46327: Visit to Patagonia V

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.

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In past times, this large farm and its neighbour, ‘Estancia Maria Behety’ had scores of Lewis and Harris men on their payrolls. Several of them had previously worked on the Falkland Islands where sheep farming on a large scale had attracted men from all over Scotland and many parts of England during the 1890s. By the turn of the Century, the scene was set for the expansion of the sheep industry throughout Tierra del Fuego and the southern regions of mainland Argentina and Chile. The rapid growth of the industry resulted in widespread recruitment of farm workers from Britain and European countries to the various regions of Patagonia.

Estancias ‘Jose Menendez’ and ‘Maria Behety’ are situated along the banks of the Rio Grande, a river which is now world famous for its run of enormous sea trout. While we were there, we met a party of anglers, one of whom that day had landed a sea trout of 32lb and since then, one of 40lb, has been caught. It is obvious that, in the closing years of this century, sheep farming on these tow estancias is gradually giving way to the lucrative leasing of the fishings on the Rio Grande. The imposing farmhouses have become fishing lodges for the anglers who travel from all over the world, prepared to pay enormous sums of money for the magnificent fishing. However, the farms still carry many thousands of sheep and cattle. Angus Smith told us of the heavy stock losses which they suffered during the winter of 1995, caused by an unusually heavy snowfall which lasted for several weeks. They lost 1,400 head of cattle and some 4,000 sheep on that single farm and farmers throughout Southern Patagonia suffered similar losses.

Over 2,000 miles north of Tierra del Fuego is Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, our last port of call. We were invited to the home of Guilermo Santana Mackinlay whom we met there eon our first visit in 1994. He and his wife, Patsy had asked some of their friends to join us and sitting next to me was a lady, introduced as Beatrice de Zapata. I remarked that she spoke very fluently in English and she explained that both her parents had been born in Scotland. They had emigrated to Patagonia where they worked on farms until they retired and came to live in Buenos Aires. Beatrice then proceeded to show me photographs of her family and the very first one was of her father’s family home. It was incredible that I was looking at a photograph of the house of croft 14 Keose, almost next door to us at home. The house is still a familiar landmark, situated on the Aird Mhor by the shores of Loch Erisort.

Beatrice is the daughter of Donald Maciver and Lillian Burton, who had a family of four; Beatrice, Marion, Hugh and Donald. Hugh and Beatrice live in Buenos Aires with their respective families. Donald died there in 1995 but his family continue to live in the city and Marion is in Canada.

Before leaving the capital, I was able to talk briefly on the telephone to Sarah Macdonald de Marinelich who is the daughter of John Macdonald, 13 Keose who told me her sister, Mabel also resided there. I was unable to speak to Elizabeth Morrison de Monaco, the daughter of Kenneth Morrison, 4 Airidhbhruaich as she was away from home when I telephoned.

It is obvious that throughout Argentina and Chile there are many descendants of the emigrants who left Lewis and Harris in the early years of this century and each and every one of those whom we had the pleasure of meeting on our short visit there showed great interest in the land which their parents and grandparents had left behind.

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