Today In History: Magellan Embarks

September 21, 2018 | Matt

September 20, 1519

Portugal Travel Guide

Today in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan embarked on his famous journey from Spain to find a western sea route to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Magellan, Portugese, commanded five ships and 270 crew. They traveled from Spain to West Africa to Brazil, where they searched for a water passage to the Pacific Ocean.

Thwarted in their attempts, they shored up for the winter at Port St. Julian in Argentina, in March of 1520. Midnight of Easter day, Magellan’s ship captains mutinied against him. Magellan, with his loyalists, crushed the uprising, executed one captain and left another one stranded on shore when they left in August.


Magellan found The Strait of Magellan on October 21, near the tip of South America. Three ships entered – one of the original five had been deserted and the another had wrecked. Thirty-eight days later, the ships emerged from the strait. When he saw the Pacific, Magellan reportedly wept.

The ships then sailed another 99 days across the Pacific, which Magellan named due to its relative calm. It was not a pleasant journey, though. The ships were dangerously low on provisions. By the time the ships landed on Guam on March 6, 1521, the crew were eating leather.

Ten days after landing on Guam, the ships landed on Cebú. The chief of Cebú was converted to Christianity, and was able to recruit the explorers to help him conquer a rival tribe on the nearby island of Mactan. On April 27, Magellan was struck by a poisoned arrow that would kill him when he was abandoned by his men.

The two remaining ships sailed to the Moluccas and filled their hulls with spices. There, they parted ways. One ship tried to make a return voyage across the Pacific, unsuccessfully. The other, commanded by Juan SebastiÁn de Elcano, kept sailing west and eventually arrived at SanlÚcar de Barrameda, a Spanish port, on September 6, 1522. The ship, the Vittoria, was the first to ever circumnavigate the globe.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.

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