Little Bits of History

Around the World in Years

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 6, 2013
Map of the course sailed by the ships in Magellan's group

Map of the course sailed by the ships in Magellan’s group

September 6, 1522: The Victoria returns to Seville, Spain. Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese sailor. He wanted to reach the Spice Islands (today called Maluka Islands in Indonesia) by sailing west. Like many of his contemporaries, he underestimated the size of the Earth. He was aware he would have to sail past the New World to reach his destination. He was turned down at home and so went to Spain for sponsorship. Spanish King Charles I (aka Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) approved the trip on March 22, 1518. With funding, Magellan acquired five ships and 237 men to sail them.

The Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago left Seville on August 10, 1519. They were halted at Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the Portuguese sailors were removed and 270 Spanish sailors were boarded, as the Spanish authorities didn’t trust the foreigner. Magellan was finally permitted to sail on September 20 and managed to elude Portuguese ships pursuing his small fleet. They stopped at the Canary Islands and then headed west toward Brazil. They crossed the equator on November 27 and sighted South America on December 6. They slowly moved down the coast camping along the shores.

A mutiny on April 2, 1520 resulted in the execution of two of the captains. The journey resumed. In May, the Santiago was scouting ahead when she was destroyed in a storm. The rest of the ships finally took to sea once again in August. Trying to round the tip of South America was treacherous and took the ships 38 days to maneuver through. The captain of the San Antonio turned back rather than attempt to route through what is today called the Straits of Magellan. The three surviving ships made it to the Pacific Ocean, but none knew how vast an area it was.

The crew was starving and the water was putrid when they finally arrived at the Philippines on March 28, 1521. Magellan was killed there in April. Sebastian del Cano, 115 survivors, and two ships sailed away on May 1. The Concepción was burned because there were not enough men to crew her. After finally getting to the Spice Islands and filling their holds, the two remaining ships went in opposite directions to assure one ship’s completing the journey. The Trinidad went east and was captured by the Portuguese. The Victoria headed west and eluded pirates while crossing enemy waters. She rounded the Cape of Good Hope and returned to Seville. Captain Juan Sebastián Elcano and seventeen of the crew were the only survivors of the perilous journey.

“Danger – if you meet it promptly and without flinching – you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!” – Winston Churchill

“The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Would you learn the secret of the sea? Only those who brave its dangers, comprehend its mystery!” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“A wreck on shore is a beacon at sea.” – Proverb

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Juan Sebastián Elcano was born in Getario, Gipuzkoa, Spain in 1476. He was one of four brothers, one of them a priest. Juan fought in the Italian Wars before joining a Spanish expedition against Algiers in 1509. He later settled in Seville and became a ship captain. However, he broke a law and had to petition Charles I for a pardon. Therefore, he was able to join the Magellan expedition but only as a subordinate officer. When the Victoria finally managed to return home, there were 17 European survivors and four of the 13 Timorese Asians also survived. One of the survivors was Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar. He wrote several documents concerning the voyage. He stated they had covered 14,460 leagues during their trip, a distance of about 50,610 miles. The Earth’s circumference at the equator is 24,901 miles.

Also on this day: “Simplify, simplify.” – In 1847, Henry David Thoreau leaves Walden Pond.
Howard Unruh – In 1949, a mass murdering spree in New Jersey took place.
Assassination – In 1901, President William McKinley was shot.


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