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Patagonia Bookshelf

New England whalers and sealers at the Malvinas / Falkland Islands (Summer 1834)
Fishery operations, glimpsed through the journal of Rev. Titus Coan

Sunday, January 26th, 1834 through Saturday, February 1st, 1834

Schooner 'Antarctic' off Cape Virgins
Sabbath January 26th 1834

Arose this morning and found the "Antarctic" passing out of the mouth of the Straits and pressing her way into the billows of the Atlantic. The "Antarctic" is a fine vessel of 173 tons, with a good cabin and better accommodations than any other sealing vessel I have seen; but her stores of provision are so bare that the Captain cannot assure us a passage farther than the Falkland Islands, unless he can replenish them there. Made arrangements with the Captain for preaching in the cabin in the afternoon, but before the hour appointed arrived I became so much affected by seasickness as to be unable to officiate, consequently, the services were omitted.

While passing out of the Strait this morning we descried a large Barque entering under the north shore, but at so great distance that we were unable to speak her.

Monday Jan 27th. We have lost sight of land, and are now plowing an unbroken ocean in search of the Falkland Islands. Winds light, and plain sailing. Nothing of interest has occurred during the day, and my sea-sickness has been so oppressive that scarcely any thing could possess power to interest me.

Jan. 28th. At 9 o'clock A.M. we made the "Falklands" and in the afternoon run into a little bay and came to anchor near the shore. Here we found the Schooner "Caroline", Captain Storer, of New York.

Went on shore with Brother Arms and nine of the crew to shoot geese etc. for fresh stores. Took about 30 in all of geese, ducks and other fowls with which these Islands abound. Returning on board we found Captain Storer of the "Caroline" and Captain Pendleton, of the ship "Hamilton" which is lying at New Island about 70 miles from us. These vessels are connected in the whaling business, and make these Islands the place of their rendezvous. They have been out 12 months from the States. Had conversation with Captain Nash and Captain Pendleton in relation to the Western Coast of Patagonia. Both of these men have been much on all parts of that coast and they both concur with others whom we have consulted on the subject that it is the most dreary and desolate shore in the world. Captain Nash stated that in passing up on the inside and down on the outside of the Islands on that coast from the western entrance of the Strait to the Island of Chiloé, he saw but one solitary canoe of natives, and that the fertile fields of luxuriant clover spoken of by Morrell in his published journal are objects which never met his eye.

Captain Pendleton spoke of a Mr. James Frampton Watson [first written as Hamilton - corrected. Ed.] of Philadelphia, who in 1830 explored the N.W. coast of Patagonia, saw many of the Natives, ascended the Cordilleras etc.

The Captain Pendleton mentioned here in Coan's journal is probably the same Benjamin Franklin Pendleton, commander of the brig Seraph on the US-sanctioned South Exploring Expedition (1829-1831). One of the scientists who participated in this expedition was Doctor John Frampton Watson (c1805-1866), son of a Philadelphia merchant. In May 1831, after visiting southern latitudes, Watson and a companion, Jeremiah Reynolds, were landed by Pendleton on the Chilean coast at the River Bío-Bío, near the city of Talcahuano. During a stay of several months, the pair made fruitful contacts with the local Araucanians. Watson assembled a collection of plants, which was subsequently donated to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. He and his companion also ascended an active volcano (either Antuco or Villarrica), taking temperature readings during the ascent.
Reference: "James Eights, 1798-1882" (New York State Museum, 2005), by Daniel McKinley, has been helpful in identifying these persons and events.

Albemarle Harbour, Falkland Islands, Jan 29th. We are in a little lagoon almost surrounded by small Islands. On the South is "Arch Island", so named on account of a natural arch opening a passage entirely through one end of the Island, so that boats and small vessels can pass in and out of the harbour under this natural bridge.

A scene somewhat painful occurred on board the "Antarctic" this morning. A young man by the name of Luther B. Johnson who went out as 2d mate of Captain Nash, was some time ago deposed from his office and turned before the mast on account of his bad conduct. Since then, the Captain and all his officers report that Johnson has been labouring to disaffect the minds of the Sailors against the officers, and has so far succeeded that unless prompt measures are adopted the Captain apprehends a mutiny among his crew. I am also told that by the threats and menaces of Johnson the life of the Captain is in danger. Having therefore taken advise of others, and having been told by his officers that if Johnson were suffered to return unconfined to the States they would leave the vessel, the Captain gave Johnson a writing this morning, in which he offered to leave him on the Islands or to put him in irons and confine him in the steerage, and in this situation convey him to New York. The latter alternative was chosen by Johnson, and he is therefore confined on board.

The Schooner "Hancock", Captain Davison, of Stonington, Connecticut came into the harbour this morning, and the Captain and some of his crew came on board the "Antarctic". The "Hancock" is bound to the western coast of Patagonia, on a sealing expedition.

I learn that the ship which we passed on coming out of the Strait was the English Surveying Barque "Beagle", Captain Fitz Roy. Towards night the "Antarctic" left "Port Albemarle" and ran down the Islands a few miles and anchored for the night in a little cove. From the deck we descried a large number of hair seals lying on the beautiful beach opposite us. A boat was launched, and eighteen men with guns and clubs went on shore to engage with these animals. While rowing in, many of these huge creatures dove into the water and came swimming around our boat, rearing their heads several feet out of the water, snorting, growling, gnashing their teeth etc.

Landing at a little distance from the place where the seals lay, by a circuitous route we came upon them unawares, but they were so near the water that, though there were more than a hundred on the beach, we succeeded in taking only three. One of these was what is called the "Sea Lion", a name very properly given him from his huge dimensions, his bold front, and his power in combat. This animal measured 10 feet 4 Inches in length. When these were taken the Bay was made to foam by the multitude of Seals who were flouncing in it, rearing their heads to observe our movements and sometimes coming close to the shore as if to attack us "en masse". Many of them were shot in the water, but as they sunk immediately to the bottom they could not be obtained. Two large foxes coming down upon the beach to pay us a visit were unceremoniously shot. This made up our complement of game and we returned on board.

Bay of St. Salvador, Jan 30th. At daylight this morning the "Antarctic" was got under way, and we ran down through the Falkland Sound which separates the two principal Islands of the group, and at 4 P.M. came to anchor in this bay, having sailed nearly 100 miles. Our sail through the Sound was delightful. With a fine breeze and a smooth sea we glided along at the rate of 10 knots an hour. The Island on our left in many places presented a bold shore of perpendicular rock several hundred feet high, while in the rear the land rose to a mountain range, sprinkled here and there with patches of snow. On our right the land was low and level presenting a scene somewhat like the pampas of Patagonia.

Spoke two vessels on our way, but did not understand the name of the first. The second was the little schooner Eagle which was built at these Islands from the wreck of a vessel and is constantly plying in these Seas. The object of our visit to this Bay is to get some spars and other articles belonging to the Antarctic which were left on her passage out, and also to make some repairs on the vessel before going to sea.

Went on shore at 5 P.M. with several of the crew in search of game. Immediately on landing we saw a Sea Elephant basking on the shore and the men soon succeeded in killing him which was done only by firing into the roof of his mouth. He measured 15½ feet and will make about three barrels of oil. The Sea Elephant is the largest species of the seal, and is sometimes found measuring 30 feet in length, and affording 25 barrels of oil. Took some geese, ducks etc. and returned to the Schooner.

[January 31 -- no entry]

Feb. 1st. Saw three men on horseback on the shore, and the Captain sent a boat to ascertain who they were. In a little time the boat's crew returned with the intelligence that they were men who range the Islands on horse-back for the purpose of taking wild cattle and horses which abound here. They are Spaniards and mountaineers, [perhaps from "montoneros", mounted men or guerrillas. Ed.] or native Indians from Buenos Ayres, of whom there are now seven on these Islands. Their headquarters were formerly at Port Louis, a little Spanish village, and the only settlement on the Islands; the English Colony at Port Egmont having some time ago been broken up.

Port Louis was formerly under a Governor by the name of Vernet who was commissioned by the Buenos Ayrean Government, and a man by the name of Brisbon [sic - Brisbane, Ed.] acted as Lieut. Governor. These men attempted to monopolize the seal fishery about these shores, and actually took many of the American sealing vessels which touched at the Islands, seizing the cargoes, and putting the men in confinement or banishing them on some desert Island. When this news was communicated to the U. S., the Sloop of War Lexington was sent out to break up the establishment. Governor Vernet fled to Buenos Ayres, and Brisbane was taken prisoner and conveyed thither. This was in 1831. Since then the English have attempted to establish a colony at Port Louis, the particulars of which I have not yet learned. I am told however that Brisbane returned to Port Louis and either by compromise or in some other way, obtained command of the place. He was rigorous with the mestizos and on the 26 of August last they arose and massacred Brisbane and four others of the colonists. The mestizos have abandoned Port Louis and now prowl about the Islands like a roaming banditti. They go armed with muskets, pistols, cutlasses, dirks, knives etc., and seem determined not to be taken alive.

Of the three who appeared on the beach today, two were Indians, and the other a Spaniard. The Indians were banished here some years ago for murder. The Captain wishing to obtain some beef enquired of them if they had any bullocks on hand. They told him that they had one some 4 or 5 miles distant up the shores of the lagoon, and that they would sell it to him if he would send a boat for it. They also agreed to catch 7 more and bring them down to the vessel tomorrow. A boat was sent for the bullock, and after a long and fatiguing row against wind and tide, we found the Indians and the beef in a deep valley near the shore. It was now about sundown, and by the time we again got on board the "Antarctic" it was 10 o'clock in the evening.