If you weren’t otherwise occupied eating glue or staring out the window, you’ll likely recall being introduced to a chap named Ferdinand Magellan in primary school.
You may also recall Magellan was from Portugal and was the first person to lead a voyage around the globe.
Born circa 1480, Magellan had a penchant for maps from a young age and this passion would set him up nicely for a future career as an explorer.
In his mid-20s Magellan found himself on a Portuguese voyage to East Africa, then partook in expeditions to places such as Malaysia and Morocco.
After visiting North Africa, political argy-bargy got in the way of Magellan’s esteemed vocation under the Portuguese royals, so he packed up and moved in with the neighbours across the border. Suitably ticked off by his home countrymen (who reportedly accused him of illegal trading with the Moors), he renounced his Portuguese citizenship and became a Spaniard.
Like the Portuguese, the Spaniards had their eyes on a lucrative prize – the spices of Moluccas in Indonesia (otherwise known as the Spice Islands), with spices in the 15th century akin to today’s oil. Therefore, having one of the greatest explorers of the time join Team Spain was quite the coup.
Upon arrival in Spain, Magellan hatched a plan to explore a western sea route to Indonesia, given his former teammates—the Portuguese—had bagged rights over the more straightforward eastern route (under the Treaty of Tordesillas).
Magellan presented his bold proposal to 18-year-old King Charles I of Spain, who subsequently gave him the nod to go forth and conquer the world’s oceans, and of course, snag a hefty bag of cloves in the process.
So, in 1519 with a fleet of five ships, off Magellan went. Unfortunately he didn’t quite make it though, as a nasty battle saw him draw last breath in April 1521 in the Philippines. His crew (which shrunk from around 250 men to 18 over the course of the journey) continued on to the revered Spice Islands later that year however before returning to Spain. So on a technicality, Magellan’s crew should get the ‘first to circumnavigate the world’ gong, but that’s the world of celebrity for you.
Magellan is nonetheless a deserving victor, having mapped the full extent of the earth, which was much larger than originally thought, and paving the way for new trade routes in the process.
Furthermore, on a matter closer to home, we can give Magellan a shout out for naming the ocean bordering Australia’s east coast. On his travels Magellan labelled the Pacific Ocean ‘Mar Pacífico’, with mar meaning ‘sea’ and pacífico meaning ‘peaceful’ in Portuguese. So, Aussies, next time you’re being pummeled by waves at Surfers Paradise or Bondi Beach, consider how rough it must have been for the adventurous Portuguese-cum-Spanish soul who tackled the world’s oceans and considered our dear Pacific so notably serene.
(And don’t forget to add mar and pacífico to your Portuguese vocabulary.)
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The Portugal Wire is the blog of Australian travel writer and photographer Emily McAuliffe.
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