Copyright © 2004-2017 
Historical Materials from Southern Patagonia
Journal of William Blain
a Scottish shepherd in Tierra del Fuego, 1891-1898

William Blain
William Blain
[photograph by Manterola,
Punta Arenas]

William Blain: Shepherd in Scotland, The Falklands, Continental
Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Introduction, by Arnold Morrison

William Alexander Blain was born c.1852 at Blate's Hill near Laurieston in Galloway, south-west Scotland and grew up in Ferguslie, then a thatched cottage at Dalry, Galloway. When he was thirteen he went to work as a shepherd for a Mr. Johnston, Barndennoch, near Carsphairn. For thirteen years he followed shepherding in the Galloway Hills. However, "Saw little prospect of saving enough to shield me from poverty in my old age." "My object in going to the colonys was to get hold of that glorious privilege of being independent."

In 1878 he met Mr. John McCall in Dumfries who engaged shepherds for the Falkland Islands Company and agreed 65 per annum, free passage and return after five years. He sailed from London on the "Vicar of Bray" and worked for Bellion Bros. on the West Falklands for six years. In 1884 he was invited by Thomas Greenshields to start up a sheep ranch at Monte Dinero in continental Patagonia.

Following Mr. Greenshields' death, in 1889 Blain sold his own flock of sheep and accepted a job as sub-manager to a Mr. Wales [Montague Errington Wales, Ed.], who was establishing a sheep ranch in Indian territory in northern Tierra del Fuego. (A letter among Blain's papers is headed "Mont. E. Wales, Tierra del Fuego Sheep Farming Company"). Apart from an intervening period on Navarino Island, Blain worked for Wales until 1898.

He then returned to Dalry —"and here I have remained" — and settled in Main Street, next to his boyhood home. Blain died in 1924 aged seventy-two years. He stayed a bachelor in Patagonia —"Neither heathen squaw or Chilean maid will be Mrs. Blain." —but later married in Scotland and had a son, W. J. Blain.

William Blain's papers were gifted by the family to the National Archives of Scotland. The most important items are: narrative notebooks written in ink describing his times in continental Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego; a daily diary for an early period, which begins at Useful Hill, and gives a detailed description of shepherding on the camp and the people he met, including Scots; a substantial list of the names of Indians and of the English equivalents of Indian words for a whole number of everyday terms; and an article on his life in the Falklands, based on his records, submitted by his son and published in the Falkland Islands Journal, 1981.

Springhill token
Early token used on the Springhill ranch for purchase of merchandise

[Thanks: Dick Hanscom]

For this web transcript of Blain's Patagonia diary, the original text has been retained, apart from some minor changes. Editorial comments have been added: a few translations of Spanish words have been noted; question marks are used to indicate obscure spellings, e.g. of ships and names.

Lastly, I wish to thank the National Archives of Scotland for the opportunity to use the material for research purposes. Ownership and copyright reside in the National Archives of Scotland.