Posted by: Rob Viens | January 8, 2014

Treacherous Rocks and Mutineers

On January 4th the Beagle departed Port Desire for a sort excursion down the coast to Puerto San Julián. The most exciting part of the trip (which took the better part of a day) was the fact that the Beagle hit a rock on its way out of the bay – the very same rock, insisted FitzRoy, that the Beagle had hit 5 years earlier on its first voyage.  Darwin writes:

“The Adventure not being ready for sea, the Captain determined to run down to Port St Julian about 110 miles to the South & to survey some of the intermediate coast. — We floated with a strong tide out of harbor; it is called backing & filling from a particular manner of sailing the vessel & is a ticklish operation. — Having passed the narrows, made sail: in a few minutes we struck rather heavily on a rock; — the tide was ebbing, but with good fortune she struck only twice more & then went over. — The Beagle, in her last voyage, struck in the night & as is now supposed, on the same rock. — the summit is so small that the next day it could not be found by any efforts. — On both occasions the Beagle has received no essential damage; for the which all in her ought to be grateful. — At night we anchored off the coast.” (Jan 4)

Port St. Julian from an early edition of George Anson’s Voyage Round the World (via – click on the link above for more on George Anson.
Port St Julian

Puerto San Julián is the next major inlet located south of Port Desire – roughly about 180 km (~110 mi) away. The two ports have a lot of similarities, but also a few differences, too.  Like Port Desire, Puerto San Julián has always been a popular stop for explorers traveling up and down the coast, and in fact, the two ports saw some of the same famous visitors.  Both Ferdinand Magellan and Sir Francis Drake stopped in both places, and both chose to overwinter in Puerto San Julián for several months before traveling through the Straits of Magellan to the Pacific.  I assume that the protected nature of the inlet made it an ideal location. But St. Julian brought problems for both captains, too.

In 1520, bad weather, bad luck and a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish crews led to a mutiny by three of the captains on the Magellan expedition. Magellan quickly put an end to the rebellion but not before several men (including 2 of the captains) were killed (including several who were drawn and quartered or impaled on stakes).  It would turnout to be only one of the many tragedies to befall the Magellan expedition, which returned to Spain 2 years later with only 18 crewman (of the original ~250) and 1 ship. Magellan himself never completed the journey.

Ferdanand Magellan (The quote states “Ferdinan Magellanus superatis antarctici freti angustiis clariss.” – Fedinand Magellan, you overcame the famous, narrow, southern straits (via Wikipedia Commons))

Ferdinand Magellan

Almost 60 years later Sir Francis Drake spent the winter in Puerto San Julián, where he found some of the “remains” of Magellan’s mutineers.  Ironically he had his own trouble with discontent and tried one of his own men – Thomas Doughty – for mutiny in the very same spot.  Doughty lost his head.  (Read the poetic version of the story in Robert Ervin Howard’s poem The One Black Stain.)

Puerto San Julián later developed into a much quieter and docile small town of sheep herders. Today it is even smaller than Port Desire (about 6,000 compared to 15,000 people).  I guess sheep are less lucrative than fish… (RJV)


  1. […] Given the region’s climate, the cross Darwin observed on January 14th could have been the one left by Magellan 300 years earlier.  For more on that story see Treacherous Rocks and Mutineers. […]

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