Ferdinand Magellan - Portuguese Explorer

Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan’s exact date of birth is unknown but is believed to be in 1480. His parents were petty nobles. After the return of Vasco da Gama’s expedition from India, Portugal launched subsequent expeditions there.

When Francisco de Almeida, who would become the first Portuguese Indian viceroy, set out for India in 1505, Magellan joined his expedition. Magellan spent eight years there in a number of different positions. He was also involved with Diogo Lopes de Sequeira’s expedition to Malacca in 1508–09. Magellan returned to Portugal in 1513.

Magellan then served in Morocco, where he was involved in a number of battles and skirmishes. He also served as quartermaster in charge of the spoils of war. Upon his return to Portugal, he requested an increase in pay from King Manuel, but the request was denied because of rumors that he sold cattle to Portugal’s enemies in Morocco.

Magellan returned to Morocco to clear his name so the king would consider his request for more pay. King Manuel still denied the increase. This was apparently one of the main motivations behind Magellan’s decision to approach the Spanish with his idea of finding a passage from Europe to India sailing west, either around or through the Americas.

Magellan convinced the Spanish to back the expedition in 1517. The expedition set out in September 1519 with five ships. They sailed to the South American coast of Brazil.

Magellan voyage
Magellan voyage

From there Magellan explored the bay at Rio de Janeiro and the Rio de la Plata before halting for the winter in Patagonia from March through August 1520. It was during this time that Magellan faced a mutiny and saw one of his ships desert the expedition. With winter over, Magellan continued south along the coast of South America.

Upon reaching the southern tip of South America, Magellan took 38 days to find a passage to the Pacific through the strait that now bears his name, the Strait of Magellan. Having found the way through to the Pacific, the expedition started up the western coast of South America on November 28, 1520.

Magellan took 98 days to cross the Pacific with hopes of reaching China but instead made landfall at Guam. From there, the expedition continued on a western course that brought them to Cebu on April 7, 1521. There Magellan made an alliance with the local leader and agreed to help them attack a neighboring island.

It was during this attack that Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521. The expedition continued west and eventually made its way back to Spain, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope in September 1522, three years after having left.

While Magellan did not actually live to complete the circumnavigation of the globe, the journey was the product of his ambition and determination. More important was his discovery of a way to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean going west rather than around Africa.