Monday, 13 May 2013

The colony of Punta Arenas

The colony of Punta Arenas was founded 18 December 1848.
During its difficult foundation years the colony of Punta Arenas was a tiny penal colony; dangerous offenders rebel militarists and political prisoners were sent to that remote location in order to contribute to colonise the  region and so reinforce Chilean sovereignty over Strait of Magellan, at the same time solving the difficulties the government en Santiago de Chile faced with severe overcrowded prisons due political conflicts generated by independence war.

Although the president of Chile, Manuel Bulnes, made the decision to turn the colony of Punta Arenas into a penal colony, his proposition was to give the convicts the chance to be settlers. "A city with convicts but not of convicts". In any case, those first settlers constructed the first roads, cut the local abundant vegetation, built the first houses, the government building, the school, the church, the port, the small hospital. They made great improvement in the colony despite their position; they had no spirit of pioneers, they were there serving condemns.

In 1851, year that left its mark on history of the colony, which population was 500 inhabitants, among civil and military authorities such as the governor, policemen, soldiers, some settlers and the convicts that lived freely without trespass the established limits of the settlement. In that time the colony of Punta Arenas was under administration of its forth governor, Benjamin Muñoz Gamero, who seemed to have lost control of a population which, indeed, was not easy to govern with a limited number of soldiers.

In that year , lieutenant Jose Miguel Cambiaso, 26 years old of age, were sent to Punta Arenas to serve his sentence after being convicted of murder. He was arrogant and insolent but charismatic, very able to persuade others to follow him in a mutiny against the local authorities. So he managed to lead a bloody riot that erupted on 21 November 1851.

As a result of the mentioned riot, the governor Benjamin Muñoz gamero, the chaplain, foreigners and settlers were killed, and the whole settlement burnt to the ground. Cambiaso made himself ruler, formed cavalry, artillery and infantry regiments out of the convicts and succeeded in maintaining himself by horrible cruelties for several months. Also he captured two merchants vessels: the schooner Florida of New Orleans and the Eliza Cornish of Liverpool. Also he took hostage the English captain, John Talbot, and his companion, Mr Dean, but both were killed later. In the same way he took the American schooner which had been hired by the Chilean government to move 66 political convicts from Valparaíso to Punta Arenas. Later the captain Brown was forced to move Cambiaso in his escape to Argentina, leaving the others mutineers stranded.
Finally, Cambiaso was captured and sentenced to death penalty. In 1853, he was shot in Valparaíso in front of 50.000 people and later his body was dismembered.

Note: Today the main square of Punta Arenas is named after governor Muñoz Gamero in his honour and memory.

Recommendation: Book: "Insurrection in Magellan, narrative of imprisonment and escape from the Chilean convicts", by Captain Chas H Brown, 1854 edition.

The book tells how events unfolded, the horror and excesses perpetrated by Cambiaso and the role played by captain Brown in finally subduing the mutineers. (after choosing English version click travellers and then click 1851 Charles Brown).

Unfortunately that was not the last riot in town, in November 1877 another violent mutiny rose again in Punta Arenas which delay once again the economic progress of the area. But this time the mutineers were the artillery regiment soldiers who were unhappy with the harsh disciplinary regime imposed by the regimental commander during the tenure of governor Dublé Almeida. Also some convicts who were serving their sentences joined the rebels in the revolt that broke out at 1:40am taking by surprise all the inhabitants that slept that moment, the population was more than 1000 people.

They mutilated their captain Pio Guilardes in the most horrible manner. The governor was knocked in the head and left insensible. He, however, recovered after some time and managed to escape, also his family and some settlers escaped almost naked to the woods. They committed incredible excess of killing, burning and sacking public and private properties. It is estimated that at least 50 people were killed and many dead and wounded were burned in the buildings, actually the hospital was burned with 4 wounded men inside.

After an unbridled orgy the mutineers planned to escape to neighbour country, Argentina, but without success, some of them died in the way, others were captured: 9 were condemned to death penalty and 22 to life prison.

Then gradually the colony of Punta Arenas entered a period of decline and became an unattractive place to live in. Who would dare to build something in a place that soon or later would be destroyed by rebels?
Who would dare to risk their lives living among violent people?

Eventually the president José Joaquin Peréz took steps to reverse such difficult time for Punta Arenas. Shortly the congress approved an extra found for reconstruction. Also the status of penal colony was removed, no convicts would be sent to Punta Arenas to serve their sentences, instead a new immigration agreement allowed people from different parts of Europe to come to town attracted by reports of great economic opportunities. Also the gold rush brought a huge number of Croatian, Spanish (mainly from Asturias and Galicia) and British immigrants. Also came families from France, Switzerland and Germany. Different economic activities were developing successfully such as agriculture, livestock sheep, sea lion skin marketing, gold panning, exploitation of coal, maritime trade, port service, etc.

One of the most interesting tourist attraction is the Remembrance Museum or Memorial Museum, which was founded by initiative of a Croatian descendant, Historian Mateo Martinic.
In 1968 he founded the Patagonian Institute and later it was incorporated to the University of Magellan. From the 70s descendants of pioneers have been donating objects that belonged to the first years of the city.
A visit to the museum transport the visitors to pioneer days. The visitor can appreciate the interesting collection of antique farm and industrial machinery imported from Europe, typical houses of he settlers, a wooden-wheeled trailer that served as shelter for shepherds, a carpentry, the bakery, the grocery, telegraph room, dentist room, a clock collection, a collection of luxurious chariots (XVIII century) and the first cars (XIX century). Also a library that display historical maps and photographs.


No comments:

Post a Comment