Sandy Bay Colony — Governor Benjamín Muñoz Gamero — Insurrection of Cambiaso — Forged Message from the Governor — Landing of Captain Ávalos — Escape of Governor Muñoz Gamero — Boat sent on shore — Return of the boat — Capture of the Florida — Mr. Shaw and myself seized — Taken on shore — Our imprisonment at the barracks — Privations — Mr. Shaw removed.
Sandy Bay Colony lies on the Patagonian side of the Straits of Magellan, on a level spot of ground which slopes down gently towards the water on the south-east. The settlement had formerly been made at Port Famine, at a short distance to the south-west of the present colony; but that situation was found to be very bleak, the site of the buildings being on a hill somewhat higher than the surrounding country, and exposed to the sweep of the williwaws. The change had been made under the direction of Don Benjamín Muñoz Gamero, governor of the colony, and the new site had been selected with great judgment. The land proved very fertile, being well fitted to raise all the crops which the short summers of that latitude will allow to come to maturity; and the governor had cleared a good deal of ground around the barracks, and laid out many gardens, which were cultivated by the convicts. A street ran in front of the barracks, towards the water, and on the slope of the shore were some very good houses. These houses were made of boards that had been sawed from logs by the convicts. They used hand-saws, and usually sawed about twelve or fourteen boards a day. As I looked towards the shore from the vessel, as the sun went down, on the evening of the 26th, there was all around the quiet and peace of early summer, and the barracks shone out with the neatness that belongs to all buildings for military purposes. How little did I guess the violence and mutiny that were going on within!
There had been an insurrection in the colony about five days before, headed by one Cambiaso, second lieutenant of the troops stationed there; who, as I learned afterwards, had committed some offence and been imprisoned a short time before, by the order of the governor. At his liberation, he had declared that he would have his revenge, and I have some reason to suppose that he was instigated to seize the place by some of the political offenders confined there, who were adherents of General Cruz, and who still held some communication with the revolutionists in the province of Concepción. Cambiaso had been joined by most of the convicts and prisoners. This attack on the troops had been successful, but the governor, priest, some soldiers, and one woman, a wife of one of the soldiers, had escaped outside of the fort, and were then hiding in the woods. Cambiaso was in possession of the fort when we anchored in the bay, but of this, of course, I knew nothing.
Early in the evening, indeed as soon as it was dark, a boat put off from shore and came alongside, with five men in her, bearing a letter purporting to be from the governor of the colony, and signed Muñoz Gamero, desiring me to keep the prisoners on board until the next day, when I should receive assistance from the shore, in landing them.
I showed the letter to captain Ávalos, who, tired of his confinement on ship board, determined to go on shore for the night, taking with him some twelve prisoners in the boat which had been sent from the land, and leaving the remainder of the prisoners and the troops under my charge.
About twelve at night, I was aroused by the firing of cannon from the shore, and I sprung upon deck, but I found all quiet in the vessel. In a few moments, however, the watch gave the alarm that a boat was coming near us, and crying for assistance. The wind blew so very fresh that it was impossible to hear what was said from the boat, (the voices being blown away from us) but I conjectured that the prisoners who were landed the evening before, and about whose security I had some doubts, had made their escape from captain Ávalos, and had probably stolen a boat and were trying to get on board, where, with the assistance of the other prisoners, they could seize the vessel and make their escape. I immediately ordered a gun to be fired in answer to those from the shore, to show that we were on the lookout, and then had the larboard quarter boat lowered away and sent her out with five men, armed with cutlasses, with orders to seize the shore boat.
After being gone for a whole hour, they returned, saying that they had not been able to find her. Soon after, the noise of firing from the shore ceased. In the boat were the governor, priest, some soldiers, and a woman, who had escaped from the barracks, and, seizing a boat, had put off, in hopes to reach me and warn me of the insurrection on shore. Having but one oar, however, and the wind blowing very fresh, they were unable to make the vessel, but drifted across the Straits and attempted to land on the Tierra del Fuego side.
As soon as captain Ávalos reached the barracks, he was seized, his papers taken from him, the prisoners who landed with him set at liberty, and himself put into double irons and thrust into a calaboose, as the buildings for confining the soldiers are called. During the evening, he could hear the prisoners whom he had brought on shore, in the full enjoyment of a drunken frolic. He told me afterwards that no answer was made to his inquiries as to the reason of his seizure, but that he obtained some idea of what was the real state of the colony, by overhearing the conversation of the drunken prisoners. Late in the evening, the door of the calaboose was opened, and five men, double ironed, were thrust into the room. These, he found, were the Secretary of the colony, a Brazilian by birth, the captain and first lieutenant of the troops of the colony, the apothecary, and governor's steward.
The escape of governor Muñoz Gamero had been discovered by Cambiaso, and these men were thrust into the calaboose with captain Ávalos, a guard of eighteen men stationed on the outside, with lighted torches in their hands, and with orders to set fire to the four corners of the building, and burn them alive, in case the Florida made her escape during the night. But the morning came, and the Florida, fortunately for them if not for us, was still at anchor. It would be inquiring somewhat too curiously of weak human nature, to ask if the prisoners felt any thing but joy at hearing of our fatal security. Captain Ávalos and Mr. Dunn (the secretary) told me afterwards, that during the night their guards were cursing their tiresome watch, and wondering why Cambiaso did not shoot them at once, or burn them, without waiting to know the result of the governor's escape. But Cambiaso was not so daring a villain as not always to remember the possibility of the re-taking of the fort.
Early in the morning of the 27th, I sent my boat on shore, with the first mate, Mr. Buela, the passenger, (he understanding Spanish) three seamen, and one soldier, with orders to bring off captain Ávalos, and to obtain from the governor orders with regard to the landing of the rest of the prisoners. These also were seized the moment they arrived at the barracks, and thrust into a little building about six feet square.
The firing and disturbance during the night had roused some sense of uneasiness in my mind, lest all should not be right on shore; and early in the morning I had gone into the cabin to consult with Mr. Shaw. He was then quite unwell, and most anxious to reach the shore, where he supposed he would be able to obtain medical advice; while I hoped to land all the prisoners during the day, and be able to proceed that afternoon on our way to Rio Janeiro.
We waited very anxiously, therefore, for the return of the boat, and at about nine o'clock she came alongside, but to my surprise, manned with six or seven men dressed as officers, who handed me a letter purporting to be from governor Muñoz Gamero, stating that my men were drunk, and not able to row the boat back to the ship. The letter also requested me to commence landing the prisoners. All this seemed to me very singular. I had never seen any disposition to drunkenness among my crew, and even if the seamen had been incapable of returning in the boat, the first mate and captain Ávalos would have been on board of her. I went into the cabin, and, holding out the letter to Mr. Shaw, said "Depend upon it, there is something wrong here. My men are not drunk, and if they are, where are Mr. P______n and captain Ávalos?" While I was speaking, a voice was heard on deck, the cabin door was burst open, and four of the officers rushed in, two of them with drawn swords. Mr. Shaw, who was sitting dawn, was seized at once. One of the officers struck at me with his sword, but his arm was caught by one of the prisoners, who rushed between us. In a few minutes I was secured, in spite of my struggles, and we were told that we were prisoners. I asked to whom, and by whose authority we were taken, but to this I received no answer. We were carried on deck, and I found that the prisoners had been freed. The struggle with the troops and the crew was still going on, but as the prisoners rushed up from the hold, it became every moment more unequal. The prisoners being unarmed, wrested the guns from the hands of the soldiers, and overpowered them by force of numbers. As I came on deck, the corporal called out that he would not give up his gun unless I ordered him to, for it seems the guns had at first been demanded of the soldiers by the officers who came the shore, and in the confusion some of them had given them up. As the corporal called to me, three of the officers threw themselves upon him, and after a long struggle he was disarmed, and put in irons. The whole attack was so unexpected, the rush of the prisoners from the hold so overwhelming, and the confusion so great, that I do not wonder that the soldiers and crew were overpowered.
Preparations were soon made for sending Mr. Shaw and myself on shore, and a sufficient guard was detached, to accompany us in the boat. While rowing to the shore, our captors were continually firing off their muskets, with shouts of "Viva la Cruz!" These cries gave me the first clear idea of what had happened in the colony, for they were the same which had met my ear during the insurrection, (previous to my leaving Valparaíso) of which struggle I had been a witness. On leaving, we were met by several soldiers on foot and horseback, one of whom seemed to be of some authority. This was García, one of the officers in the service of the governor, Muñoz Gamero, who had joined Cambiaso in his revolt, being compelled to do so, as he afterwards pleaded, by fear of his life. However that may be, I certainly found him much more gentle and humane in his actions and expressions than Cambiaso, and was indebted to him for several kindnesses. From him I gained the first idea of what had occurred in the colony.
As we left the boat, I noticed Mr. Shaw's extreme weakness, and feared that if we were to be taken far from the shore, he would not be able to stand the fatigue. I therefore appealed to general García, as I afterwards learned to call him, and, calling his attention to Mr. Shaw's state of health, asked him if some arrangement could not be made by which he could ride. García ordered one of his soldiers to dismount, and Mr. Shaw took his place. We were taken up the slope from the water, towards the barracks, and passing by the platform, under the mouths of the cannon which were mounted upon it, entered the great gate of the fortification. As I looked around, military preparations met my eye on every side, but there was none of the order of a regular garrison; on the contrary, the shouts of drunken rioters, the quarrelling and swearing of the soldiers, the shrill screams of the women which struck my ear, gave me a tolerably correct idea of the sort of people into whose hands we had fallen. Conspicuous among them all, was their leader, Cambiaso, who cast contemptuous glances upon us as we passed, and who might be heard giving his orders, mixed with oaths and threats of punishment and death to those who did not obey him implicitly. He let us pass on, however, without addressing us, and it was only from his officer's dress and authoritative manner that we were able to guess at his rank.
Very little time, however, was given us for observation; for we were hurried across the open space, and thrust into one of the largest buildings used as barracks. My crew, the remainder of whom were brought away from the vessel at the same time with Mr. Shaw and myself, were put into one of the smallest of the barracks, where they, with Mr. Buela were confined in a room about six feet square, which was so crowded that they were obliged to take turns in lying down to rest. Mr. Shaw and myself were at first put into the same apartment, but we were not allowed to speak to each other; several soldiers standing guard over us the whole time. In about two hours, however, I was taken from this room, and put into a smaller one adjoining it. The apartment into which both Mr. Shaw's room and mine opened, was occupied by our guard, who ate and slept there, and who forbade all intercourse between us.
I looked around the room, which I felt would be my prison until I was led out to death, for I knew now into what hands we had fallen; and on my way up from the shore to the barracks, had been threatened with death if I did not at once inform them what treasure I had on board the Florida; and on my saying there was none, one of the officers said "he would soon find a way to make me find some." The room was without a floor, with a board nailed to the wall, looking like a shelf, but serving for a seat; the table was a board, supported by sticks driven into the ground; and these, with my mattress, formed the furniture. I had with me a small pocket looking glass about the size of my hand, and the miniatures of my wife and children, which I managed to hide within my shirt bosom. I had also in my pocket a pencil and a small piece of paper, which I used for the purpose of keeping my dates. My guards, however, always came and watched me when they saw me writing, and at last told me I must desist, as some harm might come of it. After this, I put down my dates when I was unobserved. This was not often. For the next two days I was near starving, nothing being given me to eat, except two ship biscuit, or "hard bread," as we sailors call them; and my only drink was the water which I helped myself to from the guard room.
On the morning of the 29th, two days after our capture, I was taken out by my guard, for a walk around the yard and on the platform which ran along the west side of the fort, and on which the cannon were mounted. I made the best use of my eyes and ears during my walk, and managed to speak to one or two of the prisoners who had been on the Florida with me, and whom I had made some acquaintance with during the voyage. It was by these prisoners that I was afterwards kept informed of what occurred outside of my prison. They would talk to me during my walks, and sometimes would come to my window and tell me what had occurred; sometimes in bravado, and with great exultation, and sometimes with expressions of sympathy.
On returning from my walk, I met Mr. Shaw, leaving his room with his guard by his side; taken out, I supposed, for a similar purpose. I saw he was not looking well, and spoke to him, saying, "how do you feel this morning?" His answer was "pretty miserable;" and he seemed about to say something more, but my guard pushed between us, saying, with an oath, "We can't have any talking, captain; we have the general's orders against it." I was hurried into my room, and Mr. Shaw led away. This was the last time I ever saw him; for, for some reason which I never could learn, he was not brought back to the barracks, but confined in a building outside the fortification. It seemed to me, that with the sense of his nearness to me, I had lost my last friend; so lonely and miserable did I feel when he had left.