- Historic Sites
Another eyewitness takes us on another voyage, three and a half centuries earlier—this one around the world …
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
Straits which the two ships found
Here the little fleet, so lately reduced by the accidental loss of the Santiago, was further depleted, this time by another mutiny. The pilot of the Santo Antonio, Estevão Gomes, a relative of Magellan, had himself formulated a plan for an expedition of discovery, which was forestalled by Magellan’s. He was also doubtless discontented when Magellan promoted two other Portuguese, Duarte Barbosa and Alvaro de Mesquita (another relative) to command, Mesquita having been made captain of the Santo Antonio. Conspiring with certain Spaniards in the crew, Gomes had Mesquita confined in irons and the ship turned back to Spain, reaching Seville on May 6, 1521. Judgment went in favor of the mutineers, and Mesquita was imprisoned until the return of the Victoria in September, 1522. Gomes was to lead an expedition of discovery along the Atlantic coasts of North America in 1524–25 .
On Wednesday the twenty-eighth of November, one thousand five hundred and twenty, we issued forth from the said strait and entered the Pacific Sea, where we remained three months and twenty days without taking on board provisions or any other refreshments, and we ate only old biscuits turned to powder, all full of worms and stinking of the urine which the rats had made on it, having eaten the good. And we drank water impure and yellow. We ate also ox-hides which were very hard because of the sun, rain, and wind. And we left them four or five days in the sea, then laid them for a short time on embers, and so we ate them. And of the rats, which were sold for half an écu apiece [nearly a week’s pay for a seaman], some of us could not get enough.…
During these three months and twenty days, we sailed in a gulf where we made a good four thousand leagues across the Pacific Sea, which was rightly so named. For during this time we had no storm, and we saw no land except two small uninhabited islands, where we found only birds and trees [perhaps Pukapuka, in the northern Tuamotu Archipelago, and Flint Island or Wostok in the Manihiki Archipelago].… And if our Lord and the Virgin Mother had not aided us by giving good weather to refresh ourselves with provisions and other things we had died in this very great sea. And I believe that nevermore will any man undertake to make such a voyage.
Their next landfall, made on March 6, 1521, was in the Marianas, where they tried to put ashore for provisions. “But it was not possible,” Pigafetta writes, “for the people of those islands entered the ships and robbed us so that we could not protect ourselves from them.” They even stole the captain’s jolly-boat, whereupon Magellan became so angry that he went ashore on the largest of the three islands he saw, probably Guam, with forty men. “And burning some forty or fifty houses with several boats and killing seven men of the said island, they recovered their skiff.” Appropriately, the men of the expedition named these lands the Islands of the Thieves [see map on page 62]. Ten days later they reached Samar, in the Philippines. At nearby Suluan they obtained fresh water and provisions and spent the next three weeks making friends with—and seeking to convert—the native chiefs .
The captain comes to the port of Zubu
On Sunday the seventh of April, about noon, we entered the port of Zubu [Cebu], having passed by many villages, where we saw some houses which were built on trees. And nearing the principal town the captain-general ordered all the ships to put out their flags. Then we lowered the sails as is done when one is about to fight, and fired all the artillery, at which the people of those places were in great fear.
The captain sent a young man, his foster son, with the interpreter [Enrique of Malacca] to the king of that island of Zubu. And when they came to the town they found a great number of men and their king with them, all frightened by the artillery which had been fired. But the interpreter reassured them, saying that it was the habit and custom to fire the artillery on arrival in ports, as a token of peace and friendship.…
The king and all his people were reassured, and then he caused one of his principal men to speak and to ask what we were in search of. And the interpreter told him that his master was a captain of the greatest king in the world, and that by his command he was going to discover the islands of Molucca. Yet, for that he had heard … report of his honorable and good fame, he had wished to pass by his country in order to visit him, and to have also some replenishment of provisions [in exchange] for his merchandise.
The king replied that he was welcome, but that it was the custom that all ships arriving in his port or country should pay tribute. And but four days before a ship called Iunco from Ciama [i.e., a junk from Siam], loaded with gold and slaves, had paid him her tribute. And to prove the truth of what he said, he showed them a merchant of the said Ciama, who had remained there to do trade in gold and slaves. The interpreter told him that the captain, as captain of so great a king as his, would not pay tribute to any lord in the world, and that if he desired peace he should have peace, and if he desired war, war he should have.… Then the king answered that he would speak with his council, and would give his reply on the following day.…