized by the king's nephew, and urged against his will to go with him to his hut. He probably desired the distinction of killing the priest with his own hand and in his own house; but his action attracted the attention of Joao Carvalho, the pilot, who twitched Espinosa, the alguacil, by the sleeve and said: "See that, Gonzalo! It gives me suspicions. Let us drop out, and return to the ship. We shall not be missed, neither will we miss much by losing the feast!"

The two succeeded in worming their way through the throng and reached the shore, where they took a boat for the Trinidad. They had scarcely arrived when a great commotion ashore attracted their attention, and looking towards the land they saw their comrades surrounded by clamorous natives, who, with spear and kris, were stabbing promiscuously. One by one they fell, fighting desperately to the last, until there was left only Captain Serrao, whom the natives dragged to the shore, in order to barter his life for cannon and other things they had hoped to gain by surprising the fleet.

The caution and watchfulness of Carvalho alone prevented them from plundering the ships, as he hove up anchor at the first sign of disturbance, and, running abreast the town, poured into it several broadsides. The Victoria  and the Concepcion  followed suit, and then all sailed out of the bay towards the open sea, without an attempt at the rescue of Serrao, who stood on the shore, whither he had been dragged by his captors, vainly imploring assistance. He was wounded and bleeding, he was the only survivor of the party he and Barbosa had led to its doom, yet his shipmate and boon companion, Carvalho, refused to send a boat ashore for his rescue! At first he wept and implored, while his captors, with daggers at his throat, awaited the response from the ship; but as it became apparent that Carvalho was abandoning him to be murdered in cold blood, he raised a bleeding hand to Heaven and invoked curses upon that comrade, his compadre, who could do a thing so base and cowardly. "I pray God," he cried, "that He may demand my soul of thee, Juan Carvalho, at the last great day of judgment!"

"The imprecation ended in a cry of despair, as his ferocious captors bore him to the ground, where they stabbed him to death with their daggers. Speechless from terror, and seemingly incapable of action, the cowardly sailors on board the fleet saw their former friends and shipmates massacred. They also witnessed, as they were borne to safety from the harbor, a great crowd of fanatical natives engaged in tearing down the cross that had been raised so short a time before in the consecrated square. The recantation of Cebu's king and his subjects was complete, for they promptly returned to the worship of their idols, and the only reminder of the religion they had so transiently professed was the carven image of our Saviour (already mentioned) which Magellan had presented to the queen.

Twenty-seven valiant Spaniards and Portuguese were slain in that massacre, comprised in the list of dead being three captains of the fleet's vessels, a pilot, two notaries, a priest, a gunner, a cooper, common seamen, servants, and sobresalientes, or supernumeraries. All were deeply lamented, of course, but there were two in particular, Barbosa and Serrao, who were regarded as an irreparable loss to the fleet. Duarte, or Edward, Barbosa, was the son of Don Diego, alcaide of the arsenal at Seville. He was born in Lisbon, and at an early age went to the Indies, where, as clerk in a "factory" at Cananor, he became so proficient in the Malabar language that he was appointed commissioner to negotiate a treaty with the Zamorin of Calicut.

Returning to Portugal, and then going to Seville with his father, Duarte Barbosa wrote an account of his travels which, though called "a most valuable contribution to early Oriental affairs," was not published until nearly three hundred years after it first appeared in manuscript—Lisbon, 1813. As a brother of Beatrix Barbosa, whom Magellan married, he was said to have been appointed sobresaliente on board the Trinidad  through favoritism; but he amply proved his capacity on several occasions, notably at San Julian, where he retook the Victoria  from the mutineers. He was then appointed captain of that vessel, as such ably aiding Magellan, and after his death rising to joint command of the Trinidad. He was killed by a dagger-thrust in the breast.

Captain Joao Serrao was probably the ablest man in the fleet, hardly excepting Magellan himself. As pilot and navigator, he had served under Vasco da Gama (who made him captain of a ship), also under Almeida and Albuquerque, and at the battle of Cananor fought by the side of Magellan, whose desperate valor was equalled only by his own. Having served beneath the same banner in the East, Magellan and Serrao, with their recollection of battles fought and hardships endured together, were deeply attached to each other. Serrao's services to the captain-general were inestimable, first as captain and pilot of the Santiago, then as commander of the Concepcion, and all the time as a devoted adherent. He endeavored to dissuade his stubborn friend from attacking the natives of Mactan, and if he had listened to his advice, Magellan would not have met with untimely death at the very verge of the sea surrounding the Spice Islands.

"We heard of the Moluccas at Cebu, before the death of the captain-general," says Pigafetta; and but for the Mactan expedition, Fernan Magellan might have lived to see them. As it was, through his negligence he not only lost his own life, but indirectly brought about the loss of others, when, deprived of their sagacious head, the officials of the fleet unwisely accepted the invitation to that fatal banquet.

Respecting the death of Serrao, an eye-witness says: "As soon as the men in the ships saw the slaughter, they hoisted the anchors and tried to set sail. At that juncture, the savages brought Juan Serrao, one of those whom they desired to ransom, and asked two guns, and two bahars  of copper for him. Serrao told them to take him to the ship and he would give them what they asked; but they insisted that those things be taken ashore. And the men on the ship, fearing another act of treachery, set sail and abandoned that man there, and nothing more was ever heard of him."

Despite his treachery to Serrao, the wretch whom fortune had placed in command of the flag-ship, Joao Carvalho, was confirmed as captain-general of the fleet. It is claimed by his enemies that it was owing to his desire to acquire supreme command that he so brutally sailed away and left poor Serrao to his fate. Three vessels then comprised the armada, and this small fleet was still further reduced, after the narrow channel between Cebu and Bohol had been passed, by the burning of the Concepcion. This vessel was found to be leaking badly, and as all the ships were then short-handed, owing to the loss of so many men, her contents and crew were divided between the Trinidad  and Victoria. These two were all that remained, the first week in May, 1521, of the gallant fleet which had set sail from Seville nineteen months before, for the Santiago's  bones were bleaching on the coast of Patagonia, the San Antonio  had deserted her companions in the Strait of Magellan, and the Concepcion  was burned to the water's edge off the island of Bohol in the Philippines.

That same week in which the Concepcion  was burned and abandoned, the San Antonio  and her guilty crew arrived at Seville, and promulgated the false statements anent Fernan Magellan, whose death, in the far-distant Philippines, had occurred just ten days previously. By the defection of the San Antonio, the fight at Mactan, and the massacre in Cebu, the total force in the fleet had been reduced to less than one hundred and twenty men, for, in round numbers, at least eighty had returned to Spain, and seventy had died from starvation, fevers, and violence. So it was with its original force reduced by more than one-half, and the number of its ships by three-fifths, that the expedition finally left the Philippines, still in pursuit of the "Spiceries." It touched at the island of Mindanao, coasted the promontory of Zamboanga, and then stood across the Sulu Sea for Palawan, or Paragua Island, arriving on its east coast with less than a week's provisions remaining in the ships.

Palawan, the wandering Argonauts ascertained, was far out of their course, but it was a land "flowing with milk and honey"—or, in other words, abounding in pigs and poultry, goats, rice, fruits, and sugar-cane. They found there "black men, like those of Ethiopia"—the diminutive Negritos; but the King of Palawan was a very tall and imposing individual—or, at least, he seemed so by comparison with the little black men, who did not average five feet in height. To the northward of Palawan lie Mindoro and Luzon, "where six or eight junks of the Chinese go yearly," says Pigafetta, who, in common with his companions, either landed at or heard mentioned most of the large islands in the Philippines.

Palawan, or Paragua, "we called the land of promise," he continues, "because we suffered great hunger before we found it. The king made peace with us by gashing himself slightly in the breast with one of our knives, and with the blood that issued touching the tip of his tongue and his forehead, in token of the truest peace, and we did the same." The people wore no clothing, and were peaceable, but possessed a formidable weapon in the poisoned arrow, which they projected with great force and accuracy through bamboo blow-pipes. With these blow-pipes and poisoned arrows the natives shot beautiful birds, high up in the great forest trees, the plumage of which they used for decorative purposes. They were a loose and easy-going people, whose chief pleasure consisted in cock-fights, without which they held no feast or festival day to be complete. They regarded their fighting-cocks with veneration, and never ate the flesh of one, no matter how hungry they were.

In the port of Palawan a negro was found who had been in the Moluccas, where he was baptized as a Christian, he said, and where he had learned some Portuguese words. He promised to pilot the fleet to those islands, and there was rejoicing on board, as may be imagined; for not only had Magellan overshot the Moluccas by nearly fifteen degrees, in laying his course across the Pacific, but ever since the departure from Cebu his leaderless companions had been aimlessly cruising about, without a guide to direct them. But the negro from the Moluccas did not keep his engagement, and as, when on the point of sailing, a Moro vessel was captured which had come from Borneo, its pilots were impressed to guide them to this the largest island in the world.

Carvalho and his pilots had heard of Borneo, for it had then been known to the Portuguese three or four years; but none of them had ever been there. They knew nothing of its civilization, and viewed with wonder the tokens of it as the island was approached. Three great proas came out to meet them as the harbor of its capital was neared, each proa decorated in gold, and flying a blue-and-white banner surmounted with peacock feathers. Beneath the banners sat groups of musicians, beating gongs and drums; and in this manner, preceded by stately proas, and to the sound of martial music, the ships entered the beautiful harbor of Brunei, in Borneo. As soon as the ships had anchored, a fleet of proas came out to take the passengers ashore, where, to their astonishment, they found a troop of richly caparisoned elephants awaiting them. After they had timorously mounted the beasts, a procession was formed which set out for the sultan's palace, preceded by ten men carrying presents in porcelain jars covered with silk. The streets of Brunei were filled with half-naked warriors bearing swords, shields, spears, and cutlasses, while the great hall of the palace contained hundreds of soldiers clad in cloth-of-gold, with daggers on their thighs adorned with pearls and precious stones.

The sultan was invisible to the strangers, and they were compelled to converse with him through a "speaking-tube"; but he consented to admire their presents, and sent them to their rooms delighted with his graciousness. There, for the first time in many months, they slept on cotton mattresses, "whose lining was of taffeta, and the sheets of Cambaia." This unwonted luxury caused them to sleep till late in the morning, when they were regaled at breakfast with capons, veal, peacocks, and fish, washed down with wine of rice, called arrack, which they drank from dainty cups the size of an egg. They returned to the sea-shore as they had come, on elephant-back, and each man with his hands full of gifts from the sultan.

The city of Brunei was built after the fashion of the ancient lake-dwellers' towns, mainly on piles, above the placid waters of a great bay, with waterways for boats, instead of streets; but the sultan's palace was on dry land. In the river beyond the bay were anchored fleets of war-proas, manned by fierce-looking Malays, which had been constantly increasing in number since the arrival of the ships. Carvalho and Espinosa had been watching them suspiciously several days, for many of them had taken position between the ships and the sea. One morning, in the last week of July, two hundred or more of these proas suddenly hove up their anchors and started to surround the fleet. No sooner had they done so, than the commanders met them with a discharge of their batteries, then set sail and stood out of the harbor. Many proas were shattered or overturned, and in open water outside the harbor a royal junk was captured which was commanded by a prince of Luzon as captain-general in Borneo's service. He was then returning from a plundering expedition and laden with spoils. In exchange for a large portion of his treasure, it is said, Captain Carvalho gave him his liberty, but he retained as captives three beautiful females whom the prince had captured and was taking as a present to his queen.

Natives of Luzon


The crafty Carvalho was speedily punished for his dereliction from duty, as, by allowing the prince to go free in exchange for gold, he was prevented from redeeming two of his men who, in the haste of departure, had been left ashore at Brunei. One of these was his own son by an Indian woman of Brazil; yet he left him without any apparent compunctions, and probably never heard of him more.

It was a long descent from Magellan to Carvalho as commander, and even his countrymen on board the ship could not endure him longer; so they deposed him, sometime during the voyage from Borneo to the Moluccas. They elected Espinosa, the alguacil, commander-in-chief, and Juan Sebastian del Cano captain of the Victoria. Carvalho soon sank out of sight, as he was, after all, a man of no great capacity, and met his end in an island of the Moluccas, February 14, 1522, Espinosa, as his successor on the Trinidad, soon proved himself inefficient; but he retained command, in spite of his defects, until he had brought the gallant flag-ship to a watery grave.