Who was Magellan?

Ferdinand Magellan (Fernao de Magalhaes in Portuguese)was an explorer born in either Sabrosa or Oporto in northern Portugal around 1480. Born into a noble family, Magellan's parents died when he was ten years old. Two years later, he was appointed a queen's messenger at the royal court in Lisbon. There, he received his education and learned of the famous explorers of the era and the art of ship navigation.

In 1505, Magellan first went to sea, when he enlisted in the Portuguese Viceroy's fleet, commanded by Admiral Francisco de Almedia. In the following years, Magellan participated in expeditions to India and Africa. He was part of the Portuguese fleet that conquered Malacca on the Malay peninsula, a victory that gave Portugal control of the region's vital trade routes. His travels took him as far as present-day Indonesia, where Portugal claimed the Moluccas, also known as the Spice Islands, for the Portuguese throne. He rose quickly through the fleet, attaining the rank of Captain in 1510. Magellan was badly injured while on an expedition to Morocco in 1513, an event that would change the course of his life.

Now saddled with a permanent limp, Magellan began to turn against the Portuguese crown. His study of Columbus and other explorers had convinced Magellan there must be a western route to the Moluccas, but when Emanuel, the King of Portugal, rejected his ambitious plans, Magellan renounced his Portuguese nationality. He approached Charles the First of Spain with his idea in 1517. King Charles knew that control of a western route to the Indies would give Spain a massive financial advantage over competing nations, and poured money into Magellan's expedition.

After two years of intensive preparations, Magellan and his fleet of five ships, led by his flagship the Trinidad, departed Spain on September 20th ,1519. By November, they had reached the coast of South America, having avoided a Portuguese naval squadron sent by King Emanuel to stop them. They traveled down the eastern seaboard of South America until they anchored off the coast of Puerto San Julien in present-day Argentina on the 30th of March, 1520. There the fleet would remain for six long months as disease and other problems took their toll, including the wrecking of one of Magellan's ships. Mutiny erupted, which Magellan quashed with the execution of two of his fleet's captains. Finally, the fleet sailed on, entering the straits now named after Magellan himself on October 21st. An arduous journey ensued, which saw one ship, the San Antonio, desert, but, after 373 miles and 38 days of sailing, Magellan's three remaining ships rounded the South American continent and entered a new ocean. Magellan named it the Mar Pacifico – the Pacific.

Magellan's fleet passed the equator on the 21st of February, 1521, and continued on, discovering the Marianas Islands on March 6th and then the Philippines on the 16th. Making landfall on the island of Cebu on April the 7th, Magellan met the local ruler, Rajah Humabon. Thanks to Enrique, his Malay interpreter, Magellan was able to converse with Rajah Humabon, and agreed to support him in an attack on the neighboring island of Mactan. It was a decision that would cost Magellan his life. During the attack, Magellan was immobilized by poison arrows, and then set upon with spears by the native forces. The fleet in disarray, one ship burned, a young navigator, Juan Sebastian Elcano, took control of the expedition and the two remaining ships set sail for Spain. Although the Trinidad was lost en route, the Victoria made her way to Seville via the Cape of Good Hope, finally returning home on September 6th, 1522.

Although he did not live to see his expedition through, Magellan's historic exploration had a massive impact on the way people viewed the world. His expedition was the first to circumnavigate the Earth, and also the first to navigate through the straits which now bear his name. He named the Pacific ocean and discovered islands hitherto unknown to European seamen. The vast length of the journey – 14,460 Spanish leagues, or 60,440 kilometers – illustrated the true scale of the planet. The discovery that, despite the keeping of a ship's log, the expedition were now a day behind Spain, due to having traveled in the opposite direction to the Earth's rotation, caused a sensation, and would lead to the foundation of the International Date Line. Along the way, Magellan's men witnessed myriad animal species unknown to science in the West. Ferdinand Magellan led the way for all mariners who followed him.