Gateway to the Classics: The Discovery of New Worlds by M. B. Synge
The Discovery of New Worlds by  M. B. Synge

Magellan's Great Plan

"They were the first that ever burst

Into that silent sea."


B EFORE relating how Magellan started off on his voyage round the world, let us turn back for a moment and see how former discoverers had prepared the way for this wonderful voyage.

It was just one hundred years since Prince Henry of Portugal had set up his watch-tower on the bleak southern coast of Spain, despatching ship after ship to explore the western coast of Africa. Forty-six years later the equator was passed; another forty years and Bartholomew Diaz had sighted the mysterious Cape at the south of Africa, which was discovered by Vasco da Gama eleven years later on his way to India.

So much for the Portuguese voyages to the East.

Meanwhile Columbus was sailing to the West in the service of Spain, discovering islands off the coast of North America, to be followed by Cabot to Newfoundland, Cabral to Brazil, and Amerigo Vespucci to the mouth of the great river La Plata, to the south of Brazil. All these explorers had touched the coast of America at different points, fondly dreaming that it was the coast of Asia.

Other ideas were, as we have seen, slowly taking shape, when Balboa discovered the great sea on the far side of America, thus enlarging the geography of the world.

There was a young Portuguese sailor called Magellan. He had sailed with Albuquerque in the expedition to Goa, after which he had accompanied him to the islands beyond India, now known as the East Indies, in the first European ships which had ventured beyond Ceylon.

Here is a story told of Magellan, which shows him to be made of the stern stuff of heroes. While the ships were preparing to take in a cargo of pepper and ginger from the city of Malacca, the king was plotting for their destruction. The commander of the expedition was sitting on the quarterdeck of his flag-ship, deep in a game of chess, which the dark faces of the natives watched intently. No one suspected them of treason. Ashore, the houses rose one above another on the hillside, while the tall tower of the citadel glistened in the September sunshine.

From time to time the natives on the shore and on board glanced to the top of the tower, expecting every moment to see the puff of smoke which would tell them to fall upon the foreigners and put them to death. But the secret had just leaked out. Information reached the nearest ships, and suddenly the Portuguese sailors began chasing the natives from their decks. Magellan sprang into a boat, and made for the flag-ship, shouting "Treason! treason!" He was just in time to save the chess-loving commander.

Meanwhile one Serrano, in charge of the cargo, was being pursued by the light skiffs of the Malay natives. He was struggling against fearful odds, when Magellan rowed up and joined battle with such strength and fury that he saved Serrano. The European guns soon did the rest, and the Malays attacked no more. This was the beginning of a devoted friendship between Magellan and Serrano, out of which grew perhaps the most wonderful voyage ever related in history.

Soon after this Magellan returned to Portugal. For seven long years and more he had fought with wind and wave,—he had suffered the hardships which belonged to the life of a sailor in those early days of navigation. He was longing to be off again, to explore farther among those islands beyond India. Dreams of finding his way to them by sailing westwards past the New World of Columbus never left him. There must be some strait through which he could reach the Indian Ocean and the Spice Islands, as some of these East India islands were called.

He laid his plan before the King of Portugal, but he refused to listen or help. Magellan then asked whether he might go and lay his scheme before some other master.

"You can do as you please," answered the king.

Upon this Magellan desired to kiss his hand at parting, but the king would not offer it.

As Columbus, Cabot, and Vespucci had done before him, Magellan now passed from Portugal into Spain. He soon found favour in the eyes of Charles V., the boy-king of Spain, who ordered an expedition to be fitted out under his command. Away into the great South Sea, discovered so lately by Balboa, Magellan was to sail. His scheme was not unlike that of Columbus: his dream was to be realised yet more fully than that of the famous discoverer of America.

"Sail to the West and the East will be found."

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