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Biblioteca Patagónica

Tierra del Fuego: Historias de Marineros y Salvajes (1851—1900)
Contactos entre barcos y grupos nativos, según reportajes en la prensa de habla inglesa [en inglés]


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


We have to narrate one of the most appalling stories that has ever appeared in a public journal. An English officer, Captain Gardiner, of the Royal Navy, who was sent out with six companions by the "Patagonian Missionary Society" to the neighbourhood of Cape Horn, has been literally starved to death — he, and his companions with him. The party consisted of Captain Allen Gardiner, R.N., superintendent; Mr. Williams, surgeon and catechist; Mr Maidment, catechist; John Irwin, carpenter; and John Badcock, John Bryant, & Pearce, Cornish fishermen. They left England in September, 1850, in the Ocean Queen; it having been promised that stores should be forwarded to them in June via the Falkland Islands; should they be unable to maintain their position at Picton Island, Beagle Channel, it was supposed that being provided with partially decked launches, they would fall back on Staten Island.

The ill-fated party landed on Picton Island towards the conclusion of the year 1850. From the first they seem to have been annoyed in some measure by the natives, and to have been hunted backwards and forwards from the little island to what may be called the mainland of Terra-del-Fuego. About the middle of April, 1851, Captain Gardiner begins to record in his diary, which, has been preserved to us, that they have provisions enough to last for two months, but some are very low. They have but a flask and a-half of powder; their fishing net is washed away. They shoot an occasional fox, which serves them for food and, besides, if they did not destroy the animal, he would do his best to steal the remainder of their little stock of provisions. The scurvy breaks out among the party. They are driven to take refuge in a cavern but the tide rolls in, and Captain Gardiner and Mr. Maidment are obliged to swim out for their lives, and take refuge upon a clump of rock, round the base of which the waves of the South Atlantic are breaking. Upon this rock the two poor creatures kneel down in prayer. John Badcock dies. By the 4th July the party have been seven weeks on short allowance; their only hope is in the expected ship from the Falkland Islands but no ship comes. They greedily eat a penguin, a shag, a half-devoured fish washed upon the shore. Six mice are spoken of in the journal as dainties. The garden seeds have been used for broth, and are all spent. Mussels and limpets are the next resource — and then rockweed is boiled down to a jelly. Irwin and Bryant, die. Two of the party, Mr. Williams and Pearce had gone away from the main body of the party, for some object or other, probably for the discovery of food. Their dead bodies were discovered at Cook's River, some distance off. The presumption is they must have died about the same time as Captain Gardiner himself, who probably expired on the 6th of September. The last entry in his diary is on the 5th of September, and in this he mentions that he had not tasted food or water for four days. Mr. Maidment had died a few days before. As it was the 6th of January, 1852, before Captain Morshead, to whom orders were sent by the Admiralty in October, arrived at the Island, the value of the precautions which had been taken for maintaining the expedition can be left to the public judgment.

[…] Captain Morshead remarks at the close of his report:— "I will offer no opinion on the missionary labour of Captain Gardiner and the party, beyond it being marked by an earnestness and devotion to the cause; but, as a brother officer, I beg to record my admiration of his conduct in the moment of peril and danger, and his resources entitled him to high professional credit. At one time I find him surrounded by hostile natives, and dreading an attack, yet forbearing to fire, and the savages, awed and subdued by the solemnity of his party, kneeling down in prayer. At another, having failed to heave off his boat when on the rocks, he digs a channel under her, and diverts a fresh water stream into it; and I find him making an anchor by filling an old bread cask with stones, heading it up, and securing wooden crosses over the heads with chain. There could not be a doubt as to the ultimate success of a mission here, if liberally supported; but I venture to express a hope that no society will hazard another without intrusting their supplies to practical men acquainted with commercial affairs, who would have seen at a glance the hopeless improbability of any ship not chartered for the occasion sailing out of her way, breaking her articles, and forfeiting her insurance for the freightage of a few stores from the Falkland Islands."