46322: Visit to Patagonia I

Margaret Smith, along with her siblings, Donna and Iain decided to visit Patagonia in 1994 in order to retrace their father’ Malcolm Smith’s footsteps and those of the many scores of Lewis and Harris people who had made this distant land their destination at the beginning of the Century. Below is an account of their visit in 1994 and another visit made in 1996.

In 1994, along with other members of my family, I visited Patagonia spurned by a curiosity for this distant land, instilled in us as children by the stories related to us by my father and others who had sojourned there, before and after the First World War. They had gone there in search of employment on the flourishing sheep farms of Southern Argentina and Chile. We hoped that we would be able to trace some descendants of the many Island folk who did not return but had decided to settle in the various regions of this vast part of the South American continent.

Our only Lewis connection in Patagonia was Peggy Mackay (Mrs Fell), whom we knew of but had never met, although she had occasionally visited her relatives at Achmore over the years. Peggy is the daughter of Malcolm Mackay, 23 Achmore and Chrissie Macdonald, 17 Luerbost. They emigrated to Chile in 1921 as a newly married couple and spent some forty years working on various estancias there before returning to live out their retirement in Achmore. Malcolm died in 1972 at the age of 87 years, Christina having pre-deceased him. Two members of their family, Peggy and Aulay had settled in Southern Chile. The other two, Allan and Chrissie, who had been sent home to Lewis as very young children to attend primary school in Achmore, had not returned to the land of their birth.

I had written to Peggy in Punta Arenas to let her know of our intended visit there and on our arrival, she and her daughter Helen, were there to welcome us with a Gaelic greeting which made us feel very much at home in one of the southernmost cities of the world. The other members of Peggy’s family are; Johnnie in Punta Arenas, Patti and Elizabeth in Vina del Mar, Chile and Bill, in New Zealand, all of them married with families. Aulay Mackay and his wife Amelia, live in Punta Arenas and they have one daughter, Maria Christina and two grand-children.

On the day of our arrival in the city as we drove to our hotel, a passing lorry drew our attention. Emblazoned on its red painted side was the name ‘Donald Macleod’ in black lettering. Peggy was at hand to explain that the well-known haulage contractor in the city is the son of Donald Macleod, 61 Balallan and Christina Maciver, 12 Laxay who were also early emigrants. Donald Macleod has now reached retirement age and his sons, Roberto and Donnie continue their father’s haulage business. They each have a family of three daughters.

Peggy pointed out the home of John Mackinnon, a retired lawyer who is the son of John Mackinnon who left from Airidhbhruaich. John Mackinnon has two brothers, Ian and Donald.

She told us of Kenneth Morrison who also resides in the city. He is the son of Neil Morrison, Uig and Mary Montgomery, 4 Balallan. There are other members of the Morrison family in the city and also in the island of Tierra del Fuego.

Some 130 miles north of Punta Arenas is the estancia ‘Brazo Norte’, owned by our friend Peggy. She and her late husband, John Fell, inherited the farm from his father William Fell who was one of the first pioneers to establish sheep farming in Patagonia. Originally from England, the Fell family had farmed in the Falkland Islands before setting up on ‘Brazo Norte’. They faced many difficulties such as the isolated location and the vast distance from any source of materials required for building or fencing.

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