Ferdinand Magellan

Compiled by Chris Taylor

This explorer led the first successful attempt to travel around the world and prove it is round

Compiled by Chris Taylor |

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Quick Facts

Profession: Explorer

Famous for: discovering a route between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans to the Spice Islands in Indonesia

Born: 1480, in Sabrosa, Portugal

Died: April 27, 1521, in Mactan, Cebu, The Philippines

Married: Beatriz Barbosa


A new way around the world

Find words that mean the opposite: liberated, powerless, prevented, became popular

Ferdinand Magellan was born in Portugal into an influential family. His parents died when he was 10 and he was sent to the queen's court. When he was 12, he became a page for the queen. The job allowed him to learn about all the new discoveries that were being made in the world.

He went to sea in 1505 when he was 25 and travelled to India. It was not clear what he did, but he was away for eight years. In 1511, he joined Portuguese troops on a journey of conquest to Malaysia. They conquered Malacca in August that year. One of his friends carried on to the Spice Islands. The letters he sent to Magellan about the place would change the explorer's life.

Back in Portugal, Magellan fell out of favour with the court. He spent his time studying naval charts. At that time, the only way to reach the Pacific was by going around Africa. The Portuguese controlled this route. But Magellan wondered if it was possible to reach the Spice Islands by going west around the newly discovered Americas, not east.

The Spice Islands

Choose the right option

When Columbus set out on his first journey in 1492, he was not looking for America. He was looking for the Spice Islands. There was a good reason for this. When Magellan's crew returned to belong

traders valuable Spain

, the cloves in their cargo was more valuable than gold.

Spices were used to preserve food, as medicine and in perfumes. The islands are now called the Maluku Islands and belong

traders valuable Spain

to Indonesia. In 1521, there were spices growing there that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world. Middle Eastern belong

traders valuable Spain

used to bring them to Venice in Italy.

Spices were so belong

traders valuable Spain

in Europe that they inspired people to explore the globe, leading to the globalised world we live in today.

A sad end

Find words that mean: to kill people for a crime, severe vitamin C deficiency, an uprising against a leader

The Portuguese court was not interested in Magellan's plan for a voyage to the Spice Islands via the Americas. Magellan took his idea to the Spanish court. He left southern Spain with five ships in 1519.

Five months later, Magellan reached Rio de Janeiro in what is now Brazil. This was to be the beginning of a year-long journey to find what is now called the Strait of Magellan. There were mutinies, executions and battles.

On November 28, 1520, after traveling 600 kilometres through the very south of South America, Magellan's ships broke through to a new ocean. Magellan named it Mar Pacifico - “quiet sea” - because it was so calm. It took a long time to cross the Pacific. When he reached Guam, the crew had scurvy and were eating rats. Two weeks later, the ships reached the Philippines. Unfortunately, Magellan was killed in a battle soon after.

His men reached the Spice Islands in November, 1521. One of the ships was captured by the Spanish. The remaining boat returned to Spain with two tonnes of spices, three years after the fleet left. Only 18 of the 250 men were left. They had travelled around the world.

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 Ferdinand Magellan was Spanish.
2 Magellan discovered Africa.
3 Magellan's crew proved the world was round by traveling west and returning from the east.
4 Magellan died in the Spice Islands.

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