Tag: Andres de Urdaneta

September 26, 1565: Basque-run ship completes historic voyage

On September 26, 1565, a Basque-run ship, the San Pedro, docked in the vicinity of California’s Cape Mendocino after having sailed 11,160 miles cross the Pacific Ocean without a landfall—the longest continuous oceanic voyage to that date in the age of European exploration. This remarkable crossing is yet another in a long line of significant Basque maritime exploits – all described in fascinating detail by Bill Douglass in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (pp. 118-22).

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Andrés de Urdaneta (1498-1568). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As part of an initial plan to bring the Philippines within Spain’s orbit on the orders of King Philip II, a Basque-dominated expedition, led by two Gipuzkoans, Andrés de Urdaneta from Ordizia and  Miguel López de Legazpi from Zumarraga, reached Samar in February 1565. Thereafter, a permanent settlement was established in Cebu, which in the words of Douglass, was “the initial outpost of Spanish hegemony in the islands and one that would endure for more than three and a half centuries.”

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Miguel López de Legazpi (c. 1502-1572). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As well as establishing an imperial outpost there, however, Legazpi was also charged with finding the elusive easterly return route from the Philippines to Nueva España (present-day Mexico). The Portuguese held the monopoly over the westward sea lane between Asia and Europe, making it impossible to establish trade with the Philippines, let alone a settled Spanish colonial presence there, without violating the Treaty of Zaragoza; hence the importance of discovering this easterly route. Douglass continues:

Urdaneta’s previous experience in the Moluccas had sensitized him to the seasonal shift in the region’s prevailing winds. Furthermore, his relationship with Gerónimo de Sanesteban in Mexico City doubtless gave Urdaneta detailed knowledge of the Villalobos expedition’s two failed attempts to return to Nueva España from the Moluccas via a southern route. On June 1, 1565, Urdaneta left the Philippines in the San Pedro, which was under the command of Legazpi’s young (sixteen-year-old) grandson, Felipe de Salcedo. It seems likely that Urdaneta was the actual commander. Other Basques on the vessel included Friar Andrés de Aguirre; the boatswain, Francisco de Astigarribia; the ship’s mate, Martín de Ibarra (all Bizkaians); and the scribe, Asensio de Aguirre. About one-third of the crew were Gipuzkoans.

Once in the northern latitudes, the San Pedro picked up the summer months’ prevailing northeasterlies and reached the American mainland on September 26 that same year.

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“Urdaneta’s Route” across the Pacific. Image by Jrockley, United States Army. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basques have a reasonable claim, then, to yet another significant maritime historical record, besides being in charge of both the first (Elkano) and second (Urdaneta) global circumnavigations.

 

August 4, 1526: Death of Juan Sebastian Elkano and the “Basque connection” right to the end

We know you’re all smart people out there and we don’t need to tell you that Juan Sebastain Elkano, from Getaria, Gipuzkoa, was, in reality, the person who led home the first successful circumnavigation of the world in 1522 after taking over command of the Victoria from Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed en route in 1521.

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Statue of Juan Sebastian Elkano in Getaria, Gipuzkoa. Photo by Marije Manterola Iribar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But did you know that Elkano himself also died on a later expedition? It was 1526 and this time Elkano was second in command to García Jofre de Loaísa, leader of the expedition. For Bill Douglass, in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Oceanand fittingly perhaps, this particular voyage was “the most ‘Basque’ of any of Spain’s Pacific explorations” due to the nature of both the crews and ships involved. Indeed, these crews included two of Elkano’s brothers, his brother-in-law Santiago de Guevara, as well as a young seventeen-year-old, Andrés de Urdaneta, who would be Elkano’s page and protégé on the trip; and who would later go on to lead the second ever successful global circumnavigation.

In mid-Pacific, however, the expedition ran into trouble. Loaísa died of scurvy on July 20, 1526, and was succeeded by Elkano. But he also fell prey to the disease and died on August 4. According to Douglass:

Eleven days before his death, Elkano made out his last will and testament, witnessed by seven persons. All were Basques, including his young protégé. Urdaneta was named coequal heir of Elkano’s share in the benefits of the expedition, along with the deceased’s brother-in-law, Guevara, and his nephew Esteban.

Of the seven ships that set out on the expedition in July 1525, just one sailed into the Spice Islands on New Year’s Day in 1527.

Flashback Friday: The Return of Urdaneta

On June 26, 1536, Andres de Urdaneta (1508-1568), a Basque explorer from Ordizia (Gipuzkoa), dropped anchor at the port of Lisbon, Portugal, after a long transoceanic voyage. Eleven years before, in 1525, the Spanish Emperor Carlos V had sent this expedition headed by García Jofre de Loaísa to colonize the Maluku Islands or Moluccas (in present-day Indonesia) against his rival, the Crown of Portugal. The expedition included seven vessels. Urdaneta took to sea at an early age on the ship Sancti Spiritus under the command of Juan Sebastian Elkano. Most of the men in this expedition, including Elkano, died. Only one vessel reached the Moluccas. Among the survivors was Urdaneta himself who, after arriving in those archipelagos, lived there for nine years side-by-side the native people and Portuguese settlers, later returning to the old world. Andres de Urdaneta’s story illustrates the dynamics of Basque explorers and their place in early modern transoceanic imperialism.

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Iconic portrait of Andres de Urdaneta

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A map of the Moluccas, 1640

Check out anthropologist William Douglass’ new book Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean, which will give you the whole picture of this and other stories.