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buber.net > Basque > History > Juan Sebastián de Elcano
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Juan Sebastián de Elcano

Translated by Blas Uberuaga

Elcano, Juan Sebastián de.

Note: This is still a rough translation. Anyone with corrections, please send them to Blas Uberuaga, blas@buber.net.

Celebrated navigator, he was the first to sail around the world. He was born in Guetaria, Gipuzkoa in 1487 and died in the Pacific in 1526. Accustomed since childhood to the life of the sea and net and deep sea fishing, he later refined his maritime experience with the maritime commerce of contraband in the ports of France. His enterprising and adventurous character made him participate in the expedition that the cardenal Cisneros organized against Argel in 1509, as in the campaigns that the Great Captain Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba conducted in Italy, and in which other men of the earth had such relevant roles, such as Pedro Navaroo, the Count of Oliveto.

Upon his return, after of certain mix-ups that he had with the Justice having surrendered an armed ship to some foreigners, he left for Sevilla, where he came to form part of the crew that went to acompany Magellen in his undertaking of connecting directly with Spain the so-called East Indies or Far East. In the fleet, composed of five ships and crewed by 265 men, corresponded at first to Elcano the post of master of the vessel Concepcion. The expedition set sail in Sanlucar de Barrameda the 20th of September, 1519, and, after having put in at the Canaries, made for the Brazilian coast, which they skirted in the southern direction, until they arrived at the mouth of river which was called San Julian (March of 1520), where they stopped for the winter.

Here, Magellen had to face the opposition of Juan de Cartagena, who, followed by other captains and numerous crew men, refused to go further and declared an open rebellion. The mutineers entrusted to Elcano the military command of the ship San Antonio. The differences resolved violently, Elcano was able to return with the previous charge to the ship Concepcion, at whose hand he would cross the anxiously looked for Estrecho (later said by Magellen) in November of that year and penetrated the immense waters of the Pacific ocean.

After countless vicissitudes and later after having stopped at various islands, they put into port at the Philipine archipelego in the spring of 1521, where the genial leader of the expedition would encounter a violent death on the island of Mactan, near Cebu, on April 27, 1521. With Magellen gone, Duarte Barbosa, his brother-in-law, and the pilot Juan Serrao, both Portuguese, took command of the fleet. Within a few days, they were treacherously killed by the king of the island of Cebu, who had invited them to a banquet. They were replaced by Juan Carvalho, also Portuguese, in the Victoria, and Gonzalo Gomez de Espinosa in the Trinidad, since the Concepcion, now inservable, had to be abandoned in the island of Bohol, Elcano went then to the Victoria, with the same position he occupied on the Concepcion.

Reduced to two ships and 150 men, the expedition dedicated itself subsequently to investigating the various islands of the Philipine archipelago, until, guided by indigenous pilots, they finally arrived to the famous island of Spices, or the Molucas. On November 8, 1521, they reached the island of Tidore, where, aided by Almanzor, sultan of Tidore, they founded a commercial center, loading clove, nutmeg, and other precious goods. Well informed of the presence of the Portuguese in those waters, the leaders of the expedition determined that, while the Trinidad, under the hand of Gomez de Espinosa, sailed for the isthmus of Panama, the Victoria would try to regain Spain by the same route the Portuguese had followed.

Leaving the Molucas on December 21, 1521, with a crew that was made up of 47 Europeans and 13 natives, the Victoria could finally leave the turbulent waters of the island, thanks to the skill of two indigenous pilots. Meanwhile, Elcano had become the captain of the expedition, replacing Carvalho in the port of Caldera de Mindanao. Setting course for the island of Timor, they stopped at various islands, when they resupplied with pepper, wood and other goods.

They arrived at the island of Timor, known for the abundance of white sandle wood, on January 26, 1522. Elcano immediately began bargaining with the natives to adquire supplies. The demands of these obliged him later to choose more expediant methods, taking prisoner one of the leaders and demanding supplies in return for his freedom.

The vessel Victoria was anchored in the port of Batutaria, place of the seaboard of the island of Timor, about one and a half months, in which time they received news of the neighboring islands of the archipelago of the Sonda, from Java, from the peninsula of Malaca and even from China. They left that place on the 11th of February, 1522. The 6th of May that same year they turned the point of Buena Esperanza and, at last, after many vicissitudes and dangers of sea and man (Portuguese, in this case), they arrived with their battered ship at the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda the 6th of December, 1522.

Of the 239 men that left Sevilla in five ships only 17 returned in one ship; but this glorious voyage, of the most scientific importance in the panoramic of the discovery of the world, placed in the realm of reality the dream of Columbus of connecting Europe with East Asia by the Western route, proving in an empirical way the theory that the world is round (on their arrival, Elcano and the mariners would see with surprise that they had lost a day in the log they carried of the record of such a long journey). However, the balance of the circumnavigation of Magellen and Elcano was nearly null from the economic and politcal points of view, leaving better demonstrated that the route to the lands of silk, ivory and spices was not the western, because of this it was impossible to establish by it the adequate counterpart to the indo-portuguese route through the point of Buena Esperanza.

After two days, Elcano and the crew of the Victoria marched to Sevilla, where they went to prostrate before Nuestra Senora de la Antigua to give thanks for their happy arrival.

Juan Sebastian de Elcano was later received by the emperor Carlos V, who, among other things that he gave to the crew of the surviving ship, granted to the native of Geutaria a pension of 500 ducados and the coat of arms with the legend: "primus circumdedisti me".

We later see Elcano in Valladolid, where, as fruit of a romance he had with Maria de Vidaurreta, a daughter was born to him. He was very persecuted without knowing for certain why, although he suspected that it was for romantic reasons; the result of which, he obtained from Carlos V the ability to be accompanied by two armed men at all times.

He later presented himself at the juntas of Badajoz and Yelbes, convenied with the purpose to put to rest the dispute the between Castilla and Portugal over the possession of the Molucas. But Elcano was not a man that could live far from the sea for long. So, he went to Portugalete, to enlist in the armada that under the command of Loaysa had to set sail again to the Molucas the 24th of July, 1525. This expedition, in which the man of Guetaria displayed the position of second in command, suffered in like manner numerous set backs, ending up as well to lose the vessel in which Elcano traveled. The death of the commander Loaysa on the 30th of July, 1526 left Elcano in command of the expedition, although for a short time, as he died consumed by the scurvy in waters of the Pacific on August 4, 1526, after having given the testament, in which he dedicated an emotive recollection to his place of birth. - L. F. J.

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