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Ferdinand Magellan

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Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan by Charles Legrand

Ferdinand Magellan led the first expedition to sail all the way around the world. He also discovered a passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean that is today called the Straits of Magellan.

Growing Up

Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 in northern Portugal. He grew up in a wealthy family and served as a page in the royal court. He enjoyed sailing and exploring and sailed for Portugal for many years.

Magellan had traveled to India by sailing around Africa, but he had the idea that there may be another route by traveling west and around the Americas. The King of Portugal did not agree and argued with Magellan. Finally, Magellan went to King Charles V of Spain who agreed to fund the voyage.

Setting Sail

In September of 1519 Magellan set sail in his attempt to find another route to Eastern Asia. There were over 270 men and five ships under his command. The ships were named the Trinidad, the Santiago, the Victoria, the Concepcion, and the San Antonio.

They first sailed across the Atlantic and to the Canary Islands. From there they sailed south to Brazil and the coast of South America.

Magellan's Ship
Magellan's ship Victoria by Ortelius


As Magellan's ships sailed south the weather turned bad and cold. On top of that, they had not brought enough food. Some of the sailors decided to mutiny and tried to steal three of the ships. Magellan fought back, however, and had the leaders executed.

Finding the Passage

Magellan continued to sail south. Soon he found the passage he was seeking. He called the passage the All Saints' Channel. Today it is called the Straits of Magellan. Finally he entered into a new ocean on the other side of the new world. He called the ocean the Pacifico, meaning peaceful.

Now that they were on the other side of South America, the ships sailed for China. There were only three ships left at this point as the Santiago had sunk and the San Antonio had disappeared.

Magellan thought it would only take a few days to cross the Pacific Ocean. He was wrong. It took nearly four months for the ships to make it to the Mariana Islands. They barely made it and nearly starved during the voyage.

Magellan's route around the world
Route taken by Magellan
Source: Wikimedia Commons by Knutux
Click for larger view

Magellan Dies

After stocking up on supplies, the ships headed to the Philippines. Magellan became involved in an argument between local tribes. He and around 40 of his men were killed in a battle. Unfortunately, Magellan would not see the end of his historic journey.

Returning to Spain

Only one of the original five ships made it back to Spain. It was the Victoria captained by Juan Sebastian del Cano. It returned in September of 1522, three years after first leaving. There were only 18 surviving sailors, but they had made the first trip around the world.


One of the survivors was a sailor and scholar named Antonio Pigafetta. He wrote detailed journals throughout the voyage recording all that happened. Much of what we know about Magellan's travels comes from his journals. He told of the exotic animals and fish they saw as well as the terrible conditions they endured.

Fun Facts about Magellan Activities

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