February 22, 2022

Jules Verne, Antonio Pigafetta, and That Pesky International Date Line


Both Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days and the survivors of the Magellan-Elcano expedition circumnavigated the globe, the former eastward in the 1870s, the latter westward in the 1520s. Both Fogg and Elcano's crew were surprised to have gained (Fogg) or lost (Elcano) a day, and both Jules Verne in his 1873 classic novel and Antonio Pigafettathe Magellan-Elcano chronicler, tell a similar story of their discovery.

Here first are the main explanations side by side, with longer versions of their stories below.

Antonio Pigafetta:

However, as was told us later, it was no error, but as the voyage had been made continually toward the west and we had returned to the same place as does the sun, we had made that gain of twenty-four hours, as is clearly seen. 

Jules Verne, 350 years later: 

In journeying eastward he had gone towards the sun, and the days therefore diminished for him as many times four minutes as he crossed degrees in this direction. There are three hundred and sixty degrees on the circumference of the earth; and these three hundred and sixty degrees, multiplied by four minutes, gives precisely twenty-four hours—that is, the day unconsciously gained. In other words, while Phileas Fogg, going eastward, saw the sun pass the meridian eighty times, his friends in London only saw it pass the meridian seventy-nine times. This is why they awaited him at the Reform Club on Saturday, and not Sunday, as Mr. Fogg thought.

Below are longer excerpts from the novel and from Pigafetta's chronicle of the first circumnavigation. Both tell of the surprise discovery.  

Phileas Fogg

One of the most famous circumnavigations was Phileas Fogg's in Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne's famous 1873 novel. Spoiler alert: If you have not read the novel or don't know the story from one of the movies, do not read on. Read Jules Verne.

In the novel, Phileas Fogg makes a wager that he can circle the globe within eighty days. And he would have succeeded were it not for a detective who mistook him for a robber and had been chasing him as he traveled. And on the very day that Fogg returns to Britain, at Liverpool, on the eightieth day of his journey, he is suddenly arrested and put in jail. 

The detective soon learns that Phileas Fogg is not his man, but it is too late. Fogg will be unable to return to the Reform Club in London, six hours away, by the time limit. Phileas Fogg has failed. He is ruined.

The next day, Fogg unexpectedly becomes engaged to a young woman he rescued in India and who has traveled with him and his butler, Passepartout, since then. Fogg sends Passepartout out to arrange for a minister for the following day, Monday.

Here is how Verne tells it:

Passepartout went on his errand enchanted. He soon reached the clergyman’s house, but found him not at home. Passepartout waited a good twenty minutes, and when he left the reverend gentleman, it was thirty-five minutes past eight. But in what a state he was! With his hair in disorder, and without his hat, he ran along the street as never man was seen to run before, overturning passers-by, rushing over the sidewalk like a waterspout.

In three minutes he was in Saville Row again, and staggered back into Mr. Fogg’s room.

He could not speak.

“What is the matter?” asked Mr. Fogg.

“My master!” gasped Passepartout—“marriage—impossible—”

“Impossible?”

“Impossible—for to-morrow.”

“Why so?”

“Because to-morrow—is Sunday!”

“Monday,” replied Mr. Fogg.

“No—to-day is Saturday.”

“Saturday? Impossible!”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes!” cried Passepartout. “You have made a mistake of one day! We arrived twenty-four hours ahead of time; but there are only ten minutes left!”

Passepartout had seized his master by the collar, and was dragging him along with irresistible force.

Phileas Fogg, thus kidnapped, without having time to think, left his house, jumped into a cab, promised a hundred pounds to the cabman, and, having run over two dogs and overturned five carriages, reached the Reform Club.

The clock indicated a quarter before nine when he appeared in the great saloon. 

Phileas Fogg had accomplished the journey round the world in eighty days!

Phileas Fogg had won his wager of twenty thousand pounds!

How was it that a man so exact and fastidious could have made this error of a day? How came he to think that he had arrived in London on Saturday, the twenty-first day of December, when it was really Friday, the twentieth, the seventy-ninth day only from his departure?

The cause of the error is very simple.

Phileas Fogg had, without suspecting it, gained one day on his journey, and this merely because he had travelled constantly eastward; he would, on the contrary, have lost a day had he gone in the opposite direction, that is, westward.

In journeying eastward he had gone towards the sun, and the days therefore diminished for him as many times four minutes as he crossed degrees in this direction. There are three hundred and sixty degrees on the circumference of the earth; and these three hundred and sixty degrees, multiplied by four minutes, gives precisely twenty-four hours—that is, the day unconsciously gained. In other words, while Phileas Fogg, going eastward, saw the sun pass the meridian eighty times, his friends in London only saw it pass the meridian seventy-nine times. This is why they awaited him at the Reform Club on Saturday, and not Sunday, as Mr. Fogg thought.

Pigafetta 

Phileas Fogg's circumnavigation began and ended at his London apartment on Saville Row. The Magellan-Elcano expedition began and ended in the Spanish city of Seville

When Magellan's fleet left Seville in 1519, it consisted of five carracks and a crew of around 260. Only one of the five ships, the Victoria, and 18 crew, were left in the fleet when it returned to Seville three years later, in 1522—led by Juan Sebastián Elcano. Magellan was killed in the Philippines.

Note that Magellan didn't set out to circumnavigate the globe. He was seeking a route to the Moluccas (the Spice Islands, or Malukus), in modern-day Indonesia.

But Elcano decided that returning across the Pacific and through the strait was too risky, given the poor condition of Victoria. He made the decision to sail the Victoria straight across the Indian Ocean with no stops, to avoid the Portuguese, who would seize the vessel and likely kill all aboard.

Here is Pigafetta's account of the journey after the Victoria rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

Finally by God’s help, we doubled that cape on May six at a distance of five leguas. Had we not approached so closely, we could never have doubled it.

Then we sailed northwest for two months continually without taking on any fresh food or water [refrigerio]. Twenty-one men died during that short time. When we cast them into the sea, the Christians went to the bottom face upward, while the Indians always went down face downward.

Had not God given us good weather we would all have perished of hunger. Finally, constrained by our great extremity, we went to the islands of Capo Verde.

 Wednesday, July nine, we reached one of those islands called Sancto Jacobo [Santiago], and immediately sent the boat ashore for food, with the story for the Portuguese that we had lost our foremast under the equinoctial line (although we had lost it upon the cape of Bonna Speranza), and when we were restepping it, our captain-general had gone to Spagnia with the other two ships. 

With those good words and with our merchandise, we got two boatloads of rice. We charged our men when they went ashore in the boat to ask what day it was, and they told us that it was Thursday with the Portuguese. 

We were greatly surprised for it was Wednesday with us, and we could not see how we had made a mistake; for as I had always kept well, I had set down every day without any interruption. 

However, as was told us later, it was no error, but as the voyage had been made continually toward the west and we had returned to the same place as does the sun, we had made that gain of twenty-four hours, as is clearly seen.


A few final notes. Antonio Pigafetta was an Italian scholar who signed on as chronicler to the Magellan-Elcano expedition in Seville not long before it departed. Pigafetta kept notes not only of the Armada de Molucca's progress but also kept detailed accounts of the peoples they encountered along the way, including descriptions of their customs and sample vocabulary from their languages. 

Pigafetta was the sixteenth-century equivalent of an anthropologist. (See this example of Pigafetta's description of the coconut). The "Indians" he wrote about included the Tupi people in Brazil (Pigafetta called the land Verzin, an Italian word for brazilwood), the "Patagonian giants" (people described as 10 feet tall and later seen by other explorers, including Sir Francis Drake's expedition), the Chamorro people on Guam, and others they came across in Asia.

The Magellan-Elcano expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Humans had known the world was round since ancient Greece (the flat-earth business in Europe was a medieval thing). But when Juan Sebastián Elcano led the fleet's one remaining vessel, the Victoriaand its handful of survivors back to Seville three years later, it was the first empirical evidence that the world was round and that one could actually circle it.

Or maybe it was the first evidence. For Ferdinand Magellan, the journey from Seville westward to Cebu (in the modern-day Philippines) was only the second half of his travels. Fourteen years earlier Magellan traveled eastward to East Africa and India, serving the Portuguese King as a soldier, and in 1511 Magellan fought in the bloody takeover of Malacca, a strategic trade hub on the Malay Peninsula.

During or after the sack of Malacca, Magellan captured a slave he named Enrique,* a boy of about 14 who apparently had a talent for languages and dialects. History has identified him as Enrique of Malacca, though his origin is unknown. (Malacca was the region's most cosmopolitan city at the time; more than 100 languages were spoken.)

Enrique traveled back to Lisbon and later to Spain with Magellan, where he was presented to the new King Carlos I (soon-to-be Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). And on the Armada de Molucca fleet roster, Enrique was listed as an interpreter earning a salary higher than some of the armada's officers.

Enrique and Magellan then crossed the Atlantic Ocean, sailed south from Brazil to, well, off the map (they didn't fall off a flat earth, though), and then crossed the Pacific to reach Cebu and Mactan.

Here in the modern-day Philippines, Enrique for the first time earned his keep as an interpreterhe could converse with people in the canoes that rowed out to meet the Spanish ships!

Enrique of Malacca had completed a linguistic circumnavigation.

Shortly after, Magellan was killed in a battle against a local chief, or datu, on the island of Mactan. Days later, Enrique of Malacca defected from the Spanish fleet and from the pages of history as well.

Both Enrique and Magellan had come to within 2,600 kilometers from a full circle of the earth. Enrique may have gone on; Cebu was part of an extensive trade network and transport was available. Scholars also speculate on whether Enrique may have been from the area, since he knew a language or dialect spoken there (though he was very possibly speaking a Malay dialect used regionally in trade).

At any rate, Enrique of Malacca had traveled so far in one direction that he came to a place where he spoke the language (a definite first)—a linguistic circumnavigation.

And unlike Phileas Fogg and Antonio Pigafetta, Enrique of Malacca likely did not have trouble with gaining or losing a day on the journey (different calendars). 

Jules Verne reckoned on needing 80 days to circle the earth in the 1870s. Elcano and Pigafetta took three years. For Enrique it was a ten-year ordeal.


Note (03/17/22): The 2021 TV adaptation starring David Tennant tells a very different story from Jules Verne's. In it, Tennant and co-stars Ibrahim Koma and Leonie Benesch encounter very different obstacles along the route and a very different love story. [Spoiler Alert!] One main plot point they do keep in the final episode of season one is surprise at a gained day.

Note (04/30/22): In his 1890 biography of Ferdinand Magellan, F. H. H. Guillemard makes this comment on the international date line: "To the first circumnavigators the necessity of altering their day on passing the meridian of 1 80° was unknown, and so it came about that — the error persisting until quite recent times — Hong-kong and Manila called the same day Monday and Sunday, and it was not until the 31st December, 1844, that the matter was rectified by the omission of that day from the Manilan calendar."

Note (05/06/22): The problem persists, even with experienced travelers. On flights from California to Taiwan you lose a day (a Pigafetta), from Taiwan to California you gain one (a Phileas Fogg), and relatives and colleagues (and we travelers) occasionally forget this when making arrangements. (This just happened.) Unfortunately, compared with Daylight Savings Time, this business of the International Date Line is a bit prickly. We can't just vote it away. On this note, living in Asia and vacationing in North America has an advantage: You feel like you gain a day at the start of your holiday. Asia is also the best place to see in the New Year. You can celebrate, sleep it off, and still get up to watch the countdown in Times Square.


Spanish: Enrique de Malacca; Portuguese: Henrique de Malacca.


By: John Sailors, Enrique's Voyage.

These excerpts are from digital editions available at Gutenberg.org, a mindbogglingly rich source of free historical and public domain books including Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days and Antonio Pigafetta's chronicle of the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation. The Pigafetta account comes from the Gutenberg title The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, Volume XXXIII, 1519-1522, which wonderfully puts the English side by side with the original Italian.

Check out the Gutenberg Project at Gutenberg.org. Books are often available in HTML (online) or in EPUB, Kindle, and plain text.

(C) 2022 by Enrique's Voyage. All rights reserved.



See Also:


On March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca became the first person to complete a
linguistic circumnavigation of the globe—he traveled so far in one direction that he reached a point where his language was spoken. Enrique’s journey began a decade earlier following the sack of Malacca, when he became a slave of Ferdinand Magellan. A teenager, he accompanied Magellan back to Portugal, then to Spain, and finally on the Armada de Molucca to locate a westward route to the Spice Islands.  Read more:

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Learn more about Enrique at EnriqueOfMalacca.com.