On the 28th November 1520, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led the first European ships from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific as part of his planned circumnavigation of the earth. Magellan’s route into the Pacific took him through what we now call the Strait of Magellan. After emerging in calm waters on the other side he called the new ocean Mar Pacifico, or the Pacific Ocean, as the waters were very calm.

Magellan’s voyage was funded by the Spanish king, Charles I, who is better known by his subsequent title of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. By the early 1500s it had become evident that Christopher Columbus’ voyages had not found a westward route to the Indies. Consequently the Spanish crown sought to find one, since the eastward route around Africa had been reserved for the Portuguese under the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1498.

Having crossed the Atlantic, Magellan’s fleet searched the South American coast for a channel that would lead them through the land mass. On the 21st October they concluded that they had found the passage at Cape Virgins, and entered it on the 1st November. As a result the channel was first known as the Strait of All Saints.

Three weeks later, Magellan and three ships emerged into the calm waters of the South Pacific. They soon made landfall at the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, so called due to the fires lit by the inhabitants to ward off the low temperatures. The fleet reached South East Asia the following spring, where Magellan was killed in battle on the 7th April.

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© Scott Allsop