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.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 3

The Haunt of the Buccaneers

Part 1

Juan Fernandez took its name from the man who discovered it in 1563, together with the sister islands of Santa Clara and Mas-a-fuera. He was a Spanish pilot. In consideration of his enterprise, the Government leased Juan Fernandez to him. He soon tired of his bargain. Subsequently, Captain Stradling of the Cinque Ports galley, had a disagreement with his crew when in these waters, and as a result, forty-five men deserted and took up their abode on the island. In February, 1700, Dampier called there. All but five of the adventurers joined his ship. In October, 1704, the Cinque Ports returned to ascertain the fate of the men who remained on the island. Only two survived, the other three had been captured by the French between whiles.

On the occasion of his second visit, Captain Stradling again experienced trouble with his crew. In this latter instance, however, it was confined to one man only, Alexander Selkirk, upon whose experiences, real and imaginary, Defoe based his engrossing narrative of “Robinson Crusoe.”

Selkirk said that, rather than serve longer under Captain Stradling, he would prefer to live on the island. Stradling took him at his word, and put him ashore with a small quantity of stores and provisions. Before the ship weighed anchor, Selkirk repented his hasty decision, and begged hard to be taken off again. His prayers fell on deaf ears. He was left to work out his salvation in solitude. To this little incident boys owe the most fascinating book ever written for their benefit. But for it, Selkirk’s name might never have been inscribed on the Roll of Fame. For more than four years he had to be content to make the island his abode. He was finally taken off by the Duke privateer under Captain Wood Rogers, February 12th, 1709.

In 1868, the officers of H.M.S. Topaz affixed a copper tablet to a huge rock on top of a hill to the right of the Yungue, whence a beautiful view of the sea can be obtained, north and south. This spot is known as Alexander Selkirk’s Look-out.

The following is the inscription: “In memory of Alexander Selkirk, a mariner, native of Largo in the County of Fife, Scotland, who was on this island in complete solitude 4 years and 4 months. He was landed from the Cinque Ports galley of 96 tons and 10 guns, A.D. 1704, and was taken off by the Duke privateer 12 February, 1709. He died Lieut. of the Weymouth 1723, aged 47 years. This tablet was erected on Selkirk’s Look-out by Commander Powell and Officers of H.M.S. Topaz A.D. 1868.”

In 1668 the buccaneer Sharp anchored in Cumberland Bay, and found seals on shore in large numbers, together with many sea lions. Wild pigs were also so abundant that, besides what they killed for their immediate sustenance, they salted down 100 carcasses.

In 1687, five men of a pirate vessel, commanded by Captain Edward Davis, voluntarily took up their abode on the island. They remained there until 1690, when they were taken off by Captain Story of the Welfare.

Buccaneers frequently made Juan Fernandez their rendezvous, and, there seems little doubt, deposited some of their ill-gotten gains there. An old Chilian supplied me with particulars of an incident that supports this view. In 1716, so he said, his grandfather had told him, a barque unloaded several boatloads of treasure there, the operation being superintended by a Spaniard, who was reputed to be a grandee. He and a black remained behind to see to its safe disposal. Six months later, the barque brought another cargo of booty. No sailor was permitted to leave the ship, except those who manned the boat or carried the treasure ashore. After the plunder had been shared out, the leader of the buccaneers had it hidden snugly away. At the entrance of the cache, he buried an axe, a cutlass, and a crowbar. Near by is the grave of his slave companion, who died from the effects of a blow sustained during a quarrel with his brother pirates. An ancestor of my Chilian friend helped bury this man.

Anson, who anchored in Cumberland Bay to refit his shattered squadron in 1741, found large quantities of vegetables growing in wild luxuriance, including cabbage, celery, watercress, radishes, etc. Before leaving, he added to the resources of the island by planting peach stones and cherry stones all over a wide area. He thought Juan Fernandez a most charming spot. Probably through his representations when he reached home, some idea of forming an English settlement was entertained. Spain got to hear about it; and in 1750 took formal possession of the island. Later on, when Chile threw off the Spanish yoke, it passed into her charge.

For much of the foregoing information, I am indebted to my good friend De Rodht.