The British Presence in MAGALLANES

By Carlos González Macaya

The British Historical Archive, Chile

The Process of Discovery and Exploration

In a history spanning almost five centuries in the Magellan region, since 1520, the presence of the British, its people and individuals has been noteworthy. The protagonists of the history of Magallanes have been sailors, explorers, scientists, farmers, technicians, immigrant men and women whose daily lives and experiences form part of and enrich our history.

Sir Francis DrakeIn 1578, the Corsair Captain Francis Drake arrived in the southern waters of the Pacific Ocean, until that point under Spanish rule. In this trip he would discover the islands of Tierra del Fuego.

Following in his footsteps were the privateers Thomas Cavendish, Andrew Merrick and Richard Hawkins, whose navigations made new contributions to uncovering the territory, undiscovered at the time. These privateering companies showed the growing and sustained interest of the Crown in the Magellanes region, with proposals and projects that hinted at the Crown’s intentions regarding Spanish rule of the area; in the context of European and world politics, through the conquest of new colonies and the exploitation of resources, new territories and subsequent maritime trade.

In the following century the contribution of the buccaneers, Bartholomew Sharp, William Dampier, John Strong and John Clipperton, was largely irrelevant to the geography and cartography of the area, although the trip by Strong began the botanical history of Magellanes, via the collection of the surgeon George Handisyd, during the passage through the Strait of Magellanes.

More important during the course of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries were the scientific explorations that began with Captain John Narborough in 1670-71 and later Captain John Byron, Samuel Wallis, Philip Carteret and James Cook around the coast of Tierra del Fuego which produced important findings in geographical knowledge, natural history and the existence and habits of the Aonikenk people [native people from Southern Chile].

The real scientific effort and progress in navigation, came from the Royal Navy campaign between 1826 and 1834 lead by Captain Philip Parker King and Robert FizRoy and their crews, including Pringles Stokes, William Skyring, John Wickham and Matthew Murray among many other contributors. It was laborious maritime and scientific work with much sacrifice, so much so that they obtained knowledge of the intricate Magallanes geography, with memorable hydrographic work that left its mark with the current British denominations, standing the test of time and forming a tribute to those men who, in these waters and coasts, played an unsurpassed selfless and rewarding task.

General maps, cartographic production and detailed plans, were the result of this scientific work which became the stuff of mandatory use in southern ocean navigation, the first benefits of this nautical activity and technical effort; enabling safer navigation and maritime operations, and ending the mystery which surrounded Magellanes, allowing new routes by inland waterways and the Strait of Magellan to inter-oceanic navigation.

By 1839 the maps were vastly improved in their precision of the territory, the well-known geographer John Arrowsmith who published a map of South America in London, on the basis of originals including from the survey of H.M. Adventure and Beagle. This remarkable piece that included a smaller map of the southern tip of Cape Horn, would be the first modern map of Patagonia and the Magallanes region.

The second British expedition of Captain Robert FitzRoy, was highlighted by Phillip Parker King, who revealed his scientific side. The amount of naturalistic and ethnographic information gained was impressive, and allowed the development of the modern studies of geology, mineralogy, palaeontology and zoology, and of aboriginal life in Patagonia. Just three years after the Beagle voyage, a voluminous work was then released: Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle Between the Years 1826 and 1836 (London 1839). Robert FitzRoy as narrator and Charles Darwin as scientific officer began a bibliographic production on the subject that continues to this day, this alone shows the density and richness of information from such memorable expeditions.

The findings of the young naturalist Charles Darwin caused great uproar, leading to controversy over the meaning of life and nature. The trusworthiness of his publications made his findings more accessible to people and it set the mood that lead to an even deeper understanding for civilisation. The hydrographic and scientific work of the British crew was much greater than they could have forseen, and placed the Magellanes region on the threshold of the world and therefore in world history.

Closing the loop on British hydrographic and scientific explorations, we need to mention the missions of the following ships: Alert, Nassau, Challenger and Sylvia, conducted between 1866 and 1883 and under the command of Captain Richard Mayne, George Nares and WJ Wahrton, attended by a select group of people, among the scientists and naturalists included were: Robert Cunningham, Richard Coppinger and HN Moseley, who went to aid the geographic progress for the safety of navigation on the inland waters of Magellanes and the natural sciences of the southern region.

In 1869 a trans-Patagonian voyage was begun in Punta Arenas by former Royal Navy Commander George Muster, which contributed to knowledge of the southern Aboriginal people, especially the aonikenk or tehuelche, an experience he writes of in his masterpiece: At Home With The Patagonians.

In 1843 Chile had taken effective possession of the south and founded a settlement, Fort Bulnes first and then Punta Arenas, in 1848, beginning colonial occupation and development of the Magellanic territory, a process that would take hold from 1867-68, with the significant participation of the British.

The Colonisation Process

Indeed, the conjunctural situation in question could not have happened the way that it did had it not coincided with the beginning of the regular navigation between Europe and the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, thanks to the auspicious forced landfall point in the then small colony of Punta Arenas, favourable circumstances that put the territory on a better course in relation to the countries of the old world and the central coast of Chile. Thanks to regular maritime connection by the English company, Punta Arenas was opened up to the world and received the benefits of international trade.

Thus, along with other financial support measures made by the Chilean government, the colonial territory entered a path of progressive development and advancement. The arrival of the European immigrants made an effective contribution to this end – certainly included among the first of them were those of British origin – who did not take long to establish economic activities that helped to stimulate local development. We recorded the initial arrival of over two hundred immigrants of that nationality between 1870 and 1890, a circumstance that led to the establishment of the first British consular agent in Magallanes in 1875 which was the first act of its kind in the country.

These immigrants worked in diverse areas consistent with the era and the region’s status as a colonial frontier zone such as the hunting of sea lions, the wild fur trade, gold and coal mining, logging, shipping and rescuing shipwrecked sailors, craft tasks and the import and export trade, all activities that contributed to the generation of work and income for the Magellanic Colony.

Sheep from MagallanesHowever, without doubt the decisive productive activity in determining the progressive territorial direction through British intervention was sheep farming. In fact, the decision of the Governor Diego Dublé Almeida to bring a flock of 300 sheep from the Falkland Islands in 1876 and its subsequent acquisition by Henry Reynard, a businessman who had already shown signs of drive and creativity, would, from 1877, became in just a short time the industrial backbone of the region that would lead to the evolution, progress and prosperity of the Magellanes territory and all Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego and adjacent islands.

Indeed, many other entrepreneurs, mostly of British origin, followed the instructive example of Reynard, started to make profits from sheep farming of unbelievable proportions, allowing the gradual occupation in the district and central-eastern peninsula of Brunswick, on the Grande Island of Tierra del Fuego and in Ultima Esperanza then later extending into the Argentine territories.

This productive activity was organized from the start under forms, customs, practices and techniques of Anglo-Scottish husbandry, the use of indigenous specialist personnel, brought especially from the Falkland Islands or the United Kingdom, people who had immigrated spontaneously attracted by the reputation the southern territory was building, and because of this sheep farming benefitted from the experience of the British breeder, and in a few decades acquired the high standards that would bring prestige to the Magellan region that and would enable local wool and meat to be sold to European markets.

As far as it can be described as such, this sheep-rearing made a significant contribution to the advancement of British territorial Magellanes. This activity, in the same vein, created a commercial relationship with the United Kingdom that would last more than half a century from 1880, making this the largest trading partner of the Magellaes region during an important period of historical development, which included the use of the British Pound as the local currency.

At the same time this activity would help to establish a real order characterised by ways of working and living in the vast rural Magellanes in particular, including they way the people spoke, extending to all of Patagonia, and theses customs helped to shape the traditional norms and life style and farming practices in the southern region.

Indeed, the British contribution did not end there, because farming continued to grow, along with the process of colonisation, new industrial technology was needed, as well as administration and services, which could only be initiated or developed with the cooperation of engineers, technicians and British experts, who in their various fields played a decisive role, earning the label of true pioneers in each of their related activities or businesses.

In this way industry, commerce, shipping, banking and insurance, telephone and telegraph services, etc. would make for a clear British stamp of prosperity and progress. We should mention, among others besides Reynard, Dr. Thomas Fenton, Henry Pye Wood, Thomas Saunders, Ernest Hobbs, Charles Williams, LL Jacobs, Frank Townsend, Alexander Cameron, Thomas Burbury, Alexander Morrison, Thomas Boyd, Charles Milward, Thomas P. Jones, Edward Stanton, William Yonge and the Engineer William Jones builder and promoter of Southern Telecommunications, all important people of British origin that contributed successfully to our society, and thanks to their part made prosperity and progress in Magellanes from the late nineteenth century, pointing to a decisive and meaningful development up to the present day. Therefore, the British presence led to the entry of modernity to the entire Patagonian region, as demonstrated by the degree of advancement of civilization that was reached through economic prosperity, strength and social cohesion and through hegemony over the southern territories, which came about during the first decades of the twentieth century.

This was possible in the context of a European immigration phenomenon, where the British (English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and kelpers, and a lesser number of New Zealanders and Australians) played an important part, along with the Spanish and Croatians, forming the largest sections of immigration. Thus, during the most important historical period for settlement and colonisation consolidated between 1890 and 1920, there were no less than two thousand male and female British subjects (perhaps half Scottish) in Magallanes of varying resources and capacity. Of these no less than half settled permanently in the region making families and putting down Magellanic roots.

The Social Process

With reference to the society that comes with mutual solidarity, it is important to highlight: The British Association of Magallanes, The Mutual Benefit Society, The British club, which was founded in 1899, and The British Red Cross, founded in 1914 during the Great War. In the educational sector, we can mention The English Church School -23 October 1896 – British forerunner of The British School, as well as other ephemeral efforts such as The Florence Stuart College, The Giffen School and The Magellan English College.

THe British Club Río GallegosThis institutional proliferation occurred at a time when there was a large if somewhat compact community, which was aware of its importance in the environs and the need to preserve traditional values. Similarly, something so associated with the British spirit as was the practice of sport displayed its creative manifestations: The British Sport Club, The Magallan Lawn Tennis club, The Golf Club, The British Athletic Club, all emerged during the years between 1910 and 1920, and finally amongst religious, philosophical and cultural associations we can remember: The Anglican Society of Magellan (1906), The Masonic Lodge Strait of Magellan, from the same period, and finally The Magellan Dramatic Society was born in 1924 which enjoyed a long and fruitful artistic life.

However, equally interesting was the journalistic creativity during the first twenty years of the Twentieth Century that allowed the publication of newspapers such as The Punta Arenas Mail (1906), Saint James Parish Church Notes (1906-7), The Punta Arenas English Magazine (1907-1909), The Standard (1908), The Fortnightly Patagonian Observer (1911), and The Magellan Times (1914-1932).

Furthermore, in culture, although initially limited we should not omit the literary production in English or Spanish, of which I refer to the pioneer Florence Dixie with her Across Patagonia (1879), Tom P. Jones with his Patagonian Panorama and more recently with Elizabeth Dooley’s Stream in the Wasteland: A Portrait of the British in Patagonia, Carlos Gonzalez Macaya with Patagonia When?, How? And Why? 1942-1950 (2005), and the works of Astrid Fugellie and Marie Boyd, and especially Silvestre Fugellie Mulcahy, of British descent through the maternal line, for his creative literary work that earned him membership of the Chilean Academy of Language. In the field of art, it is worth mentioning the delicate watercolour work of Zilly Goudie, a rich testimonial through landscapes and scenes of Magellan past.

We cannot conclude this review without mentioning the missionary work among the indigenous Yamana people that began in the mid-nineteenth century by Captain Allen Gardiner in the south islands, a noble task that would leave a legacy of dignified life through his own entity ‘The Patagonian’, and afterwards the South American Missionary Society, through selfless work of Pastors H. Waite Stirling, Thomas Bridges, John Lawrence and John Williams, an impressive task that meant an important effort to rescue the indigenous people from savagery and deliver the benefits of civilization and the comforts of our Christian religion.

It is finally possible to understand how long, intense, varied and rich the British presence has been in regional life, economy, culture and civilization, playing an active role, important and valuable in our history that has spanned almost five centuries. Britain is part of our genuine regional being.

Today The British School, The Anglican Society and British Corporation, remain part of the legacy of the British and their descendants.

By Carlos González Macaya

British Historical Archive

Anglican Society of Punta Arenas,

Chile, 2011

The views expressed in this review are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of

Translation by

Carlos has written a book on the subject which is outlined below and is available on request to Carlos.

Patagonia : When? How? And, Why?

“In this book you will find in a Chronological order: the History and account of the Magallanes Region, with relevant facts that have given life to this prosperous southern land, white with the snow in winter and white with the shorn skin of thousand sheep that graze in its prairies in summer; located on the South of the South of the World, in the Southern end of the Chilean Territory. There are anecdotes that make the southern history exciting, in many areas; for instance, when playing “truco” some of them were betting even their own wives; not to forget the Indian who sold the Strait of Magellan to an European; or that wife who after the loss of her husband and captain could come to good port even with the first officer arrested, but we have tried to include in a single referential text, information forgotten in time.” Carlos González Macaya

Patagonia Book - Carlos González Macaya

You can jump here to find out more about the British Historical Archive in Chile. To order a copy of the book contact Carlos directly.


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