The ends of the voyage: Victoria and Trinidad

Whatever discontents remained after the recuperation in the Islas de San Lazaro—and it is not likely that all shared Pigafetta's devotion to ‘our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide’—all must have been daunted by the loss of the Captain-General's iron leadership. They chose Juan Serrano (or Serrão) and the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa, two of Magellan's most loyal officers, as leaders, and sadly prepared to go on. Their position had been more seriously undermined than they knew, for the Rajah of Cebu (possibly incited by the interpreter Enrique, threatened with a lifetime of slavery in Spain—despite his manumission by Magellan's will) had resolved to rid himself of these dangerous but unsuccessful allies. He invited them to a feast on 1 May, at which the jewels promised for the King of Spain were to be presented. Fortunately for posterity as well as for himself, Pigafetta had been too badly wounded at Mactan to walk into the trap. Two of the twenty-nine who went ashore suspected foul play and returned; the rest, including Barbosa, were slain. At the water's edge Serrão implored with tears his bosom friend João Carvalho to save him, but the company was too shaken to act.

They sailed on, still in quest of the Spice Islands, under Carvalho. There were now only 115 men left, too few to man three ships, and the Concepcion was burned at Bohol. They passed across from Mindanao to Palawan, where they were well received, and found pilots who took them down the Borneo coast to the rich town of Brunei. Relations, at first friendly but suspicious on both sides, soon degenerated; men were detained ashore, including a son of Carvalho's by a Brazilian girl; there was a successful skirmish with the Rajah's praus, and semi-piratical seizures of junks for hostages; it was soon time to move on. In August they careened at an island off the north point of Borneo, and here Carvalho, a most ineffective leader, was deposed: Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa took general command, and Juan Sebastian del Cano took over the Victoria. They sailed again on 27 September, and after wandering through the- 52 -Sulu archipelago and skirting the southern coast of Mindanao, at last reached the Spice Islands, anchoring on 8 November 1521 at Tidore.

Politics in the Spice Islands were highly confused by the rivalries of the Rajahs of Ternate and Tidore. Francisco Serrão had died some months earlier in mysterious circumstances,[56] but Portuguese influence was strong on Ternate, and Tidore was open to a countervailing alliance. Luckily for the newcomers the Portuguese had at the moment no ships in the islands. But they were already moving to control the clove trade, from Malacca, and had promised to build a factory: whichever nation and whichever island first secured such a base would gain commercial hegemony in the Moluccas. Hence ‘the ancient feud between Ternate and Tidore was intensified in a new rivalry to secure this European support’,[57] which yet had obvious dangers: the factory would also be a fort. So there were cross-currents; a week after the Spaniards arrived they were visited by a Portuguese, Afonso de Lorosa, like Serrão a freelance, who came over from Ternate. From him they learnt that, despite ostensible cordiality on both sides, the Rajah of that island mistrusted the Portuguese (as well he might) and would also be glad of Spanish friendship; but they also learnt that Lopes de Sequeira, Magellan's commander in the Malacca days and now Viceroy, had been ordered to seek out and destroy Magellan's fleet should it reach the Moluccas. Two months were spent in negotiating trade and protection agreements and in buying cloves, obtaining so many that sixty quintals had to be left behind for fear of overlading. When they were putting to sea, the Trinidad leaked so much that she was clearly unseaworthy. It was decided that she should be repaired and then make east for Darien—there was as yet no New Spain, and it was still thought that the Spice Islands were not far distant from the Isthmus. The Victoria would continue westwards for Spain. Pigafetta records the decision almost casually, but there must have been much anxious debate, and some remained behind for fear of foundering or of hunger.

Del Cano left Tidore on the last great lap of the first circumnavigation on 21 December 1521. In February the Victoria sailed from Timor and into the Indian Ocean, and strictly speaking out of our history. The voyage home was as agonising as the Pacific crossing had been, but Del Cano proved a worthy successor to his Captain-General,[58] rejecting pleas that they should seek succour from the Portuguese in Mozambique. As Morales Padrón remarks, Del Cano had a shipload of spices but nothing to eat, and was compelled by manifold distresses to put in to the Cape Verdes, pretending to come from America; but the secret leaked out and the Portuguese seized some of his diminished crew. Forty-seven Europeans and thirteen Malays had left Tidore; eighteen and four reached Spain, in wretched plight but with spirit enough to fire a salute as they came alongside Seville quays on 8 September 1522. Pigafetta went to Valladolid and presented to D. Carlos ‘neither gold nor silver’ but, amongst other things, a holograph copy of his narrative, the precious record of the greatest single voyage in all history.

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The Trinidad was long in the repairing, and did not leave Tidore until 6 April 1522. Lorosa, unfortunately for him, had thrown in his lot with the Spaniards and sailed with them; a few men were left behind in a tiny factory, the first formal European base in Indonesia, to look after the remaining trade goods and the surplus spices. They touched at some islands, including probably Agrigan in the northern Marianas, and battled on northeastwards, dead into the Trades, apparently reaching 42 or 43°N.[59] Here, cold, famished, and sick, they ran into a prolonged storm. Probably not even Magellan could or would have pushed on; there was no recourse but to return to the Spice Islands, which they reached early in November.

They returned to find that in May seven Portuguese ships under Antonio de Brito had arrived at Ternate; the little factory on Tidore had of course at once been seized. Thirty-five of the fifty-four men with whom Espinosa had left Tidore were dead, and he had no option but to throw himself upon the mercies of the Lusian rival. These were not tender; the Portuguese seem at first to have been moved to compassion by the miserable state of Espinosa's people; but they seized ship, cargo, instruments, papers and charts, refusing receipts. Lorosa was promptly executed and the Spaniards made prisoners, according to some accounts being put to work on building the Portuguese fort at Ternate. De Brito wrote to the new King of Portugal, D. João III, that his best service would have been to cut their heads off. He did not venture to go so far, but obviously regretted having to send them to Malacca, instead of keeping them in Ternate where the climate might kill them off. Eventually four (including Espinosa) of the forty-four reached Spain, to be denied pay for the time they were captives and hence not serving the Crown.… With Del Cano's eighteen, and thirteen of his company sent on from the Cape Verdes, thirty-five men in all had completed the circuit of the globe. As for the Trinidad, she broke up in a squall at Ternate, and her timbers were used for the fort. For the time being, the Portuguese were in undisputed possession.