The British Presence
in Southern Patagonia

++  George Harris, to Robert F. Reynard (1889-90) ++

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These two letters are from a junior ranch manager who has recently arrived in Punta Arenas, to work at Henry Reynard's estancia Oazy Harbour. He writes to Henry's brother in England, who was instrumental in finding him this position, telling him how well he is doing in Magallanes; and expressing his gratitude to all concerned.

Oazy Harbour,
Punta Arenas,
23 June, 1889.

After an uneventful voyage, I arrived here safe in the Serata. I was very pleased to get on shore, for I was thoroughly sick of the sea, and happy to think at the end of all, I had not adopted the mercantile profession.

Mr Reynard boarded the steamer, and I felt at the moment, that my troubles were over. He had an extra boat on hand for my luggage, and the landing did not cost me a cent. From the sea, Sandy Point has not an inviting aspect, but I am glad to say, improves materially on closer acquaintance. At least so I found it. During a stay of nine days at the Colony I was the guest of Mr Reynard, and have every reason to be grateful for the enjoyment his introductions assured me.

After a high old time of it at the Colony, during which I drank more liquor than I have probably done at any previous period, at least in conformity with the custom of a country, we made tracks for Oazy Harbour. It was heavy going - it had rained continuously for several days before our departure and showed no signs of abating. I was eager to be installed in my new vocation, and so the journey was not longer delayed. We made two stoppages, the first at a small sheep station - owing to the river in front being swollen and unfordable; and the next at a Pass - a sort of inland sea, where we encamped for the night, and endured the pangs of hunger 36 hours. There was very low tide at early dawn, so over we went, and got home about eleven. Of course I was hungry, weary and sore - but it has certainly been the hardest moment I am likely in the ordinary course of events to endure.

Of my new life I must speak in the highest terms. The climate is as you described it - infinitely better than the ordinary London, or for that, British one. For four days of the week one has clear Italian skies, and the coldest days are endurable. Some winters, I am told, are simply terrific, but the present one is apparently a very mild exception. I am learning to do as Rome does, and have as far benefited by the change that I have become quite stout in the space of three weeks.

This is undoubtedly a fine country for a young man, providing of course that he has not an early ambition to marry and rear a large family. I consider myself very lucky in having secured a position on the Staff of Mr Reynard, and must again return my thanks to you for the same.

G. E. Harris

Oazy Harbour,
19th. Jany 1890.

Dear Mr Reynard,

At the present moment we are rapidly completing the important business of shearing. Shearing is a very dirty work but as it proceeds one becomes so accustomed to the necessary adjuncts of dust and grease, as to be absolutely unhappy without them. The Wool Shed is arranged on much the same plan as in Australia. A long building within a few yards of the beach; the base forming a receptacle for bales, etc, and the centre composing small pens into which, from the opposite side (having outlet to the Corrals) the sheep are driven as required. A pen is allotted to each shearer, and when he has finished he calls for "Cuenta" - the sheep are then turned out through a side door, the number being taken and the man credited by the name on tally-board.

Gathering sheep is a pleasant enough occupation. A party extend in line over the camp to be gathered, and arrange their course by certain low hills or bushes. They slowly drive the sheep before them to a given point from whence they - the sheep - are driven en masse to the Galpon.

Sheep are in themselves very uninteresting animals, but some of the operations performed on them are entertaining enough. Lamb marking, for instance, is a very lively business. We were gathering sheep one whole day, and brought a large flock to the appointed Corralls, only to see it break away and split up at the last moment. Two shakes of a lamb's tail, and we must gather afresh, and bring them in by small points at a time. Hard work on the horses this.

A very nice young fellow named Bevil Molesworth has appeared on the scene. I went in to meet the "Sorata" and brought him out to the Estancia. He was not particularly charmed with Sandy Point, but is now looking quite cheerful.

They may say that Punta Arenas is rising, but in some respects it has hardly got to zero yet.

A month or so ago, a low fever carried away the rag-tag and bobtail of the place, but it has now subsided. The local doctor called it Measles, but did not say whether they were a kind peculiar to Chile or no. This gentleman was recently married by proxy at Valparaiso - that is, he married a photo, and when the Oratava arrived with the bride, was so nervous in the boat going off, that he nearly upset it.

I do not like life in the Colony. The camp is infinitely preferable. Of course the bottle fiend haunts one everywhere. Last week a schooner belonging to a Roman Catholic Bishop Fanani, or Fagnano, came to the Harbour on business. The captain supplied - very considerately - a case of cheap German spirits to the men, and next day they were nearly all (two bright examples) roaring ----k. It is possible that when your brother returns from the Colony and hears of the matter, this same captain will not long retain his place - foolish man.

There is capital sport here during the winter. I enjoyed the shooting very much. On one occasion however, I was very nearly drowned - this occurred in the following manner.

One day after a hard frost I went duck-shooting towards the Blue Hills. I crept 'round the outskirts of a baga [sic] to the windward, and tethered my horse to some bushes behind which I hoped to creep up unobserved. Ultimately I got into position and took sight on a swarm of red and blue Teals that were in the centre of a pond where the water, owing to a strong natural spring, is seldom frozen. I fired, and they rose into the air with a whizz and a considerable splash, and I gave them the second barrel as they passed over, with good results.

In the water were several more. It was a good way from the bank so taking the Bozal [Spanish, muzzle, Ed.] off my horse, I walked on the ice, intending to throw it out and drag them in. It proved to be several yards too short - thinks I "If I go any further, the ice may give 'way" - it was already creaking considerably - and at the moment of thinking, in I went. Four feet of water that nearly took my breath away, and a soft slimy bottom of green fungus that would have let me in yet another four feet. However, after taking the soundings, I got a big piece of ice under my feet, and managed to regain the thick firm ice, on to which, with much slipping, I first got my breast, then my stomach, and finally my legs, and if I did not leave that ice then with as little delay as possible, I have not inherited Christianity. Getting thoroughly soused, however is, during the winter, a feature of Camp life.

I have almost become what is termed in Castellano, "un joven del campo": I can ride well enough bare-back, and might consider myself fairly deft in many things in which I was daft formerly.

Your brother has always treated me with great leniency and has made my life here more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been. I was particularly well pleased that he should have spoken so well concerning me, and I shall strive to deserve his good opinion.

Bevil Molesworth is entering thoroughly into the work with much spirit and resolution. Every half hour or so, he requests me to scratch his back, or examine his clothes for ticks, which, by the way, I dislike as much as himself. Sheep ticks bite like cockroaches, and are as tenacious as leeches, but, luckily, do little execution.

There are many curious species of birds here, which it would take a volume to describe. In summer one may observe a new kind every day. Flamingos, are plentiful, likewise swans, geese, curlew and pelicans [?] - condors too are sometimes met with.

The winds are terrific, and enough to blow a fellow out of his saddle. It makes one's teeth chatter, when prospecting for cattle, one mounts the slope of a hill in the face of a fierce gale.

At the time of writing I am in excellent health. You will no doubt have heard of the physical improvement I have made. This alone I consider an adequate compensation for the slight duties I have performed.

If not too late I will wish you a Happy New Year, and increased good health.

I thank you for conveying Mr Legge's good wishes for my prosperity, which same pleased me very much. Kind regards to Mr Legge.

Yours faithfully,
George E. Harris.

Source: Reynard family papers
Thanks: Robert Lemaire
Page created: 30-XI-2013
Last updated: 2-XII-2013