Ferdinand Magellan and me (20) :Mortality.

click for Ferdinand Magellan

St Francis Xavier's resting placeIn late 1510 Ferdinand Magellan arrived back in Cochin from the failed expedition to Malacca under Diogo Lopez de Sequiera. Far from setting up a trading post, the Portuguese had been repulsed and left behind 39 hostages to the local potentate, Mahmud Shah.

Albuquerque was planning his second assault upon Goa and had commandeered several merchant ships that were either waiting for cargoes of spices or were already loaded and waiting for the favourable monsoon to sail for Portugal. Magellan and his future brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa, argued that the spice ships should be allowed to go about their business, and thus incurred Albuquerque’s displeasure. This altercation may have been partly responsible for Magellan’s subsequent unpopularity with King Manuel, since Albuquerque reported on him to the king.

Albuquerque mustered 34 ships for the attack on Goa, which became the jewel in the crown of the Portuguese Empire in India. He apparently forgave Magellan’s temerity and appointed him captain of one of the fleet that returned to Malacca in 1511 to release Mahmud Shah’s hostages and establish Malacca as the major trading post in the Far East.

 We happened to arrive in Goa at what is probably their most important festival: celebration of St Francis Xavier. Just as Albuquerque expanded the Portuguese Empire militarily, Xavier some 50 years later extended the Christian faith as far as Japan. At a time when Catholic evangelists were busy exterminating the culture of native Americans such as Maya, Aztec and Inca, Xavier is credited with converting around 30,000 Asians to Christianity. He met with opposition in Japan, where Christianity was outlawed and driven underground. He died in China and a lasting mystique has grown around his corpse, which is said to be incorruptible. It was buried in Malacca for a couple of years, then uprooted and sent to Goa, the scene of his early ministry. He had built upon the evangelism of St Thomas; doubting Thomas, who refused to believe in Christ’s resurrection until he touched the nail holes in his hands. Xavier’s arms were chopped off to be venerated as relics but the rest of him is still preserved in a glass case in the church named after him.

About once every ten years the remains are put on display and paraded through the streets of Goa followed by an enthusiastic crowd. In the chapel of Bom Jesus the body was placed in an open coffin on an elevated platform. Mirrors enabled one to look down upon the remains but after 500 years there wasn’t much to see. I thought the spectacle rather ghoulish and Robin was also disgusted.
“Golly gosh, let’s go,” she said. I need a drink.



Ferdinand Magellan and me (19) Goa

click for Ferdinand Magellan

Albuquerque-the Lion of Portugal

Affonso de Albuquerque did more than any other individual to establish the Portuguese empire in the east. Known in his time as the Lion of Portugal, among other names, he rampaged across the Indian Ocean from Africa to Malaya fighting sea battles, building fortresses and leaving behind many dead people, mainly Muslims. Considering the motivation for this expansion was the little black berry of the clove tree, the cost in human lives of a spicy dinner in Europe was huge.

Ferdinand Magellan participated in a number of Albuquerque’s adventures, including the conquest of Goa. An important staging point in the Arab spice route to Europe, Goa was a prosperous city with a large Muslim population. Albuquerque underestimated his foe. Although he easily took control of the port city, the Muslim king of Bijapur rallied his troops and laid siege to the invaders. With his food supplies running low, Albuquerque was forced to retreat; not something within his nature.

Returning to Cannanore he raised a fleet of 34 ships with about 2000 men and within three months made his second assault upon the city, this time successfully. He ordered the entire Muslim population – men, women and children- be put to the sword. Estimates of the slaughter range between 6,000 and 9,000. Albuquerque secured Goa as part of the Portuguese empire and it remained so for 450 years. Only in 1961 did the Indian Army reclaim it.



The monsoon died soon after we left Calicut and started drifting with the Bhaktal lighthouse winking at us through the velvet night. Every once in a while a fishing boat came by and shouted at us and Bucko barked back but then the perfect silence of the placid sea descended. It was a magical night with a near full moon casting its glow in a path across the water. We were both so entranced that we sat up all night in the cockpit counting the stars. The breeze returned in fits and starts but it was a slow trip to Goa.

The anchorage in the Mandovi River was hopelessly busy with barges, ferries and ships crowding in behind the breakwater. Most of our two weeks in Goa were spent near the scene of Albuquerque’s slaughter but now it seemed a cheerful enough place and a tourist destination.

We visited the hospital seeking a cure for our lingering constipation. When we explained our problem and the cause of it to the duty doctor he burst out laughing. Then he took pity on us. He handed over his business card. He was a member of the British College of Surgeons, which seemed to me an acceptable credential. I had been reading news stories of a body organ trade in India.

“We don’t need surgery,” I said, and there may have been a note of panic in my voice.

“No, of course not but you are visitors to our town all the way from Australia. If I can be of any assistance…?”

“We’re just sort of interested in Ferdinand Magellan, you know, about 500 years ago. Actually, he blasted this place with cannons.”

“Ah, Magellan. An interesting man. First man to sail around the world.”

“Not really. His was the first ship but he never made it.”

One thing that amazed me in our voyage around the world was the hospitality we received from all kinds of people in different countries. It is usually the poorest who are ready to share whatever they have with a guest. This man was different. He was a toff; a Brahman but he took us home to share a meal with his family. I am embarrassed to admit that travellers will rarely receive that kind of hospitality in Australia.