Historical Account of the Patagonians

NOTE to the READER: There are numerous words contained in this document that we would not capitalize or are spelled differently today such as Brasil, cloathed, thot, spight, tyger and Streights. You will also find the absence of “periods” at the end of many sentences. Were the author to be in composition class today, he would be scolded for using run-on sentences! Another curious aspect is the seemingly random use of italics, generally in conjunction with proper names. You’ll also see that most of the letter “s” look like a curvy “f”. The exception to this is there a double “s” is used as in “pass”. The first “s” looks like a curvy “f”, but the second “s” looks normal. “Pass” would look like “pafs”. If the double “s” is in the middle of the word, then two curvy “f’s” are used as in “expreffes”.

With respect for authenticity, the following four plus pages have been typed exactly as they appeared in this 235-year-old document. Two of the pages have been reproduced so you can see how this magazine actually looked.

An Epitome of all the Accounts that have hitherto been published concerning a Race of People of a gigantic Stature, on and about the Eastern Coast of South America, between latitude 24 S. and the Straits of Magellan, which lie in 53 deg.

There people are first mentioned in the account of a voyage for new discoveries, undertaken by Magellan in the year 1519. he words in Harris’s abridgment of this account are these:

“When they had crossed the line, and the South pole appeared above the horizon, they held on their south course, and came upon the Main of Brasil, about that part of it which lies in twenty two degrees. They observed it to be all one continued tract of land, higher from the Cape St. Augustine, which is in this part of the country. Having made two degrees and an half more South latitude, they fell in with a country inhabited by a wild sort of people: They were of a prodigious stature, fierce and barbarous, made a horrible roaring noise, more like bulls than human creatures; and yet with all that mighty bulk were so nimble and light of foot that none of the Spaniards or Portuguese could over take them.”

By this account giants appear to have been found in lat. 24 1/2 South; but upon referring to the map, the account appears to be erroneous, for Cape St. Augustine, which is said to be latitude 22, appears to be in latitude 10; so that it is doubtful whether the giants were found in latitude 12 1/2 or 24 1/2. If they were discovered after sailing two degrees and an half South from St. Augustine, they were found in 12 1/2; if after sailing two degrees and an half South, from that part of the Main of Brasil, which lies in 22, they were found in 24 and an half. Such is the accuracy of Harris. The account however, goes on.

Their next advance was to 49 degrees and an half South latitude. Here they were shut up by hard weather, and forced to take up their winter quarters for no less than five months. They for a long time believed the country to be uninhabited, but at length a savage of the neighbouring parts came up to give them a visit; he was a brisk, jolly fellow, merrily disposed, singing and dancing all the way he came; being got to the haven, he stood there and threw dust upon his head, he came with them to the ship without fear or suspicion. The head of one of Magellan’s middle sized men reached but to his waist, and he was proportionably big; his body was formidably painted all over, especially his face. A stag’s horn was drawn upon each cheek, and great red circles round his eyes; his colours were otherwise mostly yellow, only his hair was white. For his apparel, he had the skin of a beast clumsily sewed together, but a beast as strange as that was that wore it; every way unaccountable, neither mule, horse, nor camel, but something of every one, the ears of the first, the tail of the second, and the shape and body of the last; it was one entire suit, all of one piece from head to foot as his breast and back were covered with it above, so his legs and feet were wrapped up in it below. The arms that he brought with him were a stout bow and arrow: The strings of the bow was a gut or sinew of the beast whose skin covered him, and the arrows were tipped with sharp stones.

Magellan, the admiral, made him eat and drink, and he enjoyed himself very comfortably till he happened to peep into a looking glass that was given him among other trifles: This put him into a fright from which he could not easily recover, so that starting back with violence, he threw two of the men who stood by him to the ground, This giant, however, fared so well, notwithstanding his fright by the looking-glass, that the Spaniards had quickly the company of more; one in particular made himself mighty familiar, and shewed so much pleasantry and good humour that the Europeans were greatly pleased with his company.

Magellan was desirous of making some of these gigantic people prisoners, and with this view his crew filled their hands with toys and little things that pleased them; and in the mean time put iron shackles upon their legs; at first they thot them fine play things as well as the rest, and were pleased with their gingling found; but when they found themselves hampered and betrayed, they implored the aid of some superior and invisible being, by the name of Setebos; upon this occasion their strength appeared to be proportionable to their bulk, for one of them defeated the utmost efforts of nine men, and thought they had him down, and tied his hands tightly, yet he freed himself from his bonds, and got loose, in spight of all their endeavors to detain him. Their appetite is also in proportion to their strength; the admiral gave them the name of Patagons, and took notice of the following words; bread, capar; water, oli; black, a mel; red, cheiche; red cloth, cherecai. They tie up their hair, though it is short, with a cotton lace. They have no fixed habitations, but certain moveable cottages, which they carry from place to place as their fancy leads them; these cottages are covered with the same skin that covers their bodies. A certain sweet root, which they call by the name they give to bread, capar, is a considerable part of their food; what flesh they eat is devoured raw.

They practice physic but in two articles, vomiting and phlebotomy, and both in a very extraordinary manner. To vomit they thrust an arrow a foot and an half down the throat; and to bleed, they give the part affected, whether leg, arm or face, a good chop with some sharp instrument.”

Such is the account of the Patagons, as given by Harris, who says he has taken the utmost pains to give it in the clearest manner possible, by comparing all the different relations of the Portuguese and Spanish writers; and it is to be hoped that no man can read the account of the violence and perfidy practiced against these blameless friendly, unsuspecting people, without indignation. Harris, however, suffers it to pass without animadversion; and probably described this attempt of Magellan to betray the confidence of a reasonable being, and to force him into exile and misery, with as much phlegm as he would the snaring a tyger, or hooking a fish.

Magellan himself was afterwards killed in an hostile attempt to extort tribute from a king of Mathan, or Matahan, one of the Ladrone Islands, to which he had just as much right as the king of Mathan had to tribute from Spain.

The Patagons are next mentioned in an account of the voyage of Sir Francis Drake; but in Harris’s epitome their stature is not particularly ascertained. The paragraph relating to them being only as follows:

“In sailing forth from the river of Plate, in latitude 36 S. they came to a good bay, in which were several pretty islands; the admiral being on shore in one of these islands, the people came dancing and leaping about him, and were very free to trade; they were a comely strong-bodied people, very swift of foot, and of a brisk lively constitution; their faces were panted, and their apparel only a covering of the skins of beasts, with the fur on, about their waists, and something wreathed about their heads; they had bows an ell (an “ell” equals 2 1/2 feet) long, but no more than two arrows a piece: They seemed not altogether ignorant of marital discipline, as appeared by their method of ordering and ranging their men. They were the nation which Magellan called Patagons.”

The latitude of this island is not particularly mentioned: it must have been about 46 or 42. There is some difference in the accounts of their cloathing Magellan says they were cloathed from head to foot; Drake, that they were covered only round the waist, and upon the head; but this may easily be accounted for, because Magellan wintered with them, and Drake saw them in summer.

These giants are next mentioned in an account of a voyage round the world, by Sir Thomas Cavendish: Of which Harris’s epitome is as follows:

“Sailing from Cape Frio, in the Brasils, they fell in upon the coast of America, in 47 d. 20 m. North (it should be South) latitude. They proceeded to Port Desire, in latitude 50. Here the Savages wounded two of the company with their arrows, which are made of cane, headed with flints. A wild and rude sort of creatures they were; and, as it seemed, of a gigantic race, the measure of one of their feet being 18 inches in length, which, reckoning by the usual proportion, will give about 7 feet and an half for their stature.” Harris says that this agrees very exactly with the account given of them by Magellan, but in his epitome of Magellan’s account he says that the head of one of his middle sized men reached but to the Patagonian’s waist; which, supposing Magellan’s man to be but 5 feet 6 inches high, will make the Patagonian 9 at least. He says, indeed, that Magellan gave them the name of Patagons, because their stature was five cubits, or seven feet six, but, if so, his own account is inconsistent with itself, neither has he told us in what language Patagon expresses this stature.

Oliver Noort, the first Dutchman that attempted a voyage round the world, performed his expedition between the years 1598 and 1601, and the account he gives of the inhabitants of these parts, as abridged by Harris, is to the following effect:

“He went up the river at Port Desire, and going on shore, found beasts like stags and buffaloes, also some savages, who, he says, were tall portly men, painted and armed with short bows and arrows, that were headed with stone.”

These beasts like buffaloes probably furnished the skins that Magellan described to have the ears of an ass, the tail of a horse, and the shape of a camel, for the buffalo has a bunch upon his back.

Having afterwards entered the Streights, they saw some men upon two islands, near a Cape which is here called Cape Nassau. There is no Cape marked either in the chart of map prefixed to Harris’s collection by that name, nor has he told us to which of the capes that are marked this name was given by the Dutch. These savages having now, by sad experience, been taught to regard every European as an enemy, shook their weapons against the Dutch, in hopes to prevent their landing. The Dutch, however, did land upon one of the islands, and the poor Indians retreating, they pursued them to the cave which contained their wives and children, and killed every one of them. When these ruffians rushed in, the women covered their infants with their own bodies, that they might receive the first stab; the Dutch did not indeed, murder these forlorn and defenceless wretches in cold blood, but having butchered the fathers and husbands, they took away six of the children, four boys and two girls, and carried them on shipboard. It is impossible for any man, whose feelings of humanity have not been obtunded by selfishness or superstition, to read the accounts of the discoveries and settlements of the people of Europe, in other parts of the world, without regretting their success, and wishing that they had all perished in the attempt. In these expeditions they have filled the earth with violence, and, as far as their influence could extend, diffused wickedness and misery by every violation of the laws of nature, that the most wanton cruelty, and sordid avarice could prompt, while they distinguished themselves from those whom they destroyed and enslaved, by the name of Christians, and gloried in the refinements of honour, which, looking down upon mere moral obligations, pretends to merit beyond the limits of duty.

One of the boys thus brought on board Van Noort’s fleet, learnt the Dutch language; and gave intelligence to the following effect: that the inhabitants of the continent near the island from which he had been taken, were divided into different tribes; that three of these tribes, which he distinguished by the names of Kementes, Kenekin, and Karaicks, were of common size, but broader breasted and painted all over; and that there was another tribe, which he called Tiriminen, who were of a gigantic stature, being 10 or 12 feet high, and continually at war with the other tribes.

This boy gave an account of the cloathing and appearance of the inhabitants of this country, very different from those already transcribed; for he said the men wore their hair long, that the women were shaved, and that both went naked except a cloak of Penguin’s skins, which reached to their waist.

Sebald de Weert, another Dutchman, failed to the Streights of Magellan in the year 1598, and in his account are the following particulars. He detached two sloops to an island near the mouth of the Streights, to catch sea dogs. When these sloops came near the shore, they perceived seven canoes, with Savages on board, that were ten or eleven feet high, of a reddish colour, and with long hair. They are farther described as being naked, except one who had a sea dogs skin about his shoulders; and it is remarkable that de Weert was on this coast in May, which is there a winter month.

In the account given of the voyage of George Spilbergen, we are told that on the coast of Terra del Fuego, which is to the south of Magellan’s Streights, his people saw a man of a gigantic stature, climbing the hills to take a view of the fleet, but, though they went on shore, they saw no other human inhabitant; they saw, however, several graves containing bodies of the ordinary size, or rather below it; and the savages they saw from time to time in canoes, appeared to be under six feet high.

In the history of the voyage of Capt. Cowley, an Englishman, which was undertaken in 1583, we have an account of giants indeed, but in a country very distant from Patagonia. In lat. 13 deg. 30 min. North, and about 13 East longitude, lies the island of Guam, it is one of the Ladone Islands, and was then in the possession of the Spaniards, who had a governor and garrison there. The Indian inhabitants of this island, Cowley says, were all well made, active, vigorous, and some of them seven feet and an half high. Capt. Cowley took as he says, four of these Infidels prisoners, which to be sure, being a good Christian, he had a right to do; and it appears by the sequel of the account, that he treated them as other good Christians had treated Infidels, which strength or cunning had put into their power.

“We brought them on board, says he, tying their hands behind them, but they had not been long there before three of them leapt overboard into the sea, swimming away from the ship with their hand bound behind them we sent a boat after them, and fund that a strong man at the first blow could not penetrate their skins with a cutlas. One of them had received, in my judgment, forty shots in his body before he died, and the last of the three that was killed had swam a good English mile, though his hands were not only tied behind him, but his arms pinioned.”

Thus it appears that these three poor naked wretches were all murdered in cold blood, because they endeavoured to escape from those, who, without provocation, had injuriously and cruelly seized them by violence, in their native country, and were carrying them as slaves into exile. Harris tells the story without the least intimation that any thing had been done to the Infidels, which a good Christian might not justify.

In an account of Capt. George Shelvock’s voyage, which was undertaken in the year 1719, there is the following paragraph.– “M. Frezier gives us an account that the Indians inhabiting the continent to the south of this island (the island of Chiloe, which lies off the coast of Chile, about lat. 42 S. and long. about 72 W of London) are called Chronos, that they go quite naked, and that in the inland part there is a race of men of an extraordinary size, called Cacabues, who, being in amity with the Chronos, have sometimes come with them to the dwellings of the Spaniards at Chiloe. He adds, that he was credibly informed by several who had been eye witnesses, that some were about nine or ten feet high. Who Frazier was, Mr Harris, though he quotes him, does not tell us. His story is certainly fabulous, for the whole coast of Chili, and the island of Chiloe, having been long in possession of the Spaniards, the existence of a gigantic race in those parts, if real, would have been long out of doubt. The same objection lies against the account given of the Indian natives of Guam, by Cowley. The giants, four of whom he says he took prisoners and three of whom he murdered, must have been familiar to the Spaniards, and, consequently, their existence recorded by Spanish writers of credit, so as to make the fact as well known and believed as the existence of the island itself. Of the other accounts, our readers must judge for themselves.

The Gentleman’s Magazine; For MAY 1767, pages 195 – 197, 238, 239
by Sylvanus Urban, Gent London: Printed by D. Henry at St John’s Gate.