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Tierra del Fuego: Of Sailors and Savages (1851—1900)
Contacts between ships and natives groups, as reported in the English-language press

GLENMORE  [1888]

(Note: Text dealing with natives is displayed with a contrasting background colour.)


London, Nov. 30.

Not even the vivid imagination of Mr Clark Russell has ever invented a more extraordinary series of adventures than were related last week by the survivors of the iron barque Glenmore, which left Maryport for Buenos Ayres just a year ago tomorrow, with a cargo of iron. Captain Lawrence was in command, with Thomas West, as first mate, and James Morgan as second. To the latter we are indebted for the following narrative:—

We arrived at Monte Video, where we discharged cargo, took in ballast, and sailed for Talcahuano, Chili, on the 24th of March last. On the 7th of April we sighted land, being ten to twelve miles from Cape Diego. We had hove-to to wait for daylight, in order to enter the Straits, between Staten Island and Tierra-del-Fuego, which are known as the Straits of Le Maire. Shortly before midnight we set all sail, and tried to put the ship round the other tack. Owing to a sudden shift of the wind she became unmanageable. At 1.15 a.m. she struck on a sunken reef and commenced to break up.

It was blowing a gale and snowing at the time. We got out the lifeboat, and the whole crew, 16 all told, embarked in her. We left in such haste that we were unable to obtain any provisions or any clothing except what we stood in. At daybreak we pulled seawards, for the frowning precipices, on every side, towering thousands of feet above the sea, seemed to render a landing hopeless. Several of tho crew were prostrated, and lay in the bottom of the boat. The weather was excessively severe, there being sharp frost with high winds.


At one point, where the cliffs lowered somewhat, a party of ten or twelve Fuegeans, naked, and all men over six feet high, appeared on the cliffs. They gesticulated and shouted, but all the seamen could distinguish were the words knipe' (knife) and 'biscuit.' Not liking their appearance, and knowing that they had a reputation for cannibalism, the crew again put out to sea, and next morning, the 9th, sighted Staten Island, the extreme south-eastern portion of South America. We succeeded in landing there about five o'clock, at Flinders Bay. Hera we obtained the first drink of water we had had since leaving the ship, about forty hours. During the night we suffered most intensely from the severe cold. The next morning we found a case of curry on the beach and this, with some berries, which we found on stunted bushes, made us a sorry breakfast. We then launched the boat, and proceeded down the land intending to make St. John's, where there is a lighthouse maintained by the Argentine Republic. By four p.m. we were all utterly done up, and we landed at Port Cook, where we 'feasted' on mussels and limpets, which was all we got that night. The next day we proceeded, and landed at St. John's utterly exhausted. This is a lighthouse and life-boat station, the community numbering about 30 people, including four women, and during our stay the first infant born on the island made its appearance. We were most heartily received.


Most of us were suffering severely from frost bite, and all of us from utter prostration but we were carefully tended, and in about a fortnight had well recovered. On our arrival we were informed that we had come at a good time, as the relief steamer from Buenos Ayres, which is supposed to visit the lighthouse every three months, was due in a few days. She, however, failed to arrive, and it was afterwards ascertained that she had been wrecked on the voyage out from Buenos Ayres. Provisions soon began to fail, though we had fair shelter and fire, for which abundant fuel was found on the beach. Among other things stranded we noticed two pianos, three or four parts of coaches or carriages, furniture of various kinds, cases of spirits, and a great variety of other articles, including ships' timbers. We at first had biscuit and tinned beef, but gradually came down to seaweed, boiled or raw at choice, a few fish, caught with hook and line in the bay, now and again a seal, an unlimited supply of mussels, penguins, and "steam birds," in the capture of which two dogs on the island were very expert. They had, however, to be soaked in vinegar, of which there was fortunately a good supply, for 24 hours before they could be eaten, so strong was their fishy flavor.


When we had been on the island for two months, and things were about at their worst — for there is a nine-months winter and three months bad weather — a passing ship was sighted, and ten of our party put off to intercept her. She signalled their arrival, and we supposed that they would put back with provisions and to fetch us off, but we never saw any more of them, and we could only conclude that the boat on her return had got swamped and the crew drowned. Shortly after this our troubles were increased by the arrival of the crew of the British barque Cordova, which was lost close to the same point as our ship. Ultimately, on the 13th of December, the relief steamer arrived, and on the 15th we bade farewell to our involuntary quarters. Morgan added:— During our stay on the island a story was told to us by the lighthouse people, which I simply repeat. About 18 months before our arrival the crews of two vessels landed at Staten Island about 25 miles from the lighthouse, and were apparently ignorant of its existence — indeed, it has only been established about five years. After an interval of some five weeks, 16 of the 32 arrived at the lighthouse and reported that the others had died. They were taken off by the relief steamer. The sequel is that shortly after our arrival the lighthouse people, exploring the region of the reported landing of these men, found a little above high water level three or four beef barrels, which, on examination, were found to contain human remains, salted down. I hesitate to say what the inference may be.