Ferdinand Magellan and me (65)

Torture was a fine art in Magellan's time.

see:A Singular Captain

Spanish justice in a heathen land.

Easter Sunday dawned with a dusting of snow on the bare hills. Bowled along by the wind, tumbleweeds blew out of the desert and skipped out to sea. Half the morning was spent bringing the mutineers in chains to the little island where Valderrama had built his makeshift church. Magellan named it Isla Justicia. So determined was he to exercise justice that he brought spare spars on which to hang the culprits. Port St Julian was lacking in suitable timber to construct a gallows. Judas Iscariot had the grace to hang himself but Magellan was leaving nothing to chance.

Judges had been appointed and the proceedings were to be recorded by scribes in accordance with the regulations. Forty two men were charged with crimes ranging from murder, through treason to mutiny; all capital offences. The pilot and fleet astrologer, Andres de San Martin, had already been subjected to the strappado, a favourite tool of the Inquisition. He was suspended by his hands tied behind his back while heavy weights were hung from his feet. His crime had been to supply the mutineers with a chart showing the route back to Spain.

Espinosa, the master at arms, recovered Mendoza’s body and propped it up against a rock so it could observe the legal proceedings. The other prisoners were permitted to sit on the ground. Only Cartagena, Castilian hidalgo and son of a bishop, declined the invitation and continued to strut despite the shackles on his wrists.

Witnesses from San Antonio were called to describe the midnight attack in which Cartagena, Quesada and El Cano had sneaked aboard, killed the master, Juan Elloriago, and imprisoned Captain Mesquita in his own cabin. Several witnesses testified they had seen Quesada stab Elorriaga in the back. Concepción had been mysteriously cast adrift but despite intense questioning Magellan was unable to establish who was responsible.

He called a halt to enable the judges to consider their verdict. It was important to him that the trial should follow strict protocol, although appointing his own kinsmen as judges had raised a protest from the padre, which was ignored. No surprise when Quesada was convicted of murder, Cartagena, el Cano and three others of treason and all the rest of mutiny. Only Quesada received the death penalty. As the master at arms and his officers laid hands on him and dragged him into position he started blubbering like a woman, much to Magellan’s disgust.

“Come, Quesada, you are making us all embarrassed.”

While four men held him down, Espinosa raised a big two-handed sword and brought it whistling down on Quesada’s neck. Fountains of blood spurted everywhere.

Next to face punishment was Mendoza. This was not a death sentence since he was already dead but Magellan had a reason for separating his head from his body. It would be preserved with a lotion of sage and laurel and stuck on a spike alongside Quesada’s. The two sightless mutineers would serve as a warning throughout the winter to anyone else contemplating mutiny.

Cartagena also received his sentence, although not immediately enforced. When the armada continued its voyage in search of El Paso, Cartagena would remain here as an ambassador to Patagonia, newly claimed by Magellan in the name of the king. Should the natives prove unfriendly, however, Cartagena might finish up in a cooking pot; a fitting end for such a dandy in Magellan’s view.

    Magellan delivers rough justice.


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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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