In 1844, Captain Allen Gardiner (retired, Royal Navy) convinced his associates in the Brighton Missionary Association for Patagonia to support an evangelical mission to the nomadic Tehuelche Indians, on the northern shore of the Magellan Strait. He was accompanied in this effort by Robert Hunt, a young Anglican minister, and author of the journal published here.
Gardiner and Hunt's mission got off to an inauspicious start. Supplies were brought ashore and a hut built at San Gregorio. Since the main native group was not to be found at the chosen location, both men set off to search for them, lost their bearings and nearly perished in the attempt. Contact was finally made, but chief Wesail became alienated. The missionaries decided that their mission was untenable and their lives were probably in danger. They rapidly embarked on a passing ship and returned to Britain.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the choice of region was unsuitable for protestant evangelists, because the Chilean Government had established a nearby settlement the previous year, complete with Roman Catholic priest, and was actively pursuing its territorial claim. One can also observe traits in Gardiner's behaviour, even an aspiration to martyrdom, that were to culminate in the loss of his and a further six lives at Puerto Español in 1851.
This is a revealing document, both for the depth of its analysis and for the frankness of its writing: one is left in little doubt that this mission was ill-conceived and ill-conducted; only by good fortune did it avoid becoming ill-fated also.
Thanks to Alfredo Prieto (University of Magallanes, Punta Arenas) and Robert Lunt (South American Mission Society, Tunbridge Wells, UK) for providing a copy of the typed transcript held by the Canadian Archives.
For correspondence related to this mission, see
Letters from San Gregorio
For an earlier missionary attempt at San Gregorio (1833-34), see
Arms and Coan