Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Ferdinand Who? By Candy Gourlay. Illustrated by Tom Knight

Thanks to the Time Tunnellers for inviting me to be your guest this week!

I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk about Ferdinand.

Ferdinand who? You may ask. Ferdinand Magellan! I wrote a book about him, illustrated by Tom Knight who weirdly is in the same pose as me in these photos.
Funnily enough, my book is part of a book series called First Names, which tries, through comics and stories, to make readers get to know notable people on a first names basis.

When my publisher asked me who I would like to write about, I proposed Ferdinand – Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer!

Where I grew up – in the Philippines – Ferdinand was famous for DISCOVERING the islands that became my native country! Discovering us whether we liked it or not, I always say – how would you feel if someone turned up at your house and told you he now owned it because he’d discovered it?
But I am jumping ahead of myself.

Way back in 1519, Ferdinand set off with a fleet of ships from Spain, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. He sailed down the coast of the continent we now know as Latin America, until he came to a gap.

Nobody had ever seen that gap before. He believed that he could make his way through the gap to the other side of the continent. Other explorers before Ferdinand had seen an ocean, on the far side of the continent. So he knew it was there.

And Ferdinand found the way through to it.

The passageway he found is now called the Strait of Magellan. And the ocean came to be called the Sea of Magellan. But today, we now know it as the Pacific Ocean.

Many terrible things happened to him on the way. In the 16th century, ships and navigation tools were primitive. They could only taste the water to figure out if they were on a fresh water river or on the right track on a salty ocean. They had no fridges to keep their food fresh, so they had to carry cattle and when that was gone, they had to hunt for food on the shore.

Worse still, his men hated him, probably because Ferdinand was a bit arrogant. He was also Portuguese while many of his men were Spanish – and the Spanish and Portuguese were deadly rivals. There were several nasty attempts by Spanish men to take control from Ferdinand. One of his ships even turned around and sailed back to Spain.

And by the time they reached the Pacific, they were all suffering from sickness and starvation.

And most shocking of all: Ferdinand didn’t have a map. He didn’t know where they were going.

Why would someone VOLUNTEER to go on such a terrible voyage?

Here’s why: Ketchup. French Fries. Pizza. Pasta. Curry. CHOCOLATE.


There were no tomatoes. No potatoes. No pasta. No coffee. No sugar. No Spices. No chocolate.

Can you even begin to imagine what life was like for without all these things?

Rich people could buy spices – which were used for everything from deodorant to improving the flavour of food. Remember, there were no fridges, so meat was always slightly off.

The spices came from far away lands, carried by Arab traders across the vast European and Asian continent.

But then the great Ottoman empire rose in the East. They blocked the trade with Europe and Europeans had to find another way to get their spices.

And then some ships began to improve. They could sail longer and longer distances.

Some men, who were a lot braver than they were clever, began to venture out to explore the world beyond Europe.

And when they came back, oh the stories they told! They brought gold and strange new food.

When young Ferdinand was growing up, explorers were like ROCK STARS. And he dreamed of becoming an explorer himself.

In my book I tell the story of how Ferdinand fought to become an explorer. His journey to the other side of the world was filled with adventure and peril. And he had some successes. He was the first European to sail the Pacific Ocean. There is a penguin named after him, the Magellanic Penguin. As well as two dwarf galaxies, now called the Magellanic Clouds.

Mind you, poor Ferdinand died before he ever knew that these things were named after him.

But the most important thing that Ferdinand was known for was being the first man to sail all the way around the globe. But that’s another story.

On his early travels, reaching as far as what we now know as Malaysia by rounding the southernmost point of Africa, Ferdinand had acquired a boy as his slave whom he named Enrique. We know about Enrique because Ferdinand mentions him in his will and later, a man named Antonio Pigafetta, who went on the voyage with Ferdinand, wrote about him.
When at last Ferdinand crossed the Pacific Ocean and landed in a group of islands teeming with people – which we now know as the Philippines – he was astonished to find that Enrique could speak their language.

Pigafetta wrote down a list of words from the language and guess what, it’s the language that my parents speak, called Cebuano.

Because Enrique could talk so fluently, Ferdinand had no trouble being understood by the islanders – he even tried to convert them to his religion! After a long and terrible journey, Ferdinand felt successful at last.
Maybe that’s why he offered to attack the enemy of one of the island kings.
Which was a disaster.

Ferdinand was killed on the island of Mactan, in a battle that he didn’t even have to fight.

Today, people say he was the first man to sail all the way around the world.

But he never returned to Spain.

If you were Ferdinand and you were packing for your trip to an unknown destination, what would you pack? Make a comic or write a story about Ferdinand packing for his journey.

Ferdinand Magellan and the First Names series of books are published by David Fickling Books. All illustrations from the book by Tom Knight. Candy Gourlay’s website is here.

You can watch Candy's video Here.

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