Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
MURDER AND MUTINY
 ALTHOUGH the coast of South America was fairly well known before Magellan arrived off Cape St.
Augustine, several Spanish and Portuguese navigators having explored it as far south as
the mouth of the great river, La Plata, he was somewhat in doubt as to his exact position,
notwithstanding his charts and his pilots. He did not venture to land before the second
week in December, on the 13th of that month entering the magnificent harbor of Rio
This bay of the "River of January," so called from having been discovered by white men on
the first day of the first month in the year, had been several years known to Europeans
when Magellan entered it; yet the chief narrator of his voyage, Antonio Pigafetta,
describes it and the people found
 there as if it were then for the first time seen. A pilot of the fleet, in fact, one Juan
Carvalho, had been on the coast before, and had resided with the Indians of Rio for more
than four years. He had with him at the time a son whose mother was an Indian woman, and
who was large enough to take part in the fights waged by the voyagers later, in the
Thanks to Juan Carvalho and his half-breed son, the fleet was well supplied with fresh
provisions, of which the sailors stood in need, and a friendly intercourse was kept up
with the natives throughout the stay. These provisions were in the shape of fowls,
pineapples, and batatas, or sweet-potatoes. Of these the natives had more than sufficient
for their needs, and with true savage generosity gave to the white men all their surplus.
"For a fish-hook or a knife," says the Chevalier Pigafetta, "they gave me five or six
chickens; for a comb a brace of geese; for a bell a large basketful of potatoes; and for a
small mirror, or pair of scissors, as many fish as would sustain ten men many days."
And he continues, evidently borrowing some of his descriptive material from
 Vespucci (who was here several years before): "The natives, though they go naked, both men
and women as well as children, and live more like beasts than anything else, often reach
the age of one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and forty years. They live in
certain long houses which they call boii [bohio], and sleep in cotton nets called amache
[hammocks]. They have boats also, called canoas, each made from a single great tree,
hollowed out by the use of stone axes, for those people employ stone as we do iron, which
they do not possess. They paddle with blades like the shovels of a furnace, and thus,
black, naked, and shorn, they resemble the inhabitants of the Stygian marsh.
"The men and women there are as well-proportioned as we are. They eat the flesh of their
enemies, not because it is good, but because it is their established custom. That custom,
which is mutual (between them and their enemies), was begun, it is said, by an old woman
whose only son was killed by an enemy. Some days later that old woman's friends captured
one of the tribe who had killed her son, and took him to her hut. Seeing him, and
remembering her son, she
 ran fiercely upon and. bit him in the shoulder, taking out a mouthful. Thus the custom
originated. . . . But these cannibals do not eat the bodies all at once. Each one cuts off
a piece and carries it to his hut, where he smokes it over a fire. Then every week he cuts
off a small bit, which he eats with his other food, to remind him. of his foes."
If the natives of Brazil practised cannibalism, it was in a "ritual" manner, as a sort of
religious custom. To the Spaniards they appeared very ludicrous, rather than fierce and
alarming, for many of them were grotesquely painted in vivid colors, and some, though
otherwise naked, wore fantastic girdles of parrots' feathers, with humps on their hips
made from the longest plumes, which gave them a ridiculous appearance. After having been
assured by Pilot Carvalho that the new arrivals meant them no harm, the natives capered
about like monkeys, and a rainfall occurring about that time
 (which they had prayed for in vain during many weeks), they ascribed it to the advent of
the strangers, and revered them accordingly.
It was not the first time that the cruel Spaniards, whose dispositions were anything but
angelic or divine, had been taken for heavenly visitants; but in this instance the natives
suffered no rude awakening by the exercise, on their visitors' part, of their superior
skill in committing deeds of blood and cruelty. Magellan was too humane towards the
natives of whatever land he encountered to suit the sanguinary Spaniards; nor was he
mercenary enough to satisfy their desire for the acquisition of treasure. Many a time they
denounced him, among themselves, for his leniency, and lamented his indifference to gold.
These natives had no gold, but their fresh provisions were acceptable, especially the
flesh of the peccaries, or wild hogs, which they killed in the forests with lances and
brought to the fleet by the score. They were at first timid about going on board the
ships, and queried among themselves as to the relation existing between the great vessels
and the small boats, saying that the
 latter must be the children of the former, as they were under their constant protection.
When at last they had overcome their timidity, they swarmed aboard the vessels in great
numbers, looking for articles which they needed most and consequently attached the highest
value to, such as pins and needles, scissors, and looking-glasses.
One day a comely but naked young woman came to the flag-ship alone, and while wandering
wonderingly about saw a long, sharp nail lying on the floor of the captain-general's
cabin. She looked at it admiringly, and, when she thought Magellan was not observing her,
suddenly stooped over, picked it up, and thrust it into her hair. Then she immediately
fled, as if afraid it might be taken from her by force. This maiden was described as a
"comely woman," for she was shapely and fair-complexioned, with long, black hair and
sparkling eyes; but allowance must be made for a peculiar deformity, self-inflicted, which
at first glance transformed her into a most loathsome object. That is, like many others of
her tribe, she had a long slit in her lower lip, in which was inserted a disk-shaped
pebble as big as a walnut.
 So hospitable were these, the first people Magellan encountered in America, that they
built him a big bohio, or native house, many feet in length, and roofing it with
thatch of palm-leaves, half filled it with precious Brazil-wood, in order to induce him to
remain. Two weeks, however, was all he thought he could spare, for the voyage ahead was to
be long, and he wished to get to winter quarters before the inclement weather set in.
Refreshed and heartened by their stay, the voyagers sailed on southwardly again, their
next tarrying-place being in the great estuary known as the Rio de la Plata, or River of
Silver. Little, if any, silver has been found in the region drained by the vast Plata
system, but thus it was named by its discoverer, from a tradition that the Indians near
its headwaters were possessed of great treasure in that metal.
On its right bank, four years before (in 1516), Juan de Solis, a great explorer in the
service of Spain, had been killed (and some say eaten) by the Indians, who attacked him
and his men as they were ascending the river in small boats. The explorer fought like a
lion; but his courage was of no avail, for a poisoned arrow between the shoulders
 laid him low. The memory of this disaster was still fresh with the pilots, and they
cautioned Magellan against taking any risks on the River of Silver.
At the time the lamented Solis was killed he was chief pilot (piloto-mayor)
of Spain. Ten years after his death another of that rank (who, in fact, was
piloto-mayor at Seville while Magellan was outfitting his fleet) entered and
explored the Plata. This was Sebastian Cabot, who was then following in the wake of
Magellan with the intent of reaching the Moluccas by the route his predecessor had
discovered. His experiences were similar to Magellan's, for he suffered from shipwreck in
his fleet, from lack of provisions, and from mutiny. But, unlike Magellan, he had not the
courage to continue in the face of difficulties no greater than the former encountered,
and after wasting four or five years in and near the River of Silver, returned to Spain in
Not far from the site of the present great city of Buenos Ayres, off in the estuary,
Magellan anchored his fleet and sent boats ashore in search of provisions. The crews were
warned against trusting the slayers of Juan de Solis, who had enticed him into
 their lairs by pretending to retreat, then turning upon him when unable to extricate
himself from the jungle. This warning may have deterred them from following the natives
they saw on the bank, who fled in evident alarm, "and in fleeing they took so large a step
that with all our running and jumping we could not overtake them." Perhaps the Spaniards
did not care to overtake the Indians, who were certainly canibali, or cannibals,
and ate human flesh.
Finding that they were not pursued as though with relish for a fight, the chief of the
runaways returned to the shore and indicated by signs that he desired to go on board the
flag-ship, where, as his costume consisted solely of a goat-skin cloak, Magellan gave him
a shirt of gayly colored cotton. He was very uncouth, even for a savage, with vile
manners, and a voice like a bull. He was suspicious, also, and early the following
morning, finding himself alone in the midst of strangers, leaped into his canoe and
It has been supposed that, even thus early in his voyage, Magellan was looking for a
strait, or passage, from one ocean to the other, as he partially explored the great
 estuary of La Plata before finally setting sail again for the southward. Off the coast a
few leagues he sighted two islands which, on close approach, were seen to be alive with
sea-birds "resembling geese," and which were probably penguins. Many were killed and
skinned for food, and in a few hours' time the sailors procured five boat-loads of them.
Sea-wolves, also, they saw, "which would have been very fierce, if they had had legs to
run." These were seals, or sea-lions, and, like the wild-fowl, procured their sustenance
in the ocean; but the Spaniards feared them as "man-eaters," and were very glad when they
had left the islands in the distance.
The farther southward they sailed the greater became the cold, for by this time the
southern winter was upon them. During one of the many fierce gales that assailed the fleet
two of the flag-ship's cables parted, as she lay at anchor in an open bay, and she barely
escaped the rocks of a lee-shore. After this, succeeding to a three-days' calm, came
another terrible storm, in which the forecastles of all the ships were carried away, and
the "holy body of St. Elmo" again appeared, this time accompanied by
 two other apparitions of like character, which were called by the sailors Santa Clara and
St. Nicholas. As these celestial beings enveloped in fire appeared at the mastheads, the
storm suddenly ceased, and all the seamen fell upon their knees in prayer, vowing
pilgrimages to a holy shrine if permitted to return in safety to their homes.
A winter on the coast of Patagonia, which Magellan had now reached, was to be the
experience of the Spaniards, unless they chose the alternative of returning on their
tracks. This latter course Magellan would not for a moment entertain, so a port was sought
in which the fleet could be safely moored, and was found in that of St. Julian, just above
the 5oth degree of south latitude. It is still on the map by the name Magellan bestowed
upon it. Here, on the last day of March, 1520, the fleet was brought to anchor, and, in a
sheltered harbor abounding in fish, preparations were made to pass the winter of the
southern latitudes. The shores were sloping and pleasant as compared with the
savage-looking coast they had but recently passed, and there was sufficient wood and water
to supply the necessities of the ships.
 Though fish were abundant in the bay, and the provisions on board the fleet were
sufficient for a long time to come, still, with a winter of inaction ahead of him and his
voyage not half accomplished, the prudent Magellan reduced the seamen's rations as soon as
the anchors were dropped.
At once there went up a great chorus of protest, in which, we may be sure, the disaffected
captains heartily joined. Merely because, the seamen said, the voyage had been commenced
at the wrong season of the year, and on account of their commander's bad reckoning, they
must lie up for five or six months, was no reason they themselves should be made to
suffer. They should turn about and go home, instead of wasting time in a wilderness of ice
and snow, as helpless as a bear in a hollow tree. "Back to Spain! Back to Spain!" became
the cry; but Magellan would not heed it.
"Never will I return," he said, in reply to an importunate officer—"never, until I
have accomplished the intent of this voyage. It was undertaken at the orders of my lord
the king, who hath chosen me to command, above all others; and he shall not be
disappointed! No, my men, we shall not go back.
 Here will we stay—here, till the coming of spring unlocks the icy fetters and
subdues the rigors of winter. Already have we penetrated farther south than any other
navigators—even twelve or thirteen degrees nearer the antarctic pole than lies the
Cape of Good Hope. And having gained so much, shall we lose it all, for lack of courage to
persist a little longer?
"I marvel that Castilians, who conquered the Arab Moors and discovered the way to America,
should be guilty of such weakness. As for me, though I be no Castilian, and though I have
a wife and son awaiting me in Seville, never shall that city see me until I return
triumphant! For gold I care not; for fame I care not; but my lord and king hath intrusted
me with this mighty mission, and accomplish it I shall! So, my men, though ye may marvel
that I should seek, towards the southern pole, the strait or passage from the Atlantic to
the great South Sea—and thus far have sought it vainly—yet find it we shall,
and by means of it enter upon that voyage to the Islands of Spices."
The seamen were silenced for a time, though far from satisfied. When the three
 faithless captains, Juan de Cartagena, Luis de Mendoza, and Gaspar de Quesada, called upon
their crews to mutiny, there was immediate response. It was April 1st, 1520. In the middle
watch of the night, the captain of the San Antonio, Alvaro de Mesquita, who had
superseded both Cartagena and Coca (a kinsman of the captain-general), heard a disturbance
on deck and hastened from his cabin. He was at once confronted by Cartagena, and a body of
men about thirty in number, armed to the teeth. While confused, and unable to recognize
his assailants in the darkness, Mesquita was brought to his knees, and at the point of the
sword made to surrender. Hearing a scuffle, his boatswain, Juan de Lorriaga, came running
up, at the same time blowing his whistle for the crew to assemble.
"This fool may foil our work," hissed Quesada, "if we allow him to live," and springing
upon him with a dagger, stabbed him in the throat. He fell, dying, to the deck, and while
his life-blood ebbed away the mutineers hastened to secure the crew. Having done this,
they ordered all the cannon loaded and the vessel cleared for action. Then, to propitiate
the crew, they brought
 up bread and wine from below, which, with other provisions, they dispensed with lavish
Thus the largest ship of the fleet was won. The Concepcion, commanded by Quesada,
was of course already in the hands of the enemy, while the Victoria captained
by Luis de Mendoza, treasurer of the armada (and, like Cartagena, jealous of Magellan), at
once declared against the captain-general. Three ships were in revolt, and only two were
left to Magellan: the Trinidad, which he himself commanded, and the little
Santiago, under Serrao, the Portuguese. Half the number of men comprising his crew
were of his own nationality, and all were loyal to Magellan.
What a situation confronted Magellan on the morning of April 2d. So quietly had the
transfer of authority on board the three ships taken place, that he was unaware of what
had occurred, until, sending an order to the San Antonio to go ashore and
careen, his boat's crew was met by a refusal to obey. They found the ship's cannon pointed
at them, and a harsh voice shouted: "Keep off! This is Admiral Cartagena's flag-ship. Take
that to the Portuguese usurper!"
 In all haste, then, the boat's crew rowed back to the flag-ship with the evil news, which
Magellan received quite calmly, only remarking: "Row round among the fleet, and find for
whom they declare, as I would like to know how many are against me."
"For the king—and ourselves," was the answer returned from every vessel save the
Santiago, when hailed and asked the crucial question.
"Not quite the answer I would have," observed Magellan, quietly. "How great a difference
one word would make. If, now, it were only 'For the king and Magellan'—as it should
be. And as it will be, sooth, before the sun goes down!"
He was not only undismayed by the perils of that desperate situation, but he seemed elated
at the prospect of something worthy of his highest efforts. His skill and cunning were to
be matched against the skill and cunning of the mutineers, and woe upon the ones that
failed! He asked no odds—they surely were against him—and in fighting the
enemy he chose the very weapons they had used against himself: duplicity and finesse.
Choosing the Victoria as the most vulnerable vessel in control of the
mutineers, he sent a
 letter to her captain, Luis de Mendoza, inviting him to a conference on the flag-ship. He
sent it by the hands of a trusted lieutenant, Gonzalo Espinosa, who received private
instructions before he left the ship. At the same time Espinosa departed on his mission,
another boat was made ready and filled with picked men in charge of Magellan's
brother-in-law, Duarte Barbosa. He had his instructions, also, which he followed to the
letter. Magellan's was the brain that guided the weapons, which these two sent home to the
heart of the foe.
Mendoza, as Cartagena once had done, made the mistake of crediting Fernan Magellan with a
milder disposition than he really had. He allowed Espinosa to come on board his ship, and
sneeringly took the letter to read it. Waiting, as if for an answer, Espinosa sidled up to
Mendoza, drew a dagger from his girdle, and in a flash sank it in his breast. The victim
of Magellan's cunning and Espinosa's intrepidity sank to the deck and expired. Instantly,
while Mendoza's crew stood appalled and helpless, Duarte Barbosa led his men over the
Victoria's rail, and encircled Espinosa with a bristling array of pikes and
 "For whom do ye declare?" he shouted to the crew. "For the king and—"
"Magellan!" they cried with a will. "The king and his admiral, Fernan Magellan!"
"Then up with this ensign, which is Magellan's," rejoined Barbosa; "and up with the
anchor, too, for we sail to the entrance of the port, there to take our stand beside the
admiral's ship, lest the mutineers escape."
The Trinidad was already in motion, sailing towards the harbor-mouth, where
she was soon joined by the Santiago and the Victoria. There they
formed an avenging triad, the flag-ship in the centre, and a consort on each side of her.
Instead of two ships, to three against him, Magellan now had three to two; and though in
tonnage and guns his ships may have been inferior, he possessed the great advantage of
having outwitted the conspirators at their own game, which was now in his hands, to be
played to its ending, in their discomfiture and punishment.