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Patagonia Bookshelf

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


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


The San Francisco Morning Call of the 31st May, publishes the subjoined account of the loss of the British steamship Princess, and the capture of her crew by the Indians in the Straits of Magellan :

One day last March the steamer Princess Louisa left Glasgow, Scotland, for Valparaiso, South America, having on board a crew of seven men, all told. She was an iron vessel, and had been built on the Clyde to order, her owners intending to use her as a tug-boat at Valparaiso. All went well with her across the Atlantic, and at last she touched at one of the South American ports. Here a San Francisco boy, Joseph Lorritz, came on board and asked for employment, stating that the vessel in which he had come from home had been wrecked ; that he had no means of reaching his home, and that, in consequence, he was willing to work his way to Valparaiso, and take his chance of finding a vessel there to take him to San Francisco. His offer was accepted, and he shipped on board the Princess Louisa. The story of the hapless tug-boat and her crew, after Lorritz joined her, was detailed yesterday by him, and we give his account without vouching for it, further than to say that his answers to our cross-questions were straightforward and consistent. The Princess Louisa arrived in due time at Sandy Point (Punta Arenas), on the Straits of Magellan, and here heard of the massacre by the natives of the captain and part of the crew of the British brig Propontis, Captain Barnes, which left Bremen with a general cargo for Iquique, and carried favourable weather till arrival off the Straits of Magellan (February 28), which the captain resolved to pass through instead of going round the Horn. The colony of Punta Arenas was passed on the 3rd of April, but on the same night the ship fell in with contrary winds, accompanied with heavy rain; in consequence of which the captain next morning brought to under the shore, at a place about ninety miles from the colony, and cast anchor. Immediately thereafter a number of boats (one being American built) and canoes, full of Indians, came alongside, clamouring for tobacco and biscuit; and after being satisfied, informed Captain Barnes there was plenty of wood and water close at hand.

The captain and three of his crew went ashore. They did not return. Next day a boat was sent on shore with the mate, the steward, (the only Englishman of the crew besides the captain), and the rest of the sailors, Mrs. Barnes being the only person left on board. They found the captain's body horribly mutilated. No traces were discovered of his companions. The mate and his boat's crew had hardly got on board when they were attacked by the natives in great numbers, and were forced to set sail and return to Punta Arenas. This was the story which the crew of the Princess Louisa heard when they arrived. It not only caused them some apprehension, but roused in them a desire for vengeance, and when they asked the Chilian Consul at Punta Arenas for arms, he willingly supplied them. The Princess Louisa set sail, and when off Port Gallant, which is a cove in the Straits of Magellan, latitude 53 degrees 41 minutes, longitude 72 degrees, they saw two canoes and one European built boat filled with natives, pulling from the shore toward them. The captain made no doubt that these were the very same savages who had fallen in with the Propontis, and immediately resolved to punish them if he could. On the canoes approaching the vessel, he ran one of them down, sinking it and drowning all hands. The boat avoided the bows of the steamer and ran alongside; but in attempting to board, the natives were one and all killed. In the meantime the remaining canoe made its escape and returned to shore. The Princess Louisa sailed on, but that night became a wreck. The crew found new difficulty in getting to land, and busied themselves all night in moving provisions and other stores from the ship to a tent which they had erected on the beach. Just before dawn, while the seamen were coming up loaded from the edge of the water preceded by a lantern, which the foremost man carried in his hand, they were suddenly set upon by a horde of savages, armed with spears, bows and arrows, rough hatchets and stones. A desperate fight ensued. The sailors defended themselves with the courage of desperation, but of course without avail ; two of them were killed on the spot, and the rest were overpowered and taken prisoners. Lorritz ran for his life, but as he was burdened with heavy sea boots and soaked clothing, he stood very little chance with the agile, unclothed savages. Ho was caught, tied hand and foot, and laid on the ground. His companions were served in the same way. For three weeks they all remained in captivity, allowed to wander about with their captors during the day ; tied hand and foot at night, and fed only on what Lorritz calls "blubber." At the end of these three weeks, Lorritz one night contrived to shuffle off his bonds. He crept down to the beach, got into one of the boats lying there, and put off into the channel, where next morning he was fortunate enough to fall in with the schooner Hutchinson, on board of which he came to this port three or four days ago. The fate of his companions, who he says were all Scotchmen, is of course unknown to him, and he is also unable to tell any more than the Christian names of the captain and the crew. No doubt, however, succeeding ships will do their best to recover their unfortunate predecessors from their savage foes. Lorritz is about sixteen years of age, and is now living with his parents in Sixteenth-street, near Valencia.