Ferdinand Magellan and me (64)

Assassination of MendozaA Singular Captain

Assassination of Captain Mendoza

On Palm Sunday the crews celebrated mass on a rocky island inhabited by sea wolves, penguins and gulls. With a cold wind moaning out of the desert, flapping his vestments about his legs and carrying his voice away, Padre Valderrama retold the story of how the Son of David came to Jerusalem on an ass. The people spread branches in the road and cried, “Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and the Pharisees plotted against Him and conjured up treachery among his disciples.

After the mass, a deputation for the sailors begged leave to speak with the captain general. Their spokesman was San Antonio’s quartermaster, a Genoese, who asked the captain general on behalf of his shipmates to restore the wine and biscuit, to depart from this place and return to Rio for the winter. Magellan heard him out and offered words of encouragement but no way was he going to turn back.

“South is where El Paso lies. It’s not far now, my friends. Once the winter thaws it will be an easy sail.”

The grumbling men returned to their boats drawn up on the shore and it was clear they were far from happy. Magellan’s main concern was that his captains, Mendoza, Quesada, de Coca and Cartagena ignored the Divine Service and also Magellan’s invitation to a meal aboard Trinidad.

The simmering pot came to the boil next morning. De Coca arrived aboard Trinidad and presented a note signed by Cartagena, Mendoza and Quesada demanding the Armada de Maluku return to Spain, where Magellan’s conduct would be subject to an enquiry by the Casa de Contratación. Armed men could be seen on the decks of Victoria and Concepción and others lined the bulwarks. On San Antonio’s poop, Cartagena paraded up and down like a peacock. Magellan crumpled the note and flung it to the deck. This was war.

There had never been a whiff of mutiny aboard Trinidad. Magellan mustered his men and, with the aid of Espinosa, the able master at arms, formed a fighting force of loyal volunteers. Magellan went on the attack. The fighting was furious that day, although only a small minority took up arms against the captain general. This was a mutiny by captains, not deck hands, and Espinosa disposed of Mendoza early in the fray. His bloody corpse was strapped to Victoria’s main-mast as a warning to mutineers.

Concepción posed the risk of escaping through the channel and heading back to Spain once the tide began to ebb. Magellan led a boarding party that clambered up over the bulwark yelling and screaming and slashing the air with their weapons. The resistance faded and the opposing crew backed up, surprised by the ferocity of the attack. Magellan engaged captain Quesada, who threw down his sword, fell to his knees and begged for mercy like the true coward he was. Cartagena, the instigator of all this fury, was similarly meek in defeat but Magellan had a special punishment in store for that bishop’s bastard.

    Mutiny in Port St Julian