A Letter
to the
Most Reverend Cardinal of Salzberg

Maximilianus Transylvanus

After a few opening comments by the writer, this page provides an account of the voyage from the time the ships arrived at Rio de la Plata until they reached the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. A word or words (in parentheses, sometimes with a “?”) appears to be an insertion by the editor.

Most Reverend and Illustrious Lord, my only Lord, to you I most humbly commend myself.

One of those five ships§ has lately returned which Cæsar sent in former years … to an unknown world, in order to search for the islands where spices grow. … As this voyage may be considered marvellous, and not only unaccomplished, but even unattempted either in our age or in any previous one, I have resolved to write as truly as possible to your Reverence the course (of the expedition) and the sequence of the whole matter. I have taken care to have everything related to me most exactly by the captain and by the individual sailors who have returned with him. They have also related each separate event to Cæsar and to others with such good faith and sincerity, that they seemed not only to tell nothing fabulous themselves, but by their relation to disprove and refute all the fabulous stories which had been told by old authors.

§ The St. Anthony, or San Antonio.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

After some days' fair sailing they sighted a promontory, to which the name of Santa Maria has been given. Here Juan Ruy Diaz Solis had been eaten, with some of his companions, by the anthropophagi, whom the Indians call cannibals, whilst, by order of Ferdinand the Catholic, he was exploring the coast of this continent with a fleet. Sailing thence, our men coasted in an unbroken course along the coasts of this continent, which extend a very long way south, and tend a little west, so that they crossed the Tropic of Capricorn by many degrees. I think that this continent should be called that of the Southern Pole. But it was not as easy as I have said; for not till the last day of March of the following year [1520] did they reach a bay, to which they gave the name of Saint Julian.§ Here they found the Antarctic Pole star 49⅓ [ie, 49° 20'] degrees above their horizon, both by the altitude and declination of the sun from the Equinoctial, and also by the altitude of the Antarctic (Pole Star) itself. This star our sailors generally make use of more than any other. They state also that the longitude was 56 deg. west of the Fortunate Isles. For, as the ancient cosmographers, and specially Ptolemy, reckoned the longitude from the Fortunate Islands eastward to Catigara at 180 deg., so our men, sailing as far as they could westward also, begain to reckon another 180 deg. westward to Catigara, as was right. Yet our sailors seem to me rather to be mistaken in the calculation of the longitudes (of distances?) than to have fixed them with any certainty, because in so long a voyage, and being so distant from the land, they cannot fix and determine any marks or signs for the longitude. Still I think that these accounts, whatever they be, should not be cast aside, but rather accepted till more certain information be discovered.

§ See San Julián page for information about the origin of the name of Puerto San Julián.

This Gulf of Saint Julian seemed very great, and had the appearance of a channel. Wherefore Admiral Magellan ordered two ships to explore the Gulf and anchored the rest outside. After two days, information was brought to him that the Gulf was full of shoals, and did not extend far inland. Our men, on their way back, saw some Indians picking up shell-fish on the shore; for the call the natives of all unknown lands Indians. They were of extraordinary height, that is to say, about ten spans, were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, and seemed darker than would be expected from the situation of the country. When some of our men went on shore to them and showed them bells and pictures painted on paper, they began a hoarse chant and an unintelligible song, dancing round our men, and, in order to astonish them, they passed arrows a cubit and a half long down their throats to the bottom of their stomachs, and without being sick. And forthwith drawing them out again, they seemed to rejoice greatly, as having shown their bravery by this exploit.

At last three came as ambassadors, and prayed our men, by certain signs, to go further inland with them, as if they would receive them with all hospitality. Magellan sent seven men, well armed, with them, to investigate as carefully as possibly both country and people. When they had gone with them about seven miles inland, they came to a thick and pathless wood.

Here was a rather low hut, covered with skins of wild beasts. There were two apartments in it; in one lived the women with their children, in the other the men. There were thirteen women and children, and five men. These receieved their guests with a (ferali apparatu*) barbarous pomp, which seemed to them a royal one. An animal was slaughtered, whic hseemed to differ little from the onager, and they served it up half roasted to our men, without any other food or drink. Our men were obliged, contrary to their custom, to sleep under skins, on account of the severity of the snow and wind. Wherefore, before they slept, they set watch. The Indians did the same, and lay down near our men, snoring horribly.

* Literally, with funeral or lugubrious state; but Maximilian and his translators appear to have thought that feralis is derived from fera. Ramusio translates: “Dando loro a mangier carne de fiere;” and the Spanish version in Navarrete has: “Con su aparato y cerimonias bestiales.” Ducange has an adverb, feraliter, with the sense of beastly.

When the day had broken, our men asked them to return with them to the ships, with the whole family. When the Indians had refused for a considerable time, and our men had insisted upon it rather imperiously, the men enters the den-like* women's apartment. The Spaniards though they they were counsulting with their wives concerning this expedition; but they returned covered, from the sole of their feet to the crown of their heads, with different horrible skins, and with their faces painted in different colours, and equipped in this terrible and horrible garb with bows and arrow for battle, and (seemingly?) of much greater stature than before. The Spaniards, who thought that it would come to a fight, ordered (a shot) to be fired. Though this shot was harmless, still the giants, who looked just before fit to contend with Jove, were so frightened by this sound, they they began forthwith to speak of peace. The upshot was, that three men returned with our fellows to the ships, having sent away the rest of the family. So they started for the ships. But, as our men could not only not keep up with these almost giants when the latter were running, but could not, even by running, keep up with them walking, two of them escaped upon the march, on the pretext of pursuing an onager, which they saw feeding at a distance upon a mountain. The third was brought to the ship, but died, within a few days, of fasting, which he had imposed upon himself, according to the habit of the Indians, through homesickness. And though the admiral sent again to that hut, in order to catch some one of these giants to take to Cæsar on account of their novelty, yet no one was found there, but all had gone elsewhere with the hut. Whence it seems clear that that race is a wandering one, nor did our men ever see another Indian on that coast, though they remained in that bay for many days, as we shall mention farther on.

* “Feralis,” again.

They did not think that there was anything in that region of sufficient importance to justify their exploring it and the interior any farther. Though Magellan perceived that any longer stay there was useless, yet, as the sea for several days was stormy and the sky threatening, and the land stretched continuously southwards, so that the farther they went the colder they would find that region, his departure was necessarily put off from day to day, till the month of May was close upon them, from which time the winter there begins to be most severe, so that it became necessary to winter at the very time when we have our summer. Magellan foreseeing that the voyage would be a long one, ordered provisions to be served out more sparingly among his crews, so that the stock might last longer. When the Spaniards had borne this patiently for some days, fearing the severity of the winter and the barrenness of the country, they at last petitioned their admiral, Magellan, that, as he saw that the land stretched uninterruptedly to the south, and that no hope remained of its terminating or of the discovery of a strait through it, and that a severe winter was imminent, and that many of them were dead of starvation and hardships; and declared that they could no longer bear the rule which he had made about the allowance of provisions (lex sumptuaria), and begged that he would increase the allowance of provisions, and think about going home; that Cæsar never intended that they shoujld too obstinately attempt what nature itself and other obstacles opposed; that their exertions were already sufficiently known and approved of,—for they had gone farther than either the boldness or rashness of mortals had ever dared to go as yet; and they they could easily reach some milder shore, if they were to sail south (north?) for a few days, a south wind being then blowing. But in reply, Magellan, who had already made up his mind either to die or to complete his enterprise, said that his course had been laid down for him by Cæsar himself, and that he neither could nor would depart from it in any degree, and that he would in consequence sail till he found either the end of the land or some strait (through it).

That though they could not at present succeed whilst winter was against them, yet that it would be easy in the summer in that region. But that, if they would continue towards the Antarctic portion of this country, the whole of its summer would be one perpetual day. That there were means if they would only try them, by which they might avoid famine and the rigour of the winter, inasmuch as there was abundance of wood, and the sea provided shell-fish and many sorts of the very best fish. The springs were wholesome, and birdfowling and hunting would supply many wants; and neither bread nor wine had as yet been lacking, nor would they lack in future if they would only bear that they should be served out when needed, or for health's sake, and not for pleasure or for luxury. They had done nothing as yet worthy of admiration, or which could serve as an excuse for their return, inasmuch as the Portuguese crossed the tropic of Capricorn by as much as 12 deg. not only every year, but almost every day, when they were sailing eastwards. They would be thought worthy of very little praise who had gone only 4 deg. southwards. He had certainly made up his mind to endure the worst rather then retrun ignominiously to Spain, and he trusted that all his comrades, or at least those in whom the noble Spanish spirit was not yet dead, would be of the same mind.

He advised them to bear at least the remainder of the winter patiently, and siad that their rewards would be the more abundant the more difficulties and dangeers they had endured in opening to Cæsar a new unknown world, rich in spices and gold. magellan thought that the minds of his crews were soothed and cheered by this harangue, but within a few days was harassed by a shameful and foul conspiracy. For talking begain amongst the crews about the old eternal hatred between the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and about Magellan's being a Portuguese. He, they said, could do nothing more glorious for his own country than to cast away this fleet, with so many men. Nor was it credible that he should wish to discover the Moluccas, even if he were able; but he would think it sufficient if he could lure Cæsar on for some years with a vain hope, and meanwhile something new would turn up, by which the Spaniards would for the future be diverted from the search for spices. Nor even had their course begun to turn towards those happy Moluccas, but rather to distant snows and ice, and to perpetual storms.

Magellan, very much enraged by these sayings, punished the men, but rather more harshly than was proper for a foreigner, especially when commanding in a distant country. So, having planned a conspiracy, they seize upon a ship, and make ready to return to Spain. But he, with the rest whom he had still obedient to his commands, attacked that ship, and put to death the head man and the other ringleaders, those even who could not lawfully be so treated sharing the same fate. For those were certain servants of the king, upon whom no one but Cæsar and his Council could lawfully pronounce a sentence of death. Nevertheless, no one from that time dared to disparage the power of the commander. Still, there were not wanting some who whispered that Magellan would, in the same manner, murder all the Spaniards to the last man, until he, having got rid of them all, might return with the few Portuguese with the fleet to his own country. And so this hatred settled more deeply in the hearts of the Spaniards.

As soon as ever Magellan saw the storminess of the sea and the rigour of the winter mitigated, he set sail from this gulf of St. Julian on the 24th of August. And, as before, he followed the course of the coast southwards for many days. A promontory was at last sighted, which they called Santa Cruz, when a severe storm, springing from the east, suddenly caught them, and one of the five ships was cast on shore, the men being all saved, with the merchandise and equipment, except one Ethiopian slave, who was caught and drowned by the waves. After this the land seemed to bear a little east and south, and this they began to coast along as susual, and on the 26th of November§ certain inlets of the sea were discovered, which had the appearance of a strait. Magellan entered them forthwith with the whole fleet, and when he saw other and again other bays, he gave orders that they should be all carefully examined from the ships, to see if anywhere a passage might be discovered; and said that he would himself wait at the mouth of the strait till the fifth day, to hear what might happen.

§ The accounts of Pigafetta and the Genoese pilot both state that they were within the strait during the month of October; the latter gives the date as October 21. So either Maximilianus got the month wrong, or his informant was mistaken.

One of the ships, which Alvarus Meschito, his nephew, commanded, was carried back by the tide of the sea, to the very place where then entered the gulf. But when the Spaniards perceived that they were far away from the other ships, they made a plot to return home, put Alvarus, their captain, in irons, bent their course northwards, and were at last carried to the coast of Æthiopia (Guinea), and, having victualled there, they reached Spain eight months after they had deserted the rest. There they compel Alvarus to stand his trial in chains (causam ex cinculis dicere faciunt quasi), for having, by his counsel and advice, induced his uncle Magellan to practise such harshness on the Spaniards.

But when Magellan had waited for this ship some days longer than the time fixed, another returned, which had discoverd nothing but a bay full of shoals and shingle, and very lofty cliffs. The third ship, however, reported that the largest bay had the appearance of a strait, as in three days' sail they had found no way out; but the farther they had gone the narrower the sea was, and they had not been able to sound the depth of it in many places by any length of line, and that they had also noticed that the tide was rather stronger than the ebb, and that so they were persuaded that a passage was open in that direction to some other sea. He made up his mind to sail through it. This channel, which they did not then know to be a channel, was on one place three Italian miles wide, at another two, sometimes ten, and sometimes five, and pointed a little westward. The altitude of the southern pole was found to be 52 deg., and the longitude to be the same, as at St. Julian's Bay. The month of November was upon them (Aderat jam mensis Novembris), the night was rather more than five hours long, and they had never seen any human beings on the shore.

But one night a great number of fires were seen, mostly on their left hand, from which they guessed that they had been seen by the natives of the region. But Magellan, seeing that the country was rocky, and also stark with eternal cold, thought it was useless to waste many days in examining it; and so, with only three ships, he continued on his course along the channel, until, on the twenty-second day after he had entered it, he sailed out upon another wide and vast sea. The length of the channel they attest to be nearly a hundred Spanish miles.

There is no doubt that the land which they had upon their right was the continent of which we have spoken, but they think that the land on the left was not a mainland, but islands, because sometimes on that side they heard on a still farther coast the beating and roaring of the sea.