Archives Portal Europe celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Magellan-Elcano expedition with an exhibition dedicated to travelling and expeditions across the world, with documents and curiosities from its network.
All on board!
The first stop on our journey is NORWAY.
The second stop on our journey is TURKEY
The third stop on our journey is FRANCE.
- La Boudeuse and Louis de Bougainville (1766-1769)
- Philibert Commerson and his research aboard La Boudeuse
The fourth stop on our journey is SPAIN.
- The Magellan and Elcano Expedition: The Beginning of the Journey
- The Magellan and Elcano Expedition: Passage through South America
- The Magellan and Elcano expedition: The return to Spain and the fate of the Trinidad
- Salvador Fidalgo and the road to Alaska
The last stop on our journey is the UNITED KINGDOM
The Titanic disaster: 110th anniversary
RMS Titanic, a British passenger liner operated by the White Star Line, was the largest ship afloat at the time. It had departed from Southampton on 10 April 1912, stopping at Cherbourg ( France) and Queenstown (Ireland), before heading west towards New York.
On the 15th April 1912, after striking an iceberg RMS Titanic broke apart and sank south of Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was thought that the huge ship with 16 watertight bulkheads could not sink and the disaster shocked the world for the huge loss of lives, as well as for the regulatory and operational failures that led to it.
Of the approximately 1,339 passengers on board and its 885 crew members, of which 23 were women, only 710 survived. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people at that time, emigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and other places across Europe.
The National Archives of Norway holds some documents related to the Titanic disaster as part of the collection of the White Star Line shipping company. In fact, the RMS Titanic had an office in Oslo for processing all those Norwegian passengers who wanted to travel to the UK or sail for America. In particular, the book in the picture below records the list of some of the emigrants that boarded the Titanic on 10th April 1912.
The three names registered under “TITANIC” are Arne Johan Fahlstrøm (18 years old) , Carl Midtsjø (22) and Olaf Pedersen (29). Of these, only one survived the disaster. In a letter to his brother dated 19 April 1912 sent from an hospital in New York, among other details on the tragedy of that night, Carl Midtsjø wrote how lucky he was to be alive and how he was allowed by the First Officer to board lifeboat 15.
The National Archives of Norway also preserves a few other documents related to legislations, hearings and conferences mostly held in the US and UK about security on ocean traffic following the Titanic disaster. You can find the full list available on Archives Portal Europe here.
The Kon-Tiki expedition
On 28 April 1947, a crew of six sailed from South America, across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft, reaching the Tuamotu Islands, in Polynesia, on 7 August of the same year.
During the 101 days of navigation, the crew manned a raft built with the materials and technologies available to South American seafarers of pre-Columbian times.
The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca god Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name. The expedition’s goal was indeed to demonstrate that people from South America could have reached Polynesia during pre-Columbian times, making a long sea voyage that might have created contacts between different cultures.
The expedition was led by the Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), who had a background in zoology, botany, and geography. For Heyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki expedition was not an isolated experiment: He made four others oceanic trips in primitive vessels to demonstrate his theories that ancient civilisations may have spread from a common source through sea voyages.
His expeditions on primitive rafts and boats were documented in books, films, and television programs, generating large public interest in the possibility of travelling vast distances at sea in primitive vessels, and what this may represent for cultural exchanges and interconnections.
Heyerdahl received numerous praises for his work and was appointed a government scholar in 1984. But while he became more popular than any contemporary anthropologists, the scholarly reception of his ideas has been controversial, and the scientific community has rejected some of his theories.
An Attack Submarine
Since the Middle Ages, concepts for submarines or submersible boats have been designed without ever going further than a sketch. Only in the 17th century started to appear drawing and projects for functioning submarines such as those designed by Cornelius Van Drebbel, a Dutchman in the service of James I of England.
In the 18th century over a dozen patents for submarines had been granted mainly for military purposes in England, and some of them reached the planning and construction stage such as the famous Nautilus by Robert Fulton.
In Norway, during the Denmark-Norway war when Norway was under blockade by English ships, Mikkel Hallsteinsson Lofthus (1782-1850), a mechanic from Ullensvang submitted to the City Council of Bergen in 1808 drawing and plans for a submarine. He also made a model of the boat that he proposed to build.
The submarine was to be driven forward by three pairs of oars, and it would move up and down in the water by moving the weight inside the boat back and forth. The submarine would include air intakes and hooks that could seize enemy ships in order to drill holes.
While many appeared to be eager for the plan to be implemented, after advice from military experts, it was decided that the plan was unrealistic.
Nevertheless, Mikkel Hallsteinsson Lofthus was nominated Knight of the Dannebrog Order, a Danish Order of Knight, for his initiative and plans for the attack submarine.
Turkish nomads and the Josephine Powell Slide Collection
The Suna Kıraç Library in Istanbul holds a collection that documents the study of Anatolian textiles and ethnography that occupied the photographer Josephine Powell from the mid-1970s to the time of her death in 2007.
This beautiful collection contains over 35.000 of photographs, field and research notes, articles, photo essays executed at the beginning of Josephine Powell’s career, as well as personal correspondence, snapshots and other personal belongings.
Josephine Powell moved to Instanbul in 1974, when she was commissioned to write a book on kilims. Since not much research existed in this subject, she decided to go into the field to do research herself.
Between the 1970s and 1980s she visited nomads and villagers in Anatolia, photographing their daily activities and their handicrafts. During these years, Powell also became fascinated by the lives of rural women and by their artful weaving.
Throughout her research, Josephine Powell built a rich archive of photographs and field notes on flat-woven textiles made by nomadic, semi-nomadic, and settled weavers. These photos constitute a unique traces of a culture that has now disappeared.
“On the way back it rained for two days, but though they all suffered from the cold, it did not seem to matter. They have performed the most important religious duty; they have made a pilgrimage and are closer to the obtaining Moksha, the liberation from the cycle of rebirth.”
In the mid-1980s, Powell was also involved in a project whose aim was to revive the use of natural dyes among villagers in Western Turkey. Some of these early dyeing experiments were even done in Josephine’s own kitchen. She was also involved in the founding of an ethnographic section in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul.
In her travels, Powell collected all kinds of artefacts used by Anatolian people for the purposes of agriculture and other daily tasks. The result of this tireless effort to collect ethnographic objects is a collection preserved at the Sadberk Hanım Museum, in Büyükdere, İstanbul. This collection of objects includes over 400 flatweaves and more than 1.000 wooden and metal artefacts.
La Boudeuse and Louis de Bougainville (1766-1769)
Our content provider, the French National Archives, holds the travel diary of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, commander of La Boudeuse. Under his command, La Boudeuse left “La Rivière de Nantes” on 15 November 1766 for the first French circumnavigation of the globe.
In his travel diary, Bougainville noted down every detail of the expedition, accurately documenting information and observations about Polynesians and Melanesians.
After leaving Tahiti, La Boudeuse sailed west to southern Samoa and the New Hebrides , and after sighting Espiritu Santo turned west again in search of the “southern continent”.
On March 16, 1769, the expedition completed the circumnavigation and arrived in Saint-Malo.
Bougainville’s travel diary offers interesting and rich reports of his and his crew travel, detailing their journey every step of the way and registering every small change in the weather or curiosities about the places he visits. Moreover, this diary and all the data collected in it during the navigation contributed to the improvement of the cartography of the Pacific.
Particularly interesting are also the observations he makes about the small islands and shores he encounters during the expedition: he offers an accurate account of the plants, animals and fishes he sees, conveying a vivid image of the beauty and wildness of a nature that has not been yet contaminated by humans.
On Archives Portal Europe you can find the list of resources related to the nautical/travel journals of La Boudeuse and its expedition here.
Philibert Commerson and his research aboard La Boudeuse
When La Boudeuse sailed for the first French circumnavigation of the globe under the command of Louis de Bougainville, various scientists joined the expedition.
Among these was the naturalist Philibert Commerson (1727-1773) who was in charge of studying the flora of the new lands.
During the expedition he collected many plants from each land La Boudeuse touched during the journey, some of these plants and flowers were gathered in numerous herbaria.
He described in his herbaria hundreds of plants, such as the genus Bougainvillea, which was named after Louis de Bougainville.
Commerson joined the expedition together with his partner and assistant Jeanne Baré disguised as a man. Like in a novel, they managed to keep her gender secret for a while, but was discovered when the expedition reached Tahiti. Nevertheless, she was allowed to continue the expedition as Commerson’s personal assistant and nurse, since the botanist was often ill.
Commerson died at Mauritius in 1773. The numerous manuscripts and herbaria he produced during the expedition were brought to Paris after his death and are currently preserved at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.
The Magellan and Elcano Expedition: The Beginning of the Expedition
The Magellan and Elcano expedition was a 16th century maritime expedition funded by the Spanish Crown and captained at the beginning by the Portugueses Ferdinand Magellan and, on his return, by Juan Sebastián Elcano, which completed the first circumnavigation of the Globe in history. The expedition aimed to open a trade route to the “Spice Islands” (today’s Moluccas) from the west, seeking a passage between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
Ahead of the expedition, Ferdinand Magellan had to obtain permission for the discovery of the Route from King Charles I and various privileges for the voyage which are documented in a series of instrumenta preserved at General Archive of the Indies (Seville, Spain).
For instance, the following photos show a few pages from the agreement established by the King with Fernand Magallan and Ruy Falero for the discovery and contracting of the Spice Route. The full document is available here.
The royal confirmation of the seat and agreement was recorded in the books that the secretary Francisco de los Cobos had “of the dispatches and contracting of the Indies and of the discovery and contracting of the Espeçiería“.
The General Archive of the Indies also preserves the Instruction given by Charles I to Ferdinand Magellan and Ruy Falero, knights of the Order of Santiago and captains general, regarding what they were to observe in the Armada organised for the expedition to discover the Spices route, dated “1519, May, 8. Barcelona”.
Another interesting document is the Memorial attributed to Fernand Magellan and Ruy Falero, in which they ask King Charles I to comply with what they had discussed regarding the preparation of an Armada of discovery, and to grant them some privileges and graces.
According to this hypothesis, the document would have been probably written during the negotiations for the preparation of the Armada for the Spice Route.
The Magellan and Elcano Expedition: Passage through South America
The expedition sailed from Seville on 10 August 1519 consisted of five ships, and after finalising preparations, the ships left Sanlúcar de Barrameda for good on 20 September 1519.
After having explored the American coastline south of Brazil for months, the fleet managed to cross the Strait of Magellan on 28 November 1520.
The annotations of the route attributed to Francisco Albo begin in 1519 on “Tuesday the 29th day of the month of November […] being in the area of Cape San Agustín and at an altitude of 7 degrees on the south side, and 27 leagues southeast [sic] from the said Cape“.
After travelling through the Pacific, the expedition discovered the island of Guam, the Marshall Islands and reached the Philippine Islands. Here, on 27 April 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was killed in the battle of Mactan.
The expedition continued sailing to the Moluccas, the destination of their voyage, where they established trade relations and took on a large cargo of spices. Testimony of the establishment of such relations is included in a document traditionally cited as “Paces del Maluco“.
“Paces del Maluco” offers an account of the commercial and diplomatic activities of the Armada de la Especiería during the period in which was commanded by captains Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa and Juan Sebastián Elcano, after the death of Fernando de Magallanes in Mactan. Among other things, it includes the agreements and transactions they made with several kings and local authorities of Borneo and the Molucca Islands.
It is in the Moluccas that Juan Sebastián Elcano was chosen to lead the return voyage with the ship “Victoria”. They quickly left the islands after having mistakenly understood that they were being attacked by their inhabitants. They sailed westwards across the southern Indian Ocean and around Africa, trying to avoid encountering with Portuguese ships so as not to be captured.
Among the many documents held by the Archivo General de Indias about the Magellan-Elcano expedition there is also a document listing the names of 103 crew-members of the expedition, in chronological order of death or other types of incident, from 20 December 1519, when the first death occurred (execution of Antón Salamón, master of the ship Victoria), to 14 July 1522 (death of the sailor Esteban Bretón).
The Magellan and Elcano expedition: The return to Spain and the fate of the Trinidad
The “Victoria” began its journey home sailing via the Indian Ocean commanded by Juan Sebastián Elcano. After rounding the Cape of Good Hope around May 1522, the Victoria managed to reach the Portuguese Cape Verde for provision, although twenty members of the crew had already died of starvation.
Having escaped the Portuguese in Cape Verde after they discovered the Victoria was carrying spices from the East Indies, on 6 September the “Victoria” managed to return to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, arriving two days later in Seville with its cargo of spices, becoming the first ship in history to circumnavigate the world.
Here, Elcano appeared before the Emperor to report on the expedition.
This is a letter from Juan Sebastián Elcano narrating the incidents of his expedition around the world: the discovery of the Strait of Magellan, arrival at the Molucca Islands and collection of quantities of spices, belonging of the islands to the zone of Spanish expansion and confirmation of the sphericity of the earth. He requests for the survivors of the expedition the grant of the “fourth part and twenty of their boxes” (1522, September, 6. Sanlúcar).
Elcano had also to provide details about the losses of the crew and accounts were settled with the crew and the relatives of those who died on the voyage – including Ferdinand Magellan.
As for Juan Sebastián Elcano, he died a few years later in 1526 after planning a new expedition that would secure the new trade route to the Moluccas.
While the Victoria managed to return safely to Spain, different was the fate of another ship, the Trinidad. While the expedition was in the Moluccas, it was decided that the Trinidad would try to return to Spain’s possessions in America by sailing east across the Pacific.
Unfortunately, the Trinidad did not find the right sea route and had to return to the Moluccas, where it was seized by the Portuguese. This letter from Gonzalo Gómez de Espinosa to Charles I, narrates the vicissitudes of the solo voyage of the Trinidad through the North Pacific, and its imprisonment by the Portuguese.
You can browse more documents related to the expedition here.
Salvador Fidalgo and the road to Alaska
Among the numerous Spanish explorations and the many archival documents related to them, there is the voyage captained by Salvador Fidalgo whose expedition reached Alaska in the 18th century.
Salvador Fidalgo was a Spanish explorer who in 1790 was sent by the Viceroy of New Spain, to San Lorenzo de Nootka (near Vancouver island).
In May of that same year, Fidalgo left Nootka reaching some weeks later Alaska.
After finding no signs of Russian presence on that territory, he traded with natives in the area conducting in June 1790 a ceremony of sovereignty, which involved erecting a cross and, then, naming the area Puerto Córdova.
Fidalgo continued his voyages along the Alaskan coast, reaching today’s Gravina Point, followed by Puerto Valdez and, in July, after an encounter with the Russians, he celebrated another ceremony of sovereignty near today’s English Bay or Nanwalek, Alaska.
Finally, Fidalgo led the expedition back to San Blas, arriving on 15 November 1790.
Among the documents related to the Fidalgo expedition preserved as part of the General Archive of Indes (Archivo General de Indias) there is a copy of the letter sent by Salvador Fidalgo to the Count of Revillagigedo, Viceroy of New Spain, in which Fidalgo reports on the expedition. The letter was written from San Blas on 13 November 1790.
The letter reports how the expedition, under the command of Commander Francisco de Eliza, together with the frigates “Concepción”, the packet boat “San Carlos, alias the Filipino” and the sloop “Princesa Real”, went to the land of Prince William Sound and Ribera de Cook and consolidated the establishment of Nutka.
The letter is followed by a series of copies of testimonies in which it is provided a list of discovered lands, seas, rivers, and bays adjacent to the new territories, such as the newly named Bahía de Córdoba (no.3), Ensenada de Menéndez (no.4), Puerto de Gravina (no.5), and Puerto de Revillagigedo (no.6).
Austen Henry Layard and the exploration of Nimrud
Sir Austen Henry Layard was an archaeologist, politician, and diplomat, who, beginning in 1845, worked on excavations at the archaeological sites of Nimrud and Nineveh.
In 1839 he decided to leave England for Sri Lanka (Ceylon) with the prospect of obtaining a post in the Civil Service, starting a series of travels across Asia. However, he never reached Ceylon. Instead, after spending some time in Mosul, he became interested in locating the ancient cities mentioned in the Bible, starting a series of excavations and archaeological campaigns for which he is renowned.
Testimony of these early years of excavations are the numerous pencil sketches and notes included in the Layard Archives, preserved currently by our content provider the Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives.
In 1845, Sir Layard began exploring the ruins of Assyria which led to important discoveries essential to gaining a better understanding and shedding light on the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia and their culture.
The expedition with which his name is mainly associated is that concerning the ruins of Nimrud on the Tigris.
Among the numerous and detailed sketches included in the Layard Archives, probably one of the most famous is the one depicting the beautiful Winged Bull/ Lion from Nimrud.
The Layard Archives also contains fragments of Assyrian pottery and other archaeological objects collected or gifted to him during his travels, alongside letters, papers, engravings and other sketches often stained and creased as they had been created while he was working and researching on-site.
Browse the full list of content included in the Layard Archives on Archives Portal Europe: https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/ead-display/-/ead/pl/aicode/GB-186/type/fa/id/gb186-lay/search/0/Layard+LRDBRKT_Austen+Henry_RRDBRKT+Archive
Gertrude Bell: snapshots from her travels
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (14 July 1868 – 12 July 1926) was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist.
Gertrude Bell was educated at Queen’s College, London and at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford where she obtained a first class in modern history in 1888. In the years immediately following her graduation, she travelled in Europe and visited Persia. Her travels continued with two trips around the world, in 1897-1898 and in 1902-1903.
Gertrude Bell spent much of her life exploring and mapping the Middle East, learning Arabic, investigating archaeological sites in this area, and travelling into the desert accompanied only by male guides. She also learned to speak Persian and wrote extensively about her archaeological findings and her travels.
The knowledge she gained over the years about the Middle East led her into service with the British Intelligence during the First World War. In 1915 she was appointed to the Arab Bureau in Cairo, which was involved in gathering information useful for mobilising the Arabs against Turkey.
Her first love, however, was always for archaeology, so much so that between 1923 and 1926, as Honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she established the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.
She documented her travels in detail through photography, capturing snapshots of far away countries and populations. From the photos included in Gertrude Bell’s Archive – currently preserved as part of the Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives – clearly emerges her passion for archaeology and ancient civilisations.
Here are a few examples of the beautiful pictures taken mostly by Gertrude Bell during her travels around the world.
Gertrude Bell’s Archive also includes letters sent home to her family whilst on her travels, the diaries she kept when abroad, and albums of photographs taken whilst she was away.
You can browse the content of Gertrude Bell’s Archive on Archives Portal Europe: here.