54. Possible Relatives in the Americas
Captain FitzRoy's Fuegian Captives
by George Weber
Table of Contents
The events leading up to captures
Getting information from Fuegians
Events leading up to captures
Although Captain FitzRoy had received no instructions from the admiralty to capture and bring to England local aborigines, he also had no orders not to do so. Such kidnappings were common before and after the abolition of slavery in an age of growing curiosity in Europe about "wild savages" from strange continents. FitzRoy was in Tierra del Fuego to do survey and cartographic work and had no intention initially of lumbering himself with four extra people on board of his ship.
The shock of finding the "shy and innocent primitives" of the islands daring raiders, irritatingly persistent beggars, hard bargainers and ruthless fighters persuaded Captain FitzRoy to take a much closer interest in the people he had to deal with, and perhaps to learn their language. After a valuable and irreplaceable auxiliary boat that had been stolen from under his nose at four in the morning during a raging storm on 27 December 1829, the Captain started an almost obsessive search for the stolen boat . All Fuegian canoes found were searched and fights broke out several times. The boat was never found but items from it (ranging from empty beer bottles to ropes) were found with almost every boat searched. When such items appeared even in boats as far east as Nassau Gulf, it was clear that a very efficient distribution system existed among the Fuegians. FitzRoy gave up what has been called the most scientifically momentous hunt for stolen property in history. But by the time he had given up, he already had three captives so when a fourth one joined almost voluntarily he must have come close to thinking "why not?".
Fuegian canoes that had been searched and found guilty had to contribute, more or less voluntarily, a captive to help in the further search of the stolen boat. Two of four captives appear to have joined the Beagle voluntarily. Whether they realized what they were getting into (on both sides!) is open to doubt.
The Captain initially had no intention to take his prisoners to England. But as his crew and himself had grown so fond of Fuegia Basket, their first captive, they found it easy to persuade themselves that it would be a good idea to show the Fuegians the sights of London and show them off to a delighted British public. None of the captives objected, probably because they had no idea what the trip entailed or how long it was.
That the Captain was a little worried about his captives is made clear by the way he went to great pains to explain to the admiralty that the Fuegians were clothed , fed and housed at his own expense and that they would not be a burden to the state. Their lordships accepted this but with some grumbling.
The four captives departed Tierra del Fuego 7 June 1830 on the Beagle under the command of Captain FitzRoy. With stopovers at Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, the Beagle reached England in late October 1830.
For a detailed explanation to the letters and numbers
given on the map,
A Recalada island
B London island
For the captives themselves see
1 Fuegia Basket
2 York Minster
3 Boat Memory
4 Jemmy Button
A. Recalada island (in 1830 known as Landfall island)
After an extensive surveying trip along the south coast of Desolation island (during which many fires of aboriginal people are spotted, the area seems desolate but is surprisingly thickly populated) on 21 December 1829 the Beagle finds one of the rare sheltered harbours of the area on the west side of Recalada island. A small group of 6 people with an auxiliary boat is sent to the east side of the island. Then, on the following day, one of the feared sudden storms common to the area hits and all contact is lost between the two groups. When conditions improve on 27 December, Captain FitzRoy learns that the out-group had been attacked by a band of Fuegians during the storm. All are astonished at the cheek of the allegedly timid locals.
B. London island
The Beagle anchors at London island and sends off an auxiliary boat for a detailed survey of the uncharted area on 29 December 1829. A storm strikes but the out-party beaches their boat and finds shelter. Around four in the morning, the crew find that their boat has vanished. Their initial thought was that the storm had torn it away, but evidence is soon found to indicate otherwise. The loss of this boat is potentially catastrophic - the crew has no means to get back to the Beagle and the mother ship does not have enough suitable wood left on board to make a new boat. However, the stranded crew with admirable ingenuity weaves branches together and then ties them with strips of cloth from the tent to form a type of coracle boat (it would provide Fuegia Basket with her name later). The crew then had to wait five days for the storm to die down before they could return to the the Beagle on 4 February 1830.
Getting information from the Fuegians
It is difficult enough for a trained anthropologist with a reasonable command of the language involved to get clear and reliable information from aboriginal people. For a novice it is next to impossible. This is not so much a linguistic as a cultural problem. The concepts on both sides are often just too different to be mutually comprehensible. Aborigines respond according to how they understand a question (always assuming that they do want to give a "genuine" reply, which is another can of worms altogether). The honest answer may be completely misunderstood by respondent and questioner - and neither realizes this. The questioner earnestly notes down the answer and it later may well enter literature.Every now ands then a descendant of an aborigine whose ancestors had been questioned a long time ago can reconstruct from his or her present-day knowledge of both sides what misunderstanding had led to a seemingly ludicrous statement - but not very often.
FitzRoay and Darwin on the Beagle (and other people in London ) did not know any Yamana language (apart from a few isolated words). They questioned the Fuegians in English, a language in which the Fuegians had developed some limited competence. But the Fuegians were not always willing to tell the foreigners all they knew. Darwin was acute enough to note this and wrote:
Although all three could both speak and understand a good deal of English, it was singularly difficult to obtain much information from them, concerning the habits of their countrymen; this was partly owing to their apparent difficulty in understanding the simplest alternative. Every one accustomed to very young children, knows how seldom one can get an answer even to so simple a question as whether a thing is black or white; the idea of black or white seems alternately to fill their minds. So it was with these Fuegians, and hence it was generally impossible to find out, by cross questioning, whether one had rightly understood anything which they had asserted. Their sight was remarkably acute; it is well known that sailors, from long practice, can make out a distant object much better than a landsman; but both York and Jemmy were much superior to any sailor on board: several times they have declared what some distant object has been, and though doubted by every one, they have proved right, when it has been examined through a telescope. They were quite conscious of this power; and Jemmy, when he had any little quarrel with the officer on watch, would say, "Me see ship, me no tell."
It was interesting to watch the conduct of the savages, when we landed, towards Jemmy Button: they immediately perceived the difference between him and ourselves, and held much conversation one with another on the subject. The old man addressed a long harangue to Jemmy, which it seems was to invite him to stay with them But Jemmy understood very little of their language, and was, moreover, thoroughly ashamed of his countrymen. When York Minster afterwards came on shore, they noticed him in the same way, and told him he ought to shave; yet he had not twenty dwarf hairs on his face, whilst we all wore our untrimmed beards. They examined the colour of his skin, and compared it with ours. One of our arms being bared, they expressed the liveliest surprise and admiration at its whiteness, just in the same way in which I have seen the ourangoutang do at the Zoological Gardens. We thought that they mistook two or three of the officers, who were rather shorter and fairer, though adorned with large beards, for the ladies of our party. The tallest amongst the Fuegians was evidently much pleased at his height being noticed. When placed back to back with the tallest of the boat's crew, he tried his best to edge on higher ground, and to stand on tiptoe. He opened his mouth to show his teeth, and turned his face for a side view; and all this was done with such alacrity, that I dare say he thought himself the handsomest man in Tierra del Fuego. After our first feeling of grave astonishment was over, nothing could be more ludicrous than the odd mixture of surprise and imitation which these savages every moment exhibited.
(source: http://www.literature.org/authors/darwin-charles/the-voyage-of-the-beagle/chapter-10.html )
The Captives and their captures
The drawings of three of the four captives were made by Captain FitzRoy himself on the return journey from England to Tierra del Fuego 1831.
1. Fuegia Basket
Original Fuegian name: Yok'cushly
Of the Yamana tribe
Date of capture: 4 February 1830
Captain FitzRoy is now beginning to be more interested in the Fuegians than in the surveying work he has been sent to do in the islands. He realizes that he needs to know more about the locals - and especially to learn the basics of their language - to find out how best to deal with them. So far, the investigators in the "Case of the missing boat"" had failed to anticipate Fuegian actions and reactions in a most alarming manner. They had become bewildered by the unpredictable locals who had turned out to be so much sharper and quick-witted than the British had ever anticipated in such "primitives". It was becoming clear that the Fuegians had acquired a lot of experience in dealing with outsiders (probably pirates, whalers, explorers, etc. that have left no written records). One group of Fuegians apprehended for questioning by the Beagle crew had very thin (i.e. worn out) cutlasses that could have been in their possession for centuries. The Captain of the Beagle by comparison was a mere beginner going through his very first experience. The Captain had to do something about it. And he did.
With a whole group of Fuegian captives on board, Captain FitzRoy decided to let them go with one exception. The exception was the little girl named Fuego Basket who had become a favourite with Captain and crew alike and who had already begun to pick up an English vocabulary. She was also too young to be registered as a female by the all-male crew and neither she nor her family seemed concerned about her being left behind on the Beagle. In fact, she seemed quite cheerful about it. So, her family could leave and Fuego Basket became the first of the famous four captives. In addition, the Captain could use her as a bargaining chip in any negotiations about the missing boat.
2. York Minster
Original Fuegian name: El'leparu
Of the Alacaluf tribe
Date of capture: 3 March 1830
On 3 March 1830 a canoe comes alongside the Beagle , annoys the captain and is sent away. No sooner than it is gone that he Captain regrets his brusqueness and follows the canoe in another small boat. He wants to take an adult captive to help find the missing boat. Capt. FitzRoy is nothing if not persistent. On catching up with the boat, he asks a young man politely to come aboard - which the young man does immediately and without showing any concern. The other Fuegians in the canoe take up their paddles and move off. The new captive soon shows signs of bad temper but after being fed and talking to Fuego Basket he becomes cheerful again.
He was named York Minster from a rock formation resembling that cathedral near the place where he joined the Beagle.
3. Boat Memory
Original Fuegian name: unknown
Age at capture about 20 years
Of the Yamana tribe
Date of Capture: 4 March 1830
The day after York Minster had joined the Beagle, she ship resumed its normal surveying work. Smoke was seen to rise from a bay and the Beagle approached to investigate and, of course, to ask about the missing boat. Two Fuegian males in a canoe were there but they were so hostile that for a moment no further attempts were made at contact. When the Fuegians tried to paddle away in some hurry, the British followed and there was a fight on the beach in which nobody was seriously hurt and the two men got away. In the beached canoe they left behind, bottles of beer from the stolen boat were found. Captain FitzRoy was astonished at the speed with which his boat and its contents seemed to have been distributed over such a wide area. There had to be a considerable and efficient trading network among the Fuegians that nobody had known about before.
Next day, a fresh attempt was made to find the two Fuegian men again. They were discovered in a canoe, making off at speed. When the British caught up with them, one man jumped overboard and escapes but the other is apprehended and after a long struggle pulled into the British boat.
The new captive is called Boat Memory on account of the way he was captured and for his unconvincing claims that he could not remember what happened to FitzRoy's boat or how the bottles of beer had come to be in his possession.
Immediately after capture, Boat Memory looked apprehensive about his fate but after eating an astonishing amount of food he calmed down and fell into an apparently untroubled sleep.
Boat Memory died in England of smallpox shortly after the Beagle's arrival there in late 1830. No drawing has been made of him by Captain FitzRoy.
4. Jemmy Button
Original Fuegian name: O'run-del'lico
Probably of a separate sub-tribe of the Yamana (that he was an Ona is unlikely)
Captured 11 May 1830
Next, the Beagle then turned northeast and anchored on the west coast of Lenox island. All three boats of the Beagle were sent out to survey Nassau Bay. FitzRoy himself took command of one of them - his boat headed west and then north into the long, straight arm of the sea that was later called the Beagle Channel. Everywhere FitzRoy went he met members of somewhat different group, though still of the Yamana tribe. These Yamanas were not interested in stealing boats but were instead keen traders. It was obvious that they had long experience in trading, most likely with whalers, seal hunters and similar visitors.
When Captain FitzRoy's boat went through the Murray strait, he was held up by three canoes with Fuegians who wanted to trade. They were given a few pearls and buttons in return for some fish. One of the boys was also invited to have a look at the British boat. To everyone's surprise the boy did so, settled down and seemed to be quite happy with the idea of going off with the strangers. The friends or family he left behind in the canoes did not seem to mind, either. And so did Captain FitzRoy unexpectedly acquire his fourth and last - and in the end, most important - captive. The new boy was called Jemmy Button for the buttons that had been paid for him.
The Beagle on 7 June 1830 set sail for Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and England with the four Fuegians on board.
The Captives in England
On arrival in England in November 1830, the Fuegians were shocked by the the noise, dirt, and smell of an England in the throes of the beginning industrial revolution. They were saddened when their popular and cheerful colleague, Boat Memory, died of smallpox in mid-November 1830. Medical care of the Fuegians had been handed to two respected naval doctors, David Dickson and Sir James Gordon. What sort of "care" the Fuegians received (quite regardless of the limited level of medical knowledge of the time) is illustrated by the reported fact that Dr. Dickson actually took Fuegia Basket to his home and introduced her to his daughter who was down with measles - to see if the Fuegian girl would be infected. Luckily she was not. Considering the circumstances and despite the loss of Boat Memory, the immune systems of the three surviving Fuegians coped splendidly. FitzRoy noted that his captives most of the time were healthy and seemed to enjoy their many new experiences, at least at the beginning.
Soon tensions and frustrations within the Fuegian group developed. Ten-year-old Fuego Basket and only slightly older Jemmy Button were feted, coddled and adored by English grown-ups and children alike. They were also sent to pre-school for children younger than themselves while 27-year-old York Minster was neglected but had to go along with all this childishness. In a stuffy, repressive, very strict Christian atmosphere he felt superfluous and ignored, his sexual needs were taboo, and he did not get much attention or adoration. "Something" of a sexual nature seems to have taken place between Fuegia and York but the matter was hushed up and no records were kept or have survived. In view of FitzRoy's reaction to the crisis, the something must have been something quite shocking in this early Victorian society.
In the same year that the Beagle had returned William IV (the "sailor king" and Queen Victoria's predecessor) had become King of Great Britain . As a former sailor he naturally took an interest in Captain FitzRoy's doings and his wife, Queen Adelaide, took an even greater interest in children from a remote and alien place. FitzRoy and the English society figures looking after and making a splash in fashionable London with their younger Fuegian charges had no problem wrangling an invitation to the palace for themselves and the Fuegians. The visit took place in Summer 1831 when Queen Adelaide presented Fuegia Basket with a bonnet and gave the girl some money to buy herself fashionable clothes.
FitzRoy noticed andwas alarmed by the ominous change in York Minster's attitude and was positively panicking about the possibility of a sexual scandal which would have ruined his reputation and all that he had achieved. It was also a profoundly upsetting to him to find that the civilizing Christian and British values had had thought firmly implanted in his captives were wearing off so quickly. He decided to return the four to Tierra del Fuego as soon as possible. The admiralty agreed.
The children were taken out of the Walthamstow school (though not officially) and hidden at an unknown place. The Beagle was taken out of mothballs and prepared for new service in a hurry. FitzRoy's suggestion that his trip back to Tierra del Fuego and his additional survey work there should be extended into a research journey around the world was also accepted as was his wish to have a scientist accompany him on this journey. Charles Darwin was the man chosen in the end. A truly fateful decision.
The renovated Beagle under Captain FitzRoy with Charles Darwin and the three surviving Fuegians on board left England's shores on 27 December 1831.
The Fuegian captives' return and subsequent fate
In January 1833, FitzRoy landed the Fuegians in the area where Jemmy Button had been captured - at the western end of Navarino island near what was to become Woollya station. He disembarked and York Minster and Fuegia Basket then decided to join him. A British missionary named Matthews who had also been on the Beagle joined them. With the help of the Beagle's crew and carpenter, buildings were set up to provide shelter and the possessions of the leaving passengers were unloaded. There was even an attempt at setting up a garden.
Three days later, all women and children of the native group suddenly disappeared. This caused unease among the British who (except for Matthews) moved to a location away from the Fuegian site. Next day, all seemed quiet and the British decided to go on an exploratory trip, returning on 6 February. While away, more Fuegian men had arrived and they began to plunder the new arrivals. On discovering this situation, FitzRoy ordered the missionary Matthews back to the ship. York Minster was confident that he and new wife Fuegia Basket would be able to manage and so were left to their own devices. Jemmy Button looked unhappy and was thought to probably have been glad to go away with the Beagle but he was not given the choice. Captain FitzRoy did not want to get drawn into an incomprehensible and increasingly violent tribal dispute. He ordered the Beagle to sail away at once.
The Beagle Channel
Jemmy Button later reported that after the Beagle's departure, Fuegia Basket and her new husband York Minster returned to York's home in a canoe. Whether or how long York and Fuegia stayed together is not known. More than ten years later, sealers told a story that in the western part of the Straits of Magellan not far from where Fuegia Basket had originally been captured, a Fuegian woman came on board who astonished all with her ability to speak English. Darwin heard the story and sadly commented in a footnote "she lived (I fear the term probably bears a double-meaning) some days on board". A number of contradictory stories were told about Fuegia's later life. Some said she was killed on a sealing boat, others that she reached a ripe old age but lived in permanent fear that her family was going to strangle her. Nothing further is known for sure of her fate.
Jemmy Button reported later that York Minster had persuaded Jemmy and his mother to accompany him and his new wife Fuegia to his home. One night he stole everything the Button family owned and abandoned them on the strange shore. Whether at that time he also deserted Fuegia Basket is recorded, nor is anything known of his further fate. The story sounds doubtful since in this matter Jemmy was anything but a disinterested recorder of facts.
Jemmy Button: Trouble at the mission station
For the last days between the arrival of the Beagle at Christmas Sound on 18 February 1834 with the surviving three Fuegians on board and their arrival at Woollya station on Navarino island on 23 January 1834 see the last section of With Darwin into a new scientific area.
While almost nothing is known of the fate of Fuegia and York, Jemmy 's story, by comparison, is well documented.
Before the flotilla of British boats and accompanying Fuegian canoes had reached the Bay near Woollya, many people from Jemmy's birthplace had heard of their approach and arrived on the shore totally exhausted from running all the way, painted white, red and black, breathless and with their noses bleeding from running all the way accross the hills. In their condition they look to Darwin like a group of maniacs. The fleet did not allow the new arrivals to hold up its progress and moved on toward Woollya.
Immediately on landing in the Bay nearest to where Jemmy Button's home had been his "purchase" for a button, more of his fellow tribals started to stream to the shore. Jemmy was mortified to discover that he could barely speak to them - he had forgotten most of his language in his 2-years' absence. York (although a member of another tribe) had no such problems and made himself useful as a translator. The next shock for Jemmy was the news (which he heard through York as the translator) that his father had died during his absence. In response, Jemmy gathered some green twigs and burnt them in his memory. With the Fuegians there was also a missionary, the Rev. Richard Matthews of the Anglican Church Mission Society, who was supposed to stay behind with the Fuegians and convert them to Christianity.
On 24 January 1833, Jemmy Button's mother and brothers arrived at Woollya to check reports of his return. They were most upset to find that Jemmy had forgotten most of his own language and subsequently ignored him by way of punishment. Jemmy in turn responded by briefly doting on Fuegia Basket.
With all this psycho-drama going on, British sailors organised some large wigwams and laid out and dug up the plot for a garden. The Fuegians had to be told what the markings on the ground meant and what was the purpose of a garden. The Fuegians were hunter-gatherers and lacked the very concept (and one would have thought, also the climate) for "garden". The Fuegians also got increasingly on the outsiders' nerves with what the the British called "yammerschoonering" (from a misunderstood Fuegian expression yamask-una, meaning "be really generous to me", i.e. persistent begging). The ever-growing number of Fuegians at the station also caused increasing concern. After having done all they could, the British left (leaving Mathews behind at his own wish) and went back to surveying but returned to Woollya briefly at the end of January to check. Finding everything peaceful, they again went back to surveying.
On 6 February 1833, the Beagle finished repairs and went to Woollya for a last check before going off to the Falkland islands and Patagonia. Woollya was found deserted. However, the missionary Matthews reappeared, alive and terrified, and was taken on board the the Beagle which then left Tierra del Fuego and did not return for a full year.
On 5 March 1834, the Beagle anchored at the cove of Woollya again - and found the place deserted. There were plenty of Fuegian canoes off-shore observing the British and sone must have alerted Jemmy Button who soon appeared at the scene and came aboard the Beagle. He had changed dramatically: no longer the dandy he had been, he was now a lean, sinewy, naked hunter, but one who also realised how the looked to the outside observers and who was torn between shame and pride. Freshly dressed up in the British manner again, he sat down to a meal on board ship, telling the Captain and Darwin what had happened to Fugia Basket and York Minster (see above). According to Jemmy, the Fuegians did not like the English-type parkland around Woollya (which had attracted the English gardeners), the wigwams were too big and cold in winter and so they had abandoned Woollya and moved to another place. It was becoming clear to Darwin (though not to the more idealistic FitzRoy) that in a society in which all are equal, it is not possible for one to rise too far above the others. If one has more, it must be shared equally among all, even if this means tearing up clothes received as presents into as many pieces as there were people to share. Jemmy had to revert to a Fuegian style of life if he wanted to survive in his society. There was no chance of Jemmy "civilizing" Fuegian society as had been hoped.
Jemmy's English was as good as before but his Fuegian language was still bad. He could communicate with other Fuegians now and was even teaching English to his family, he declared. During the meal, a woman came alongside the Beagle and noisily demanded to see Jemmy. It turned out that Jemmy had married. His wife refused to come on board but demanded that Jemmy should go home with her - which as an obedient husband he did eventually. Jemmy, and some of his family remained near the Beagle for another day before moving off. The Beagle did some more survey work in the Magellan Strait but on 10 June 1834 it passed into the Pacific on its way around the world. The parties involved would never meet again.
For twenty-two years, nothing more was heard of Jemmy Button.
In the Britain of FitzRoy's and Darwin's time, Protestant Christianity dominated national life. Missionaries were part of this religious fervour - and they had additional uses as pathfinders for the growing Empire. One would-be missionary was one Allen Gardiner. He had been an officer in the British navy and as such had been as far as the Pacific. Aged 32 he quit the service to become a missionary. He certainly did not lack courage: with wife and children he first went to Africa, to New Guinea, to Latin America. The wicked world seemed to have no interest in his fervour. Back in England, Gardiner read FitzRoy's account of the Fuegians and his attempt to set up a mission at Woollya. It was precisely what he had been looking for - aborigines without religion and nobody else interested in them. He went to Fireland to explore the situation and liked what he saw. Back home, Gardiner set up the Patagonian Missionary Society and despite a lack of funds, went to Tierra del Fuego twice more, in 1845 (with one other) and 1848 (with five others) in an attempt to set up a mission there.
During his visit in 1848, Gardiner landed on the west coast of Picton island (located at the eastern entrance to the Beagle Channel. His group had stores for 6 months, boats and tents. Within less than a week, all that could be carried had been removed by the Fuegians. The would-be missionaries were forced into a hasty retreat and returned to Britain.
Back in Britain, Gardiner's luck seemed to change. He met the Anglican clergyman, the Rev. Packenham Despard who shared Gardiner's enthusiasm and put him in touch with the right people, people who were not only enthusiastic but also had the necessary funds: the Patagonian Missionary Society was founded and Gardiner could start recruiting. The crew destined to go to Tierre del Fuego with Gardiner ncluded seven persons: three Cornish fishermen, a YMCA Sunday school teacher, a doctor and a carpenter. On 5 December 1850 the Ocean Queen, on its way to San Francisco, brought the little group with Gardiner to Picton island before sailing on.
Gardiner 's plan was to go to Woollya station to contact Jemmy Button who was, in Gardiner's opinion, the only Fuegian who could and would help. Gardiner never got the chance.
The missionaries' own forgetfulness proved fatal: they had left their gunpowder behind by mistake on the Ocean Queen and could not hunt.. Moreover, on their very first day on Picton island, hostile Fuegians had forced them to relocate to the more southerly and much less favourable Lennox island on the two sailing boats they had. The missionaries lost one of their boats trying to land there and before finding inadequate shelter in a cave at so-called "Spanish Harbour". Sailors could have had a chance of getting out of the situation - but these were not sailors even though some had been, they were primarily missionaries with an infinite and, alas!, passive confidence in their Lord. With the last remaining boat they returned to Picton island where they scratched a message in large letters on a rock "dig here below" dated March 1851" and buried a bottle with a message there. Diaries were found later; they show that one after the other died in dreadful conditions of hunger. The last died in late August 1851.
Missionary Allen Gardiner
The cave at Spanish Harbour on Lennox island where the doomed missionaries stayed before returning to Picton island.
The public in Britain was outraged, at the tragedy as much as at the unspeakable amateurishness of the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, in death Gardiner had reached one of his chief aims: Tierra del Fuego and the unmissionized Fuegians were suddenly at the centre of attention. Despard and his Patagonian Missionary Society were inundated with funds and applicants. They approached Captain FitzRoy (who had been shocked to the depth of his Christian soul by the conclusions Darwin had drawn from the observations made during the voyage of the Beagle) and asked for his blessing for their plans in Tierra del Fuego. These plans involved the setting up of a mission and the purchase of a ship. FitzRoy agreed and the plans went ahead: its vision involved (of course) gardens but also farmsteads, busy villages with bells calling to church, happy Sunday schools for the hitherto "joyless" Fuegian children, etc. etc. All the things the Fuegians had always wanted, only the did not know it. The Society purchased and equipped a ship, the Allen Gardiner, which under Captain William Parker Snow, left England in October 1854 in the direction of the Falkland islands where the headquarters of the new missionary activities was to be set up but continuous quarrels over land purchases and other complications prevented this. The captain's relationship with the quarrelling missionaries were not happy - he was religious himself but not fanatically so. The party reached the Falkland islands in January 1855 but was then held up by interminable quarrels among the missionaries and between them and the British authorities. The Allen Gardiner did not get to the Murray Strait (between the main island and Staten island of Tierra del Fuego) until November 1855. Approaching Woollya, a fleet of Fuegian canoes approached the ship. One canoe came alongside after the call "Jemmy Button? Jemmy Button?" had been heard from Allen Gardiner, and a sturdy and naked Fuegian man declared "Jam-es Button - me!"
By that time, around 50-60 canoes surrounded the Allan Gardiner and the situation threatened to get out of hand. Jemmy said that in some of the canoes were "bad men, Oens people" (of the Ona tribe) although nobody could see any. When Jemmy Button learnt that a woman was on board, he asked for a pair of pants and braces - he had not forgotten his good English manners. After dinner at the Captain's and his wife's table, the visitors showed Jemmy FitzRoy's book and the drawings of himself and the other Fuegians reproduced there. Jemmy clearly was touched. One of the instructions that Captain Snow had received from the Missionary Society before setting off on his journey with the Allan Gardiner was to all in his power to persuade Jemmy Button (if he was found) to spend some time at the mission station in the Falklands. The request was put to Jemmy but Jemmy refused and could not be persuaded to change his mind.
Captain Snow had the decency not to pressure Jemmy further. Which is more than can be said about the Society's president Despard. On receiving the news of the failure to persuade Jemmy Button to be "kidnapped" once more, he packed his furniture and family and sailed to the Falklands himself where he arrived in August 1856 with 16 others (including Allen Gardiner jr., the son of the original Gardiner). After a confrontation, Snow was dismissed, had to remove himself and his wife from the Allen Gardiner within 3 hours and received no financial compensation. Back in England he wrote a fighting book attacking the Missionary Society and its leadership.
Under Despard's ruthless leadership the mission's wordly affairs in the Falklands prospered. But Despard also craved a spiritual success and so needed to "get at" Jemmy Button. He appointed a new Captain of the Allen Gardiner, Robert Fell and asked him to sail him sailed to Woollya. The Allen Gardiner arrived there in June 1858 and the pressure on Jemmy Button was applied immediately and relentlessly, for weeks. Despard himself, the younger Gardiner and others followed Jemmy wherever he went. It would be the charge of "harassment" today. In the end, Jemmy Button caved in and he and his family (2 wives, and 3 children) went off to the Falklands. There they were all housed in a 3 x 3 m (under 10 x 10 feet) brick hut and kept under strict "Christian discipline, had to attend interminable daily religious services, learn church songs by heart, learn English and teach the Yamana language. Jemmy was continuously scolded for his "lazyness" and the whole family was under constant suspicions for being thieves. The latter was regarded by the missionaries as a Fuegian disease. It must have been much like prison - Jemmy's or his suffering wifes' and children's thoughts are not recorded but can be imagined. Jemmy must have kicked himself for agreeing to come. In late November they were finally brought hom again. However, the publicity that Despard's reports on the "great progress" made with re-captured Jemmy boosted the circulation of Voice of Pity (the missionary society's organ)was worth its weight in gold.
After returning Jemmy Button and his family in late September 1859, the Allen Gardiner stayed at Woolya for a month. It was looking for new recruits to bring to the Falklands. Nine Fuegians fell for it (it is unknown whether Jemmy could warn them of his treatment he had received - most likely not). They would get rather more of the same treatment: doing mostly hard physical work they were in fact slave labour for the mission. The nine had to stay 9 months in the Falklands and were miserable and homesick most of the time. Before allowed to board to return to their homes, they were given a body search of the most intensive kind. Some rags, tools, bones were found and the Fuegians were called thieves. Insulted beyond endurance, they ripped their western clothes off and threw themselves into the sea. Later they returned, put on their clothes again - after all, they were going home. Further delays followed. The return trip took three weeks instead of the three days the Fuegians had expected because of an extended stay at Port Stanley (capital of the Falklands). There was further delay in Tierra del Fuego because of side trips and storms.
On 2 November 1859 at long last the Fuegians were back home - but not before they had been body-searched once more. Two of the searched Fuegians then attacked Captain Fell who could, however, fend them off. Once more the returning Fuegians tore off heir western clothes and, naked, paddled off in the canoes awaiting them. Clearly, tempers were running high.
All this had been witnessed by Jemmy Button who had earlier been annoyed by tactless treatment and inadequate presents that he as the representative of all Fuegians had expected as his due.
Later that same Tuesday, Captain Fell seems to have realized his stupidity. He had all the tools, blankets, clothes and other possessions that the Fuegians had left behind together with new presents for them and Jemmy Button brought to the nearest beach. Then Fell made one more mistake. Instead of sailing off as quickly as possible and letting the situation cool down, he settled in and stayed at Woollya. Was he looking for yet another group of volunteer labourers for the Falkland mission? As day followed day, the atmosphere seemed to calm down and the missionaries had no trouble persuading Fuegians to cut down wood for he new house that the missionaries were busy constructing. But an uneasy tension remained.
On Saturday 6 November 1856 the missionaries were still at Woollya and there was no sign that they would leave anytime soon. Why they were staying on has never been made clear. by he missionaries themselves. That morning, the entire crew with the exception of the cook went on shore and entered the newly-built wooden house where they took part in a religious service. Around the house there were approximately 300 Fuegians. As the singing began in the house, the cook on the ship saw that the Fuegians were stirring. They pushed the Allen Gardiner's boats off into the sea and circled around the house where the service was going on. Suddenly, they pushed the door open and stormed in. All but one in there were killed. The one who managed to escape, Coles, witnessed how Jemmy Button's brother killed a sailor and how Captain Fell and the others were killed with sticks and spears. Cole reached a small dinghi and rowed desperately across the harbour, pursued by Fuegian canoes. He reached the other side just in time to hide from his pursuers in the forest.
When the Allen Gardiner did not reappear in the Falklands, a worried Depard hired an American ship, the Nancy under Captain Smyley to search for her. Four months after the massacre, the Nancy found the missing ship, still anchored but wrecked off Woollya. Soon, the Nancy found herself surrounded by Fuegian canoes. In one of them was Coles - alive. From another, Jemmy Button came on board the Nancy.
Jemmy did not seem interested in what Cole would tell Smyley but went straight to the galley to look for something edible. The story that Cole was allowed to tell undisturbed by Jemmy was this:
After hiding in the forest for a few days, Cole found Fuegians willing to offer him shelter. They treated him in a friendly way, the general anger seemed to have been evaporated. He spent four months with them (and he was not made to do any work or learn any Fuegian songs...). He had even been given the gun of one of the dead so he could go out to hunt wild geese. He had also been allowed to return to the Allen Gardiner to look for useful items and generally to do what suited him without supervision. Cole believed that the attack was caused by Jemmy Button's anger at his treatment. and that of his fellow Fuegians in the Falklands. Jemmy Button had been given a foretaste of what he could have been - and then sent back to his original life. Coles also told Smyley that some of the tribe including young Fuegians had ransacked the Allen Gardiner on the day of the massacre and that Jemmy had slept in the Captain's cabin.
Jemmy Button in 1860 stated to an official commission of inquiry that he had nothing to do with the massacre and blamed it on the "Oens" (the Ona tribe) - as he always did with his major troubles. He denied categorically that he had slept in the murdered Captain's cabin. Nothing could be proven. .
Jemmy Button is said to have died during an epidemic in 1863.
(main source: Peter Nichols, Darwins Kapitän, German edition, 2003/4, Harper Collins and Europa Verlag)
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