William Blain, Shepherd in Scotland, The Falklands, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
William Alexander Blain was born c.1852 at Blate’s Hill near Laurieston in Galloway, south west Scotland and grew up in Ferguslie, then a thatched cottage, Dalry, Galloway. When he was thirteen he went to work as a shepherd for a Mr. Johnston, Barndennoch, near Carsphairn. For thirteen years he followed shepherding in the Galloway Hills. However, “Saw little prospect of saving enough to shield me from poverty in my old age.” “my object in going to the colonys was to get hold of that glorious privilege of being independent.”. In 1878 he met Mr.John McCall in Dumfries who engaged shepherds for the Falkland Islands Company and agreed £65 per annum, free passage and return after five years. He sailed from London on the “Vicar of Bray” and worked for Bellion Bros. on the West Falklands for six years. In 1884 he was invited by Thomas Greenshields to start up a sheep ranch at Monte Dinero in Patagonia. Following Mr. Greenshields death, in 1889 Blain sold his own flock of sheep and accepted a job as sub-manager to a Mr. Wales who was establishing a sheep ranch in Indian territory in northern Tierra del Fuego. (A letter among Blain’s papers is headed “Mont. E. Wales, Tierra del Fuego Sheep Farming Company). Apart from an intervening period on Navarino Island, Blain worked for Wales until 1898. He then returned to Dalry - “and here I have remained” and settled in Main Street, next to his boyhood home. Blain died in 1924 aged seventy two years. He stayed a bachelor in Patagonia - “Neither heathen squaw or Chilean maid will be Mrs. Blain.” - but later married in Scotland and had a son, W.J.Blain.
William Blain’s papers were gifted by the family to the National Archives of Scotland The most important items are: narrative notebooks written in ink describing his times in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego; a daily diary for an early period, which begins at Useful Hill, Patagonia, and gives a detailed description of shepherding on the camp and the people he met, including Scots; a substantial list of the names of Indians and of the English equivalents of Indian words for a whole number of everyday terms; and an article based on his father’s records and submitted by his son on his father’s life in the Falklands, published in the Falkland Islands Journal, 1981.
Apart from some minor changes the original text has been retained. A few translations of Spanish words have been noted and question marks indicate obscure spellings, e.g. of ships and names.
Lastly, I wish to thank the National Archives of Scotland for the opportunity to use the material for research purposes. Ownership and copyright reside in the National Archives of Scotland.
The Journal of William Blain, Shepherd in Tierra del Fuego, 1891 - 98.
Amongst the offers mentioned in my last ------ I was to go to Tierra del Fuego to act as sub-manager under Mr. Wales, who was starting a large sheep farm there. Mr. Wales made me a very good offer, good though his offer was I could not see my way to accept it before knowing what the place was like. It was arranged that I was to meet him at Punta Delgada, cross the Straits of Magellan in one of his schooners. It was well in the afternoon when I first landed on Tierra del Fuego, at the place where we landed there was a large shed for stowing cargoes, something like half an hours walk brought us to a good dwelling house which consisted of three rooms, one was set apart for those in charge the others was for the peons or labours, with a small corral, a few horses, two yokes of oxen was the settlement when I landed there. Something like 3 hours ride inland there was two men living in a shanty to keep back the Indians.
The morning after we landed Mr Wales and I made an early start to have a look at the camp ( land), that whole day our horses seldom broke the walk, where there was any sign of pasture the ground was so over run with carroas (cururos, field rats) that it was with difficulty our horses keep their feet, where there was no carroas the ground was barren no doubt. About 3 pm we came to an iron pyramid that was erected by the Chilean Government for a guide through one of the narrows in the Straits of Magellan, where we had some lunch. Mr Wales asked me what I thought of the camp, I told him if he had nothing better to show me he could not make me an offer I would accept, he informed me the camp was much better inland. What about your settlement being so far inland from the beach I asked before you take in hand to keep the sheep. We will soon find a place to clip and dip them was his answer. Well I said grass and water is all that is wanted for a start but these two items are still to be found.
From there we struck across camp towards Lomas Bay at a place some English speaking person had named Spring Hill, there was several leagues of level camp, by this time the day was far spent, so it was only a small corner of the long plain we had time to explore. Till then I had no idea that land in its natural state could produce such a weight of pasture, there was several small ponds in sight, I asked if they were fresh water ponds, Mr Wales said he did not know but pointed to a place where he said there was a large fresh water stream and then beyond it a place called plantanos which means soft or bogie land was another river called Rio Grande or big river. Afterwards I found out that the real Rio Grande was a long way further south. On 3 sides of the camp was hills with Lomas Bay in front. When asked what I thought of the place I had to confess that it was an ideal place for a settlement, so Mr Wales decided at once there the settlement was to be. It took us the most of 3 hours to get back to Creek house where we had left in the morning. That night an agreement had its duly signed on the understanding that I was to take up my duties at the earliest opportunity. Next morning we recrossed the Straits of Magellan to Punta Delgada, that same night I was back in Monte Dinero, something like 8 hours ride, in a few days I was ready for my new abode. I left Monte Dinero on March 28 1891 for Punta Delgada. There we put some horses aboard and crossed over to Tierra del Fuego. On April 2nd,3rd the horses we landed last night had gone missing, my first job was to go in search of them. I thought the most likely place to find them would be near the coast so I made for the beach. There being no carroas under high water mark I could get along easier and quicker, as I journeyed I came on several large barrels of sheep dip and a few cases of sugar in 7lb tins that had been washed ashore by the tide, all of the sugar and most of the dip I put above the high water mark. At last I saw the lost horses, they were so scary the horse I was riding began to fag, I had to give up the chase and make my way home without them. April4 succeeded in bringing home the strayed horses.
I met with some gold diggers that had been in camp several days looking for strayed horses. These gold diggers was well armed and quoted several instances where Indians had been both troublesome and dangerous. Some horses seemed to be naturally afraid of the Indians, if horses were well… and kept in good heart, when disturbed at night generally made for home, but strange horses one could never tell when and where they would stop after taking others along with them. The most needful thing I always tried to get done first was a paddock or park to shut the animals in overnight. My instruction was to put one about a mile square, this meant about 4 miles of fencing with only 3 labourers and myself, we had orders to turn out under very unfavourable circumstances. The few callers that came our way generally got a kindly invitation to lend us a hand.
On the 12th April I had to send a letter to a place called Gentie Grandie about 60 miles off. At the time I could badly spare two men and horses, so a Chileno volunteered to undertake the journey alone, the outward journey he accomplished without mishap, on his return journey he rode into an Indian camp. On perceiving his mistake he put spurs to the horse and cleared out, not before an arrow pierced one of his horses ears, two or three went through his poncho, that was a lesson I kept in mind as to sending strangers on journeys alone.
One Sunday afternoon in the month of April I was taking it easy when one of the men came with the news that one of the River Side horses had arrived, with an empty saddle, 4 of us caught horses and started off at once in search of the rider. Towards dusk two of us found him on foot making towards Creek house. He was mounted on behind the other man and we made for home making fires all the way as a signal for the other two to do the same. On reaching home there was no word of them, bedtime came and no tidings of our companions, that night I felt rather uneasy as to their safety so as I was still very short of horses I decided on going in search of the men alone, with the first peep of day I started, armed with a repeating rifle and a 6 chambered revolver. However, some 2 or 3 leagues from home I came across them, they had not been prepared for a night in the camp, between cold and hunger mixed with fear of Indians they had spent a most uncomfortable night. I had taken some food with me so I treat them to a fairly good breakfast under the circumstances, then we started for home rejoicing that nothing more serious had befallen us.
On the 29 of April Mr Wales paid us a two days visit - we went to Spring Hill to see the place I had selected for the settlement, to save time the mens house, clipshed and dip was to be so close together that no time would be lost going from one to the other which was a consideration in the busy season, he was quite satisfied with everything I had done in a short time, there was both carpenters and labours at work on Spring Hill.
By this time the Indians had commenced to cut the paddock fence and carry off the wire. I had learned that the Indians was very fond of a piece of wire to make spears which was useful to them when hunting carroas, as a rule these small animals do not burrow deep in the ground and where they were likely to be found the Indians formed… conceal quietly, whenever they heard the least sound in went the spear, it was but seldom the missed the mark. To accommodate them I left several pieces of wire hanging on the posts along the fence, never did they take one of the pieces left for them, their favourite place for cutting the fence was on each side of a straining post, that gave me two stretches of wire to mend instead of one, whether it was by choice or planned I do not know. Mr Wales had given me strict orders not to allow any of the men to ill treat the Indians, they were to be overcome by kindness. These orders I carried out to the letter for a time, on going to their camp the men was always absent, the squaws only laughed in our faces, the nearer they camped the oftener the fence was cut. On several occasions I found Indian tracks close to the galpon (shed) on the beach, after about midnight the horses would come galloping up to the corral, the men at the River Side had to shut up their horses and keep watch during the night. From what I had heard and as far as I could see other means must be tried. It was with reluctance that I adopted sterner measures. Mr Wales had sent to me two men whose nicknames was the Divel and Buffalo Bill. These two men had a little experience in camp work, so I got them mounted on to good horses with 3 days provisions, turned them adrift to clear the camp around of man, woman and child but not to shed human blood except in self-defence, Indian dogs was very numerous both wild and tame and these they were to destroy without reserve. At the end of the 3 day the two men returned to inform me that they had carried out my orders and that the shooting of the Indians dogs had the desired effect of clearing out the Indians.
At that time no -- was kept at Spring Hill, the men was living in tents, every man was supplied with a rifle and ammunition in case of emergency. What the men called their own time was occupied in stalking wild dogs and shooting game such as geese flamingos and the like, in fact some of the men was fonder of the sport than work which caused me to pay them surprise visits when I could ill spare the time… on leaving home one morning and not quite sure when I might return I left a horse tied up for one of the men to gather up the animals for the night and secure another horse for the next morning, it being rather late that night when I reached home I let my horse go, as soon as I entered the house I enquired if they had tied up the horse I wanted for the night, they said no, and why I asked, because I had left them an untamed horse, a horse that none but a real jockey could mount. They told me it kicked 3 men in succession, it had got away from the 3 man, kicked off the gear… it was a young horse newly broken in, only a few days from the time it was handed to me as a very tame animal, that was all I knew about it, if it had been bad in the afternoon what was I to expect of it next morning. After it had stood at the end of a tether in a cold frosty night, when morning came they all seemed anxious to see how I got on with it. When saddled and ready for the road not to show the white feather I mounted quickly and quietly, to my surprise it put its head to its breast and went off as if it was proud to feel a man on its back. It took me all my time from thinking that the beasts wickedness was only an excuse for idling away the afternoon.
About that time we was very short of provisions, we had only a small quantity of rice and some tea no sugar. Around Creek house I had the ground well marked that a goose was not safe inside 500 yds, it was not every day that I got a chance at that distance. On May 21st the (?)Luisa arrived Mr Wales on board with a supply of provisions. 23rd I accompanied Mr Wales to Spring Hill, he thinks I have done wonders in the circumstances. 24th May drew up plans for the cookhouse and the dip, the dreeping stage to hold about 500 sheep. 29th the (?)Luisa returned with 4 working oxen. 4th June (?)Luisa landed some cattle 5 horses and a few wethers for mutton. Saturday 13 a message arrived from River Side saying that the Indians showed fight yesterday, men horses and ammunition to be dispatched at once. Sunday 14 went to River Side with 2 men and 6 horses, met with 4 Argentines there, the 6 of us started on our expedition, it had been a very severe frost for several days, the ground was so hard especially inland it was only with the greatest care that we got our horses along without laming them, of course you will understand that they horses there is not shod like the home horses. We neglected to take a hatchet with us to break the ice, from early morning to late that night our horses was without water. All that day we did not see an Indian though I have no hesitation in saying the Indians saw us, we came across several camps where the remains of their fires was still warm, in their camping places was large holes scraped out on the sheltered side of the hill, the holes being about 18 inches deep, in these men women children and dogs all huddled together at night with only their small mantels spread over the. From a little I know of them previous to this, and from a careful examination of their camps that day I was inclined to think that a more degenerate class of people did not exist. The ground being so hard and the fresh water frozen to such an extent we resolved to make towards the beach for a camp out. We struck the beach near Rio del Oro on Philips Bay, after securing our horses for the night a fire was our next consideration, after we got the fire going one was told to cook supper while the others gathered a supply of wood to keep the fire going through the night. We were fortunate in getting a fair supply of wreck wood which answered our purpose. After supper we enjoyed a comfortable smoke and a drink of mattie. As we had no tent with us, we only took with us what we could not do without, so we had no tent, when the question of bed time came another Scotchman and I agreed to be bed mates, so we selected our position our heads to the wind our feet to the fire. The others for some reason best known to themselves each had their own bed, though it was very severe frost that night my chum and I was fairly comfortable, but none of the others was so fortunate, not more than a quarter of an hour would pass without someone getting up to repair the fire and shouting mucho frio (its awfuly cold), every now and again a wild dog would start barking which was answered with the report of a riffel. Though my chum and I got but little sleep we keep our bed and let those get up that needed a change. Next day we returned to River Side with the same results as the previous day. The 17th 5 of us searched the greatest part of the camp between River Side and Creek House without seeing a single Indian. In my absence one of the working oxen had gone amissing, the finding of him occupied 2 more days of my time. June 20th the paddock fence cut, 7 of us started off in search of the offenders and returned home the following morning without seeing any signs of man woman or child. Sept 4 the schooner arrived with 7 new horses, these were sent to Spring Hill. On another occasion I found 11 boxes of candles, a quantity of fine oils for cooking purposes, besides a box containing a large picture and the spar of a vessel. So I came to the conclusion there must have been a wreck somewhere in the neighbourhood. Sat 11 on the beach I found a large barrel of Jin, which turned out to be of very superior quality, the beach was strewn with candles, fancie soaps, writing paper in abundance. Now all the men have got wrecking on the brain. The next day being Sunday all hands was of to the beach, in the evening the mens apartments was crammed with cases of butter preserves candles and various other articles too tedious to name. Immediately after supper everyone was on the move with a bottle, some with wine, others with something of a stronger nature, now I knew what to expect.
On the Monday I went to Spring Hill, there the men had all ceased work and taken the most of the horses with them to gather up wreck stuff around Lomas Bay. On my return that night to Creek House I found all the hands worse for drink and quarrelling among themselves, the following evening a Chileno shouted at me to come quick for Andrew was killing (?)Valencia, on reaching the scene of strife Valencia was down - the other fellow was holding on to the bunk and kicking him in the face with a pair of hobnailed boots. Without saying a word I took him by the neck and before he knew what was up I landed him in my own room and locked the door. After getting Valencia to bed a Chileno and I went to see what mood Andrew was in, he was raving a bit but not so bad as I expected, before trying to get Andrew to bed I went to make sure the others was alright, on returning to my room Andrew seemed both ready and willing to go to bed ….on our way to the bedroom the Chileno whispered that Andrew had a long camp knife of mine stowed inside his vest. I ordered him to give it up, at first he denied having anything of the kind about him, at last he gave it up and I made sure that he had no other weapon in his possession. That night I remained in the room within till they were all sound asleep, the Chilean was afraid to remain in the house, so he made his bed in the carpenters shop among some shavings.
The 15 was a day of reckoning and an end to the boozing for the time being, on the 16 all at work, once more for a few days I visited the beach but found no more licors, Spring Hill men gave me little or no trouble after the first talking to.
6 August (1892) 200 sheep landed, the Luisa and Rippling Wave landed with sheep, Mr Wales on board. On account of rough weather it was the 14 before we got the vessels discharged. As soon as Mr Wales got ashore he went to River Side, the men there had been on the booze for some time and lost all the cattle. August 17 The cattle not being found Mr Wales left with a weeks provisions for 3 or 4 men to search for the lost animals, that same day the Rippling Wave arrived with another load of sheep, there was 71 dead ones before we got them ashore, this lot of sheep had been herded out during the day on poor pasture and penned at night for nearly 3 weeks waiting on vessels to ship them across the Straits. At the end of 3 days Mr Wales and party returned with the lost cattle. On the night of the 25 it had been an exceptionally high tide, part of the paddock being covered with salt water, the sheep not having tasted fresh water for a considerable time drank greedily of the salt water, in the morning there was scores of dead and dying sheep all over the paddock. On the 27 Sept 4 of us started with the sheep for Spring Hill, I never saw so many weak sheep in one lot before nor since, they were so weak and heavy in lamb it was almost impossible to do anything with them. The schooner is shipping sheep in small quantities which keep me on the move almost night and day.
Sept 13 Got word that the River Side horses were lost, sent 4 men to look for them. On the 16 the men returned with the lost horses and 3 Indian boys - their introduction to civilisation was as follows - first with a pair of sheep shears their head was cropped as close to the skin as the shears would cut it. They were next taken alongside the dipper with shoe brushes, they were effectively scrubbed with the sheep wash, non poisonous of course, this was to kill the vermin - then they were finished up with soap and water. With old clothes from the men their nakedness was covered for the first time in their lives, they were very much afraid of the rifle, the consequences of clearing out was well impressed on their minds, in a short time they were quite at home among us.
About the first of November the sheep began to settle down and for the last month the navvies had got rather much of their own way, as looking round I found many things, not what I expected. One or two of the men got their walking tickets, all the Spanish I knew was used on the others. November 6th Having heard of sheep tracks being seen outside I went in search of them, I found the tracks but not the sheep. On reaching home the shepherd informed me that he had found 20 motherless lambs, that same evening some gold diggers arrived and said they had found some dead sheep that had been stowed away by the Indians, on the 7th the shepherd and I went to see if we could pick up the trail. In our travels we found 5 ewes and 27 lambs, at last I came to a place where sheep had been forced across a stream and close by was 18 ewes and forty lambs. On the 9th the shepherd found 48 ewes drowned in another part of the stream. November 10th the shepherd and I resumed our search, at last we found the direct trail but learned that the River Side men was ahead of us, that day we found more lambs without mothers. On reaching home I learned that Mr Wales had arrived from the mainland, but overnight he intended to stay at Creek House, next came a messenger to inform me that they had been following up the Indians for three days, when they got up to them they were so numerous that they had almost been surrounded before they knew what they were about, the place being pointed out afterwards I thought their escape was little short of a miracle. As I was asked for a reinforcement of men and horses I sent for Mr Wales to come to Spring Hill at once (Nov 12) six of us left Spring Hill about midnight, our intention was to reach their camp at daybreak, in the dark we got a bit out of our reckoning. On the 13th we only saw one Indian at a distance. We got back to Spring Hill in the afternoon of the same day but only to learn that the Indians had made another raid the same day, the shepherd told us where to pick up the trail while Mr Wales and the others were having something to eat, fresh horses was got ready for them and they started at once in hopes of getting back some of the sheep, that night they got up to the Indian camp, they had made their camp on a round hill that was surrounded by a large swamp the horses could not cross, thinking themselves safe they waved their mantels as much as to say come on, one man got round to nearly the other side, this formed a kind of cross fire and they were forced to leave their quarters. Close at this place we found a large number of dead sheep but no live ones. The men told me afterwards it was a mystery how they managed to kill so many sheep in the time.
I spent several days from daylight till dark gathering stragglers that had got away from them on this occasion, to save the few sheep left to us it was decided to mark the lambs so that we could shut up the sheep overnight and keep watch. From 6500 ewes shipped we could only mark 1200 lambs, we soon had a small enclosure erected close to the house, within the enclosure I got a dugout made, covered with corrugated iron. In the hole for 3 or 4 nights before and after the full moon I mostly sat from 8 in the evening till 2 or sometimes 3 in the morning with a repeating rifle at hand, to spend 6 or 7 hours in such small quarters was a position not to be envied especially in a cold weather night.
About this time Mr Wales brother arrived from England, he took up his duties at Creek House, this left me only Spring Hill to look after. The greatest part of the sheep when landed was too weak to dip, the result was scab broke out among them, the shutting of them up overnight made matters worse, up till shearing time it took the shepherd and me all our time to keep the sheep farmers pest in bounds. In the month of December out of 6500 sheep landed we only clipped 1636, in 5 or 6 months we had lost 4864 sheep or as many pounds sterling. There was one thing I could never forgive the Indians for, that was when stealing sheep any one that could not travel fast enough the two hind legs were broken, after to be torn to pieces by wild dogs. In the month of December 3 or 4 men was erecting a house at a place called the pantanos nearly every night after they had turned in the Indians would come and pelt their tent with stones. From the month of December to the month of March 1893 every day I could spare was occupied in trying to clear the camp of wild dogs, these dogs beside destroying a lot of sheep chased the others all over the place. During the summer months there was always two or sometimes three men on the outside camp keeping in touch with the Indians, laying down poison for the dogs and foxes, as the wild dogs deceased the foxes became more numerous, the Tierra del Fuego foxes would be equal in size to our home foxes and after playing havoc among the young lambs I have seen as many as 15 dead on the side of a small knoll.
About the middle of March we commenced to ship more sheep.Mr Wales brother being at Creek House he was always at hand to revive the sheep and then to pass them on to me at Spring Hill. In a short time I had more sheep than our small inclosure would hold so I had to leave them out at night, in the month of April suspected the Indians for taking away small quantities, on the 11th May I found the Indians had taken a rather large quantity of sheep, I followed the trail until well into the afternoon when I met the outside men on their way back with about 800 sheep and eleven bows and arrows. It is a well known fact that the last thing an Indian will do is to part with his bows and arrows but seeing I was not present at the engagement I will not give an opinion as to what the result had been, on the 15th of the same month there was signs of more sheep having been taken away.
On the 13th August 1893 I left Spring Hill having had enough of Tierra del Fuego for the present, on the 14th I crossed the Straits of Magellan in a Chilean man o’ war, passed the night at Punta Delgada, on the 16th found myself back at Monte Dinero, here I got a friendly reception, they were rather short of tame horses so to pass the time I agreed to tame 8 5year old colts, while doing this I could go where and when I liked.
On 15th November I left for Punta Arenas and reached there on the 16th, on the 20th a Mr. (?)Fregui and I went aboard a small steamer called the Antonia Diez bound for Navarino Island to look at some land, the weather was all that could be desired for a trip, in a short time we were wending our way among the islands of which there is a great many though many of them are very small but very close together with high peaks, they were thickly wooded round the base becoming stunted toward the top till at last the high barren peaks overlooked. Any person visiting that part of South America for pleasure will not regret spending a few days between Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, at Ushuaia there is a small settlement with a few government officials. Gold is found in payable quantities on many of the islands, when a schooner calls with provisions the generally have a supply of liquor on board which is easily sold and often the place is pretty lively for a few days. On the other side of the island is the mission station, at the time I am speaking of it was under the control of Bishop Stirling, our next landing place was Navarino Island which is one of the largest of the group and about 50 miles from Cape Horn, on this island the missionaries have erected several one room houses for the Indians, besides enclosing a piece of land for cultivation, at one time they had cows as well. When I landed there I found the houses very much out of repair with the exception of one the rest was all broken down and there garden turned into a wilderness, what remained of their cattle was running wild in the forest, I came across several tracks but nothing more of them did I see, it was in one of those Indian houses that Mr Fregui and I took up our abode with a cano (canoe)Indian and his wife, the house had no floor so we had to make our beds among the sand and dust, between dust and smell it was far from being agreeable, we had no choice, a little shelter was better than none seeing we had no tent, we engaged 2 Indians who said they could show us a large track of land in about 3 hours walk, so next morning we made an early start, after we had walked something like 5 hours up a steep mountain and through a dense forest we came to a thick scrub that completely barred further progress, I was anything but pleased with the result, we had some lunch and started for our last nights quarters. As I expected the steamer to call for me that night after travelling a considerable distance I became doubtful as to us going in the right direction, and asked my friends opinion on the matter, he said there was no fear that the Indians would take us back alright, we walked something like another hour when I said to Mr. Frequi we are holding too much to our left, I am going to our right, you can either follow me or not as you like, after a talk with the Indians he decided to accompany me, but I could see it was more for fear of anything happening to me than faith in me as a guide, near sundown we struck the beach about 200 yds from our starting point that morning, next morning came and no steamer, I was left behind, hereabouts I had to remain for the next 2 or 3 weeks. Mr Fregui had about 500 sheep he wanted shipped on to another island so with a small cutter boat we set to work, by the time we got all the sheep removed we came across 2 Indians that assured us that they could take Mr Fregui and me to a large block of land without trees on the other side of Navarino Island. On this occasion it was not convenient for my friend to accompany me, so I set off once more with the 2 Indians, the first night I took up my abode a respectable distance from my 2 guides, next day we reached the beach on the opposite side of the island and marched a long way along the beach which was much easier than wending our way among the trees, while travelling along the beach we came on several Indian huts, these was long poles put on end and tied together at the top with pieces of hide, then covered with branches, alongside of each hut there was a tremendous lump of shells, these large mounds gave me the impression that the cano Indians had been very numerous till of late years. There was no sign of human life along the beach, I asked my guides what had become of all the Indians, they said a few years previous to the time I am speaking of nearly all the Indians on Navarino Island died out in one year, from other sources I was told that the Indiand had contracted a loathsome disease from sailors who went ashore when cruising round these island. Near sundown my 2 guides suddenly stopped and asked me what I intended doing, I said I was going with them to see the land they had told Mr Fregui about, they said there was no land hereabouts they knew of, to be told that after nearly 2 days walk through a thick forest was enough to ruffle the temper of a saint, at all events it set me on edge, though the only weapon I had was a stout stick I gave them to understand that I was in no mood to be trifled with, when they saw I was in earnest they excused themselves by saying there grub was done. I told them I had taken care of mine and that they ought to have done the same, for not a single bite would they get from me after the lies hey had told us about the camp, there was no other for it but to retrace our steps, we walked on till dark, camped out for the night, not knowing what they might attempt I slept with one eye open. Next day on our way back every now and again my 2 guides would go to a certain tree and pick what I thought was a kind of fruit, about the size of a large crabby (crab apple), it was of a nice pink colour with tiny little spots, it was alright to look at, I tried several but to me they had no taste, so I put them down as a kind of fungus. On reaching the appointed place I found Mr Fregui and another Indian with a small punt waiting to convey me over to Watts Island where the 2 men and the sheep were By this time my provisions was done, my friend had brought none with them, all our appetites was on the keen side, by this time it was blowing a gale, our small craft was not altogether seaworthy, after waiting for several hours we made an attempt to cross, my friend was but a poor seaman and became afraid of getting drowned, so we had to put back once more, the old Indian had been a long time on Kepple Island in the Falklands and spoke fairly good English, when he knew I had been in the Falklands he fairly adored me, he said beyond a point of rock which caused the breakers it was all smooth water, he said Mr Fregui no good in a boat but you pull with me we soon get to Watt island, so we made another attempt and succeeded, on reaching Watt Island the 2 men informed me they were living on mussels, there had been some delay in sending out stores, my friend and the Indian left in the punt to signal the cutter to take them over to Ushuaia and bring out stores for the men so I was left behind to live on mussels. At last the cutter boat arrived with provisions, here I embarked for Punta Toro at the other end of Navarino Island, while here I got plenty to eat and drink, they had a supply of the best wines I ever tasted before or since.. On the 3rd day after my arrival one of the native gentlemen offered me one of his daughters for a wife, he asked for neither fee nor ceremony, immediate possession was the only stipulation, or to put it in other words take her as a trial. I declined the offer with thanks, the following afternoon I was informed that another party had accepted her with thanks. At Punta Toro there was 2 or 3 fairly good houses, besides gold diggers tents, a few Indian huts, with a dense forest down to the very beach, though December is one of the warmest months of the year during my stay there I have seen the trees hanging with snow, the weather in that part is very unsettled, a few days stay and I found there was no inducement for me to take up my abode there and the sooner I got away the better pleased I would be. Nearer the end of December the Antonia Diez called, I went aboard and found her overcrowded with passengers, all gold diggers bound for Punta Arenas, that crowd represented a great many nations, with the exception of 2 or 3 a rougher crowd none of you would care to see. Outside the harbour the day was very stormy and soon a great many of them became seasick, this happened to be one of my brave days at sea so I had an opportunity of seeing what others were like under the circumstances, we had not been long underway when a few seemed indifferent to what became of them, others prayed, another lot stood and cursed between the unpalatable mouthfuls, by this time we reached Ushuaia the storm had abated, I went ashore and had some tea. About midnight we started for Punta Arenas, we had beautiful weather the remainder of the journey, by the time I reached Punta Arenas I found myself in possession of a goodly number of what Burns calls the creeping hurlies. On getting ashore I went straight to a clothiers shop and ordered a full rigout to be sent at once to my lodgings, I called at the barbers shop, got a crop and a shampoo, on reaching my quarters I got a large tub which did duty as a bath. After getting into my new rigout I gathered up any old clothes with the exception of my boots, tied them into a bundle, pitched them into a backyard among some boxes and other rubbish, this over I was quite myself again, felt none the worse of my experiences.
(January 1894 - he returns to Monte Dinero for the shearing, then July 1895 goes back to Tierra del Fuego)
In the month of July 1895 Mr Wales made me a good offer to go back to Tierra del Fuego, having a weakness for money I accepted his terms and bad adieu to Monte Dinero on the 27th August 1895. On reaching Tierra del Fuego I was informed that the Indians was not near so troublesome as in 1893, after I had a look around to save driving the sheep for miles at lamb marking I got pens put up at suitable places in camp, we got through the lamb marking without hitch. When shearing commenced the sheep was so bad with scab that it was necessary to clip and dip at the same time, this required a double staff of men, as soon as the lambs was old enough to wean I commenced to separate the clean from the unclean, when the latter was brought in and clipped the number was over 8000 scabit sheep. Between the loss of sheep and extra expense of dipping the colonial farmer has to encounter many difficulties. By this time there was a new settlement started at Rio del Oro. Mr Charles being in charge in his brothers absence we went out one day to see how things was getting on, after a ride of about 30 miles on a cold winters day we reached our destination, only to find one man in charge of the place, the tradesmen having run short of materials had gone to Punta Arenas for a ..day intending to return with the first schooner. The stores being almost exhausted we had to be content with a drink of tea for the time being in what was called the bosses house or shantie. We found plenty of rifles but only 3 cartridges, with a rifle and 3 cartridges Mr Wales and I set out for our dinner and breakfast, at length we sighted a wild goat about 300 yds off, there being little chance of getting nearer, however, Mr Wales had a try and missed, a little further on we saw another something like the same distance, it was now my turn to try, try I did with no better result. We had only one cartridge left and nothing for either dinner or breakfast on our way back we were fortunate in killing an old gander with our last bullet, so we had enough for that night and next morning we reached Spring Hill in time for dinner.
About the middle of May 1896 I was 1 of 4 who started with 4000 sheep for Rio del Oro, we had one fearful cold night in camp, we had to keep on the move the whole time, on reaching Rio del Oro I found 2 shepherds from Dumfries awaiting my arrival, by the time I got them to Spring Hill they were completely done up, a long ride is very trying for those not accustomed to horseback. About the 11th June 1896 we heard of some Indians being seen rather close to the sheep boundary, an expedition was sent in search of them, on the 16th the party returned with about a dozen men women and a few children. They were to be sent to Dawson Island. On the 26th June Mr Wales left for England, on the 2nd July two more Indians was brought in making the number up to 14. So I made up my mind to give them another chance, after breakfast I went to them to explain my intentions and my conditions but found that one of the children had died during the night. I got the carpenter to make a coffin, when the parents saw the corpse coffined and the lid screwed down they seemed very much affected, much more so than I had expected. On being asked if they would like to see what we was going to do with it they said yes, so we took them along to the grave which was quite close by, when the grave was filled in and the turf neatly placed they marched back to their quarters, then it was explained to them if they would promise to behave themselves in the future and not molest the animals they would get their liberty, they would get as much as they could carry away, to this they readily agreed, after giving them as much as they could eat, each macho or man got half a sheep, then we turned them adrift with the understanding that if they broke there promise they need not expect any mercy from us. About 2 weeks after this one of the River Side men came with the news that the Indians had taken up their abode close to River Side house and he and his chum was afraid of them, however this lot of Indians turned out to be the same lot I had liberated in the early part of July. They took up their abode close to River Side house, they kept their promise and soon were on friendly terms with all the outside men. About the end of September 5 of the machos came marching into the settlement, we gave them shelter for the night, plenty to eat, the following morning they took the rode, each having as much mutton as they could carry, a few days after other 2 came along, they came straight to my door, there they left their bows and arrows and came to the dipper where we was busy dipping sheep, we all gave them a friendly welcome, one of the shepherds killed a wether, gave each a knife, the skinned it, cut it up, each with his share took to the road to all appearances the best of spirits.
In the month of November one of our boundary riders named Pike asked if I would take an Indian that had left his tribe and taken up his abode with him, he said the Indian was so quiet and honest that he did not want to put him with the other men for fear the would knock him about, as he was shifting his quarters he could not do with him any longer, as I had plenty of spare room I consented to give him a trial. When he arrived he told me his name was Joe, I found that Joe had got hold of a good many English words, I gave him a room to himself and told him I expected he would keep himself and his room clean and tidy, in a few days I was surprised to see the interest he took in the house, nothing pleased Joe better than to ask him to do some little job for me, in a short time I could see he was rather out of sorts, I wanted him to take sulphur once or twice a day for a few days, that he would not listen to, to show him it was not poison I tasted it myself, even then he held out, at last I told him he must either take it or go back to the Indians, the threat was too much for him, he promised to take the quantity I showed him twice a day. About the 3rd day I asked him to show me how much he had taken out of the tin, to my surprise there was enough out of the tin to have done 10 men, when I explained to him that he had taken too much, no no he said, it do me good, you a good doctor, the cook told me when he saw any of the Indians approaching he went out and locked the door and cleared out with the key. Within 12 months poor Joe died of consumption. Very few in fact I knew none of the Onas that survived civilised life for any great length of time.
Map of Tierra Del Fuego
Several of the River Side Indians wanted to remain in the settlement, Mr. Wales had 2 with him in his house and had taught them to wait the table in there turn, one of the boys showed a taste for drawing, another boy took to camp work, who died since with £50 to his credit. February 1897 word came that a tribe of Indians apparently strangers had been hanging round close to the sheep camp for some time, Another expedition of 5 men was sent out to search for them, after 6 days in camp they returned without seeing man woman or child. In the month of May the River Side Indians quarrelled among themselves, killing one of their number, in the early part of the month it was found necessary to send out another expedition, after a few days in camp they returned with an Indian boy, this one makes 7 Indians in the settlement, about 14 May we got word that the Indians had stole about 800 sheep and some English rams, as these raiders from Gentie Grande had never shown any respect of persons it may be our turn next. July 1st 1897 we have got 5 strangers and 11 Indians with us for the night, the Indians include men and women all in there natural state are squatted round a large fire not more than 30 yards from my door with lumps of mutton in the fire cooking, they all seem quite happy, but strange, the Indians belonging to the settlement don’t associate with their friends, of late there had been several expeditions but always failed to get in touch with the Indians, at last one of our tame boys told Mr Wales he thought he could find them. About the first of August 1897 another expedition went in search of the Indians with the Indian boy as a guide and interpreter. The 2nd day out the boy guide pointed to a place some distance off and said the Indians would be there or thereabouts, the guide having got his instructions started of alone, in due time a large crowd of Indians was seen coming towards their civilised neighbours, when the got a certain distance of the tent the crowd halted, the guide came to the tent to inform Mr Wales and party that the Indians was friendly. Mr Wales and his guide went up to the Indians, the guide being interpreter, the Indians were told that Spring Hill, Rio del Oro and Gentie Grande had agreed to give them all the meat they required on condition that they did not molest their animals in the future, when they required meat 2 or 3 of their number was to come into the nearest settlement when a supply would be sent to them, they would also be protected from the more unscrupulous white men. To the conditions mentioned they readily agreed.
With the August mail was a letter from my old friend Mr Sparks asking me to try to get up a subscription on behalf of one of our old acquaintances who had returned to London and was in very straitened circumstances on account of not being able to work, from Spring Hill, Rio del Oro and Gentie Grande I had the pleasure of sending him a cheque for £25 the following mail. September 14. 2 shepherds found a dead Indian in camp with an arrow sticking in his side, most likely the result of a quarrel, October 1st the Indians that gave themselves up in the early part of August came cross to River Side our old friends, the 2 lots of Indians met in deadly combat, the strangers left 4 dead on the field of battle while several others were wounded. Shortly after this affair the River Side Indians told us the others were stealing sheep, knowing that the 2 lots were not on friendly terms I thought it best to act with caution till I heard what the other lot had to say, the result was the one lot blamed the other, about a week after one of the shepherds came on a place where sheep had been killed and the skins buried. The River Side Indians being told of the discovery, one of the Indians volunteered to show us a place where a lot of sheepskins was buried and took one of the shepherds to the place, not far from his own house, from the same source we were informed at Rio del Oro the Philips Bay Indians was killing plenty of sheep. A lot of men was sent to search the camp, the search party soon revealed a very unexpected state of affairs, the Indians being told about the number of sheep skins being found buried in the camp denied all knowledge, they were reminded of their promise and warned what the result would be if they misbehaved in future.
10 November 1897. Commenced lamb marking, by this time lamb marking was rather an interesting affair, as a rile we generally made a start on the Monday weather permitting, there was two bullock carts which took our tents, sheep nets and provisions - the most of the camp was rather scarce of water for domestic purposes so that commodity had to be taken in barrels, also a supply of firewood. Perhaps 8 or 10 men on horseback, mostly shepherds with a number of dogs, while the tents and nets were being put in order the shepherds would be bringing in a lot of sheep, ready to start at once, one man was told off as cook, those in charge had a small tent to themselves, coffee was mostly ready for us at daylight, it mostly fell to my lot to see all the men afoot, when the cook called out coffee it was time for me to bestir myself, when I passed the word coffee along for the 2 time those that were not afoot could be heard muttering, theres that old Divel again. If the men was not ready, with a whip I made for the offenders, this meant they had to dress in the open at the expense of a good laugh from the others, of course care had to be taken not to carry the joke too far. Though we had long hours and small comforts all seemed to enjoy it, when the season came round the shepherds were very good at reminding me when they thought it ought to be their turn lamb marking, from Monday till Saturday afternoon two of us marked 11,326 which is only two short of 1870 per day, in 1897 we marked 16450 in all. On Sunday 15 a Scotch minister held services in Mr Wales house, that was the second sermon I had heard preached in twenty years.
In the meantime the Philips Bay Indians were showing no respect for there promises made in the month of August, instead of coming into the settlements for meat they were killing whatever suited themselves, burying the skins - another expedition went out to call them in question, about the 19 November the expedition returned with about 40 prisoners including men women and children, the men were disarmed and handcuffed in pairs, the women and children had no additional inconvenience, at nights they were lodged in a large iron shed, only the men were put in irons but got their freedom first thing in the morning, a man stood by them during the day with a loaded rifle, they were prisoners from the 19 November to January 13 when they were shipped to the mission station on Dawson Island, not any of them attempted to escape during there imprisonment. I had several opportunities of noticing some of the habits and peculiarities, only two of the latter have I any notes of, the first the belief in their medicine men, on the occasion the patient was a young woman or squaw, she was brought outside and stretched on the green, next came the doctor who happened to be both deaf and dumb, he placed himself straight legs over her, from the loins to the crown of the head he felt her all over minutely and gently returning to his starting poi the commenced the same operation but gradually wrought himself into the most excitable state imaginable between pushing and twisting the groans of the patient was more like ending in serious catastrophe than expecting a cure, even the patients head got more of the treatment than I would have cared for, eventually the doctors two hands came together with considerable force, to appearance he had become so rigid that he had great difficulty in gaining an upright position, his two hands being still closed as if holding on to something in desperation, after effecting a few twists he commenced to blow on his hands which gradually opened, with a bound he was clear of the patient. The last performance was to blow disease or pain clear of the patient, he next squatted on the ground as if fairly exhausted. The patient was lifted and carried into the shed, next morning she was all right, whether the cure was effected through science or faith you can judge for yourselves. One morning a squaw with a baby came into a shed where we had some barrels of hot lime, she seated herself beside an opened barrel, laid the baby cross her knees, the only covering it had was a small bandage round its eyes, after undoing the bandages she wet her fingers in her mouth dipped them into the hot lime commenced rubbing the childs face and body with this simple ointment. I remonstrated with her and explained as well as I could that she was likely to injure the child but she considered herself the best judge as mothers often do, she continued the rubbing or rather painting process to her own satisfaction then bandaged up the childs eyes and joined her comrades, it being a male child the rubbing or painting was to make him a brave warrior when he grew to manhood, it was the custom with their children male or female to keep a bandage round the eyes for a certain period, this custom was supposed to improve the sight, that these Indians had exceptional sight is beyond doubt - whether it was the blindfolding of the children or the practice of observation from childhood that deserves the credit of this most useful gift I cannot say.
About the first march 1898 John McQueen one of the shepherds left for Punta Arenas to meet his lady love who was due there from Scotland. I had promised to accompany him on this special occasion but could not get away till the morning of the 4, got to Rio del Oro the first night, second night reached Gentie Grande, got to Porvenir on the night of the 6. As the boat I intended to cross the straits on had not arrived I passed the night with an old friend from the Falklands. That night some government officials arrived with the remains of two men that had been killed by Indians, one of the bodies had been pierced 25 times by arrows, the Indians around that part is one of the worst lots on the island, that part of the island is thickly wooded and it is no easy task to get between them and their cover, at that time there was no end of trouble with them and the new settlers. March 7 the boat arrived, I went aboard in the afternoon, reached Punta arenas the same night, the distance across being somewhere about 20 miles. McQueen did not arrive till the 10, about noon on the 11 the mail arrived with his lady love aboard, she was taken to the hotel I was staying at and given in charge of the landlady, as I was the only one of the 3 that knew a little Spanish it fell to my lot to carry out the arrangements for the coming event, while doing this a few came to the conclusion that my bachelor days were near on end, even our landlady was under the impression up to the last moment. On the evening of the 13 a government official arrived at the hotel with a considerable quantity of books and papers to give the young couple their matrimonial license according to Chilean custom, it was now time for me to take a back seat, by chance I met an old comrade of mine named Daily, he was an expert penman and well up in Spanish, I asked him to be one of our guests and promoted him to the post of interpreter, but his duties did not end there for the official was so slow with the pen that the books and papers were handed over to Daily to fill up, the official was quick enough in letting us know that his fee was 3 soverings. After the ceremony the select party did ample justice to a well filled board, the only females present was the good wife, the landlady and her servant girl, during that evening David McCall did not spare his violin accompanied with Scotch songs, we all spent a most enjoyable evening. March 15 got the young couple aboard a steamer bound for Tierra del Fuego. On the 19 I crossed the Magellan Straits on the Antonia Deiz, arrived at Spring Hill in the afternoon of the 23. In the month of May a party of Indians came into the settlement, to settle some disputes in regard to their size it was decided to take some measurements, to such procedures they seemed rather dubious, at last one consented whose height was 5x8, chest 40, arm above elbow 14, calf of leg 14, we had another who was 5x10, as he would not submit chest measurement we saw it was no use to insist, there may be some of the Onas or foot Indians on Terra del Fuego that is over 6 feet but they are few and far between, it should be born in mind that the canoe Indians of that part is of a more diminutive size.
June 1898, June being one of the winter months in that part of the world, the farm work being well in hand and being near the end of my agreement I decided on having another look at Auld Scotlands Heathery Hills. Mr Wales had to go up to Chile on business, for the sake of the company it was arranged that we would go to Punta Arenas together, but he could not leave till he got his mail from England which was due on the 7, the 7 came and no mail, the 8 past with the same result, for fear he would miss the boat for Valpariso I agreed to wait the arrival of his letters and follow him up, so he left early on the 9, later in the evening the mail arrived. On the morning of the 10, about 6 o’clock I started with 2 good horses, the custom in South America when on a long journey or a journey of importance is to change horses every 2 hours, it was one of those frosty mornings like what we have at times in Scotland, it had been freezing hard for several nights, the ground was like iron, the horses in that part not being shod my progress was but slow, it was only when on or near the beach I could go faster than a walk, my feet got so cold several times I had to dismount and walk. On reaching Rio del Oro I found they had a fresh horse ready for me, after a hurried refreshment I continued on my journey, I got to Gentie Grande about midnight when I had the pleasure of handing Mr Wales his mailbag before retiring for the night. The following day we rode to Porvenir to find we were 2 days ahead of the boat that was to carry us across to Punta Arenas, after about 2 more days in Punta Arenas Mr Wales embarked for Valapariso. The next time we met was a few years later when he paid his first visit to Dalry. From about the 12 or 13 June I remained in Punta Arenas till July the 10 when I went aboard the Oropesa bound for Liverpool.