Ferdinand Magellan and me (94)


Cargo onboard

Rajah Almanzor of Tidore could hardly have been more different from Rajah Siripada of Brunei although both were Muslim kings. Where Siripada was aloof and withdrawn, Almanzor, wearing silk robes and a silk scarf on his head surmounted by a garland of flowers, came out to meet them in his royal prau.

“You have come to buy cloves. It is the only reason big ships come to my land but you are not Portuguese. You have different

“One of our friends who lives here is Portuguese,” Pigafetta said. “Francisco Serrano.”

The smile vanished and Almanzor glared at him.

“Serrano is dead. You should not have such friends.”

Pigafetta was shocked. Serrano, Magellan’s cousin, had been the reality of the almost mystical Spice Isles and a partner in the enterprise of the Armada de Moluccas. Over the next couple of weeks it became clear the Armada had blundered into a political situation as complex as the one in Cebu and Mactan, with all five of the islands rivalling one another. There was one Portuguese resident, Dom Pedro Affonso de Lorosa, who warned them not to get involved. Almanzor of the big smile had killed Serrano. Lorosa begged a passage home when the fleet sailed and was accepted.

Trading posts were set up ashore on Ternate and Tidore islands and the precious cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon began filling the holds in exchange for Turkish robes, Venetian glass, knives, scissors, Chinese porcelain, and jewel-studded weapons looted from junks in the Sulu Sea.

To celebrate the first slings of cargo coming aboard, Trinidad and Victoria fired their cannons. Men in the holds packed each sack into the smallest space, sweating in dusty gloom and often climbing out to breathe clean air and douse themselves with buckets of water.

With sailing day now in sight, riggers tended rigging, sailmakers inspected sails and patched where necessary, carpenters built extra pens for livestock and all worked towards the consummation of dreams of wealth and glory after so much pain. But, when Espinosa ordered the well to be sounded it was found she had about a metre of water in the bilge. The pumps were manned. Espinosa and Punzarol, the master, climbed down into the hold but couldn’t see anything. When Almanzor learned of the problem he ordered his boat’s crew over the side to search for a hole. They swam for about an hour, coming up for breath and spouting like whales but found no hole. Trinidad took on a list and was in danger of capsizing. The men on the pumps worked furiously, with sweat streaming from their bodies.

Clearly, the most likely cause of the leak was that, strained by the load, she had sprung the caulking out of her seams. In that case, the only remedy was to beach the ship and recaulk the hull, a job that would take weeks. Almanzor promised 250 carpenters to help with repairs but what if the Portuguese arrived before Trinidad was seaworthy.

Pigafetta was offered the option of staying with Trinidad or shifting to Victoria and he chose Victoria despite the risk of her falling in with Dom Manuel’s spiteful fleet. He said goodbye to Lorosa, a man he had come to like in their brief acquaintance, and shifted his precious diary and few other possessions across to the smaller Victoria, where he occupied an even more dismal cabin.
Of the 270 who had sailed from Seville, 43 departed the Spice Isles in Victoria together with 16 natives to help them work the ship. Trinidad, listing badly, fired a gun salute and Pigafetta raised his hand to say goodbye.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (93)

Magellan's armada

The Spice Isles

The armada was now well practiced in piracy. Usually, a few rounds of cannon fire was enough to subdue native craft but sometimes it was necessary to grapple and board them. As they blundered around half-starved in uncharted seas it was not only food they sought but also someone to show the way to the Spice Isles. They boarded one boat with a cargo of rice, coconuts, urns of palm oil and bags full of little black sticks with a strong scented smell. A man in the hold passed up a handful.
“What’s this?”

Pigafetta crushed one in his fingers, smelled it, tasted it, chewed it and said almost in wonder.

“Cloves. Espinosa, these are cloves. This ship has been to the Spice Isles.”

Espinosa tasted one for himself and broke into a smile.

“Black gold. Tell the captain if he shows the way to Maluku I will not sink his ship. If he refuses, I will sink his ship.
Pigafetta relayed the threat to the captain, who made no response.

“Tell him again.”

Still no response but then a young boy came forward and took the captain’s hand.
“Ah; your son?” Pigafetta asked.
With an almost imperceptible nod, the captain acknowledged this.
“Tell him if he does not show us the way I will take his son anyway.,” Espinosa said.
For the first time he got a reaction from the captain, who put his arm around his son’s shoulders.
“It is far.”
“How far?
“In my ship seven days. In your ship, I know not.”

Now at last the armada was put on a southerly course to skirt around the many hazards. To the east was the open sea and out of that sea a few days later came a great storm more ferocious than any yet.The spirit of St Elmo appeared at the masthead and they prayed to St Helen, St Clare and St Nicholas.The pilot prayed to to his god, Allah, and his son also and when the storm ended no one knew which god had saved them.

Although the sky cleared and the wind eased it stayed in the wrong direction and the ships could make no headway to the south, tacking back and forth. For a day and a night the pilot never left the deck, saying ‘Maluku’ and pointing into the eye of the wind that made his goal impossible. One time, as the ship approached the shore, requiring her to haul off yet again, he cried ‘Maluku,’ pointed to the south, gathered up his son on his back and leaped overboard. With his son clinging to his back he struck out for shore but his little son could not hold on and was lost to the sea and the pilot was seen no more.

On 6 November 1521, 27 months since leaving Seville, Trinidad and Victoria anchored off the Spice Isles – perfect conical shapes wearing hats of cloud. El Cano ordered the cannons fired for joy and all gave thanks to God. He also ordered the flag of Castile hoisted at the masthead to signify that Spain claimed possession.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (92)


Women aboard ship.

Carvalho was roundly criticised for the debacle of the attack on the local fleet and called upon Pigafetta for advice with his letter of apology.
“Dear Rajah,” he said, beginning his epistle out loud. “Is that the right way to address him do you think, Pigafetta?”

“Probably something more like ‘Most illustrious and venerated Son of Heaven, before whom kings tremble in awe of Your Majesty..” Pigafetta said, “or words to that effect.”

Before he was done, they heard a hail from the deck, indicating approach of a vessel and soon after one of the Greek seamen left ashore to set up the trading post, appeared in the doorway.
“Begging your pardon, Captain, I have a message from the Shahbanda.”


He says the rajah is not pleased. He says you have killed his people. He says the junk you captured belongs to his friend, the rajah of Luzon. Until you release it your officers, Espinosa and El Cano, will remain his guests.

Carvalho crumpled his letter, in its fifth draft, and buried his face in his hands. He had put a prize crew aboard the junk to which he laid claim and now he took a boat to get them off. He returned within the hour with the men-at-arms and also three slave girls. Pigafetta was astounded, and so was Master Andrew, the gunner, and others of the Council.

“Carvalho, why have you brought the girls?” Master Andrew asked.
“A present for Don Carlos. We shall turn them into Christians and take them back to Spain.”
“When did you become a missionary? I think you are more interested in their bodies than their souls.”
Mendez, the fleet accountant, raised the issue of primage. If Carvalho claimed primage on the girls as legitimate spoils of war their value should be assessed so the tax owing to the king could be calculated.

“I mean, are they worth as much as cloves or pigs or red hats or do we have to wait until we get them to the slave market and see how much they fetch.?”

Magellan would never allow women aboard ship and Carvalho’s action was the last straw for members of the council. Also, Trinidad was leaking badly and required hauling down for recaulking. Carvalho had lost whatever respect he ever had. As the ship sailed in search of a suitable location a meeting of senior officers decided he was unfit for the role and elected Mendez the Armada’s fifth captain general; the fourth in the three months since the death of Magellan. Espinosa, former master at arms, became captain of Trinidad and Carvalho reverted to pilot.
“As for the slave girls,” Mendez said in his new official capacity, we have a spare cabin they can live in. I suggest Master Andrew should be their guardian. He is perhaps too old to be tempted.”

“Not that old, Mendez,” Master Andrew said with a scowl.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


Ferdinand Magellan and me (91)



On the morning after their reception by the rajah, Pigafetta was awakened by a rapidly ringing ship’s bell and Carvalho’s frantic cry “All hands on deck.” He scrambled into some clothes and tumbled out on deck to a scene of chaos, with men rushing here and there, arming themselves and shouting at one another. Magellan’s practice drills had fallen into disuse under Carvalho and confusion had taken over instead.

“What is it?”

“Mother of God it’s an armada,” Carvalho cried, pointing towards the west.
The Sun had barely risen but sufficient to see a fleet of praus and junks, more than a hundred Pigafetta guessed, with heavily armed men bearing down on Trinidad and Victoria. A vision flashed before his eyes of Lapu-Lapu’s horde attacking in their frenzy. Magellan had faced them with cold deliberation. Carvalho panicked.
“Heave away on the anchor,” he shouted at no one in particular. “Set the staysail. Set the spanker. Men-at-arms arm the side.”
Some sense of order began to appear as men turned to their tasks but for Carvalho it was not fast enough. “The anchor is too slow. “Pigafetta, go and cut the cable.”


“Cut the anchor cable. Get yourself an axe and cut the cable.”

Pigafetta rushed forward past men cocking crossbows or priming muskets, retrieved an axe from the bosun’s store and climbed to the fo’c’sl head where men trudged around the capstan.

To cut the anchor cable seemed to Pigafetta an extreme thing to do. He hesitated, wondering if Carvalho really meant what he said.
“Pigafetta, cut the cable,” Carvalho screamed all the way from the poop.
Three or four blows severed the heavy, plaited rope, which whipped away over the cathead. Now the ship was free and able to manoeuvre against the enemy.
Although the invaders had superior numbers their native craft were relatively flimsy and they lacked the heavy ordnance of Trinidad and Victoria. They were also faster and a couple of broadsides sent them scuttling away like flying fish, to Carvalho’s satisfaction. He complimented Master Andrew, the gunner and others of the crew.

Barely had they gone back and let go the spare anchor, regretting the loss of the other, when the Shahbanda came out from shore and climbed aboard. Shouting angrily and shaking his fist he confronted Carvalho with a stream of abuse. The gist of it as far as Pigafetta could tell was that the flotilla of boats was part of a force going to fight the aforementioned pagans who refused to accept the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.

As realisation of his error dawned upon him Carvalho buried his face in his hands and quietly wept. Members of the executive council gathered round clucking their teeth. Pigafetta retired to his cabin to add another interesting page to his journal.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain