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After touching at, and staying a day at, Monte Video, to which we later on returned, we went on to Punta Arenas in the Straits of Magellan, then a Chilian convict-station, and surely one of the oddest little world-end places at that time in existence. Its inhabitants consisted first of the commandant (or governor, as he liked to be called), Don Oscar Viel, a lieutenant in the Chilian Navy. This officer was long afterwards the right-hand man of President Balmaceda in the civil war in Chile. There was a convict guard, only one degree less villainous than the convicts themselves, and there were one or two stores with their owners.

We landed amidst many cheers from the passengers, who regarded us with much the same interest as that taken by the fellow-passengers of Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley when they left for the joys of Mr Scadder's city of Eden. We found sanctuary in a little store on the beach, kept by an Englishman (one of only two in the place) and an American, bearing the sylvan names of Greenwood and Forrest.

Greenwood was the son of a former headmaster of Christ's Hospital /1/, and Forrest the son of the famous Confederate cavalry general /2/. Both were men of education and good fellows, who, for their own reasons, had thus buried themselves. I afterwards went down to Bognor to see Greenwood's mother, a picturesque old lady, whose delight was pathetic at meeting someone who had seen her far-away son, whom she regarded as almost lost to her. We slept on the floor of the little store on a bundle of goat skins, and matters were about as rough as anything I have come across in a life tinged with hardish incidents. Our stay here was enlivened by the arrival of a shipwrecked crew from the Welsh ship Ocean Empress of Carnarvon, lost in the Pacific, near the entrance to the Straits. They were all countrymen of mine, two of the officers coming from within a few miles of my own home in Anglesey. They had undergone many hardships, which had apparently not softened their peppery tempers, for the next day at the crude meal which we dignified with the name of dinner, the first and second officers fell out over the unimportant question of whether they had seen either two or three cheeses on the counter of a neighbouring store. One said two, the other insisted three, until finally they got up from the table, and set to and had as pretty a rough-and-tumble fight as ever I wish to see.

Punta Arenas is the one place where I have found the fact that I was a Freemason of real practical service to me. For some reason the governor made up his mind that we were spies, and sent for us, being more than rude in his manner at our interview, and next day he intimated his intention of arresting us.

The colony, though occupied by Chilians, was claimed by the Argentines, and there was staying in the place a certain Don Luiz [sic - Luis] Piedra Buena, who asserted himself to be a captain in the Argentine Navy, and at all events he had a uniform. Being an enthusiastic mason, he determined to protect us, and putting on his uniform and hoisting his flag over the little store, he boldly announced to the governor that we were under his protection and that of the Argentine Republic. The governor swore and fumed, but thinking, I suppose, that the game was not worth the candle, he let us alone. The withdrawal of this governor's strong personality led to a catastrophe not a very great while afterwards, for the convicts rose and were joined by the troops. A general massacre ensued, which bid fair to blot out the little colony altogether.

Our intention in visiting the place was to hire a small sealing vessel and get away up the coast to our destination, but there was nothing available, so we decided to go for a hunting trip in the interior in the meanwhile.

We got ponies and engaged two men, Pedro Dufour, an Argentine, and Daniel Cole. The former was by way of being a gentleman and was a pleasant companion. Daniel Cole was an English sailor and quite one of the cheeriest and pluckiest little fellows I have ever met, but he would stick to nothing for long. He had been in the English Navy and had deserted from that, in the United States Army and deserted from that, and in the United States Navy, from which he also deserted. How he drifted to this forlorn spot I forget, but wherever he was he carried with him a fund of jokes, inexhaustible energy and unfailing good-humour.

We left for the Pampas with probably as rudimentary a kit as ever a hunting-party started with, and only one little tent of, at most, four feet high. The Pampas of Southern Patagonia are as wild and bleak as anything in existence, vast rolling plains interspersed with small hills and almost devoid of wood. Fuel is always the greatest desideratum and its lack creates great hardship.

The only real traveller in early days in this country was Captain [George] Chaworth Musters, of whom I have already spoken, who wrote At Home among the Patagonians, and whom I knew intimately. Many probably have since travelled there, and doubtless nowadays it is as well known as Piccadilly, but at that time it was a veritable terra incognita. Lady Florence Dixie went there in later years and wrote a book about it, but she was a lady fond of vivid journalism, and I have found it hard to recognise familiar scenes under her descriptive imagery.

The guanaco was the only real game to be found in abundance in the country. Vast herds of them roamed everywhere, and the hunting of them on horseback with dogs and with the Spanish "bolas," which we were soon able to use, gave capital sport. It involved really hard riding, and, fresh as I was from Australia, where I had spent nearly my whole time on horseback, it was delightful to me. We also had the South American ostrich or "rhea" to hunt, a smaller bird than that of South Africa, but giving good sport. These we also hunted with the bolas. Sometimes these hunting days were bitterly hard. I recollect being sixteen hours out, the last six of which were in a terrible pampero, or blizzard, which bid fair to cost me my life. How we got back to camp I hardly know, for it was pitch dark, the cold intense, and the rain driving with pitiless cruelty. The horses and ourselves all exhausted, we staggered on, and finally reached the camp at about midnight utterly done up. I had some vague idea that [Doctor, travelling companion, Ed.] Gordon, who had remained in camp, got my wet clothes off me, and dragging me into the tent, rolled me up in guanaco mantles, but I knew no more for many hours, sleeping almost the sleep of the dead.

After some weeks in the interior and when a long distance from Punta Arenas, near the spurs of the Cordilleras, we met a large body of Indians, with whom we remained some time. Some description of them is due, as the country and its people as they then were, in 1874, are but little known. Patagonia was (and I suppose is) peopled very sparsely by two races of Indians; the northern part by the Araucanians, and the southern by the Tehuelches. The Araucanians were a more or less handsome people of the ordinary Indian type, but I have only met one or two of them. It is the Tehuelche whose great height is the subject of every legend and of our childhood's imagination ; and there is much truth in the old stories, for they were without doubt the biggest race that I have ever seen in my life. I stand six foot two and a quarter honest measurement without my boots, and a good deal more if (as so many do) I invoke the aid of my bootmaker. I think I can say that among those whom I met I was about the average height. They were as big as they were tall, and they had, to some extent, the curious almond eye of the Eastern races. They were horse Indians, never moving on foot, and they were entirely nomad, not a village, so far as I know, existing anywhere. They put up their tents of horse skins in any chance hunting-place, and stayed there just as long as it was convenient. They had a species of devil-worship ; they believed in a deity, or, more correctly, in two spirits, the Manitou, the good spirit, and the Gualichu, the bad spirit. With a certain amount of argument in their favour, they prayed to the Gualichu, whom they described as "a little fellow always running about to do mischief." They urged that it was useless to pray to the good god, who was there only to do good, and much wiser to pray to the Gualichu not to do harm. When they died they believed that they rode on horseback to the world beyond, and for that purpose it was the duty of the surviving relatives to kill all their horses. The Patagonian never rode mares in this world, but the relatives had imbibed the idea that mares were good enough to carry the departed to the next, so the mares alone were killed and not the horses. I am not quite sure that when we think it likely to be profitable to ourselves we, with all our civilisation, do not salve over our consciences in much the same way in respect to many duties which we regard as part of our religion.

We were fortunate in coming into contact with a very representative community of these nomad Patagonian Indians under their chief, Chaloupe, a man of much importance in the tribe, and were especially lucky in being able to take part in one of their great hunting "circles," which, as far as I know, are unique.

We had a glorious run with them, and though our bolas had but poor effect, we managed to keep level with them by using our revolvers while galloping alongside the game.

We also visited their camp and stayed with them some time. On this occasion only did we have any native trouble. For some reason, I have never known why, they did not want us to go. We got our horses up and Dan held them, we arguing the point as best we could, until suddenly we made a rush, swung on to our horses and cleared out. It is more than probable that they meant nothing really serious, as they did not get on their horses and follow us ; although they did for several nights hang about our camp, keeping our dogs extremely uneasy.

[...] After many weeks' hunting we returned to Punta Arenas to wait for the schooner which we expected, and while there occupied our time with sailing in a little seven-ton cutter over to the shores of Tierra del Fuego. The schooner never came, and there was nothing for it but to go back to Monte Video, which we did in the Pacific Company's vessel Cordillera.

/1/ Rev. John Greenwood D.D. (1786-1865)

/2/ Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877). This is probably a practical joke. The person whom the author met was almost certainly John Forrest M.D., son of the Presbyterian minister John Forrest D.D. (1799-1879) of Charleston, South Carolina.

Source: "Life in Patagonia", Chapter 4 of "How I became a Governor", Sir Ralph Williams, London 1913
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Updated: 1-XI-2014
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