The Longest Voyage: The Return

Discover the hazardous return journey of the expedition that would complete first trip around the world.

Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez (General Archive of the Indies) and Braulio Vázquez Campos (General Archive of the Indies).

The Indian Ocean by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

“Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you're destined for.”

Constantine Peter Cavafy, Egyptiot Greek poet.

Europa and Asia by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Some 500 years ago, a long-dreamed of voyage to the mythical Orient and the Spice Islands on the still unexplored side of the world set out from Seville.
This voyage, started by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519, would, three years later, turn out to be the longest of its time. The first voyage around the world, completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano and the crew of the Victoria in 1522.

Map of the Northern Indian Ocean (1519) by Lopo Homem, Pedro Reinel, Jorge ReinelOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de Francia

The Indian Ocean: The Long Crossing

Tidore (Maluku Islands) - Cape of Good Hope | December 21, 1521–May 8, 1522 (138 days)

The Victoria by Antonio Fernández Torres (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Victoria left Tidore loaded with spices and began its solitary journey back to Seville. Elcano and his men thought they understood the magnitude of the risks they were facing on this non-stop voyage. But they didn't, no-one could.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Tannhauser EstudioAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Indian Ocean was just the first test. To avoid Portuguese routes, the Victoria traveled south west and across the South Indian Ocean in one of the most inhospitable parts of the world on a route now known as the “Roaring Forties”. Three months of storms, wind and counter-currents were waiting for them.
> Visit the virtual exhibition at the Archivo General de Indias.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Braulio VázquezAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Storm: fury and waves

Anticipation is the best defence before a storm, and at the slightest signal from the sky the captains would prepare their boats for bad weather. Sails were dropped, the yardarm lowered, heavy objects stored away and bilge pumps and scuppers checked. Once prepared and with the storm unleashing its fury and water running across the deck, the pilot for the journey to the Indies, Escalante de Mendoza, had more advice for his colleagues: give the men adequate food.

Course of the Victoria During its First Voyage Around the World Course of the Victoria During its First Voyage Around the World (1519-1522) by Francisco AlboArchivos Estatales

Francisco Albo's Pilot Chart

Pilot charts (derroteros) are documents that gather the observations of boat pilots with all the useful navigational elements of the routes they followed: dominant winds, currents, descriptions of the coasts and ports, locations of sandbanks and reefs, etc. This one is attributed to Francisco Albo, the last pilot of the Victoria.

Albo's pilot chart gives the coordinates of the expedition throughout the journey in meticulous detail. It is fundamental to the confirmation of the itinerary of the expedition.

The Limit by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Limit: Good Hope and the Atlantic

Cape of Good Hope - Cape St. Vincent | May 8, 1522–September 4, 1522 (119 days)

From the Cape of Good Hope to Cape St. Vincent by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

After 90 days crossing the South Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope appeared over the prow of the Victoria unleashing all its fury. During a fortnight of uninterrupted storms, the so-called Cape of Storms would be a test of resilience for men who had already gone way beyond their limits. But this wouldn't be the final test. The Atlantic was waiting for them, the calm, tropical heat, hunger and thirst. After 156 days of sailing without stopping, they decided to risk it all at Cape Verde. Now they really had reached their limit. Beyond, the North Atlantic was waiting.

The LimitAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

The Limit: Exhaustion and Survival

The storm rolled on with the sea and wind endlessly hitting the boat. The rigging broke, the masts smashed and sea water entered the hull with each lurch. The bilge pump was the only priority, above hunger and illness. Staying on course, a gargantuan effort. There was only violence, fatigue and an endless howl. The men, at their very mental and physical limit, began to lose faith in their boat and searched the sky for a miraculous change in the weather.

Sailing manuals from the 16th century

Sailing manuals from the 16th century show the arduous conditions sailors endured on their expeditions.

General History of the Indies (1557) by Gonzalo Fernández de OviedoOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

South American historiography experienced a boom in the 16th and 17th centuries, driven by printing as a means of transmitting knowledge against the humanistic backdrop of the Renaissance. The desire to tell the story of the new geographical discoveries was overwhelming, the appearance of wide-reaching economic possibilities alongside the existence of a whole universe of new mindsets reflected by the native inhabitants of America. Against this backdrop, the spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo wrote his extensive History of the Indies (Historia de las Indias).

General History of the acts of the Castilians on the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea General History of the acts of the Castilians on the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea (1601)Archivos Estatales

Between 1596 and 1615, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas researched and wrote one of his most interesting works, General History of the Deeds of the Castilians on the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea (La Historia General de los Hechos Castellanos en las Islas i Tierra Firme del Mar Océano), as chief chronicler of the Americas and on behalf of the Council of the Indies.

Herrera, who had great knowledge of the existing documentation relating to the affairs of the Indies, brought together an exhaustive volume of information and drafted his work based on primary document sources, on the testimonies made, and on previous chroniclers.

List of the Fleet's Crew Members (ca. 1522)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Arrival: Impact and Harmony

Cape Verde - Seville | July 15–September 8, 1522 (55 days)

From Cape Verde to Seville by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Elcano and his men suffered immeasurably in the last stages of the voyage: sick, weak, paranoid and endlessly working the bilge pumps, they took a wide detour to the Azores to avoid the trade winds to finally circle the world arriving back at the river from which they departed.

The Longest Journey: The First Circumnavigation of the Globe by Braulio VázquezAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

In September 1522, 18 survivors arrived at Sanlucar y Seville on the Victoria. The long voyage had come to an end. The impact firstly in Castilian Spain and across Europe was enormous. At tremendous human cost, the true size of the Earth was now known empirically. The riches that the Victoria carried would encourage new expeditions and accelerated European expansion across the globe.

Elcano's letter to Emperor Charles V

Elcano's letter to Emperor Charles V is the first official document that makes reference to the outstanding achievement of having traveled around the world.

Letter from Juan Sebastián Elcano to Charles I / 2rArchivos Estatales

In this letter, written on his arrival in Sanlucar with the other 17 survivors, Juan Sebastián Elcano gives an account of the hardships suffered and milestones achieved during the expedition to the Spice Islands, above all, the achievement of circumnavigating the globe and returning via the African route.

“Your majesty will know that what we most esteem is what we have discovered, and that we traveled around the world, going from the west and coming from the east.”

Costs of the Victoria in Sanlúcar (1522) by Domingo de OchandianoOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The arrival of the Victoria at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on 6th September 1522, was huge news, but with it came the need for some costly activities. It was not only necessary to arrange for the valuable cargo of spices in the hull of the boat to be unloaded but the depleted crew also needed urgent help, arriving as they did in an extreme state of exhaustion and malnutrition.

On 9th December 1521, just one day after arriving back in Seville, the survivors of the voyage came dressed as pilgrims, barefoot, in white shirts and holding torches, to give thanks to the Virgen de la Victoria and to Nuestra Señora de la Antigua.

List of the deceased, deserters, missing people, and crew members installed in the Tidore trading post (Maluku Islands) List of the deceased, deserters, missing people, and crew members installed in the Tidore trading post (Maluku Islands) / 1Archivos Estatales

Although the other four boats were lost, the voyage had still been worthwhile from an economic point of view, which was surprising given the high human cost of the first circumnavigation. This manuscript lists chronologically 103 individuals who died a violent or natural death, deserted, or did not return for other reasons.

Accredited documentation of the monetary balance of the Spice Islands armada (1522)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

Christopher de Haro invested in Magellan's fleet, motivated not just by the potential returns but mostly —according to him—, by the advantageous conditions from which he would benefit in the future by trading with the Spice Islands. In 1529 Emperor Charles V received 350,000 ducats from John III of Portugal, by virtue of the Treaty of Zaragoza, to secure rights over the Molucca Islands, frustrating Haro's ambitions and he complained by legal means, of the damage inflicted by such a geopolitical change.

Planisphere (1529) by Diego RiberoOriginal Source: Real Academia de la Historia de España

The Trinidad

Pacific Ocean | April 6–end of October, 1522 (approx.) (190 days)

The Trinidad could not travel back with the Victoria as its hull was leaking, and repairs took several months helped by workers from the king of Tidore. It set sail on April 6, 1522 with the aim of reaching Panama by crossing the North Pacific.

The Pacific Ocean by Lola Bermúdez (Tannhauser Estudio)Acción Cultural Española, AC/E

Under Captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, Grand Master Juan Bautista and pilot León Pancado, the crew battled constantly against headwinds. They discovered islands never seen before by Europeans like Palau and reached 42 degrees north, as high up as the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Charles I on the fate of the Trinidad Letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Charles I on the fate of the Trinidad / Page 01Archivos Estatales

Gómez de Espinosa, described the terrible suffering of his men as they tried to reach Panama via the North Pacific with eloquent brevity. For five months they “ploughed the sea”: struggling against unfavorable winds, storms, hunger and illness. Despite reaching 42 or 43 degrees north, they were unable to find the Kuroshio Current and the westerly winds that would have taken them to America.

Statement by Gómez de Espinosa, Mafra and Pancado (1527-08-02)Original Source: Archivo General de Indias

So they decided to return to Tidore. They were unaware that, in the meantime, their enemies the Portuguese had arrived on the neighboring island of Ternate where they had built a fort. At the port of Benaconora, the Portuguese boarded the boat, capturing the 21 survivors on board the Trinidad,holding them captive for a long time. Only five would manage to return to Europe. On their return to Spain, the authorities took statements from them to find out all the details of their adventure.

The Longest Voyage. SeaAcción Cultural Española, AC/E

Follow the adventure via this link: The Longest Voyage: Transformation.

Credits: Story

Adaptation of the exhibition "The Longest Journey: The First Around the World".

Organizers: Spanish Cultural Action, Ministry of Culture. General Archive of the Indies
Curated by: Antonio Fernández Torres, Guillermo Morán Dauchez, Braulio Vázquez Campos
Program: Raquel Mesa
Images: Archivo General de Indias, Tannhauser Estudio

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This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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