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Voyage of the "City of San Francisco" from New York to this Port —Some Noteworthy Incidents — A Pleasant Trip and Safe.

[Despite the fact that this article describes a passage through the Magellan Strait, journalistic convention of the period equates it with a voyage round Cape Horn. Ed.]

San Francisco, November 28th, 1875. The telegraph, I presume, informed you at the time of the sailing of the steamer City of San Francisco from New York on the 21st of September last. Her safe arrival here on Friday last has added another fine ship to the already large fleet of American steamers on the Pacific Coast. Descriptions of herself and her sister ships, the City of New York and the City of Sydney, have, I believe, been already given in your columns. I learn, also, that she is to be free for visitors previous to her sailing for Australia.

At 9 a. m. prompt on the 21st of September the City of San Francisco steamed quietly from her dock at Pier 4? North River, and at 12 noon stopped inside of Sandy Hook to swing the ship to the buoy to adjust the compasses — a very important ceremony in a new iron steamer.

At 3 p. m., all the calculations having been completed, and the deviation tables prepared, the officials of the company and their party of friends bade us bon voyage, and went on board the steamboat which had accompanied us down the bay, and we squared away with all sail set for our journey of fourteen thousand miles to San Francisco. An Equinoctial gale off Bermuda on the night of the 23d and the succeeding day fulfilled all the predictions of her builders, John Roach & Son, of Chester, Penn., as to the sea going quality of the City of San Francisco. A three days' blow off the River La Platte [sic] in the Atlantic, and another off the Straits in the Pacific, still further satisfied us that she was in all respects a strong and worthy vessel.

Giving a good distance to the Cape and Dungeness Point, extending from its base, we crossed Sarmiento Bank on flood tide at 9 a. m., and steamed ahead across the broad expanse of Possession Bay, making the prominent points of Mount Aymond, Cape Possession and Direction Bills on the Patagonian and Cape Orange on the Terra del Fuegan shore in quick succession, and at thirty miles distance from the entrance the first narrows opened out to us.

This channel, ten miles long and two miles wide has abrupt, cliffy banks of clay, not unlike those of the Mississippi in time of low water, rising irregularly to a height of 25 to 60 feet, and undulating away on either side into treeless prairie land, until the blue line of the distant mountains bound the horizon.

Though entirely void of anything approaching the picturesque, we found the prospect grateful enough to eyes strangers to terra firma for a month and over. Passing through the Narrows, within pistol-shot of the Patagonian shore, we came out into an expanse of water some fifteen miles in breadth, which continued at this width for twenty miles, when it contracted again between Cape Gregory and St. Isador Point, and the Second Narrows, twelve miles long and six miles wide, began ; the same conformation of land obtains here as in the first channel.

Standing upon the deck of the steamer the eye ranged unobstructed over mile upon mile of terra incognita. Save an occasional patch of grass, green in the genial month of the season, for October is the first Spring month here, and a few scattered clumps of bushes near the water's edge, not a tree or sign of vegetation varied the sterile surface of this desolate region. The bay, Broad Reach, into which the Second Narrows opened, presented a beautiful sheet of water; indented by numerous headlands from either shore, the Patagonian near at hand and the Fuegan softened into pleasant outline by the distance, and studded with islands of remarkable conformation and altitude.


To us, as we steamed along, the most adjacent were Santa Martha, only one-third of a mile in length, but rising in rocky sides abruptly from the sea a hundred feet ; Santa Magdalena, a mile In length by half a mile broad, rising in central hillocks and perpendicular sides to an altitude of one hundred and fifty feet ; Quartermaster's Island in the distance, on the southern shore, rising beautifully out of the blue waters of the Straits, and Elizabeth Island (so named by Sir Francis Drake in honor of the maiden Queen), the largest of these islands, with its irregular and fantastically Indented seawall and a range of barren hills through its central length, made altogether a picture not soon to be forgotten by any of us. Magdalena Island, we were informed, is the favorite haunt of cormorants, penguins, sea lions and seals, and it is said that sometimes, upon approaching this island, the hills will be found covered with these birds, whilst the beach and water along shore will be alive with seals and sea lions. We did not get near enough to see the amphibia in their aquatic gambols, but saw vast flocks of sea birds circling in the air over both this and Elizabeth Island. On the latter they were, I presume, swans and geese, as they are said to abound there, and this was their breeding season.

During all this day we had the most delightful weather — sufficiently cool to make our wraps acceptable, but not too cold to prevent us sitting unsheltered in the bow on the upper deck, enjoying the varying panorama as we steamed along over a sea smooth as glass, with a clear, bright, whiteflecked sky above us.

At 7 p. m. we made Sandy Point Road ahead— a low projecting point of land on the northern shore, extending out into the bay a mile or more from the coast line, covered with grass and a few trees. Rounding this point we brought into view, some three miles ahead— the houses showing well in the rays of the setting sun— the Chilean settlement of Punta Arena or Sandy Point— known officially as "La Colonia de Magalhaes"— a penal establishment of the Republic of Chile.


Formerly established at Port Famine, twenty-eight miles to the westward (so named in recollection of its having been once the scene of the total destruction, by starvation and hardship, of a Spanish Colony who attempted to settle there in 1584), was removed to Its present location In 1852, as being more suitable for the purposes of agriculture and grazing, for It is about here that we had the first indications of vegetation ; the woody and mountainous country beginning here and continuing without intermission in all the western part of the Strait.

The town, built some forty feet above the water's edge, in a small plain which extends back to a range of mountains five miles distant to the westward, is composed of about one hundred frame houses, principally of one story, making no pretensions to style or architectural elegance, simply village structures fronting roughly-paved streets. These streets lead at right angles from a central square or plaza, around which are the principal shops and the offices of the officials, their small, heavily.barred windows and stoutly-ironed doors unpleasantly suggesting a convict escapade and general pillage. The authorities of the place consist of a military Governor, Major José Almeida, In charge of the Post, with his staff and a garrison of one company of Chilean regulars— a not unimportant feature of the establishment, since once in the history of the place the convicts revolted, and after perpetrating the most dreadful barbarities upon the inhabitants, murdered the Governor and seized for the purpose of escape two vessels in the harbor ; and although they were speedily captured by an English man-of-war and expiated their crimes at Valparaiso, the possibility of a like occurrence has been kept in mind by the Government and a recurrence of the same amply provided against. A Harbormaster or Captain of the Port (at present Captain Lynch, of Valparaiso) with his Aid and clerks, and the Surgeon in charge of the Hospital, form the Government force. Being a free port, there are no Custom House regulations.

The Government House, a two-story octagonal building, surmounted by a large lantern, which serves as a light for the port ; the Catholic Chapel and the Flag-staff Square, are at the northwestern part of the town ; the Convict station, a large stone fortification-like looking building, is back of the village a short distance, but we did not have time to visit it. Still Captain Lynch informed me that the inmates were principally deserters from the Chilean Army.

The English Consul, Mr. Hamilton, the only representative of diplomatic service here, informed me that the place was improving yearly in population and business. At the present time the inhabitants number 1100 against 170 in 1861. In the early days of the settlement they were entirely dependent upon Chile for supplies, and the uncertainty of the arrival of sailing vessels had, on more than one occasion, placed the Colony In great danger of starvation ; but, at the present time, by reason of the great increase of steamer travel, among which Is a regular line of English packets from Liverpool, via Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Buenos Ayres to Valparaiso, the discovery — and extensive working by an English company with convict and Chilean laborers — of very productive coal mines and quartz gold mines, five and seven miles distant, communication to which is by railway, and its locality, make it a natural place of call for steamers ; and the abundance of fresh water, wood and grazing lands, all bid fair to make it, in time, a place of considerable commercial importance.

There was, I was told, no native Patagonians in the place, although at certain seasons of the year they do come down to the Point for the purpose of barter, exchanging guanaco, ostrich and seal skins for sugar, coffee, tobacco and other goods. Intimating my desire to have some memento of the place, Captain Lynch, with whom I had gone ashore at the time of his official visit to the ship, kindly placed at my disposal one of his boatmen as a guide, and with him I made an expedition to some of the stores in search of guanaco or other robes. Night having shut in upon us, we stumbled in the darkness over the rough streets and pavements from one little venda to another. These places, much like the shops of the towns on the Amazon, are a sort of a compromise between an army settler's tent on the frontier, and a country bar-room-grocery, for they are shops of general barter and sale. My knowledge of the language, and habit of dealing with the people, secured for me, at a very reasonable price, a couple of fine guanaco robes. These robes are made from the skins of a species of mountain goat peculiar to South America. Worn out by our long tramp — the town being by this time asleep, and nothing more of Interest to be seen -- we picked our way through the dark and narrow streets, and, after many a slip and stumble, arrived safely at the railroad Jetty at the beach, and tooK boat for the ship, moralizing upon the strangeness of finding this little spot of civilization in this far-off "Segment of the Frigid Zone." At four o'clock next morning we weighed anchor, and the big ship moved off like a thing of life. As I said before, Sandy Point marks the limit of


In the features of the country. The first low land with an occasional patch of grass but without trees, but from thence the picturesque part of the journey began, which to describe in a manner worthy of its beauty, would require the pen of a Humboldt or Bayard Taylor; beauty that would find full expression on canvas only beneath the charmed pencil of a Bierstadt or a Church — although I saw in many places good opportunity for the artistic eye and fine touch of your only Mr. Meeker, particularly in the delicate shade of misty purple outline of mountain vistas.

It has not yet been my happiness to stand beneath the grandeur of the Alps or to see the Jungfrau, Matterhorn or Mount Blanc in all the glory of sunlight or moonlight upon their ermine mantels, but I have seen the Mountain Inlands of the West Indies, The Cordilleras of South America, and the Organ Mountains of Brazil, towering aloft in their solitary grandeur, and beautiful as I, in common with all travellers think them, they cease to be impressive when contrasted with the grand mountains of the Western Straits, which, rising from the water's edge on either shore, their rugged sides covered with the hardy forests of that inclement region, and their summits snow-capped and cloud-hidden fading away, range upon range as far as the eye can follow, make a picture the grandest in nature. The sides of the mountains being on the Northern shore precipitous we found plenty of water close in, and with the Captain on the bridge, glasses In hand, looking for points ahead, we steamed along in the early morning light beneath the shadows of these silent guardians of the Antipodes— down "Famine Reach," past Point Santa Anna. Port Famine, Port San Antonio and Cape San Isador, until we came is sight of Dawson Island, near the Fuegan shore, with its two giants -- Mount Sarmiento and Mount Buckland. The former, 6800 feet in height, Is the most remarkable mountain in the Straits. Although the sun was now well up and a stiff breeze blowing, we were only able to catch an occasional glimpse of its snow-covered peak, as it is almost perpetually enveloped in mist. Of Mount Buckland we had, looking back upon it, a better view. Speaking of it, Findlay says: "It is a tall, obelisk hill, estimated at about 4000 feet, terminating in a sharp needle point, and lifting its head above a chaotic mass of 'religuiadeluriana' covered with perpetual snows, by the melting of which an enormous glacier on the leeward or northeastern shore has been gradually formed. This icy domain is twelve or fourteen miles long ; forming in the Intermediate apace many magnificent cascades, which, for number and height, are not, perhaps, to be exceeded in any equal space of any part of the world. Within an extent of nine or ten miles there are upward of one hundred and fifty waterfalls dashing into the channel from a height of fifteen hundred to two thousand feet. I have met with nothing exceeding the picturesque grandeur of this part of the Strait."

To particularize each prominent point would be but to repeat such descriptions as the above.

Cape Froward, the most southern point of the mainland of South America — a magnificent headland projecting boldly into the channel— the Cape Hatterass of the Straits, for it is at this point that the furious gales or "williwas" are generally met. We passed at noon with a clear sky and a pleasant breeze, and sweeping round its rugged base we took our course northward, at nearly right angles to the one we had been lately holding, and went ahead down "Crooked Reach," past capes, headlands, islands, bays and coves innumerable on either shore. Sometimes it would seem that the headlands from the opposite shores had joined their rugged walls, and "no thoroughfare" was written plainly ahead of us. But gradually as we swept round some projecting point a way would open to us, and we have another beautiful vista ahead. Discovering a well sheltered harbor for the night, the Captain selected Borja Bay, and at 4 o'clock we entered a beautiful little land-locked cove perfectly protected by high mountain walls.

Hardly was the anchor cast when we were startled by the barking of a number of dogs, whose clear voices strangely broke the stillness of the little cove — and looking along the shore in the direction of the same we saw a thin column of blue smoke ascending from a little clump of trees on a projecting point of beach at the base of one of the mountains, and by the aid of our glasses discovered a number of dark looking objects moving about at the water's edge. Soon we saw the small boats or canoes come out from the shore, and as they approached, with loud cries and excitable gesticulations, we discovered they were a small band— men, women and children, of


The first boat that reached us contained four women and a child or "piccanini"— as they called the little imp. The other two contained both men and women, the lords of creation occupying the stern sheets or places of honor, and the women in the bow propelling the frail structure by broad paddles. They were, in all respects, typical savages— low In statue and of a dark red or mahogany color— long shaggy locks of mane-like black hair hung over their necks and shoulders and hanged in front a la the girl of the period, left free their faces, which were tattooed and begrimed with grease and dirt.

The men were slight of form and miserable looking. The women, with the exception of two who were old, decrepit and nearly blind, were stout, with remarkably developed busts and arms — the result, probably, of their labor at the paddles. The women were all provided with robes, made from the skin of animals, which they had wrapped around their bodies and fastened by a leathern thong at the waist. The men, clad in nondescript costumes of cast-off clothing and pieces of canvas and sails they had gotten from passing vessels, sat shivering in the cold, and altogether presented a picture of squalid wretchedness and misery beyond anything I had ever before seen.

Their boats, made of twigs and green branches of small trees, fastened together by green withes, were about twelve feet long and two feet broad and deep, the "amidships" part taken up by an earthen platform, upon which they had a fire burning. They had neither robes nor any curiosities for barter, and only offered us a sort of pine burr and some mussels in exchange for tobacco and clothing.

They remained alongside for several hours, crying in the monotonous and peculiar guttural — "tabac ! tabac ! tabac ! — pantalini ! pintalini ! pantalina !" — by the latter meaning any article of clothing. From one and another of the crew they received quite a wardrobe of old coats, pants, and flannel shirts, and a goodly store of navy plug, and at sunset, with loud cries and gesticulations, they left us for the shore.

Going in the boat that went to put up "our marks," or sign-board, on a tree— a custom with vessels passing through the Straits - I went along the beach to the camping place of our late visitors. Their encampment consisted of two wigwams, or more appropriately arbors, since they were simply small huts made by bending over low bushes and covering them with pieces of dried skins. An opening In either side afforded entrance and exit. They seemed to be divided into two families occupying separate establishments. I entered each and found them seated round a fire in the centre, upon which they every few moments threw a handful of green twigs, which emitted a pleasant odor in burning but filled the whole interior with the most irritating smoke, which finally found its way out through an aperture in the top. They seemed to have neither cooking nor household utensils of any kind, save a couple of leathern buckets and cups ; nor did I see anything like arms for war or chase. They were roasting in the fire some mussels, which, with limpets, sea eggs, fish and the flesh of seals and porpoises form their diet. They had neither bread nor meal. Their fruits and vegetables consist of the bur-like fruit before spoken of, wild celery and a species of berry found on most of the coast.. Some of them, arrayed in their new suits, were very querulous and friendly, whilst others, with characteristic Indian stolidity, sat apart and smoked their "tabac" in moody silence. They examined with interest our clothes and shoes. My ulster elicited universal attention and comment, and frio (cold) and "pantalini !" (coat) was given me in every note of the garment. The ladies particularly interested themselves in its texture and style. They seemed to fancy me some head man, and when I fired off a amall revolver I had, it capped the climax, and I was hailed universally as "Capitao !" "Capitao !" Under the influence of my new-found dignity I distributed a few bunches of cigarettes — all I had in the way of tobacco —and with the parting salute of "Capitao !" "Capitao !" we shoved off from the beach and left them in this dreary and miserable solitude.

Late in the night we saw the glimmer of their lights and heard their dogs barking, and daylight saw us off again seaward.


Beginning at Cape Quod, three miles to the eastward of Borja Bay, presents a new and not inviting character of weather and landscape. The weather, as is usual, was thick and rainy, and although the channel is only from two to three miles across, the shores were at times completely concealed by mist. The shores on either side, when they were seen, presented the same grand walls of mountains, but almost entirely destitute of trees. Steaming along at a safe speed we made all the indicating points, and entering "Sea Reach," began to see the influence of the Pacific in the disappearance of the snow and complete absence of vegetation. At 3 o'clock, the weather clearing, we got a sight of Cape Tamar and felt that the beginning of the end was at hand. We had here the first of the ocean swell, and at 5 o'clock we passed out by Cape Pillar into the Pacific. After our blow of three days we had pleasant weather up the west coast of South America, sighting on the way the inland of Juan Fernandez, and on the 9th instant arrived at Panama. Remained there, coaling and overhauling engines, until the 15th, when we sailed for San Francisco. Had unusually pleasant weather on the coast, having neither mist nor fog till off the entrance to this harbor, on the afternoon of Friday. Came up safely, however, at 5 o'clock, and made fast to the Company's docks.

Source: "Daily Alta California" (San Francisco), 5 December 1875
Clipped: 30-VI-2013
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