Gateway to the Classics: European Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan
European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

Ferdinand Magellan

When the year 1519 had come, people knew much more about the world than had been known thirty years earlier. Other voyagers had followed Columbus: Vasco da Gama had sailed around Africa and shown that it was quite possible to reach India by that method. Several other bold mariners had crossed the Atlantic and explored different parts of the A-mer'i-can coast. One had crossed the Isthmus of Da'ri-en and had seen the Pa-cif'ic Ocean. It was known, therefore, that there was land from Lab-ra-dor' to Bra-zil', but no one guessed how far to the west it extended. Most people thought that the islands visited by Columbus and probably the lands north of them lay off the coast of China. No one had been around South America, but even those who thought it to be a great mass of land supposed that somewhere there was a strait leading through it to the Chinese waters. No one guessed that the wide Pacific Ocean lay between this land and China, for no one had yet carried out Columbus's plan of reaching India by sailing west.

This, however, was just what a bold navigator named Fer-di-nand' Ma-gel'lan was hoping to do. He was a Portuguese, but his own king would not send out the expedition he was planning; therefore he entered the service of the king of Spain. This daring sailor did not know any better than others how far South America might extend to the southward, but he promised the king that he would follow the coast until he came to some strait that led through the land to the Chinese seas. He was not going merely to make discoveries; he meant to bring home whole shiploads of spices. He knew how cheaply they could be bought of the natives, and he expected to make fortunes for the king and for himself. No one knew how long the voyage would take, but the ships were provisioned for two years. They carried also all kinds of weapons and vast quantities of bells and knives and red cloth and small looking-glasses.



The vessels crossed the Atlantic and sailed into the mouth of the Ri'o de la Pla'ta. Then everyone was hopeful. "This must be a strait," they thought, "and we are almost at our journey's end." They sailed cheerfully up stream for two days. Then their hopes fell, for the water grew more fresh every hour, and therefore they knew that they were in a river; so they turned back and continued their voyage along the coast. By and by they came to another opening; this might be the passage, and Magellan sent two of the ships to explore it. When they returned, there was rejoicing indeed, for the captains reported that at last a deep channel had been found. This was surely the passage to the seas of China. But the ships were shattered and food was scanty. Since the passage had been found, why not return to Spain? The following season they could set out with new, strong vessels and a good supply of food. So said some of the captains and pilots; but others felt that the hardest part of the voyage was over, China must be close at hand, and they might just as well go home with shiploads of cloves and other spices.

On Magellan went, through the straits afterward named for him, into the calm, blue ocean, so quiet that he called it the Pacific. He sailed on and on. When he entered this ocean, he had food for only three months, and two months had passed. Now the explorers had no choice about turning back, for they had not provisions for a homeward voyage, and their only hope was that by keeping on they might come to the shores of India. At length they did reach a little island, but it had neither water nor fruit. They came to a group of islands, and these they named the La-drones', or thieves' islands, because the natives stole everything they could lay their hands upon. Then they landed at the Phil'ip-pines, and here was plenty of fruit,—oranges, bananas, and cocoanuts. They were now in the land of cloves, but unfortunately Magellan agreed to help one native chief against his enemies, and in the fighting that followed, he was slain.


A South American Indian.

The little fleet had at first consisted of five vessels; but one had deserted, one had been wrecked, one had been burned as unseaworthy, and one had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese. The Vic-to'ri-a, the only one that remained, pressed on to the Mo-luc'cas; and when she sailed away, she had such a cargo as no vessel had brought before, for besides all that the men had bought for themselves, she carried twenty-six tons of cloves. From some of the other islands they took ginger and sandal wood. Then they crossed the Indian Ocean and rounded Africa. They stopped to buy food at the Cape Verde Islands, and here they were astounded to find that while they called the day Wednesday, the people on the Islands called it Thursday. They had traveled west with the sun, and so had lost a day. At length they reached Spain, and there they received a royal reception. After Magellan's death, Se-bas'tian del Ca'no had become captain. The courage and perseverance that had made the voyage possible belonged to Magellan; but he was dead, and the rewards went to Del Cano. He was made a noble, and for a coat of arms he was given a globe with the motto, "You first encompassed me."

During the two hundred years when Europe was making especially rapid progress in learning and in discovery, some of the noblest painters that the world has ever known, lived in Italy. One of these died while Magellan was slowly making his way around the southern point of South America. This was Raphael. His most famous picture is the Sistine Madonna, now in the Dres'den Gallery, the Mother of Christ with the Holy Child in her arms. Ra'pha-el is said to have thanked God that he was born in the times of Mi-chel An'gelo, a brother artist. Angelo was painter and poet, but greatest of all as sculptor. His most famous statue is that of Mo'ses. This is so wonderfully lifelike that one feels as if it must be alive. It is easy to believe that, when it was completed, the artist gazed upon it and cried, "Speak, for thou canst." Angelo lived to be an old man, but till almost the last day of his life he was occupied with some work of art of such rare excellence that every one who loves beautiful things may be glad of its existence.


What was known and thought of America in 1519. — The plans of Magellan. — Exploration of the Rio de la Plata. — Magellan enters the Pacific. — The Ladrones. — The Philippines. — Tha death of Magellan. — The cargo of the Victoria. — Losing a day. — Del Cano's reward. — Raphael. — Michel Angelo.

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