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Patagonian Missionary Society
Cape Gregory, Straits of Magellan, early 1853

Remarks of Commander Barnard, H.M.S. Vixen, to the Missionary Committee: May 1853

In consequence of the recommendation of Capt. Salas, I received on board at Sandy Point the Cacique Casimiro who sent his people overland to meet us at Gregory Bay with Guanacoe meat. I found him most intelligent and half civilized, speaking Spanish fluently, and evidently from his behaviour at table much used to the habits of Europeans. His description of the people in the Pampas was most graphic and interesting. He says that they absolutely know nothing, and are like the Guanacoes they hunt, that they have not an idea of Christian people or of good faith and friendship, and that unless a person like himself is amongst them to keep them in check, & to answer for and Explain things to them, they merely follow the bent of their own inclinations & rob and murder strangers. Having heard that a vessel had been wrecked between the 1st. & 2d. Narrows, I enquired if he knew any thing about it. he said that there was an English vessel cast away about five years ago, that the Indians had spoiled her & taken the people into the Pampas whilst he was at the settlement, but that as soon as he heard of it, he liberated them and conducted them in safety to Sandy Point. Of himself he says that his object is to be the mediator between the Patagonians and the Christians, & for that purpose he lives constantly in the Pampas amongst them; he is most anxious to visit England and other Christian Countries, to be able to return and instruct his ignorant countrymen, and begged me to do all in my power to further his object.

The Caciques Pedro Siloci & Guaichi, and a Capt. Jack as well as a son of "Maria" mentioned by Capt. Fitzroy, came on board, they were all perfect savages compared to "Casimiro", who seems to exert much moral influence over them. I should say that they are more capable of being quickly civilized than any other savages I have met with; they are clothed in the skins of Guanacoes and smell like animals, beg and pray for Spirits, and seem most anxious to obtain Powder, although fully aware that they can obtain little of either from an English Man of War. In bartering for the meat, the best plan is to weigh it, & give them the value of about three halfpence a pound in biscuit & Tabacco.

I should recommend a vessel calling at Gregory Bay to ask for "Casimiro". The Tribe of Guaicurnes who have behaved so treacherously towards the Colonists inhabit the Pampas in the neighbourhood of Rio Negro, and are of the same race as the Fuegians & there is always enmity between them and the Patagonians. At present there is an Expedition to bring back either the lost Governor, or if he is dead, the chiefs, women & children to the settlement at Sandy Point. In all intercourse with the Indians, however frank and friendly they may appear, it is necessary to be prepared for treachery; the Boats crews should be armed, & the officers should carry pistols of which they have a wholesome dread. Should business or curiosity induce a party to go with them out of sight of the ship, two or three of the Chiefs or Squaws should be kept on board as hostages, without shewing any outward distrust if possible, & on no account should a party separate or straggle. Merchant ships should never allow any number of Indians on board at a time; four of them have been known to take a vessel from eight by attacking them unawares.

The Fuegians, three parties of whom we met with, are far inferior to the Patagonians and much poorer. The first we saw at Port Gallant consisting of a man, a woman and some children, were partially clothed with skins which scarcely covered them as they crouched over a smokey fire of green Bows in the bottom of their Canoe, they eagerly Exchanged their arrows for bread, tabacco and soap, the latter they eat voraciously and seemed to enjoy very much. The next party at Boiya Bay was much larger, and had Evidently met with Europeans. The men were allowed to come on board & the Sailors behaved very kindly to them dressing them up in old but warm clothing and stuffing them with beef, puddings & biscuits, but they are most provokingly indifferent, take every thing as a matter of course, & never recognize their benefactor afterwards; they swallow the smoke of Tabacco, & in about five minutes after become intoxicated with it and foam at the mouth like dogs. The women (on the contrary) have a pleasing Expression, acknowledge the gift with a smile, & recognize the donor days afterwards. They seem very fond of their children, which when very young they wrap up before them in the same skin; and when paddling they shift them behind. The older children have merely dog skins over their backs, & creeping about the bottom of the Canoe, look like little animals, still they seem cheerful & are constantly devouring sea-eggs and muscles. The constant crouching over a smokey fire affects their eyes, & makes them the most shivering wretched looking objects in the world, when away from it. As to their language it is most difficult to learn a word from them, as their powers of imitation enable them to repeat every question they are asked & they carry it out even in signs. At the harbour of Mercy the officers found two men and a woman living in a hole in a rock like animals with scarcely a vestage of covering and living entirely on shellfish. The wigwam we saw at Baya Bay was about ten feet in diamater with a fire in the centre & partially covered with seal skins, in this twenty one people and six or eight dogs slept. Still with all this we saw no signs of cannibalism, and they appeared kind to the old Squaws. Intercourse with Europeans would soon raise them in the scale of the human race.

Source: Minute Book of the Patagonian Missionary Society (Vol. 2)
Thanks: Denis Chevallay
Updated: 15-VI-2003