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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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Reports of the revolt reach Ancud — American Minister sends assistance — Chilean Government despatches forces for the Straits — The Virago — Fears of the inhabitants of Ancud — I deliver the Florida to the Chilean authorities — Arrival of the E. Cornish — The Virago takes the prisoners and treasure — Passage to Valparaíso — Protest and claim of salvage — Mr. Duer — Don Antonio Varas — Injustice done me by the Chilean government — The British Admiral claims the treasure — I protest again — Compromise — Don Antonio denies all claim — My claims put into the hands of the United States Authorities.

Early in January, about a month before our arrival, the news of the insurrection in the Straits had spread some alarm through Ancud and other southern Pacific ports. The first report was brought by two of the soldiers who escaped from the colony with the governor, and had not been captured by Cambiaso. They had witnessed the capture of the Florida and the Eliza Cornish, from their hiding place among the bushes around the cantonment; had even lurked in the vicinity long enough to witness the embarkation of the colonists and the abandonment of the colony; then, through incredible hardships, had found their way to the Pacific coast, been taken off from thence by some passing vessel, and carried to Ancud. Their report was that Cambiaso had turned pirate, and was coming to Ancud to take the port.

The intelligence they brought had been transmitted to Valparaíso, with a description of the vessels; both of which were said to belong to the United States. Additional forces had been sent to Ancud, and an official communication sent from the commander general of marines, at Valparaíso, to the American consul there, and from thence to colonel Balie Peyton, the American Minister at Santiago. Col. Peyton immediately sent orders to Callao that the U. S. frigate "Raritan" should proceed in search of the two vessels; and a request was also sent to the English Admiral at Valparaíso, that the "Virago" might be allowed to go again to the Straits, and render such assistance to the colonists and vessels as might be needed. Some French and Swedish vessels then in port also went out on the search.

The Chilean authorities despatched two Chilean men-of-war, and some Chilean troops under Don Santiago Jorge Bynon. The troops were put on board the Chilean men-of-war; the latter on board the Virago, on the same service. The English steamer proceeded immediately to the Straits, and it was to be hoped that her officers would learn a lesson from experience, and prove themselves more sharp sighted than they had done a month before, in their former visit to the colony.

The news that the Florida had arrived off the entrance of the harbor filled the people of Ancud with consternation, which not even the sight of the American flag and my signals of distress served to dissipate entirely. We lay off the harbor some six or seven miles from the town, with the wind ahead, blowing off from the harbor, and the tide against us.

About sunset, a boat came near us with six persons in her, and lay on her oars within hailing distance. Some one from her hailed us in English, and asked where we were from. This boat had in her the captain of the port, who had put off to reconnoitre, and now seeing so many people on deck, was afraid, to come nearer. I answered him from the Florida, saying that I had come into the port in distress, having Cambiaso a prisoner on board, and that I was anxious to go on shore at once to see the Intendente of the port, and deliver up my vessel to him; as I was unable to protect it any longer. This relieved his fears, and he came alongside. I had prepared every thing for my leaving the vessel in safety; knowing that the prisoners would not dare to make another outbreak within the harbor, with the guns of the Chilean war vessels around them. The captain of the port left a pilot on board, and took Mr. Dunn, captain Ávalos and myself into his boat. We were landed on the quay at about nine o'clock.

We went immediately to the Intendente, the captain of the port accompanying us almost on a run, shouting out as he passed through the streets, "Cambiaso is taken! — he is here! — he is a prisoner!" By the time that we reached the Intendente's house we were surrounded by a crowd of the inhabitants of Ancud, asking questions and shouting out their exultation. Our arrival had excited such alarm that the troops had been ordered out. I told my story to the Intendente, representing to him the worn out condition of my crew, and the necessity there was for sending them immediate aid. He sent at once for the commander of the forces on shore, and the captain of the Chilean vessel of war, "Indefatigable," then lying in the harbor. They agreed that the troops and the Indefatigable should immediately take possession of the Florida; and by twelve at night, a guard of twenty-five soldiers, with their officer, was placed over the prisoners on my vessel, while the Indefatigable lay by her side.

As we left the Intendente's house, Mr. Dunn was greeted on every side by warm friends, all rejoicing to see him alive once more, and eager to hear our story and to extend the hospitalities of their houses to us. Indeed, during the few days that I remained in Ancud I experienced the greatest hospitality and kindness from the inhabitants of the place. Every house was thrown open to me and to my friends; our immediate wants of clothing and personal comforts supplied; and every thing done to make us look back to the time passed there with grateful remembrance.

I experienced here a singular result from the great anxiety and excitement which I had undergone. Instead of being overcome with fatigue, and enjoying the rest which I so much needed, and for which I had so longed, my state of excitement continued. I scarcely needed rest, and sleep seemed to have fled from me entirely. For the first three nights after leaving the vessel I could not close my eyes.

My intention before reaching Ancud had been to report myself immediately to the American consul, or to any one holding authority from the United States whom I might find there, and follow his advice in regard to the steps to be taken to deliver the prisoners, treasure, and vessel into the hands of the government of Chile; but I was told by the captain of the port that no American consul was in the place. I then inquired if any vessel of war belonging to the United States was in the harbor, intending to claim its assistance. There was none; and my next step was to seek the Intendente of the port. In my conversation with him I told him that my wish was to deliver up every thing into the hands of the Chilean authorities as soon as I could do it. He told me that no one in Ancud had power to take the vessel in the name of the government; to find any one authorized to do this, I must go to Valparaíso. To attempt this without further aid would be, I felt, to risk the lives of my crew and passengers; therefore I accepted the offer of the Intendente to take the prisoners and treasure from the Florida and send them to Valparaíso in some Chilean vessel of war then in harbor, with the understanding that on reaching that port, I was then to deliver every thing into the hands of the government.

The next morning, while preparations were making to transfer Cambiaso and García, together with the treasure, to the Indefatigable, the Virago and Meteoro were reported as coming into the harbor.

The English steamer had then been successful in her search for the Eliza Cornish, and she now seemed inclined to follow her orders to the letter, and take the Florida wherever she might find her; for immediately on entering the harbor, captain Stewart, with two armed boats, went alongside my vessel;— then not finding me there, he left the boats lying at the side of the vessel, while he came on shore and to the house of the Intendente.

Here I met him; when he told me that he had orders to take my vessel wherever he found her. I answered that he could not take her, as I had her myself; when with something of what seemed to me high handed insolence, he insisted on his right and his orders.

I told him plainly that I gave up the vessel, treasure, and prisoners to no one but to the Chilean authorities; that if he took them it must be by order of the authorities; and that I should protest, both here and in Valparaíso, against his taking possession of the Florida. This was all I could do; for I found no disposition on the part of the Intendente or of any other officials at Ancud to back me in my protest.

They all seemed to stand somewhat in awe of captain Stewart; or, to speak more properly, of the British lion, whose might he represented. Captain Stewart left me for a while, and soon after returned to the Intendente's, bringing with him commander Bynon, who had sailed with him in search of us, being appointed by the Chilean authorities chief of the naval expedition to the Straits sent for our rescue. To him I repeated what I had said to captain Stewart. He heard me with attention and politeness, and assured me that I should be satisfied and all my just claims regarded.

After some consultation, it was decided by the authorities at Ancud, commander Bynon, and captain Stewart, that the ringleaders and the treasure should be transferred to the Virago, and that aid should be sent to the Florida, to guard the prisoners remaining there, and navigate the vessel to Valparaíso.

I was able to learn but little of the retaking of the Eliza Cornish, and the rescue of the colonists left at Wood's Bay, merely having one hurried conversation with my old fellow prisoner, the English mate, about the subject. He told me that the morning after Cambiaso drove him in shore, at Wood's Bay, and forbade him to follow the Florida, the forty colonists left on the land hailed him, entreating to be taken on board; but having already two hundred crowded into his vessel, he was afraid to do it, and indeed it was not allowed by those on board. He therefore was obliged to abandon them, and, getting under way, beat to the westward. After beating west for about two days he met the English steamers, which immediately sent two armed boats to board the E. Cornish, and took her as a prize. I was told by a sailor from the Virago, that the moment the boats came along side, the mate and crew sprang into her, so glad were they of any chance of escape.

The leading rebels were taken from the E. Cornish in irons, and put on the Virago, while a prize master and fresh crew were sent to the brig, and she was anchored in the Straits. The Virago then proceeded to the eastward, took up the colonists left at Wood's Bay, then went on to Sandy Bay Colony in search of us; but failing to find us, returned, took the E. Cornish in tow, carried her out of the Straits about three hundred miles, and then let her go under sail, in company with the Virago, for Valparaíso. On their way they had kept a constant look out for us, searching every harbor, as the impression was strong with them, that Cambiaso would attack the South Pacific ports.

By Tuesday, the 17th, we were ready for sea; and I must do captain Stewart the justice to say, that during the two days of preparation he rendered me every assistance in his power. Four seamen, a boatswain, and one officer were transferred to the Florida from the Virago, to assist my exhausted crew; and as both vessels were ready for sea at the same time, captain Stewart towed my vessel above forty miles out. In the evening of the 17th, a fair breeze springing up, we parted company. During most of the passage up we had a fine breeze and pleasant weather. The steamer was to touch at Valdivia, and other places on the coast, so that I got ahead of her; and by Sunday, the 22d, I was off Caruma [presumably, Punta Curaumilla, Ed.] head, just south of Valparaíso. Here we had light, baffling winds, and were obliged to lay over till the next morning. About eight o'clock A. M. on Monday, the steamer was seen south of us, coming up the coast, with the Eliza Cornish in tow.

I then had all my sails clewed up, set the American ensign at the mizen top-mast head, and fired two four pounders, to draw the attention of the steamer. She soon bore down for us, took us in tow also, and by two o'clock in the afternoon, of February 23d, we anchored in the harbor of Valparaíso.

On my arrival, I immediately went to the United States Consul, Mr. William Duer, and through him transmitted to the Intendente of Valparaíso, commander Robert Simpson, my abandonment of the Florida. In reply I was informed by commander Simpson that he had no authority to accept the vessel, but that the subject had been referred by him to the government at Santiago.

The prisoners were landed from the Virago, and the ringleaders delivered into the hands of the law; but the treasure was transferred to the Eliza Cornish; and I learned that it was claimed by the English admiral, and surrendered to him by the Chilean government; and that it was to be sent at once to England, without being landed at all in Valparaíso.

Upon learning this, I immediately entered a protest before the American consul, Mr. Duer, against the seizure of the Florida, and claimed salvage on the treasure rescued by me from the hands of the pirates. On the 28th, Mr. Duer received a communication from commander Simpson, under the order of Don Antonio Varas, the Minister of Foreign Relations of the Chilean government, wishing to know fully the reasons on which I founded the abandonment of my vessel, in order to determine whether the government should give orders to take possession of the vessel in the name of the State. I then requested Mr. Duer to call a survey on the Florida, for the purpose of ascertaining her present condition and the probable cost of putting her in sea-worthy condition.

Captains Phineas Leach and Joseph Carries, with Mr. George K. Stevenson, master ship carpenter, were directed by Mr. Duer to proceed to the Florida make an examination of her state, and report to the consulate. They reported, after a minute calculation, the cost of putting the vessel in a sea-worthy condition to be over four thousand dollars. This report, with my own protest made before the consul, giving an account of the seizure of the vessel, Mr. Shaw's barbarous murder, my imprisonment, the forcible detention of our private property, the re-capture of the vessel, its arrival in Ancud, my delivery of it into the hands of the authorities there, the transfer of the prisoners and treasure to the Virago, our passage to Valparaíso, &c. &c., and claiming salvage on the treasure and restoration of the personal property of myself, passengers, and crew, I transmitted to Don Antonio Varas, at Santiago.

While waiting for some notice of these communications from the government authorities, I found that the Eliza Cornish, having the treasure on board, was preparing for sea, under the orders of the British admiral, and that no steps were being taken by the Chilean authorities to claim the treasure. I therefore caused process to be issued to prevent the sailing of the vessel, in order to obtain an adjudication in the courts of Chile for the salvage to which I was justly entitled, for the re-capture of the treasure. But although there was ample time to execute this process and prevent the removal of the treasure and though I did every thing in my power to cause this to be done, yet the E. Cornish was permitted to sail for England.

This was either from the gross neglect, or the wilful default of the officers entrusted with serving the process; and I myself firmly believe that the neglect was wilful, and that it arose from the unwillingness on the part of the Chilean government to come into direct collision with the British admiral. Nay, more: I have every reason to believe that many articles of personal property belonging to myself, my passengers, and my crew, were also on the E. Cornish; for the prisoners had in their possession at the time we came into Ancud all our wearing apparel, weapons, and so forth; all of which were transferred to the Virago with the prisoners, and which, I was told at Ancud, should be carefully restored to me on reaching Valparaíso,— but which I never could trace afterwards. Of my own personal effects I never received any thing but one pistol.

It was at this time I made the attempt to recover the ring taken from Mr. Shaw's finger at the time of his death — offering a reward to any one would who bring it to me. I had heard that it was seen on the finger of one of the women brought to Ancud in the E. Cornish.

Finding no disposition on the part of the government to attend to my written communications, I went to Santiago on the 14th of March, accompanied by Mr. Duer, for the purpose of having a personal interview with our Minister, colonel Peyton, and with Don Antonio Varas.

By the advice of colonel Peyton and Mr. Duer, I addressed a letter to Don Antonio, under date of March 19th, recapitulating the grievances under which I had labored; submitting my claims, together with my protest, and appealing to the honor of the government to see that I should not suffer from the removal of the treasure, since it had arisen from the neglect of their own officers. I also submitted, that had I not recovered it, the Chilean government would have been bound to make the amount good to the owners; and that at great hazard to my life, I had rendered such service to the State as no great nation permits to pass unrewarded.

In reply to this, an interview was appointed by Don Antonio Varas, for the next day, with Mr. Duer and myself. We went at the time appointed, and found the Minister unwilling to allow any claim for damages sustained, either in person or property, during the time the Florida was in the hands of the rebels, or for salvage on the treasure; but he acknowledged the obligation of the government to pay for the use of the vessel for the time she was in its service. He however postponed the decision of the case until Monday, the 22d, at which time he appointed another interview. Mr. Duer and myself were at his office at the time appointed, but were put off again until the next day. On Tuesday, we held another conversation with Don Antonio Varas, if possible, more unsatisfactory than the first, for not the slightest hope of relief was held forth.

Despairing of obtaining justice, I returned to Valparaíso, and, on the 27th of March, advertised for money on bottomry, [pledging the ship as security for repairs, debts etc, Ed.] to repair the Florida and enable her to proceed to sea. I was forced to do this, as I had literally nothing wherewith to pay the wages of my crew, much less repair the vessel. The advertisement for bottomry remained in the Daily Mercurio of Valparaíso, until April 3d, when, no proposals having been received, I was forced to put the barque up for sale, and advertised her on the 7th. The next day, the 8th, Mr. Duer addressed another letter to the Minister, Don Antonio Varas, in which he proposed a compromise. This was done to avoid the necessity for the sale of the vessel, and in hopes that an appeal to the sense of honor of the government might have its effect. Mr. Duer, at first protesting that in making this offer he by no means admitted, either for himself or for me, that my claims were not in all respects just and sound, went on to say that the price paid for the use of the vessel, in taking the prisoners to Magellan, was much less than it would have been had not the Florida been bound to the United States, via Rio Janeiro, and therefore could stop on her way at Magellan with comparatively little loss or expense. Nevertheless, he offered to accept for the use of the vessel, from the time of her arrival at Magellan till she reached Valparaíso again, a sum per day equal to that which she received according to the contract made from Valparaíso to Magellan, with the addition of ten per cent. The claim for salvage on the specie was not waived, nor the compensation for my personal services. The personal losses of Mr. Buela, the mate, and crew, were ascertained by Mr. Duer, and stated at what he considered a low and reasonable amount.

I was induced to make the offer of this compromise, from my desire to do the best in my power for my owners, and from my sense of the great sacrifice to them which the forced sale of the vessel would cause; and also from my utter inability to meet any more delay, or incur any further expense, destitute as I was of even the necessaries of life, and dependent as my crew were upon me.

This letter was dated April 8th; but no answer was received until the 24th. In the meantime, proposals for the purchase of the vessel were made by Messrs. F. A. Richardson & Co., offering the sum of two thousand eight hundred dollars for the barque. The vessel being advertised for sale on account of whom it might concern, and this being the highest offer received, of course it was accepted.

On the 24th, Mr. Duer received a letter from Don Antonio Varas, denying the right to any claim for services rendered or losses suffered in consequence of the acts of the revolted colonists, and proposing that in order to determine the time during which the Florida should be considered as employed in the services of the government, an agent should be employed to go between me and the government.

He waives all examination of the estimate formed in Mr. Duer's letter, of the amount to be allowed as claimed by the Florida; he takes leave to observe that Mr. Duer takes it for granted that the Florida was in the service of the government not only during the time she was sailing under the orders of the authorities of Chile, but also the period she was in the power of the insurrectionists; and that the personal losses of the captain, sailors, and passengers are included in the claim; whereas they should be considered as resulting from the acts of the rebels, which, the government is not responsible for.

With an excuse for his delay in answering Mr. Duer's letter, founded upon his absence from the capital for a few days, and other urgent occupations, he signs himself, "Your obedient servant, Antonio Varas."

On receiving this letter, Mr. Duer joined me in entering a protest at the consulate, against the injuries and damages I had received at the hands of the Chilean government, and the affair was put in the hands of our government authorities, where it now remains.

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