Hi, my name is Ferdinand Magellan. I was born in 1480 in northern Portugal. My parents died when I was only 10 years old. At the age of 12, I was appointed as the queen’s messenger in the royal court. Young boys were appointed as messenger as a source of education. At the court, I learned about many famous explorers and the most important information about navigating ships.
My first time at sea was in 1505 when I was 25 years old. I sailed with Francisco de Almedia, Portugal’s first admiral, and his fleet. In 1511, I went on an expedition to conquer Melaka. After our victory, a Portuguese fleet sailed to the Spice Islands (also known as the Moluccas Islands). Portugal claimed the islands at this time. One of my close friends, Francisco Serrao, went on the voyage and wrote to me. In his letters he described the route and the island of Ternate.
Planning for a Long Trip
Serrao’s letters helped build in my mind the location of the Spice Islands, which later became the destination for my great voyage. I asked the King of Portugal to support my journey, but he refused. After that, I begged the King of Spain to support my journey. He was interested in my plan since Spain was looking for a better sea route to Asia than the Portuguese route around the southern tip of Africa. It was going to be hard to find sailors, though. None of the Spanish sailors wanted to sail with me because I was Portuguese. I would have to take anybody who signed on, whether they were good seamen or not. Parts of my crew were prisoners, released from jail in return for sailing with me.
Journey Around the World
In September of 1519, my crew and I said our prayers and set sail for southern Spain with five ships—the Santiago, the San Antonio, the Conception, the Trinidad, and the Victoria. At first, all went well. Our small fleet sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and reached South America. We stocked up with goods and sailed down the coastline looking for a passage through this great continent. We just couldn’t find a route through South America! We sailed further and further south, sailing into every river and bay we came upon. The weather was getting colder, and we were running out of supplies. The crew revolted against the other captains and me. I had the men who started the mutiny hanged, and then we continued our journey. Finally, in October of 1520, we found a strait. I named it after myself, calling it the Strait of Magellan. It took 38 days to sail through the dangerous strait. We finally arrived at the ocean that Balboa had discovered several years before. I named it the Pacific Ocean because of its calm waters. We found ourselves sailing for weeks across this ocean with no sign of land. Our drinking water stunk and started to get slimy. My crew and I had to eat rats! Could you imagine eating a rat? Many of my crew suffered from scurvy. One of the other captains deserted me and sailed the San Antonio back to Spain. In March of 1521, we arrived in Guam, an island in the Pacific. From there, we headed for the Moluccas.
The End of My Days
I never made it to the Spice Islands. I was caught in a war in the Philippine islands. We faced a group of natives who killed me with a poisoned arrow in my foot and a spear through my heart. After I died, my crew burned my ship. Now only 3 ships remained. My body was left behind. Only two ships actually reached the Spice Islands because the Santiago was sunk in a storm. My crew loaded both ships with a rich cargo and headed for Spain. On the way home, the Portuguese who had claimed the Spice Islands captured the Trinidad. The Victoria was the only ship to make it safely back to Spain. Out of the five ships that began the journey, only one ship made the voyage around the world. Out of 250 men, only 18 survived…I was not one of them.
Who Goes There: European Exploration of the New World