Saturday, August 10, 2019

First circumnavigation of the globe

Half a millennium ago this very day, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan launched a Spanish expedition that would complete the first ever circumnavigation of the world - it is, thus, one of the most famous exploration voyages in history. Magellan himself, however, was killed in a battle with native Philippines, and four of the expeditions five ships, along with most of their crews, were lost. Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar and explorer, kept a journal of the entire journey. Although the original was lost, four manuscript copies - one in Italian and three in French - survived. Of these, one held by Yale University is considered the most complete and handsomely produced. Digital images of this are freely available online, as are texts of the journal in English.

On 10 August 1519, Magellan set sail with 270 men and five ships - the Armada de Molucca - from Seville, descending the Guadalquivir River to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river, where they remained more than five weeks before finally setting sail on 20 September. The main goal of the expedition - largely financed by King Charles I of Spain - was to find a western route to the Moluccas or Spice Islands (as the eastern route was controlled by Portugal under the terms of a treaty). The expedition crossed the Atlantic and discovered the strait that bears Magellan’s name, allowing it to pass South America into the Pacific Ocean (which Magellan named).

The fleet reached the Philippines, where it remained for some while, engaging frequently with the local indigenous people, some of whom were friendly and some not. Magellan was murdered in a battle on 27 April 1521, as were many others. Within a few weeks, the fleet was reduced to two ships, with Juan Sebastián Elcano eventually captaining the Victoria. By November, the expedition had reached the Moluccas - completing its mission. The following month, Elcano sailed for Europe, but the other ship - Trinidad - remained behind for repairs, and was eventually captured by the Portuguese then wrecked in a storm. After numerous other hardships during the three years, not least mutinies, starvation, scurvy, storms, only 18 men and the one ship (the Victoria) completed the return trip to Spain, arriving at Seville on 8 September 1922. Further details are available at Wikipedia.

One of the 18 survivors of the voyage was the Italian Pigafetta (see The Diary Junction) whose detailed journal has become the most important primary source of information about the expedition. He was born into a rich family in Vicenza in northeast Italy, around 1480-1491 (his exact birthdate being unknown). He studied astronomy, geography and cartography before serving the Knights of Rhodes on board their vessels. Until 1519, he accompanied the papal nuncio, Monsignor Francesco Chieregati, to Spain. He was in Seville when he heard of Magellan’s forthcoming expedition and was taken on as a supernumerary with a modest salary. He was wounded in the same skirmish as Magellan was killed, but survived the expedition, and returned to the Republic of Venice where he wrote up his journal, and made handwritten copies for distribution to European monarchs. He died around 1531.

Although the original journal kept by Pigafetta has long since been lost, four hand-written copies of the manuscript have survived into modern times - three in French and one in Italian. At least one of these can be viewed online at the World Digital Library, which says of it: ‘This version, in French, is from the library of Yale University, and is the most complete and handsomely produced of the four surviving manuscripts. It includes 23 beautifully drawn and illuminated maps.’

Published versions of Pigafetta’s journal have appeared over the years in various forms. An English translation (by Lord Stanley of Alderley) was issued by the Hakluyt Society in 1874 - see Internet Archive. But in 1906, a more rigorous edition was published by The Arthur H. Clark Company as Magellan’s Voyage Around the World (also available at Internet Archive). This was translated, edited and extensively annotated by James Alexander Robertson, who says: ‘The present edition first gives the English reader access to a translation of the true text of Pigafetta [. . .] together with the original Italian of Pigafetta [. . .] (the oldest and most complete of the four existing manuscripts).’ For more on the 500th anniversary of the Magellan voyage see The Magellan Project, España Global, VCentenario or The Daily Beast

Meanwhile here is an extract - detailing the death of Magellan - from the 1906 edition in English of Pigafetta’s text.

26-27 April 1521
‘On Friday, April twenty-six, Zula, a chief of the island of Matan [Mactan, and island in the Philippines] sent one of his sons to present two goats to the captain-general, and to say that he would send him all that he had promised, but that he had not been able to send it to him because of the other chief Cilapulapu, who refused to obey the king of Spagnia. He requested the captain to send him only one boatload of men on the next night, so that they might help him and fight against the other chief. The captain-general decided to go thither with three boatloads. We begged him repeatedly not to go, but he, like a good shepherd, refused to abandon his flock. At midnight, sixty men of us set out armed with corselets and helmets, together with the Christian king, the prince, some of the chief men, and twenty or thirty balanguais. We reached Matan three hours before dawn. The captain did not wish to fight then, but sent a message to the natives by the Moro to the effect that if they would obey the king of Spagnia, recognize the Christian king as their sovereign, and pay us our tribute, he would be their friend; but that if they wished otherwise, they should wait to see how our lances wounded. They replied that if we had lances they had lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire. [They asked us] not to proceed to attack them at once, but to wait until morning, so that they might have more men. They said that in order to induce us to go in search of them; for they had dug certain pitholes between the houses in order that we might fall into them. When morning came forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front. When the captain saw that, he formed us into two divisions, and thus did we begin to fight. The musketeers and crossbowmen shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields which were made of thin wood and the arms [of the bearers]. The captain cried to them, “Cease firing! cease firing!” but his order was not at all heeded. When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, crying out they determined to stand firm, but they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields. They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed stakes hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves. Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to flight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain. The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away. So we continued to retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off. The Christian king would have aided us, but the captain charged him before we landed, not to leave his balanghai, but to stay to see how we fought. When the king learned that the captain was dead, he wept. Had it not been for that unfortunate captain, not a single one of us would have been saved in the boats, for while he was fighting the others retired to the boats. I hope through [the efforts of] your most illustrious Lordship that the fame of so noble a captain will not become effaced in our times. Among the other virtues which he possessed, he was more constant than ever any one else in the greatest of adversity. He endured hunger better than all the others, and more accurately than any man in the world did he understand sea charts and navigation. And that this was the truth was seen openly, for no other had had so much natural talent nor the boldness to learn how to circumnavigate the world, as he had almost done. That battle was fought on Saturday, April twenty-seven, 1521. The captain desired to fight on Saturday, because it was the day especially holy to him. Eight of our men were killed with him in that battle, and four Indians, who had become Christians and who had come afterward to aid us were killed by the mortars of the boats. Of the enemy, only fifteen were killed, while many of us were wounded.

In the afternoon the Christian king sent a message with our consent to the people of Matan, to the effect that if they would give us the captain and the other men who had been killed, we would give them as much merchandise as they wished. They answered that they would not give up such a man, as we imagined [they would do], and that they would not give him for all the riches in the world, but that they intended to keep him as a memorial.’

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