1902 Encyclopedia > Patagonia


PATAGONIA, the widest application of the name, that portion of South America which, to the east of the Andes, lies south of Rio Negro (mouth in 41° 5' S. lat.), and, to the west of the Andes, south of the Chilian pro-vince of Chiloe, with a total area of 322,550 square miles (306,475 continental, 16,075 insular) according to Dr E. Wisotzki's measurement (Behm and Wagner, Bevolkerung der Erde, 1880). By the treaty of 22d October 1881 this vast region was divided between Chili and the Argen-tine Republic, the boundary being the unexplored water-shed of the Andes down to 52° S. lat., and then con-tinuing along the parallel to 70° W. long., thence to Point Dungeness, and so southwards (through Tierra del Fuego) along the meridian of 68° 34' W. long. In this way about 62,930 of the 322,550 square miles fall to Chili and 259,620 to the Argentine Republic.

The Chilian portion, the main bulk of which is com-prised under the title of Magellan Territory (Territorio Magcdlanes), is chiefly remarkable for the way in which the combined action of glacier and sea has cut up the country into a multitude of rugged and irregular islands and peninsulas, separated by intricate channels and fjords. South of Chiloe, the first great island of the Chilian coast, the islands are grouped under the name of the Chonos Archipelago, which is bounded on the south by the spacious Gulf of Peiias. The Chonos Islands (upwards of 1000 in number, without counting mere islets and rocks) are with-out exception mountainous, and in some cases the summits remain white throughout the year, though in the lowlands snow lies only a few days. The general temperature is remarkably even. A thick covering of vegetation (low and stunted on the seaward parts) is spread over nearly all the surface, but the layer of vegetable soil is very thin. Potatoes grow wild, and cabbage, onions, radish, &c, are cultivated. The sea-elephant appears to be exterminated; seals still abound. On Taytao peninsula is found the pudu, the smallest known deer. The old Indian inhabit-ants—Chonos—are practically extinct, though their sitting mummies give name to Momias Bay, and they still occupy some of the islands far south near Magellan's Strait. There are only one or two permanent settlements in the whole archipelago—on the Guaitecas Islands (43° 52' S. lat.) and at Puerto Americano or Tangbac (45° S. lat.). Wood-cutters, however, visit the islands in considerable numbers for the sake of their valuable timber, mainly cipre (Libo-cedrus tetragona). Besides Magdalena—which is by far the largest of the whole group and contains the extinct volcano of Motalat, 5400 feet high—it is enough to men-tion Chaffers, Forsyth, Johnson, Tahuenahuec, Narborough (named after the old English explorer), Stokes, Benja-min, James, Melchor, Victoria, Luz, and Rivero Islands. The broad Moraleda Channel, from 75 to 175 fathoms deep, which may be said to separate the rest of the archipelago from Magdalena and the mainland, is continued south by the Costa and Elefantes Channels, and would have proved of great service to navigation had it not been that the southern exit is barred by the narrow isthmus of Ofqui, which alone prevents the strangely formed Taytao peninsula from being an island. The glacier of San Rafael, which discharges into the lagoon of the same name on the north side of the isthmus, is nearer the equator than any other coast-glacier in the world.

South of the Gulf of Penas a navigable channel exists between the mainland and the long succession of islands which, under the names of Wellington Island (150 miles long), Madre de Dios Archipelago, Hanover Island, and Queen Adelaide Archipelago, extend for about 400 miles to the mouth of Magellan's Strait; and it is now regularly used by steamers, which are thus protected from the terrible western storms that make the deep-sea pass-age along this coast so dangerous. At one or two points only is the navigation difficult—at the English Narrows in Messier Channel (as the northern division is called), and at the Guia Narrows farther south. The scenery throughout is of the most beautiful and picturesque de-scription. Among the serviceable inlets are Connor Cove, Port Grappler, Puerto Bueno (pointed out by Sarmiento), and Isthmus Harbour.

The southern coast of Patagonia is bounded for 365 miles by Magellan's Strait, which separates the mainland from the countless islands of the Tierra del Fuego archi-pelago and breaks it up into a number of very irregular peninsulas. Of these the largest are King William IV. Land and Brunswick Peninsula, and between them lies the extensive inlet of Otway Water, which is further con-nected westward by Fitzroy Channel with Skyring Water. On the east coast of Brunswick Peninsula, opposite the Broad Reach of the strait, and in the finest part of the straitward district, lies the Chilian military post and penal settlement of Punta Arenas or Sandy Point. It was founded in 1851 as a substitute for the unfortunate Port Famine settlement, which lay farther south on the same coast. In spite of convict mutinies (as in 1878) and the questionable character of many of the settlers (chiefly Chilotes), Punta Arenas begins to flourish; in 1875 its population was 915, and since that date a series of "fac-tories " or cattle-stations have been established along the coast to north and south. The country behind the settle-ment, unlike the districts at either end of the strait, is well wooded, mainly with Chilian beech (Fagus antarctica) and Winter's bark (Drimys Winteri, so called after Captain Winter, Drake's companion), and considerable quantities of timber are exported. Coal also, though of inferior quality, is worked in the neighbourhood.

Patagonia east of the Andes is for the most part a region of vast steppe-like plains. Unlike the pampas of the Argentine Republic, with which it is conterminous on the north, it rises in a succession of abrupt steps or terraces about 300 feet at a time, and is covered, not with soft stoneless soil, but with an enormous bed of shingle, which instead of luxuriant grass supports, where it is not abso-lutely bare, only a thin clothing of coarse and often thorny brushwood and herbage. So peculiar is this, the largest tract of shingle in the world, that from D'Orbigny down-wards geologists have generally characterized it simply as the Patagonian formation. It is of Tertiary marine origin ; but, whilst Bove makes it correspond to the Miocene sub-division, Doering (Boca's expedition) assigns it to the somewhat older Oligocene. Beneath the shingle, which is sometimes at least 200 feet thick, and has its pebbles whitewashed and cemented together by an aluminous substance, there stretches a vast deposit, sometimes more than 800 feet thick, of a soft infusorial stone resem-bling chalk. In the hollows of the plain as far south as Santa Cruz there are frequently lakes or ponds ; they are generally impregnated with common salt, Epsom salts, or some other mineral ingredient, the substance varying from lake to lake without any regularity of distribution (see Burmeister, La République Argentine, vol. ii. (1876) appendix). Certain limited tracts with finer soil and richer vegetation occur, especially in the river-valleys, but the general aspect of the plains is one of sterility and desolation.

The most ordinary bushes are the jume (Salicornia) and the calafate {Berberís buxifolia) ; the ashes of the former contain 41 per cent, of soda, and the latter makes excel-lent fuel and bears a pleasant bluish-purple berry known to the older English explorers as Magellan's grape. Among the perennial herbs may be named Strongyloma struihium, Chuquiragas, Adesmias, Azorellas. The palm-tree mentioned by many travellers as growing on the south coast is really a kind of fern, Lomaría boryana.

The guanaco, the puma, the zorro or C'anís Azarse (a kind of fox), the zorrino or Mephitis patagónica (a kind of skunk), and the tuco-tuco or Ctenomys magellanicus (a kind of rodent) are the most characteristic mammals of the Patagonian plains. Vast herds of the guanaco roam over the country, and form with the ostrich (Rhea americana, and more rarely Rhea Daricinii) the chief means of sub-sistence for the native tribes, who hunt them on horseback with dogs and bolas.

Bird-life is often wonderfully abundant. The carrancha or carrion-hawk (Bolyborus lharus) is. one of the charac-teristic objects of a Patagonian landscape ; the presence of long-tailed green parroquets (Conurus cyanolysius) as far south as the shores of the strait attracted the attention of the earlier navigators ; and humming-birds may be seen flying amidst the falling snow. Of the many kinds of water-fowl it is enough to mention the flamingo, the up-land goose, and in the strait the remarkable steamer duck.

As the Andes are approached, a great change is observed in the whole condition of the country. The shingle is replaced by porphyry and granite and vast masses of basalt and lava ; vegetation becomes luxuriant, majestic trees—evergreen beeches, alerces, ciprés, araucarias, &c.— combined with jungle-like underwood clothing the ravines and hillsides ; and, with the richer plant life, animal life grows more abundant and varied, deer, peccaries, wild cattle, and wild horses finding fitting pasture. The fruit trees planted by the Jesuits in the neighbourhood of Lake Nahuel-Huapi have spread into vast natural orchards, which furnish the local tribes of Araucanians with food and wine, and have given rise to the designation Man-zaneros or apple-folk by which they are distinguished.

Eastern Patagonia is traversed from west to east by a consider-able number of rivers, but few if any can ever be of much use as highways. In their passage seawards they are joined by compara-tively few tributaries from the low country ; rain falls seldom, and the water sinks away among the shingle and sand. The Rio Negro, which separates the pampas from Patagonia proper, is formed by the junction of the Neuquen and the Limay. The former collects by numerous channels the drainage of the Andes between 36° 25' and 38° 40' ; the latter has its main source in the great Nalmel-Huapi Lake, wdiich was discovered in 1690 by Mascardi the Jesuit (whose station on the lake was maintained till 1723), and is reached from Chili by the Bariloche pass, rediscovered Ivy Jorje Rohde in 1882. For some distance the Rio Negro is navigable for steamers drawing 12 feet, but only vessels with powerful engines can make head against the current. South of this river there stretches north and south a chain of hills—the Valchita and Uttak range—which, lying from 50 to 100 miles from the coast, forms a secondary watershed, draining westward into the plain as well as eastward to the Atlantic. The next great Andean river is the Chubut (Chubat or Chuba, i.e., erosion), which gives its name of Chubut Territory to the northern division of Argentine Patagonia, and is well known from the Welsh colonies established in its valley in 1865 by Mr. Lewis Jones. Its northmost affluent rises probably a little south of Nahuel-Huapi, about 41° 25', and its southmost between 46° and 47°. The latter stream, the Sengel or Senguer (explored by Durnford 1877, Moyano 1880), has this peculiarity, that, before entering the shallow basin of Lake Colguape (Huapi), Colhue, or, as Thomas and Moreno call it, Dillon, the volume of water is so much larger than when it issues again that the Welsh settlers distinguish the lower course of the stream as Sengellen or the Little Sengel. Rio Deseado, which disembogues at Port Desire (Puerto Deseado), well known in the early history of the coast, has its source about 46° 42', in the vicinity of a largo lake, Buenos Ayres (20 miles long by 14 broad), wdiich lies, however, 600 feet below the level of the river, and consequently has no connexion with it. Of the rivers wdiich unite in the Santa Cruz estuary the Rio Chico (explored by Musters, Moyano, and Lista) and the Chatta or Sheuen (explored by Moyano and Moreno) have little that calls for notice ; but the Santa Cruz is connected with the most remarkable cluster of mountain-lakes in the country. The largest of these is Capar or Viedma Lake (discovered by Viedma in 1782) ; northward it com-municates by a narrow channel with what may be distinguished as Moreno Lake, which again opens into San Martin, and southward it discharges into the very irregular Lago Argentino or Fitzroy Lake (discovered, according to Musters, by an adventurer called Holstein in 1868, and next visited by Fallberg), which in its turn probably has extensive ramifications. From the east end of Lago Argentino issues the rapid current of the Santa Cruz. Round these lakes the moun-tains rise with glaciers and snow-fields from 3000 to 3500 feet, and at the north-west end of Viedma stands the active volcano of Chalten. At the time of Moreno's visit in March (the latter part of summer) gigantic icebergs rising 70 feet above the water continued to float about Lago Argentino. With the melting of the snows the river rose rapidly, and by 17th March was 63 feet above its ordinary level. So swift was its current that the explorers sped down the whole length of its course in twenty-four hours, though they had taken a month to ascend. In some parts the rate was at least 15 miles per hour. The Rio Gallegos, the last of the rivers of Patagonia which flow west and east, is comparatively insignificant except during thawr-floods, when it completely interrupts communication by its wide and raging torrent (see Beerbohm's exciting narrative). The eastern coast of Patagonia contrasts strikingly with the western ; hardly an island of any considerable size exists on all the 2000 miles of its development, and it is scooped out into spacious and open gulfs. The peninsula of San José or Valdes to the south of the Gulf of San Matias is quite exceptional. But the whole seaboard offers only one or two safe harbours ; and submerged reefs, strong tides, currents, and overfalls combine to render it highly perilous. Besides El Carmen or Patagones, near the mouth of the Rio Negro, a place of 1690 inhabitants in 1869, there is hardly a permanent settlement of any size from the river to the strait ; but, since the partition between Chili and the Argentine Republic, beginnings of colonization have been made at the more promising points. A notice of the native Patagonians is given in the article INDIANS (AMERICAN), vol. xii. p. 829 ; and the history of the Araucanian tribes of the Chilian side has been sketched under AMERICA, vol. i. pp. 701-702.

History.—Patagonia was discovered in 1520 by Magellan, who called the country Tierra de Patagones from the large footsteps observed near his winter quarters at San Julian, and on his passage along the coast named many of the more striking features—Bay of San Matias, Bay of Santa Cruz, Cape of 11,000 Virgins (now simply Cape Virgin or De la Vierge), &c. By 1611 the Patagonian god Setebos (Settaboth in Pigafetta) was familiar to the hearers of the Tempest. Rodrigo de Isla, despatched inland in 1535 from San Matias by Alcazava Sotomayor (on whom western Patagonia had been conferred by the king of Spain), was the first to traverse the great Patagonian plain, and, but for the mutiny of his men, he would have struck across the Andes to the Chilian side. Pedro de Mendoza, on whom the country was next bestowed, lived to found Buenos Ayres, but not to carry his explorations to the south. Camargo (1539), Ladrilleros (1557), Hurtado de Mendoza, and Ercilla (1558) helped to make known the western coasts, and Drake's voyage in 1577 down the eastern coast through the strait and northward by Chili and Peru was memorable for several reasons ; but the geography of Patagonia owes more to Pedro Sarmiento de Gam boa, who, devoting himself especially to the south-west region, made such careful and accurate surveys that from twenty to thirty of the names which he affixed still appear in maps "(Kohl). The settlements which he founded at Nombre de Dios and San Felipe were neglected by the Spanish Government, and the latter was in such a miserable state when Thomas Cavendish visited it in 1587 that he called it Port Famine. The district in the neighbourhood of Port Desire, explored by John Davis about the same period, was taken possession of by Sir John Narborough in name of King Charles II. in 1669. In the latter half of the 18th century our knowledge about Patagonia was considerably augmented by Byron (1764-65), Wallis (1766), Bougainville (1766); Thomas Falkner, a Jesuit who '' resided near forty years in those parts," published his Description of Patagonia (Hereford, 1774); Francesco Viedma founded El Carmen, and Antonio advanced inland to the Andes (1782) ; and Villarino ascended the Bio Negro (1782). The "Beagle "and "Ad venture "expeditionsunder King (1826-30) and Fitzroy (1832-36)1were of first-rate importance, the latter especially from the participation of Charles Darwin ; but of the interior of the country nothing was observed except 200 miles of the course of the Santa Cruz. Captain Musters wandered in company with a band of natives through the whole length of the country from the strait to the Manzaneros in the north-west, and collected a great deal of information about the people and their mode of life. Since that date explorations of a more scientific character have been carried on by Moreno (1873-80), Rogers (1877), Lista (1878-80), and Moyano (1880, &c), a convenient survey of which will be found in Petermauns Mittheilüngen, 1882.

Bibliographical lists for Patagonia are given in Wappäus, Handbuch der Geogr. u. Stat. des ehemal. span. Mittel- und Süd-Amerika (Leips., 1868-70); in Quesada's work already quoted ; and in Coan, Adventures in Patagonia (New YorK, 1880). It is enough to mention Darwin's Journal of Researches (1845) and Geological Observations on South America (1846) ; Snow, A Two Years' Cruise off . . . Patagonia (1857) ; Musters, At Home with the Patagonians (1871) ; Cunningham, Nat. Hist. of the Strait of Magellan (1871) ; Moreno, Viage a la Patagonia austral (1879); Lady Florence Dixie, Across Patagonia (1880); Lista, Mis esploraciones . . . en la Patagonia (Buenos Ayres, 1880); Beerbohm, Wanderings in Patagonia (1878); Informe Oficial . . . de la Exp. al Rio Negro (under General Roca, 1879, Buenos Ayres, 1882); Giacomo Bove, Patagonia, Terra del Fuoco (Genoa. 1883). (H. A. W.)



Chiloe is sometimes considered part of Patagonia.
Of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago 20,341 square miles are Chilian and 7890 Argentine.
Documents in regard to the disputed possession will he found in Quesada, La Patagonia y las Tierras Australes, Buenos Ayres, 1875. By a treaty in 1856 the vti possidetis of 1810 was accepted.
The Chonos Archipelago was explored by E. Simpson of the
Chilian navy in 1871-72. See map and text in Petermann'e Mittheil.,

5 See Lieut. Eardley-Wilmot, Our Journal in the Pacific, 1873, especially the appendix; and The Voyages of the "Adventure" and the "Beagle"
6 Magellan's Strait was first named, probably by its discoverer, Canal de Todos los Santos, and in older writers often appears as Estrecho Patagonico and Estrecho de la nave Victoria (Magellan's ship).

See Dr Karl Berg, "Eine Naturinst. Reise nach Patagonien," in Petermann's Mittheilungen, 1875 ; and the botanical part of the report of Roca's expedition (resume in Nature, 1884).
Hence the name Cordillera de Baguales applied to the soivthern
extremity of the Andes.

Punta Arenas was a German station for the observation of the transit of Venus in 1882.

3 See Durnford's account in The Field, 23d and 30th Dec. 1882, and Proe. Roy. Geogr. So'e., 1883.

The above article was written by: H. A. Webster.

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