No. 137.
Mr. Roberts to Mr. Bayard.

[Extract.]
No. 184.]

Sir: My two months’ leave of absence having expired on the 17th instant, I returned to the legation, much improved in health.

I have thought that a brief account of my observations during my trip, with some general information pertaining thereto, may not be un> interesting to the Department.

[Page 191]

I passed a few weeks at the mineral baths of Colina, in the mountains, which are noted for the cure of rheumatic affections, with excellent results. After leaving there, I visited for a few weeks the estate (hacienda) of an American friend, observing the system of agriculture and life among the rural population, and as my friend was a local magistrate I had excellent facilities.

From there I went south, visiting en route Concepeion and Talcahuano. The former is a very pretty city, the third in importance in Chili, with a population of 25,000. It has one of the best colleges in Chili, with education at the expense of the Government, a very handsome new opera-house built by the municipality, a fine cathedral, and several of the largest stores in Chili for the sale of general merchandise, besides some excellent hotels.

Talcahuano, with a population of a little over 5,000, is within a few miles by rail and is the principal port for the export of wheat; formerly it was much frequented by American whalers, but whaling is no longer profitable in the South Pacific.

The Bio-Bio, the most historic river in Chili and the largest, runs near both cities. It was formerly deep, with a powerful current, but it is now a placid water-course of some 500 feet in width, with scarcely enough of water in its tortuous channel to float a whale-boat, and all owing to the total and absolute destruction of the timber in that section of country through which it runs. It was on its banks that the Spanish adventurer Peter Valdivia fought, with varying fortunes, the brave Araucanians for the possession of Chili, and it was there that the Spaniards in 1818, after years of disastrous fighting, totally routed the Chilian army under O’Higgins, to be followed by their defeat and almost annihilation later on in the same year, by Generals San Martin and O’Higgins, at the battle of Maipo, a victory that secured the independence of Chili.

From Talcahuano I crossed the bay on a small steamer owned by an American, to Tome, a summer resort some 20 miles across. It formerly shipped all the wheat exported, but railroads have changed all this, and its chief commerce now is in Chilian wines, mostly claret.

There are several very large wine “bodegas” or warehouses at Tome. One of them that I visited contained three hundred thousand gallons. One now in course of erection it is calculated will hold one million gallons. I saw a cask that held a thousand gallons. The casks are mostly made in Germany and put together here. On asking why they did not buy them in the United States, the reply was, the prices are too dear. This is almost a universal answer to similar questions, and I doubt not a true one in the main; in fact my own experience and observation confirm it.

Chilian claret sells from $2 an aroba (5 gallons) to $10 for the best 5 it is very good and for the most part pure. When three years old it is an excellent claret, very much superior to the French with the exception of a few choice brands. Scarcely any French clarets are drunk here, the native claret having almost entirely taken its place within a few years. Chili with its soil and climate, is bound to be a vast winegrowing country, and vineyards of the best European vines and on the best system are being largely planted.

Notwithstanding the great production of wine at present, it is not enough to meet the home consumption, for claret is universally used at table in Chili. Everybody drinks claret who can buy it.

Tome is a very old town, with a population of 5,600. It is noted for the honesty of its inhabitants; nobody ever thinks of locking [Page 192] doors; it is a common thing to see the street doors open at night. There is a custom-house, post-office, an iron pier 1,000 feet long by 50 wide, and a military band performs on the plaza, near the pier, in the evenings. Nearly all the towns here with a few thousand inhabitants have a band, and the Chilians are remarkable for their wonderful aptitude at learning to play on instruments. I have seen two companies of artillery drilling in the park at Santiago to the bugle notes of two little boys on horses, whose little legs scarcely covered the horses’ backs.

The chief mill in Chili for the manufacture of woolens and cloth is located at Tome. It employs at times as many as five hundred hands, and the army and police of Chili are supplied with cloth from its looms.

From Tome I returned to Talcahuano and took steamer for the south, calling first at Coronel, a coaling port with large coal mines. From there I went to Lota, one of the most noted places in Chili. It belongs to Señora Cousina—the entire port, with extensive coal mines, several mills for the manufacture of common glassware, plain and fancy tiles, red and yellow bricks and iron-work, and about 100,000 acres of land. In the mines and works over two thousand men are employed throughout the year.

The park which surrounds the chief dwelling, or rather castle, which is now being rebuilt, contains from 300 to 400 acres, and is one of the most beautiful perhaps in the world. It is on a high cliff about 200 feet above the ocean, which incloses it on three sides. Nature has done much for it, but art, money, and labor have done more; grottos, lakes, ravines, arbors, chain suspension bridges, everything that is rare in plants, shrubs, trees, flowers, birds, or animals that could be had in any part of the world is to be found here.

The mines here, like all the coal mines in Chili, extend under the ocean, and the quality of the coal in all is similar. It is rather soft, of poor heating power, with a heavy smoke, something like our coal in the Ohio valley. At present it is delivered on board of vessels in the harbor at $10 a ton, the highest price it has commanded for years; the lowest it has ever brought was $4.75, and the average price is from $6 to $7 a ton of 1,000 kilograms, (about 2,100 pounds). English coal sells at present in Valparaiso at £2.2s, a ton of 2,240 pounds, equal to about $19 of Chilian paper currency. From Lota I went to Lebu, another coaling port rather prettily situated, and from there to Valdivia, the seat of the much-talked-of German settlement in Chili.

The population of the town is between 5,000 and 6,000, mostly Germans and their descendants, while that of the province of Valdivia is about 33,000, and similar in character to that of the town. While the German colonists are highly appreciated, the fault found by the Chilians with the Valdivia colony is that it continues German in sentiment, language, and national feeling, rather than Chilian. I am inclined to think, however, that this is more in appearance than reality and that prosperity and freedom will in time make good citizens of them.

Valdivia is noted for its lager beer, large quantities of which are shipped to all parts of Chili; also for its apple cider, the only place in Chili where it is made, and for its sausages and hams, which sell at Santiago for 50 cents a pound. It is also noted for its rains; the saying is that it rains thirteen months in every year in Valdivia.

The steamer on its trip south delivered large quantities of general merchandise at all the ports touched, but nothing to denote it came from the United States save a quantity of burning fluid. On her return trip from Port Montt to Valparaiso she took large quantities of sawed lumber, potatoes; wines, four large scow-loads of lager beer in barrels [Page 193] at Corral, besides one hundred and fifty head of Argentine cattle, which had been fattened at Valdivia.

In the silver and copper mines in the vicinity of Santiago, which I have visited, the miner receives from $1 to $1.25 a day, but generally earns more on piece work; besides this he receives daily a ration of beans or a pound of good bread, and all he can eat at mid-day of a stew composed of cracked wheat, sun-dried beef (called charque), onions, potatoes, and beans, and a pound of fresh beef or mutton three times a week, and his lodging.

Coal-miners earn from $1 to $1.50 a day, and “putters” (those that . bring the coal from the mines to the surface) from 80 cents to $1, house free, and get one third ton of coal each month, for which 50 cents is deducted from their pay.

In Santiago a laborer receives 80 cents to $1 a day, and a brick-layer and carpenter $2. Rents for working people are very low, as the buildings in which they live are of adobe, cheap and poor.

Near Santiago a laborer on a hacienda receives 40 cents a day when employed, a ration or pound of bread and beans, house rent free, and an acre of ground for vegetables, but far from the cities he receives 10 cents less a day, but receives grass for two cows or two horses, as he may prefer. When the “patron “has work they must give him the preference. Farm labor is becoming scarce in Chili and the pay is sure to advance.

The working people are hardy, nervous, and energetic. They are patient, tractable, and respectful, but not servile, and become attached to their haciendas and patrons. As a rule they do not live long, and a large percentage of their children die young.

As to land, it is generally held in large tracts, except in the foreign settlements of the South. A thousand acres is considered a small farm, and 3,000 or 4,000 is an average, while many haciendas contain 10,000 or 12,000. The church haciendas are, or were, very large, but fear for the future security of possession has caused many of these to be divided up and sold.

All the principal families of Chili own, through inheritance or purchase, large haciendas, on which they reside about three months in the year, and from which they receive large incomes.

Farming in Chili is the most certain and profitable business in it where irrigation is obtainable. The melting snows bring down from the Cordilleras a rich sediment, which manures the ground, constantly adding to its soil, and irrigates the growing crops.

The grasses are natural, varied, and nutritious; also a white and yellow clover, alfalfa, sown on coarse, gravelly lands or in beds of dried-up water-courses, is inexhaustible, and gives three heavy green crops a year. Wild oats grow everywhere in Chili, and after a wet or snowy winter on the Cordilleras the sides of these mountains are covered with luxuriant crops of it, growing 8 or 10 feet high. I have a bundle of it in my house brought from a place near 4,000 feet above the level of the sea; it is 8 feet high; the grain, however, is very small.

Wheat and barley are the two staple crops. Barley sells here from $3 to $4 the “fanega” of 155 pounds; wheat from $3.75 to $4 a “fanega” of 160 pounds. Oxen are universally used for draught and bring, in fair condition, from $50 to $60 each; when fattened for the butcher they sell according to weight and condition. Large numbers of oxen are brought from the Argentine when the snows melt in the summer, and fattened here. Butchers’ meat is not retailed by the pound as with us, nor is it cut up in the same way; it is sold by the piece.

[Page 194]

All the meat consumed in Santiago is slaughtered for so much a head at the “matadero” or municipal slaughter-house, the receipts for which for the month of December amounted to very near $13,000. The number and kind of animals slaughtered were as follows: Horned cattle, 5,700; calves, 100; sheep, 8,500; lambs, 2,500; and hogs, 550—a large consumption of meat food for a population of 190,000.

I have, etc.,

William R. Roberts.