Author of the Month

The Magellan Effect
By Doug Fisher

Following up his discovery that Schöner had mistakenly reproduced an ancient world map to depict the Antarctic continent on his 1515 world globe by matching geographical features to contemporary discoveries, the author attempts to verify adherence to the same methodology on Schöner’s 1524 globe. In the process the author discovers that Schöner has aligned a feature corresponding to Antarctica’s Atka Bay to a southward branching bay in Magellan’s recently discovered strait while also including accurate portrayals of Antarctica’s Siple and Carney Islands aligned to one of Magellan’s lesser known discoveries. Further, these newly incorporated features far more closely resemble their Antarctic counterparts than the actual discoveries, suggesting that Schöner was indeed implementing the same methodology as his previous globe by force fitting an ancient authentic map of Antarctica onto his 1524 globe to represent Magellan’s two lone discoveries.

Antarctica as depicted on Schöner's 1524 Globe demonstrates a marked departure from his earlier version of the continent. It is possible that nine years after using Agrippa's Orbis Terrarum as his template, Schöner suddenly realized his folly, but there is strong evidence to suggest that he actually abandoned the design in favor of one which better fit more recent geographical finds. Where his earlier maps of 1515 and 1520 were based on a 1508 expedition heralding a nonexistent strait, his 1524 map followed on the heels of a more recent expedition, the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan.

In his search for a passage to the Pacific, Magellan had spent months exploring various waterways along the South American coast. Entering each potential throughway with hope and high expectation and exiting with disappointment, but on October 21, 1520 he would finally enter the one waterway that would not disappoint. Yet midway into his prized strait, Magellan found the waterway breaking off into two directions. Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian scholar who accompanied Magellan and maintained the most extensive account of the voyage, states that the mouth of one waterway had lain toward the southwest and the other toward southeast (Fig. 1). Magellan sent two ships, the San Antonio and the Concepción, into the southeast waterway which was composed of Inútil Bay and Canal Whiteside, but only the Concepción returned and with news that this was a closed waterway lacking passage to the Pacific.

Figure 1 - Magellan’s route through the strait. Note the fork in the waterway halfway through. Magellan sent two of his ships in to explore the waterway now known as Inútil Bay and Canal Whiteside. Only one of the two ships, the Conception, returned and  reported that this was a closed waterway lacking passage to the Pacific.

This closed waterway or bay extending off the strait was a new feature which Schöner's previous designs did not account for. This seems to have been enough to prompt Schöner into reviewing other available options. Adhering to the previously established methodology, we can assume that once again he returned to rummaging through a collection of antiquated maps in various states of completion and wear, this time looking for a landmass bearing a bay with a particular shape, a design carried on Pigafetta's map of Magellan's strait (Fig. 2).

Figure 2 - Pigafetta's Map of Magellan's Strait. The map was drawn with a southern orientation which accounts for the Pacific Ocean appearing to the right of the strait.
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