— "the farthest South British newspaper".
There are several large and excellently appointed banks, and two British
clubs with every comfort of similar institutions in Britain, except the
fireplace. The hotels are comfortable enough too. Our fellow-countrymen in
the town are to be found in the Anglo-South American Bank, in the large
stores and farming companies’ offices, representing home firms, and in
business on their own. A Scot from Coatbridge met me, and introduced me
to, three more Scots, each with his car, and representing respectively
Law’s, Robertson’s and Cooper’s sheep dip. And the wool buyer from
Bradford was around, getting ready to tour the far and lonely parts. For
in the town, as in the camp, it is sheep and again sheep; sheep in the
morning, sheep in the evening, sheep in the afternoon. And the Scot, like
little Jack Horner, has his thumb in the pie, and has pulled out some
We are now in Chile, and Chilean Patagonia can boast
lakes and mountains and scenery which, though little known, rival
Switzerland’s best. Here you have lowland and upland, pasture and glacier,
forest and eternal snow, and creeks that Norway might envy. And the eye of
the Scot looks on well nigh them all every day, and his foot is
established in the way of its going. Morrisons, Macleods, Sutherlands,
MacCaskills, Mackenzies, Macdonalds, Macphersons, Grants, Strachans,
Slaters, Hamiltons, Hallidays, McColls, McGeorges, Tweedies, Aitchisons,
Gallies — all are here. Aye, even MacTavish is
making a living, and talks the Gaelic every night to his nearest neighbour
nigh 50 miles off, where lives Shon Maclean.
Patagonia knows what she owes to these hardy pioneers
with the strong blood of the Hebrides, Caithness, Ross and Cromarty in
their veins — pioneers who refused to know
defeat, and who, 50 years ago, started out to drive sheep from
Buenos Aires to those then inhospitable regions. Twelve hundred miles it
was, and two lambings on the way! And the track, when they finished,
strewn with carcases (but not their own), cleaned to the bone by the
vultures that were their daily travelling companions. But they did it. The
story is one of the epics of Patagonia and some day should be told.
Victory surely ever beams on such a breed. It is the stuff of which heroes
are made. It is the spirit that has kept our Royal Standard flying.
The town of Magallanes typifies the sudden growth of
the whole region. Some 25 years ago the motor car made its advent and the
transition was straight from bullock waggon to Ford. The intermediate
stage of phaeton, gig, cab and hansom was given a miss. Similarly, in the
quick process of progression, the stage of gas was jumped and the change
was from paraffin lamp to electric light. To the newcomer it is a strange
sight to watch the old and the new side by side, both useful. For the
steady non-jerky pull of the bullock can extricate a bogged car where the
horse would fail; and in the far parts of the camp the candle and the lamp
are a sure standby when the electric engine breaks down and the necessary
"spare" is 200 miles distant across the snow.
It is difficult to convey an adequate idea of the
immensity of things in Patagonia. Or rather is it difficult to expect to
be believed when one tries to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but". Here are the particulars about one of the first estancias I
visited. Its size was 120,000 hectareas. Taking the hectarea at
2 1/4 acres, this gives a farm of 270,000 acres. A
farm of 1000 acres in Scotland is reckoned a large one. This estancia
carried 103,000 sheep. Just before I left, one of the shepherds in charge
of a section — Malcolm Mackay from Stornoway
— rode in from his far shanty. When he found who
I was, he asked me to go and christen his baby. There was no track for a
car. It meant horse-back. "We’ll do it in four hours —
it’s a thirty mile ride." he said. It was the thirty back that
worried a soft townsman!
Here is another farm, almost exactly the size of
Banffshire, and managed by a most cheery Banffshire loon. In ordinary
times 400 sheep are killed every month to feed the farm hands, and at
shearing time many more. This takes no account of bullocks, pigs,
chickens, wild geese and their eggs, hares, wild duck and their eggs,
young guanaco, which all occasionally swell the menu. In the kitchen of
that estancia was a cook, an ex-captain of the Prussian Guards. In a
chat—"the Scotch in kilt, they were of the war the best soldiers. I know.
I was by them twice wounded. It was the most hard them away to run to
make." We exchanged war memories and shook hands heartily. So doth Father
Time soften old bitternesses.
Here yet again are the particulars of what is reckoned
locally the largest sheep farm in the world, —
the Compania Explotadora de Tierra del Fuego. It owns several farms, both
in Tierra del Fuego and on the mainland. This little concern was shearing
1 1/4 million sheep per annum. Yearly half a million
lambs were being marked. At many of their farms they can, and do, shear
five thousand sheep a day. Net lbs. of wool for 1923 —
9 million 268 thousand. The average death rate was kept down to 7
per cent. Capital of the Company, £1,800,000. Net profit for 1923
—£800,000. The figures for to-day are certainly
From May to September camp folks in many parts are
faced with being shut up by snow, when the only mode of travel is
horseback. Flower pots are hidden away in cellars, and ink pots may have
to be melted. The water jug standing on the table 5 yards from a big fire
may be frozen to the bottom. The houses are nearly all built of corrugated
iron. Mine playful host at one estancia assured me that some winters
previously, while he was sitting over a big fire at night with a friend,
every word he spoke froze and dropped in little pellets of ice on the rug.
To which I could but suggest that, with so much ice around his slippered
feet, he was fortunate to have escaped chilblains.
In Argentine Patagonia — the
east coast of the south of South America — the
visitor is impressed with the huge expanses of Pampa, and unending
stretches of grey treeless country. What grass there be is grey. Sheep can
live; they can even thrive. But cattle — well,
if you keep a cow you are amongst the elect. For probably you may have to
buy alfalfa (the Argentine hay) from Buenos Aires. It does seem hard to be
a farmer and to have to use tinned milk. What they need in Argentine
Patagonia is rain; what they get is wind. During my stay in the Port of
San Julian a storm blew up with no warning, and in 20 minutes empty petrol
tins were careering about the streets. This Valkeerie dance went on for 3
hours. A musical interpretation of the scene would have been after the
heart of Wagner. But a portrayal of the dust would surely have baffled
him. Patagonia is a country only for fit men and hardy beasts. Some enemy
is ever lurking at the gate. Woe betide the sheep overcome with cold or
fallen on its back and unable to rise. Down from the nowhere swoops a
carrancho and lights on a paling post or stone nearby. From there the
situation is surveyed with leisure. Then the deadly work begins. Out comes
one of the sheep’s eyes, then the other, then the tongue. Ere now other
carranchos have joined in the feast. Before long the spot is marked alone
by wool and bones. Bones, white bones, they mock you everywhere. For the
winters especially can be very severe, and shelter there is little or
none. An animal dies where it lies down, and lies where it dies. In an
hour’s journey along the track I once counted over 200 carcases of 14
different beasts or big birds.
Patagonia owes much — very
much — to Scotland, especially to the Stornoway
and Dumfries districts. The Murdo Macleods, the Roderick Macleans, the
Hector Macphersons, the Scotts, the Pattersons, the Frazers, and many of
their brethren are to-day farming millions of acres in districts which to
the "hijo del pais" seemed too forbidding. These men, and some of their
fathers, looked Fate in the face and defied her. What to them if the first
hapless Spanish colonists in Patagonia had starved to death or had given
up the struggle in despair? Darwin called this "the land of bitterness".
He was right, for he was thinking of its sterility for agricultural
pursuits. But he forgot the hardy, long-suffering sheep, and the
indomitable spirit of the Scots shepherd. As always, it was dogged that
did it. Patagonia was and is no place for agriculture. Dig a sod to-day,
and tomorrow the wind will have the roots of that sod innocent of earth.
But what was no good for agriculture was, by grit and gumption, made
possible for sheep-breeding. And more. For now in the sheltered
"cafladones" where once the roaming Indian camped, pretty estancias may be
seen — houses and steading alike built of
corrugated iron. Slips of ivy and honeysuckle brought from the Hebrides.
Aberfeldy, Ballindalloch, Aberdeen, Glencarse, Glencairn, Arbroth,
Dumfries, and many another place, are growing round the windows. Even
heather from Birnam Hill had taken root, although the pathetic smile it
seemed to give me made me believe that it would have been happier to be
looking down again on old Dunkeld Cathedral, and to be hearing the evening
murmur of the silvery Tay.
Of our countrymen in Patagonia, most owners made much
money during and after the war. But the problems of the shepherd who has
no share in the business were and are acute. The biggest of these problems
are medical attention and education. When the nearest school and doctor
are 100 miles away there are bound to be worries. The father would like
his children to get at least as good an education as he got in the little
parish school by the Gairloch. But how? And if sudden and serious illness
comes on, how is he to get in touch with a doctor in time, or how
— perhaps — get the
necessary funds to guarantee the doctor’s coming. I saw some lonely and
sad graves. In one case the wife had to be undertaker, gravedigger and
minister for her husband. May Scots never cease to be grateful for the
schools and the doctors of Scotland.
The Patagonian Indians, Tehuelche, are a fast
disappearing — almost disappeared
—race. I was fortunate to see a few of them.
They were living in tents, and hunting the young guanaco whose skins they
scrape, dry, stretch, and sell to traders. About 15 of these skins sewn
together make a beautiful rug, to be seen occasionally in a Princes St.
window at a non-clerical price. These Indians were drinking mate (green
tea), and, in the season, live on eggs of the wild geese, ostrich and
duck, and on the flesh of the guanaco and ostrich. Their method of cooking
the latter is interesting. They light a fire and then heat some stones in
the fire. These hot stones are placed inside the ostrich which is then
grilled on the embers of the fire. The result is A.I. —
for the Indians.
Contact with the white man has spelt the doom of this
remarkable race. They who for generations had been born and reared in the
open, cannot stand before the white man’s illnesses. Down and out they go
with influenza, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever. Viejo Bayuco
(old man Bayuco) whom I met early in 1925 near Santa Cruz will be a
lasting memory. I prize his photograph. Guess his age. He remembered
Darwin’s visit to San Julian in 1833. He was then a "young man". Let us
put him at 102. He still rode his horse, and had every tooth except one.
His hair was long and matted. But you could have laid a few small coffee
spoons along the wrinkles on his handsome, sad face. Bent with years and
proudly wearing a new long cloak of guanaco skins (I mentally broke the
10th Commandment) he still stood nearly 6 feet tall. He came to the
Estancia to beg salt and jam. He got both.
The hospitality of the Patagonian settlers is to be
experienced, for it is hard to describe. When the next farm is 50 miles
along the track there are few means of sending word that you are coming.
You just arrive. The bed is always ready, with a huge skin rug on the top
of it. And you need that rug. But just you hear the mutton sizzling on the
kitchen fire, the while the goodman of the house settles down for a crack
with you. "Frae Brochty Ferry, did ye say? Man, 30 year ago I was on a
fairm at Monikie; I ken every field atween that and the Murroes." Ever the
conversation led back to the old home. "Hard nuts". Perhaps, but easily
cracked, and a soft kernel revealed, when the old times and the old folks
By now the evening meal is ready. "God bless this home
and all who are dear to it". And then to business. What an appetite the
cold and cutting winds of Patagonia develop. Three mutton chops "just to
start with". At one estancia I saw a sturdy son of the Hebrides, Murdo to
be sure, dispose of 9 chops at a sitting, with four large slices of home
baked bread and two cups of coffee. I arrived on the scene at the 9th
chop. I was invited to join him in the savoury —four
wild geese eggs, hard boiled — which I did. It
is still on my conscience that perhaps poor Murdo went hungry away, for
the Parson ate three — quarters of his eggs.
Little wonder that newcomers to Patagonia tend to grow round about. But
Nature always seeks to make adjustments. The winds seem to want to blow
through you, but they develop a growing appetite. That fosters fat. Fat
keeps out the wind. So in time it is a case of "as you were". Not so with
the clothes that once fitted you. They are as they were; you are not.
How came our countrymen to Patagonia? Some came direct
from Scotland or via Buenos Aires; many more came via the Falkiand Islands
— "British Islands inhabited by priests and
penguins" — so runs an old description. Many of
these early settlers came of the crofter stock —
a stock that has given worthy sons to our Colonies, and to far parts of
the world. It is not unnatural that the North-Western parts of Scotland,
where things are difficult, and where rain and wind are one’s birthright,
come an easy first in the list of their birthplaces. During my journeyings
I christened 57 children, 25 of whom were the sons or daughters of
full-blooded Highlanders. Here are some of the names which vouch for
themselves: Murdo Maclean, Donald Angus McDonald, Alasdair Morrison, Ian
Malcolm Mackenzie, Roderick Donald Maclean, Donald Bain, Lauchlan
Macdonald, Murdo Angus Stewart, Roderick Hector Mackenzie, Jean Mackay,
Jessie MacGregor Bain. On some of the more remote puestos (Shepherd’s
shanty) the children grow up to be very shy of strangers and very fearless
in their work and play. On horseback they are dare-devils, yet will
scamper and hide on your first approach to the homestead. One of them, who
had never before seen a parson, confessed to his father later that "a man
wi’ a collar that buttoned ahint" was worthy of a wary welcome.
Of the wild birds and wild animals of Patagonia, the
two which interested me most were the ostrich and the puma. The ostrich is
not, of course, the big African one, but a smaller species, Rhea Darwini,
standing about 3 feet tall. The Indians enjoy their flesh. The Scots
prefer their eggs. They herd in troops. From several reckonings I made by
the speedometer of the car as we chased them along the tracks, they are
able to move at over 20 miles an hour. Their married life, from the wife’s
point of view, is an ideal one. The husband takes unto himself not one,
but 4 or 5, wives. A shallow hole is scratched in the ground, often near a
small bush, and this is the common nest. Thither the hens repair and lay
their eggs. That done, their duty seems to be finished. From 20 to 50 eggs
may be in the nest, each egg equal to 10 hens’ eggs. Mr. Ostrich does the
sitting, hatching and rearing, and may be seen with 50 youngsters after
him, the while his various spouses are disporting themselves in green
fields and pastures new. The arrangement seems to work well.
The Patagonian housewife preserves the eggs in barrels.
They make excellent omelettes, but are mostly used for cakes and puddings.
Pet ostriches are common. Once we had a car breakdown just after leaving
an estaneja. Two of these pets had followed us and were greatly interested
in the mending process. We discovered later that they had swallowed 3
small screw-nuts - excellent for their gizzards but awkward for us.
Patagonia provides some unique difficulties in the way of travelling, for,
later on the same journey, the water in the car ran done, and we reached
our destination only by the aid of the juice from two tins of asparagus.
The lion (Puma) is not beloved of the Patagonian
farmer. He lives in dens and caves of the rock hills, measures about 8 to
11 feet from head to tail, and stands about the height of a leopard.
Thirty or forty sheep may sometimes be his bag for one night. His frequent
habit is to cover up his "kill" with grass which he scrapes round it, and
to return and have his meal at leisure. This is his undoing, for the
farmer, when he finds a grass — covered sheep,
injects it with arsenic. One such sheep we treated thus, and next day a
lion, a fox, a carrancho (hawk) and two sea-gulls had eaten their last
meal. One lion cub, eight weeks old, I saw at an estancia
— the latest in pets. But even at that tender
age be had begun to be a little too playful with the hens, having knocked
out four. So Master Leo got the chain.
Australia and China top the world’s list of sheep
rearing countries. The Argentine comes third, and the United Kingdom
eighth. Of Argentina’s 43 million sheep, the major portion is reared in
Patagonian territory. Yet about two generations ago this was a vast
forgotten land of ill repute. To-day, the Scot can claim a big share in
making it an important factor in world economics. But back of it all is
that modest, timid, unpretentious animal the sheep, subsisting on little,
yet providing us with two prime necessities of life —heat
Without the sheep Patagonia would be today what it was
at the time of her discovery—a windy waste, the home of countless
guanacos, ostriches and pumas, scarce able to maintain in precarious
existence a few illiterate aboriginals.