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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Three of his Spanish captains mutinied


A

few strips along the African coast, tenuously held by sufferance of the great powers, and bits of territory at Goa, Daman, and Diu in India, are the twentieth century remnants of Portugal's colonial empire. The greater part of it fell away between 1580 and 1640, when Portugal was under Spanish rule. But her own system of colonial administration, or rather exploitation, was if possible worse than Spain's. Her scanty resources of man power were exhausted in colonial warfare. The expulsion of Protestants and Jews deprived her of elements in her population that might have known how to utilize wealth from the colonies to build up home trade and industries. Her situation was too distant from the European markets; and the raw materials landed at Lisbon were transshipped in Dutch bottoms for Amsterdam and Antwerp, which became the true centers of manufacturing and exchange. Cervantes, in 1607, could still speak of Lisbon as the greatest city in Europe,[1] but her greatness was already decaying; and her fate was sealed when Philip of Spain closed her ports to Dutch shipping, and Dutch ships themselves set sail for the east.

[Footnote 1: PERSILES AND SIGISMUDA, III, i.]

But the period of Portugal's maritime ascendancy cannot be left without recording, even if in barest outline, the circumnavigation of the globe by Fernao da Magalhaes, or Magellan, who, though he made this last voyage of his under the Spanish flag, was

Portuguese by birth and had proved his courage and iron resolution under Almeida and Albuquerque in Portugal's eastern campaigns. Seeking a westward passage to the Spice Islands, the five vessels of 75 to 100 tons composing his squadron cleared the mouth of the Guadalquivir on September 20, 1519. They established winter quarters in the last of March at Port St. Julian on the coast of Patagonia. Here, on Easter Sunday, three of his Spanish captains mutinied. Magellan promptly threw a boat's crew armed with cutlasses aboard one of the mutinous ships, killed the leader, and overcame the unruly element in the crew. The two other ships he forced to surrender within 24 hours. One of the guilty captains was beheaded and the other marooned on the coast when the expedition left in September. Five weeks were now spent in the labyrinths of the strait which has since borne the leader's name. "When the capitayne Magalianes," so runs the contemporary English translation of the story of the voyage, "was past the strayght and sawe the way open to the other mayne sea, he was so gladde thereof that for joy the teares fell from his eyes."

He had sworn he would go on if he had to eat the leather from the ships' yards. With three vessels--one had been shipwrecked in the preceding winter and the other deserted in the straits--they set out across the vast unknown expanse of the Pacific. "In three monethes and xx dayes they sailed foure thousande leagues in one goulfe by the sayde sea called Pacificum.... And havying in this tyme consumed all their bysket and other vyttayles, they fell into such necessitie that they were in forced to eate the pouder that remayned thereof being now full of woormes.... Theyre freshe water was also putryfyed and become yellow. They dyd eate skynnes and pieces of lether which were foulded about certeyne great ropes of the shyps." On March 6, 1521, they reached the Ladrones, and ten days later, the Philippines, even these islands having never before been visited by Europeans. Here the leader was killed in a conflict with the natives. One ship was now abandoned, and another was later captured by the Portuguese. Of the five ships that had left Spain with 280 men, a single vessel, "with tackle worn and weather-beaten yards," and 18 gaunt survivors reached home. "It has not," writes the historian John Fiske of this voyage, "the unique historic position of the first voyage of Columbus, which brought together two streams of human life that had been disjoined since the glacial period. But as an achievement in ocean navigation that voyage of Columbus sinks into insignificance beside it.... When we consider the frailness of the ships, the immeasurable extent of the unknown, the mutinies that were prevented or quelled, and the hardships that were endured, we can have no hesitation in speaking of Magellan as the prince of navigators."[1]


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