<<Born around 1480 into a family of minor Portuguese nobility, Ferdinand Magellan became a skilled sailor and naval officer and was in service of the Portuguese crown in Asia. After King Manuel I of Portugal refused to support his plan to reach India by a new route, by sailing around the southern end of the South American continent, he was eventually selected by King Charles I of Spain to search for a westward route to the Maluku Islands (the "Spice Islands").
Five vessel fleet left Spain on 20 September 1519, sailing west across the Atlantic toward South America. In December, they made landfall at Rio de Janeiro. From there, they sailed south along the coast, searching for a way through or around the continent. After three months of searching (including a false start in the estuary of Río de la Plata), weather conditions forced the fleet to stop their search to wait out the winter. They found a sheltered natural harbor at the port of Saint Julian, and remained there for five months. Shortly after landing at St. Julian, there was a mutiny attempt led by the Spanish captains Juan de Cartagena, Gaspar de Quesada and Luis de Mendoza. Magellan barely managed to quell the mutiny, despite at one point losing control of three of his five ships to the mutineers. Mendoza was killed during the conflict, and Magellan sentenced Quesada and Cartagena to being beheaded and marooned, respectively. Lower-level conspirators were made to do hard labor in chains over the winter, but later freed.
During the winter, one of the fleet's ships, the Santiago, was lost in a storm while surveying nearby waters, though no men were killed. Following the winter, the fleet resumed their search for a passage to the Pacific in October 1520. Three days later, they found a bay which eventually led them to a strait, now known as the Strait of Magellan, which allowed them passage through to the Pacific. While exploring the strait, one of the remaining four ships, the San Antonio, deserted the fleet, returning east to Spain. The fleet reached the Pacific by the end of November 1520. Based on the incomplete understanding of world geography at the time, Magellan expected a short journey to Asia, perhaps taking as little as three or four days. In fact, the Pacific crossing took three months and twenty days. The long journey exhausted their supply of food and water, and around 30 men died, mostly of scurvy. Magellan himself remained healthy, perhaps because of his personal supply of preserved quince.
On 6 March 1521, the exhausted fleet made landfall at the island of Guam and were met by native Chamorro people who came aboard the ships and took items such as rigging, knives, and a ship's boat. The Chamorro people may have thought they were participating in a trade exchange (as they had already given the fleet some supplies), but the crew interpreted their actions as theft. Magellan sent a raiding party ashore to retaliate, killing several Chamorro men, burning their houses, and recovering the 'stolen' goods. On 16 March, the fleet reached the Philippines, where they would remain for a month and a half. Magellan befriended local leaders on the island of Limasawa, and on 31 March, held the first Mass in the Philippines, planting a cross on the island's highest hill. Magellan set about converting the locals to Christianity. Magellan had converted as many as 2,200 locals to Christianity, including Rajah Humabon of Cebu and most leaders of the islands around Cebu. However, Lapulapu, the leader of Mactan, resisted conversion. In order to gain the trust of Rajah Humabon, Magellan sailed to Mactan with a small force on the morning of 27 April 1521. During the resulting battle against Lapulapu's troops, Magellan was struck by a bamboo spear, and later surrounded and finished off with other weapons.
Antonio Pigafetta and Ginés de Mafra provided written documents of the events culminating in Magellan's death:
- When morning came forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries ... The musketeers and crossbowmen shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields ... Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice ... An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain's face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian's body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. — Antonio Pigafetta:173–177
Nothing of Magellan's body survived, that afternoon the grieving rajah-king, hoping to recover his remains, offered Mactan's victorious chief a handsome ransom of copper and iron for them but Datu Lapulapu refused. He intended to keep the body as a war trophy. Since Magellan's wife and child died in Seville before any member of the expedition could return to Spain, it seemed that every evidence of Ferdinand Magellan's existence had vanished from the earth.>>