Puerto Del Hambre – The Abandoned Settlement Of Port Famine

The abandoned settlement of Puerto Del Hambre in Chile

Puerto Del Hambre or Port Famine was a settlement in southern Chile on the northern shore of the Strait Of Magellan in Patagonia. Also known as Ciudad del Rey Don Felipe, it is now a national monument and the ruins attract tourists to Chile’s far south. A monument marks the central point of Chile (as taken from their northern border with Peru to the South Pole in Antarctica which they claim as part of their territory). It is located 53 km (33 miles) south of Punta Arenas, the capital of the Magallanes and Antartica Chilena region.

Puerto Del Hambre Abandoned Settlement

The Strait of Magellan as seen from Puerto Del Hambre

When we think of the southern tip of South America, we think of inhospitable lands which the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, reached in 1520 on the first voyage to circumnavigate the world. The New World had been discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus and as a result of further expeditions and discoveries, the Spanish believed they could find a new westward trading route to the Moluku or Spice Islands, now part of Indonesia. Magellan led the voyage and emerged into the Pacific Ocean in November 1520. The Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America was named in his honour. Unfortunately, he was killed in The Philippines and never completed the voyage.

A picture depicting the discovery of the Strait of Magellan

A picture depicting the discovery of the Strait of Magellan.

In 1578, the first English ship reached Tierra Del Fuego, when the renowned captain Francis Drake arrived as part of a voyage to circumnavigate the globe under the patronage of Elizabeth I and the English crown. As a result of this passage, the Spanish became determined to fortify the strait to protect their interests in Chile and thus, the settlement of Rey Don Felipe was created in 1584. Originally, a Spanish fleet of 23 ships and 3,000 men left Cadiz in 1981 but when 2 of the ships were destroyed in a storm, they returned to Spain. A smaller fleet of 16 ships and 2,200 men left 2 months later however, the fleet became separated and 6 of the ships returned to Spain. Those that remained found Rey Don Felipe in March 1584 under Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa.

Puerto Del Hambre

The site of the original settlement of Rey Don Felipe.

300 settlers originally remained in Rey Don Felipe, although they soon found the environment inhospitable, the vegetation sparse and food lacking. By the time the English returned in 1587, all had died of starvation or cold. The English renamed it Port Famine after they discovered what had happened to the settlement and the name has remained since, albeit translated to Puerto del Hambre in Spanish.

Thomas Cavendish, who was the leader of the Royal Navy expedition, built his base of operations in Bahía San Juan south of Puerto del Hambre. The settlement was visited a number of times by English ships, probably most notably in 1828 when captain of HMS Beagle, Pringle Stokes, became deeply depressed and shot himself in his cabin after locking himself inside for 14 days. On the Beagle’s second survey expedition in 1832, one of those on board was Charles Darwin who visited Port Famine a number of times on the voyage. His observation of the native Yaghan tribe and what he described as their crude savagery is discussed in his book, The Descent of Man, to support his theory that civilised society had evolved from a more primitive form.

In 1843, Chile made plans to resettle the area and 20 settlers made the journey to Puerto del Hambre. Bernhard Eunom Philippi was installed as the first governor of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region. A fort was built by Commander John Williams Wilson of the Chilean Navy, reasserting Chile’s control over the Strait Of Magellan. The latest group of settlers also found the area to be inhospitable and many of them died or returned to Santiago.

The abandoned Fuerte Bulnes Grande in Chile

The rebuilt Fuerte Bulnes near to Puerto Del Hambre. It was built during the Chilean settlement of 1843.

The fort and settlement were eventually abandoned again in the late 19th century and were eventually declared a national monument by the Chilean government in 1968. Fuerte Bulnes was reconstructed from 1941 to 1943 and is now regarded as an important tourism site. It has since become popular with backpackers and luxury tourists stopping off on their voyages to nearby Antarctica.

Location: Patagonia, Chile 🇨🇱
Abandoned: Late 19th century


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