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article imageCaptain John Williams and 'Fort Bulnes' on the Strait of Magellan Special

By Igor I. Solar     Jul 12, 2011 in Travel
Punta Arenas - Sailor John Williams came to Chile in 1818 as crew member of brigantine “Lucy”; he settled in the country and was instrumental in the establishment of Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan, a geographic zone of major geopolitical importance.
History is not specific about what inspired John Williams Wilson to stay in Chile after the delivery in Valparaíso of the brigantine Lucy, one of the first war ships purchased (on credit) by the budding Chilean Navy. He either enjoyed the challenge of joining an embryonic navy force, maybe the climate, possibly the sound of the Spanish language, or perhaps because he fell in love with Micaela Rebolledo, a Chilean girl he eventually married.
Model of Brigantine Lucy (ex - HMS Hecate)  renamed Galvarino  fourth vessel of the Chilean Navy (18...
Model of Brigantine Lucy (ex - HMS Hecate), renamed Galvarino, fourth vessel of the Chilean Navy (1818-1828).
Chilean Navy
Lucy, the British brigantine, was renamed by the Chilean Navy as Galvarino (the name of a heroic Mapuche Indian). John Williams also changed his own name to Juan Guillermos (the literal Spanish translation of his name), the only moniker he used to sign personal and official documents until his death in 1857 at the age of 59. Juan Guillermos adopted Chilean citizenship and joined the Navy. He was distinguished for his skills and commitment and soon he rose in the ranks to Lieutenant Commander, Commander and Captain. He was also named Maritime Governor of the Island of Chiloé and, later on, of the Port of Talcahuano.
Picture of a Portrait of Juan Guillermos (John Williams) born in Bristol  UK in 1798  he died in Val...
Picture of a Portrait of Juan Guillermos (John Williams) born in Bristol, UK in 1798, he died in Valparaíso, Chile, 1857.
MA Caro
Following the capture of the Falkland Islands by England in 1833, and the further annexation in 1843 of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, several European nations became interested in appropriating the southern tip of South America and initiated exploration and activities aimed at establishing control over the Strait of Magellan. Besides the British (Robert Fitz Roy, HMS Beagle, 1934), the region also received the visit of French explorers (Jules Dumont D'Urville, Astrolabe, 1837).
By 1842, the Chilean authorities had become increasingly concerned about the possibility of England or France claiming jurisdiction of the strategic waterway and decided to do something about it. Captain Juan Guillermos, at the time stationed in Chiloé Island, Chile’ last frontier following independence from Spain, was commissioned to build a ship, gather a group of colonizers and establish Chilean sovereignty over the Strait of Magellan.
It was a great opportunity for Captain Guillermos’ to achieve his path to glory. Within two months
Model of Schooner Ancud at the Chilean National History Museum. This was the first “war ship” bu...
Model of Schooner Ancud at the Chilean National History Museum. This was the first “war ship” built in Chile.
Nat. Hist. Museum
he had a small wooden ship built. The 27-tonnes, 2-mast schooner was called “Ancud” after the name of the small fishing village where it was built. It was equipped with 4 cannons, a hand-held compass and a crew of 21 men and 2 women, Venancia and Ignacia. They carried dried provisions for several months, a fair amount of wine and rum, plus several live animals including a couple of goats, 2 pigs, three dogs, a rooster and several hens.
The schooner left Ancud in May 22, 1843 and travelled south for four months arriving to Santa Ana Point in the Strait of Magellan in September 21. Captain Guillermos and his crew raised the Chilean flag, fired a 21-gun salute and took formal possession of the Strait of Magellan for Chile. Amazingly, the following day arrived to Santa Ana Point “Le Phaèton”, a frigate of the French Navy which had come to the Strait with the mission of further exploring its shores with a view towards future occupation and the setting up of a French port.
View of a section of Fort Bulnes with cannon defences overlooking the Strait of Magellan.
View of a section of Fort Bulnes with cannon defences overlooking the Strait of Magellan.
Fort Bulnes. Log fence close to the main gate. In the background  top right  is the watchtower.
Fort Bulnes. Log fence close to the main gate. In the background, top right, is the watchtower.
Following a minor diplomatic incident where Captain Maissin of the Phaèton, acknowledged that his immediate mission was not to take possession of the Strait, Guillermos and his people set up to building a settlement using logs and adobe (clay and straw bricks). The colony was designed as a fort and Guillermos called it “Fuerte Bulnes”, honouring General Manuel Bulnes, then Chile’s President.
The place proved to be a mistaken choice. The area was extremely inhospitable, practically useless for vegetable farming or sheep raising; the climate remarkably harsh and dreadfully inappropriate for a human habitation. After struggling for several years attempting to establish a town around the Fort, it was decided in 1848 that the settlement had to be moved to another place. The colony was relocated to Sandy Point, about 62 kilometres north of Fort Bulnes, which is now the current location of the city of Punta Arenas.
Fort Bulnes. Side gate facing the sea around Santa Ana Point; in the background are the hills of the...
Fort Bulnes. Side gate facing the sea around Santa Ana Point; in the background are the hills of the Brunswick Peninsula.
Fort Bulnes. The Jail is the only 2-storey building in the complex.
Fort Bulnes. The Jail is the only 2-storey building in the complex.
The “failed” fortification was abandoned and later set on fire. To commemorate 100 years of Chilean sovereignty on the Strait of Magellan, between 1941 and 1943 a replica of the original citadel was built. For the reconstruction of the historic fort, the appearance and position of the structures followed original drawings. Logs and adobe, similar to the original structures were used. The complex includes housing for officers and crew, food stores, gun powder magazine, jail, a church and chaplain's quarters plus watchtower and stables. In 1968 the Fort was declared a national monument.
Digital Journal visited this historic location located on a rocky point in the coastline of the Strait of Magellan. The pictures provide an idea of the aspect of the old fortification which made possible to uphold Chile’s sovereignty on the Strait of Magellan and the Southern Patagonia.
Fort Bulnes. The Church was built at the end of the Fort with the Chaplain s quartes nearby. It s a ...
Fort Bulnes. The Church was built at the end of the Fort with the Chaplain's quartes nearby. It's a log construction with wooden roof shingles, typical of the churches of Chiloé Island.
Fuerte Bulnes. View from the Fort on Santa Ana Point overlooking the Strait of Magellan. In the back...
Fuerte Bulnes. View from the Fort on Santa Ana Point overlooking the Strait of Magellan. In the background are the shores of Tierra del Fuego Island.
More about Fort Bulnes, Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, John Williams Wilson, Juan Guillermos
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