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The third and final Expedition of
Captain Allen Gardiner
in Tierra Del Fuego
is featured in the
September, 2003 ISSUE OF

This is a short history about the life in Tierra Del Fuego in 1850. Captain Allen Gardiner's death on the Island of Tierra del Fuego will serve as a good example of some of the difficulties encountered. Conditions have not changed much here since the 19th century. :-)

On December 17, 1850, Captain Allen Gardiner and six companions, after enduring a long trip from England, landed at Patagonia on the southern tip of South America.  They came to do missionary work with the people there who were so primitive that evolutionist Charles Darwin said they existed "in a lower state than in any other part of the world."  The natives were fierce cannibals and the land and weather absolutely treacherous.  The team had brought six month's worth of supplies.  England had committed to sending a relief ship with more supplies in six months.

Unfortunately, things began to go wrong.  Unbeknown to Gardiner, his supporters back in England couldn't find a ship to carry the next six months' supplies to Patagonia.  No one wanted to make such a dangerous journey. So as the missionaries carried out their work on the cold tip of South America and as their supplies ran dangerously low, they scanned the horizon for the approaching ship.  It never arrived.

Those men faced a tough test.  Alone in a hostile environment, without food or supplies, hunger and death stalked them like hungry wolves.

By the time a relief ship finally reached Patagonia in October 1851, almost a year after the missionaries had arrived, Gardiner and his men had all died of starvation.  Gardiner's emaciated body was found lying beside a boat.  He was clothed in three suits, with wool stockings over his arms to ward off the numbing cold.

What had that English missionary thought during those last horrifying days?  Had this terrible ordeal destroyed his faith and were his dying days filled with nothing but despair and disillusionment?  The men off the relief ship found his journal. They were amazed at one of his latter entries:"Poor and weak as we are, our boat is the very Bethel to our soul for we feel and know that the Lord is here.  Asleep or awake, I am, beyond the power of expression, happy."

Kilmarnock: John Ritchie, 190-'s?. 1st ed.
Size: 5x7. [33p, several b&w illust]
    (A short account of the mission work of Captain Allan Gardiner,
    who along with a small crew, died at Tiera del Fuego near Cape
    Horn at the tip of South America in 1851 while waiting for

Biographical history : The founder of what was to become the South American Mission Society, Allen Gardiner, was born in Basildon, Berkshire, entering Portsmouth naval college at the age of 13 and going to sea two years later. The death of his mother caused him to lose his faith, only to undergo an evangelical conversion upon learning of his mother's prayers for him. He thenceforth decided to commit his life to mission, and, accompanied by his family, undertook extensive travel in search of suitable locations, for instance, in South Africa. However, he was repeatedly thwarted in his efforts by political indifference and the previous establishment of Catholic missions.

He therefore decided to venture further afield, and in 1841 he visited the Falkland Islands in order to explore the possibility of establishing missions in nearby Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. He returned to England in order to rouse support and to establish, in 1844, the Patagonian Missionary Society (PMS). An initial attempt to establish the Society in Tierra del Fuego was met with hostility from the indigenous people, leading to a return to England. Despite the discouragement of the Society, Gardiner decided that a Fuegian mission could work from its own boat. Accordingly, he again set sail, in 1850, accompanied by a team of six volunteers. Unfortunately, supply arrangements for the under funded party failed, leading to the death of the entire expedition from scurvy and starvation in Spaniard Harbor (now Aguirre Bay), Tierra del Fuego.

The death of the missionary party had the belated effect of arousing public sympathy back in the UK, and the PMS was revitalized. Gardiner's original plan for the Society was threefold: to supply the spiritual wants of his own countrymen, of Roman Catholics, and of the unreached in South America. With these aims in mind, the Secretary of the PMS, the Reverend George Despard, determined to persevere with the work initiated by Gardiner. In 1854, one of the Falklands, Keppel Island, was established by Despard as the Mission's headquarters, from where, by boat, missionaries communicated with the Fuegians. Over the next five years, contact was maintained, with the Fuegians receiving visits, food and clothes, and Bible and agricultural instruction, and the missionaries learning the Yahgan language. Unfortunately, an attempt in 1859 to establish a permanent mission station on the mainland led in the massacre of eight missionaries. In 1863 the Reverend Waite Stirling joined the team on Keppel Island, and subsequent attempts at establishing stations, at Leuaia and Ushuaia, were more successful. By the 1870s many of the local Fuegians had converted; however, the native population dwindled to such an extent over the next couple of decades that the Fuegian mission was closed down in the opening years of the 20th century.

In the meantime, the PMS had, in 1864, been renamed as the South American Missionary Society. In 1860, Allen Gardiner's son, Allen Gardiner Junior, was sent by the Society to the Mapuche people of southern Chile. To further this work, Gardiner Junior became a chaplain to the British residents of Lota; due to Spanish and Portuguese legislation, furtherance of Protestant causes in most South American republics was extremely difficult at the time. Thus, rather than establishing actual mission stations, the South American Missionary Society concentrated on establishing chaplaincies, and working with seamen, during the latter half of the 19th century.

January 19, 1852 • Message in a Bottle Guides to Dead Missionaries

Allen Gardiner, leader of those who perished bringing the gospel to Patagonia.

When Charles Darwin sailed in the Beagle he observed the Indians of Tierra del Fuego. They lived in absolute squalor and savagery. The naturalist pronounced them beyond all possibility of civilization. Captain Allen Gardiner also sailed those seas on a mapping expedition. His heart told him these poor, degraded people needed help.

Gardiner had rejected the gospel as a young man. What changed his mind? During his navy years, he observed the miserable lives of idolaters. Buddhism proved to be an empty religion. He remembered his spiritual upbringing and decided there was something to his mother's faith after all. His chief desire became to tell others about the Gospel.

He preached the gospel in Tahiti and South Africa (where he founded Durban).  In Chile, he backpacked over a 1,000 miles, handing out tracts, but was rejected as an enemy. The same was true in Indonesia. In 1850, he shifted his attention to the Yagan Indians of Patagonia, the ones Darwin said couldn't be civilized.

Was Darwin right? It certainly seemed so. Gardiner's missionary party,          in two small boats, landed in Patagonia, hoping to locate "Jimmy Button", a Yagan who knew some English from previous captivity. But in various          encounters, the Indians drove Gardiner and his assistants away, chasing          them in canoes from Picton Island. The mission team could only flee, for          they would not defend themselves with their guns. They wanted to rescue lost souls, not plunge them into eternity before they could hear about the gospel.

After leaving England, Gardiner wrote in his journal, "Nothing can exceed the cheerful endurance and unanimity of the whole party . . . I feel that the Lord is with us, and cannot doubt that He will own and bless the work He permitted us to begin."

When they attempted to land in southwest Tierra del Fuego, they wrecked one of their two little boats, the Pioneer, on the rocks. They sheltered in the other at a cove called Spanish Harbour. Becoming sick, they sailed back to Picton Island. At Banner Cove they buried a message beneath a great boulder and painted a message on it: "Dig here below.  Go to Spanish Harbour. March 1851." They hoped their supply ship would see the writing on the rock and dig for the message they had buried in a bottle.

In October, 1851, a British ship read the message and found three of          the missionaries dead. They buried them but did not find Captain Gardiner and his friend Maidment. The ship had to beat a hasty retreat because of a brewing storm. The admiralty ordered H.M.S. Dido to investigate. On this day, January 19, 1852, the Dido, following the messages left at Banner Cove, found Captain Gardiner and Maidment dead near the wrecked boat Pioneer. Gardiner's diary was          in his hand. Its last lines, written on the 6th of September were: "By           Grace this blessed group was able to sing praises for eternity. I am not hungry or thirsty in spite of 5 days without eating; Wonderful Grace and Love to me, a sinner..."

Following is a classic example of a miracle, related -- strange to say -- to Charles Darwin:

On his 1831 voyage around the world on the Beagle, the well-known naturalist observed the aborigines of Tierra del Fuego, situated off the southern tip of South America.  This tribal people Darwin dubbed as "the missing link" between man and monkey and declared them incapable or moral discernment.
Later a converted British naval officer, Captain Allen Gardiner , worked as a missionary among these aborigines.  Such was the change in these darkened souls that Darwin himself was astonished and, in appreciation of Gardiner's work, sent a donation to the South American Missionary Society and asked to be made an honorary member!

Fourteen missionaries lost their lives before the first Patagonian converted. Then the transformation in the character of the savages was so great that Darwin himself is said to have become a subscriber to the South American Mission Society which carried the gospel to them.

The third and final Expedition of Allen Gardiner to Tierra del Fuego  

With the advantage of hindsight, it is clear that Captain Allen Gardiner's 1850-51 expedition to Tierra del Fuego, at the windswept and desolate tip of South America, was a high risk operation. A retired Naval Captain, Gardiner had become burdened with the need to take the Gospel to the many yet unreached peoples and from 1834 onwards made untiring attempts to do so. First in South Africa, then in South America and Dutch New Guinea he found all doors closed. Finally he realised that his attempts to reach the most civilised and least migratory tribal populations were always going to be frustrated. It was then he decided to turn to the unreached people of the southern mainland and islands of South America, beginning with the Patagonians.  

His first exploratory visit to Patagonia in 1842 was positive but his request to the Church Missionary Society to send out missionaries into this new field had no success. So finally a  small Society for South America alone was set up by Gardiner with some friends as the only immediate way forward. Gardiner's further visits to Patagonia in 1844/45 and Tierra del Fuego in 1848, financed by the new Patagonian Missionary Society, convinced him that the door to missionary work in Tierra del Fuego was wide open. It was his 'full conviction that there is no impediment in the way of commencing a Mission to those islanders, beyond those which may ordinarily be expected'.

Meanwhile numerous further approaches to the leading English and Scottish missionary societies and to the Moravian Brethren, asking for their support, met with no success.  So finally it became clear that the third expedition, which Captain Gardiner so earnestly wished to undertake, would have to be the responsibility of the small Patagonian Missionary Society, (later to be renamed the South American Missionary Society).

An account of the expedition, from the members' journals

Gardiner had now realised that because of initial native hostility ‘for the present, the mission must be afloat’ . The Society's funds were used therefore to build two launches, 26ft by 81/2ft with three quarter length iron decks, and two 8ft. dinghies as tenders. Recruits were gathered - three young Cornish were to serve as seamen. Joseph Erwin brought his skills as a ship's carpenter, and his experience as a member of the 1848 expedition. He paid moving tribute to Gardiner, saying ‘being with him was like a heaven upon earth, he was such a man of prayer’.  John Maidment, a waiter, who had been warmly recommended by the secretary of the YMCA and Richard Williams, a young Methodist surgeon and lay preacher,  were enrolled as catechists.

Williams only just got on board the Ocean Queen when she sailed from Liverpool to Tierra del Fuego on September 7th 1850.  He had had little time to say goodbye or prepare.

As the Journals kept by Captain Gardiner and Dr. Williams were providentially preserved, we now draw on them for  the unfolding of events.  We learn that  William's medical skills soon proved invaluable, as many of the passengers became ill during the voyage, among them the three Cornishmen. ‘What a pleasure to practise medicine irrespective of pecuniary considerations!’ he comments.

Towards the end of the voyage he gives sketches of his companions. Of Captain Gardiner ‘…his life is that of an exact and strict disciplinarian. He is devout and unaffected, and most sincere. I am indeed far, far short of him’. Of John Maidment ‘…one becomes more attached to him, and respects him more, the more you know him. He is very sincere and humble.

John Bryant, who had been most ill, he describes as ‘full of resignation and a simple hearted love’. John Badcock is ‘remarkably meek, but there is a somewhat timid and nervous cast of mind in him’., while  John Pearce had ‘a little touch of independence of spirit which, subdued by grace, and properly directed, will rather prove an advantage’. Joseph Erwin is described as ‘the most dapper, sprightly and excellent fellow I have met for a long time…and useful for all purposes’.    

The voyage was a good one and by December 5th they were in Banner Roads, Picton Island, near Puerto Williams (the world's most southern town- 60 miles from Cape Horn), a location chosen and named by Captain Gardiner during his 1848 visit. Gardiner wanted to find an Indian, Jemmy Button, in order to translate from Yagan to English.  He had known about the Yagans from four of them which were brought to England by Captain Fitzroy of the BEAGLE. From Picton, after assembling the launches Pioneer and Speedwell and landing the expedition’s supplies, the Ocean Queen departed on December 19th . Before leaving, however, a presentation was made to Dr. Williams and Mr. Maidment by the ship’s captain, as a mark of esteem for their services in treating and nursing the sick.

Spirits were high, in spite of the aggressive attentions of the natives when the party was on shore and Gardiner says in a letter to the Committee ‘Nothing can exceed the cheerful endurance and unanimity of the whole party. I feel that the Lord is with us, and cannot doubt that He will own and bless the work, which He has permitted us to begin’.

Almost as soon as the Ocean Queen had departed the little band’s troubles began. Gardiner decided to find a safe place to deposit some of their stores, to make room in their heavily laden boats. During the search, the boats became separated, and the dinghies, towed astern of the Pioneer, broke free and were lost, ‘a serious loss indeed’ Gardiner commented.

The natives continued to be mainly hostile during the remainder of December 1850 and for most of January 1851.  During this period the boats were aground from January 6th to 18th before a high tide enabled them to be floated off.  ‘How marked was the good hand of the Lord upon us, in preventing them [the natives] from discovering us at so critical a time', Gardiner wrote. The decision was made to go to Blomfield Harbour, discovered earlier, but the presence of more hostile natives forced them to go further east to Spaniard’s Harbour. Here they anchored on 24th January, but on February 1st, a severe gale drove the Pioneer ashore and she was found to be too badly damaged for repair to be possible.

The party were now effectively stranded, and proceeded to make the Pioneer as suitable as possible for sleeping.  They also made use of a large cave, but this flooded at high tides and both Gardiner and Maidment lost a good many of their possessions. Their feelings in this situation are summed up by Dr. Williams.  ‘How evident that we were not in a position to commence, with such slight means, so arduous an undertaking! But all this is well; the Mission has been thereby begun, which, had we awaited for more efficient means, it never probably would have been.
We are all agreed that nothing short of a brigantine or a schooner of 80 or 100 tons burden can answer our ends, and to procure this ultimately the Captain has determined to use every effort. Our plan of action now is to “rough it” through all the circumstances which it shall please the Lord to permit to happen to us, until the arrival of a vessel…’  

A serious error however soon brought dangerous consequences as sickness  began to show itself. Though wild fowl were plentiful, through an oversight their supply of powder had been left on the Ocean Queen. Dr Williams caught a severe chill and shortly after recovery found he was developing scurvy, as was John Badcock. This he thought was because of a lack of fresh meat and certainly their diet was now inadequate. Fish were few and ice destroyed their net as the weather closed in for the Antarctic winter.

Towards the end of March, Captain Gardiner decided to return to Banner Cove to pick up the supplies buried there and to give directions for the hoped for supply vessel to go to Spaniard's Harbour. This was a hazardous journey, as two sick men and the others now suffering from a poor and inadequate diet, crammed into the Speedwell.  Bottles with messages were buried and directions painted on the rocks. The stores were successfully retrieved, except for two casks of biscuit, but hostile natives arrived in strength and the party left hastily to avoid a likely assault.

By March 29 th they were back at Spaniard’s Harbour, and on April 14 th , the Speedwell was moved to moorings in Cook’s river, about a mile and a half from Earnest Cove and the stranded Pioneer and nearby cave. The little group was now divided, with Dr. Williams, John Badcock, John Pearce and Joseph Erwin in the Speedwell and Captain Gardiner, John Maidment and John Bryant in the Pioneer and the cave. Supplies were running low, with no possibility of supplement other than one or two birds caught asleep and a fox trapped.

By late April, supplies were beginning to run out, but their trust remained strong. ‘Indeed it is our general feeling, belief, and hope, that the Lord will permit our means to fail us, and just then his mercy will shine forth in the opportune and gracious deliverance which he shall send us’, says Williams. But an entry at the beginning of May, by which time his physical condition had worsened further, reveals a clear awareness of the precariousness of their situation.  
He wrote 'Should anything prevent my ever adding to this, let all my beloved ones at home rest assured that I was happy, beyond all expression, the night I wrote these lines, and would not have changed situations with any man living.’                                  
By the end of June, Dr. Williams was too weak to keep up his journal. In his last entry he says ‘When I left Burslem on the mission, it was with a secret confidence I should see salvation. Oh, my soul hath beheld it!’ He still hopes a vessel may even now come, but ends ‘He that believe shall never be confounded. “Here I rest my hope. The Lord’s will be done”.

Captain Gardiner visiting on June 28th, found both Williams and Badcock very weak and that evening Badcock died very movingly. Having asked Dr. Williams to join in, he sang a hymn and a few minutes afterwards he died.

By the end of July, the survivors were almost out of food and very weak. Captain Gardiner, after listing their scanty supplies, continues ‘I would not conclude without expressing my thanks to the Lord of all mercies, for the grace which he has bestowed on each of my suffering companions, who with the utmost cheerfulness, endure without a murmur, patiently awaiting the Lord’s time to deliver them, and ready, should it be his will, to languish and die here, knowing that whatever he shall appoint, will be well.'  

On a visit to Cook’s River on the 22nd , he describes Williams as ‘wonderfully supported both in body and in mind; the Lord has been very gracious to him’. But by August 15 th , Gardiner is too weak to leave his bed, and he grieves for the additional burden on Maidment ‘my kind and truly brotherly companion’. He adds, ‘does not afflict willingly, there is a “needs be” in all.' On 23rd August Joseph Erwin died, of whom he says ‘…Twice he has accompanied me to Tierra del Fuego and on all occasions proved himself worthy of my highest confidence and esteem.’ By the 26th, Bryant had also died and on the 28th, Maidment buried them both, which exhausted his remaining strength.  

Now, with great strength of will, Gardiner attempted to go to Cook’s river, with two forked sticks as crutches, so that the survivors might be together, but it was quite beyond his ability. In his journal entry of September 3rd, he says that he has not seen Maidment since the previous day. ‘My care I cast, and I am only waiting His time and His good pleasure to dispose of me as he shall see fit. Whether I live or die, may it be in Him.’

On September 4th he continued, 'There is no room for doubt that my dear fellow labourer has ceased from this earth and gone to join the company of the redeemed in the presence of the Lord whom he served so faithfully. Under these circumstances it was a merciful providence that he left the boat as I could not have removed the body.  He left a little peppermint water which he had mixed and it has been a great comfort to me.'  

On September 5th the last journal entry reads, 'Great and marvellous are the loving kindnesses of my gracious Lord with me. He has preserved me hitherto for  4 days, although without bodily food, without any feeling of hunger or thirst.'  

The shocking discovery

Three weeks later a ship was sent  from Montevideo on a special voyage to 'inquire after and assist the mission party.'  Samuel Lafone  had three times before given instructions to his agents for vessels to call at Picton Island, but his orders had not been followed. It reached Banner Cove on 21 st October, where Captain Smyley found the directions, 'Gone to Spaniard harbour.'  

He landed there the next day to find a boat and three bodies. His journal records  'These, we have every reason to believe, are Pearce, Williams and Badcock. The sight was awful in the extreme. The two captains who went with me… cried like children.'  They found books, papers and other belongings lying along the beach and in the boat but no sign of Captain Gardiner or the three men with him. The gale that had been blowing now got worse and made further exploration impossible and they found themselves forced to set sail and leave.  

After reading William's journal and the other papers, Captain Smyley continues, 'I have never found in my life such fortitude, such patience, and bearing, as in these unfortunate men… Mr Williams says… he would not swap his situation for, or with, any man in life. He is happy beyond expression'.  

Before this news had reached England, HMS Dido, under the command of Captain Morshead, had also been instructed to establish the situation of the little party. Following the indications to go to Spaniard Harbour, Captain Morshead writes, 'Our notice was first attracted by a boat lying upon the beach about a mile and half inside of Cape Kinnaird … Capt. Gardiner's body was lying beside the boat, which apparently he had left, and being too weak to climb into it again, had died by the side of it.'  Maidment's body was in a cavern, ' by a hand painted on the rocks, with Psalm 62 v 5-8 under it.'

'Their remains were collected together and buried and the funeral service read; a small inscription was placed on the rock; the colours of the boats and ships struck half-mast, and three volleys of musketry, were the only tribute of respect I could pay to this lofty-minded man and his devoted companions, who have perished in the cause of the Gospel for the want of timely supplies'.  

Dr William's words had proved prophetic. ‘How evident that we were not in a position to commence, with such slight means, so arduous an undertaking! But all this is well; the Mission has been thereby begun, which, had we awaited for more efficient means, it never probably would have been'.  


Between the 9th & 11 th November 2001, representatives of SAMS International were transported by a ship of the Argentine Navy to Spaniard's harbour on Bahia Aguirre, Tierra del Fuego. They went ashore to the site of the death of Allen Gardiner and his fellow missionaries where they fixed a plaque to the wall of the cave with this inscription: In commemoration of the 150 years since the death of Captain Allen Gardiner, herald of the gospel in Patagonia and South America.

[From Manx Recollections , 1893]



Who, alas! has not heard the story of the Patagonian Mission? It was in 1851 that Britain rang with the tale, and sorrow was felt and tears shed for the fate of the noble Captain Allen Gardiner, R.N., and his martyr band. Previous to the enterprise, Captain Gardiner had on a survey expedition, been deeply moved at seeing the miserable state of the Patagonians—a people so low in human degradation that Darwin pronounced them incapable of being civilised.

Captain Gardiner, however, resolved that he for one, by grace, would make the attempt not only to civilise but to bring the Gospel to this unhappy people. He returned to England, but on announcing his project met with little encouragement. Finally he came to the Isle of Man and held his first missionary meeting before starting on his hazardous journey.

The missionary party left England in September 1850, and what befell them afterwards is now a matter of history, familiar to many.
On the 5th December, Captain Gardiner and his party reached Picton Island. Here they had a disheartening encounter with the natives, who looked more inclined to murder them than to listen to their words. They embarked on their ship again, and set sail for the opposite shore, on the south-west of Tierra del Fuego.

Here they had no more success than formerly with the natives; also they lost one of their boats, which was run upon the rocks, the other they hauled on shore, and converted into a sort of dormitory. Soon scurvy broke out amongst the party. In April their provisions ran very short, and as sickness increased there was a great difficulty in getting more food. Everything in the shape of birds, fish, a fox, and even vermin that came in their way they ate.
For months they lived on mussels, until Captain Gardiner could eat them no longer, though he managed to drink mussel and limpet broth. One and another of the band were stricken down with illness, and yet in the midst of all this distress and semi-starvation the figures of Gardiner and his friend Maidment might have been seen by their dying comrades kneeling on the shore thanking the Lord for His loving-kindness and mercy towards them. Finally, all were gone but Gardiner and Maidment, and of the two, Gardiner was the weaker and apparently the nearer death. Maidment, however, died first, though he waited upon his fellow-sufferer almost as long as his own life lasted.

From Captain Gardiner's diary, written on that desolate shore as his life was wasting away, several most touching entries are given in Mission history, circulated for the benefit of the South American Society. They all breathe a spirit of heroism and resignation under privations and sufferings of a most distressing kind.

Such was the pitiful end of those men who were left to their fate in the far-off region of Tierra del Fuego. Why the stores they expected never reached them it is useless now to inquire. They died, but the cause did not die. No, but  England was stirred to sympathize in the work, and other devoted men were found to take up the mantle of Gardiner, and start forth better equipped and better prepared in every way to prosecute the Patagonian Mission.

Years of work since then have redeemed the character of the Patagonians; and to his astonishment, Darwin looked before he died upon specimens of that race so changed–physically, mentally, and spiritually–so humanized, in fact – that henceforth he not only pronounced his belief in the regeneration of these people, but became a subscriber to the South American Missionary Society during the remainder of his life.

End of the September, 2003
issue of the Patagonian News