The Spanish Explorers; Balboa. On Columbus’s second voyage to the New World, he established a colony in the West Indies which became the base for many of the Spanish exploring expeditions. Balboa, one of the settlers of this colony of Santo Domingo, played an important role in exploration. Misfortune overtook him and he became involved in debt. Pressure from his creditors made life so unpleasant for him that he sought to leave the colony. An expedition was about to embark for the mainland, and Balboa managed to hide in a cask as a “stowaway.” Later he made himself leader of this expedition, which sailed for the Isthmus of Darien (now Panama), where the natives were less hostile, and where food was more plentiful.
From the natives he learned of an ocean on the other side of the mountains, and of the gold of Peru. He was told that gold was so plentiful that ordinary utensils were made of it. He was determined to find this supply of gold, and was ready to make real sacrifices in an effort to obtain great riches. On September 1, 1513, he set out with a party of 190 Spaniards, about l000 natives, and a large pack of bloodhounds. Although the isthmus is only forty-five miles wide, the jungle was so dense and so difficult to penetrate that Balboa did not reach the crest of the mountain range until September 25. From here he saw the Pacific Ocean – the first white man to see it from the New World – and four days later reached its shores and formally took possession of it in the name of the king of Spain. He named it the “South Sea,” and after exploring its shores, returned to Darien and sent messengers with presents to the king of Spain to report the great discovery that had been made. The Spanish monarch was pleased, and named Balboa admiral of the South Sea, and governor of Panama. Shortly afterward, however, the king sent Pedro Arias de Avila (often called Pedrarias Davila) to replace Balboa as governor of Panama. Jealousy between the two led to the arrest and imprisonment of Balboa. He was unjustly accused of treason, declared guilty, and executed in 1517,
Magellan’s Voyage Around the World. European nations were interested in finding a “northwest passage” or a “southwest passage,” past the New World to Asia. Fernando Magellan, a Portuguese, had served his own country in the Spice Islands for many years, but when the king of Portugal failed to give him ships with which to seek a westward route to the islands he appealed to the king of Spain. Magellan believed that the Spice Islands could be claimed by Spain as lying on the Spanish side of the demarcation line. He secured help from Spain, and in September, 1519, set sail with five small ships and about two hundred men. He crossed the Atlantic and proceeded southward along the coast of South America. From the Plata River southward, every inlet was carefully examined for a passage through the New World. Thirty-eight days were required to sail through the newly discovered strait that bears his name. He then reached the ocean which Balboa had called the “South Sea,” and he gratefully named it the “Pacific,” because after a stormy passage through the strait it seemed calm in comparison.
One ship had been wrecked before the Strait of Magellan was reached, and at the strait a second ship deserted and returned home. The other three started across the Pacific Ocean, the sailors not suspecting that it extended halfway around the world. As the weeks passed, food and drinking water became scarce; the crew, approaching starvation, were willing to eat sawdust, rats, and boiled leather. Yet they went on, in the hope that food and water would be found on the way. On March 6, 15 21, they came to the Ladrone Islands, and six days later reached the larger group of islands now known as the Philippines. Here they obtained food, and saw signs of Asiatic traders, but in a fight with the natives Magellan was killed. Another of the five ships here became unfit for service and was destroyed. The other two proceeded toward the Moluccas or Spice Islands, where one sprang a leak and was abandoned. In the Vittoria, or Victoria, the only ship left, the survivors now proceeded toward the Cape of Good Hope, and thence north along the west coast of Africa. On September 6, 1522, the ship with eighteen tired and worn sailors arrived in Spain, almost three years after it started on this first voyage around the world.