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Mutiny in Punta Arenas, November 1877
[El Motín de los Artilleros]

Shortly after the foundation of Punta Arenas in 1848, the Chilean government began to use this southernmost outpost as a penal colony. The prisoners were under the custody of military personnel, many of whom had also been transferred to this location because of disciplinary problems. Despite a fiery revolt in 1851, led by lieutenant Cambiazo, the town continued to develop slowly, but its status as a penal colony (and the attendant problems) remained unchanged.

Disgruntled with arbitrary extension of their periods of service, and delay in the payment of salaries, the artillerymen staged a violent revolt on 11-12 November 1877: all public buildings (except the chapel) and numerous private homes and businesses were destroyed; and there was considerable loss of life (52 dead, both civilian and military). Some of the ringleaders were brought to justice, others escaped into Argentina. After this, the Chilean government abandoned its policy of relegating criminals to the colony. It also appointed a new governor, Sargeant-Major Carlos Wood, replacing Diego Dublé Almeida, who had resigned early the following year.

The Events as described by William Greenwood

" I presume everyone has heard of this most disastrous occurrence, and I know it was published in these columns, but if I remember rightly all the descriptions given were of a vague character, and neither the causes of the event nor the circumstances connected with it were quite understood. We may call this Mutiny, Revolution, or whatever it may be termed, the turning point of our career, as since then everything has gone on prosperously and well. Before this the country had been grievously neglected and both Argentines and Chileans evidently considered that Patagonia was a bad speculation and really not worth the trouble of looking after. Certainly it required a filip to remind people that such a country existed, and, in fact, this circumstance acted as a very good advertisement. Be that as it may, it is certain that everyone's attention was drawn to the place; it was no longer a myth, but a country worthy of even a mutiny and massacre, and from the date of this occurrence you can commence a record of undisturbed prosperity which has existed, with few interruptions, till this date. I mentioned in a previous article that our Governor, Sr. Viel, was superseded by a Chilean officer named Dublé. I do not think he was a bad man, but he was certainly more injudicious and the greatest tyrant I have ever met. I remember that a favourite expression of his was "I came here to arrange the affairs of this neglected colony, and mean to do so" - to do him justice, he kept his word, and did arrange it in a most satisfactory manner, inasmuch as when he left, half the place was reduced to a pile of ashes, the soldiers and convicts had cleared out 'en masse', and a hundred or more of the inhabitants were massacred in a most barbarous manner. Everyone knew that the tyrannies exercised by the Governor and his myrmidons must eventually lead to some climax or other, but when the event eventually took place it came like a thunderclap and took everyone by surprise. The leaders of the mutiny, viz. Sergeants Riquelme and Estuardo had arranged for the affair to take place on the National Feast Day, 18th of September, and everything was most correctly fixed off for that date. It was not the idea of the mutineers to destroy the colony or in any way to injure the colonists; all they wanted was vengeance on the Governor, the Captain of the troops, and other tyrannical officers. I do not blame them in the least - the soldiers were good men and the regiment quartered in Sandy Point was an exceptionally good and well disciplined one, and a credit to any country. Notwithstanding this, the officers treated them with the utmost severity, discipline was never relaxed, and punishment, principally by flogging, took place every day. For the smallest offence a man received a 100, 200, or even 300 blows with a "Leña Dura" stick; if he could not stand it all the first day, he received the balance as soon as his lacerated back was able to bear it. Once sentenced, the poor wretch was never forgiven and the chiefs took the greatest delight in witnessing the punishment, and were very angry if the blows were not inflicted in really good form. As for the unfortunate convicts, it can be easily imagined how they fared, constantly in chains, in solitary confinement, or receiving corporal punishment - who can wonder that they were driven to absolute desperation? Well, on the 18th Sept. it poured with rain all day, and the soldiers being wet and uncomfortable and on this day at least, having every comfort provided for them, and also most unusual license for general amusement, proceeded to get hopelessly drunk and remained so 'till long after the hour named for the general 'rendezvous', moreover they were in a good temper, as men will be when they find themselves well treated and generally happy, so the rising did not come off. (However, the fire was only smouldering, and required but a very slight effort to fan it into a blaze). This happened on the following morning, for the officers, after the dissipations of the 18th Sept. had all sore heads and were, if possible, more vicious and inclined for cruelty than before. A lot of innocent men were flogged, and all suffered more or less abuse. This was the last straw, and the mutiny was arranged for a few weeks later (some time early in November, I forget the exact date). Everything was arranged in a most methodical manner at first, and had the orders of the chiefs been obeyed, when carried out, nothing could have saved the destined victims from complete annihilation. Unfortunately it was not so - I use the word unfortunately deliberately, for in my opinion the doomed men well deserved the fate intended for them. First of all, the guns belonging to the Regiment were dragged out from the Cuartel [Barracks, Ed.] and made all ready for action exactly in front of the Government House. Sentinels were placed at both front and back doors, both of the Governor's residence, and those of the various officers. The intention was to call them up one by one and then kill them, and this would most certainly have been done, but some enthusiastic mutineer who was in charge of one of the guns, lost patience and discharged it full at the Governor's residence. The ball passed clear through the place, and even pierced the wall over the bed where his Majesty was sleeping. He immediately sprang out of bed, with a revolver in each hand, and rushing to the front door found a sentinel stationed there. Unfortunately the man was young and had lately joined the regiment, so, when the Governor appeared in sleeping guise and presented two revolvers at him, he judiciously lowered his arms and let his superior pass. The Governor, of course, immediately saw that what he must have been expecting had come to pass, and without taking thought for wife or children, made tracks for the beach, which was the only place of refuge, al the outlets from the colony being guarded.

The commander of the troops did not escape so easily. Rushing to his door on hearing the report of the cannon, he was confronted by the sentinel, an old soldier whom he had flogged a few days previously without rhyme or reason. This man did not let his enemy pass, but shot him dead on the spot. Several soldiers, on hearing the report, came to the spot, amongst them Sergeant Riquelme. They mutilated the dead body in a barbarous manner, but did no injury to the dead man's wife, family, or servants, only they told them to leave the house at once, which they were of course only too glad to do. The mutineers then set fire to the house, and went to the Governor's house to see what was going on. On finding the sentinel at the door, Riquelme asked him where the Governor was - the man answered "Salió Señor" ["He left, Sir." Ed.]. Hearing this, Riquelme shot the man dead, and afterwards proceeded to ransack the house, where of course he only found Mrs Dublé and her children. At first the infuriated men seemed inclined to wreak their vengeance on them, but restrained by their leader they allowed them to pass and contented themselves with ransacking the house from top to bottom. All the other officers' houses were visited, but all with the exception of the commander of the troops, had cleared out to the woods.

Up to this time there had been a certain amount of discipline amongst the mutineers, but, finding that their principal objects of hatred had escaped them, they were literally mad with rage, and commenced pillaging and burning in every direction.

I must however do them the justice to say that up to this time, they respected the women and children, and even went so far as to give Mrs Fenton, the wife of the English Doctor and her family and other ladies an escort to see them safe out of the place. The late Doctor Fenton was so much beloved by everyone that although he was a Chilean officer no one attempted to injure him, but they kept him a prisoner to tend the wounded, who by this time were numerous as the mutineers had not only quarrelled among themselves, but were firing promiscuous shots in every direction. Another great mistake they made was to break open the Cuartel and set free all the convicts, to whom they supplied arms, and after this there was nothing but confusion bloodshed and rapine.

More than half the mischief was done by the convicts who, when once they found themselves free, started on plundering the stores, killing all who resisted and committing every atrocity they could think of.

The plan which had been arranged between the leaders of the insurrection was to board the first ocean steamer which happened to pass, seize her, and clear our for some other country; with this object they had made prisoners of the Captain of the Port and all the sailors who were not mixed up in the conspiracy. Their intention was to board the vessel they intended to seize in exactly the same manner as that officer and his crew would have done in the ordinary course and then take possession of her. This plan was, of course, frustrated by the mere fact of all the men getting drunk and disclosing their intentions to everyone. Amongst the first to hear this were the two principal English residents, viz. Mr J. Dunsmure, the British Vice-Consul, and his partner and friend Mr H. L. Reynard. Some of the mutineers paid these gentlemen a visit at their little quinta [plot of land, Ed.] about three miles distant from the colony, but beyond a little promiscuous plundering and drinking, did not molest them, but their intentions leaked out and Messrs Dunsmure and Reynard determined to frustrate them. Therefore, when they first saw the smoke of the Kosmos [the shipping line, Ed.] steamer coming from the South, they embarked in a little boat they had, and set off to intercept her. The mutineers, who were occupied in drinking and plundering, did not see them 'till too late; but they fired several shots after them (luckily without effect). The Englishmen managed therefore to cross the steamer's path and stop her. Had it not been for this it is impossible to say what end the affair would have had, but I think it more than probable that the vessel would have been taken, and all these ruffians would have got clear away. I, in common with everyone else, considered that great praise was due to both the English gentlemen mentioned, for the energy they displayed in this matter.

Of course forewarned is forearmed, and on hearing the news the Captain of the vessel armed all his men, and being a plucky fellow determined to distinguish himself. Arriving at Sandy Point the vessel anchored on the usual place and lowered her side ladder. The Captain placed a line of men on each side of the gangway all ready to arrest the expected enemies. The boat duly came alongside and the crew came quietly up the ladder, having the Captain of the Port (whom they had brought with them in full uniform) before them, to make it look as if it was only the ordinary visit. I imagine their surprise when, as each man came aboard, he was quietly arrested and his arms taken from him - nothing could be neater. The vessel then steamed off, without further intercourse with the shore people, and on arrival at Montevideo, sent the prisoners back by another vessel, which deposited them on board the Chacabuco, a Chilean man-of-war which had been for some time stationed at Sandy Point, but happened by ill-luck to be absent on a surveying expedition at the time of the mutiny.

These men were eventually shot at Punta Arenas, a fate they well merited, although they were not the ringleaders in the affair. In fact, Sergeant Pozo, one of them, had been strongly against it from the very first, but having many friends amongst the men, he could not avoid being drawn into it. He was, I considered, a highly respectable man, and worthy of a better fate. But it was impossible in a case like this to exonerate him. He was certainly taken in company with the other offenders, and had had ample opportunities of warning the authorities of the disaster that was impending.

To return to the unfortunate Governor Dublé, he arrived safely on the beach and then followed along the coast, always under the shelter of the cliffs 'till he came to Cape Negro, where he fetched up at a farm house occupied by one of his friends. They did not at first recognise him, as he was very lightly clad in his night gear, had no hat, and held a loaded revolver in each hand. However, he soon made himself known, and demanded the loan of horses and a man as guide to take him to Skyring Water, where the man-of-war was surveying. As was natural, he was in a terrible state of alarm and excitement, and was trembling all over, whether from fear or cold he knows best: to judge by the way he abandoned his family, I should say it was the former. In any case he had reason to tremble, for if the mutineers had caught him, it is no common death he would have experienced.

After refreshing and clothing him, he was given good horses and a competent guide and set off for Skyring Water to warn the man-of-war of what was happening. He reached there safely, got on board, and arrived at Sandy Point just in time to find all the mutineers had cleared out for the North, taking with them every horse they could find and all the valuables they could carry. It will not take long to follow the fortunes of this party (of about two hundred persons including a few women and children) to the end. The men were constantly quarrelling on the road, and the two leaders were both killed; one of the women was barbarous enough to abandon her two little children a few leagues from Punta Arenas and the poor little wretches starved under a bush close to the roadside. They could not possibly carry half the booty they had brought with them, as the horses they had were quite insufficient for the work, being very poor after a terribly bad winter. By the time they arrived at Santa Cruz, a great many had strayed away and got lost, and not a few were killed in quarrels which occurred on the road. I think about 100 passed the river, calling on the road at Pavon Island where they exchanged some of their stolen goods for provisions and proceeded up the coast with the intention of reaching the Argentine territories. Fortunately for them they met a man-of-war surveying the coast, which took them on board and conveyed them to Buenos Aires, where, I believe, they were put in prison for a short time and afterwards liberated. I saw one of them not very long ago serving in the Argentine troop of soldiers in Santa Cruz. I held a long conversation with him, and he considered the whole affair a capital joke and recounted with much 'gusto' the history of his adventures whilst engaged on the Sandy Point Mutiny. The details he gave me were too revolting for me to mention them here. He told me that some of his companions were doing very well in this country, and that one was an officer in the army. Whether he was speaking truth or nor I can't say.

The few mutineers who were captured in the Colony of Punta Arenas were shot there after a long and impartial trial. They all died game to the backbone, and each one declared in his dying speech that, far from being sorry for what they had done, their only regret was that they had not carried out the main object they had in revolting, viz. to kill the Governor and a large portion of the officers, by whom they had been constantly ill-treated and abused. They one and all declared that it had not been their intention to destroy the colony or maltreat the inhabitants. I fully believe this, and consider that the most horrible things were committed by the convicts they so foolishly let loose.

This is the history of the great Sandy Point tragedy, so far as I know it. I do not wish to be a bird of ill omen, but still I must say that I do not think it will be the 'last' thing of the sort that will occur - unless times are very much changed since I left. "

Summary of Claims for Compensation

Claimants Claimed (CH$) Awarded (CH$)
40 71,573.38 17,465
20 36,613.34 5,666
9 25,484.35 6,512.85
1 1,774 800
11 2,014.75 nil
2 5,361.29 1,290.50
2 1,799.59 600
6 68,087.38 31,707
2 877 174
93 213,588.08 64,215.35

British Claimants

Claimed (CH$) Awarded (CH$)
Menéndez, José  /*/
12,356 1,460
4,910 2,000
Hurtado, Juan
832.50 250
Cox, F.
1,426 800
787 500
Armett, James
2,795 nil
1,328 450
McPherson, I.
332.85 332.85
Dunsmure, I. H.
720 720
25,484.35 6,512.85

(*) José Menéndez, later to become one of the wealthiest local businessmen, was an immigrant from Asturias, Spain. I do not know why he appears in this document as British.

(1)  Public Record Office, Kew
(2)  "Punta Arenas en su Primer Medio Siglo", Mateo Martinic B., Punta Arenas, 1988
(3)  Reynard family papers
(4)  "The Standard", Buenos Aires, Issue #11404, 7-VIII-1900, Page 2
Thanks: Arnold Morrison (VIII-2001); Robert Lemaire (IX-2013)
Last updated: 22-VIII-2014