Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand MagellanThis Portuguese-born navigator was one of the great explorers of his era – the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean, he also played a crucial role in the first circumnavigation of the world.

Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 into a noble Portuguese family. His parents died when he was still a boy and he became a court page in Lisbon. In 1505, he enlisted in the fleet of the Portuguese viceroy to the Indies, and spent the following years involved in a series of Portuguese expeditions in India and Africa. In 1511, he was with the fleet that conquered Malacca (on the Malay Peninsula), thus gaining control of the most important trade routes in the region. He also explored the islands of present-day Indonesia as far east as the Moluccas (also known as the Spice Islands).

In 1512, Magellan returned to Lisbon, and the following year, he was wounded during an expedition to Morocco, which left him with a permanent limp. After a disagreement with the Portuguese king, in 1517 Magellan went to Spain to try and enlist the Spanish king’s support for an expedition to reach the Moluccas by sailing westwards. The Spanish wanted a share in the valuable spice trade from the Moluccas, but the Portuguese controlled the eastwards route round southern Africa. Magellan was successful and in September 1519 set out with a fleet of five vessels. In spite of a mutinous crew, rough weather, scurvy, a desperate lack of provisions and unknown waters, Magellan managed to cross the Atlantic and navigate through the straits at the southern point of South America which were later named after him.

Now with only three ships, Magellan sailed on into the Pacific with rapidly diminishing supplies, which led to many of the crew dying of starvation and scurvy. After around 14 weeks they reached an island, probably Guam, in the western Pacific. They then sailed on to the Philippines. On 27 April 1521, Magellan was killed there after becoming involved in a battle between two rival local chieftains.

One ship from the fleet eventually reached Spain in September 1522, having completed the first ever circumnavigation of the globe.