The first crossing from Peru to the East Indies was unofficial in its origin, inconsequential and mutinous in its progress, and miserable in its ending. It was in fact a by-blow of the great Inca revolt of 1536: Hernando de Grijalva, sent by Cortes with succours to Pizarro, decided to try his luck in searching for rich- 97 -islands rumoured to lie west from Peru—perhaps seduced by the legends of Tupac Inca which were later to inspire Sarmiento and Heyerdahl, perhaps under secret instructions. Antonio Galvão thought that Cortes, anxious to forestall the first Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza, had instructed Grijalva to sail ‘to Maluco to discouer that way a long vnder the equinoctial line’; but then as Governor of the Moluccas Galvão was properly suspicious of stray Spanish ships.
Grijalva left Paita in April 1537, and after sailing apparently a long way to the southwest attempted to make New Spain or California, but was defeated by winds from east and northeast, the Trades being still strong as far west as Hawaii in this season. According to the Portuguese historian Diogo do Couto (with Galvão one of the two main sources), the crew then demanded that they should make for the Moluccas, the winds seeming favourable, and on Grijalva's prudent refusal to trespass into Portuguese waters they killed him. They sailed on westwards close to the Equator—the first crossing in so low a latitude—sighting two islands over a thousand leagues from Peru. Most of the mutineers died in the dragging traverse along the belt of equatorial calms; the ship simply broke up somewhere on the north coast of New Guinea, and three survivors were rescued from the ‘Papuans’ by Galvão. The voyage was a failure from first to last.
Much more serious, though in its end almost as disastrous, was the voyage of Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1542. Charles V and his subjects were still convinced that the Moluccas were properly theirs, and though their claim had been hypothecated at Zaragoza, there were other islands where the Portuguese were not yet active—the Islas de Poniente, ‘Islands towards the West’, Magellan's San Lazaro. Pedro de Alvarado, the conquistador of Guatemala, was in Spain when the remnants of Loaysa's and Saavedra's people arrived from Lisbon, including Urdaneta, who presented a full and euphoric report on the possibilities not only of the Moluccas but of these islands to the north. Alvarado seized his chance, obtained a commission, and built eleven ships at Iztapa and Acajutla. His first cruise—to the north, lured by tales of the golden cities of Cibola—alarmed the Viceroy Mendoza, who succeeded in claiming first a third and then a half of the putative profits. Alvarado's death in a minor Indian war gave the Viceroy a free hand to appoint Villalobos, a relative by marriage, to seek for a base in the Islas de Poniente, presumptively on Cebu, for trade with China and the Lequeos; to spread the Faith; and not least to ascertain a return route to New Spain.
Villalobos sailed with six ships from Navidad on 1 November 1542, passing through the Revillagigedo Islands and the Marshalls. On 23 January 1543 they passed an island which they called Los Matelotes, since natives from canoes hailed them with ‘Buenos dias, matelotes’; this was Fais in the Carolines, and João de Barros and do Couto were convinced that the greeting was in Portuguese, not Castilian, an echo from the furthest reach of Galvão's missionary efforts—as he himself claimed, and as indeed seems most likely. Villalobos now committed an error by declining his pilot's advice to make for the north- 98 -point of Mindanao, which would have brought him to Cebu by the Surigao Strait; instead he found himself stuck on the weather side of Mindanao, with no trading prospects—although porcelain was found in a hut on the little island of Sarangani, Chinese and Malays did not come to the east of Mindanao. The Portuguese had been there already, and the people were generally hostile. A base was made on Sarangani, which had been visited by both Magellan's and Loaysa's Victoria; here they were brought to eat ‘horrid grubs and unknown plants’, land crabs which sent people mad for a day, and a ‘grey lizard, which emits a considerable glow; very few who ate them are living’.
In August 1543 Villalobos sent the San Juan de Letran under Bernardo de la Torre to take news to Mendoza. This fourth attempt to find a return route reached 30°N but then, like its predecessors, was forced back by storms; however, de la Torre touched at Samar and Leyte, and in all probability discovered some islands in the northern Marianas as well as the volcanoes of the Bonins, and possibly Marcus Island. He was also the first European to circumnavigate Mindanao. Before he got back to Sarangani, hunger had forced Villalobos to leave, after an unsuccessful attempt to reach Cebu; he was in the Portuguese zone (though he may well not have thought so) and the people around Sarangani refused supplies, whether through loyalty to Portugal (according to Galvão) or through Portuguese intrigues (according to the Spaniards).
Villalobos sought refuge on Gilolo, where there was still some support for Spain, though an appeal to the old alliance with Tidore failed. The Portuguese warned them off, but did not press too hard, and for the sake of peace the Castilians abandoned their old Gilolo friends. It was agreed to refer their position to the Viceroys of Portuguese India and of New Spain, and in the meantime the San Juan was to be refitted for yet another return attempt, under Ortiz de Retes. He sailed from Tidore on 16 May 1545 and coasted along New Guinea (which he so named) until 12 August, reaching somewhere near the mouth of the Sepik; but once more Saavedra's southern route proved an impasse. In October de Retes reached Tidore again, but so did a fresh Portuguese fleet, and Villalobos accepted repatriation. He himself died a few weeks after they set out (January 1546) in Amboyna, on Good Friday, receiving the last rites from St Francis Xavier: a good end for a man of his time and country. But this was also the end of any Spanish activity in the Spice Islands; henceforth such adventures were forbidden to the Viceroys.
Failure, but not the completely sterile failure of Grijalva's men. A great deal had been added, mostly by de la Torre, to knowledge of the Islas de Poniente; Villalobos, who had a taste for toponymy, named Mindanao ‘Caesarea Karoli’ for the Emperor, because of its greatness; the smaller islands to the north he called the ‘Felipinas’, for the prince who became Philip II. These northern islands were free of Portuguese influences—they had no spices, except some poor cinnamon; but they had ample supplies of food and good timber, so a base- 99 -
was possible; and this was vital, since
Villalobos's disastrous voyage had shown more clearly than any the
reason for the Spaniards’ difficulty in finding the return route; it was
that their ships started from the Archipelago in a condition unfit
for a long and perilous voyage of exploration. The Spaniards could
not discover the return route until they had a good base at which
to equip their ships; they could not establish a base until they
had discovered a return route; here was their dilemma.
- 100 -Small wonder, then, that St Francis Xavier thought it lamentable that new voyages should be projected, and asked a correspondent in Lisbon to beseech the King of Portugal to tell his fellow-monarch of Castile to send no more ships to be cast away in the Mar del Sur; not that D. João would need much urging to send such a message.
Villalobos's underestimate of 1500 leagues for the distance from Navidad to the Philippines made the potential base seem easier of access than it was; and despite Legazpi's careful logging of 1900 leagues in 1564–5, the earlier figure had a strong influence on Spanish thinking; the much improved outlines of Gastaldi and Forlani (1546–65; Figure Plate IX, “THE PACIFIC BY MID-CENTURY: FORLANI 1565. ”) still grossly understate the distance, and as late as 1574–80 Juan Lopez de Velasco could show this distance as 63° of longitude instead of over 130°. On the more tangible and immediate point of managing the trans-Pacific crossing, the results were negative. It was borne in upon navigators and projectors—not Urdaneta alone—that the return must be looked for to the north, not by Saavedra's well-worn but dead-end track. But while Villalobos's outward course passed more hospitable islands than did his predecessors’, those so far known were mostly dangerous low-lying atoll reefs, difficult to recover and identify, and his route missed the surer landfall of Guam. It also came to the Philippines on a lee shore, well south of the (later all-important) Surigao and San Bernardino passages leading to what was to be the centre of Spanish power, on Luzon. Outwards, Saavedra's track was better. Moreover, it was not on the relatively quick and easy westbound passage that places of rest and refreshment were most needed, but on the long return in colder latitudes; and here they were absent.
But at least the boundaries of the problem were now far more firmly set; and, line or no line, the very name ‘las Felipinas’ asserted a claim. The next attempt was to gain a new province for Christendom, and a giant extension for the Spanish mercantile system, which would span a continent and two oceans.