Saturday, May 04, 2019

Across the Sea & History, Part One

History intrigues me. Stories fascinate me. Add a touch of mystery, and I can be immersed for hours, days, weeks exploring the past. I suppose that is why the tiny seaside town of Pisagua, Chile continues to draw me to it again and again.

It's also why the ancient cemetery of Pisagua continues to captivate me. The more recent history there is sorrowful and ponderous and necessary to explore. But it is the more distant unknown that draws me to discover who these people might be that came from so very far away in a time when travel was prolonged and perilous, across thousands of miles of deep and dangerous sea. It is the fact that one day soon these century-old markers preserved in desert dryness will be erased by the merciless sun. 

Each time we visit the Cemetery of Pisagua, there is one grave marker I make a point to see. It startles me that 125 years later, somehow this handwritten tribute under glass has survived when so many around it have been lost to time.

He was only 20 years old when he died. Very far from home, as evidenced by an English-language marker planted in South American soil. Yet his simple memorial holds many clues, and in this modern age of internet and genealogy searches I wondered what could be learned of young W. A. D'Arcy and others whose names yet survived nearby. 

Owen Williams was born August 4, 1888 in Holyhead, Wales and buried under the sands of the Atacama at 28 or 29 years of age. Over 6,000 miles from his homeland, by sea and at that time rounding the southern tip of the continent thus rendering the voyage that much longer. Who was he? How could we know?

The final resting place of F. N. McMillan is notable for its carefully crafted wooden cross. An encircled anchor at the top clearly identifies yet another lost sailor. His age and birth date are unknown but his home was remembered as Craicmore, Glasgow, Scotland. He died on March 1, 1906.

As I researched his name, I stumbled onto a blog post entitled "Thomas MacMillan….A Glasgow Lad goes to Sea… and ends up in Valpariso and Coquimbo, Chile." While not the McMillan I pursued, nonetheless the title piqued my interest and the article contained a wealth of information to further my own exploration. For example, I learned that:
Under the Merchant Seamen, etc, Act 1823 (4 Geo IV c 25) Masters of British merchant ships of 80 tons and over were required to carry a given number of indentured apprentices. These had to be duly enrolled with the local Customs Officer. These provisions were extended by the Merchant Seamen Act 1835 (5 & 6 Wm IV c 19) which provided for the registration of these indentures. In London they were registered with the General Register and Record Office of Seamen and in other ports with the Customs officers who were required to submit quarterly lists to the Registrar General. In 1844 it was provided for copies of the indentures to be sent to the Registrar General, and although compulsory apprenticeship was abolished in 1849 the system of registration was maintained.
This explains the reference on W. A. D'Arcy's tomb to his being an apprentice on the ship Largiemore. It may also indicate Owen Williams' lot in life, if the "A. B. Ship Fingal" refers to the same. So much to learn! But, time dictates that I close this post as Part One and continue another day. 

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