Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan discovered a sea passage from the Atlantic Ocean, through the Americas, to the Pacific Ocean.

Magellan was born in Portugal. He moved to Spain around 1516. The Spanish had been looking for a passage past the Americas to the riches of Asia ever since Christopher Columbus’s voyages.

The King of Spain gave Magellan five ships and he set off for South America in 1519. He sailed for three months until he found the dangerous strait between modern day Chile and the island of Tierra del Fuego. He named it after himself. The expedition sailed on through the Magellan Strait into the Pacific Ocean. Magellan became the first European to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Magellan's voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a detail from Guillaume de L’Isle's 'Mappe Monde à l’usage du Roy' (c.1740)

This later French map shows the route taken by Magellan around the tip of South America and into the Pacific Ocean. Look at the land at the tip of South America. On this map it is called ‘Terre Magellanique’ (Magellan’s Land). Click on the map to follow Magellan’s route through the Pacific Ocean.

A detail from a map of the Americas in Sebastian Münster's 'Cosmographia'.

Look at the above picture from Sebastian's Münster's Cosmographia published in 1559. Can you see where Magellan's discovery has been added to the map of South America? Click on the image to see more.

Magellan's voyage to the Phillipines, a detail from Guillaume de L’Isle's 'Mappe Monde à l’usage du Roy' (c.1740)

Magellan was killed in a battle in the Philippine Islands in 1521. His remaining crew continued their voyage back to Spain, through the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope. When the expedition’s last remaining ship returned to Spain in 1522, its crew became the first people to sail around the globe. Click on the map of the Phillipines above and try to follow the route of Magellan's voyage.