Álbum «Última Esperanza»

The Chilean region of Última Esperanza lies near the southern end of the Andes range, some 150 miles north of Punta Arenas. The evocative name ("Last Hope") was reputedly given in 1558 by its Spanish discoverer, Juan de Ladrilleros, while searching for the western approach to the Strait of Magellan. 

The Sociedad Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego (SETF) was founded in 1893, when the extensive grasslands of southern Patagonia had only recently been developed for sheep-ranching. With skilful management of the large resources at its disposal, the Company prospered and grew rapidly. In 1905, it acquired nearly all the lands in Última Esperanza at public auction. The town of Puerto Natales, founded in 1911, owed its development to the "Explotadora", as the Company was popularly known [more about the history of the SETF].

Andrés Ribas, editor of a local newspaper in Puerto Natales, explains on page 73 how in 1923 he suspended his duties on the paper to compile this album. It may reasonably be assumed that SETF commissioned the work and underwrote the costs of its publication. The printer was Imprenta Jugoslava of Punta Arenas, capital of the territory.

Álbum «Última Esperanza» records a moment in the Company's years of prosperity, when it was the main economic force in the region. Like a modern "school yearbook", the reader can meet the company directors and local dignitaries; visit each of the ranches and its staff, both managers and employees; and, last but not least, admire the local scenery.

Héctor Ovando, of Frigorífico Puerto Bories, loaned the original copy presented in this electronic edition. Thanks to his generosity, this piece of regional history has been preserved and made accessible to a wider public.

Duncan Campbell
January 2005