Beginning of Magellan's Famous Voyage - First Circumnavigation of the Earth

September 20, 2018

On 20 September 1519, Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, set sail as captain general of a five ship fleet from Spain (under the Spanish flag) for his epic 60,000 km, three year voyage around the globe – the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

Magellan didn’t complete this voyage, however, being killed in the Battle of Mactan in the Philippines by natives on 27 April 1521. Instead, a subordinate captain, Spanish Basque explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano, took command of the carrack named Victoria – the last remaining ship of this gruelling, tumultuous journey – to complete the Earth’s first circumnavigation, back via the Indian Ocean and rounding continental Africa.

But Magellan’s voyage opened up the world to greater navigation, European colonisation, trade and the further spread of Christianity and western civilisation. It also led to the naming of the Pacific Ocean (by Magellan himself) and the discovery of the Strait of Magellan, several Pacific Islands and (Magellanic) penguins. Many other things have been named after, and in honour of, Magellan including several celestial objects, lunar and Martian craters and a space probe to Venus (see further details below).

Whilst there is a theory the Portuguese discovered Australia during this voyage, it is not generally accepted that Magellan ever set eyes on Australia.

Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of Magellan’s voyage – one of the greatest navigational and pioneering journeys in history, and certainly one that cracked open the “New World” to the West.

Celebrate Magellan’s maiden circumnavigation of the globe (completed by Elcano) by:

  • booking an oceanic voyage on a cruise ship somewhere fascinating or splendid
  • viewing this four part documentary on Magellan’s voyage
  • researching further his pioneering voyage – the route taken, things his crew observed, hostilities faced and the challenges conquered
  • observing the large and small Magellanic Clouds in the southern skies (around 20 degrees from the south celestial pole, highest above the horizon in our Aussie summer and autumn skies), and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives, classical liberals, pioneers, voyagers and those proud of man’s courage, ingenuity, pioneering spirit and our Western civilisation.


Further details of Magellan and his world-opening voyage

The original purpose of Magellan’s voyage was to find a secure trade route westward, across the Atlantic Ocean, to the Maluku Islands or “Spice Islands” in the East Indies (now Indonesia, and north of the island of Timor in the Banda Sea) and return back from whence they came. He was also promised the governorship of all lands he discovered along the way for his troubles.

But once Magellan and his crew had nearly reached their Malukun destination (just north in the Philippines), they had discovered that the ocean west of the Americas (the Pacific) was far larger than expected and that they had traversed well over half the globe.

As a result, the remaining 18 man crew (captained by Elcano on the carrack, Victoria) returned to Spain by continuing westward (a far shorter journey), completing the circumnavigation in nearly three years on 6 September 1522.

Only 18 of the original 240 crew returned due to enormous attrition through mutinies, illness, battles with natives and men overboard or “wanting out” (to stay back in the colonies visited). Things were harsh, tough and very uncertain back then!

As the accurately recorded logs of the voyage on return were a day out (ie one day behind), this first successful circumnavigation of the globe (westward, opposite to the Earth’s rotation) showed the need for, and establishment of, an “international date line.”

During his voyage, Magellan became the first Caucasian to sail into the “peaceful” Pacific Ocean, which he named due to its relative calm when he entered it. (Spanish explorer, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, was the first Caucasian to see the Pacific Ocean six years earlier in 1513 when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama.)

Magellan passed through and discovered the Strait of Magellan – a navigable sea route in southern Chile separating mainland South America from the Tierra del Fuego archipelago to the south.

  • English sea captain, Francis Drake, some six decades later in 1577 largely followed the steps of Magellan. Drake’s voyage was the second to circumnavigate the Earth, and he became the first to complete one as leader throughout. Whilst also using the Strait of Magellan to round South America, Pacific storms blew his ships so far south that he could confidently speculate that Tierra del Fuego was not another large land mass but instead a relatively small island (or bunch thereof). The strait between the tip of the South American continent and Antarctica was subsequently named “Drake’s Passage” in his honour.

Magellan’s crew were the first Caucasians to set eyes on several animals including the Magellanic penguin, or black “goose” that had to be skinned instead of plucked (southern tip of South America).

Also named after Magellan are:

  • the two Magellanic Clouds of the southern skies (now known to be two nearby, irregular dwarf galaxies)
  • twin craters on the moon and one on Mars (using the name Magelhaens)
  • an asteroid (4055 Magellan), and
  • an early 1990s space probe to Venus (among other things).

The Order of Magellan is an honour awarded since 1902 to those who successfully circumnavigate the globe and make other great contributions to humanity.

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