Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1521) is recognised as the man who, in the early 1500’s, led a fleet of Spanish ships on what is regarded as the ‘first circumnavigation of the world’.
Born in 1480 into a noble Portuguese family, Ferdinand Magellan became a court page in Lisbon following the early death of his parents. He became a skilled sailor and navigator at early age, taking part in the Portuguese expeditions to India and Africa.
After a disagreement with the King of Portugal in 1517, Magellan successfully enlisted the support of the Spanish royalty for an expedition to reach the Moluccas in Indonesia by sailing westward. King Charles I of Spain wanted a share in the valuable spice trade which at this point in time was controlled by the Portuguese through their eastwards route around Southern Africa.
In September 1519 Magellan left Spain commanding a fleet of five vessels. In spite of bad weather, an attempted mutiny, disease, a lack of provisions and unknown waters, Magellan managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the southern end of South America, straights which now bear his name. Magellan then sailed into a body of water he named the ‘Peaceful Sea’ (the Pacific Ocean), making his way to the Philippines where he was tragically killed on 27 April 1521, after becoming involved in a local dispute between two rival chieftains.
In spite of not making it back to Spain, Ferdinand Magellan’s ambitious expedition proved that the globe could in fact be circumnavigated by sea.