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XI.— Copies of Reports from Captain Thos. Henderson and Commander S. A. Paynter on Coal Formations in the Straits of Magellan, & Communicated by the Admiralty.

[Read March 11, 1850.]

H.M. St.V. Sampson, Rio Janeiro, October 22, 1848.

1. Sir,—I Have the honour to acquaint you that, in compliance with orders from Rear-Admiral Hornby, I obtained at Port Famine, by the kindness of the Governor, a guide to conduct me to the veins in the neighbourhood of Punta Arenas (Sandy Bay), and having anchored there on the morning of the 8th instant, I landed with Mr. Barrowman, 2nd Engineer of the "Sampson," and proceeded to the first vein about 7 miles distant from the bay, situated on the N. bank, and 40 or 50 feet above the level of the river. The vein is 30 or 40 feet in depth, about 20 feet of which could only be got at for the snow; but all that was visible appeared to be clean and of good quality, and may be worked with great ease.

The road as far as the commencement of the first ridge of hills from the bay, or about 4 miles, lies over a perfect level; the remaining portion of 3 miles passes over several ridges of hills, and, when it reaches as high as the first vein, descends over a deep brow to the head of the river, gradually narrowing to a footpath.

The second vein is a mile farther than the first, and the third a mile and a half beyond the second. Both were entirely covered with snow. They are represented to be quite as good as the first vein, and also close to the level of the river.

Having secured specimens of the first vein, and finding the principal difficulty attending the working of the mines would be the want of a good road, I returned to the shore by the bed of the river, to ascertain how far it might be practicable to take advantage of its level for the construction of a road to avoid that part of the present one over the hills; and although I found the river very tortuous, I saw no great difficulty in forming a road along its banks to join that of the plain, there being abundance of material, wood, and stone, on the spot: some of the trees measuring 3 and 4 fathoms in girth.

The bed of the river is filled with pieces of good coal, which must have fallen from the veins on its banks; and as these deposits are numerous, it may be assumed there is plenty of coal in the neighbourhood. I observed also indications of metallic substances at the bottom of several tributary rills and rivulets. The veins have not been worked, nor are there any appearances of their being so by the Chili Government, which has only established Punta Arenas as an outpost, under the command of a Lieutenant.

No reliance can be placed on a supply of coals there until a road be constructed and means of transfer from the mines to the bay secured, as it was only with great difficulty that I reached the first vein by the hill-road, which was deeply covered with snow.

I shall leave specimens of the coal for your inspection,* and have the honour to be, Sir, &c. &c. &c.

* These specimens have been analysed at the Government Museum of Practical Geology, and declared to be good varieties of the fossil fuel called Brown Coal or Lignite. Other specimens from Talcahuano Bay and Colcurra Bay, Chili, appear to be real coal of the variety known as Cannel or Candel Coal; while that from Vancouver's Island resembles ordinary Newcastle Coal, containing, however, a superabundance of earthy matter.—Ed.


H. M. St. V. Gorgon, Valparaiso, September 24, 1848.

2. As I was directed by Commodore Sir Thomas Herbert, at Monte Video, to examine the neighbourhood of Laredo Bay for coal, I, in company with several officers, explored for three miles round the bay, and observed no indication of surface coal, or any appearance on the rise of the hills or falls of the valleys to indicate a coal formation; on the contrary, the land we passed through was a continued swamp in one direction for miles, and the hills were covered with a stunted growth of small winter birch, and a few evergreens and shrubs. The streams that run in numerous directions from the neighbouring hills come untinged and perfectly clear to the sands, and it is therefore my impression that in the immediate vicinity of the bay there are no veins of coal.

Laredo Bay is a very good anchorage, but the N.W. side is to be preferred, as it has a good sandy bottom. On the 17th of August at daylight I left Laredo Bay for Port Famine, in which neighbourhood I was also directed to look for coal, samples of which had been sent home in the "Salamander." As it was necessary to wood ship, and to obtain accurate information of any coal, I communicated my instructions to the Governor, and by himself and Mr. Dunn, his Secretary, was informed that there was no evidence of coal being in the immediate neighbourhood, but that at Sandy Bay, which I had passed, and which was distant from Port Famine 30 miles, there were coal-mines. These were four or five miles in the interior, and could by proper appliances be easily made available for the use of steamers, but that no attempt had been made to work them, as there was neither capital nor demand. They did not know the extent of the veins nor their probable direction, but from the appearance of the surface coal they were led to believe in the existence of extensive beds. I visited the neighbourhood of Port Famine, but saw nothing to indicate the existence of coal-beds, and the jungle was almost impenetrable on the hills, which shot up from the shores of the Bay. In the different trips the officers of the colony had taken, no signs of coal had fallen under their notice, although they were naturally anxious to discover it, as it would render the colony more valuable to Chili. I therefore considered it was useless to steam back and lose a week in exploring a district already well known to the colonists, from whom all necessary information could be easily obtained by vessels passing eastward.

Source: "Journal of the Royal Geographical Society", Vol. 20, pp.151-153
Clipped: 10-VI-2014
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