the bloody riot in San Julián



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Between the end of March and the beginning of April 1520, just five hundred years ago, the expedition of Fernando de Magallanes arrived in the place they called Port of San Julián, just a few days from the antartida, to spend the winter. Supplies ran out, the days grew shorter, and the men trembled with cold. The great adventure of the 16th century lived its bloodiest hours in that bay.

The first trip around the world is incomprehensible seen from the current point of view given the imperfections of those nautical instruments and the faulty construction of the caravels. The victory of Sebastián Elcano is only understood by the strength of the men led initially by Fernando de Magallanes, a Portuguese sailor who, after antagonizing the King of Portugal, denatured himself from this kingdom and offered the Spanish Carlos I a unique company.

Together with the astronomer Ruiz Falero, he proposed to the Hispanic monarch an alternative route to trade with Asia without the need to use those already established by the Portuguese crown. Habsburg accepted and allowed that in September 1519 five ships departed from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, the Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria and Santiago, with a total of 239 people on board.

A red winter

Than Fernando de Magallanes also had a dark side, a steel back, he demonstrated this precisely when the expedition reached San Julián. According to Pigafetta: “We arrived (03.31.1520) at 49 and a half of south latitude where we found a good port, and as winter approached, we purposely judged to spend the bad season there.” Faced with extreme cold and food shortages after a six-month journey, Magellan decided in late March to cut down on food rations for the crew and to build warehouses for supplies on the ground. With fishing and hunting in the coastal zone I hoped to obtain enough food to return soon the journey.

Monte Cristo, in San Julián, where Magellan ordered the erection of a cross
Monte Cristo, in San Julián, where Magellan ordered the erection of a cross

Anchored in San Julián, several officers and representatives of the King demanded that their captain cease his advance, considering that the expedition had failed and in these conditions it was impossible to find the way to the South Sea. In this group of opponents was Gaspar de Quesada, captain of the nao Concepción, Luis de Mendoza, captain of the nao Victoria, Antonio de Coca, army accountant, and Juan de Cartagena, seer whom the King had placed at the same level of command as Magellan, in addition to Juan Sebastián Elcano, a complete stranger who, during the subsequent mutiny, took over the captaincy of the Nao San Antonio.

Magellan invited all captains, officers, and pilots to hear mass at a makeshift altar on the ground and then to eat, none of the royal officers was

Magellan turned a deaf ear to the claims of this group who, since leaving Spain, had complained about the hermeticism and spirit of little dialogue of the Castilian naturalized captain. They complained, among other things, that Magellan had breached Article 3 of the Instruction received from the Emperor and neither delivered to his subordinates the letters made for the journey, nor showed them the defeat to follow.

Palm Sunday, April 1, 1520, Magellan invited all captains, officers, and pilots to hear mass at a makeshift altar on land and then to eat. Only the accountant Coca and Álvaro de la Mezquita, Magellan’s nephew and captain of the San Antonio, attended the liturgical celebration. The rest of the officers were too busy completing a riot.

An unequal war

Juan de Cartagena did not attend the celebrations and the next morning the sedition caught on. Sheltered in the dark, Cartagena and Quesada passed with thirty men from La Concepción to San Antonio to catch Mosque. Juan de Elorriaga, master of the ship, received four stab wounds in the arm and died for coming out in defense of his captain. The mutineers seized power in three of the five ships and sent a message to Magellan requesting him to comply with the King’s provisions.

Portrait of Fernando de Magallanes

Antonio de Coca he seized the weapons of the Magellan supporters in the San Antonio and gave command of the ship to the unknown Juan Sebastián Elcano. Despite the seriousness of his situation, Magellan managed to stay calm. Taking advantage of the fact that his enemies could not go out to sea and, seeing that he only had the Trinidad, where he was embarked, and the Santiago, he sent a skiff, with five armed men to deliver a supposed letter of surrender to Mendoza

La Victoria, captained by Mendoza, was anchored in the innermost part of the bay. That gave Magellan a golden opportunity. When Mendoza were reading the letter, the skiff’s messengers stabbed the Spanish and helped another boat to assault the ship. The Conception of Gaspar de Quesada, He fell into the trap, unaware that Mendoza was dead, to follow the path of victory. Too late he realized he was in the middle of a three-on-two match.

Quesada advanced against the three ships loyal to Magellan, anchored downstream from their position, and received all of their artillery fire at once. Despite the fact that his men swore to resist with “until death,” the Concepción was easily taken and the San Antonio later surrendered, seeing itself as inferior.

A repression incompatible with adventure

Magellan’s revenge was disproportionate and jeopardized the future of an expedition already quite decimated: 40 men were sentenced to death without any process (of course, if there was, there is no documentary evidence) and many of the main commands were replaced by Portuguese and Magellan’s relatives. However, the sentence was forgiven, including the one that weighed on Elcano, except in the case of the leaders.

Engraving from the 50s of the 19th century showing the sailor Juan Sebastián Elcano

Luis de Mendoza Y Gaspar de Quesada They were decapitated and dismembered. Their bodies were put on a gallows to rot the five months they waited in southern Argentina for the southern winter to pass to constantly remember that no one could challenge Magellan. Whether these were officers appointed directly by the King raises the question that, had they survived the epic, Magellan would probably have had to face an investigation in Spain.

The cleric Pedro Sánchez de la Reina and Juan de Cartagena were sentenced to exile on April 7, 1520 and abandoned on the shores of Patagonia. His status as a great of Spain saved Cartagena from execution, although he was abandoned on an islet “with each bag of biscuits and two bottles of wine”, which amounted to a slow and merciless death sentence.

The sentence was forgiven, including the one that weighed on Elcano, except in the case of the ringleaders.

Despite the bad environment, Magallanes decided to stay in the Port of San Julián for 147 days. During this period there was the loss of the Santiago ship, who had been sent to explore a little further south while the others remained in the Port of San Julián. Two survivors of the stranded ship made a painful journey from Santa Cruz port, where Santiago went down to the Spanish port, so that at least the belongings and most of the crew saved their lives.


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