Ferdinand Magellan - Frederick Ober

Voyage of the Victoria

December, 1521–September, 1522

The first vessel that accomplished the circumnavigation of the globe, was of only eighty-five tons capacity, and smaller than the average coasting-craft in American waters to-day. She was next to the smallest in the fleet of five with which Magellan had set out, the Santiago  (which was wrecked on the Patagonian coast), having been ten tons her inferior. We now know the fate of the others: that the largest returned to Spain from the Strait; that the second, which was the flag-ship, went to pieces during a gale in the Spice Islands; and the third was burned in the Philippines.

We will now follow after the little Victoria, as she scuds before the spicy gales blowing from the Celebes, seeks to avoid the foam-crested breakers that encircle innumerable coral islands, and finally slips through the reef-guarded passages leading to the great Indian Ocean. She left Tidor, which is very nearly beneath the equator, on December 21st, and some time Christmas week passed between Xulla and Bouru, islands peopled by cannibals, but, aside from their savage inhabitants, veritable Edens of delight, with every kind of delicious fruit known to tropical regions.

The first week in January, 1522, found the solitary craft and her gallant crew seeking a clear-water opening among the numerous islands lying between Timor and Flores. On one of these a landing was made, for the vessel needed repairs, and fifteen days were spent in putting her in shape for the long stretch thence to the east coast of Africa. Ombay was the name of the island, the natives of which, says Pigafetta, were savage and bestial. They went naked, except when on the war-path, at which time the men wore goat and buffalo tails attached to their waists, ornamented with shells. They wore their hair done up on cane combs, and their beards wrapped in banana leaves and thrust into tubes of bamboo—a "most ridiculous sight," says the Chevalier, who also calls them the ugliest people who live in the Indies.

These may have been the ugliest, but he heard of others, from an old pilot who had come from Tidor, that' surpassed them in grotesque appearance, for they were, he said, only a cubit in height, and had ears as long as themselves. They went entirely naked, ran swiftly, and lived in caves underground, where they slept at night, using one ear as a bed and the other as a coverlet! Their place of residence was one of the Aru islands; but the voyagers did not visit it, owing to adverse currents and shoals, and thus the pilot's story could not be verified.

At the north end of Timor, an island more than three hundred miles in length, the voyagers landed to secure provisions. "Inasmuch as we had but few things," says Pigafetta, "and hunger was constraining us, we retained in the ship a native chief, who, for fear lest we kill him, immediately sent for and gave us six buffaloes, five goats, and two swine. For thus had we placed the condition of his ransom." This chief and his people were heathen, but they knew the value of the precious sandal-wood which their island produced in abundance, and to trade in which came junks from as far as Luzon in the Philippines. When they went to cut the sandal-wood, our chronicler observes, the devil was wont to appear to them in various forms, and tell them that if they needed anything they had only to ask for it. This apparition always made them ill, but still they continued to cut the sandal-wood, though only at certain periods of the moon, as otherwise it would not be good.

Voyage of the Victoria


The stories told by Pigafetta at this period of his voyage were mostly obtained from the several pilots taken on board at different islands, and hence their variety. The Victoria  left Tidor with sixty men, all told, forty-seven of whom were Europeans, and thirteen natives, including the pilots. These were exchanged for others as the voyage proceeded: at Xulla, Bouro, Ombay, and finally at Timor, where a grizzled old Malay from Sumatra took the helm for that long run across the Indian Ocean. Setting sail from the southwestern tip of Timor, on February 11th, 1522, the voyage of vastness was actually begun. Then ensued days, weeks, and months of monotonous sailing, during which there appeared no speck of sail or land to greet the weary seamen. Then it was, after having written up his notes of the Philippines and the Spice Islands, that Pigafetta, at loss for new material, cultivated the acquaintance of the old pilot, and from him obtained some wonderful stories, indeed. Here follows one of them:

"Our oldest pilot told us that in an island called Acoloro, which lies below Java Major, there are found no persons but women, who never marry, and if any men go to that island of theirs, they kill them—if they are able to do so.

"He also told me that there is found a very huge tree, in which live birds called garada, so large that they capture and carry elephants and buffaloes to their nests in that tree. No junk or other craft can approach to within three or four leagues of that place of the tree, because of the great whirlpools of water round about it. The first time anything was learned of that tree was from a little boy, who was in a junk which was wrecked in the whirlpool, and somehow was cast up alive on the shore. He climbed into the tree without being discovered, where he hid beneath the wing of one of those birds when it was asleep. Next morning the bird flew over to the main and seized a buffalo, when the boy came out from under his wing as best he could, and thus the story was learned from him."

Tales no less marvellous the veteran told him of China and the farther Indies, then but little known. "Six different classes of people," he said, "inhabited the coast of India Major. The Nairi are the chiefs, and the Panichali are the towns-people, which two classes never mix together; the Iranai gather the palm-wine and figs; the Pangilini are the sailors; the Macurai are the fishermen; the Poleai are the farmers and harvest the rice. These last always live in the country, although they enter the city at times. When anything is given them it is laid on the ground, and they take it. When they go through the streets they call out 'Po, po, poi'—that is, 'Beware of me!' Now it happened, as we were told; that a Nair once had the misfortune to be touched by a Polea, for which he immediately had the latter killed, so that he might erase that disgrace."

In this manner: garnering information for future generations to read, hundreds of years after he had passed away, the industrious Pigafetta passed the lagging hours and days, weeks, and even months, building a monument to himself and to his former commander which may be termed imperishable. Another, at least, on board the Victoria, won by that voyage a reputation which has outlasted centuries and still is great. This was Juan Sebastian del Cano, who, placed in command by mere circumstance, after Magellan, Barbosa, and Serrao had been killed, and Carvalho deposed, proved himself a navigator of no mean capacity. As captain of the Concepcion  he had not previously been prominent, except in the mutiny at Port Julian, when he conducted himself discreditably; but as master of the Victoria  he won the immortal honor of navigating his ship from the Moluccas to Spain, thus completing the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe.

In the Indian Ocean he was sailing uncharted waters, though they had first been ploughed by Vasco da Gama, twenty-five years before. But the east coast and the west coast of Africa were by this time well known by their landmarks, so that when Cape Agulhas was sighted, on May 18th, Del Cano and his pilots knew that the dreaded Cape of Storms was not far away. They had erred both in latitude and longitude; but they finally passed the Cape of Good Hope in safety, though in doing so the ship lost her foretopmast, and sprung her fore-yard. They had voyaged from the equator to latitude forty degrees south, and had ranged through the seasons, from torrid to temperate; now they must creep up again, towards and beyond the equator, nearly eighty degrees.

Slowly and painfully they crawled along the west coast of Africa, counting one by one the degrees, going from cold to heat again, and suffering dreadfully. Twenty-one of their number died from exposure and privation, and were thrown overboard. Some of these were Indians, but most were white men. When they were cast into the sea, says Pigafetta, "the Christians went to the bottom face upward, but the Indians face downward"—though this may have been a mere notion of the Chevalier.

On the other side of Africa, when off Mozambique, the crew were so enfeebled from famine and disease they seriously thought of making for that Portuguese colony; but they held on three months longer, until Cape Verde was reached, when they could endure no more. Frequent stopping for repairs to the ship detained them, scurvy and famine brought them to death's door; but at last the equator was crossed (June 8th), and a month later they reached Santiago, of the Cape Verde Islands.

It might be thought that these heroes of the greatest voyage ever undertaken, having endured to the limit of human nature, and finding themselves compelled to put in at a Christian port, would have been received with open arms; but such was not to be their reception. They knew the Portuguese for despicable villains, whose greed and envy would incite them to arrest any one whom they suspected of having trespassed upon their territory, and so Del Cano called a consultation.

"Necessity compels, as ye know," he said to his officers, "else would I go on. Now, what excuse can we make—what story can we tell, that these jealous varlets will believe?"

"Let us tell them that we have come from America," said one. "And that we lost our foretopmast crossing the line," said another; and this was the tale told by the sailors who were sent ashore for provisions, while the ship lay off and outside the harbor. The story was believed, and two boat-loads of rice were obtained. That amount might last them to Spain, with economy; but it were better to have enough, Del Cano said, after having suffered from famine so long, so the boat was sent in again. This time it did not come back, and when the ship entered the harbor cautiously, to inquire as to the reason, several caravels were seen making preparations to meet her, their crews hastily hoisting sails and anchors, while the quays near which they were lying were in tumult. No further evidence was needed to tell the fate of the crew, one of whom, in fact, had excited suspicion by boasting, when drinking in a wine-shop, of their valuable cargo of cloves. All sail was spread at once, and, leaving the hapless thirteen (who comprised the boat's crew), in the hands of their enemies, the eighteen survivors aboard the Victoria  scurried off as fast as the wind could carry them.

It was at Cape Verde that the captain and pilots learned, to their great astonishment, that they had lost a day on the voyage. The men who first went ashore were charged to ask what day it was, and were told it was Thursday; though by the reckoning on board it was Wednesday. They were greatly puzzled, and not until the matter was later submitted to a "great philosopher and astronomer, a man of singular learning," was it explained to the satisfaction of all. "We could not see how we had made a mistake," says the conscientious Pigafetta, "for, as I had always kept my health, I had set down every day without interruption. However, as was told us later, it was no error; but, as the voyage had been made continually towards the west, and we had returned to the same place as does the sun, we had made that gain of twenty-four hours, as is clearly seen."

It was not so clearly seen at the time, and thus became a theme of discussion during the remainder of the voyage, which was uneventful, though it consumed nearly two months more. The ship was exceedingly foul, and sailed so slowly that the provisions were at low ebb again when, on September 6th, the coast of Spain was sighted, near Cadiz, and at evening the harbor of San Lucar was entered. Two days later, the Victoria  tied up at the mole in Seville, on the Guadalquivir, where she was boarded by excited thousands, and welcomed by repeated peals of artillery. The eighteen survivors were regarded with awe as well as with pity and tenderness, for they had been considered as lost, long months before, and their advent was as if the ocean depths had opened and given them up. They were overwhelmed with attentions, and invitations showered upon them to homes of high and low—from the bereaved relatives of their comrades who had died, and from those impelled merely by curiosity to see and converse with men who had performed the wonderful voyage around the globe.

But, before accepting the hospitality of Seville, the men had a vow to perform, and all who were able to walk marched barefoot, clad only in their shirts, and carrying candles in their hands, to the sacred shrine of St. Mary of Victory, after whom their gallant ship had been named. Then they dispersed, to become the guests of Seville for a space; to tell the stories of their hardships once and again, then to fall out of sight and be forgotten. In the flush of enthusiasm, however, they were taken to visit the emperor, who received them at court, (together with the thirteen left at Cape Verde, who had been sent to Spain in a ship returning from India.) They were promised many favors, but few of them received any rewards for their sufferings; and on the contrary, some were compelled to bring suit for payment of their just claims against the crown.

There was one, however, whose reward was thought to be more than commensurate for services rendered, and this one was the man whom fortune had made master of the Victoria—though another, far more skilled, was its navigator—Juan Sebastian del Cano. He was overwhelmed with honors: given a pension of five hundred ducats per annum, and granted a coat-of-arms, which was a spicy reminder, indeed, of the cargo he had brought safely into port, and which, terrible as the losses had been, more than compensated the total outlay on the fleet. The value of the cargo exceeded twenty-five thousand dollars, and as it consisted of spices, Del Cano's coat-of-arms contained two cinnamon sticks "in saltier proper," three nutmegs, and twelve cloves. Emblazoned on the shield, above the nutmegs, cinnamon, and cloves, was a golden castle. The crest above was a globe, with the motto: "Primus circumdesti me,"  and the "supporters" were two Malay kings, crowned, and holding in the exterior hand a spice-tree branch.

Juan Sebastian del Cano did not live long to enjoy his honors, for within three years after his return he sailed on another expedition, in Magellan's track, and died at sea, off the Pacific coast of South America.

The return of the Victoria's crew, of course, refuted the stories spread by Gomez and his comrades, sixteen months before, and set at liberty the unfortunate Mesquita, who had captained the San Antonio  when she was taken by the mutineers. For twenty-two months he had been a prisoner, first on board ship, where he was ironed and tortured, after having been poniarded, and then in the calaboose at Seville. He was released, but received no redress, nor were the authors of his misfortunes, the mutineers, ever punished for their conduct in rebelling against the king's authority, and in putting Magellan's expedition in jeopardy. On the contrary, they were, as Diego Barbosa, Magellan's father-in-law, bitterly complained to the king, "well received and treated at the king's expense, while the captain and others were imprisoned and deprived of all justice."

It would seem the basest ingratitude for us to forget the gentleman to whom we have been often indebted for material which has formed a portion of our history: the Chevalier Pigafetta—or Pagaphetta—as he sometimes signed himself. The last time we saw him he was marching in procession, with a candle in his hand, to the shrine of Victory. Leaving Seville, he says at the conclusion of his narrative, he went to Valladolid, where he presented to his "Sacred Majesty," Don Carlos, "neither gold nor silver, but things very highly esteemed by such a sovereign. Among other things, I gave him a book, written by my own hand, concerning all the matters that had occurred from day to day during the voyage." He then went to France, and later to Italy, where he established himself permanently, and where he died in 1534.

The expedition which Magellan had planned and commanded returned without one of his name, or one in any way related, on board the last surviving ship, for he and Duarte Barbosa had perished in the Philippines, and a cousin, Martin Magellan, died of starvation off the Cape of Good Hope, on the homeward voyage. Fernan Magellan's son Rodrigo died soon after his father was killed, and his wife, Dona Beatrix, after living in sorrow, from the tidings of his death, widowed and chastely," died of heart-break, six months before the survivors returned. Of those related to Magellan Who bade him God-speed at his departure from Seville, only the aged comendador, Diego Barbosa, remained to welcome back those survivors, as the last representative of his family.