The British Presence
in Southern Patagonia

++  Letters from Río Gallegos (1920-1921)  ++

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Estancia Laguna Colorada (Santa Cruz Province) is situated in the valley of the Río Gallegos, some 50km from the town of the same name. It was purchased in 1890 by Herbert Stanley Felton. In the 1920s, the ranch ran as many as 9,000 sheep on 15,000 hectares of high-quality land.

At this date, the ranch was operated by Charles Henstock, who had "inherited" it through his wife Emily Felton; the resident manager was Charles Pocock (author of these letters), who was accompanied by his wife and family. In addition to the main livestock (sheep, bred for wool and meat) we learn that the farm had horses, dogs, vegetable gardens, turkeys and ducks.

Major issues reported are labour productivity (relations were severely strained by a general strike of farm workers) and harsh winters (calling for strenuous measures to minimize flock losses). The general impression conveyed is one of hardships endured and mostly overcome. Other ranches might have suffered major damage, but this one came through relatively lightly.

[The text has been lightly edited to improve reading comprehension.]

Paso del Medio

To Mr Henstock

Dear Sir A few lines in answer to yours which I received a few days ago

No doubt you have heard that the Strike /1/ is still going strong which started about the 18th of October but no doubt the men will soon give in now. There is none of the big Farms that has lambs marked yet, I managed to get through pretty well with the help of the Police as I got no help from the farmhands, and if they had not been old Servants of yours I should have put them away as every other farm did when the Strike started, for they acted very nasty.

I marked 2,513 Lambs in top camp and 545 in Stud flock paddock, but no doubt there is 250 to 300 in top camp yet as there was only me with dogs, but we got along fairly good considering. but of course the Shearing will have to wait till the strike is over.

I ordered 2 loads of firewood a time ago which should be here any day now. Your horses are all doing well and fine and fat. The Gardens are looking well now, we shall have a fine lot of potatoes this year if there's no more frosts to put them back in the future. We have had a lot of rain this last 3 weeks which has helped the Camp a good deal

Mrs Nilan has a baby Girl two months old and sorry to say while she was in Gallegos Nilan was drunk three days in the lambing time and neglecting his work, which was very unfair of him in your absence

I hope the strike will soon be over to get on with the Shearing but I don't think the farmers will give in at any terms of the Federation so it might last a while yet. I saved 126 Ram Lambs from Stud flock Paddock so I will be able to Cut a few more during shearing

There is 8 little Turkeys about 10 days old, no doubt there would have been more but the hens have a bad habit of eating eggs and before I found out they must have eaten at the least half a dozen, they are quite strong. I hope they will keep going. There is also one of the Ducks sitting, I hope she will be successful

There are several little jobs I wanted to get through before the shearing but they will have to wait as I am rather busy round the Camp owing to the strike. Otherwise everything is going alright, both Stock and Gardens

Hoping Dear Sir you are settled and Mrs Henstock and the young Gentlemen are keeping well as I am pleased to say me and my family are at present

I will give you full news when we start Shearing. Without more for the present I remain Dear Sir your faithful Servant

Charles Pocock


Est Laguna Colorada
March 25/1921

Dear Sir

After a long struggle I have finished the shearing. I started on the 2nd of January, when we all thought the Strike was about broken up, but the Rebels Armed themselves in the Lago [Lago Argentino, Ed.] and started robbing Horses and Stores. when the shearers heard that they just packed up and cleared out after shearing a week (1,154)

I was afraid they would come to burn the house down but the only damage done was cutting fences and taking horses, but the horses are getting back now. The fences were cut everywhere all in pieces I used to go and fix them, but the more I would mend them the more they would cut them. They put fire to a lot of farms and burnt the wool of them that were shearing and would not knock off

The Wethers [castrated rams, Ed.] I had shorn I put back into the Paddock, but as the fences were getting cut every day I had to gather them up when the Freeze started and got them killed or I would have lost them with the rough sheep. I left in the Night to get out of Range of the Strikers as I was alone and arrived next day at the Frig [Frigorífico = freezing works, Ed.]. I am sending you a Copy of the weights

The Hoggets [unshorn sheep under one year of age, Ed.] kept clean till shearing, but the Ewes and Lambs were breaking out pretty bad before I could shear them. What made them worse was a flock of Montes' /2/ Rams that got through the cut fences. I have another date for 1.000 Mixed sheep on the 18 of April [that is, to deliver animals to the freezing works, Ed.] but the old Ewes will not be very fat owing to the late shearing

It's very hard to work with the men since the strike. you can't say one word to them or they down tools. I am sending you their conditions. If things don't alter soon I think the farmers will have to give them the sheep and farm, as there seems to be no help from the Government at all

All the old Police are suspended after trying their best to fight the Rebels, since the new Governor /3/ arrived, and Captain [police, Ed.] Ritchie is now working in the Mercantil /4/. The Federation is very strong now but perhaps someone will be able to tame them before this time next year

The Gardens have been very good, we shall have a lot of Potatoes this year. I was only able to cut the oats a few days ago, now I am going to cut as much grass as possible but the work is very late this year, I hope the weather will continue good to get things finished. I shall have to dip in April and May to leave the sheep secure for the winter

The weight of wool turned very well, 146 Bales with 29,914 Kilos, and Sheep 7,202 shorn. I started Baling with the old wire but it would not stand the strain so I used two coils of new wire. I have all the Wool in the Barraca Amberense /5/ as Elbourne and Slater are Boycotted yet. I got Contract carts to take the most of it. There is a lot of farms that's not half through shearing yet so if the weather gets bad they will lose a lot of sheep

There have been several good men shot by the strikers. Patagonia seems a changed country this last few months. Stores are very scarce now such as sugar and flour, and what the Strikers did not take they destroyed, but I lost nothing here

I told Mr Elbourne /6/ to wire you to let you know I finished shearing, I hope you received the telegram. I don't think the Wool prices are very great but perhaps I shall hear from you shortly

Without more for the present I remain Dear Sir yours truly

Charles Pocock

Est Laguna Colorada - Paso del Medio

To Mr Henstock

Dear Sir I received your letter some three weeks ago, which I am rather late in answering owing to the bad weather which we have had of late. About the 15th of August we had a fall of snow near four inches, which fetched very hard frosts afterwards, which lasted three days, and then it commenced to snow again without the sign of a thaw, Snowing more or less for eight days on and off and then freezing very hard at night. Such frosts that one would never credited for the time of year

The bad part was the wind [which] came with the late storms and nearly covered our West fence (Montes' /2/ Part) with snow, which we had to do our very best to keep the fence clear, if not there would have been more or less 6 Thousand Hoggets in top Camp. There was about 2 miles of fence covered right up. They never sent a man from the Buitreras on to our side to see if the sheep were dead or alive. It's a pity to see them poor Hoggett in the drifts. I have taken out a lot for them right on the fence, but of course there was no time to stop there as we had our own to deal with

Well, all the Ewes went before the drift towards Chan Aike Cañadon [small canyon or gorge, Ed.] and the flat below the faldeo [slope, Ed.]. I got about a dozen stuck in the corner of Guer Aike fence next [to] the street which you will remember forms a small hollow, but [they] were all saved. No doubt there will be a loss later on, a few percent but, considering the Ewes [were] short of wool and bad weather and also dipping, they are doing very well as they have all the flat free of snow now and the faldeo.

It is still freezing every night which keeps everything back in comparison to last year, I had cabbage seed sown last year at this time, but the earth is frozen that hard at present that you will hardly break it with a crow-bar

/Tally of Sheep/

Dear Sir I should like to give correct amount of sheep but it is impossible just now till I dip Hoggets and Wethers. I dipped four thousand two hundred Ewes on the 5th and 6th of August, so up till date by my tallies with Ewes, Wethers, Hogget Rams we should rise about 7.300, so as soon as they are through the dip, which I want to commence about the 10th if the weather permits, I will class them and the number of each flock

I was lucky to get the Ewes dipped before the bad weather started as there were plenty of farms waiting (on) but now they find it too late. No doubt you will hear the weather has been very severe of late as I hear Mr Carlos Felton has been pulling sheep out of the snow drift also

Everything is very unsettled here just now, the Country seems to be going from bad to worse, the same old thing all over again. The Raiders have been robbing at McGeorge's and burning down shanties at Jamieson's, also robbing in the Anonima /7/ in Gallegos, And Passengers /8/ is something awful, going around twenty and thirty together. I have had as many as nine and ten here for the night as no one will employ them yet. also the price at stores is something terrible and the employees demand everything

Felipe's Wife - no doubt you took her to the farm for economy but quite the contrary, first of all she thought she had a monthly wage, which I explained to her that there was nothing of the sort, only through being a good help she would receive a gratification of 100 dollars, so to keep peace I gave her 60 dollars per month and I have paid her up till the first of August. Now she demands a Cook's wage of 160 dollars and I have to cut her firewood, her Meat has to be cut up for her and her water carried to the door. She has caused more trouble here than anyone else and also is a Bad character.

You may not be surprised to hear I have put them away, as Felipe sees several things but he must shut his eyes. Felipe has been a very poor hand with the camion [truck, Ed.]; he has not made one trip successfully, always stuck on the track, good weather or bad and always breaking something. If I say a word to him I don't get a very decent answer. He started off very well with me but it soon fell off when the strike started and plenty of stiffs around him to tell him the tale

Patagonia seems a very poor place besides a couple years ago. If you ask for help the Police tell you they are two and the party are seven, therefore say "um"

I want to fix up the year's accounts to send on but I shall have to go to Gallegos first so will send it first chance. I am sending Copies of sheep killed by freezer

Sorry to be always writing trouble but proud to say things are looking much better here than many of our Neighbours

Dear Sir, hoping you are all quite well as it leaves us at present
I remain your obedient Servant

Charles Pocock

/1/ Strike: The first General Strike of rural workers in Santa Cruz Territory was called in October 1920 by the Federación Obrera de Río Gallegos, ending in February of the following year. (ref. Bayer)
/2/ José Montes: owned the neighbouring farm of Las Buitreras
/3/ Ignacio Angel Yza: replaced interim governor Edelmiro Correa Falcón. (ref. Bayer)
/4/ (La) Mercantil: business house of Sociedad Mercantil de la Patagonia
/5/ Barraca Amberense: Wool export agent and supplier of imported goods (see here)
/6/ Elbourne: Herbert Elbourne was a farm agent and accountant
/7/ (La) Anónima: Sociedad Anónima Importadora y Exportadora de la Patagonia (see here)
/8/ Passengers: casual visitors, entitled by custom to a free night's food and lodging

Original letters held by Gregory Aldridge
Thanks to British Club of Río Gallegos (I-2012)
Other sources:
1. "La Patagonia Rebelde", Osvaldo Bayer, Buenos Aires, 1993
2. "La Patagonia Argentina", E. Correa Falcón, Buenos Aires, 1924
Last updated: 22-I-2012