Our Favourite Explorers: Ferdinand Magellan
Killed by poisoned arrow and Blighted by a Pirate-like limp... We learn more about the headstrong Portuguese explorer who played a crucial role in proving the world was round.
Why did Ferdinand Magellan attempt to sail around the globe?
Aristotle may have declared that the Earth was round in 350 B.C., but it wasn't until September 1522 when Magellan's fleet of ships returned home, after circumnavigating the globe, that this was finally proven to be true.
Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal, 1480. Orphaned as a child, he became a page to the Queen and learning cartography, navigation and astronomy. In 1505 Magellan joined the navy, travelling to India, the Spice Islands, East Africa and Morocco, where he was wounded and gained his trademark limp.
During the middle ages, spices, such as nutmeg, cloves and pepper were in high demand and used in medicines, as perfumes and as flavourings for food. The trade routes to these were dangerous, with frequent battles over access and pirates waiting to loot foreign ships. However, Magellan was a skilled sailor and naval officer and planned an expedition to the Maluki Islands (or Moluccan) for fame and fortune.
Unfortunately, Magellan fell out with the Portuguese King so instead approached the King of Spain, Charles V, about gaining support for his trip to collect the precious spices.
Charles V of Spain was keen to gain a share in the valuable trade so supplied Magellan with a fleet of five vessels. Unfortunately, the route was made even more difficult as the eastward approach round southern Africa was controlled by the Portuguese so a western - and circumferential - route was planned instead.
Was his expedition successful?
The fleet set sail on 20th September 1519 via the Atlantic to Patagonia, passing through the Strait of Magellan (named in his honour posthumously). This alone took over a month, leading one captain to desert him and return his ship to Spain. The rest of the fleet continued to what Magellan called 'a peaceful body of water', now known as the Pacific Ocena - Pacifico meaning peaceful.
The journey was difficult with rough weather, scurvy, a desperate lack of provisions and another ship lost to a mutinous crew. The final three ships continued but disaster struck yet again when they reached the Philippies in 1521. Magellan became involved in the Battle of Mactan with a local chieftain and was killed by poisoned arrow.
A single ship from the fleet (Victoria - see illustration) eventually arrived back in Spain in September 1522, having completed the first ever circumnavigation of the globe, proving that the Earth is round.