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Patagonia Bookshelf



I ought not to leave the Strait without speaking of its oldest living habitue, Captain Smiley, of the Falkland Islands. The captain is a remarkable example of the fact that sailors may sometimes live to advanced age, and keep in perfect health. He acknowledges a residence of fifty-five years in the high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere ; but an old gentleman of Montevideo told me he had known Smiley personally for over seventy years, and that when he first saw him he was a full grown man. Smiley's age must in that event, be nearly ninety. His appearance and actions are those of a well preserved and active man of fifty years or thereabouts. He is known by every one, civilised and barbarian, from Uruguay down to Chili. I was assured by a captain, who was wrecked on the eastern coast of Patagonia, that Smiley scented the disaster six hundred miles away, and came with assistance. His services to shipwrecked vessels have been numerous and invaluable; and he has, I am glad to know, accumulated a large fortune as the result of a life filled with good actions enough to counterbalance the many hard stores told of him — stories with foundation, I fear, but left to his biographer. Parton or Brantz Mayer would find material for a full volume in the old gentleman's career. He is the only man I have met who has rounded Cape Horn alone. This he did in a fifty ton schooner. His personal acquaintances with the Fuegian and Patagonian natives is large. He mentioned to me a call that he made a few years since on an old friend, a Fuegian chief, and found him devouring choice cuts from his wife's body, killed, as the chief remarked, to satisfy his curiosity as to the form in which she would prove most pleasing. Cannibalism still exists in Tierra del Fuego. One canoe-load of these Fuegians boarded us one stormy day; a family party — father, mother, sons, and daughters. Though the thermometer stood at 40 degrees, they were entirely naked, save a small piece of seal-skin, two feet square, worn round the shoulders by the matron and others of the party, about the waist by the rest. I saw no trace of anything but the most complete barbarism in their appearance. Physically, they were far inferior to the Patagonians. They bartered bows and arrows for tobacco. Their fear of the steamer and her wheels, which last they seemed to think were alive, was something painfully ludicrous.— "Where the Wateree Was," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine.

Source: "Empire" (Sydney, NSW), 17 July 1865
Clipped: 22-IX-2012
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