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Records of the South American Missionary Society (1896?)
First-hand accounts of Anglican missionary work in Tierra del Fuego
title page of book
The 19th century, in Britain as elsewhere, was
characterized by a strong desire to explore every part of the world,
and carry the Christian religion to the "uncivilized" races.
Captain Robert Fitzroy, RN, while surveying the coastline of
Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia), personally attempted to practice
In 1830 he took four young Fuegian
natives to London to be educated at his expense, returning them
three years later in the celebrated HMS Beagle expedition.
Recognizing the need for a permanent presence in this region,
the Brighton Missionary Association for Patagonia was established
in 1844 with private donations. Retired Navy Captain Allen Gardiner played a
leading role in the
initial fieldwork. As a result of his death in 1851 (along with six of his
companions) the flow of donations
to the now renamed Patagonian Missionary Society increased.
A new strategy was adopted of gradual contact with the natives under
controlled conditions, and a ship was built for the
In 1865 the organization changed its name once more, to
the South American Missionary Society (S.A.M.S.),
establishing a base of operations at Keppel,
one of the nearby Falkland Islands.
Two prominent missionaries in this period were Rev. (later Bishop)
Waite H. Stirling, the first person to live among the
natives; and Rev.
who was to settle permanently
at Harberton (Beagle Channel) with his family.
S.A.M.S. also had missions at several other locations around the
Brazil, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as other
regions of Argentina and Chile.
This book, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the
original society, is devoted in good part to its activities in Tierra del Fuego,
quoting many first-hand accounts.
Reading this collection of reports with the benefit of hindsight,
one senses discouragement and resignation in
the face of a dwindling native population (exposed to the white man's diseases,
and an unaccustomed sedentary life-style, among other reasons).
It is rather sad that
several of the author's "success stories" in fact extol a Christian
way of dying, rather than living. Within the next two decades, the Tierra del
Fuego mission was to lose almost all its native constituency, closing its
doors for good in 1916; only the Rev.
remained in the region,
to work in the booming, immigrant community of Punta Arenas.
Source materials: "Records
of the South American
Missionary Society, or Fifty years work of the Church of England in South
America (British Guiana excepted)", fourth edition, pp. 1-42,
compiled by Mrs. Allen Gardiner (Elizabeth Lydia Marsh Gardiner),
and published by the South American Missionary Society, London, 1896?.
Thanks: to the staff of the Hispanic Reading Room,
Library of Congress, Washington DC for their assistance.
Several more original publications have been transcribed by Project Canterbury
A review of the Anglican missionary society work in
Southern Patagonia can be
Photographs of the Tekenika