Punta Arenas 1914
This is a lengthy report thought to be from the Oban
Times of 1914. It contains intesting snippets on Scottish shepherds
and the growing wool trade in Chile at that time.
Now once more on dry land - at home again - I can take a look
back to this city in embryo, this Punta Arenas, the most primitive
beginning of a city I know, and can hope to say something that may
interest readers. .
"Because it's the grub that makes the .butterfly, was an answer to
some old riddle of childhood's days -well, this Punta Arenas is now
the grub that ere long will be transformed into a .butterfly city,
with parks, palaces and towers, the haunt of middlemen and of the
unproductive classes; the home of officials and spenders;
headquarters for navies and armies, mashers and gamblers, priests,
lawyers and money-dealers. But it is only a grub now, the butterfly
existence seen dimly as a future, while-the subsequent decadence
can merely be inferred from the lessons of history.
From these lessons we learn that at first prosperity comes by
cities, but then goes by them. At this time Punta Arenas is only in
the good, grub, or chrysalis stage, worth going to dwell in.
This hitherto prosperity is the work of Englishmen and Scotsmen,
chafingly called "Gringoes" by the Chilenos, and a misfortune is
that English and Scotch interests are as yet unrepresented on the
spot. The sooner the Foreign office looks after British interests
in Magellanes the better. German rivalry abroad is not a rivalry to
play with, far less to foster.
The Chili Government have wisely enacted that Punta Arenas shall
be a free port,' free as air, free from the very semblance of
taxation, with this very natural result that the place is 'lashing
along' with marvellous rapidity; building lots are given away for
nothing the only obligation being to build or put up a house of any
kind within a year. The town has doubled in the last five years,
indeed its progress under free port conditions are first rate -
very promising. It seems certain to become the depot of the new
land industry, an industry now advancing by leaps and bounds: the
promenader through the grass-grown streets, if he tumbles over tree
stumps, yet walks veritably on gold, for the soil i is alluvia,
golden all around, and the not far off Cordiller as must sooner or
later yield the shining metal in bulk.
Coal has recently been discovered quite at hand, and in the matter
of water carriage, 600,000 tons of shipping pass through the
Straits of Magellan yearly. All things work together for the
advancement of Punta Arenas.
Now Chilian Patagonia welcomes Scotsmen. Wages are high beyond
belief, and the chances for the well doer, for the abstainer from
excess in drink, for the man and, indeed, woman of character are
great - are abnormal. Any one can go, with just a little bit of an
effort; any one can secure an easy, well-paid situation with 'the
minimum of energy and of venture. Married couples are especially
'desired out there; domestic servants of all kind; only this ought
to be noted, that any lady under the .age of a grannie must agree
not to marry just exactly when she lands, she must abide for a year
or two in spinsterhood and that gives her a little time to look
round and choose -well. Let it not be supposed though that a
complete paradise has opened. There is a shadow of a shade of pluck
required of course, and people who are only fit for the poorhouse
may fail in Patagonia, but ordinary mortals are sure to succeed and
be as happy as ordinary mortals can expert to be. The climate is
like our own North-West climate, only drier, and the life led is
West Highland life produced under happier auspices. Not one of the
many Highlanders here that I had the pleasure of .meeting
complained to me, but many were furious at the apathy of the
stay-at-homes they had left behind.
The Scotch shepherds who have done well in the Falklands,
serving others, first scented Patagonia and crossed over there,
notably one Greenshields. A certain number of capitalists have
joined in but the shepherds who knew their trade and their stock
have done best; their scarcity of capital has been made up for by
technical knowledge. The sole produce of these "camps" or estancias
has hitherto been wool; but-this season, for the first time, Messrs
Wood and Waldron sent in frozen mutton from Punta Delgada.
I shall not be accused of advertising on the sly if I mention
that Robertson's Highland sheep dip is selling well out in these
parts.. Naturally anxious to hear good things about an Oban
industry I yet made impartial inquiry and the dip is very popular.
One of its most ardent champions, Mr. Cameron of Picket Harbour, "
uses none other, and the great eatanciero, Mr. Braun told me the
morning I left that he had sent for 15 tons by the home-going mail.
Mr. Braun is at the head of the latest concession in Tierra del
Fuego, a concession of one million hectares. Now, a hectare is
about 2 ¼ acres, and the mention of this, the latest "taking up,"
will give the home reader some idea of the force of the boom when
he thinks over the stocking and exploiting-of two millions two
hundred and fifty thousand acres!
Over on the Tierra side there is still some trouble with the
poor Indians. The morning after our arrival a small trading cutter
came in. reporting a fight and the loss of one of her crew of four.
The Chilian ship Condor going to search did not find the man, but
picked up. two dead Indians, one with four bullets in him. The
Patigonian giants are not gigantic, but are certainly tall; they
give you the impression of being the last remains of a once fine
people - a people whose time to "quit" has come. Solid, massive,
peaceful, silly and. a little cowardly, they gravitate surely to
extinction. The mighty test for all incapables, the certain
eliminator of the unworthy - the liquor test finds them helpless.
They cannot resist the fire water of the pale faces, of their
destroying white rivals at Sandy Point. There are a good many
whites incapable and unworthy too, who are being tried in the same
test tube and found wanting - but I may write about Sandy Point
again before closing up the whole subject.
I have alluded to a gold seeker; there is plenty of gold over
both Tierra del and Patagonia, but not in bulk or in bed, only
washable gold. It was told me as a secret that quartz gold had just
been found near Laguna Blanca about 120 miles away from the colony.
A Frenchman and two friends looking for ucamp" found the gold
accidentally, and stuff visible to the naked eye. They worked
quietly all summer before being discovered. Then the word went
round and reached me and unfortunately that artist cook of ours,
Senor Torres who, kicking over his pots and pans, girded up his
loins and "vamoosed."
After trespassing on the Yonge's kindness we spent a night with
the Camerons at Picket Harbour. He and Mrs. Cameron are both from
Lochaber and were to us Highland hosts indeed. Their warm, red and
buff commodious house lies snugly in the corner of a lovely bay of
sand, swarming with tame wild ducks and full of fish. Mr. Cameron
in the early morning let out six prize Leicesters just recovering
from their voyage, very well bred sheep. We were shown over the
wool shed, saw the press for baling and outside the great dipper
and the shearing plant.
The return to Sandy Point was a distress, and most have tried
Mr. Scott's patience, for it was difficult to get along at anything
like pace. Musing one day after words on my want of preparedness
for such a long ride I saw in front of the Docherty palace a Gaucho
preparing to start. He first took a deal of care to girth up the
piebald nag - the Indians love piebalds - and looked all round the
riding gear. The nag itself, though piebald, seemed a workman with
the distinctive large, ugly, intellectual head of the horse of
these regions. A lasso was beautifully coiled on the cantle, the
white sheep skin on the saddle looked woolly soft, All being
carefully, in no way hurriedly, arranged, the rider swung himself
with a light easy movement on board and away both went - the horse,
at the smallest possible circus canter, the best pace for a long
journey. And I envied that Gaucho for that he did the business
property, and would ride anything that day under a hundred miles
without trouble and without losing leather.