Oh boy. Someone sailed to the Pacific Ocean. Big Whoop. The response of many who will read the title of this article and roll their eyes, but it’s to be expected. We live in a time of complete globalization. For all intents and purposes, we have become one society, with many diverse cultures adding their own beliefs and traditions. We simply shrug off the fact that yet another spacecraft is being sent off to the farthest reaches of the cosmos, or that we can connect with Australia from the comfort of our own home in New Jersey.
This is our way of life, but just a few hundred years ago, these common occurrences were the stuff of dreams. When communication with different cultures literally took months, and our world sometimes never extended outside of the villages we were born in, the feat of an explorer simply reaching another ocean was extraordinary! A Portuguese native named Ferdinand Magellan was one of these explorers, and on November 28, 1520, he became one of the first Europeans to reach the Pacific Ocean, the first to sail around the dangerous straits at the tip of South America, and the first to reach the Pacific via the Atlantic Ocean.
Born in the town of Sabrosa in northern Portugal around the year 1480, Ferdinand seemed to possess a fascination with the sea. After losing both of his parents by the age of 10, Magellan became a page of Queen Leonor at the Portuguese Royal Court. A few years later, he joined the Royal Navy, and it has been written that he participated in several naval battles. Ferdinand lived in an ‘age of discovery’, as the powerful monarchies of Europe fought and strove to make their mark on a world that man had said didn’t even exist. Magellan was quickly caught up in this push to the sea, and longed to make his mark on this expanding globe. He soon found himself in the service of the Spanish Empire, seeking to find a western route to the Indonesian ‘Spice Islands’.
In September of 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain with five ships, though only three would finally reach the Pacific through the South American straits that now bear Magellan’s name. He sailed from West Africa onto Brazil and down the South American coast, searching for a passage into the Pacific. On October 21, 1520, he finally found the route he had been seeking, and it took him more than a month to carefully navigate through the treacherous passage between the tip of the main continent and the land called Tierra del Fuego. It is said that once the Pacific Ocean had been sighted, Magellan cried tears of joy.
Ferdinand Magellan would ultimately lose his life during this voyage, after reaching the Philippine Islands, when he found himself at the end of a poison arrow, shot during a war between two tribal leaders. Though he never made it back to Spain to celebrate his finding, his achievements are now forever endeared in history.
What are your opinions on this great story of exploration? Please, feel free to let The Historian know!