Magellan’s Victoria: First Ship to Circumnavigate the Globe


The Nao Victoria became the first ship to circumnavigate the globe in 1522, the only ship in Ferdinand Magellan’s five-vessel fleet to accomplish the feat. While configurations of the five ships are unknown, the Victoria has been the most studied, and several life-size replicas have been built (see the above video of a replica Victoria at sea). Listed at 85 tons, the Victoria was the second-smallest of the Armada de Molucca, but also the second-most expensive, costing more than Magellan’s flagship, the Trinidad.





San Antonio




Trinidad (flagship)

















The Crew

The Victoria started off with a crew of 45. Its captain, Luis Mendoza, and 27 others were from Castile. Beyond that it was an international group with 7 crew members from Portugal, 3 each from Genoa and Naples, 1 each from Sicily and Venice, 2 from Navarre in northern Spain, 3 from France, and 1 each from Germany, Austria, and Rhodes. The large number of non-Castilians turned out to be an important factor during the Easter mutiny in 1520.

In addition to the ship’s officers and seamen were a carpenter, a caucker, a cooper, two blacksmiths, and three gunners. The carpenter, Martin de Garate, drowned in Patagonia in August 1520 while crossing the Santa Cruz estuary to assess whether the just-shipwrecked Santiago could be rebuilt. 

First Circumnavigation

The Victoria completed the first circumnavigation in 1522 after a three-year journey. Of the other four ships, the Santiago was shipwrecked near the Santa Cruz estuary in modern-day Argentina, the San Antonio deserted at the mouth of the strait and escaped back to Seville, the Concepción was scuttled near Cebu, and the flagship Trinidad, nearly wrecked and with a starving crew, was captured by the Portuguese in the Spice Islands (Moluccas), the Magellan-Elcano expedition's destination.

When the Victoria reached Seville, it carried only 18 members of the expedition, including several who had started out on other ships. A full 7 original crew of the Victoria were among those who returned to Seville; 4 others returned to Spain after being held over for a time in the Cape Verdes Islands. Many died at sea at various points around the globe.

Key Circumnavigators

Juan Sebastián Elcano.

Of note, Juan Sebastián Elcano, of Basque origin, was captain of the Victoria during the final part of its journey. Originally master aboard the Concepción, Elcano is credited with completing the first circumnavigation with the Victoria

Very importantly, Antonio Pigafetta was among those who survived the voyage and returned to Seville. Pigafetta kept a diary of the journey as they progressed and afterward wrote a detailed account that included descriptions of the peoples they came across. Most of what we know about the Magellan-Elcano expedition comes from Pigafetta’s journal.

The Victoria’s pilot on its return, Francisco Albo, also provided history with essential records. Albo started out as master’s mate aboard the Trinidad. As the fleet approached Brazil in November 1519, Albo began keeping a navigational log that recorded the fleet’s daily progress. Throughout the voyage he avoided political controversies and stuck to his job as a professional mariner. His log gives us invaluable knowledge about the expedition and route.

Mutiny at Puerto San Julian

The Victoria’s original captain, Luis de Mendoza, joined in the Easter mutiny at Puerto San Julian in April 1521. Initially, the mutiny pitted three ships—the Victoria, the San Antonio, and the Concepción—against Magellan’s flagship Trinidad and the Santiago.

Magellan sent his master-at-arms, Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa, to the Victoria to deliver a message, along with a marine in escort. Onboard the Victoria, Mendoza led the two to his cabin, where he read Magellan’s message and laughed. Espinosa responded by thrusting a dagger into Mendoza’s throat; the marine followed with a dagger blow to the skull, killing Mendoza instantly.

Meanwhile, Duarte Barbosa, an extra on the Trinidad and Magellan’s brother-in-law, led a boarding party to the Victoria. The group of 15 men floated over silently and unseen in a longboat, and then on a signal from Espinosa climbed aboard and disarmed the men on deck. The rest of the crew offered no further resistance—of the three ships that mutinied, the Victoria had the most Portuguese and non-Castilian crew members. Magellan likely chose his target with that in mind.

Magellan rewarded Barbosa by naming him captain of the Victoria. Both Magellan and Barbosa had previously served the Portuguese king in naval battles in Africa and India. Barbosa wrote a travelogue on the region.

The Victoria in Asia

Detail of Victoria on 1590 map
by Abraham Ortelius

As captain, Barbosa led the Victoria through the strait and the first Pacific crossing. In April 1521 Magellan was killed in battle at Mactan, and on May 1, Barbosa and many of the fleet’s officers were killed in an ambush at Cebu.

So few officers were left that Barbosa was replaced as Victoria’s captain by Espinosa. Historian Tim Joyner notes that Espinosa’s former rank, master-at-arms, was equivalent to a modern marine warrant officer. Espinosa led the Victoria to Brunei and beyond during a period when the Victoria and the Trinidad were basically a pirate fleet, attacking and seizing junks they came across.

In September 1521, the remaining fleet deposed Joao Lopez Carvalho as commander. Espinosa became captain of the Trinidad, and Juan Sebastián Elcano became captain of the Victoria.

Two months later, in November 1521, the Trinidad and the Victoria arrived at Tidore—they had finally reached the legendary Spice Islands, the Moluccas, the goal of Magellan and Christopher Columbus before him. There, they took on a cargo of pepper.

The Victoria's Indian Ocean Crossing

To return, Elcano made the decision to sail straight across the Indian Ocean to the southern tip of Africa, through uncharted waters. Given the condition of the Victoria, returning across the Pacific and through the strait was considered too dangerous. More dangerous, heading north along the coast of India would have meant certain capture by the Portuguese, who controlled the waterways along India and East Africa.

Elcano’s gamble and the Victoria’s resilience made the first circumnavigation possible. Had the ship not held up, Magellan would have been left only a footnote in history, an explorer who led the first Pacific crossing and nothing more.

The Victoria departed Timor on January 25, 1522, for a crossing of the Indian Ocean that was as long and deadly as the Pacific crossing. It was four months later on May 22 that the Victoria rounded the Cape of Good Hope and entered the Atlantic Ocean.

On July 9, the Victoria reached the Cape Verdes Islands. There, a number of crew members were seized by the Portuguese. Thirteen of those seized would eventually return to Spain.

On September 6, 1522, the Victoria reached Sanlúcar de Barrameda, south of Seville, with 18 men aboard, and on September 8, Seville itself. With Elcano as captain, the Victoria became the first ship to complete a circumnavigation of the world.

Despite its poor condition, the Victoria was repaired and sailed for another fifty years before finally being lost with all hands on a voyage from the Antilles to Seville, in 1570.

By John Sailors

Enrique's Voyage


Elcano: By l:Imprenta de Luis Tasso Photo :Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla from Sevilla, España - "Juan Sebastian Elcano" Libro Las glorias nacionales : grande historia universal de todos los reinos, provincias, islas y colonias de la Monarquía Española, desde los tiempos primitivos hasta el año de 1852, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28605543

Victoria on Map: Ortelius, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

(C) 2022, by John Sailors.

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.

Was Enrique of Malacca Filipino?

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; and the Visayan Islands in the (modern-day) Philippines. The evidence points to Malacca, though chronicler Antonio Pigafetta said Sumatra, and some scholars believe it's possibly Enrique was from the Visayan Islands in the modern-day Philippines? See the historical evidence in this post: Where was Enrique of Malacca from, Malacca or the Philippines?

Find us:

Learn more about Enrique at EnriqueOfMalacca.com.

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