© 2004-2016

Patagonia Bookshelf



(By our Special Reporter.)

Mr C. H. Lascelles, who in company with Messrs G. A. M. Buckley and V. F. Musgrave, left Christchurch at the end of last year for the purpose of visiting Patagonia with a view to ascertaining its capabilities as a sheep-raising country, returned on Thursday morning. Yesterday morning one of our representatives obtained from him an interesting account of his trip.

"We arrived," said Mr Lascelles, "at Sandy Point, in the Straits of Magellan, at the beginning of January last, and we found the colony, as it is termed, anything but a desirable place of residence from a sanitary point of view. In Patagonia the term colony is applied to a settlement, while the country is called a camp. We spent three days in getting what horses were required to take us out of the township, and fortunately we come across a Scotchman, Mr Morrison, who has, I believe, some relations in this colony, and he was very good in providing us with animals. We got our outfit and started with five horses, riding oat to Mr Morrison's farm, where we bought the remainder of the horses we required, which were thirty-five in all. They were a curious ragged-looking lot, almost all the colours of the rainbow, through inbreeding, and their vices were many. Some of the horses you could not catch, some you could not mount when you had caught them, and others you could not sit when you had mounted. They averaged about 14.3 or 15 hands, and the prices to our dismay were nearly £7 per head, whereas from the books we had read we expected to get them at about 30s per head. We engaged a vianna, [sic, Ed.] or guide, and started from Morrison's on January 13th.


We travelled along the foot of the Cordillera mountains to Mount Stokes and then down the Coile river, at the mouth of which Mr Jameson, who is well known in the Mount Cook district, resides. Here Mr Buckley left us for England, going via the west coast to Valparaiso. Mr Musgrave and I followed up the river Chico and stopped short of Lake Buenos Ayres, and from there we proceeded to Port Desire. We found we could not get any further north with our horses, as there was a travasia, or waterless desert, of 120 miles to cross. We learned that a steamer was leaving for the South, and we joined her eventually at St. Julian, where we bartered away our horses; we could not sell them. The country south of the Coile river has good sheep feed. The grass is hard, but the sheep eat it ravenously. The streams are far apart, and therefore the country can only be occupied in large holdings. Many of the runs are ring fenced, and the estancieros are trying to cope with the scab, which is prevalent all through the country, The sheep are a rough lot, long-legged, with very little meat, but a tremendous lot of fat on them. Many of the farmers on the Straits have been importing rams from England, and they go in entirely for Lincolns. The principal flocks of the country consist of a cross between Rambouillet—Rio Negro merino ewes and Falkland Island rams. The ewes are brought down from the Rio Negro, and having to come along the foot of the mountains for water the drive lasts about thirteen months. They are never kept separate from the rams, and the consequence is that a great many farmers boast of the increase, but it is through getting a large number of lambs from ewe hoggets. The result is that a tremendous amount of inbreeding goes on. It is impossible to say how the Falkland Island rams are bred; they are rough, long legged animals. A great many men are dipping their sheep six to eight times a year on account of the scab, using one of the modern sheep dips. One of the largest estancieros, Sr. Menendez, whose estancia is on the Straits, has spent £1200 per year for two years upon sheep dip. The Chilian land in Patagonia is granted on a twenty-one years' lease at a very low rental, but the land on Argentine side is freehold, its value being about £200 per league—6666 acres. The leases of the Chilian land expire in six years' time, and the present blocks will then be broken up into much smaller areas. The Patagonia land is all flat, except the river beds. The sheep feed on the pampas in the winter time, which are sparsely covered with grass, and find their way into the vuegos, [vegas?, Ed.] or valleys, in the summer for water and richer feed. It is good sheep country, but it is not worth while for anyone to go there now, as all the best land is taken up. The climate is hard, cold, dry westerly winds continually blowing across the pampas from the Cordilleras.


We returned to Sandy Point from St. Julian, and then crossed over to Tierra Del Fuego, where we were the guests of Mr Cameron, late of Oamaru. He is managing for a Company who have taken up 2,500,000 acres of land. The Company, which is a Chilian one, and was formed three or four years ago, shore 75,000 sheep last year, and Mr Cameron estimates that their country will in the next six years be carrying 250,000 sheep. They are now only stocking the best parts. The land was granted rent free by the Chilian Government, on account of the difficulty they had formerly had with the Indians. When the Company started they had to have a patrol every moonlight night to see that the Indians did not steal the sheep. The estancieros have been as kind as possible to the Indians, finding them in tea and clothing, &c, yet they are so treacherous that they will turn round and hamstring the settlers' horses and cattle and steal their sheep. The settlers have, therefore, rather taken matters into their own hands and have got leave from the Chilian Government to catch all the Indians they can and ship them across to Dawson Island, where they are put under the care of a Roman Catholic mission. When we landed a party, who had been out trying to catch sheep stealers, came in with sixty-three Indians, including men, women and children, and they were a very low class of savages. The steamer that took us on to Useless Bay conveyed the Indians to Dawson Island. We started on a trip through the island and saw some remarkably fine sheep country. Part of it lay somewhat high, but most of it is only some 400 ft above sea level, and we were told that the snow never lies there for any length of time. The grass is much the same as on the mainland, but much thicker and better than we saw in any part of South America. There were several blocks of good land not yet taken up, some of them up to four leagues in extent, but the best of them are cut into by adjacent holders, who have picked the eyes out of the land by securing all the ports, and they get the surrounding unoccupied land for nothing. When we were afterwards in Buenos Ayres some land on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego was put up, with a reserve of £100 per league of 6666 acres, and some, I believe, was sold above the upset. We went as far south as the Rio Grandia, [Rio Grande, Ed.] having spent a long day of 30 ½ hours in the saddle in order to reach a Roman Catholic Mission that had been started there. Some of the country was difficult to ride over, owing to the burrows of the kororuru, [coruro, Ed.] an animal like a rat and about the same size with a tail like that of a rabbit. They clear out before stock, as they do not like to have their burrows broken in. Before we left we visited a place called El Paramo where gold-mining is going on on the beach. There were forty-seven men at work who were paying a royalty of 2 pesos, or 2s 10d a day for the right of using a shovel. A company bought up the gold right, and let it as I have stated. The men were reported to be earning good wages, but cannot carry on the work in the winter owing to their not being able to get stores across the island.   [article continues]

Source: "Press" (Canterbury, NZ), 11 September 1897
Clipped: 23-IX-2012
Copyright © 2004-2016 Duncan S. Campbell + Gladys Grace P.
— for personal and educational use only — please cite this URL —