The British Presence
in Southern Patagonia

++  My Parents in Patagonia, by Adela Harris (née Jacobs)  ++

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[The writer's family lived in Punta Arenas in the 1890's]

Lionel Louis Jacobs (1861-1933)

To escape the decision of the family to apprentice him to a watch-maker, he sailed on a vessel belonging to them [the family shipping line, John I. Jacobs, Ed.] to Chile around 1878. He used to tell us that in the stormy rounding of Cape Horn he found the captain (Runciman) on his knees in prayer, and expected to die. However, they reached Valparaiso safely. I know little know little of the next few years – yellow fever in Panama – the scar of a knife wound on his hand – but he was not an adventurous type of man – slow and steady with "Honesty is the best priority" as his guiding star.

In 1889 he was in Buenos Aires with an established business importing materials for army uniforms and friends in government. He went to synagogue for some family commemoration and there saw my mother. (The "synagogue" was a service held in a private house.) My mother was in B.A. only on a visit to her sister. They married June 9th 1889. A child each year, Claude 1890, Arthur 1891, Cecil 1892, Adela 1893. Another girl 1894 (Minna) [Baby Mina born and died 1895, Ed.] who died in infancy. A revolution in Argentina threw his friends out of power and deprived him of his living. On the advice of his friend General Godoy the family moved south to Punta Arenas in the Straits of Magellan, travelling on a "coaster".

Punta Arenas consisted of the main street, going from the Port gently uphill towards a slight eminence crowned by a large crucifix. And cross streets, one of which we followed on our walks to the open pampa to the west. There in summer we found a wealth of flowers – primula freezia - calceolaria - a brownish lily and edible berberis "calefate" [calafate, Ed.], also abundant mushrooms.

Further to the north, far beyond our range, there were wild ostriches and guanaco. We sometimes had ostrich eggs as gifts from farmers. Most of our food, apart from meat, potatoes and bread, was ordered in England and arrived by P.S.N.C. ship. The shops got irregular supplies of eggs, fruit and vegetables from N. Patagonia, by sea of course. Bread was excellent - French, German and Chilean bakers gave variety.

Incoming ships were a great interest of "the boys" who had their own flagstaff and aimed at being before the port in hoisting the flag for the incoming ship.

A governess (English) was in charge of the younger children and gave elementary teaching. The boys had some lessons apart from that, but I do not remember from whom.

Bishop Stirling (of the Falkland Islands) was an occasional welcome visitor. A dear old man or so he seemed to me as a child. "Will you give me that dolladel [doll Adele, Ed.]?" was his invariable greeting. I still remember my distress when the boys "hanged" my doll from their flagstaff.

It must be remembered that the Panama Canal did not exist at that time, and all shipping bound from Europe to the West Coast of America passed through the Straits of Magellan and stopped at Punta Arenas. It was also the centre for the rapidly growing sheep-farming on the pampas, and the meat-freezing installation.

The general store that was established grew so fast that in my earliest memory it already occupied an entire block of the main street (Calle Roca) with the family home above it. A patio behind was surrounded by wooden buildings, one of which was our play-room – in others lived some of the employés. We had electric light – cooking was on a stove burning wood.

Traction was by ox-wagon - primitive affairs with wheels of solid wood which made a dreary squeaking. There were a few horse carriages to hire for special occasions, but distances were too short to make this necessary – also, for half the year the place was snow-bound. High walls of snow protected paths to make walking easy during the winter months. A few native Patagonians survived and came into the town occasionally, dressed in fleeces and hand-woven blankets /*/. They made finely woven baskets, and canoes shaped from tree trunks, bows and arrows.

The only trees in S. Patagonia were Leña-dura – a dwarf beech – all bent one way by the prevailing wind.

/*/ We still have one of their rugs [original footnote, Ed.]

Leonora Jacobs (1863-1947) née Lowenthal

Second in a large family, born Edinburgh March 31, 1863 ... There was a heavy loss of money owing to the failure of a bank, in the early years. The family moved to Glasgow. The oldest sister Henrietta (Yettchen) married Adolph Bash who manufactured safes and locks in Buenos Aires. Eventually the whole family moved to Argentina, one brother Dody (Theodore) was Accountant to the B.A. & Southern Railway. He returned to England on retirement ... The two sons of Bash, Ernesto and Herbert, carried on the safe manufactory [in B.A., where there is still a company called Bash Locks, Ed.].

Thanks: Michael Rank
Updated: 16-V-2009