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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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Cambiaso's orders — We set sail — Wood's Bay — The old French ship — A drunken riot — The officer condemned — García's interference — Men deserted at Wood's Bay — The Eliza Cornish left behind — Stormy weather — Sandy Bay again — The Indians — Cape Gregory — Interview with Cambiaso — His promises — Conversation with Mr. Dunn — My determination.

The 2d of January saw us all ready for sea, and early in the morning Cambiaso came on board. He called me into his state-room, and after renewing his threats, in case he saw any signs of my disobeying his orders, he gave me a written paper, on which were my directions for navigating the vessel. I opened it before him, thinking that if I saw the necessity of making any remarks about them, it would be better to do it at once. The paper directed me to go westward through the Straits to Cape Pillar; thence west-by-north 1-4 north to 82 deg. west longitude; then northerly to the latitude of the island of Marica; [presumably, Isla Mariquina, Ed.] thence for that island, coming to anchor on the east side, and waiting for further orders. The Eliza Cornish was to follow the Florida, and at night both vessels were to display a signal lantern at mast head.

He remarked, when I had finished reading, that these were only my general directions; that I must look to him for more particular orders from day to day; and that while the vessels were within the Straits, he should often want to anchor at different points.

At about ten o'clock in the morning, a signal gun was fired from the Florida, and both vessels weighed anchor and got under way for the westward. We made but slow work and little progress, both vessels being somewhat out of repair from a month's neglect, and the standing and running rigging being very much chafed and worn. On Saturday, the 3d, we reached Port Famine, and there were ordered to lay over till Monday morning, during which time the men were employed in getting in more wood and water, while I was fully occupied in stowing our numerous passengers more closely, and if possible, more comfortably. In this labor I received much assistance from Mr. Dunn and captain Ávalos, whose situation I endeavored to render as comfortable as possible, and whose fare I supplied from my own mess.

Sunday evening, as I was standing on the deck, one of the men from the hold passed me with a bundle under his arm, and approaching the side of the vessel, was about to throw it over. I stopped him, asking what it was. He carelessly turned down the covering and showed me the body of a child who had been born the evening the colonists came on board, and who had died that morning. The brute, who I suppose was the father, had attached pieces of iron to the cloth which covered the poor little thing, to insure its sinking. I compelled him to go on shore and bury it, ordering him by my authority as captain of the ship. I took every occasion to exercise this authority, thinking it might be of advantage to me in the future. The mother died during our voyage.

We got under way again on Monday morning, and reached St. Nicholas Bay by the evening of the 6th. Here we lay over all night, and on Wednesday morning continued our course westward until Thursday afternoon, when we came in sight of Wood's Bay, Cape Holland. Cambiaso sent for me as we neared the harbor, and informed me that he intended to lie in this anchorage for some time. His object was to get some liquor out of an old French ship which, had been wrecked there some time ago, and which still lay with the greater part above water. We came to anchor in the evening, and the next morning the soldiers were sent on shore to unload the wreck, and rescue what liquor was still untouched by the water.

Some barrels and casks were brought out whole, and immediately transferred to the Florida; but many were stove in, either purposely or by accident, and then commenced a scene of drunken rioting and disorder which lasted for three or four days. Officers, men, sailors — all were intoxicated: and Cambiaso and García seemed to have as little control over them as I had. Indeed, the temptation sometimes proved too strong for Cambiaso himself; and Mr. Dunn, García, and myself were almost the only men who preserved full possession of our senses.

I remember one case in which I used my authority as master of the ship somewhat rashly. The occupant of one of the state-rooms, the doctor of the colony under governor Muñoz Gamero, and a Frenchman, had drank enough to make him noisily troublesome, both in the cabin and on deck. At last he went out on the jib-boom, hallooing and shouting. I called to him to come in, but finding he paid no attention to me, I sent the only seaman I had on board out after him. This proved equally unavailing, and, losing all patience, I sprang out myself, collared him, and thrust him into his state-room. I fully expected that he would complain of me to Cambiaso, and that I might have to suffer for my rash assumption, of authority; but I never heard from him again.

By Sunday night the rioting seemed to have worn itself out, and the men, having slept off their intoxication, began to return to their duty. That night, however, Cambiaso was in a terrible humor, swearing at all around him, and giving most contradictory orders, which it was impossible to observe. One of officers unluckily offended him by venturing to remonstrate, when Cambiaso in his half drunken passion, ordered him to be put in irons and sent on board the Eliza Cornish, accompanied by a file of soldiers, and at twelve at night to be tied to the mast and shot down. The men obeyed; but I noticed the muttered indignation of the other officers, and general García, after Cambiaso had retired to the cabin, stepped forward to the officer under whose direction the removal was made, and who was to control the execution, and, under the plea that Cambiaso was under the influence of liquor and might alter his order, he gave the officer authority to delay the execution for an hour or two, or at least till he heard again from himself. I watched the countenance of the condemned man as he went towards the boat, but could read nothing on it but sturdy, obstinate defiance and indignation, until, just as he was leaving the deck, a woman's scream was heard. It was his wife, who, occupied in the hold of the vessel, had heard nothing of what was going on until this moment, and now rushed on deck with her children hanging round her. The man's face twitched as she flung herself into his arms, crying most piteously; but the soldiers quickly took her away from him, and hurried him on board the boat. I went up to the woman and endeavored to console her, by telling her of general García's interference, but between my broken Spanish and her sobs, I am afraid very little of what I said reached her mind.

García had left the deck and gone to Cambiaso's state-room, where he remained for about two hours, soothing Cambiaso and pleading for the officer's life. At last he came out successful. A boat was sent to the Eliza Cornish, the officer brought back and restored to his wife. This and other humane actions of general García, made much impression on me at the time, and inclined me to believe his assertions made afterwards that he had only joined Cambiaso on compulsion, and from fear for his life.

Monday, the 12th, a terrible storm raged; but in the afternoon, Cambiaso began to send some of the men on shore, as he said, to wash their clothes. This seemed to me a strange proceeding, and I watched his movements in some anxiety. By night about forty-four were landed, and on the last return of the boat, it was hoisted up and put in its place. Cambiaso then, under his own directions, had our four-pounders and swivel gun loaded with two balls each —the swivel gun pointed towards the stern. When this was accomplished, orders were sent to the Eliza Cornish to weigh anchor and go in shore. The Eliza Cornish had but two guns on board, and was not utterly defenceless. It was said by Cambiaso that if the poor mate should attempt to follow the Florida, his brig should be fired into and sunk, while I was ordered to get under way and go to the eastward. I understood his plans now. The men landed at Wood's Bay were to be left behind to starve or fall a prey to the Indians; the Eliza Cornish and her two hundred passengers were to be left to their fate; while the Florida, (on board of which was all the treasure and Cambiaso's chief followers,) was to be used to convey the pirates to some place of security. I shrank from being even compelled to be accessory to such cruelty, and ventured to remonstrate with Cambiaso; not, however, on his barbarity, — that, indeed, would have been useless, — but on the risk the Florida would run in attempting such dangerous navigation on a night so thick and murky, with the wind blowing heavily in shore. I told him that it was not safe to start, that I could not answer for our not being ashore before morning; but he would not even listen to me, saying he believed I was a coward, and angrily commanded me to obey orders.

It was, indeed, as much as I could do to keep the vessel from the shore that night, the storm continuing till daylight, and I expected every moment that we should be driven in shore. I do not know that I dreaded it much. It seemed to me as well to fall into the hands of the Indians, as to remain with these fellows, and our chances of escape were as good on land as at sea.

Tuesday morning, however, saw us again opposite Sandy Bay, and at nine o'clock I hove-to off the harbor, by Cambiaso's orders. The boat was then cleared away ready for lowering, and some of the men were ordered to go ashore to bring off some provisions which had been left behind; but they, perhaps mistrusting Cambiaso's intentions, and fearing that they would be abandoned, as their companions had been at Wood's Bay, refused to land, declaring that they saw some Indians prowling about the barracks. I saw, by the help of my spy-glass, that what they took, or pretended to take for Indians, were only barrels and stumps of trees, but I prudently said nothing. Cambiaso stormed and threatened, but the men were stubborn and immovable, and García again interfering, he sullenly ordered me to proceed, and retired to his state-room. That evening I anchored under Cape Gregory.

Towards ten o'clock, when the night watch was set, and all was quiet on the vessel, Mr. Dunn and myself were sent for to Cambiaso's state-room. Mr. Dunn had of late always been called upon to accompany me when Cambiaso sent for me to deliver orders; my broken Spanish seeming to irritate him, and Mr. Dunn serving as interpreter to render my orders more clear to me. Cambiaso received us very cordially, asked us to be seated, and began by expressing himself very well satisfied with the skill I had shown in navigating the vessel. He was even jocose, asking me if I was a good shot with a pistol, since he had an idea of fighting a duel with me; then, pointing to a bottle of champagne which stood on the table, he said, "That is the pistol I mean we shall exchange shots with;" and drawing the cork, he made us both drink with him. Then turning to Mr. Dunn, he said, "My good friend Sir Captain is troubled about the rascals I left at Wood's Bay; he does not know, as you and I do, that there's only one way to get along with such men. They are devils, and nothing is too hard for them. One must take care of himself in this world."

Mr. Dunn told him that I had hesitated about putting out from the harbor because the night was so murky, and the navigation intricate; and that I was afraid of running the vessel on the shore. Cambiaso shook his head: "No, no; you are both of you tender-hearted as women. I suppose you would be frightened now, if you saw blood shed, but one can always get along without it."

I answered that I could fight as well as another man, when I saw need for it; but that I did not like leaving the English mate and crew, nor even his followers to starve, or fall into the hands of the Indians. This made him laugh heartily; but suddenly changing the subject, he asked me if I had a wife and children. “Yes," I said, "in my own country." "How many little ones?" he rejoined; "and I suppose you would like to see them again? Well, you must do without that for some time yet; but if you will follow my orders, you shall go home with money enough to stay with them always."

I answered that I had obeyed his orders since I had agreed to, and that I should continue to navigate the vessel as well as I could, if that was what he wanted from me. "Yes," replied he, when my friend had interpreted this answer to him, "Yes, yes, that is what I want of you for the present, and I promise you both that I will not give you any fighting to do; all I ask of you is to stand by, and not be frightened if you see any blood spilled." We made no reply to this; when, after pausing a moment, and glancing at us from under his long, veiling lashes, he said, "I will make it worth your while, captain Brown, to follow me, and yours too, Sir Secretary. If you obey my orders, and land me safe at my destination, you shall go home to your wife and little ones with twenty thousand dollars, captain; and you (to Mr. Dunn,) shall have six thousand, if you interpret for me faithfully." He rose as he said this, and pointed out of the cabin, saying as we left him, that all he wanted was that we should be true to him.

It was then late into the night, but instead of retiring, Mr. Dunn and myself walked to the side of the vessel, out of hearing of the watch and the few soldiers listening about the deck, to talk over our interview with the general. We knew that those around us were aware that we had been sent for by Cambiaso, and, had been with him for some time; therefore it would be natural for them to suppose that we would wish to talk of what we had heard from him, and it was very seldom we had an opportunity of exchanging even a few words without feeling that we were suspected by our watchful jailors.

I told Mr. Dunn at once that I did not like Cambiaso's conversation; I did not trust his apparent friendliness for a moment; indeed, I believed that it was all assumed to deceive us, and hide his real intentions.

"But," replied Mr. Dunn, "he cannot do without you as long as he remains on board the Florida, and now that he has abandoned the colony and left the brig behind, he must have some port in view." "Yes," said I, "he will use us as long as he wants us; but depend upon it, he will never let us escape alive to any place where we can put the officers of justice on his track. Depend upon it, all this was to blind us; he has some devilish plan in his head; he will do something with us very soon."

Mr. Dunn looked anxiously serious as he said, "I more than half agree with you; the villain was half intoxicated this evening, and let out more than he meant to. Did you see his face when he promised us the money? But what plans can he have? What port does he intend to make?"

This brought to my mind a conversation I had held a few days before with one of the officers, Cambiaso's chief adviser and confidant, and a man who before this had scarcely exchanged a word with me. He, through the help of one of the sailors, a Chilean, but who talked English tolerably well, had questioned me about the lay of the shore around Rio Janeiro, and the approach to that port, the landing, and so forth. This I repeated to Mr. Dunn, and putting that conversation with Cambiaso's entire change of orders since we first left the colony, his evident intentions of continuing his course eastward, the amount of food which he had stored in the Florida, and other slight indications of the same sort, we felt that Rio Janeiro was his destination, and that we had some clue to his plans.

Still, I was convinced, and at last succeeded in convincing Mr. Dunn, that his friendly expressions towards us, and his offers of money were entirely insincere; his bids were altogether too high. I knew that all the treasure on the vessel did not amount to more than eighty thousand dollars, and of that he would hardly give twenty-six thousand to men whom he had entirely within his power; and give it, too, when he had no longer any further use for them. Long afterwards, and on my return to Valparaíso, I found that my suspicions were correct; for I learned from García and the other officer of Cambiaso, both of whom were pardoned by the Chilean government, that Cambiaso's plan had been to take the Florida to some part of the Brazilian coast that was uninhabited, probably on the inhospitable shores of the province of Santa Catharina, there to compel most of his followers and prisoners to land and shift for themselves; using some such stratagem as that which had been so successful at Cape Holland; and to keep on the vessel only his intimate friends, and myself and crew. On reaching the harbor of Rio Janeiro, and coming near enough to gain the shore in the boats, he and his companions were to murder myself and crew, scuttle the vessel, and with the treasure, make their escape to the port; there, dividing the booty, they were to disperse, Cambiaso himself intending to take passage in the steamer for Europe, and his officers to seek whatever foreign country might please them and seem a safe refuge for them.

Mr. Dunn and myself parted, with our distrust of Cambiaso confirmed, and with a renewed determination to strain every nerve to escape from his hands. After I reached my berth, and as I lay tossing and revolving our perils, the thought struck me that it might be possible to re-take the vessel. A thousand difficulties and dangers started up to intimidate me, but the possibility of success seemed to overbalance all uncertainties, and I spent the rest of the night in laying my plans, in measuring the chances of resolution and fidelity amongst my crew, and in estimating the probability of our being joined by any of the released prisoners.

By the morning, I had made up my mind to the attempt, and rose with a determination to lose no time, but to effect it, if possible, that very day.

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