Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What lies behind the name of Jemmy Button...

Plaque at Paul church Cornwall, in honour of the ill-fated Tierra de Fuego mission.
Wandering around a small churchyard last year, looking at the crosses and tombstones, I came across the mural plaque shown above. I don't know how it first caught my attention, but on closer inspection the inscription was extremely poignant and the association of the three local sailors with such distant lands almost incongruous. The Cornish village of Paul, situated above the harbour of Mousehole with its view across Mount's Bay, today appears to be place of tranquility. Positioned several miles from the most extreme part of the south-west peninsula there is very little to link this quaint yet rather remote area with the southern-most tip of the South American mainland on the other side of the world. The solid, staunchly Cornish names of Badcock, Bryant and Pearce thus engraved seem to clash with the foreign, slightly threatening name of their destination; Tierra del Fuego. And yet when these men left Mousehole to form part of a crew, under the command of Captain AF Gardiner, their mission was indeed to "sow the seeds of Christianity" in lands distant and hostile, whatever the personal sacrifice. 

As chance would have it, when I came across this plaque I had in fact recently learnt of the life and works of another captain, in the novel This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson. Over the past 150 years the name Robert FitzRoy has fared a little better than that of the ill-fated Captain Allen Gardiner, which appears to have fallen largely into oblivion. Yet the lives of both men were equally marked by noble but misguided intentions, mis-timed or poorly-planned projects , dashed personal ambition, thwarted religious belief and ultimately met a tragic end. More significant here, at least, was the fact that the destiny of both men was closely associated with "these barbarous shores" of Tierra del Fuego. Furthermore, it was indeed the endeavours of Captain Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865) that would lead indirectly to those of Captain Gardiner (1794-1851). 

FitzRoy is perhaps familiar to us today as one of the litany of names given to the different sea areas that appear in The Shipping Forecast of BBC Radio 4, broadcasting weather reports, forecasts and marine warnings for the coasts of the British Isles (Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fsiher, German Bight....). Less familiar, perhaps, is the fact that the work of the Met Office is largely based on the meteorological discoveries of FitzRoy and his extensive use of 'storm glasses' (barometers) to reduce shipping losses due to bad weather and sea conditions. In this manner, it became possible to predict the weather in the latter half of the 19th century, or to use the term that FitzRoy is said to have coined - 'forecast the weather'. Such forecasts were printed daily in The Times, but due to the time lapse between notification and publication, precision was frequency lost. Furthermore, FitzRoy's religious use of the marine chronometer during his naval missions to survey and chart nautical regions and coastlines enabled him to measure longitude to a degree of accuracy. This was to influence the progression of mapping and time-keeping throughout the world as shipping increasingly used the Greenwich Meridian as its reference point for longitude and time. For FitzRoy had indeed enjoyed a brilliant naval career from a precociously young age and was given the huge responsibility, in his early twenties, of chartering the southern territories of South America as a skilled navigator in 1828. It was during a second mission (1831-1836) to terminate this hydrographic survey of Patagonia and the Straits of Magellan that he was to encounter the young man, graduate of Cambridge, whose name would eclipse his in later life.
 
FitzRoy was in command of the voyages of HMS Beagle with the official objective to map the South-American coast, notably Tierra de Fuego. Of this voyage, most people today only retain the name Charles Darwin, whilst the Galapagos archipelago has ousted the Fuegian islands from their minds. Ironically, the young naturalist had only been taken as a (paying) gentleman companion for FitzRoy in order to give the mission further financial backing and, more importantly, to help the captain face difficult conditions of solitude. The reverend John Henslow, Darwin's former botany professor, had addressed a letter of recommendation to FitzRoy to highlight his protégé's suitability as naturalist, able to study all particularities encountered in terms of geology, flora and fauna. Although a phrenological interpretation of Darwin's face hinted at a lack of drive and stamina, his inquistive nature and lively spirit won FitzRoy over. Such a character promised to act as a talisman to fend off the bouts of depression that the captain was prone to. Ironically Darwin's later glory would cast a long shadow over FitzRoy' life, and the theories that assured the success of the one man would undermine everything that the other believed in, destroying the very linchpin of his being and belittling him in the process.

Darwin first encountered "bona fide savages" during FitzRoy's second Beagle voyage . The observations that he made of the indigenous natives of the extremities of South America later helped him formulate his ideas concerning man's origins in the Descent of Man (1871). Regrettably, FitzRoy's vital role in this initial encounter has been overlooked over the years, and the names of the natives that the naturalist frequented personally have largely been overshadowed by the sole name Darwin. And yet it was these Fuegians, via FitzRoy, who were to inadvertently play a key role in the destinies of Darwin, Captain Gardiner and the three Cornishmen in question. 

Posterity has indeed been somewhat unforgiving to the name of FitzRoy. His righteousness, sense of common decency and duty made of him a good man in every sense. However, FiztRoy is sadly remembered for his undoubted priggishness, his "unfortunate temper" (Darwin's words) and his unyielding determination, or rather obsession, to 'get the job done'. Christianity proved to be his moral backbone, governing acts and deeds that were characterized by a great generosity and loyalty in the professional and personal field. Nevertheless much of this has been forgotten so that all that is remembered of the man himself is the brooding figure, ruminating over Darwin's success and rabidly ranting over opinions he did not share. 
This Thing of Darkness: Harry Thompson - 2006 Headline Review
This difference in character and, above all, theological worldview had already made itself apparent with the bitter disagreements during Beagle voyage, and yet this had not stopped FitzRoy from valuing Darwin's company and conversation. On return to England these difficulties crystallized even further. FitzRoy requested Darwin to complete the third volume of their journal of the Beagle trip, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle (1839), but would allow no allusion to ground-breaking theory. Despite a growing tension, FitzRoy continued to visit Darwin at his home until 1857, when the theories of evolution took on a more concrete form. Although of an unyielding nature, FitzRoy was not the cold, unfeeling being he was often portrayed as, and reading between the lines, appears to have been of a more sensitive, humane nature than Darwin himself. 

Charles Darwin's wise, avuncular appearance of later years belied a youth marked by rather more impulsive acts and exclamations that appeared to display little compassion or tact with regard to his fellow beings. His initial remarks on indigenous natives are at odds with the impartial vision of a man of science and border on a form of racist tunnel vision. Certainly, he was still a young man, lacking in experience at this stage of his life, but the captain was but a few years older than the naturalist himself. Had it been Darwin who had first encountered the natives of Tierra de Fuego rather than FitzRoy, we can only speculate as to the outcome. It was indeed Captain FitzRoy who first met the Fuegians during his first Beagle expedition in 1828 and his decisions that would tie him inextricably to their fate and above all to that of a young man called Jemmy Button. This odd name would crop up repeatedly over the following decades, inspiring much of the missionary work in this remote part of the world throughout the latter part of the century, for better or for worse. 
Wishing to bring the Gospel to South America, FitzRoy had hoped to carry out some missionary work during this first exploratory voyage. However the turn of events led him into an "Evangelical experiment" that he had certainly not envisaged. The coast around the archipelago proved to be treacherous due to the extremity and unpredictability of the weather and sea conditions. In addition to this, the shallow waterways were of no use to larger vessels such as the Beagle, threatening to strand them, ensnare them in lethal kelp or simply dash them against the rocks. Whaleboats and dinghies were used to navigate these passages, whilst the chief vessel could be kept in safer waters. This procedure worked to a degree, but brought the survey teams into close vicinity with the indigenous natives. The Europeans would thus find themselves in a vulnerable position with respect to a people fully adapted to life in such inhospitable conditions. Several tribes inhabited these lands; the Ona (Selk'ham), Haush (Manek'enk), Yaghan (Yamana) and Alacaluf (Kawésqar). All lived exclusively along the waterways, with the exception of the Selk'ham, but the Beagle experience mainly concerned the Yaghan natives. 

The entire territory had initially been given the name "the land of smoke" in 1520 by its discoverer, Ferdinand Magellan, during his voyage of circumnavigation in the service of King Charles I of Spain. This name was made in reference to the innumerable beach fires that the indians left burning, day in,  day out, to protect themselves against the sub-polar oceanic climate and to use as a form of smoke-signal communication. The region was later given the more dramatic title, 'the land of fire'. This choice of name was perhaps due to volcanic activity in the region, but may also allude to the supposed ferocity of the natives who were ready to attack unsuspecting sailors, without any provocation.

In 1624, a group of (fully-armed) Dutch explorers had been swiftly 'massacred' by indigenous savages armed with the most primitive of weapons. Tales of brutality and cannibalism were rife, and were continued for the best part of the 19th century; clumsily held onto perhaps as proof of the need for Christian enlightenment and used as justification for the more extreme measures employed by missionaries. The fleets of canoes that would invariably come out to meet the Europeans did so from curiosity and a need to measure themselves against these intruders, the like of which they had never encountered. Such amply-clothed, white-skinned individuals with their exuberant facial hair and profusion of strange objects must have appeared totally foreign, threatening yet tantalizing. Offering gifts probably did not help matters in the long for the natives were "easy to please, impossible to satisfy", as Darwin had observed. FitzRoy and his crew soon discovered the incredible stealth of pilferers who would easily relieve them of any unattended article at Wulaia (Woolya). Finding themselves stranded onshore following the theft of a vital whaleboat, the crew were obliged to fashion a makeshift coracle in order to regain the Beagle, and FitzRoy felt himself obligated to retaliate using disciplinary measures.

And so it was that a handful of Fuegian indians, mostly from the Yaghan tribe, were taken on board and held hostage. Of these, many were able to jump ship and regain land, but four were kept, one of these being Jemmy Button, so called because he had been exchanged for a mother-of-pearl button. The missing whaleboat was never to be recovered, but nor were the hostages to be freed...

Indeed, FitzRoy decided to take the unusual step of returning to England with the newly-acquired captives aboard. He had the ambition of introducing them to a civilised life, educating them, Anglicizing them and above all, teaching them the "plainer truths of Christianity". However, the captain also vowed to return these individuals at the end of his mission, to enable them to diffuse the word of God, spread the English language and encourage a more civilised way of life in this land of perdition. The three indians would thus act as a means of communication between the two cultures "useful as interpreters... establishing a friendly dispostion towards Englishmen". In this manner, the conversion of the indians to Christian civilisation would operate from within, with the aid of two missionaries. To a degree, FitzRoy's well-intentioned aim was to be fulfilled over the decades, but at great cost and perhaps to little ultimate benefit.

Jemmy Button's companions were duly called Fuegia Basket, York Minster and Boat Memory - names chosen by the sailors themselves. Their natural gift at vocal mimicry meant that they could learn languages with a certain facility, although full comprehension was another issue. Little by little they assumed English manners and mannerisms, but no one more so than Jemmy Button himself. Glad to cast off his rank-smelling seal pelts and cleanse himself of the blubber fat used to insulate the body against the cold, Jemmy attired himself in European clothing with great relish. In this he was followed by Fuegia Basket, who proved to be just as coquette as any other young girl. After arrival in England, Boat Memory died from smallpox, but his three companions continued their conversion and such was their progress that they were presented to King William IV and Queen Adelaide in 1831. 

In spite of the Fuegians' adaptation to English life, FitzRoy still felt honour-bound to respect the promise he had made them; they had to be delivered back to their homeland. With severely limited means to finance a return voyage to Tierra del Fuego, FitzRoy's plan was almost scuppered, but a twist in fate meant that the Admiralty paid the expenses. By this time, a gentleman companion had been found to accompany the captain on this long, arduous trip; Darwin. Both men, in turn, were in the company of the Fuegians, giving the young naturalist the opportunity to observe these beings at close quarters and later compare their state to that of their fellow natives of Tierra del Fuego. For the most part Darwin viewed them in a fair, appreciative manner and was able to define the character of each. He remarked that of the three York Minster was the least affable. He could appear sullen, menacing even, "his disposition was reserved, taciturn, morose" but was capable of displaying strong affections too. Fuegia Basket was deemed to be a "nice, modest reserved young girl... very quick at learning anything, especially languages". Jemmy Button generally won everyone's affections as "the universal favourite". Darwin noticed that this indian was of a "merry" nature and showed remarkable sympathy to anyone suffering.

The observations that Darwin first made seem at odds with those that he made of the unadulterated indians that he encountered in Tierra del Fuego in 1832. While the contrast between these and the three Beagle Fuegians must have been great, surely he should have recognized a certain humanity, however primitive, within each savage or at least recognized the potential of these "barbarians". Yet Darwin seemed to have great difficulty contemplating these beings "Viewing such men, one can hardly believe that they are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world...the difference between savage and civilised man... is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal..." . The strangest aspect here, perhaps, was the fact that Darwin seemed to dismiss the Yaghan language (yámana) as wholly rudimentary and "scarcely deserves to be called articulate", based as it was on guttural clicking. It would seem that he simply could not assimilate the fact that Jemmy, York and Fuegia were in any way linked to these lesser creatures that appeared barely human to him. And yet Darwin was able to conclude in Descent of Man that "man is descended from some lowly organized form... there can be no doubt that we are descended from barbarians". 

The intention to set up a mission under the care of a young reverend, Richard Matthews, with the assistance of the Westernized Fuegians came to a sad conclusion in spite of the will of the missionary. The initial mood was optimistic, as Jemmy was reunited with his mother and other members of his family, but FitzRoy sensed from the outset that "mischief" was never far away. Nevertheless, after several short trials at being left alone with the natives, Matthews's welfare was deemed safe and the crew left him to carry out his work. Shortly after this, however, the encampment was looted by marauding tribes, leaving little material behind, and even less of the initial optimism. Fortunately, Matthews's life had been spared, albeit somewhat traumatized by the event, and he was recovered by the crew when they returned from their survey work along the Beagle Channel. In spite of the setbacks encountered, Jemmy Button and his companions decided to remain in their homeland. As soon as FitzRoy was satisfied that their lives were in no danger from their kinsmen, he left them to resume their native existence, hoping that their Christian experience would bear its fruit one day. When the Beagle passed through the territory months later, the men were surprised to be greeted by a canoe bearing Jemmy, appearing to have gone 'fully native' in his physical appearance, emaciated, scragged-haired and virtually naked, accompanied by a young wife. Here, one would imagine that the story of Jemmy Button ends, and yet this was not the case; Jemmy would shape the destiny of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego.

Driven by a desire to bring spiritual salvation to the primitive natives. captain Allen Gardiner sought to set up missionary stations around Zululand in South Africa in the early 1830s. Thwarted in these projects, he turned his attentions to South America, initially starting with the indigenous population of Chile before moving towards Tierra del Fuega in 1842. The foundation of a special association, the Patagonian Missionary Society in 1844, promised to aid Gardiner's mission. However his endeavours were persistently hampered, despite the setting-up of a Protestant mission in Potosi in Bolivia and a brief visit to Tierra de Fuego, the ever-elusive No Man's Land. Returning to England, he was finally able to gather sufficient funds to return to the southern-most point of South America, no doubt inspired by the example of FitzRoy's anglicized Fuegians, and the fact that this inhospitable region was "untarnished by Popist priests". 

Seeking to continue the work of Reverend Richard Matthews almost twenty years earlier, Gardiner set off for Tierra del Fuego with six other Anglican missionaries, amongst whom figured the Cornishmen, Badcock, Bryant and Pearce. The captain specifically wished to find Jemmy Button whom he believed would act as interpreter between himself and the Yaghan natives. Although an acknowledged seaman and zealous Christian, from the very start of his ambitious project Gardiner seemed to somehow lack the common practical foresight that was required. Since he did not possess enough funds to buy a schooner which would have been more appropriate to navigate these treacherous waters, Gardiner was obliged to invest in two sailboats named Speedwell and Pioneer. These were loaded onto the substantial vessel the Ocean Queen, and boats and crew alike finally reached Picton Island in Tierra del Fuego. They decided to call the spot where they disembarked Banner Cove after a Psalm which stated "Thou hast given a banner to they that fear thee, that it might be displayed because of the truth". 

Inscription on the plaque in Paul: John Badcock, John Bryan and John Pearce.
Whilst the missionaries were driven by their religious devotion, this did not prevent them having certain misgivings. One wrote that he had felt "heavy in spirits" when he saw the reassuring form of the Ocean Queen depart, leaving the group to discover their God-given fate. The challenge that awaited these men soon became apparent when they realised that precious gunpower supplies had been left on the main vessel, leaving them virtually defenseless against the hordes of marauding indians who drew nearer and nearer, becoming ever-more menacing in their demeanor. To avoid skirmishes which could only have a negative outcome, Gardiner's group decided to cross over to the other shore of the Beagle Channel, believing that men and vital provisions alike would thus escape the unwanted attentions of the thieving, threatening natives. A series of mishaps dogged all endeavours to improve the men's plight. Both boats were ill-adapted for these waterways, being both cumbersome and easily entangled in seaweed and ultimately unable to withstand such demanding conditions.

 Despite embarking on the crossing at the same time, the boats and their crews were repeatedly beset by problems which hindered and separated them. This triggered a clumsy sequence of events that would appear farcical had it not led to such dire consequences. One of the men declared "the Lord is my shield", but having lost food supplies, the dinghies and most of their material possessions, including their beloved Bible, there was precious little else to sustain the group. Yet throughout the tragic six months which saw each man in turn perish from sickness, starvation and cold, the men remained loyal to each other, and steadfast in their utter devotion to God. What makes the situation all the more poignant is the fact that the men kept diaries during this period, noting down their slow but sure decline. Gardiner's inscription in his journal on the 6th Sept 1851 was the last of these, written just several weeks before the arrival of the supply ship. If nothing else, captain Gardiner's mission served to demonstrate the profundity and resilience of brotherly love and spiritual feeling even when faced with the worst adversity. However, the endeavour had failed to convert a single native indian and the whereabouts of Jemmy Button remained unknown. 

The "martyrdom" of Gardiner's group and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that prevented the realisation of the evangelizing dream in Tierra de Fuego should have been sufficient to discourage any further project. Ironically, this was not the case. Interest in the issue of a South American mission was stoked by the Gardiner tragedy. Donations flowed into the South American Missionary Society to the extent that a schooner built to honour the martyr's name, the Allen Gardiner, was prepared for a voyage to the land of desolation. 

This new vessel set sail from England in late 1854, under the command of captain William Parker Snow. This new mission seemed to be far better conceived than the previous one, and the Cranmer settlement was established at Keppel Island, part of the Falklands. These lands offered less hostile living conditions than the harsh coastal regions that the natives inhabited. The Missionary Society hoped that hospitable relations with the Fuegians would lead to the creation of small, manageable mission groups at Cranmer that could then be transferred back to their homeland. In practice, this entailed the controversial step of 'inviting' indians to leave their home territories and nomadic tribal life in order to follow a sedentary one that was based on the learning of Christian values and fully embraced the Protestant work ethic. This new project seemed doomed as problems arose due to internal disputes amongst the mission leaders, but during a reconnaissance trip to the waterways of Tierra de Fuego positive contact was established with the indigenous natives. More incredible still was the rediscovery of Jemmy Button who emerged from the land of smoke, in late 1855, still capable of conversing in English, some twenty years after his Beagle adventure. Jemmy had indeed not forgotten his friend, captain FitzRoy, and it may have been this fond attachment that finally enticed him to leave his homeland and thus comply with the plans of the Reverend George Packenham Desperd , the mastermind behind the Allen Gardiner mission. 

Reverend Desperd was driven by a steely will to see the mission project succeed and would not let any other considerations shackle its progression. He refused to listen to the words of captain Snow and did not appear to share the captain's more humane view of the Fuegians. Whereas Snow could appreciate qualities that he observed in the natives "rather different to what Mr Darwin says of them", Desperd appears to have considered them in another light. The reverend shrugged off Snow's prediction that the methods employed for the realisation of the mission project would lead to the massacre of English settlers. Snow was himself dismissed by Desperd before Jemmy and his family alighted on Falkland soil. 

Jemmy Button's months on the Kranmer mission base proved to be long and arduous. The anglicized native may have considered himself closer to the English gentlemen than to his fellow natives in several respects, yet beyond his use as an invaluable means to communicate, Jemmy was treated as a work hand like the other indians, whose task it was to build up the mission community. When the unfortunate experience came to an end in December 1858, Jemmy and his family returned to their homeland of Wulaia, whilst another consignment of natives were brought to Cranmer. The project was significantly less successful with this latter group who had no experience of English customs and culture and certainly no real grasp of what Christian duty was. Overwork that may have bordered on slavery and habitual misappropriation of belongings and equipment led to resentment on both sides. Events culminated as Snow had rightly foreseen. On their return to Wulaia, in late 1859, the natives killed the crew of the Allen Gardiner as they were attending their Sunday service. This act was deemed to highlight the innate barbarity of the natives, but the fact that the sole survivor of the massacre then spent a year amongst their numbers is conveniently overlooked from a need to catalogue the story in black and white. What complicated the issue even further was the civilized Jemmy Button's alleged implication in the brutal massacre. 

Fearing further attacks, Desperd resigned from his position and left the Keppel Island mission shortly after the Wulaia massacre. His adoptive son, Thomas Bridges (1842-1898), chose to remain there in order to continue the work, under the command of mission superintendent reverend Waite Stirling (1829-1923) in 1861. Having learnt the Yámana language of the Yaghan, Bridges possessed a far greater insight into the indigenous peoples that he encountered and those that he managed to befriend. Bridges, and later his son Lucas, was able to recognize the complexity of the Yaghan language which revealed itself to be significantly more sophisticated than Darwin had believed it to be. This linguistic ability meant that Bridges was able to treat the natives with more compassion and respect than his father had before him, with his heavy-handed methods. When Bridges and Stirling carried out their first exploratory trip to Tierra del Fuego in 1863 they were "well received" by indians curious to see a white man who could speak their language. 

The cultural chasm between these two civilisations - primitive and sophisticated - was frequently too profound to cross on the most practical levels. Every aspect of Yaghan existence had been adapted to enable the natives to subsist in harshest of conditions, with the most primitive of tools to survive. To change the native, it was necessary to alter the very framework of their lives which was set around a communal, egalitarian existence. Bridges observed the natives demonstrated "an evil custom of living one upon another", in groups built on total equality. Redistribution of material, notably food or tools, and the notion of reciprocity meant that the indians had no notion of the Western concept of sole possession. Any settlement was simply ransacked for its wealth of tantalizing objects, any westerner robbed of his personal belongings, as the successive Anglican missionaries would discover to their dismay. From a spiritual point of view, the Yaghan's beliefs were focused on a supreme god, master and owner of all the things, surrounded by good and bad spirits which could be dominated only by the shaman; the yecamush. How the natives assimilated the Christian faith is difficult to say.

Against all odds perhaps, in 1863 contact was re-established with Jemmy Button and his family. Yet this final encounter would have dramatic consequences. Indeed, it lead to the tragic death of many of the members of the Button group and heralded the decline and ultimate demise of the Yaghan people over the next decades. Jemmy was contaminated by one of several endemic European diseases that were sweeping through the lands in the mid 1860s, wiping out indigenous communities which simply had no immunity. Jemmy Button died needlessly and furthermore was cruelly denied the decent Christian burial that he requested as the English 'gentlemen' simply left his contaminated body to rot.

FitzRoy was understandably affected by the great loss of Jemmy, and felt that he had been unwittingly instrumental in this sorry sequence of events. Fortunately he was never made aware of the subsequent death of Jemmy's son, Threeboys, during Stirling's mission to England with four Fuegians. This voyage attempted to replicate that undertaken by FitzRoy all those years before, but in this case only two natives returned; the others succumbed to disease. Undeterred, Stirling still believed that the work was taking effect, despite such unfortunate losses. By 1869, he was able to state that "over four hundred indians had been baptized into the Church of our Lord and Saviour". In the late 1860s, a mission station was finally set up in Ushuaia by Thomas Bridges who subsequently brought up his own family there, amongst the natives. A mutual respect was maintained, as Bridges realised that the patient biding of time would eventually see the natives take on the word of God through a gradual process of acculturation. Indeed, by 1884, the Ushuaia station was fully functional, attracting natives to its sedentary, God-fearing existence, enciting others to visit. The most significant of these was none other than Fuegia Basket herself, the first 'Beagle' Fuegian, who had somehow held onto a few shreds of English language. 

Tragically, spiritual deliverance for the natives did not necessarily equate itself with a terrestrial salvation. To a degree, a savage countenance, a reputation for barbarity and claims of cannibalism had ironically saved the God-less, indigenous natives from all outside threat over the centuries. This had quite simply kept intruders away from the inhabitants of this God-forsaken land. Once these same peoples had been sufficiently 'civilised', Europeans no longer saw them as redoutable savages to be avoided, or neutralized at all costs. Settlers started to flood into Tierra de Fuego, determined to master this inhospitable land and reap the manifest benefits. Gold prospectors swarmed to the area in the 1880s whilst the waterways attracted large numbers of sealers. Ushuaia was selected as an outpost for the Argentine government, a military garrison was set up nearby and finally a penal colony established. The new immigrants introduced European agricultural methods and extensive sheep ranches displaced the guanaco. Meanwhile the new settlements and farmland territories pushed out the remaining indians, who eventually found themselves regarded as vermin with a bounty on their heads. 

What had initially been remote and unintelligible soon became familiar to the Western newcomers. Familiarity indeed breeds contempt. Gradually the natives' rights were eroded and were finally swept away by this foreign deluge, in an alarmingly short space of time. Groups were decimated by disease, death, displacement, moral decline and decay from exposure to the less savoury aspects of these new, civilized communities. So great was the dismay of Thomas Bridges at the colonization of the original settlement and the treatment of the indians therein that he resigned from his post in 1887, leaving in order to set up a ranch at Harberton, to the east of Ushuaia. 

This "evangelizing experiment", from FitzRoy to Bridges, had successfully brought the Saviour to the savages, but it did not ultimately save them from the savagery of civilisation. While the Fuegians were introduced to the word of God for their salvation, all that remains of the original indigenous culture are recorded studies of their customs and a dictionary of the yámana language, faithfully transcribed by Thomas Bridges and later extended by his son, Lucas Bridges (1874-1945). FitzRoy could certainly not have envisaged the sad conclusion to his missionary endeavour that took place in the years after his own death. Nevertheless, he may well have had misgivings about his introduction of the Fuegians to the civilised world, an act that could be deemed as 'playing God'. Following his South American missions, he had witnessed first-hand the unfair treatment of natives by land-greedy settlers in his function as governor of New Zealand. His desire to see Maori rights respected ended in a diplomatic fiasco which left FitzRoy in a deeply humiliating situation that tarnished his reputation.

FitzRoy's life was one punctuated by hardship, loss and above all self-doubt and which could only find salvation through its premature end; suicide. His early years had been dogged by "a disposition to doubt" which saw this profoundly devout man question aspects of the Bible. Recognizing the theological principle that" the Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation", he felt that he was betraying himself and his faith through his questioning, and furthermore, was leading himself to damnation. The Beagle adventure was in part undertaken as a personal mission to prove to himself and others the absolute truth of the Holy text in its entirety. To a degree, it could be said that his life depended on this affirmation, and if not, his sanity. 

Darwin would later interpret land formations and fossil deposits as indications for a man's need to re-assess Creation, however FitzRoy chose to see these as geological proof of the Biblical deluge and a concrete illustration of the words of the Old Testament. Living in fear of his own uncontrollable bouts of madness which were due to undiagnosed hereditary manic depression, FitzRoy surely needed rigid spiritual faith to sustain him and an exacting, rewarding profession in which to lose himself. He found escape from the unfathomable depths of his mood swings in the reassuring order of God's universe alongside his mapping of unchartered sea territories and the forecast of previously unpredictable weather systems. However, FitzRoy was a man of intelligence and being a man of science meant that he enjoyed discussion and debate, especially with the young Darwin who had himself originally intended to take Holy orders after his Beagle adventure.

It was surely this enquiring mind that led FitzRoy to give his naturalist companion a copy of Lyell's book, Principles of Geology, one of first texts that alluded to an alternative interpretation of creation. That the two men had shared the same confined living spaces on board for the best part of five years, had largely witnessed the same events, and observed similar sights which then provided the material basis for The Origin of Species must have been a cruel weight to bear for FitzRoy. Both men went on to suffer the dreadful loss of dearly loved ones, but while Darwin would see this as the purposeless inhumanity of the Almighty or the proof of his very inexistence, FitzRoy clung to the belief that all suffering had a meaning in the Lord's great scheme. That Darwin would go on to systematically overthrow all that FitzRoy believed in, and depended on, was simply unbearable As Darwin's theories threw a blinding light onto man's notion of time it plunged FitzRoy into dark despair as all sense of logic and purpose was lost. He who had believed the earth to have been created and governed according to a Godly design, one of accuracy and unity, running like clockwork, saw his worldview shattered by this anarchic, blasphemous individual, Charles Darwin, wielding a heinous timepiece; the theory of Evolution. 

As father of this new way of seeing, Darwin appeared to throw into question the word and world of God the Father. FitzRoy was aware that his conversations and ready contribution of factual material gathered during the long Beagle had helped spawn a monster, " a beast rising up out of the sea, opening his mouth in blasphemy against God". He then had to suffer the humiliation of being publicly scorned for his loathing of this Frankenstein creation, notably at the Oxford debate of 1860. Little by little the name Darwin was synonymous with the sea-change in man's concept of the world, past and present. FitzRoy's name, on the contrary, seemed to epitomize all the unscientific, outdated theological notions of the universe that the theory of evolution wished to drown out. Taking a literal interpretation of the Bible, complete with the cataclysmic Genesis flood and Noah's ark , FitzRoy held onto his firm belief that "Here is the truth, in here".

Increasingly beset by professional, financial and personal hardship FitzRoy perhaps felt that he was duly paying penance for his wordly sins, or alternatively found such punishment disproportionate to his sinful acts. By 1866, FitzRoy may have finally drawn the same awful conclusion as Darwin; all suffering must surely be random and ultimately meaningless. No salvation was possible for FitzRoy with or without God and so, just as his uncle had done, he cut his own throat. 

In the same way that the existence of the indigenous natives was defined by their environment, the lives of those who had touched that of Jemmy Button, by chance or intent, were shaped by the changing worldview. A radical change was occurring in Tierra del Fuego just as it was in the Western world itself. The drive to bring spiritual enlightenment to the primitives living in darkness was matched by an ever-growing thirst for scientific knowledge in civilised society. The meeting between God-fearing men and what were considered Godless barbarians should have been used to question what was indeed savage and what was civilised. This only happened when it was already too late to turn the tide of change. 

The story of Jemmy Button shows us that black and white distinctions of good and bad, civilized and savage are virtually impossible to apply, whatever the context. Perhaps a fundamental essence of man is the perpetually contradictory nature of his being and consequences of his deeds. Believing that they were acting 'for the good of man', the protagonists of this story followed their sense of Christian duty. FitzRoy did not act out of mere self-interest or material gain, he was one of a succession of men driven to do God's work; in this case aiding primitive beings to rise to a more elevated, decent existence. The shortcomings and errors of these endeavours were generally unintentional, or only became apparent in hindsight. The same could not always be said of the subsequent men who would act in the name of science, having cast off any moral shackles that religion imposed. 

In the 19th century, the boundaries of the world were increasingly pushed aside in order to reveal all its mysteries, without scruple. Jemmy was one of first of many young natives, male and female, who were taken far from their homelands for the benefit of Western society. Surely any understanding gained from these early experiences/experiments should have been sufficient to ensure that any further trials were carried out in a more humane fashion? Yet many were not, and the public's absolute right to a scientific exposé of the world meant that the well-being of the subjects was frequently overlooked. Explorers made inroads into the most inhospitable, remote regions, avid to be the first to discover virgin territories and often desperate to display the trophies of their work under a pretext of observation. There are several accounts of indigenous natives taken as a "live ethnographic specimens" to be exhibited to Westerners and thus exposed to the cruelty of the civilised world. Natural history museums around the world are full of exhibit pieces that have their own, hidden history; the circumstances of their collection. The experience of Minik, an Inuit removed from Greenland as a child alongside other members of his family, recounted in Give Me My Father's Body made me wonder about all the other names and untold stories that must exist. Greed and ignorance may well have often been at the heart of many of these later missions, supposedly carried out for the advancement of humanity. Fortunately this was not so in the case of Jemmy Button.
 
Give me my father's body: Kenn Harper 2001 Profile Books
At last, to return to the peace and tranquility of 21st century Paul, it must remembered that this serenity belies the death and destruction which were visited upon this village along with Mousehole, Newlyn and Penzance during the Spanish raid of 1595. This was but one of a series of attacks and counter-attacks that formed the Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604). Both sides fought to defend their faith and politics - Protestant or Catholic - and any means were justified to combat the perceived evil of the other. What would be an act of barbarity for the one, would be considered a legitimate act of defense against savagery by its adversary. Both believed that they were acting in the name of God, but nothing is ever wholly black or white, as we have seen.

Finally, a large monument is set in the church yard wall to honour Dolly Pentreath (1692-1777). This character is said to have been the last fluent native speaker of Cornish before the language died out. It bears the following inscription: 

                          That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Jemmy Button understood the importance of this and FitzRoy respected that; remarkable men both.

Jemmy Button

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