The Trinidad and the Other Circumnavigation of the Globe

Discover what happened to the ship that could have completed the first circumnavigation in history, along with The Nao Victoria and Juan Sebastián Elcano.

By Archivos Estatales

Archivo General de Indias

The Trinidad and the Victoria Arrive in Tidore (2020) by Tomás Mazón SerranoOriginal Source: / Fundación Nao Victoria

Five ships commanded by Ferdinand Magellan left Seville in 1519 in search of a new route to the Spice Islands (Moluccas), circumventing the New World. Only two arrived at their destination on November 8, 1521: the flagship, named the Trinidad, captained by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, and the Victoria, with Juan Sebastián Elcano at the helm.

Clove drying in the sun (2012) by Juan Carlos ReyOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

Welcomed by King Almanzor of the island of Tidore, they bought all the clove that they could stow, with the intention of returning to Spain as soon as possible. They were worried by the imminent arrival of the Portuguese; their rivals would not want to risk any threat to their monopoly on the spice trade. The idea was to return via the west, and complete the first voyage around the world. The Victoria made it, but fate had another plan in store for the Trinidad

Theatrum orbis terrarum (1588) by Abraham OrteliusOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Ship Left Behind…

Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands Details and account of the people who helped Magellan discover the Spice Islands / Page 01 by Casa de contratación de las IndiasArchivos Estatales

The Protagonists

This is the list of the 62 crew members of the Trinidad when it left Seville, comprising around 60 men. During Magellan's voyage, a further 20 crew members from different ships within the fleet also worked aboard the Trinidad.

Account of an Unknown Genoese Navigator (16th Century) by ¿León Pancado? and ¿Maestre Juan Bautista?Original Source: Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo

The Setback

The Victoria and the Trinidad intended to leave Tidore together on December 18, 1521, but according to a Genoese navigator who was on board: "With the two ships loaded and ready to set sail, a torrent of water gushed into the flagship … agreeing that the other should leave, and that this ship should turn around and unload…"

Letter from Juan Bautista de Punzorol (1521-12-21) by Juan Bautista de PunzorolOriginal Source: Državni arhiv u Dubrovniku

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, they decided that the Victoria should head for Spain via the Indian Ocean on December 21, 1521. The Trinidad had to stay on the island in order for repairs to be carried out to its hull. The master Juan Bautista de Punzorol (or Ponçorone), in a letter written at the time, estimated that the ship would be ready within 50 days. It actually took more than 100.

Fernão Vaz Dourado's Atlas (1571) by Fernão Vaz DouradoOriginal Source: Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo

The coast discovered for the Europeans by Ferdinand Magellan and his men, including the Moluccas, is depicted in folio nine of the atlas by the Portuguese cartographer Fernão Vaz Dourado. Conveniently for the interests of the author's country, the dividing line of the Treaty of Tordesillas (in blue and gold, vertical)—which in 1494 divided the world between the two Iberian countries—was drawn with the Spice Islands falling into the Portuguese hemisphere.

The Spanish Voyage Around the World (1536) by Antonio PigafettaOriginal Source: Universidade de Coimbra

The Farewell

The Victoria and the Trinidad separated poignantly on December 21, 1521. Venetian scholar and explorer Antonio Pigafetta described it as follows: "… the ships bid farewell with a reciprocal discharge of artillery; our men followed us in their launches as far as they could, and eventually we separated, sobbing."

History of the Discovery and Conquest of the Indies by the Portuguese (1554) by Fernão Lopes de CastanhedaOriginal Source: University of Virginia Library

The Portuguese Threat

Captain Gómez de Espinosa and his men hurried to complete the repairs, having been warned by merchants that a powerful Portuguese armada was leaving from Malacca and headed to the Moluccas to drive them out. They were not wrong, according to the Portuguese chronicler Lopes de Castanheda.

História do descobrimento e conquista da Índia pelos portugueses (1554) by Fernão Lopes de CastanhedaOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

"Antonio de Brito knew that the Castilians were in the Moluccas … and fearing that they would be stronger …, as May came around, with a monsoon heading for the Moluccas, Antonio de Brito and García Enríquez set sail with their armada, consisting of eight ships and 300 men…" Fernão Lopes de Castanheda, History of the discovery and conquest of India (História do descobrimento e conquista da Índia pelos portugueses). Book VI. Coímbra: 1554, chapter XI, page xv.

Statement by Gómez de Espinosa, Mafra, and Pancado (1527) by Consejo de IndiasOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias


During the enforced stopover, from late 1521 to April 1522, the Spaniards continued trading in the Moluccas. In 1527, the Council of the Indies recorded: “…having built a house on the island in the name of his Majesty for the captain and members of the armada of the Captain General Ferdinand Magellan, to collect and store in that house the spices and other merchandise retrieved in the name of their Majesties…”

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 by Antonio de Herrera y TordesillasArchivos Estatales


They also continued to forge diplomatic alliances with local chiefs, offering assistance to deal with their internal and external enemies, as on this occasion narrated by the chronicler Antonio de Herrera: "…the King of Gilolo arrived in Tidore, and was delighted to see the ship. He wished to learn how the Castilians fought; they armed themselves to satisfy him. He offered himself as a servant and subject of the King of Castile, and asked Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to gift him two pieces of artillery, a lombardier, and two Castilians, to help him punish some rebels."

The Trinidad in the Storm, with Crew List (2020) by Tomás Mazón SerranoOriginal Source: / Fundación Nao Victoria

Plowing the Sea…

Description of the West Indies Description of the West Indies by Antonio de Herrera y TordesillasArchivos Estatales

The Departure

The Trinidad left Tidore, but did not follow Elcano's route to the west. Instead it went in the opposite direction, attempting to return to America via the Pacific, apparently due to the dominant winds at the time. The commanders were convinced that they were around 1,800–2,000 leagues (6,150–6,850 miles) from the Darien Gap in Central America. In reality, they were just over 10,000 miles away, calculated on the shortest route, which they could not even navigate due to the winds and currents.

Kunstmann IV Planisphere (ca. 1519) by Jorge ReinelOriginal Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

This copy of the 1519 map by Jorge and Pedro Reinel, which is very similar to one that Magellan had on board the Trinidad, illustrates why they thought they were 1,800 leagues from America.

Planisferio Kunstmann IV (ca. 1519) by Jorge ReinelOriginal Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

It showed 1,600 leagues between the Cape of Good Hope (labeled Premo(n)torio Bene Spei on the map) and Malacca, on the opposite side of the Indian Ocean, according to a report attributed to Ferdinand Magellan and held in the General Archive of the Indies.

Taking this distance as a reference, it is easy to deduce that they had estimated the size of the Pacific Ocean, from east to west (along the equator), to be 3,100 miles less than it actually was.

Viagem de Fernão Magalhâes (ca. 1570) by Fernão de OliveiraOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Portuguese chronicler Fernão de Oliveira offered another explanation for why they chose to return via the Pacific: "The other ship that stayed in the Moluccas (…) was loaded again after three months. It was winter, and the westerly winds were blowing. That is why the order was given to take the route to the east, in the direction of the Antilles; not from where they had come, but an east-northeast course, on the assumption that they would reach dry land in Mexico. That was around 1,800 leagues away, according to the route they had followed from the Strait of Magellan."

Diego Ribero's Planisphere (1529) by Diego Ribero (autor del original) and W. Griggs (autor del facsímil, 1887)Original Source: Real Academia de la Historia

The Disaster

On one exhausting day, traveling north-east in search of the winds that would carry them to America, the Trinidad discovered a multitude of islands in the archipelago of the Marianas. They reached further than 42º north, but a tremendous storm destroyed the ship, and with it their hope of returning home. The cold and lack of food took its toll on the crew. They began to die.

Account of Ginés de Mafra (16th Century) by Ginés de MafraOriginal Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

The sailor Ginés de Mafra witnessed the disaster. He recalls those days of disease and death in his journal: "At this point, people started to die. When they opened one up to see what he had died of, his whole body looked as though the veins had been cut and all the blood had been drained out of his body…"

Route of the Trinidad (2020) by Tomás Mazón SerranoOriginal Source:

The Painful Return to the Moluccas

After immense suffering, the Trinidad managed to land again in the Moluccas; it looked like a ghost ship. The captain sent a messenger to the Portuguese, asking for help. When the Portuguese sailors finally boarded the Trinidad, they were met with a scene of disease and death. This image recreates the voyage of the Trinidad, in a figure of 8, or capital B. The orange color denotes the route followed by Magellan's armada on the way out, and the continuation of the voyage led by Elcano via the Indian Ocean.

The Third Decade of Asia (1563) by João de BarrosOriginal Source: John Carter Brown Library

The Survivors are Seized

The Portuguese chronicler Barros recorded the moment in which his compatriots captured the Spanish ship: "When they eventually boarded the ship, Duarte de Resende felt great pity for the men. Most of them were so lame that they could barely walk without support, they were so crippled. Thirty-seven men were already dead, the ship was infested with disease, and then there were the issues of hunger and their other needs…"

From One Prison to Another (2020) by Tomás Mazón SerranoOriginal Source:

From One Prison to Another…

After seeing their ship plundered and destroyed, the survivors of the Trinidad were forced to work to build a fort for their Portuguese enemies. They were transferred one by one to different jails on the island of Banda, as well as in Malacca and Cochin (India)… This deplorable transfer caused the deaths of some, while others were enslaved, some fled and disappeared, and others still searched for different ways to get back to Spain.

List of the Dead From the Trinidad (ca. 1527) by Casa de la ContrataciónOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The Other Voyage Around the World

Letter From Antonio Brito (1523-05-06) by Antonio BritoOriginal Source: Arquivo Nacional Torre do Tombo

Antonio Brito, the Portuguese governor of Ternate, Tidore's neighboring island, captured the Spaniards. He treated them disgracefully, as reported in his own letter to his monarch on May 6, 1523.

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 04Archivos Estatales

Captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa would later describe the suffering of his men during those years, from India, where he arrived as a captive: forced labor, mistreatment, hunger, and disease.

Payment to Taimón (ca.1526) by Casa de la ContrataciónOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

The captain's letter arrived in Castile in the most peculiar way, carried by a Portuguese man named Taimón, servant of a widowed Portuguese queen, Eleanor of Viseu. His role as a courier earned him a payment from the House of Trade in the Indies, recorded in this document.

Statement by Juan Quemado (1526-08-09) by Consejo de IndiasOriginal Source: Archivo General de Indias

King Carlos V of Spain's negotiations with the Portuguese king, who had also become his brother-in-law, allowed the last survivors of the Trinidad to return to Spain, four years after Elcano.

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

The sailor Juan Rodríguez, nicknamed the Deaf, arrived in 1525 aboard a Portuguese ship, along with the navigator León Pancado. Finally, in July 1526, Captain Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, the sailor Ginés de Mafra, and the artilleryman Hans Vargue arrived in Lisbon. Vargue later died in Limonero prison in the Portuguese capital. These men had survived storms, hunger and disease, prison and forced labor, and the heartbreak of their companions' deaths. In the end, they did manage to complete the other voyage around the world.

Credits: Story

Text: Braulio Vázquez Campos, General Archive of the Indies
Images: General Archive of the Indies. Ministry of Culture and Sport, Spain.

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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