Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal in 1480 and died in 1521. He was one of the world's greatest explorers, having named the Pacific Ocean, and was the first person whose fleet of ships circumnavigated the whole world.

At the age of 12, Magellan was sent to the court of Portugal to learn how to be a courtier, along with his brother, Diogo. While at court, he learned about spices, their importance, and how the Portuguese were in a rivalry with the Spanish to control the Moluccas (Indonesia), which were also called the “Spice Islands”.

In 1505, Magellan and his brother were sent to join the army. He fought and was wounded in several battles in Africa and India. In 1513, Magellan was part of the 500-ship expedition to challenge the Moroccan governor, who refused to pay taxes to the Portuguese. The fighting left Magellan with a limp for the rest of his life.

Magellan then petitioned to the king of Portugal to find a sea route to the Indies by going West instead of East. Much like his predecessor, Christopher Columbus, Magellan was refused by the Portuguese.

Instead, Magellan turned to the Spanish, who accepted his petition. Two of the world's greatest explorers, one Italian and one Portuguese, were sponsored by the Spanish Court.

Magellan took five ships: the Trinidad, the San Antonio, the Conception, the Victoria, and the Santiago. Only the Victoria would return, carrying just 18 out of the original crew of 270 men.

Magellan set off from Spain in 1519, and took a little more than a month to reach South America. After getting there, he found the strait he was looking for, which now bears his name.

Before finding the strait, Magellan sent the Santiago to scout, where it got wrecked, and the crew distributed to the other ships. Later, a ship deserted, distrusting its captain and returning to Portugal.

In November 1520, Magellan finally saw the ocean beyond South America. He called it Mar Pacifico, or the Pacific Ocean because it was peaceful.

It took Magellan five months to cross the newly dubbed Mar Pacifico, and he finally landed on the island of Guam, where he replenished his food supplies.

Magellan landed on the Philippine island of Cebu. There, he befriended the local chieftain and wanted to convert them to Christianity. The chieftain asked Magellan to help him fight a rival tribe, and Magellan was killed when a poison arrow hit him.

Magellan died, but his crew continued the journey, one ship sinking off the Spice Islands. The remaining two ships made it there, where one stayed. The Victoria got a heavy cargo of spices and then sailed back to Spain. Only 18 crew members got back to Spain. Magellan died in the journey, but it was not a failure.

He proved that a western path to the Spice Islands was possible, and also the saying “Where there's a will, there's a way”.