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Historical Materials from Southern Patagonia
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John MacLean, honorary sheriff: official correspondence, 1902-1906
A rancher on the frontier -- in his own words   [102 letters, mostly in Spanish]
John MacLean
John MacLean

John MacLean (1860-1940) was born in Poolewe, Wester Ross, Scotland, emigrating as a young man to the Falklands and Southern Patagonia (1883). With time, he was able to buy property in Punta Arenas (1887) and rent public lands at Punta del Monte (north-east Magallanes Territory) to raise sheep (1891). Three years later, John married Mary Ann, daughter of neighbour and fellow Highlander John Cameron. This union was to produce 13 children over the next 26 years.

The final decades of the 19th century brought many settlers to the grasslands of Patagonia (early map). For some, like John, it was a profitable venture: Scots were often employed as managers, foremen and shepherds in the newly established farms, set in mostly virgin lands. The total lack of infrastructure was a challenge to the pioneers: banking services, farm and household supply and export facilities were scarce, and dominated by a few powerful businessmen. Goverment administration and police services were also absent.

Judging by these letters, John performed his official duties diligently. Writing mostly in Spanish (probably self-taught, as seen in his rather phonetic style with many spelling errors), he reported the minutiae of daily life on the frontier of civilization. This is the nitty-gritty of existence: no romance, only endurance. A century after the events, these documents shed a fresh light on the region's early development.

The source materials — John MacLean's bound book of "carbon copies", and handwritten sheets addressed to him — were generously loaned by the Mac-Lean family for this Web presentation.

Duncan Campbell
August 2006

John MacLean's signature

This material forms the basis for the paper "Las comisarías rurales del antiguo territorio de colonización de Magallanes (1902-1927)", Martinic + Campbell, Magallania (Chile) Vol.38(1), 2010