Monday, 15 April 2013

The Fort Bulnes

During XVII and XVIII centuries the flow of vessels grew considerable through the Strait of Magellan. In fact, not many places in the world can exhibit such number of expedition in History, but also the flow of navigators originated an appreciable number of shipwreck.

During those centuries the Spanish kingdom experienced economic and military decline while England and Holland started to surge in the world scenery as maritime powers. Large number of scientific expeditions, merchants, explorers, corsairs, traders, privateers, buccaneers and famous sailors navigated through Magellan Strait; familiar names are captain John Strong, Jacques Braunchesne-Gouin, Jacob Mahu, Simon de Cordes, John Narborough, the brothers Bartolomé and Gonzalo de Nodal, and much more.
All of them contributed to elaborate maritime letters of Region of Magellan, actually Holland explorers were the first in elaborating a nautical letter and a navigation map which were used by navigators of all nations for more than two centuries.

During XIX century Spanish colonies in Southamerica were in their emancipation process.
The General Bernardo O'Higgins, Supreme Director of Chile, deposed in 1823, from his voluntary exile in Peru emphasised the importance of Chilean control over Strait of Magellan and urged Chilean rulers to take decisive measurements, fearing an occupation by Great Britain or France.

The introduction of steam navigation, the English occupation of Falkland islands (Islas Malvinas) in 1833 and the intention of France to establish a port in the strait coastline opened President Bulnes mind and in 1843 he ordered an expedition in order to take possession of the strait and found a settlement in the region. Then, 21 September 1843, the schooner Ancud, under the command of commander John Williams Wilson (Juan Guillermo), arrived in Punta Sant'Ana  where took possession of Strait of Magellan on behalf of Chilean government.

Few weeks later, 30 October, 263 years after Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa took possession of the strait on behalf of Spanish king Felipe II, John Williams Wilson founded the Fort Bulnes, named after Manuel Bulnes, President of Republic of Chile. A settlement around the fort would be built to colonise the region.
Interestingly, it is known that, twenty four hours after the foundation of Fort Bulnes the French schooner Phaeton arrived to Magellan Strait in order to build a French port in the same area, Punta Sant'Ana.

However Fort Bulnes did not flourish. Due to the hard weather conditions and desolate area Chilean government struggled to establish a settlement around Punta Sant'Ana.
Eventually in 1848, a new governor, Jose dos Santos Mardones, moved the scarce population of Fort Bulnes 60 km north, near a river, in Punta Arenas where the city was founded leaving behind 5 years of hardship.

Finally, the Fort Bulnes was abandoned and destroyed in fire set by lieutenant Cambiaso, head of a mutiny against the governor of Punta Arenas. But between 1941-1943 a replica of the fort was built and in 1968 was declared National Monument.

Today, the Fort Bulnes is part of History-Patagonia Park giving to visitors a good idea what life was in the first 5 years of colonisation in Region of Magellan. Also the park offers trails and lookouts from which the visitors can have a magnificent view of Magellan strait and its surroundings.

Book: The Captive Boy in Tierra del Fuego, by Phebe A Hanaford, published in 1877.
The book is a life story, an authentic narrative of the wreck of the ship "Manchester" and the survival of Thomas Coffin, a 11 years old boy, and his ordeal among the Aborigines who lived in Great island of Land of Fire.

John Williams Wilson  was also known as Juan Guillermo, his Spanish name.
He was a Chilean sailor born in Bristol (1798) to a family with a long seafaring tradition. He arrived in Chile in 1818 and few years later entered the Chilean Navy rising to the rank of lieutenant. He participated actively in political affairs of the republic and became known in Chilean History in the event of taking possession of the Strait of Magellan and adjacent territories on behalf of Republic of Chile.

In his honour Luiza Port, in Navarino Island, was rebaptised Williams Port, which is the southmost city of the world and mayor hub for scientific activities associated with Antarctica and Land of Fire Archipelago.

Tourist Attractions:

Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum: it hosts artefacts, maps and photographs related to Yagan people.

Omora Ethnobothanical Park:

Birdwatching opportunities

Cycling along the cost road

Trekking: Dientes de Navarino circuit: