Magellan's Real Circumnavigation, Enrique of Malacca Taken as Slave

Ferdinand Magellan.

(Profiles: Magellan, Part 1.)

Schoolchildren around the world are taught the name Ferdinand Magellan[1]—“the first person to circumnavigate the globe”—many in grade school and again high school. But few people know Magellan's story, that he was killed in the Philippines halfway through that circumnavigation, and moreover, that he still came within 2,600 kilometers of fully circling the earth.

Only one of the five ships that departed Seville in August 1519 returned to the Spanish city in September 1522, and with only 18 of the (roughly) 260 original crew. Magellan was killed halfway, in April 1521 on the island of Mactan (modern-day Philippines).

A decade earlier, though, Magellan traveled halfway around the globe in the other direction, around the southern tip of Africa to Eastern Africa and India. Magellan was serving the Portuguese king, not as a sailor so much as a minor nobleman (fidalgo) and soldier of fortune. 

Rough extent of Magellan's early travels.

In 1509 Magellan sailed with the first Portuguese fleet to reach Southeast Asia, visiting the city of Malacca,[2] a wealthy trade hub on the Malay Peninsula. The Europeans did not fare well on this debut in the region—news of Portuguese atrocities in India and East Africa preceded their arrival. The sultan of Malacca initially welcomed the small fleet, but days later staged an ambush that trapped a work party onshore, cut off from escape.

View over Malacca shortly after its conquest by the Portuguese, drawn by Gaspar Correia
in his Lendas da Índia, written in the 16th century.

Reports said Magellan, onboard ship, was one of the first crew to discover the attack and he personally rowed a longboat directly into the fray. Diving into the fight, he apparently helped save his friend Francisco Serrão and lead a number of the Portuguese back to the ships. 

A year and a half later, in 1511, Magellan returned as part of a much larger fleet led by Portugal’s viceroy in Asia, Afonzo de Albuquerque, a man known for brutal vengeance. Although far outnumbered and facing the Sultan’s dug-in cannon and guns, the Portuguese easily crushed the city’s defenses, forcing the Sultan to flee.

The invaders then sacked the city, pillaging the homes of wealthy Muslim merchants. Their booty included gold bars, jewels, wonders from China, and slaves—including a teenage boy Magellan claimed and rechristened Enique.[3]

Francisco Serrão.

Not long after, Magellan’s friend Francisco Serrão sailed with a small fleet and became the first in the Portuguese drive to reach the Moluccas[4], or Spice Islands, in modern-day (eastern) Indonesia. There he wrote letters to Magellan describing a tropical paradise rich in spices, and Magellan became fixated on joining his friend. In a return letter to Serrão, Magellan wrote:

"God willing, I will soon be seeing you, whether by way of Portugal or Castile, for that is how my affairs have been leaning …"

And Magellan set out to do just that, to join Francisco Serrão in the Moluccas, but instead of traveling 2,600 kilometers east from Malacca to the Moluccas, Magellan wound up turning around and taking the long way, a scenic route certainly, westbound around much of the earth.[5]

Magellan's slave and interpreter, Enrique of Malacca, traveled the entire distance with him, and Enrique may have gone on.

Read Part II, coming soon.

By John Sailors

Enrique's Voyage

Enrique on Twitter


1. Ferdinand Magellan is the English name, pronounced with a hard G in British English. Magellan’s name in Portuguese: Fernão de Magalhães. In Spanish: Fernando de Magallanes.

2. Malacca in Malay is Melaka.

3. Enrique’s original name is unknown. Enrique is the Spanish of the Portuguese Henrique. The English equivalent is Henry. Somewhere over time historians added “of Malacca,” which Magellan listed in his will as Enrique’s place of origin: “…my captured slave Enrique, mulatto, native of the city of Malacca …” (In his will, Magellan freed Enrique upon his death.) In more recent times Enrique has also been called Henry the Black and Panglima Awang, the latter a name given to him by Harun Aminurrashid (1907-1986), Malay author of the popular historical novel of that name.

4. Known in history as the Molucca Islands, or Spice Islands, they are known today as the Maluku Islands. Located in modern-day (eastern) Indonesia, they include the islands of Ternate, Tidore, and Banda, which were important sources of nutmeg, mace, and cloves. Magellan's fleet was called the Armada de Molucca. Next to the city of Malacca, the trade hub on the Malay Peninsula, these names must be confusing to people unfamiliar with related topics.

5. At Limasawa, both Ferdinand Magellan and Enrique of Malacca had traveled to within 2,600 kilometers of a full circumnavigation with Malacca as the starting point. Enrique may have traveled on and some scholars believe he was from the Visayan Islands where Limasawa is located. Upon reaching Limasawa, Enrique became the first person to circumnavigate the globe linguistically.


Top: Ferdinand Magellan, Library of Congress.

Correia's Malacca: By Gaspar Correia - Lendas da Índia, first published by the Academia Real de Ciências de Lisboa in 1858-1863, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50328659.

By CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69085633.

(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.

Enrique's Voyage Profile: Ferdinand Magellan

(C) 2022, by John Sailors.

Enrique's Voyage Profiles

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. Read more.

Pigafetta went far beyond chronicling the progress of Magellan’s fleet; his passion for learning about cultures and languages made him an early anthropologist of sorts. Antonio Pigafetta (c. 1491 – c. 1531) was the principal chronicler of the Magellan-Elcano expedition that became the first to circumnavigate the globe in 1519–1522. An Italian scholar-turned explorer, Pigafetta was among the 18 crew members who survived the journey and returned to Spain aboard the nao Victoria …  Read more.

Magellan's Real Circumnavigation, Enrique of Malacca Taken as Slave (Magellan, Part 1)

Schoolchildren around the world are taught the name Ferdinand Magellan[1]—“the first person to circumnavigate the globe”—many in grade school and again high school. But few people know Magellan's story, that he was killed in the Philippines halfway through that circumnavigation, and moreover, that he still came within 2,600 kilometers of fully circling the earth. Read more.

For Ferdinand Magellan, life moved swiftly from tropical amphibious combat in Southeast Asia to land war on horseback in North Africa. Magellan returned to Lisbon in 1512 or 1513, bringing with him Enrique, the slave he claimed at Malacca. Unfortunately, the Malay teenager was about all the fortune Magellan collected in seven years’ service in India. Magellan invested the riches he collected in a trade deal that went sour, a slap in the face he learned of on return to Lisbon … Read more.

Spain's King Charles named Magellan captain-general of the Armada de Molucca, but from the start he had to enforce his authority with an iron hand. In Asia a decade earlier Magellan had been more soldier than sailor. Now as commander of a naval fleet, Magellan relied on his military fleet background to maintain control of his own armada. Read more.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Backs Magellan's Armada

Ferdinand Magellan’s Armada de Molucca was financed by Carlos I (1500–1558), the newly crowned king of a unified Castile and Aragon. Carlos was an eighteen-year-old Habsburg from Flanders who barely spoke Spanish. Between the time he agreed to back Magellan's expedition and its departure, he became Charles V, Holy Roman emperor, and archduke of Austria.   Read More.

Juan de Cartagena Leads Mutiny Against Magellan

Juan de Cartagena, a native of Burgos, was the original captain of the San Antonio and one of the human obstacles Ferdinand Magellan had to overcome on the expedition. History labels Magellan and Columbus and other ship captains as “explorers” and “navigators.” Cartagena is identified as “an accountant and a ship captain” [1], not quite the swashbuckling image that inspires fifth graders in history class.   Read more.

(C) 2022 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.