Magellan's Flagship Trinidad Reaches Spice Islands, then East of Hokkaido


The Trinidad tried to cross the Pacific a second time.

The Nao Trinidad was the flagship of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet, the Armada de Molucca. Configurations of the five vessels are unknown, but the Trinidad was listed at 110 tons, the second largest next to the San Antonio at 120. Trinidad was the third-most expensive.





San Antonio




Trinidad (flagship)
















The Trinidad's Crew

The Trinidad had a crew of 62 men when the expedition departed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (south of Seville) on Sept. 20, 1519. Notably, only 29 crew members, just under half, were Castilian. Magellan may have purposely loaded his own ship with Portuguese and other non-Castilians for safety’s sake, given the mistrust Castilian officials and fleet officers had for the Portuguese captain general.

Other nationalities included 14 Portuguese (counting Magellan), nine from Genoa, three from France, and one from England. Among the ranks were officers, a surgeon, a carpenter, a caulker, a barber, a chaplain, as well as sailors, cabin boys, and “extras.” Not to mention an interpreter, Enrique.

Of note among the Trinidad’s crew were Ferdinand Magellan; Antonio Pigafetta, the expedition’s chronicler; Duarte Barbosa, Magellan’s relation by marriage; Enrique of Malacca, Magellan's slave-interpreter; and Cristóbal Rabelo, possibly an illegitimate son of Magellan's.

All four became confidants of Magellan and all four fought with him at Mactan. Magellan and Rabelo were killed, Enrique and Pigafetta injured.

The Trinidad Reaches Limasawa

When the Trinidad reached Limasawa Island after a harrowing three months crossing the Pacific Ocean, eight men in a canoe rowed out to meet the odd foreign ships. From the Trinidad, Enrique of Malacca called out—and they understood him. Magellan had just done what Columbus and others failed to do: sail westward to Asia. Enrique, meanwhile, had at this point circumnavigated the globe on a linguistic basis, at least, likely speaking Malay as used in trade in the region.

Following Magellan's death, Barbosa and Juan Rodríguez Serrano were chosen as co-commanders of the fleet.

Barbosa was killed just days later in an ambush at Cebu, carried out by Rajah Humabon. Only Serrano was seen after, bloodied and beaten on the beach. From beach to ship, Serrano reported that all were dead except for him and Enrique, according to Pigafetta.

Pigafetta later blamed Enrique for planning the massacre, though the fleet departed immediately for fear of the ships being captured. No investigation was carried out and the fates of Enrique and Serrano are unknown.

The Trinidad After Magellan

At this point the fleet did not have enough men to crew all three vessels, so they scuttled the Concepción, the ship in the worst condition. The Concepción’s original pilot, João de Lopes Carvalho, was now a senior member of the fleet. A Portuguese, Carvalho had crossed the Atlantic once before the Magellan-Elcano expedition and fathered a son along the way, Joãzito  Lopes Carvalho, who was now traveling with the fleet. 

After leaving Cebu, Carvalho was elected captain of the Trinidad and captain general of the fleet, while Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa was elected captain of the Victoria.

At Brunei, Carvalho again ordered the ships to flee, this time leaving behind a shore party that included his young son, Joãzito, a boy of about eight years old at that time. In the following days Carvalho abused several women the fleet had kidnapped from a captured junk; the plan had been to take the women back to Spain to present to the queen. He also made a secret deal with a captured Luzon prince, letting him escape for a sum of gold. Both moves outraged the crew and soon led to Carvalho’s ouster as commander. 

Espinosa now became captain of the Trinidad and Juan Sebastián Elcano took command of the Victoria

The Trinidad Reaches the Spice Islands

In November 1521, the Trinidad and the Victoria finally reached the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, the main goal of Magellan’s expedition. This had also been Columbus’s intended destination. Of the original crew of about 270, only 107 men survived to see the Spice Islands.

A month later, the two ships were loaded with cloves and ready to sail for home, but the Trinidad was damaged during departure. The Victoria sailed on alone, hoping to catch the last of the season’s monsoon winds. The Trinidad stayed behind at Tidore to make repairs. Elcano led the Victoria west across the Indian Ocean—literally uncharted waters—and fought winds to finally round the Cape of Good Hope, to return in time to Spain.

The Trinidad's Final Voyage

Four months later, the Trinidad was repaired and again ready to depart. Espinosa made the decision to return eastward across the Pacific, but on a northerly course that brought them well east of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. There they were hit by a massive storm and forced to return. 

By the time the Trinidad made its way back to the Moluccas, the crew were so sick and weak from starvation, Espinosa did the unthinkable and asked the Portuguese for help. The Portuguese sailed the remnants of the Trinidad to Ternate, where they confiscated its books, papers, and charts. They arrested the crew.

The Trinidad sat at anchor briefly before a storm hit the island and broke up what was left of the vessel, sinking a cargo of cloves that was still aboard. Later, many of the survivors were forced to help construct a fort for the Portuguese, using timber and cannon from Magellan’s flagship Trinidad.

By John Sailors

Enrique's Voyage

(C) 2022, by John Sailors.

Review and Discussion Questions

For classroom review or self-study. After reading the article try first to answer these questions off the top of your head, then look back to answer any that you are unsure about.

1. What was the name of Ferdinand Magellan's flagship?

2. Which of Magellan's ships did Enrique of Malacca sail on?

3. Which of Magellan's ships reached the Moluccas, or Spice Islands?

4. Which of Magellan's did Antonio Pigafetta sail on?

5. Which of Magellan's ships sailed farthest north??

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:

What Was Enrique of Malacca's Nationality?
Enrique of Malacca's origin is a subject of debate. Three places are considered possible: Malacca, then a major trade hub on the Malay Peninsula; Sumatra, the large island adjacent to Malacca (modern-day Indonesia); and the Visayan Islands in the (modern-day) Philippines. The following article examines the three possibilities and the evidence available. Read more.

Find us:

Learn more about Enrique at EnriqueOfMalacca.com.

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