Tag: juan sebastian elkano

September 6, 1522: Elkano arrives back in Europe to complete first circumnavigation of world

September 6, 1522 marks the historic date on which Basque seafarer, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) set foot once more on European soil after successfully leading the first expedition to sail round the world (following the death of original expedition leader Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in 1521).

The final voyage of the Victoria, the ship skippered by Elkano, was by no means without incident. William A. Douglass picks up the story in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (p. 85), from the time the expedition left the Moluccas (or Maluku Islands, in present day Indonesia):

The Victoria set sail on December 21, 1521, with a contingent of sixty, including thirteen islanders from Tidore. They were negotiating hostile Portuguese waters as they skirted India and the Cape of Good Hope, never daring to land and therefore subject to great privations. By the time they arrived in the Cape Verde islands, on July 9, 1522, an additional twenty-eight men had perished. The Portuguese authorities managed to capture and imprison thirteen of the crew, including two Basques who had gone ashore in search of food and water. After it became evident that the governor would not release the captives, Elkano set sail, and on September 6, 1522, the Victoria reached the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with eighteen Europeans (three Basques, including himself) and four islanders on board, as well as a modest cargo of spices that was impounded immediately by Cristóbal de Haro to satisfy the expedition’s financial obligations.

In Selected Basque Writings (p. 53), the renowned philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt also makes mention of this feat, noting that Elkano “was thus the first to have really circumnavigated the world and Charles V gave him a coat of arms of a globe with the known engraving: ‘You are the first to have circled m’ (Primus me circumdedisti). The Victoria was kept as a holy remnant of this voyage until it fully disintegrated of age.”

In previous posts, we have discussed Elkano’s death on yet another expedition (see here) and new online documents that shed more light on his personality (see here).

New documents about Juan Sebastian Elkano available online

Juan Sebastian Elkano (1476-1526)

As we noted in a previous post, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) led the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522. Yet as a recent report in El Diario Vasco suggests, the figure of Elkano remains very a mystery. Two serious fires in 1597 and 1836 the archives of Getaria, his home town, destroyed much of the information about Elkano. Last year, however, eight important documents were discovered that have come to shed more light on this major Basque historical figure.

These documents were discovered during an initiative to reorganize the archive of the Lardizabal family, the owners for centuries of the Laurgain Palace in Aia. They are administrative in nature and provide an insight into Elkano the person, his preoccupations and interests. They also include a key letter written by Elkano to King Carlos I following his return to Europe.

See the full report (in Spanish) here.

These documents have been digitalized and are now available online via the Basque National Archive here.

Elkano is a key figure in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass.

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.