Discoverers and Explorers


One of the boldest and most determined of all the early explorers was Ferdinand Magellan, a young Portuguese nobleman. He felt sure that somewhere on that long coast which so many explorers had reached he would find a strait through which he would be able to pass, and which would lead into the Indian Ocean; and so Magellan formed the idea of circumnavigating the globe.

He applied to the King of Portugal for aid; but as the Portuguese king was not willing to help him, he went to Spain, where his plan found favor.

The Spanish king gave him a fleet of five vessels, and on September 20, 1519, he set sail for the Canary Islands. Continuing the voyage toward Sierra Leone, the vessels were becalmed, and for a period of three weeks they advanced only nine miles. Then a terrific storm arose, and the sailors, who had grumbled and found fault with everything during the entire voyage, broke into open mutiny. This mutiny Magellan quickly quelled by causing the principal offender to be arrested and put in irons.

The voyage was then continued, and land was at last sighted on the Brazilian coast, near Pernambuco.

The fleet then proceeded down the coast as far as Patagonia, where the weather grew so very cold that it was decided to seek winter quarters and postpone the remainder of the journey until spring. This was done, Magellan finding a sheltered spot at Port St. Julian, where plenty of fish could be obtained and where the natives were friendly.

These native Patagonians Magellan described as being very tall, like giants, with long, flowing hair, and dressed scantily in skins.

Great hardships had been endured by the crew. Food and water had been scarce, the storms had been severe, and suffering from cold was intense. The sailors did not believe there was any strait, and they begged Magellan to sail for home. It was useless to try to influence this determined man. Danger made him only the more firm. Magellan told them that he would not return until he had found the opening for which he was looking.

Then the mutiny broke out anew. But Magellan by his prompt and decisive action put it down in twenty-four hours. One offender was killed, and two others were put in irons and left to their fate on the shore when the ships sailed away.

As soon as the weather grew warmer the ships started again southward. After nearly two months of sailing, most of the time through violent storms, a narrow channel was found, in which the water was salt. This the sailors knew must be the entrance to a strait.

Food was scarce, and the men again begged Magellan to return; but he firmly refused, saying: "I will go on, if I have to eat the leather off the ship's yards."

So the ships entered and sailed through the winding passage, which sometimes broadened out into a bay and then became narrow again. Among the twists and windings of this perilous strait, one of the vessels, being in charge of a mutinous commander, escaped and turned back.

On both sides of the shore there were high mountains, the tops of which were covered with snow, and which cast gloomy shadows upon the water below them.

Think of the feelings of the crew when, after sailing five weeks through this winding channel, they came out into a calm expanse of water. Magellan was overcome by the sight, and shed tears of joy. He named the vast waters before him Pacific, which means "peaceful," because of their contrast to the violent and stormy Atlantic.

The fleet now sailed northwest into a warmer climate and over a tranquil ocean, and as week after week passed and no land was seen, the sailors lost all hope. They began to think that this ocean had no end, and that they might sail on and on forever.

These poor men suffered very much from lack of food and water, and many died of famine. The boastful remark of Magellan was recalled when the sailors did really begin to eat the leather from the ship's yards, first soaking it in the water.

Anxiously these worn and haggard men looked about for signs of land, and at length they were rewarded. The Ladrone Islands were reached, and supplies of fresh vegetables, meats, and fruits were obtained. From the Isles de Ladrones, or "Isles of Robbers," the fleet proceeded to the Philippines.

Here Magellan knew that he was near the Indian Ocean, and realized that if he kept on in his course he would circumnavigate the globe.

It was on one of the Philippine Islands that this "Prince of Navigators" lost his life in a skirmish with the natives. He was, as usual, in the thickest of the fight, and while trying to shield one of his men was struck down by the spear of a native.

One of his ships, the Victoria, continued the voyage around Cape of Good Hope, and on September 6, 1522, with eighteen weary and half-starved men on board, succeeded in reaching Spain.

Great hardships had been endured, but the wonderful news they brought made up in some measure for their suffering.

This was the greatest voyage since the first voyage of Columbus, and the strait still bears the name of the remarkable man whose courage and strength of purpose led to the accomplishment of one of the greatest undertakings ever recorded in history.

This wonderful voyage of Magellan's proved beyond doubt that the earth is round. It also proved that South America is a continent, and that there is no short southwest passage.

After this voyage all the navigators turned their attention to the discovery of a northwest passage.

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