Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

The Lazy Man’s Paradise

A Tropical Island, Part 2

Juan Fernandez came to be so well favoured with fruits of all sorts, through a regulation that was in force many, many years ago. This enjoined that every warship that visited the island to replenish its stores, should leave some acknowledgment in the shape of a sow in farrow, a goat in kid, a she ass in foal, some poultry, and so on. The skipper was also supposed to have some fruit trees planted for the benefit of wayfarers in general. This instruction was very well observed, hence the quantities of peach trees, cherry trees, quinces, and so forth, one meets with on Juan Fernandez nowadays.

When I was there, wild horses were pretty plentiful. They were of a quality that rather surprised me, until I came to know many of them were sired by a magnificent specimen of the pure Koklani strain. This beautiful creature was twenty-two years old, yet seemed full of vigour. He much reminded me of my grandfather’s dear old Saladin, the pride of Porthgwydden. Both were lovely specimens of the pure white Arab.

These animals all belonged to the Government of Chile, likewise the wild asses and cattle. Anyone who cared to pay the Governor of the island £2 a head, could take his pick of the horses. Donkeys were so plentiful that every resident was permitted to have one gratis. I took advantage of this privilege and had two, one for myself and one for Fisher. I also invested in six horses. Three I left on the island, the other trio I shipped to the mainland on the Adriatico. Their fate I have already recorded.

The Governor of Juan Fernandez at the time was Alfred von de Rodht, an Austrian of Swiss extraction. Von de Rodht was a charming fellow, a man of noble presence, and clever withal. He was great at languages, but his pet hobby was geology. In the Franco-Prussian War, De Rodht was wounded in the knee, so at the cessation of hostilities his father sent him over to Valparaiso to recuperate. Six weeks was supposed to be the extent of his tether, but Baron Alfred seemed inclined to extend it indefinitely, hence his father wrote to a friend, and inquired what was detaining his son. Then the fat was in the fire. It appears De Rodht had fallen head over heels in love with a very beautiful woman, who was noted as an exponent of the Quaker dance. Unfortunately she was a married woman, and the husband, a Chilian sergeant-major, was in hospital with an injured leg. Directly old von de Rodht learnt how the land lay, he ordered Baron Alfred to return home at once. The parental summons being disregarded, he next called a meeting of the Rodht family at which Count Alfred was solemnly disinherited, and his brother Charles chosen to fill his place.

Alfred thus lost his patrimony, but he received £16,000 cash, and an annuity of £200. With the cash he rented the three islands from Chile, i.e. Juan Fernandez, Santa Clara, and Mas-a-fuera, bought three decent sized ships, and engaged a hundred peons. When his father’s agents learnt what he had done, they told him he had acted foolishly, and that it would cost a lot of money to feed a hundred men. They offered him 8 per cent. interest on his capital, and suggested he should be content to farm the islands. A staff of four to six men on each, they deemed sufficient for that purpose.

Count Alfred disregarded their advice, and so far from drawing in his horns, added to his entourage, until he had altogether 118 men working for him. In the upshot he went broke. So the Government stepped in and commandeered some of his cattle for arrears of rent. Finally they made him Governor of the islands, at a salary of £50 per annum, plus £40 for acting as Postmaster-General. With this addition to his annuity, Count Alfred managed to knock along all right. He was offered several tempting jobs from time to time—one at Valparaiso carried with it a screw of £40 a month—but he refused to entertain any of them. “Why should I go to the mainland,” he said, “where everything is comparatively dear, when I can live in the lazy man’s paradise for next to nothing, and do just as I please?”

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 2

Treasure of the Cocos

A Tropical Island, Part 1

My henchman, old Waldimar Fisher, had travelled about in his time, more than a bit. Among the places he had visited were the Cocos Islands, two thousand miles off Nicaragua. Having regard to the tales I had heard about these haunts of old-time “skull-and-cross-bone” men, I was greatly interested in what he himself had to say in connection with them.

It has long been rumoured there is treasure buried there. Several people have had a shot at finding it, amongst others, Admiral Palliser. This gallant gentleman and some of his colleagues fitted out an expedition and put in six weeks, so Fisher said, hunting for the hidden riches. However they found nothing worth writing home about. Fisher himself made more than one attempt. Five years after his first venture he received a note from a sick man located at Coquimbo hospital, asking him to call on him. When Fisher got there, he found the man was one whom he had befriended when he was in good circumstances. To save Lazarus from the consequences of utter despair, Fisher had made him steward on his own boat. Feeling he was now at the point of death, the poor fellow said he wished to make Fisher some return for his kindly deed. It appeared that a few years previously he had been associated with a number of adventurers who purposed to discover the Cocos treasure. They chartered a small schooner, and actually started on their voyage of discovery. To their intense disgust, they encountered such abominable weather that they were obliged to return to port and relinquish their project for the time being. Somehow and somewhere on the journey this man sneaked the chart they banked on, to show them the location of the treasure. When the loss was discovered, there was, of course, an unholy row. A vigorous search was instituted, but Fisher’s friend had hidden the document so snugly that nothing came of it. I understood he secreted it in his trunk, but knowing a bit about the keen-witted men who frequent these seas, I should beg leave to doubt that, unless maybe the box was furnished with a false bottom. Even so——! But there, it doesn’t signify where the man hid his prize. The only thing that really matters is, he got away with it all right. He said he had always intended to let Fisher into the secret, so that they two could go and have a try on their own. Now there was no possibility of their ever doing that, he had decided to give the chart to Fisher, making only this proviso, viz. when Fisher was ready to go to Cocos, he was to tell the real owner of the chart so that he might participate, if he chose.

After the ex-steward had been dead and buried a little while, Waldimar approached some of his Valparaiso friends discreetly, but could find no one willing to put up the pieces, hence he had to let the matter lie in abeyance. Subsequently he happened upon very hard times and had to postpone it indefinitely.

His undoing came about in this wise. When he decided to retire from the whaling industry, he sold his share in the undertaking for £7000. Added to what he had banked, he now commanded a capital of £11,000. So he thought he would launch out a bit. Accordingly he bought a property at English Hill, Valparaiso, for £2000, and spent a similar sum on improving it. Then he went half-shares with a fellow in a big coal business. That absorbed another £4000. Fisher hoped to make big money out of this enterprise. But alas, and alack! His partner had a brain wave; drew £7000 to go to Europe and buy an extra large collier with passenger accommodation, and—never returned. Fisher struggled along for a little while under this smashing blow, but soon went broke.

I first hit up against him when on my way to see the author of that remarkably clever book, A Merry Banker in the Far East. During the hour or so I had to wait before seeing him, I occupied myself in strolling up and down the wharf at Valparaiso. While thus engaged, I was accosted by an old sailorman, whose beard was turning grey. He told a piteous tale, and said he had no grub and was pretty nigh famished. Something about him impressed me favourably, so I gave him a third-class ticket to Vina del Mar on my train, and directed him to my stables. Before we started I saw to the requirements of his inner man.

He turned up at my establishment in due course, and I then allotted him a bunk in what I called the dosser’s room. This I had had constructed out of two of the loose boxes. The bunks were nicely fitted up with straw mattresses and bolsters and feather pillows, etc., and were well supplied with horse rugs as coverlets. I directed the cook to give him three meals per day with the lads, and then told the old man what I expected in return, viz. I should look to him to keep the yard and appurtenances quite clean and tidy. So long as he satisfied me in that connection, he could make the stables his home till something better turned up. Waldimar observed his part of the contract so entirely to my satisfaction, that when I went to Juan Fernandez I took him with me. There he proved himself so trustworthy that I left him in charge of my belongings when I sought new surroundings in connection with training operations.

After Phyllis and his men took their departure, Waldimar made me a present of the information contained in his Cocos chart, stipulating that if I ever went in search of the treasure, I should take him with me.

The last expedition in search of this treasure was led by Lord Fitzwilliam. Admiral Palliser and several others sailed with him on a boat, formerly a Donald Currie liner, the Harlech Castle, I believe. When they reached their objective, they thoroughly explored the island, and found only one inhabitant. This man, a German, had lived on Cocos sixteen years, and had tried his best to locate the treasure, without the least success. Fitzwilliam was unlucky. Soon after commencing operations, some of his party got hurt while blasting rocks. This nasty accident led to the premature abandonment of the quest. I told our mutual friend, Major Coleman, that next time his lordship made the attempt, he had better take me with him, and see whether Waldimar’s chart could put us wise.

And now I suppose it is too late, that is if one can believe the newspapers. According to them Cocos has disappeared beneath the waves, one result of recent volcanic action. Still the papers are not always to be depended upon, as witness the report they gave credence to, anent Juan Fernandez. That emanated from a skipper who had lost his bearings. He failed to locate the island, so concluded it had subsided like Cocos is supposed to have done!

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

School of Whales

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 5

Once when Larson was loading lobsters into the Juan Fernandez, as we called our little schooner, Josh Slocum, the skipper of the famous Spray cutter, visited the island.

“Larson,” he said, “yon’s a bonnie little boat, although she’s only 17 tons. Built of oak and pretty near as broad as she’s long, you need never fear facing any sea on the surface of the globe in her, if you’ll only do as I tell you. When foul weather threatens, don’t wait till the storm is on you, but heave to, and out with the oil bags. At sunset, if the wind freshens, heave to and read or smoke in comfort. The sea need never trouble you. All you have to fear is whales.” I thought this was very excellent advice.

Slocum took a big lump of sandstone away with him, from Alexander Selkirk’s cave. He said he intended to make good money on it when he returned to New York. “Every guy who wants to see it, will have to pay half a dollar,” he declared; and those who wish to sit on it must shell out double.” £20,000 was, I believe, the sum he expected to receive over his trip round the globe.

Slocum’s mention of smoking in comfort reminds me of a laughable instance in which old Harry figured. We had left Valparaiso on November 30. It doesn’t signify what year. I only mention the month, because, in that part of the world, summer begins on November 1, and I like folk to understand the atmospheric conditions that prevailed on the occasion under notice. Four days out, we got becalmed, so I amused myself by diving and swimming in the sea. A long line was attached to my body, and fastened to the ship’s ladder, so that in an emergency I could haul myself in pretty quick. “Sharks?” Well, yes, they are inclined to be playful at times.

A day or so after, the breeze sprang up and we got a move on. Old Harry was sitting on the rails smoking his pipe. Larson cried out to him, “Ahoy, there! Mind you don’t get a bath with all your clothes on.” Harry laughed, and grunted “I’ve done this sort of thing, man and boy, for fifty year and more, without falling off, and I ain’t likely to do it now.” Whether he dozed or not, I can’t say, but less than half an hour later we heard a great “plop,” and lo! and behold! there was our poor old friend struggling in the sea, and fast drifting astern. He had slipped off his perch with his pipe in his mouth! I chucked him a rope, and we soon hauled him back again.

Two days passed and then we sighted a school of whales. One big fellow kept close company with us for a couple of hours, diving first one side, then the other of the ship. Being longer than our craft, we were fearful lest he might capsize us. Larson suggested I should get my rifle, and take pot shots at him. He thought that would frighten the monster fish away. I had, however, good reason to know better, for I had only lately been reading an account in the Liverpool Mercury of how a whale served a ship when treated in that fashion. It was headed in big black letters, and narrated that after a passenger had fired off twice, the whale turned and charged the vessel repeatedly. If my memory serves me, the boat referred to was a big Yokohama steamer. When I showed the paper to Larson, he said, “Oh, that would never do! The whole caboodle might come for us, and then where should we be?” So he hove to, for, I suppose, about a couple of hours, during which the whale continued to frolic around, but each time it dived it increased its distance from us, until finally it got lost to sight. So we reached Juan Fernandez without mishap.

Formerly, sandalwood was very plentiful on the island, but of late it has become extremely scarce. Smart walking sticks are manufactured of it. I had two dozen made for me—one stick I gave to my father, one I passed on to Lutges, and one I retained for myself. The remainder I disposed of to dealers in Valparaiso at £2 apiece. and they got fancy prices for them.

Cranberries, myrtles, strawberries and raspberries grow wild in many parts of Juan Fernandez. It is said strawberries originated in Chile. That is the opinion held by several learned botanists at any rate. According to island tradition, however, the Chilian varieties were developed from the wild ones of Juan Fernandez. The island berries are about the size of Royal Sovereigns. There are two sorts, white and red. They grow quite wild. They are not looked after and cultivated by expert horticulturists like my friend James Reynolds; and yet I have never seen any English berries to equal them in appearance or flavour.

The wild cherries also are very fine. As for the figs, on one occasion H.M.S. Amphion put in at the island for a matter of three days. Several of her officers, including Captain Phyllis—now Admiral—Commander Hawke, and Lieut. Browell—son of General Browell—spent most of their time with me. They said they had never tasted such luscious figs, not even in Smyrna.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

God Alone Can Save Us Now

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 4

My other nerve-racking experience occurred on the Adriatico, a three-masted schooner of 250 tons. She put into Juan Fernandez on her way from Corral to Valparaiso, in order to ship copper bolts, etc., resulting from the wreck of the Upper Hammoc, which Fonck had purchased. She had also to pick up three horses I was taking to the mainland. Timmie, her captain, was a Dane, and a real good sort. He let me have a nice big cabin all to myself. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that no Plimsoll mark was visible. I took him to task about this. “Oh, that’s all right,” he said, “look at the glass. The weather is beautiful, and will continue so, at any rate, until we reach Val.” I allowed myself to be persuaded against my better judgment; so, with the help of Larson and his men, I hoisted my horses on board. At the same time I shipped a cargo of 300 ferns. Timmie said Fonck wouldn’t charge any freightage for them, but the horses cost me £18.

We started on July 21, with a fair wind and a good sea. The Adriatico bowled along at a fine pace. Timmie was in high spirits. He expected to do the journey in five days, so he said. All went well for forty-eight hours, and then our troubles began. First we were becalmed for a matter of five days. After that the weather broke, and seemed to be blowing up for a storm. Two days later we were in the thick of it. Lashed into a fury, the waves rose mountains high all round our devoted barque. The wind blew a full gale, and every now and then rain fell in biting squalls.

Said I to the skipper, “Timmie, old man, your craft looks like coming a mucker.” “What makes you say that?” he inquired. “Because,” I continued, “she goes like a log, and don’t give and take to the motion of the waves.”

“Hang presentiments!” replied Timmie, “I don’t like them. All the same, there is something in what you say; the boat lies just like a log. Maybe she has sprung a leak.”

With that he left me, and went to take soundings. An hour passed before he returned, and said, “Let’s go into the saloon.” When we got there he produced some whisky and Apollinaris, and poured out two glasses of the mixture. Then he pointed to his chart. “Here we are,” he said, “260 miles from the mainland, and the boat is making water fast. All hands are at the pumps, including the cook, and I myself am relieving the man at the wheel. Now, will you busy yourself making Bovril, tea, cocoa, sandwiches and other things, and hand them round to the pumpers? That is our only chance. We must keep them going, or we are beat.” Needless to say, I willingly complied.

Three hours later he told me the water was gaining on the pumps, and he felt sure the boat could not keep afloat more than twenty hours at longest. In all probability, her fate and ours would be sealed in another twelve. We were only making six knots an hour. God alone can save us now,” he said. “No boat could live in this raging sea.” So we turned to the Almighty, and prayed to Him fervently several times that night. I have no doubt whatever that He answered our prayers; for, although the glass continued to go down, by about seven o’clock the next morning the storm abated, and the sea subsided. Within a few short hours the weather was as nice as one could wish. Timmie and I and the sailors thanked the Lord for all His mercies, and felt like new men.

Timmie steered for the nearest land, intending to beach the vessel on the sandy coast ere the wind got up again. When, however, we got abreast of the lighthouse, about forty miles from Valparaiso, they signalled us, and sent a tug to escort us in. One of the owners of the Adriatico came aboard. He was in a sad state of mind, and greatly agitated. He begged me not to report our vessel’s shortcomings to the Port Captain. If I did so his firm would be ruined. I took him severely to task, and told him they had evidently cared not a rap what became of Timmie and those who travelled with him. To send the vessel to sea in an unseaworthy state was a shameful act, and deserving of drastic punishment. This dressing down quite broke him up, and he became so abject in his pleading, that I really felt almost sorry to see a fellow-man so abased. I reflected, too, that we had been shown great mercy, hence it was up to me to be not over hard. So, after extracting his solemn promise that nothing of the sort should ever occur again, I said I would let the matter drop. When the affair had blown over a little while, Timmie visited me at my stables in Vina del Mar. He said he had been offered a much larger ship, but had made up his mind to retire, and take on a job as master of a tug. I told him I didn’t blame him. Subsequently he was appointed Government Surveyor of ships, and he and his wife often spent an afternoon with me at my stables, when I was training for Penny, Subercasieux and others. We neither of us forgot our thrilling experience, and never met without some reference to the extraordinary manner in which the storm had subsided, when everything, including the glass, seemed to indicate that it would increase in volume.

My loss on this trip was a big one. Three hundred pounds worth of ferns had to be chucked overboard, and two of my horses died within a couple of days of being landed. Strange to say, the surviving horse was the least robust of the three. When he had recovered from the effect of the voyage, I sold him to the Tramway Company for £20.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

We’re Gorners

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 3

Generally speaking, I had very good luck with my fern cargoes. Two lots I sent to my father arrived at Kington in perfect order, and took to their new home in splendid fashion; but I had rotten hard lines with those consigned for King Edward and for Kew. I spent extra pains, had them specially packed, and most carefully stowed away in the hold of the schooner. They arrived at Vina del Mar in fine condition, and were then taken charge of by Lutges. The latter gave strict orders to his gardeners to let them have very special attention, and there is no doubt his orders were implicitly obeyed. When I called on Sharp, the popular manager of the Pacific Steam Navigation Co., he asked me whether I meant to send the ferns carriage forward to England, or pay the freightage myself. I inquired what the charges would amount to. “Something like £35,” he replied. “In that case,” I said, “they had better go ‘carriage forward.’” “Where to?” was his next question. I told him. “Marlborough House!” he exclaimed. “Then we couldn’t dream of making any charge whatever. The whole ship is at His Royal Highness’s disposal.” Sharp, like the good fellow he was, made special arrangements for the housing of the ferns aboard ship, so that they should not be subjected to sudden variations of temperature, etc., and detailed a man to look after them till they reached the end of their voyage. But unfortunately, when nearing Finisterre, the vessel encountered very rough weather. The sea raged mountains high, flooding the engine-room near to which the precious cargo was located, and pretty well drowning the life out of the ferns. When they reached England my father’s head gardener, Sheppard, and his assistants, did their utmost to resuscitate them, but, alas! their efforts were of no avail. After all the precautions I had taken, this was a sad blow to me, for I had counted on their arriving in extra good fettle. There is one peculiarity about these ferns I should mention. When transplanted to foreign soil they flourish especially well for five years or so, and then rapidly deteriorate.

Most of my lobster and fern trips proved uneventful. On two occasions, however, I was nearly wrecked. Once we were taking 500 lobsters and 115 tree ferns to the mainland. The lobsters cost Fonck and me 2½ cents each, and we looked to make at least sixpence profit on every one we landed in good condition.

On our first trip we had got 3s. and 4s. apiece for them, in the Valparaiso and Santiago shops; but, subsequently, found it more advantageous to dispose of them to dealers, who came to the ship for them. We should have done fairly well but for the great mortality among the crustaceans. Rarely more than 60 per cent. arrived in marketable condition. The tree ferns were for the Cousino Palace at Santiago. Four days out from Juan Fernandez we ran into very heavy weather. A terrible wind lashed the waves till they raged horribly. I kept asking Larson, the skipper, when he was going to heave to. He always replied, “Oh, I think we’ll hold on just a little longer.” “Very well, my good fellow,” I observed, “ but it looks to me as if you may hold on too long, if you don’t watch it.” All of a sudden an enormous wave struck us amidships. As our little craft heeled right over on her side, Larson shouted—

“Oh, my God! We’re gorners.”

“Rats! ” I cried. “Come and give me a hand, and help heave this over.” So saying, I bashed in the head of a 63-gallon cask of shark oil with an axe I had picked up on the cabin step.

“Whatever will Fonck say?” ejaculated Larson.

“Go to Putney!” I said. “Isn’t your life, and Martin’s and Charlie’s and mine, worth more than a spot of oil?”

“Oh, well,” he agreed, “I suppose you’re right. Anyway, half the oil belongs to you.”

Without further parley, we set about dumping the stuff overboard. And not a moment too soon, for another wallop would have made our vessel turn turtle completely. The effect was simply marvellous! Directly the oil touched the face of the raging waters, it seemed to break the waves down; so that in a very short space of time the sea, for a considerable distance round, was as smooth as a duck pond. Our immediate danger was over, we had to see about righting the ship. This was a lob attended with not a little danger, for our cargo had shifted. Everything was pretty well upside down, and the cook’s galley and our solitary boat had been swept away astern. All the ferns had to be sacrificed, but what went even more against the grain was having to part with our two goats. Most of our provisions had to go; in fact, when we took stock, we found we had to subsist on a few loaves of bread, a small bag of split peas, some tins of beef, and a dozen or two lobsters until we reached port.

Larson and Co. doffed their hats to me, for thinking of the oil, saying I had undoubtedly saved their lives. I told them it was not so; but only a merciful Providence that had put the idea into my head, while they themselves stood gaping around. I could not resist quoting Cowper’s beautiful words—

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Fortunately our two casks of fresh water were spared to us, so we were able to make up the peas into soup. On this meagre fare, eked out with two tins of beef, we subsisted eleven days, during six of which we were hove to. Still we didn’t do too badly, for Larson and I had each a couple of bottles of whisky, and two dozen Apollinaris water, while Martin and Charlie had four bottles of rum between them. Larson and I only indulged in two drinks a day, hence our liquor lasted out well. but Charlie soon put paid to his rum. I think what we missed most was our store of condensed milk and sugar. Whilst we were hove to, we found great benefit from the oil. At my suggestion, Larson trailed two bags instead of one. When the storm abated on the seventh day, we found we were 243 miles off our track, and about 120 miles north of Coquimbo!

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

Fern Briton

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 2

The breaking up of the wreck occupied four months. We salved an enormous amount of copper and brass, as may be seen, when I mention that after Brown and his men had been paid their share of the profits, I received 856 dollars (gold), in addition to the chalet (valued at 1700), and all the timber.

In my spare time, i.e. when the weather hampered our operations, I fossicked about a lot. It struck me that there was a good opening for a smoked fish factory. Accordingly I busied myself in inquiring into the various methods of curing the finny monsters that frequented the waters round about the island. I soon discovered overwhelming proof that if you want to get the best results, there is nothing like oak. So I used to smoke my fish with oak chips, very slightly sprinkled with eucalyptus leaves. This gave them a distinctive and delicious flavour. I turned Kuhn’s carpenters’ shed into a smoke room; and, within a very short space of time, had every available person on the island employed in catching fish for me. I paid at the rate of 3s. per quintal, weighed without heads and backbones. My fishing-ground extended to the adjacent islands of Santa Clara and Mas-a-fuera (Spanish for “further off”), so I got plenty of material to work upon; but I made a rule never to accept a fish landed after 12 o’clock noon.

To give some idea of the vast quantities of fish in these waters, I may say that on one occasion I went out in my flat-bottomed punt with Waldimar Fisher, my old henchman, and caught 403 lb. of cod and corbina between the hours of 2 and 6.30 p.m. Waldimar looked after the boat, while I fished with a stout line and big hook. Frequently I got fast on to a monster that required our united efforts to haul in. Some had heads as big as a small calf’s. I disposed of my catch to an Italian named Cardoni, whose wife was a most beautiful woman. He—well, I hardly know what he did with it, but have my suspicions. My 12 o’clock rule was a very hard-and-fast one; still there are ways of evading every rule.

I soon made headway with my factory. One of my best customers was Weir, Scott & Co., who had a big store on the mainland. They gave me 30s. per quintal for the finished article. Don’t, however, run away with the idea that I made a profit of 27s. on the quintal. In the first place, it takes three quintals of wet fish to make one quintal of cured. Then there is the expense attached to washing, hanging, salting, drying, pressing and boxing to be taken into consideration Nevertheless, I made good money every month.

To occupy my spare time, I made arrangements with various wealthy people, such as the Cousinos, Minchin, Penny and Lutges (the owner of the magnificent hotel at Vina del Mar), to supply them with some of the ferns for which Juan Fernandez is famous. I was to receive £150 for each cargo of 100 tree ferns that I landed on the mainland. How to get them over there, was the trouble. Well, I soon got round that. I went half-shares in a seventeen-ton schooner that Fonck had bought at a forced sale. It had cost its late owner £2000 to build. Fonck got it for £400. It was constructed of oak, and suited my purpose admirably. Altogether I sent across seven consignments.

A few words descriptive of Juan Fernandez may not be out of place here. It is a little island, 365 miles west of Valparaiso, so replete in natural attractions as to be considered one of the most enchanting spots on God’s earth. It is even more a lazy man’s paradise than Peru, and that is saying a lot. Lofty hills, slumbering valleys, purling streams, and wonderfully varied vegetation, form a combination that exerts an irresistible influence on visitors. Its rocky, precipitous headlands, and irregular pinnacle-shaped formations, are particularly striking. The highest point above sea-level is called El Yunqui, i.e. the anvil. It is shaped exactly like that useful appanage of the smithy, and is apparently unclimbable.

Years ago, when the island was used as a convict settlement, the Chilian government offered 5000 dollars (gold) and a free pardon to any prisoner who scaled the eminence and planted the national flag on top. Two convicts tried their luck. One gave up the attempt when he reached the base of the anvil. The other persevered, and looked like accomplishing the feat; but just when success seemed within measurable distance, he lost his foothold and fell headlong into the forest below. He was never seen or heard of again.

Geologically considered, the formation is basalt, greenstone, and trap tuffs. There are altogether twenty-four species of ferns that are in general request, growing on this lovely island; four of them are of special interest. One of these—the Helecho fernandisciana—is only found on Juan Fernandez. I have this on the authority of Sir Thistleton Dyer, who wrote to Sir Audley Gosling on the subject. I forget the name of one of the species, but the other two are the rare Helecho brunato and Helecho dicksonia. Of ordinary kinds of ferns, such as maiden-hair, etc., Juan Fernandez boasts at least twenty. These grow luxuriantly in the valleys and creeks, and between the crevices of the rocks.

The paths leading up to the hills are bordered with beautiful flowers. Among these may be noted many wonderful ground orchids. Near the coast one frequently comes across enormous patches of arum lilies. The Panque also grows here. It has tremendous leaves like rhubarb, which have a peculiarity all their own, for they hold water. I have often poured half a bucket of water into a leaf over-night, and found it next day not the least diminished. This plant has blooms resembling a hyacinth, only three times as big, with an orange and scarlet centre.

The Disciana is like a small tree fern, but has leaves like a maiden-hair. This species is very rare. I was able to include one or two in my cargoes ordered from the mainland. Subsequently I sent a few to England for my father and King Edward, then Prince of Wales. At Sir Thistleton’s request, conveyed through Sir Audley Gosling, I obtained specimens of the Panque, the Helecho fernandisciana and the Chonta palm for Kew Gardens. Like the Panque, the latter is indigenous to Juan Fernandez. The order for King Edward’s ferns also came from Sir Audley Gosling, who said His Royal Highness would be very pleased if I could get them for him. I was, of course, only too delighted to comply with the command so graciously expressed, and made a special trip to fulfil it. My ordinary cargoes of ferns consisted of from 100 to 120 specimens, the tallest of which measured 22 ft. I had to consider the capacity of my hold, or I might have shipped some even larger. They grow 30 ft. and over in height. I like those best that range from 8 to 12 ft.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 1

Breaking Up the Telegraph

The Wreck at Juan Fernandez, Part 1

At the time when poor Kemmis went broke, and there was nothing doing Las Rosas way, it behoved me to look round for another job. I didn’t believe in loafing about Santiago, on the chance of something turning up. So I broke altogether new ground. Hearing that Kuhn & Co. had bought the wreck of the Telegraph, stranded at the isle of Juan Fernandez, I got in touch with them and obtained the job of superintending her breaking up. If it were possible to do so at a profit, I had to bring her over to the mainland. Captain Bruhn’s powerful tug, the Pachuco, was commissioned for the purpose. In addition to her own complement, she carried an auxiliary crew of eight men under Captain Brown to man the Telegraph.

Two days after arriving at the island, the tug took the hulk in hand, and hauled her out to sea. For a little while, everything in the garden looked lovely, but soon the effects of being so long laid by became apparent. Captain Brown reported she was leaking like a sieve all round. But although the pumps couldn’t keep pace with the inrush of water, he wanted to hold on his way. He felt quite sure, he said, that he could get her to Valparaiso all right. He would, however, be guided by us, i.e. Bruhn and myself. Now Kuhn had promised him an additional £500, plus £50 for each member of his crew, if he made the mainland, so one could understand why he was anxious to proceed.

Bruhn and I both considered the matter sympathetically, but came to the conclusion that Brown must abandon the attempt. Bruhn was afraid to take the risk, although he stood to have £150 of Brown’s £500. It was all very well, he said, so long as the weather continued favourable; but suppose a norther sprang up? There was plenty of time for such an occurrence, as ’twould take us four to six days to get to Valparaiso. Brown scoffed at his fears, but eventually agreed that I should act as referee. Now I was interested in Brown’s project to the extent of £100, but I had great respect for Bruhn’s judgment, and I didn’t feel inclined to run any extra risk on the off chance of getting £100. Besides, the vessel was really leaking very badly. So I decided against the venture. “About ship” was then the order of the day. Back we went to Juan Fernandez with all sails set, and finally beached the Telegraph high and dry.

Bruhn returned to Valparaiso to report to Kuhn, while I remained on the spot to superintend the breaking-up process. I started by engaging a ship’s carpenter named Arrendondo to assist. Arrendondo had lived on the island twenty-three years. He had originally been a whaler, but suffered so much from sea-sickness that he had been compelled to seek more congenial employment. While thus engaged, he hit upon Juan Fernandez, and found it so much to his liking that he decided to settle down there. When he joined the whaling enterprise he had invested £2000 in the company of which August Müller was the principal director. Whilst he was connected with the affair his original capital swelled to £4000. Directly he decided to make the island his permanent home, Arrendondo wrote Müller and asked him to send him over a couple of draught oxen, some stores and tools, and £2000 cash. Müller, of course, complied, like the good fellow he was. Arrendondo intended to buy a coffee estate with the money, but things didn’t pan out as he hoped, so he deposited the £2000 under the floor of his cabin in a little iron safe.

I got Arrendondo and his two sons to construct a chalet out of the stout oak beams we found in the Telegraph. They made a rattling good job of it too. We fixed it up with the saloon and cabin furniture, and by the time we had finished it looked quite top hole.

Kuhn now appeared upon the scene, to arrange matters finally with me. The offer he made seemed to me a very fair one. I was to get the chalet and one-sixth of the copper and brass we salved, plus all the timber. It seemed a paying proposition, for besides copper sheathing and bolts galore, and a plenitude of brasswork, the Telegraph carried three good heavy anchors and chains. Last, but certainly not least, her massive figurehead was a Venus, composed wholly of copper. Therefore I looked like doing pretty well out of the metals. Anyhow, the job would fill in my time profitably until I got into harness again on the turf.

Adventures in Peru, Preface

Prodgers’ Preface to Peru

Appreciation, it is said, is the sauce of life. This being so, it is incumbent on me to return grateful thanks to all those kind-hearted folk who extended so warm a welcome to my initial venture on the troubled sea of Literature. The reception accorded to Adventures in Bolivia has encouraged me to inflict another series of yarns on a long-suffering public. If they serve to pass the time along pleasantly I shall be more than pleased. All the same they may, perhaps, induce folk to take a livelier interest in lands that are a closed book to the majority of my countrymen. That would be indeed grand; for Peru and Bolivia, besides offering great scope for people who have their heads screwed on the right way, also hold out inducements to sufferers who have found European Medical methods ineffectual. So many letters have reached me from all quarters of the globe, thanking me for calling attention to the wonderful healing properties of the various medicinal waters of Peru and Bolivia, that I have felt constrained to give particulars of additional instances where Jura has proved a godsend to pilgrims weary of earth and burdened with complaints that made life a mockery. The knowledge that several of my readers have already benefited by taking my advice, is extremely gratifying. I have also been delighted to receive proofs of the interest awakened in the ancient inhabitants of the region covered by my book. At the special request of a number of readers, I have included in the present volume a very brief sketch of the Incas, compiled from the best authorities, and supplemented by information supplied by my good friends Father Francisco, Hernandez, Father Ambrose, Simon Cruz, and many others.

—C. H. Prodgers.

Adventures in Peru, Memoir

C. H. Prodgers: A Memoir

Cecil Herbert Prodgers was a remarkable personality. Men of his calibre are seldom met with nowadays. He was one of a thousand, big mentally and physically. Big in his ideas, big in his enterprises, and brimful of love and charity; his versatility and genius were only equalled by his uprightness and piety. Moulded on very generous lines—he stood well over six feet in height and weighed twenty-three stone—this brave figure of a man was the eldest son of Mr. Herbert Prodgers, one time Squire of Kington St. Michael, near Chippenham, Wilts, an old crusted Tory, eccentric to a degree, and autocratic as became one who traced his ancestry back to the ancient Ap Rogers of Wales.

Cecil’s mother, the daughter of Dean Philpotts of Exeter, was famed in the West of England for her graciousness and beauty. In her day she was accounted one of our most accomplished amateur musicians. Old-time frequenters of the Albert Hall Society concerts cherished memories of her harp playing.

Almost as soon as he could walk Master Cecil took a lively interest in horses, and as a lad of twelve participated in the famous Swallets Gate run, which is commemorated by the Duke of Beaufort’s hunt every Ash Wednesday. On this memorable occasion the pack hunted their quarry from the find right away to Oxford, a matter of forty miles and more. Only half a dozen horsemen stuck it to the bitter end, and Cecil Herbert Prodgers was one of them. In remembrance of this remarkable feat, the Duke presented him with the Beaufort gold button—a distinction much coveted by hunting men.

Young Prodgers’ first mentor was a Mr. Meyrick, a parson of the old school who had licked Prodgers senior into shape years before. At his hands he received a thorough grounding in ordinary subjects, and was then sent to Stubbington. Subsequently he passed on to Eton.

When he had attained nineteen years of age his father bade him seek his fortune in South Africa. There he was initiated into all the ins and outs of farming and stockriding, and became well versed in native ways and customs. Keen to learn all there was to know about everything that he hit up against, he had a shot at diamond digging and store keeping. Several times he came within an ace of landing a big coup. Once he bought a farm off a Dutchman on the instalment system; but, owing to the looting of his store, he couldn’t pay one of the instalments when it fell due. His creditor was quite willing to wait awhile, but Prodgers would have none of it. “I will owe no man,” he said, “so you must take to the farm again.” After considerable pressure the Dutchman consented to this arrangement, but, because he liked the boy, insisted on returning £50 of the money he had already received. Later on the property passed into other hands; diamonds were found there, and eventually a company paid £70,000 for it. Such is luck. This was not the only time that the fickle jade jilted Prodgers. Readers of the pages that follow will come across more than two or three instances where she served him cruelly. Yet he never groused or allowed set-backs to damp his ardour; he was always ready and willing to risk a fall, whatever the odds. For example, during one of the troublous periods that were the bane of South Africa, some of the native tribes having gone on the war path, he accepted a wager of £50 to £10 that he wouldn’t ride from Cape Town to Durban in order to warn the burghers and outlying squatters. The distance was five hundred miles, and the adventurous rider had to run the gauntlet on several occasions. He won through all right, and earned the gratitude of the whole Community.

When war broke out with the Boers, Cecil Prodgers proffered his services to the Old Country, and became attached to General Bisset’s staff. In these surroundings he met with adventures galore. Once he fell into the enemy’s hands, only to escape by means of a daring ruse.

Much could be written about our friend’s thrilling experiences in South Africa and his excursions in search of big game further North. When he transferred his energies to the South American continent, he began with a spell of railway construction work and a year spent on the Stock Exchange. Then he blossomed out as a trainer of racehorses. In this sphere of activity he achieved remarkable success, and was esteemed second to none in his profession. During the close season he undertook many expeditions into out-of-the-way parts where white men have rarely penetrated. Peculiar interest attaches to one of these jaunts, in that it was undertaken at the behest of the Kaiser. The disturber of the World’s peace was particularly anxious to ascertain the conditions that prevail in the Andes at various altitudes. In this connection, he expressed an opinion that if an Englishman could withstand them, there was no reason why German soldiers should not. Details of the forage available were required, likewise a full description of how to make chuno. In the light of what occurred subsequently in 1914, it is easy to see that the Alexander microbe was even then working in Wilhelm’s brain.

In 1922 Prodgers’ first book, Adventures in Bolivia, was published with a noteworthy introduction by Mr. R. B. Cunninghame Graham. He then wrote the present work and a collection of Racing reminiscences. While Adventures in Peru was going through the press, he passed away after a very short illness.

As an explorer Prodgers was pre-eminent. He had a way with him that fascinated the native tribes with whom he came in contact. They trusted him, for, like the Quaker Fathers, his word was his bond, and he always treated their rites and ceremonies with scrupulous respect. Small wonder that they reverenced him as a king among men, and in good sooth he was a king—single-minded, generous, unselfish, lion-hearted. The part that he played in helping to bring the terrible Putumayo atrocities to the notice of the civilized world, bears witness to his being the natives’ true friend.

Next to his own homeland, Prodgers loved Peru best, perhaps, of all the countries with which he claimed acquaintance. He honoured her Statesmen, and was highly esteemed by them. There is no doubt that the amicable settlement of the Arica dispute between Peru and Chile, was largely due to the beneficent influence he was able to exert.

—Charles J. Maberly, Lambourn, Easter 1924.

Ephemera, Reviews

Farewell to Bolivia

And so we say goodbye to Bolivia and to Adventures in Bolivia, Cecil Prodgers’ first book of travel memoirs. The book was enough of a success that he quickly wrote and published a sequel, Adventures in Peru, which will appear here soon. A third book of horse-racing memoirs from Chile was sadly never published.

Searching online for traces of contemporary reviews of Adventures in Bolivia turned up only part of a five-book review of travel writing about South America in the New York Times, reviewer unknown. I’ve reconstituted it from the abstract and from an OCR version of the original page, which involved some guesswork for a few garbled words. The $50,000 figure is based on a conversion rate to pounds sterling of approximately five to one in the early twentieth century.

New York Times, 24 December 1922, p. 45

Spanish America Through Foreign Eyes

Of the five books listed, that of C.H. Prodgers hits the highest note in the scale of adventure. We can imagine this man, who weighed 265 pounds before he undertook a venturesome and dangerous journey, making his preparation to venture in where white men had always feared to go. As the story tells, he was very comfortably situated as the trainer of a large stable of horses when he was offered $50,000 to enter the Challana territory for the purpose of establishing a spirit of good-will between an exploitation company which had concessions there and the natives. In a most matter-of-fact manner he tells how he undertook the hazardous journey, not so much because of the honorarium involved, but because he would get an opportunity to see Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and visit the peak of Sorata, the ultima thule of much adventurous endeavor.

Recognizing that his avoirdupois might prove a serious handicap in his quest, Prodgers went about its reduction in a most business-like manner. In a few weeks he had worked himself down to the comparative lightness of 235 pounds and started merrily on his way. His mount was one of the small but sure-footed mules which are used for transportation in this territory. The appearance of this modern Sancho Panza with his heavy torso draped over a mule’s back must have been very interesting, and genuinely entertaining to all beholders; his pack was borne by a horse which in the days of his horse training had served him to some purpose. Everything that Prodgers set out to do he did without much exertion on his part, according to his own narrative. Obstacles appear to have tumbled down before the very assurance of his goodly presence. There is a certain modesty about the whole story that appeals to men who are familiar with the country through which he passed and the suspicion directed by the natives against every white man.

Not satisfied with having performed his duty to the rubber exploiting company which sent him into Challana and with having seen the things which formed part of the urge which sent him forth on his adventuring, Prodgers undertook a search for missing treasure, the fabled treasure of the Incas. In this effort he made three attempts, but without success. Were the story not so real throughout, it would find a welcome place in the fiction of adventure. No one could read it without feeling its fascination. It might be questioned whether the writer has added much to the sum of knowledge about Bolivia. The answer to this is that he has done the few things he attempted along this line in a most readable manner. There is a lengthy introduction to the volume by R. B. Cunninghame Graham, whose adventures as a big game hunter in all parts of the earth are well known in this country. He will be best remembered as a friend of Theodore Roosevelt and one of the members of his party during his African trip. The introduction is well worth the reading because Graham is doubly gifted as a writer and an adventurer. As he intimates, Prodgers may have been “too stout for active virtue,” but he shows how one writer “got there,” and that, after all, is the most important thing.

The New York Times, 24 December 1922, p. 45.