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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.

Punta Arenas

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.

An old black and white map of the southern tip of South America.

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.
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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 ┬╝ 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.

Punta Arenas (literally in Spanish: "Sandy Point") is the most prominent settlement on the Strait of Magellan. Due to its location and size it is sometimes considered the southernmost city in the world. It is the capital of the Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena Region, Chile. The city itself was officially renamed Magallanes in 1927, but in 1938 it got back the name of Punta Arenas.

 

Modern colour map of southern tip of South America





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