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Insurrection at Magallanes (1851)
A North-American sea-captain is captured by Chilean army mutineers at Punta Arenas.

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Valparaíso — The barque Florida — Chartered by the Chilean government — Prisoners for convict colony put on board — Captain Ávalos and soldiers sent for protection — We set sail — Arrangement of the vessel — Mr. Shaw's sickness — Attempted insurrection among the prisoners — Prompt conduct of Captain Ávalos — All quiet again — We reach the Straits of Magellan — Williwaws — We anchor in Sandy Bay.

In the latter part of October, 1851, I was at the port of Valparaíso, Chile, having command of the barque Florida, of New Orleans, of about two hundred tons burden. My orders from my owners were to take the Florida through the Straits of Magellan to Rio Janeiro, where we were to take in freight for the United States; and my first business was to secure my officers and crew. One of my owners was now at Valparaíso, and would accompany me on the voyage.

To a sea-faring man like myself, such a voyage was no new thing, and I looked forward with some interest, but with no excitement, to the prospect of many days' tiresome battling with the wind and waves, to the annoyances of clearing, and to the perils and labors of a tedious navigation through the Straits. Had I known what perils and sufferings awaited me, with what different feelings should I have left the beautiful city where I had received much kindness and hospitality, and trusted myself to the treacherous elements, and to men far more treacherous than they! But, happily, Providence has given to us only a knowledge of the present, and the blessing of hope for the future, without any foreshadowing of coming evil.

The barque Florida was a long, low, straight-built vessel, and a fast sailer. She had been employed formerly in sailing between Panama and San Francisco, conveying passengers to and fro, and was well fitted up for that purpose, with a large cabin, extending as far forward as her mainmast, and fourteen well furnished state rooms. She was also furnished with four brass cannon, four pounders, and one iron swivel mounted forward. Her owners were Capt. John Lovett, of Beverly, Mass., and his brother-in-law, Mr. Benjamin G. Shaw; Mr. Shaw being the principal owner. On board of her were Mr. Shaw, the owner, and one cabin passenger, Mr. Ramon Buela, belonging to New Orleans.

The vessel having at that time no cargo we were applied to by the government of Chile, to convey certain State prisoners, charged with political offences, to the penal colony established by that government at Sandy Bay, Straits of Magellan. This was at the time when the Chileans, disaffected to the government at Santiago, had risen, under General Cruz, and had seized the Province of Concepción; and the political offenders whom we were to convey to Sandy Bay, were, some of them, implicated in that rebellion.

After some consideration, Mr. Shaw determined to accept the offer of the government, and to allow it to charter the Florida for the conveyance of the prisoners to Sandy Bay, where we were to leave them, and proceed on our voyage. The authorities were to send with the prisoners a sufficient number of troops to secure us against any disturbance during the voyage, and accordingly, Captain Pedro Ávalos, with a corporal and twelve soldiers were drafted on that service.

On the morning of October 30, I took command of the vessel, with the intention of getting her ready for sea the same evening, that I might be prepared to receive the prisoners, who were to be sent on board of her the same night. By hard work on my part, and plenty of pushing up my men, we were all ready by night, and at eleven o'clock, P. M., the prisoners began to come on board.

Hard featured, desperate looking men, some of them were, with the downcast, heavy look of criminals. Men were among them who had set law at defiance, whose hands had been against every man, and in whose hearts the kindly affections had long been deadened; and I felt as I looked at their countenances, made, perhaps, more repulsive to me by the dark, foreign cast of features which my early education and prejudices had taught me to associate with men of desperate fortunes, that there was no easy task before me. There were, however, among them men of high rank, who, for having joined in one of those political struggles which so constantly shake the South American Republics, were now condemned to a long imprisonment on the savage shores of Patagonia, in the society of convicts and felons of the worst kind; some sentenced for a tedious term of three years, some doomed to a life-long imprisonment.

On the evening of Sunday, November 3d, I received a notice from Commodore R. Simpson, acting Intendente of Valparaíso, by the captain of the port, that all the prisoners were now on board, the notice being accompanied by an order for me to proceed to sea at once, without any further communication with the shore. The Intendente evidently feared the escape of some of our prisoners, or perhaps some communication between them and their political associates.

The evening being calm, the sea breeze having died away, and no appearance of the land breeze springing up, I asked the captain of the port, to whom the regulation of all the shipping in the harbor belongs, for the assistance of two boats from the Chilean man-of-war which was lying in the harbor at the time to tow my vessel out to sea. They were sent, and assisted us till midnight, when a land breeze springing up, they left us, and returned to the harbor.

I had made every preparation to insure order and security during the voyage, had mounted two of the four pounders upon the poop deck, pointing forward so as to rake the whole deck, and kept them constantly loaded. The, prisoners, about eighty in number, were put into the hold of the vessel, and were only allowed to come on deck for air and refreshment, in small detachments. A sentinel was stationed at the gangway, and the deck was constantly guarded by seven soldiers and half my crew. The crew consisted of eight men before the mast, part Americans and part foreigners, first and second mate, cook, and cabin boy. Mr. Shaw, Captain Ávalos, Mr. Buela, the first and second mates, and myself shared the cabin.

The wind continued light until the afternoon of Monday, the 4th, when a fresh breeze sprung up from the southwest, right ahead: which head wind and rough sea continued through the first part of our voyage. Our little vessel was a fast sailer, but with these obstacles in our way, we made but slow progress, and our passengers began to feel the tediousness of a sea voyage. For my part, my responsibility was too heavy, and my avocations somewhat too numerous, for time to hang heavily upon my hands, for my officers were neither very efficient or entirely to be depended upon.

My anxieties and responsibilities were increased when we were some days out, by the sickness of Mr. Shaw, who was seized with a relapse of the Panama fever. My relation to Mr. Shaw was something more than the mere business connection between the owner and master of a vessel. We had been thrown together very closely and I had always found him ready and prompt with advice and sympathy in every difficulty that might arise, and most considerate in all business arrangements. We were Americans, from the same State, away from our families and friends, and bound together by many common subjects of interest; subjects which grow in importance when men are far away from their homes. His sickness, where so little could be done for his comfort, was a source of considerable anxiety to me, and deprived me of almost all society, for Captain Ávalos talked very little English.

We had been out about a fortnight when, as Captain Ávalos and myself were sitting in the cabin, we were startled by word being brought from the sentinel at the gangway, that one of the prisoners had informed him that there had been a proposition among the prisoners to rise and take the vessel.

I sprang upon the deck and called up all hands, while Captain Ávalos ordered up the soldiers who were not on duty. The soldiers were all under arms, and the captain proved himself soldier-like and efficient in any emergency; for his first order was, that in case of any disturbance among the prisoners, the first man that made his appearance was to be shot down. We waited in some anxiety, but all was quiet; then, ordering the soldiers and the crew to remain on their guard, Captain Ávalos and myself went to the gangway and inquired into the cause of the alarm.

It seems that the proposition to take the vessel had been made by one of the prisoners, — one of those confined for political offences. His plan had probably been to run the vessel into land, and join General Cruz and the revolutionary party in the province of Concepción; but few of the prisoners were ready to join him, and one of them had found an opportunity to communicate the design to the sentinel at the gangway.

We had no further difficulty, and I was glad that this little disturbance had occurred, as it gave me confidence in the promptitude and courage of my own crew, and in the presence of mind and soldier-like character of Captain Ávalos.

On the morning of November 24th, the weather was thick and foggy, and the running became difficult. I run till eleven o'clock, and then, judging myself near the western entrance of the Straits, I hove the main-top-sail aback, waiting for clear weather, so that I could see land. At twelve, the sun came out, clear and glorious, and I found myself within ten miles of the entrance, Cape Pillar bearing east from us. Mr. Shaw and myself congratulated each other on being near the end of the disagreeable part of our voyage, for there was something repugnant to us, in the idea of standing jailors, as it were, to men for some of whom our sympathies were enlisted; for the freedom of our political institutions makes the idea of imprisonment for political offences repulsive to an American; and, indeed, no free man likes to stand jailor to another, be his offences what they may.

We were, however, not so near our destination as we supposed, for the weather continued very much against us. I put the vessel before the wind, intending that afternoon to anchor in the harbor of Mercy, but on account of the thick, squally weather, I was unable to make the harbor, and ran past the entrance, which is so small that it may easily be overlooked. I was therefore obliged to run all night, and as the wind was blowing fresh, and the weather thick, I took in sail, and put her under double-reefed top-sails. At daylight on the morning of the 25th, I set all sail, and during the day we had a fine, pleasant breeze from the westward. In the evening, not being able to make a harbor, we hove-to, for the night, a short distance from Cape Froward, a high point of land within the straits. These high lands I had learned to dread, as from off them, and out of the valley, come fresh, fitful winds, called by the Indians "williwaws," blowing sometimes with such violence as to take the masts out of vessels. These williwaws give you no warning, when your vessel is near shore, and require constant watchfulness.

The morning of the 26th broke, however, with a light breeze from the west, under favor of which I run along the shore until noon, when the wind suddenly canted to the northward, and blew so fresh and hard that at 3 P. M., the main-top-sail split, and we were obliged to reef it. At six in the afternoon we were glad to drop anchor in Sandy Bay, and to give notice of our arrival by a salute of two guns, which was answered from the shore.

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