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Insurrection at Magallanes (1851)
A North-American sea-captain is captured by Chilean army mutineers at Punta Arenas.

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The re-taking of the vessel planned — Mr. Dunn — Captain Ávalos — Prieto — The corporal — Three bells — The struggle — Cambiaso overpowered — García — Cheers for victory — The crew swear fidelity to me — Our course — Cambiaso put in irons — His cowardice — The prisoners from the hold — River Gallegos — Voyage round Cape Horn — Attempted outbreaks — Our danger — We reach Ancud.

Wednesday, the 14th of January, we left Cape Gregory behind us, and continued our course eastward, towards the eastern entrance of the Straits. I sought Mr. Dunn early in the morning, and communicated my determination to him. I found him ready and willing to sustain me in the attempt, and that he agreed with me that the sooner it was made, the better; so, determining to hurry things on, we parted — he to sound such of the prisoners and soldiers as we thought would join us.

There were several of my crew in whom I could not put confidence, they being too frequently seen holding confidential conversations with Cambiaso's followers; so that after some deliberation, I determined not to entrust our plans to any of the men, lest those whose fidelity we doubted should hear of them, and betray us to Cambiaso; but in the course of the morning I spoke to those whom I could trust, and asked them separately if they would stand by me in trouble, and obey my orders. They all answered that they were ready; and one of them, with an oath, added, "Till death, captain!" Captain Ávalos we managed to speak to during the morning, and found him as ready as we were.

The day wore on anxiously enough for us, for we felt that the struggle that was approaching was a matter of life and death with us; one false step, and we were lost; one careless or treacherous word breathed by those whom we were compelled to trust, and we were at the mercy of those villains, whom no sense of humanity could restrain. The weather was fine, and the wind favorable; and, between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, we passed Cape Possession, leaving it to the north-west. I was on deck with the larboard watch, when Mr. Dunn told me that he had secured the assistance of twelve besides myself. These were some of the soldiers under captain Ávalos; some prisoners who had come down with us, and who had proved themselves so friendly during our confinement at Sandy Bay; and one or two of Cambiaso's own followers, who had expressed dissatisfaction at his tyranny, and to whom Mr. Dunn had held out the prospect of pardon, if we should succeed in our undertaking. Among them was my former guard, Prieto, to whom I was indebted for the hymn book, which proved so great a source of consolation. We laid our plans most cautiously. Captain Ávalos and his soldiers were to secure the officers in the cabin, while Mr. Dunn and myself were to guard the deck. To the corporal who had defended himself so bravely at the time the Florida was seized, and who refused to deliver up his gun except to my order, I gave the attack on Cambiaso himself; for during our whole imprisonment, he had manifested such a detestation of him that I really believed he would have eaten him up alive, if he could have got at him.

During the evening, Cambiaso and his officers sat around the table in the after cabin, engaged in their usual occupation of gambling; and every glance which I cast in upon them showed me their dark, fierce countenances, while the sound of their oaths and laughter struck my ear. Without, all was still and peaceful; the barque gliding swiftly through the water, with a free wind and a pleasant breeze. I watched the strange looking southern stars which looked down upon us from their quiet skies, with a strange impatience at their peaceful calmness.

By eleven, the gamblers began to rise from the table, and one by one retired to their state-rooms; and when the sound of eight bells proclaimed midnight, all was still and quiet around us. I sent the larboard watch below, telling them only that they must be prepared to come on deck if they heard me call. The starboard watch then came up, but I did not inform them of my plans then. The signal was to be three bells, or as a landsman would say, the striking of half-past one in the morning. The forward hatch was closed, and the guarding of the after hatch was to be given to Mr. Dunn and myself. Two bells told us that one o'clock had arrived, and all were at their posts, — captain Ávalos and his men ready at the cabin door. Not a sound was to be heard save the ticking of the watch in the cabin, and the rustling of the water as it broke round the bows of the vessel. Both sounds struck on my ear with painful acuteness. At last, three bells rung out, and the rush was made in the cabin; — at the same moment I shouted, "All hands tumble up!" and in a moment my crew was around me. Mr. Dunn and myself were at the after hatch, and as the noise of the struggle reached the men between decks, we shouted that we were armed, and had the vessel, and that the first one who appeared at the gangway should be shot down.

The struggle in the cabin went on. Ávalos had stationed his men so that each state-room door was broken in at the same moment, and some of the occupants were secured before they were well awake. Cambiaso struggled hard, but was at last overcome and bound with cords, for irons we had none. During the fifteen minutes that the struggle below lasted, we were in suspense, on deck, not daring to leave our posts, but knowing that all depended on captain Ávalos's success. At last he appeared, with a shout; all were secured without the loss of a life — not even a drop of blood spilled. Then rose three times three cheers for our victory, which rung through the vessel, and announced our success to the prisoners below.

But our work was not over. Captain Ávalos and his men collected all the pistols, cutlasses, guns, and so forth, which could be found, and carried them into the cabin, loading the muskets and pistols, while I called my men aft, and asked them if they would stand by me in defending the vessel and taking her into port. They promised with most eager anxiety; and Mr. Dunn and captain Ávalos coming forward, added to their enthusiasm by pledging their lives to sustain me in holding the vessel, and putting themselves entirely under my orders.

I then hove the main-top-sail to the mast till our course was decided, and called a council as to our best course. Some of the party proposed returning to Sandy Bay, where we could defend ourselves in the barracks; others to push on for the coast of Brazil and make the first port there; but I told them we had not water enough to go very far, and suggested that we should make for the nearest watering place, the river Gallegos, lying in lat. 51° 39' S. — lon. 69° W., on the east coast of Patagonia; there take in a fresh supply of water, and shape our course round Cape Horn for Valparaíso. To return to Sandy Bay seemed to me to put ourselves directly into the hands of the pirates who were behind us, and who could easily overpower us, and release their leaders and companions. If we attempted to reach the coast of Brazil, it seemed to me impossible that we should be able to hold the vessel during so long a voyage, as we had no irons to secure our prisoners, and no men to spare to guard them; whereas, the telling them that we were taking them to Valparaíso would probably satisfy all but the ring-leaders.

My plan was adopted; and as we had a fair wind, I squared the yards and started at once for the river.

The whole forenoon of the 15th was spent in preparing irons for Cambiaso, García, and others confined in the state-rooms. When they were finished, the corporal and some others entered Cambiaso's state-room to put them on his hands and feet. He lay on his bed, bound hand and foot with cords, and as we entered and commenced putting on the irons, he said, "Are you going to shoot me? Let me have fifteen minutes to prepare." They gave him no answer; but after securing him they left the state-room, and placed his enemy the corporal, with another soldier, well armed, at his door, with orders to shoot him at once if any disturbance should break out amongst the prisoners. We took care that he should hear our order, which captain Ávalos repeated aloud in Spanish.

Cambiaso showed more cowardice than I expected in his fear of death; but even before us he seemed to keep his courage up by a sort of bravado.

From his room, which was one of the after state-rooms, we went to García's whom we found lying very quiet. He said nothing, but held his hands so as to make it easier to adjust the handcuffs. The other officers were ironed and locked into their state-rooms, and as heavy a guard as we could spare, detached for the cabin.

After the officers were secured, we opened the hatchway, and allowed the prisoners below to come up in small detachments at a time. We continued this during the voyage, as they were so crowded below that we felt this was necessary to escape the danger of sickness and contagion; but we never did it without great risk and great anxiety.

Before noon on this day, the 15th, the wind shifted ahead, and we made slow work all that day and night, and barely reached the mouth of the river Gallegos by noon of the 16th.

As we came off the mouth of the river, I found the wind well to the eastward, blowing fresh on shore; and I hesitated about attempting to land, especially as there was likely to be considerable sea on shore. After some consideration, I determined to tack ship and go south, trusting to finding some watering place along the coast which we could make in more favorable weather. As we tacked ship, this seeming to me the starting for home, we fired as a salute, the guns which had been loaded with double balls by Cambiaso, and hoisted the American ensign which I had kept so long concealed. I had great hopes of meeting some American or English vessel in my passing round the cape, from which I might obtain some assistance. It was not so very long since the Virago bad left Sandy Bay, and I hoped that she or some other armed vessel might be cruising in these seas.

After the salute, I had my guns carefully re-loaded again, and the strictest discipline maintained on board. In this I was admirably aided by captain Ávalos, whose soldiers were kept constantly on the alert; and by Mr. Dunn, who worked with me heart and hand. Cambiaso was strictly confined to his state-room, and allowed no communication with any one. The other officers we sometimes allowed to come on deck for air and exercise for a short time, attended by a guard; but never when any of the prisoners from below were up. The odds against us were fearful: two hundred and two prisoners, to about twenty-two men to guard and provide for them, and navigate the vessel.

The cleaning of the steerage I was obliged to compel the prisoners to attend to, by constant threats of punishment for neglect. The stench which came up from the hold was sometimes insupportable. The whole care of providing for the crew and prisoners I left in the hands of my faithful steward, and he performed his task well, laboring with unwearied diligence. Sometimes the women among the prisoners were allowed to come up and cook for their husbands.

The treasure which was in Cambiaso's state-room was transferred to the cabin for safe keeping, under the guardianship of Mr. Dunn and captain Ávalos.

During our passage round the cape, we had rather pleasant weather, with but few exceptions; but very few fair winds. This increased the length of our voyage, and every day saw us more worn out with anxiety and watchfulness. For myself, I never had my clothes off during the whole passage; nor did I ever venture to retire to my state-room for a night's sleep, taking what rest I could snatch sitting on a chair in the cabin, where I could be roused at any moment.

In passing Cape St. Johns, at the eastern extremity of the Straits, on the evening of January 20th, we encountered a heavy gale of wind from the west-south-west, which continued, with a rough sea, for some days. During the gale we lost the head rails.

On February 1st, another gale, far heavier than the last, caused us to ship a great deal of water in the cabin. There was no real danger, but I never saw fellows more frightened than were our prisoners, as the water came dashing through their state-room windows. For Cambiaso, he was a perfect coward when he was sea-sick. Nine days afterwards we were in real danger; as a sudden squall struck the vessel, and broke the main-yards in the slings. When the gale abated, we got a spare yard ready, and were soon in sailing order again.

We were disappointed in our hopes of meeting with any vessels from which we could obtain relief; and we had experienced great difficulty in finding a watering place; so that by the time we reached the western extremity of the Straits, I found myself so short of water that I determined to abandon my intention of going to Valparaíso, and to make Ancud, [appears as San Carlos in the original text, Ed.] the port on the northern extremity of the island of Chiloé. This course seemed to me more necessary, as I doubted our ability to keep the prisoners under for many days longer, there having been already two attempts to rise among them, only kept down by our prompt watchfulness. The most desperate among them were either fearful of coming within the reach of the arm of the law, or were tempted by the treasure which lay almost within their grasp. I think nothing had so much effect in restraining them as the perfect fearlessness with which I moved about among them, and the apparent confidence with which I issued my orders —directing the prisoners in the hold to come on deck, to go to the galley for their mess, to clean out their quarters, and so forth — as if I were perfectly sure that I should be obeyed.

During the last few days of our passage, I had been alarmed by noticing words passing between some of the soldiers who were on guard, and the prisoners, as they came up on deck for their daily walk. There was evidently another outbreak in contemplation. I communicated my suspicions to my friends, and we redoubled our vigilance.

On the 13th of February, in the evening, as the altered course of the vessel must have informed some of them that we were nearing port, a larger party than usual made their appearance on deck, armed with whatever weapons they could collect from below. Some of the cutlasses and other weapons belonging to the rebels we had never been able to obtain, they having secreted them.

My crew were stationed at their posts on deck, and armed; and captain Ávalos ordered his men to load up their muskets in the presence of the prisoners. About ten o'clock, three of our own men deliberately left their places and walked over to the ranks of the prisoners. We withdrew to the cabin, and stood with our loaded pistols and muskets in our hands, and our drawn swords, with other loaded pistols, lying on the table within our reach. Under the table was the box in which the treasure was nailed up.

About eighteen of the rioters advanced to the entrance of the cabin; but seeing our strong position and our formidable weapons, they paused irresolute. Among them were the three deserters from our party. One of them I called by name, opening the door of my state-room and beckoning him in. He stepped forward much agitated, and entered with me. His agitation showed me that I had little to fear from him: and a few words of surprise at his conduct and of promises to forget it, brought him over to our side. As he left the door of the state-room and joined our party, the rioters fell back, evidently cowed, and one by one slunk again into their places in the hold. By eleven o'clock all was quiet, and we breathed freely again.

I have no reason to believe that Cambiaso, García, or any of the officers were concerned in this outbreak; it was concerted entirely among the men, who were probably instigated by their desire to obtain possession of the treasure.

That night was an anxious one to us. We were nearing the port, and our approach to land was known to the crew, and probably to many of the prisoners; every moment we were liable to another outbreak more desperate than the last, as the ringleaders among the prisoners must have been sensible that their last chance of escape was fast passing away; but all was quiet; and the morning of the 14th of February, 1852, dawned, to show us the port of Ancud almost within our reach.

Before dark we were beating into the harbor with the American ensign flying at the spanker gaff.

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