Adventures in Peru, Chapter 13

Portuguee Joe

On the Cattle Boats, Part 2

Round Pullo and Coro Coro the principal industry is raising stock for Lima. Although little natural grass grows here, the soil is well adapted for maize and barley and alfalfa. It is easy to obtain three crops of alfalfa in fifteen months. Fruit also is very plentiful.

Cattle often start off to Chala in nice fat condition, but, owing to the scarcity of grass before referred to, lose weight on the way down. The cruellest part of this cattle business is, however, that the owners are absolutely callous to the poor beasts’ sufferings, and notwithstanding that they have been practically four days without food, sling them aboard the steamer by their horns and let them get on as best they can for another two days, minus food and water. I remember one noble (!) gent shipping 200 head of cattle to Callao on the Santiago, in which I had consigned twenty-two racehorses, besides two carriage horses and my arab hack. My animals were all well fed twice a day; those belonging to the noble gent got nothing. The latter stood seeing my horses being fed a couple of days, and then about twenty of them broke loose and stampeded. I permitted my lads to assist in recapturing them, on the understanding that I was indemnified against all risks. When we got to Callao the N.G. aforesaid had to pay £200 before he was allowed to unship his cattle.

In my opinion drastic alterations are required. In the first place the animals should be shipped and unshipped as in Venezuela, viz. by making use of flat-bottomed boats and gangways. Hardships would thus be eliminated. As regards feeding, this could be easily managed all the way down from the valley to within fifteen miles of the port of embarkation. Sufficient alfalfa could be loaded up on forage carts which make their own track. Owners would be amply repaid for their extra trouble and expense by the additional money their beasts would fetch.

I once bought forty-four sheep in conjunction with Captain Amy, at Pickut Harbour, Smith’s Channel. At the same time a Frenchman took 800 from the same flock, and at the same price, for Mrs. Noguera. He neither fed nor watered them aboard the ship until two days out, and then only now and then. As a consequence several sheep died on the journey, and the remainder, when they reached Iquique, fetched 2s. less per head than he gave for them. Ours had been properly cared for, and each paid us a profit of 10s. The original price per sheep put aboard at Pickut Harbour was 8s., and freightage to Iquique raised this figure to 13s. When we arrived at our destination, the Frenchman’s uncared-for animals fetched 11s. each, sold by public auction; dealers were content to pay us 23s. apiece for ours, on board. Some difference that!

There is no doubt that the reason why our sheep fetched more than twice as much as the Frenchman’s was the careful manner in which they had been looked after and cared for by the captain, his good lady, and myself. Some of them were pretty sturdy, and that’s a fact.

Talking about Mrs. Noguera, I am reminded of her late husband. Portuguee Joe was something of a character. He had been half-owner of a big whaler and sold his share for £10,000. With the money thus obtained, he embarked in sealing on his own account, and also did a bit of gold digging. All of his profits he invested in sheep lands in Patagonia and at Pickut Harbour. He died a millionaire, and left the interest accruing from his vast possessions to his widow until she married again. Mrs. Noguera eventually hitched up with a captain of the Chilian navy. Before he became a benedict, Portuguee Joe speculated with a butcher named Brown. Said he to him one day, “Give me your daughter in marriage, and I will put some money into your business.” Brown was agreeable, although his daughter was but sixteen years of age, and Joe forty; so the wedding came off. I may add that the firm of Brown and Blanchard is to-day reputed one of the most wealthy in Sandy Point.

Joe and his partner suffered not a little from the peculations of passers-by. This is how Joe put a stop to the thievish practice. He hid behind the doors of their big stall, and whenever he noticed anyone trying to annex any of the meat, he would pop out and discharge a gun loaded with black powder and rock salt at their legs. Once was quite enough, in the majority of instances! The same method was successfully adopted by W. Hunt, a Chilian nicknamed Prussian Bill, who owned the famous racehorse Thunderer.

The captain and I were offered the contract to supply the nitrate fields of that popular sportsman, the late Colonel North, with 800 sheep and from 180 to 250 bullocks every six weeks. Only lack of capital prevented our taking it up.

As with sheep so with mules. I have frequently left Los Andes via Valparaiso with a skinny, decrepit lot en route for Callao by a slow steamer. Before they reached their destination they became quite fat and well. It only shows what a little common-sense treatment will do.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 13

On the Rocks

On the Cattle Boats, Part 1

I made my way back to Lima, after completing my survey, by the same way I had come. The crossing of the forty-eight mile stretch of desert occupied one day. Then we put in two days at the ranch we visited on the outward trail. There I shot a martinette and five parrots for the pot. The valley looked beautiful, all aglow with lovely flowers, interspersed with tropical plants and ferns.

The Indians told me they had been greatly troubled by a tiger since I was last there. I have no doubt in my own mind that what they called a tiger was really a jaguar, only of a much larger species than the ordinary. I had a good hunt round for the marauder, but was not fortunate enough to come across him.

On the morning of the third day we started off early over the last stretch of desert; and after an uneventful journey, arrived at the place at which I purposed to halt, viz. a ranch which I hired of the Indian proprietor for 2s. a day. We rested two nights and a day, and then rode on to the Santa Barbara estate where I was the guest of the manager for four days.

Here I enjoyed some sea bathing, and also rode round inquiring of the West Indians employed by the Sugar Company whether they had any complaints to make. I did this on behalf of my Lima friend and Mr. Beauclerc, the British Minister. It was gratifying to learn that the workers were all satisfied with the treatment accorded them by the manager and his subordinates. All, that is, save one. This man was very cross, because his donkey had been shot by the manager’s orders. It appeared that he hadn’t taken the trouble to tie up his animal at the edge of the plantation as directed; the result was it strayed and did considerable damage to quite a lot of sugar cane. As no notice was taken of repeated warnings, the death penalty was imposed on the donkey, and duly executed. I told the grumbler that it served him right; he had only got what he deserved.

Eventually the Sugar Company had to employ Japanese labour, for the West Indians, though good workers, were bad “stickers”; after a while they developed a habit of taking a day off whenever they thought fit. As a natural consequence the mills had frequently to stand idle for lack of sugar cane.

On the way to Callao we called at Chala, a port thirty-seven miles south from Lima, which supplied every year thousands of small bullocks to Callao and Lima. Round Chala there is a great scarcity of grass, and the animals have to go short, as very little grows beside the road along which they are driven from the beautiful Pullo Valley thirty leagues away, starting not far from Coro Coro.

One of the steamers of the Grace line was named after this town. On a certain occasion when going to the Falkland Islands, intending to ship thence to Iquique, I met Captain Thompson, her skipper. He dined with me and Captain Beelindorf on the Tanis. After dinner we sat smoking and chatting for a considerable time, and Thompson tried to persuade Beelindorf to take advantage of the lovely night and proceed by Smith’s Channel. “Look,” he said, “you could read a paper by the light of the moon.”

“No,” said Beelindorf. “You can do as you like, but I’m not coming. My father is a director and shareholder of the company who owns this ship, and his last words to me were, ‘I’ve got you this job as captain of the Tanis; mind you stick to it, and obey the rules implicitly, especially those imposed by the Assurance Company.’ One of these,” continued Beelindorf, “forbids most emphatically any attempt to travel by Smith’s Channel or Magellan Straits between sunset and sunrise. Therefore I intend to stay where I am to-night.”

Thompson laughed and said he had done the trip altogether forty-two times, man and boy; there was not the least particle of danger hanging to it, and therefore he should go on. Soon after he left us and went aboard his vessel.

Next morning, as I was preparing for my bath, Beelindorf came and invited me to take coffee with him in his cabin.

“After that,” he said, “we must go and see what we can do for old Thompson. He is on the rocks!”

And on the rocks he was of a surety. We found the Coro Coro piled high and dry on a pinnacle-shaped rock, 5 ft. of which had penetrated right up into her hold. Thompson was beside himself, and it took us all our time to calm him down. Under the soothing influence of a stiff brandy and soda he recovered his balance sufficiently to explain how the Coro Coro got cast away. “We were only going half speed,” he said, “when we sighted what looked like land on the port bow. So we steered away from it, and had gone but a very short distance when the boat grounded. What we had seen and tried to avoid was simply the shadow of the land, cast by the deceptive moonlight!”

The long and short of it was that all the cargo had to be unloaded and put ashore. The Coro Coro we had to leave to her fate. Jammed on the rock she remains to this day, and affords lodgment to several Indian families. The owners never recovered a penny of the insurance money; but they forgave Thompson, I am glad to say.