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Patagonia Bookshelf



[From the Oxford University Herald.]

A lecture on the condition of the Indians of South America, including those of Patagonia and Terra-del-Fuego, with notices of important openings for missionary labour, was delivered in the Town Hall by Captain Allen Gardiner, R.N., who has lately returned from that country.

Dr Macbride, in taking the chair, begged to introduce to the notice of the meeting his friend Capt. Gardiner, a native of our own country, who, upon terminating his professional career, instead of retiring into private life, was inspired with the noble ambition of carrying missionary exertion into these regions, where— to use the Apostle's expressions — ' Christ has not been named.' With this view, Captain Gardiner had already visited Africa, spending some time at the Cape, and in the districts far beyond it ; but the public are already acquainted with this portion of his labours by his works on the Qoolu missions. He had also visited the New World, and his object now was to make them acquainted with the result of his observations in that quarter of the globe — tending as they did to encourage the hope that the Word which had converted the ferocious New Zealander and the South Sea Islander would be [no] less efficacious in melting the hearts of these savages who occupied a still lower position in the scale of civilisation.  

Captain Gardiner was received with much applause. In the statement he was about to make, it  should be his duty to bring before them as distinctly as he could a portion of the heathen world little known in this country — the aborigines of South America ; to state the efforts made to introduce the Protestant religion into that quarter of the globe ; and more especially, at detail, the progress of the mission to Terra-del-Fuego. Before doing this, he would wish to offer a few observations illustrative of the condition of the heathen generally of South America. Having regard to the past history of these regions, it was to be expected that the missionary would find some shreds and remnants of revealed religion amongst every tribe they visited. In general, however, they had lost whatever they had possessed — all their observances, bearing reference to another state of existence, were purely superstitious, and resolved themselves into different ways of propitiating the spirit of evil. It was their invariable custom to wash themselves and their houses with human blood— that of a little child was esteemed of great efficacy. The little innocent is allured by a show of flowers and gaudy trifles to a certain spot in the front of the house in the course of erection ; here a heavy post suspended over the spot for the express purpose was made to fall with a crash by cutting a rope, and the infant was killed in celebration of the unhallowed rite. The natives then ran about, and bathed the doors of their habitation with the blood. In some portions of the Continent, again, it was customary for the chief, on his coming to power, to be washed in the blood of his kindred. In elucidation of his statements, he referred to two large maps, and pointed out certain portions to which he desired more particularly to refer, where the natives had never been conquered, but remained, in spite of all the efforts of the Spaniards, in the same state of freedom and independence as when Columbus first placed his foot on the coast. This was the country of the Arraconian [Araucanian, Ed.] Indians; and from his own observation, and testimony upon which he could rely, he believed that the portions to which he referred were as large as the space occupied by France, Belgium, and Holland, united together. They had waged a war with the Spaniards, which continued for 180 years with but little   interruption. At that time Spain was in the zenith of her power, and had advantage of firearms in the struggle; whereas the Indians had only bows and arrows, and yet they had remained to this day free as we ourselves were in Great Britain. Captain Gardiner proceeded to submit a great number of highly interesting details relative to the customs of these Indians, and gave an exceedingly striking and graphic description of his adventures in exploring   the regions near the Cordilleras ; he also described his interviews with the various chiefs relative to his design of teaching them and their people the doctrines of Christianity ; and he stated that, on frequent occasions, their efforts were thwarted and their lives endangered by the Spanish priests calumniating them and enraging the people against them. He then went on to state, with reference to the more southerly districts, that from Peru down to the Straits of Magellan, and he might say as far as Cape Horn, he had never heard anything of the practice of sacrifice among the people. No doubt could exist that the people were worshippers of the Sun ; and of this ancient belief of the Peruvians he adduced many interesting traces as still to be observed in their habits. The length to which this portion of the lecture extended precludes us from entering into anything like details. He observed that there was no part of the missionary field so beset with difficulties as the Arraconian country; and yet he believed that if any man of God would patiently remain at one of the Indian locations until he had mastered the tongue, and made himself independent of an interpreter, he might then proceed ;and were he repulsed for not merely the first, but for the second and the third time, still, if he persevered until at length the Indians became convinced that he was what he really represented himself to be, his ultimate success would be certain. They had, however, found it impossible to stay there — the reason of which was, that they never had means to support more than one station, and they thought it best to establish themselves in those places where there were fewest obstacles. With this view they proceeded to Patagonia, and went off to the Frankland [Falkland, Ed.] Islands, happily in the possession of the English. But he was not a missionary, and he had not one with him, and therefore he thought the best thing they could do was to return home to obtain the necessary aid. He had accordingly represented to more than one missionary body the manner in which he had been received by the Patagonians. For that purpose he had had three interviews with the committee of the Church Missionary Society ; but the circumstances of that body with respect to funds and missionaries precluded them from rendering their assistance.

An application was then made to the Moravians, but they were in the same position. Therefore, a few private individuals who were friendly to the object had united and formed themselves into a society called the Patagonian Missionary Society. Shortly afterwards a catechist was appointed to go out, who was afterwards ordained. He and Mr Hunt had determined to make an effort to found a mission. Arrived in the country, they took a bundle of biscuit, and some clothes on their backs, and set out. They found themselves obliged to return as they went, finding no people. But afterwards some of the people came down to where they were stationed, and he found that since his former visit they had been greatly altered — that they had become greatly exasperated against them, and insisted on having presents of trinkets, liquors, and food, to so exorbitant an extent as rendered it impossible to comply with; and, when refused, the chief threatened to take their lives. The cause of this was traced to the formation of a new settlement by the Christian [Chilean, Ed.] Government. After detailing various incidents of the kind, Captain Gardiner proceeded to say that nothing was left to them but to return by the next opportunity to England, to confer with their committee as to what was to be done. They had no intention of giving it up; on the contrary, their hopes of ultimate success were strong. It was, however, considered better that they should give up the Continent for the present, and confine their efforts to Terra-del-Fuego. Captain Gardiner stated that he went out again in January last year, taking with him four seamen and two boats. They examined the land, and the result had been, that they selected a small island for their station, N.N.E. of Cape Horn, about eleven miles in length, and three in breadth, and a very desirable spot for a missionary settlement. They had resolved to call it Banner Cove, from the 60th Psalm, 4th verse — "Thou hast given a banner to them that feared thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth." They soon found that the barbarity of the people led them to covet everything the party had. They would come and try to take the coat off his back, or the buttons off his coat, or the handkerchief off his neck. The difficulty was so great, that they felt obliged to England for further assistance. It was intended to take out next year an iron boat, so constructed that it could be taken to pieces, and adapted by its capacity to serve both as a mission house and provision store. They had now a good prospect of obtaining the aid of the Moravians to the work; and if it pleased God to give him health and strength, he trusted to return  next autumn to the mission. The testimony of all  who had ever visited these poor Indians was, that   they formed the very lowest grade of civilisation. He had seen the Bushmen of Southern Africa, as well as the natives of other uncivilised regions ; but he did not think he had ever seen so barbarous a people as those of Terra-del-Fuego. They were known to be cannibals. When game, fish, and fungus (for there was a production of that kind they used as food), could not be had, they held some of the elder women over the flames of green wood till they were suffocated, and then fed upon the flesh. They occasionally, however, shewed traits of character which seemed to indicate that they had the elements of kindness in their nature, exemplifying the affection of the women for their children, and the generosity of the men in sharing their victuals with each other. He impressed upon his audience the obligations under which he contended they lay to lend their aid towards the mission, both on religious, moral, and political grounds. By the efforts they had already made, their funds were nearly exhausted. They had the prospect of obtaining labourers, but they had not the means of sending them forth : and if no efforts on behalf of the mission were made by the Christian people of this and other lands, the inhabitants of this interesting and promising field of missionary labour must be left in their native state of spiritual darkness.

Source: "South Australian Register" (Adelaide,SA), 24 July 1850
Clipped: 25-IX-2012
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