1: Pre-History Conquest and Colony
Acknowledgement || 2: Independence >>
Pre-History, Conquest and Colony
The pre-historic inhabitants of Chile and the numerous Indian tribes, did not have
great interest in the ocean. The low temperature of the water and the abundant vegetation
and fauna of the central valley did not force the Indian to look at the sea for survival.
Only in the North, pushed by an extremely arid and desolate landscape and in the South,
facing a never ending labyrinth of channels, did the Indians make an attempt to go beyond
the beaches and inlets, as far into the sea as his scarce resources allowed him.
In what is today the provinces of Tarapacá, Antofagasta and Atacama, lived the changos.
These Indians where fishermen who speared fish and shellfish while standing in the coastal
rocks or while floating in reed rafts that must be considered aids to swimming rather than
boats.In Peru and Bolivia these reed rafts reached large proportions but the Changos did
not go that far. As the changos extended their fishing grounds South they acquired a
wooden raft.This raft was a crude float made up with pieces of wood held together by
leather tongs or reeds without any specific design.
At a later date, the changos created a new raft made of seal skins. Usually, two seal
skins were held together so that a platform could be built on top with tree branches where
the rower sat.These rafts, somehow improved with European elements, were used up to the
Twentieth Century and carried nitrate sacks from the docks into waiting sailing ships that
sailed to Europe with Chile's white gold.
Much has been theorized about the Polynesian influence in the West Coast of South
America. The earth oven, the sweet potato, the handles of the oars and other artifacts,
obviously, have a common ancestry but very few traces can be found and the marvelous
navigation techniques of the Eastern Pacific were never acquired by the Indians.The
Polynesian influence does form part of Chile's naval tradition but it is limited to
Eastern Island the Western limit of their penetration.
At the arrival of the Spaniards, five tribes inhabited the Central Valley of Chile:
Huilliche, Pehuenche, Picunche, Mapuche and Puelche. None attempted into the sea until
after the arrival of the Spaniards.But the southernmost of these tribes, the Huilliches,
either formed a separate tribe, or mixed with the people to the South of them, to become a
group known as the Cuncos. These Cuncos were the most civilized people in
Chile.They physically separated themselves from the Huilliche by crossing Chacao channel
and established themselves in the Chiloe archipelago, an area where man cannot lived
unless he ventures into the sea.The Cuncos built boats, docks, and captured fish by making
use of the difference in the tides. They built fences at the edge of low tide and after
the cycle was completed, they picked up the trapped fish. Their boats were known as dalcas.
The dalca was probably the best native boat found in pre-Hispanic America. It was
solidly built by putting together three boards of alerce, a wood similar
to the California redwood. The joints were held together by leather tongs or vegetable
fibers and caulking was accomplished with either animal or vegetable products.To reinforce
its sides, the Indians used wooden ribs, held in place with wooden dowels that swelled
under water. Originally, the dalca could only sail downwind and had no rudder. The arrival
of the Europeans brought modifications and improvements never dreamed by the Cuncos.
Metals were used to saw the lumber and to hold the boards together. A boom was added to
the primitive mast, a rudder appeared, and if we are to believe the earlier Spanish
chroniclers, there were dalcas that could hold twenty men.
Beyond the Cuncos lived the Chonos.They were very primitive people who fed on shellfish
and copied to the best of their ability the tools and habits of the Cuncos. Sailing their
own dalcas they reached rocky islands where herds of seals and sealions rested and
supplied themselves with furs and meat.These people were eventually forced to abandon the
mainland by the barbaric tribes of Patagonia who held them into practically constant
attack. Rather than settle in the numerous islands they took to the waters of the
channels. They built crude ovens of dirt and stone at the bow of their dalcas and carried
fire for cooking and heating. This became an identifying characteristics: if a canoe was
trailing smoke it was an Alakaluf, a new name they acquired for
themselves. Alakalufs continued to live at sea and feed themselves shellfish and hunt
sealions until steam power opened the canal routes. They found more profitable to beg from
passing ships, to ransack shipwrecks and occasionally, as testified by Joshua Slocum, to
attack small vessels. The descendants of the few surviving families live today under the
protection of the Chilean Navy in Puerto Eden but some still live at sea begging food and
clothing from passing ships.
Around the Straits of Magellan and beyond that pass lived the Yahgans, a strong and
maritime race that used canoes made of tree trunks hollowed by fire.They lived ashore in
primitive branch huts covered with guanaco or sea lion skins, which thy also used for
clothing.These people were gatherers of shellfish rather than hunters. They fed on
anything that came their way, a beached whale was a feast for them, but the system
required to be constantly on the move and they sailed the channels around and beyond
Tierra del Fuego and ventured around the Horn. Fitz Roy and Darwin met them there. They
rarely went far from land or sailed at night. Today, this race is almost extinct. European
diseases brought by the missionaries decimated the once numerous tribes. A few Yaghans,
mostly of mixed blood, survive near the Naval Base at Puerto Williams. Occasionally,
Chilean Navy patrols have sighted isolated individuals and even families living in the
With the exception of the Channel Indians , the Chilean native tribes contributed
little or nothing to the naval traditions of the country. All pre-Hispanic navigation was
limited to the channels and even there, it was restricted to the area within sight of
land. To the Indians of Chile, the ocean was as infinite as the sky; in fact, some tribes
believed that the dead went there. Although there is some traditional evidence that speaks
of men who came from over the horizon, a clear indication that Polynesians had reached the
coast of South America, these encounters must be considered mere accidents. They
contributed practically nothing to the culture of the Indian tribes.
As it will be seen, modern Chile retained little of the maritime culture of the South.
The maritime history of Chile would eventually evolve from people of the central valley.
Their human and physical resources were basically Mediterranean in origin.
Exploration and Conquest
In October of 1520 the first European eyes sighted what is today the Southern end of
Chile. Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese mariner in the service of the King of Spain. In
August of 1519 he left Seville with a small squadron of five ships to search for the
passage to the 'Southern Ocean' which Balboa had discovered. The trip was full of
difficulties and the Admiral had to endure not only terrible storms but sickness and
mutinies. But Magellan did manage to keep control of two vessels and in the end suppressed
the final mutiny aboard his own flagship before entering the Straits he had discovered. On
October 21, 1520 he entered the passage and a month later he faced the open ocean which he
found so peaceful that he named it the Pacific. His mission was to reach the Spice Islands
and he did not stop to explore the land or even to re-supply his ship. He sailed North up
to the latitude of Taitao Peninsula and then boldly set out to cross the largest ocean on
Earth. It was " the most daring adventure in the History of Humankind."
Central Chile was discovered by Diego de Almagro, an illiterate but intelligent hidalgo
who had been Pizarro's partner in the conquest of Peru. Almagro went to Chile by land and
had contracted for three ships to meet him on the Southern coast with supplies. The
Spaniards did not know the land, but had relied on what the Incas told them. Nevertheless,
Almagro ordered the ships to proceed South and to look for him along the Coast. One cannot
but admire the courage and optimism of these men. Sailing into the unknown their one hope
of survival was to meet in a place yet to be discovered. It is no wonder, then, that of
the three ships sent only one ever caught up with Almagro. This was the Santiaguillo,
smallest of the flotilla, under the command of Alonso Quintero. The Indians passed the
word that a strange winged monster was loitering along the coast. Almagro was able to
establish contact probably at what is known today as Quintero Bay and to unload the cargo
by employing the sealskin rafts of the Changos. Quintero sailed south and may have entered
Valparaíso, but he soon gave up and returned north to Peru. He was the first mariner to
sail the central coast of Chile.
Few navigators attempted to follow Magellan's route. The trip south along the
Patagonian Coast was entremely difficult. The weather, ocean currents, tides and numerous
reefs would dispose of on third of the ships which attempted to transit the Straits. One
expedition led by Jufre de Loayza entered the Straits in April of 1526 but his ships were
dispersed by wind. The captain of one of his ships, the San Lesmes,
claims that he sailed beyond 55E South and stated that "the land ends there."
Although his discovery was well documented, Spanish cartographers refused to believe that
the "land of fire" (Tierra del Fuego), was so short and their maps continued to
show large, rich and even warm masses of land South of the Straits.
Many expeditions ended in disaster when they faced the mountainous seas. The expedition
of Alonso de Camargo, Bishop of Plasencia, lost two ships in the shores of the Straits.
This accident, was coupled to a tale told on the other side of the Andes, and gave rise to
the legend of the City of the Caesars. It was believed that the crews had reached an
isolated city in the mountains, founded and populated by Spaniards, who lived amidst
enormous riches and culture. Later, several ships and land expeditions were sent to search
for the fabled town. One of these commanded by Diego Rojas, attempted to land at the mouth
of the Maule River in 1542, but was wrecked at the bar.
A second land expedition to Central Chile was commanded by Pedro de Valdivia, who was
sucessful in founding a town and in pacifying the Valley of the Mapocho river where
Santiago lies. While in Santiago, Valdivia was informed that a vessel had arrived in the
coast. Valdivia sent his most trusted lieutenant to contact the ship but when he arrived
in Valparaíso the ship had departed. This ship was the only survivor of Plasencia's
squadron. After many hardships and unusually bad weather it had reached its destination.
The surviving crew was in such poor condition that it was impossible to attempt even a
token act of taking possession of the land, so it sailed on to Lima without knowing that
Valdivia was already established in the country.
It was essential for Valdivia to establish contact with Peru. He had received news
through the Indians of Pizarro's death and was aware that without supplies and more
settlers his colony could not survive. The Indians were belligerent and the winter of 1543
was approaching. Valdivia aware that the best means of communicating with Peru was by sea,
made plans to build a ship. The shipyard was established at the mouth of the Aconcagua
river, near the gold fields of Marga-Marga. Valdivia had to divide his meager forces among
Santiago, the gold fields, and the shipyard. This dispersal gave the Indians the
opportunity they had been waiting for. They destroyed the gold mining equipment, headed
for the unfinished ship, killed the Spaniards there, and burned the hull. The Indian
attack on Santiago destroyed the settlement. Valdivia's project was in ruins: his men
suffered from hunger; they had no gold, no ship, clothing or shelter. In a letter to the
King Valdivia aptly writes: "It is honorable and expected for the soldier to suffer
the hardship of war, but in order to sustain these, plus hunger, it is necessary to be
more than just a man."
It was not until two years later in September of 1543 that a ship came to anchor in
Valparaíso. She turned out to be the Santiaguillo loaded with supplies, which were
sold at 300% profit, and with 60 men on board. Later on, a second ship arrived, the San
Pedro equally loaded with merchandise that was sold at exorbitant prices.
Valdivia now had at his disposal two vessels and an excellent pilot. This man, Juan
Pastene, an honest and reliable man, was ordered to sail South and explore the coast all
the way to the Straits. Valdivia appointed him Lieutenant Governor for the sea. He sailed
south and landing wherever he could he took possession for the Crown according to the
established customs. He discovered the deep and well protected estuary of the Aynileo
river, which he renamed Valdivia. Pastene, however, did not go beyond his new discovery
and returned north.
In 1553 Valdivia gave the same order to Francisco de Ulloa. He was very successful,
sailing without mishap down the rugged coast, through the channels and finally into the
Strait itself. He penetrated these dangerous waters or nearly 30 leagues before turning
back and on his return leg he explored Ancud Bay in Chiloe Island. The great Indian
rebellion of 1553, which would result in the death of Valdivia, prevented the Spaniards
from following up these discoveries.
A better supplied expedition was sent by Governor Hurtado de Mendoza in 1558. He had at
his disposal two excellent mariners, Juan Ladrillero and Francisco Cortes Ojeda. Both men
sailed in convoy but the weather separated the ships. Cortes Ojeda in the San
Sebastian navigated the labyrinth of channels, and entered the Straits only to
have his ship blown back and destroyed by the storm. His crew managed to land on an
island; with what they could salvage from the wreckage and wood from the native forest,
they managed to build a brig and sail back to Valdivia after ten months of suffering. The San
Luis under the command of Ladrillero went further. In March of 1558 he entered
the Straits and proceeded all the way to the Atlantic, the first ship ever to sail from
the Pacific to the Atlantic. Ladrillero took possesion of the land wherever he went and
returned through the channel he had discovered. The route taken is known today as
Ladrillero Channel. His diary described in great detail the hazards of the trip, and the
land and sea routes he had explored.
While these investigations were under way, supplies for the colony in the central
valley of Chile were sent by ship from Peru. Because of the Humbolt current flowing north,
coastwise sailing southward from Peru is extremely difficult. The winds and sea batter the
bows of sailing ships and make constant tacking necessary. The trip normally took three
months; the return, one month. An extraordinary seaman named Juan Fernández sailed from
Callao to Chile in 1584; but instead of tacking south as was customary, he sailed with the
wind out to sea and then, following the "great circle route" reached Valparaíso
from the west, thus avoiding the current, taking advantage of the prevailing winds, and
discovering the archipelago that still bears his name. Years before this same man sailed
from Concepcíon Bay to the west and may have reached New Zealand and Australia as well,
but unfortunatelly little attention was paid to his discoveries. Instead all public
attention was turned to the new route which would facilitate the traffic between the
Viceroyalty of Peru and Chile.(1)
In 1578, the first raiders and pirates appeared on the coast of Chile. Under the
delusion that he had been commissioned by God to sell negroes, kill Spaniards, and sack
their gold laden ships, Francis Drake entered the Straits with five ships. But the same
sea barriers that the Spaniards had faced dispersed his fleet and only one ship, the Golden
Hind, under the command of Drake himself, managed to enter the Pacific. But he
was blown to the South and then East, thereby discovering the pass that bears his name. He
again turned North and in November he anchored off Mocha Island where he fought a bloody
combat with the local Indians. A month later he attacked Valparaíso, burned the
warehouse, and captured a ship with a load of gold dust. The Spanish authorities spread
the alarm and when Drake, now known as "el drago", attempted to land at La
Serena he was repulsed with losses. Drake had achieved great success at Valparaíso, but
convinced that there were no more spoils to be had in Chile, he sailed on. He now bore on
his left cheek a deep scar made by an Araucanian arrow shot during his unsuccessful
attempt to capture Mocha Island.
In 1586 Thomas Cavendish conducted the second expedition against Spanish colonies along
the west coast of America. He anchored at Santa María island and managed to achieve
better relations with the natives. They supplied him with enough foodstuff that he was
able to continue his journey. He found Valparaíso shrouded by fog. Unable to enter the
port, he landed in Quintero, a few miles to the north. Spanish soldiers appeared and in
the ensuing fight the Englishmen had to retreat to their ships leaving behind several
prisoners and casualties.
Cavendish was followed by Hawkins who in April of 1594 fell on Valparaíso and sacked
the town. He behaved in a honorable and gentlemanly manner, returning prisoners and
respecting private property. This gallant behavior later was to save his life: imprisoned
by Viceroy Mendoza in Peru, he was treated with courtesy, sent to Spain, and eventually
But it was not only the English who took advantage of the poorly defended Pacific
ports. The Dutch too found they could penetrate the Straits. The Cordes brothers left very
different impressions. One expedition, led by Simon Cordes surrendered in Valparaíso and
asked for help, but his brother Balthazar sacked the town of Castro in Chiloe and
committed despicable crimes along the coast. In 1600 another Dutchman, Oliver van Noort,
entered Valparaíso where five ships were at anchor. He captured two and burned the other
three, and in most cruel behavior, he beheaded the thirty Spanish sailors he had captured.
He spared only the pilot, Juan de Sandoval, to guide him north, but once he had served his
purpose, van Noort had him thrown to the sharks off the coast of Peru.
The tremendous blow to the limited commerce of the colony can well be imagined. All
traffic came to a standstill and the lost ships and seamen could not be replaced easily.
The Viceroy of Peru could do nothing to defend either Chilean ports or his own. After
Drake's attack, Viceroy Toledo thought of sealing the Straits and sent an expedition under
the command of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa with instructions to colonize the shores of the
pass so that entrance into the Pacific could be checked. Drake had not divulged the
discovery of a passage below Tierra del Fuego and, of course, nobody had believed the
report of Jufre de Loayza in his San Lesmes to the same effect. European
charts clearly showed land all the way to the South Pole.
Sarmiento de Gamboa's expedition consisted of two ships and, as often happened, they
separated. Sarmiento in the Nuestra Señora de la Buena Esperanza easily
entered the Straits, explored the coast, and sailed on to Spain. But the San
Francisco under the command of pilot Lamero, missed the entrance and sailed on to
latitude 56E. Turning east, he soon discovered that the Southern Continent did not exist.
So surprised was the captain that he ordered an immediate return to Peru to inform the
Viceroy of his findings.
In the meantime, Sarmiento de Gamboa had convinced King Phillip II of the need to
fortify the shores of the Straits. He was authorized to take 4000 men, of whom 600 were to
go on to the Araucanian War. His fleet of 15 vessels sailed from Rio de Janeiro on
November 2, 1582. A storm scattered the ships but Sarmiento managed to get through with
part of his fleet, landed in the shores of the Straits and founded two cities: Nombre de
Dios and Rey Don Felipe. These two towns were isolated, even from each other, except by
sea, located on barren shores devoid of natural resources, and subject to extreme weather
conditions. The first winter was a terrible ordeal. While attempting to sail from one port
to the other, Sarmiento was blown out to sea. Without adequate supplies he sailed to Rio,
overhauled his ship, and gathered supplies for his starving towns. No sooner had he sailed
than a tropical storm carried his ship north and drove it aground near the Brazilian port
of Bahia. But Sarmiento was no ordinary man; he managed to get back to Rio, fit another
ship and sail again. This time his crew mutineed and turned north. The ship was then
captured by English pirates and Sarmiento was taken to England as a prisoner. There, Sir
Walter Raleigh took him under his protection and became so interested in his adventures
that he introduced him to the Queen. The Spanish captain and the Queen of England talked
in Latin for over two hours. As a result he was provided with money and a passport to
return to Spain. In France, he was captured by Huguenots and was unable to raise his
ransom. Such misfortunes proved to be too much even for a man like Sarmiento. This brave
and courageous man was never able to arrange relief for his towns in the Straits. Later in
1587, when the English pirate Cavendish entered the Straits, he was met by fifteen
survivors of the first settlement. All but one refused to board the Protestant vessel.
Their state was pathetic; their skin hung from their bones and most of them could not
walk. In the next town no one was found alive. Some bodies were lying on beds and from the
gallows hung a skeleton. Cavendish renamed the place Port Famine which remains until this
day. Thus ended the first attempt to colonize the Straits. It will not be attempted again
until people from the central valley built a permanent settlement in the nineteenth
Since Spain had failed to fortify the Straits and could not defend her ports, the
central coast of Chile became an easy prey for the new piratical expeditions. In spite of
treaties with England and Holland pirate after pirate landed and sacked the islands and
towns along the coast. In 1615 it was George Spillberg who sailed along the coast
reconnoitering Concepcíon, Valparaíso, Papudo, and eventually attacking ports in Mexico
and Peru. In 1623 a fleet of eleven ships appeared off the coast under Admiral Jacobo
L'Hermite. One of his ships, under the command of Jacob Schouten reached the southernmost
tip of South America and named it Cape Horn, although the rocky island had probably been
sighted by Jufre de Loayza, Drake, and Lamero. A smaller expedition under Henry Brower
attacked Chiloe Island and when L'Hermite died, the new commander, Herckmans, landed in
Valdivia and in agreement with the Indians fortified the port. But the attitude of the
natives suddenly changed from peaceful and cooperative to hostility and the Dutch suddenly
left, leaving behind their walls. This sudden departure could not easily be explained and
gave rise to many rumors. They were later given literary form by the Spanish writer
Quevedo. The explanation of the sudden departure can be found in his work La hora
Caribbean pirates also made their appearance in the Chilean coast. They were known as
"filibusteros", a corruption of the English word "freebooters," used
to designate English pirates who attacked Spanish ships in the Caribbean. The first,
Bartholomew Sharp, came by way of Panama and appeared suddenly in La Serena in 1680. Sharp
was raiding the Pacific coast of South America with two Spanish ships he had captured
after crossing the isthmus. He sacked and burned La Serena and the small port of Coquimbo
as well before going on to Juan Fernández Island to rest his crews and resupply his
stores. The pirates quarreled among themselves and Sharp was deposed and arrested. John
Watling, an old and experienced bucaneer, took his place at the head of the force. With
refreshed crews the squadron cruised off the northern coats of South and Central America,
where Sharp eventually regained his command.
Alarmed by Sharp's attack, the Royal Spanish government reinforced the garrisons at
Valdivia and Talcahuano. At Valparaíso ten bronze cannons were placed in Fort San José.
Unable to fortify La Serena, the Governor of Chile, José de Garro, organized a local
militia and accepted a few cannons donated by the local inhabitants. The Islands Mocha and
Santa María were evacuated in order to eliminate possible supply spots for the enemy.
Nothing was done to occupy Juan Fernández islands whose abundant marine life, birds, and
goat population continued to serve visiting pirates.
In March of 1681 a three ship privateer squadron anchored in Juan Fernández. The ships
were commanded by captains William Ambrose Cowley, William Dampier, and John Eaton.
Suddenly surprised by three Spanish ships sent after them, the bucaneers sailed leaving a
man ashore. There is some question as to whether the man was left behind accidentally or
on purpose. Some versions picture him with a trunk full of supplies. Others describe him
as armed only with a fowling piece. There is no question that he was the sailing master of
the Cinque Ports.
After replenishing their water they moved on to attack Spanish shipping off the coast
of Mexico and Peru. After many encounters and an almost fatal battle with a Spanish
squadron, the ships became separated. Four years later, Eaton's ship now commanded by a
Captain Swam attempted to attack Valdivia but after severe loses he was forced to
re-embark. Swam rejoined Edward Davis who had been with Dampier, and together they
campaigned for eighteen months.
At almost the same time, William Knight at the head of forty Englishmen and twenty
Frenchmen attempted an attack on La Serena but was met by a strong cavalry squadron that
forced his landing party to retreat. In 1686, Davis attacked La Serena and when
counter-attacked he took refuge in a church where he held up for 30 hours before
retreating towards his ship and leaving behind eleven dead. Davis retreated towards Juan
Fernández where he could rest and refresh his men.
The strong measures taken by Garro were still in effect in 1670 when an English ship
under the command of John Strong arrived off the coast of Chile and attempted to get
supplies. He was treated as an enemy and after attempting to land at Concepcíon and La
Serena retreated by way of the Straits of Magellan.
In 1700 great alarm was caused by a message from Madrid announcing that a five ship
squadron was bound or the coast of Chile. The local governor made exaggerated preparations
at Santiago, a city well inland and protected by rugged mountains. The danger had been
exaggerated even in the Spanish Court: only two vessels had turned the Horn and never
approached the coast of continental Chile. When the bucaneers, among whom were several
veterans from Dampier's cruise, arrived in Juan Fernández they met and rescued Alexander
Selkirk, who had been marooned by the sudden appearance of Spanish ships and who had
survived in the island for several years. The description of his ordeal was the basis of
Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.(2)
In 1720 the English Shelvock attempted to attack Concepcíon but without success,
eventually losing his ship at Juan Fernández. Finally, local authorities fortified all
the main ports: Ancud, Valdivia, Concepcíon, Valparaíso and La Serena. The inhabitants
of smaller towns where no royal troops were quartered, were organized into militia units.
These two measures eventually put an end to piratical raids.
By mid-seventeenth century, exploratory and conquering expeditions had given way to
scientific voyages of discovery. In 1753 a Spanish expedition was sent to colonial Chile.
Its purpose was to explore the coast, collect speciments of animal and plant life and
write journals. The leaders were learned men, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa. Their well
written description of the southern coast became famous on the subject.
In 1741 an English fleet under the command of Gorge Anson appeared in front of Ancud in
Chiloe Island. One of his ships, the frigate Wager, was shipwrecked among
the desolate Islands of Guayaneco. Four survivors reached Valparaíso: one of whom,
Midshipman Byron was the grandfather of the poet Lord Byron. Young Byron wrote a most
interesting description of his adventures. Lord Anson rested his crews in Juan Fernández
and not fully recovered, sailed on without touching the Chilean central coast.
Exploration During the Colony
Two expeditions were sent by the King of Spain for the sole purpose of looking for
sites for new settlements. The first, led by Antonio de Cordoba in 1785, reported that the
Southern lands could not be settled because they could hardly support animal life. A
better organized expedition was led by the Italian Malaspina in the service of Spain. He
was an experienced sailor and an able cartographers who drew charts whose accuracy was
later confirmed. Of special interest are his studies of the coast of Chiloe Island.
Other scientific explorers, among them the French La Perouse, Bouganville and Feuille,
the English Cook, and the Spaniards Mancilla, Machado, Moraleda and Ugarte, explored,
charted and gave names to many of the islands, passes and other geographical features
south of Chiloe. Finally, an almost complete picture of the Western Patagonian geography
was available after the combined efforts of these explorers.
In the eighteen century the merchant marine showed great improvements. The royal
ordinances of Charles III opened ports to ships of other nations so that competition for
intercoastal trade, an increase of agricultural production in the central valley of Chile,
and the appearance of Basque shipowners caused a significant increase in the number of
ships sailing between Chile and Peru. The small fleet of Concepcíon, crewed by Chilotans
who were descendants of the Cuncos and skippered by Basque pilots, covered the whole
Pacific. Chileans also made up the majority of the crews trading of the Callao fleet and
so Chilean sailors reached Upper and Lower California, the Philippines, Guam, and all the
ports in the West Coast of South America, even though the absurd Spanish legislation
forbade direct trade among the colonies. At the end of the colonial period, the leading
shipowner of Concepcíon, Don José de Urrutia y Mendiburu sought permission to send his
ships to Manila and California. The same request was made by Marquez a Valparaíso
shipowner. The Viceroy refused explaining that it would be unfair competition to the
merchants of Callao who held a monopoly of the trade.
In studying the origins of Chilean naval development the role of the Spanish Navy must
not be forgotten. Chilean-born boys attended the naval schools at Cadiz, Ferrol and
Cartagena, in spite of the restrictions created by the lack of nobility titles. Many
Chilean and Argentine officers served in the Spanish Navy, some as naval officers such as
Manuel Blanco Encalada and Francisco de la Lastra. General José de San Martín commanded,
as a young captain, the marine garrison aboard the ship of the line Santa Dorotea.
Chilean historians tend to ignore the importance of the sea in the development of
Chilean nationality, even during the colonial period. Chiloe, Valdivia, Talcahuano--the
port of Concepcíon--, Valparaíso, and Coquimbo supplied crews for the ships of the
Viceroyalty. These very men would man the ships which gained Chile her Independence from
Acknowledgement || 2: Independence >>