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.