Adventures in Peru, Chapter 3

Sweet Pigeon and Horrible Pork

The Haunt of the Buccaneers, Part 2

A few years ago Penny commissioned me to approach the Chilian Government, to see if they would sell him Juan Fernandez for £100,000; but I did not succeed in my mission. I was told the Chilians did not wish to part with a place that had such historic associations. In the event of their ever changing their mind, there was only one nation they would be disposed to treat with, viz. the English nation.

In 1818, Chile was using this island as a convict settlement. By the year 1820, the population included three hundred malefactors and one hundred soldiers. There was no fear of any food shortage, as besides plenty of vegetables and fruit, the island was well stocked with wild cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, etc.

An Englishman, by name Sutcliffe, was appointed Governor in 1835. This was the year of the great earthquake. Following on the tremors, came a huge uprising of the sea, which swept away all the buildings near the beach, save only the Government House, fort, and erections situated higher up. I was courteously permitted by De Rodht to peruse the official account of this terrifying experience, written by Sutcliffe himself.

In 1840, the convicts were transferred to the mainland, and anyone who liked could then lease the three sister islands from Chile. Santa Clara, situate only half a mile away from Juan Fernandez, is treeless and waterless. Plenty of grass grows there, however, thus affording plentiful provision for a multitude of wild goats.

Mas-a-fuera is ninety miles further off. Here again goats are as plentiful as pebbles on a beach. Luxuriant grass and babbling brooks ensure their well-being. Many hawks may be met with.

Besides paying rent for these islands, the lessee had to maintain a small steamer, or a sailing barque, in order to communicate with the mainland every six months. I took up this project once, and dropped about £300. Had I been able to secure a partner to go shares, I think I should have come out all right.

The landing at Mas-a-fuera is very bad, much worse, in fact, than at Juan Fernandez. There were no inhabitants when I visited the island; but in the sealing season the sealers make it one of their resorts. I have participated in some of the hunts. It is fine sport, clubbing the seals as they emerge from the caves. But it is not child’s play, for if you do not hit them a good hard crack over the head, they make no bones about bowling you over. The pelts of these seals are very valuable. The fur is of a rich coffee colour. Every two or three years the sealing rights are put up to auction.

During one of these expeditions, we came across three wild pigs. I shot one and had part of it cooked. The flesh was in appearance all one could wish for, but oh, the flavour! Manuel Correro, a Portuguese who accompanied me, thought he had never tasted anything more horrible. I don’t think he was far wrong either. The animals had evidently been feeding on the carcasses of sharks, which had been left to rot on the beach, after the oil had been extracted. I never remember eating better pigeons. Their flesh was delightful. I put that down to the great quantities of cranberries, cherries, and raspberries they had consumed.

The rent of these three islands is 7500 dollars, I should say. If a sailing ship is kept in lieu of a steamer, it must not be less than a 700-tonner.

Selkirk is supposed to have lived in a cave a good long pull up from the look-out, but I don’t subscribe to that opinion. He might have used it as an emergency resort, but was much more likely to take up his abode in one or other of the half-dozen or so that occur at the foot of the hill, near the tablet. They look much nicer. Fresh water is close to hand, and any amount of delicious fruits. Moreover, it involves a climb hardly worth mentioning.