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Childhood Memories of Patagonia & South America
An Interview with Wilfred Monte Magellan Pople (1911-1996)
[recorded and transcribed by Ian Pople]

Wilfred Pople was born at the San Gregorio sheep ranch, on the northern shore of the Strait of Magellan. The experiences of childhood are recalled here late in life -- events which left a vivid impression on his young mind.
[In the text, WMMP is the interviewee; IP is his grandson Ian. The reader is asked to forgive the occasional geographical errors, which have no material effect on this account.]

Table of Contents
1. Emigration
2. Freezer Works
3. Riot
4. Estancia Life
Gun Law
The Skunk
The "Ostrich"
5. Village School
6. Boarding School
7. Return to Britain
1. Emigration

WMMP: … Grandfather [WMMP's maternal grandfather] died out there [South Africa] and was .. is obviously buried out there. You mentioned Durban, I've got the feeling it was Durban. Anyway, they moved, Mother and Grandmother then moved across the South Atlantic to South America. And I think it was in Montevideo.

IP: How old was your mother at this time?

WMMP: I don't know how exactly old. I think she must have been somewhere about 19 or 20.

IP: So your grandfather wasn't alive when they were in South America.

WMMP: No, they weren't, I don't think, in South Africa more than a couple of years. If we work back from there as to what her age was. No, it wasn't … it was Valparaíso; that would have been in the Argentine, wouldn't it, Valparaíso. Where they had a hotel; they ran a hotel. My grandmother was a very domesticated person, a great cook, a great needlewoman, a fantastic needlewoman, she was. She was really artistic. As was my mother. She could turn her hand to anything artistically, whether it was sewing, embroidery, or painting, absolutely anything. And she was a fantastic cook too. And they obviously, when they took this hotel, they were obviously into something that they were very capable of doing.

IP: What was the name of the hotel?

WMMP: I can't remember, Ian. That must have been, what, at least four years, probably, before I was born. And, that was where she met my father. He came out to South America to bring Scottish sheep because they were Scottish sheep farmers in Perthshire. He brought black-faced sheep out to South America. For Swifts, the meat company, to breed and to cross breed for mutton and lamb. They brought them up on the pampas. That was where they met, or that's where father met mother. I don't know how long it was before they got married. But they were married either in Valparaíso or in Punta Arenas, one or the other. I think it was Punta Arenas which was then Chile. Time wise I don't know exactly the times between when they first went out there, when they first met and when they got married, but that's what happened. And they then …. Obviously Father then started working for Swifts and he took or had control of their breeding grounds which were down near Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego. Because Swifts had a very big factory, slaughter houses, abattoir. Massive place it was down in Tierra del Fuego.

2. Freezer Works

We lived ourselves in Tierra del Fuego, and this was in a mostly English community; only a very small community but they were mostly English people and I can remember one Australian chap. I always remember his name; his name was Woods and they called him Woody. In the factory which was a very large complex. It started with huge cattle and sheep pens or corrals. There was just vast areas of heads of cattle. I suppose, you could say thousands. You could look over a very large area and just see huge pens of cattle. Cattle and sheep. And they would appear as you looked from the factory side as though they were funnelling in to the factory. It was one huge funnel and there was a complete movement of the animals to the slaughter pens. I remember as a child going and watching.

We lived ourselves in Tierra del Fuego, and this was in a mostly English community; only a very small community but they were mostly English people and I can remember one Australian chap. I always remember his name; his name was Woods and they called him Woody. In the factory which was a very large complex. It started with huge cattle and sheep pens or corrals. There was just vast areas of heads of cattle. I suppose, you could say thousands. You could look over a very large area and just see huge pens of cattle. Cattle and sheep. And they would appear as you looked from the factory side as though they were funnelling in to the factory. It was one huge funnel and there was a complete movement of the animals to the slaughter pens.

I remember as a child going and watching. I don't how it came by that children, or even I, was allowed to watch these sort of things; I can remember it quite vividly. The cattle, they pole axed. Not as they do today, use humane killers, you know, shoot them, well they don't shoot them they fire a corded prong as it were through the head if you call that shooting. They used to pole axe them and the man just with a huge mallet or sledge hammer. The chappie that poleaxed, he was on a platform and as the cattle came through into the slaughter area, of course, the passageway was just wide enough to take one line of cattle and they seemed to come through at a continuous rate. And the chappie up on the platform just used to pole axe them. He only ever took one hit at them; you know, these people were extremely sure, and they used to just hit them once, and the cattle would collapse and there were shutters on the sides of the pen and as the animal collapsed it would just slide through into the slaughter house where there was just, literally dozens and dozens, perhaps a hundred men slaughtering. They'd process in a line. There'd be different stages of the slaughter.

And this was just continuous; it went on and in the end the carcasses, as they do in any slaughter houses finished up on a hook on a runner, on a runway, normally just finish up half-sides of the animal. These were then, I suppose, the half was quartered and then they'd put them into a mutton cloth cover, like, you know, you know what mutton cloth was like [Sure] fine mesh material. This would be again a continuous process. They'd be going from the slaughter house into the refrigeration. Well, they'd go into a cooling chamber first then into cold store and then frozen and finally, I can remember, Tierra del Fuego, there was from the factory, there was, and they had their own quay. And there was always a boat tied, moored at the end of the quay. It was like a long pier and the carcasses would come out of the cold store and go down, still up on the trolley, on the runway, the runways went down the quay to the ship. And I suppose they had a cantilever piece at the end so they went right over the hold of the ship. And I suppose they had some means of slipping. And they would drop right down into the hold and men below would just pack them into the refrigerated section of the ships.

The same happened with sheep. Of course, they don't pole axe sheep. They stun those either with electric clamps or, I think in those days all they did was slit the sheep's throat. Anyway, sheep were slaughtered in this same process through the factory . It never stopped really till the carcass went down the trolleys to the ships and loaded and, of course, taken all over the world.

3. Riot

I can't remember just how long it was we were in Punta Arenas. We went to a Spanish school there, but it was whilst we were there; they had a bit of a rebellion. The most of the people who worked in the factory were natives, Chilean natives, Chilean Indians, type of Indians. And they were rather hot-headed lot of people and really the last things I remember about Punta Arenas was …. They had a bit of a riot over something, whether it was working conditions or what. But they staged this riot, and there was a lot of shooting going on. This Australian chap, Woody, I remember he was one of the people that got shot. He wasn't killed [[from an earlier recording] … but he was shot. He got shot in the arm the night of this riot. I can remember it because there was this riot and people were having a real go at one another. I say that, there was shooting and stabbing.] And he had to be got out of the place. As did all of the English community.

I remember Father had an old T-type Ford with a little box at the back - a two-seater, softtop type of car [from an earlier recording] … with instead of having a boot at the back it had a short box with 12-inch sides. There was just the two front seats and the hood that folded down We took off with as much stuff as we could remember.] I remember as children being taken out of town. We went up into the hills somewhere nearby. I suppose at that time, there were only three of us, Anita, Walter and myself. But there were several other children in the car with us; we were all bundled in, sitting in the back of the box compartment. As I say, we went off up into the hills to some friends, or people that Mum and Dad knew. We stayed there for a while. How long, I just can't really remember times. But I do remember sleeping in a bed and I think there was, [eight of us kids piling] in a big double bed, and I think there were three, or four, of us slept one end and three or four slept, top to tail. I can remember it just as thought it was happening now.

Also that night, when the riots started, somebody set fire to the factory. And there was a terrific blaze. I can remember again, as we left the town and went up into this hilly area, we looked down and could see looking down on the town, it was just a massive fire which you can imagine really with all the carcasses and all that type of thing in a factory like that, fats and all that sort of thing, by-products. It was a massive blaze.

[[from later in the recording] … The factory was almost completely destroyed and the great pity is that we had photographs of the factory, a whole lot of photographs of this factory at home and there used to be photographs of these cattle corrals and the cattle. There was photos too of the house where I was born. But I've asked Heather or Jesse if they've ever had them but in the moving around over the years they got lost. The last I saw of it was when we were at Ringers (the house, the Pople family moved to near Tirling, Chelmsford in Essex some years after returning to UK). But from then, I think we must have … ]

I don't know why and just what happened then, but I know that we left Punta Arenas at that time. And I think that must have been about the time, Anita and I went off to boarding school.

4. Estancia Life


IP: When did you live on the estancia?

WMMP: Oh, that was when. Prior to going to live in Tierra del Fuego, Father went more so he had a bit more to do with the factory side. When he first went down to Tierra del Fuego, we lived out on an estancia, which is a farm out on the pampas, where they breed and rear cattle and sheep. And, this of course is where I was born in this estancia. It was place that was miles from anywhere really. We had no neighbours, as such. This was the house or the farm that I was actually born in. Mother and Father lived there on their own, but, prior to my being born, my grandmother came down and lived with them. She was actually the only person, other than Mother and Father that was in the house when I was born. And, I suppose, here again it says much for my grandmother's versatility in being a midwife, really. There was no one else, so she had to do all the delivery and what have you. Of course, no doctors, or anything like that. So she must have made a decent job of it [laughs], because I'm still here. We were still in this same house a year later, when my sister was born. And the same thing happened again, when my grandmother came down.

IP: Where was she living then?

WMMP: I don't know where she was living exactly but she wasn't too, too far away. And I don't know, really, at that time whether she had remarried exactly. I don't think she'd remarried before I was born, or Anita was born. I think possibly she was still running this hotel wherever that, again, was. I couldn't really tell you exactly where it was. However, there were two of us born there. I can remember quite a few things that happened there because …

Gun Law

IP: There was something happened when your mother was pregnant.

WMMP: Oh yes, well, as I say I can remember things that happened out there. One thing of course, that I wasn't there when it happened, was just prior to when I was born, only a matter of a month or so before hand. Father was away, because … we had horses; that was the only means of transport and Father used to have to go away for a couple of days. There nearest town was a day's ride on horseback, which I suppose didn't amount to all that number of miles but …

One time there, before I was born, he was away one night and some man came to the house and asked for shelter. This is a law in, or was at the time, in Chile, that if you, if anybody came to you and wanted rest, or food, or suchlike, you had to give it to them. Anyway this man came. Mother obviously got him something to eat, or something, and he, I don't know remember whether she said he was gong to stay the night or whether he just stopped for something to eat or drink, or ask the way or what. He hadn't been there very, very long before a second man came and the second one was obviously chasing the first one and they had a, … of course they all carry guns, the man that arrived first he got shot and killed by the second man who arrived, who immediately left in a hurry. So she was left in the house for the whole of that night till the next day, till Father came home with a dead stranger on her hands. I don't know what the rest of the story ended up as. That was the sort of thing that happened out there. That was something she, of course, told me.


I can remember many things as a child out there. We used to have big store houses because tinned foods. I suppose we really only had tinned milk and things like that used to come in bulk. So, I remember there was big store rooms; there used to be crates or boxes of tins of different things, and I remember as kids we used to get into the store room and play with all these blooming tins and stack them up to do various things. I remember there was always plenty of meat and that. In the winters, you could, of course, hang it, keep it in the stores for fresh meat for quite a while because of the very cold conditions.

Also I can remember one thing very vividly, Father had a gun room. It must have been a reasonable size pantry or room where he used to keep his guns. When I say 'guns', I mean perhaps three, and shot guns. Because he used to have a lot of boxes of cartridges. I remember as a child, I remember this very vividly. This was … Anita was with me, but, of course, she wouldn't have known what she was doing. But we got these boxes of cartridges … We got into this room, anyhow, some way or other, and we got these boxes of cartridges down and we picked the cardboard end out and tipped all the shot out on the floor [laughs] I can remember getting quite a little heap of shot, pellets. That was just one little episode I can remember, and, of course, getting a damn good hiding for it.

I think I was a bit of a handful when I was young. Mother used to say she was always chasing me. She could never find me, and of course, with expanse of country all round you. She said she always dressed me in a red jumper or red top of some sort; everything she put on me was red so she could see me.

The Skunk

An episode … I've got a vague idea I can remember it. You used to get a lot of skunks out there, of course, and she caught me one day; I'd got a skunk cornered in a building, and poking it with a long stick. And she was petrified in case the damn thing turned on me [laughs] She always tells me … always tells everyone about this damn skunk. You know if a skunk turns on you and blasted you, you got it for a long time really, it's terrible. You could always smell a skunk at anytime. If anyone crosses your path or some distance away from you can always smell one, but if they turn and eject upon you then you might as well go forever, but that's something you can't get rid of. Anyway that was another episode.

I remember, of course, we had a pony out there, I can remember riding. Like all kids … the things all kids get up to. Of course, you had to make all your own enjoyment, or fun, or amusement.

The "Ostrich"

Another thing, Mother and Father told me. There was a lot of ostriches around the place; they used to belt around the place like cattle, nearly. We used to eat ostriches' eggs. They are a pretty big egg, one of the largest eggs that is available. They used to estimate them as equal to a dozen hen's eggs. So, I suppose, Father on his rounds if he noticed where an ostrich was laying … because an ostrich finds a place to lay and lays an egg and then covers it up with sand. He would watch where they were laying and then he would go and take one, or two so you got them before the embryos developed. And he got two or three eggs one time and put them in a bag and then hung them in a tree where he could remember to collect them on the way back. And this time, the ostrich found his bag and smashed all the eggs up before he could use them.

IP: Was there anyone else born in Punta Arenas?


IP: So there was just you and Anita at that stage?

WMMP: No, Wally must have been born in Punta Arenas itself, because he was about two years younger than Anita, so he was about three years younger than me. We came down there when I was... when we were … He must have been born just after we got there … Yes, we must have been there … Yes, perhaps, I must have been about five and a half.

5. Village School

IP: You can't remember the school the school you attended?

WMMP: I can remember it. I can remember the school; a typical old, typical like a little village school, little desks, chairs, and slates. Chalk, or a slate pencil … what did they used to call that? They were like a thin stick; very much the same as a piece of soft slate. Books as well, but you know you always had slate in those days.

IP: How many of you, were there? Can you remember?

WMMP: I don't think there was many. I don't think there was more than a dozen.

IP: An English teacher?

WMMP: Yes, yes. We learned Spanish; we learned it in the house. Mother and Father spoke it, you see. Before I left South America, I could speak Spanish as I could speak English because I went to a part Spanish school for a little while in … I think, from Punta Arenas, I think we must have been to Tierra del Fuego which is a bit …[????]. It's on the sea again. It has a sea entry and we lived there and that's where I went to a Spanish school.

IP: Why did you leave there?

WMMP: Well I think that that was something to do with the burning of the factory. It must have taken a while to rebuild and got going again. I suppose Father wasn't totally committed to the factory side of the company. He was on the outside on the breeding side. As I say, he used to travel … [???]. We were in Tierra del Fuego for quite a while, and while we were there Father went up into Peru to see if they could breed or run sheep and cattle up in the Andes, and some of the plains of the Andes. He was away for several months. And that was something else we had; we had a lot of photographs of the railway up through the Andes in Peru. And all these, what looked like rickety viaducts, a couple of sticks holding up the line up through viaducts, that sort of thing.

IP: He went up on the train?

WMMP: Yes, he went up on the train.

IP: Who was taking the photos? Was he taking the photos?

WMMP: No. I think they were photos he was able to buy; picture post cards and that sort of thing. He might have taken some but I can remember a lot of post cards; views of these railways in the Andes. They were things, you know, I'd have loved to have had.

IP: What kind of a house were you living in, in Tierra del Fuego? Can you remember?

WMMP: Again that was a single storey house - bungalow.

IP: Was there anyone else born there?

WMMP: Heather? Heather was born just over the border in the Argentine. I can't now remember whether … Tierra del Fuego must be in the Argentine, mustn't it. Because there's only a very small part of Chile goes down to Punta Arenas and the Magellan Strait. And most of it belongs to the Argentine because there's always been a controversy between the two countries about the Magellan Straits. I think Tierra del Fuego must be in the Argentine. Heather was born in the Argentine. There was four of us born out there.

6. Boarding School

Then we, Anita and I were taken or sent up to Buenos Aires to an English boarding school. We spent quite a while up there. She was a Scots woman, called MacDonald that ran this school. It was a very good school. I remember the classrooms. I can remember one thing because it was the first I'd seen. We had a really nice gymnasium. It had everything in it. I used to love to get in the gymnasium. I remember we had dormitories. I can remember Anita getting the cane in front me because I was in bed with a cold and she been asked to bring me some Scott's Emulsion. We used to be given Scott's Emulsion in those days. You ever seen it? It was called Scott's Emulsion. She'd been told to bring this up to me and she obviously didn't do it, and I know, and Miss MacDonald brought her up and gave her the blooming cane right there. I can remember it as though it was happening today.

IP: So she was pretty strong willed even at that time.

WMMP: Yes. I can remember there was a large playground and also there was a large pond. And I can remember as kids we got an old bath once and made a raft out of it on this pond. And of course we eventually finished up in the pond itself for which we got well reprimanded. Something else I can remember that happened there. At Easter we painted hardboiled eggs, and they hid them in the gardens, and on Easter Sunday morning we had to find them in the gardens. Funny how things like that you can remember. I can remember parts of Buenos Aires itself. I mean it's a different city now, no doubt, especially the water fronts, because eventually, I suppose I was coming up to eight then.

IP: How had you got from Punta Arenas to Buenos Aires?

WMMP: We came up by boat. I can remember now, yes, we came up by boat.

IP: What was that like?

WMMP: That was … it wasn't a total passenger boat. It was a cargo and passenger boat. It was not a very big boat.

IP: There was just the two of you, You and Anita, on this boat by yourselves.

WMMP: No. Father , or Mother, came up. Well, Father. And left us there because we were there for eighteen months, I suppose.

IP: Without seeing them? [Mm] What did you feel about that?

WMMP: Well, I don't know. I suppose, when you mix in with people … It was quite nice there.

IP: She wasn't too strict.

WMMP: No, no. She wasn't too … You know … you've got to keep kids down, haven't you. I suppose there was only about twenty of us.

7. Return to Britain

[[from earlier in the session] Eventually, I remember, we … My grandmother and her new husband, Bert Consection, that was grandmother's second husband. They came up to from wherever they were to pick us up. And I remember we sailed from … the first boat we sailed on was from Buenos Aires … to Montevideo, I think.]

As I say, we came up to Montevideo, and we must have stayed there for a little while. I can't really remember much about that. Nothing much really happened untoward. We waited then for a Royal Mail boat, the Royal Mail line which was a passenger boat, though they carried quite a bit of cargo in those days as well. And then we sailed from Montevideo up to Rio de Janeiro. That's something I'll always remember, is going into the harbour there. It's a natural harbour, going through very high rocks; that statue of Christ right up on the hill. It's a perfectly natural harbour, beautiful, something you never forget. We must have been in the harbour there several days before we set sail for England. I remember we stopped in the Canary Islands and we stopped in, it must have been, Lisbon. It took us about three and a half weeks. It was one of the older ships in the Royal Mail line and it was called the Avon. We had a rough time in the Bay of Biscay, very rough time. We were battened down for a week, and the Captain said that was the worst time he'd ever had in the Bay of Biscay. It was really bad.

I had a good time on the Avon. As a kid, I got friendly with the ship's carpenter. I took to me anyway and I went all over the ship with him, went down to his workshop every day. I had a really good time on that boat, round the engine rooms, everywhere.

IP: Were you helping him?

WMMP: Well, down in his workshop and pottering around with him. Lots of times I couldn't go with him because of his work; he was working somewhere on the ship. He was a great guy.

IP: What nationality was he?

WMMP: He was English.

IP: You can't remember his name?

WMMP: I can't remember his name. No. That's something I forgot. Probably quite a common name.

IP: Your grandmother and Bert were there as well, were they? The whole family?

WMMP: No, no. Just Anita and I. We came home first. Father and Mother and Heather and Wally were still down in … I think they'd moved from Tierra del Fuego to Valparaíso before they came back. We came back … we were back in England nine months before them came. Eventually we came into Southampton. And we came into Wiltshire then, Grandmother and Bert. We lived with a relation of Bert's. We were in Bladons, a little village near Swindon.

Thanks: Ian Pople
Last updated: 19-X-2004