GMIH-020 Ferdinand Magellan



We have friends listening to this podcast all over the world. It is cool that I’m in Texas, we have listeners in England, New Zealand, Indonesia, China, and in Italy. In fact, we know of people in 77 countries but there may be more.

The world really is connected these days. But it was not always this way. In fact, there was a time when no one had ever sailed all the way around the world.

It took someone with a great mustache to lead the first trip to go all the way around the world. This man with a great mustache also discovered a way to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Today we call that passage the Straits of Magellan. That’s because the explorer that we are talking about is Ferdinand Magellan.

Early Life

Ferdinand Magellan was born in 1480 in Portugal. His family was rich and when he was young he was a page in the royal court. Now this won’t surprise anyone, Magellan loved sailing.

Remember way back in Episode 7 of Great Mustaches in History we talked about Marco Polo? If you know about trade back then you know that there was so much money made from bringing goods from the East that people were trying to find the best, fastest, and cheapest way to get to the East.

Magellan went to India by sailing around Africa, but the whole time he had the sneaking suspicion that he could get to the East by going west around the Americas.

Magellan wanted the King of Portugal to finance his trip but the King did not think that it would work and Magellan and the King got in a big fight.

Finally, Magellan asked King Charles V of Spain to pay for the trip and he agreed.

Sailing Around the World

Replica in the Victoria

Replica in the Victoria

In September of 1519 Magellan set sail to find the way to Eastern Asia by sailing west. He had over 270 men and five ships. His five ships were called the Trinidad, the Santiago, the Victoria, the Concepcion, and the San Antonio.

First they sailed from Europe across the Atlantic and to the Canary Islands. From the Canary Islands they sailed south to Brazil.


Not everyone knew this back then but if you go far enough south you get close to the South Pole and it gets really cold and the weather can be very bad for sailing. Another thing they were not ready for was how long the trip was. They did not have enough food on the ships.

Some of the sailors did not want to do what Magellan wanted them to. When sailors on a ship refuse to follow orders or try to take over a ship it is called a mutiny. That is just what some of the sailors did and they tried to steal three of the ships.

Magellan was not going to put up with that. Soon Magellan was back in control. He had the leaders of the mutiny executed and that was the end of that.

Straits of Magellan

Straits of Magellan

Straits of Magellan

As the ships continued to sail south they were looking for a passage and they found one. Magellan called this passage the All Saints’ Channel. But today it is called the Straits of Magellan.

When they went through the Straits of Magellan the ships entered a brand new ocean. Magellan called this new ocean the Pacifico, meaning peaceful. We call it the Pacific Ocean today.

Once they were in the Pacific Ocean they could sail on to China. The ship called the Santiago had sunk and the ship called the San Antonio had disappeared so there were only three ships in Magellan’s fleet.

Magellan was excited to be in the Pacific Ocean because he figured they would cross the Pacific Ocean in just a few days. Boy was he was wrong. The trip took nearly four months. Magellan’s fleet finally made it to the Mariana Islands. It took so much longer than they thought that the entire group almost starved to death.

Death of Magellan

The ships were resupplied and they went to the Philippines. Here is where the story gets weird and sad. Magellan got in the middle of a war between some local tribes.

Magellan and around 40 of his men were killed. Here’s the sad part, Magellan was a great explorer but he did not live to the end of his trip.

End of the Voyage

The trip was long and hard and ended up being deadly. Five ships and about 270 men started the trip but only one ship, the Victoria made it back to Spain. Since Magellan died the Victoria was captained by Juan Sebastian del Cano. It got back to Spain in September of 1522. The trip took three years and only 18 sailors survived. It was a long, deadly, costly trip but it was the first trip around the world.

The Magellan Voyage - Click to Enlarge

The Magellan Voyage – Click to Enlarge


It was fortunate that out of the 18 men who survived the trip one was a sailor and scholar named Antonio Pigafetta. All through the trip he kept detailed journals. He wrote down all that happened on the trip.

If it were not for his journals we would not know very much about the trip. Pigafetta told about how hard the trip was and described the amazing things they saw.

Interesting Facts about Magellan

  • The total distance traveled by the Victoria was over 42,000 miles.
  • Many of the sailors were Spanish and did not trust Magellan because he was Portuguese.
  • The King of Portugal  sent ships to try to stop Magellan, but it did not work.
  • As the ships went on the long trip across the Pacific the sailors got so hungry they ate rats and sawdust to survive.
  • The trip around the world was so long and hard that it took 60 more years before Sir Francis Drake would be the second voyage to sail around the world.

Great Mustaches in History

These days we think nothing of people going all around the world and having products made in other countries. But, next time you get something made in another country or you hear about news on the other side of the world, you can remember a man with a great mustache, Ferdinand Magellan.

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