Scottish Settlers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego: Sheep Farming Capitalisms in a South American Frontier

By Nicolás Gómez Baeza.

Between 1888-89, John Hamilton, Henry Jamieson, John McLean and Thomas Saunders, among others, participated in the so-called “big sheep-ride” [“gran arreo”] through southern Patagonia.[1]  Who were they? Three were born in Scotland, worked as shepherds in the Falkland Islands, and became landowners and businessmen in southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego; the cold, windy and steppe borderland in the far south of Argentina and Chile. The fourth, Jamieson, was born in Australia with a Scottish father, like other shepherds in the British colonies.[2]

The transfer of sheep to Southern Patagonia from the Falkland Islands in 1876 is considered as a turning point in the overall transformation of the region.[3] The development of sheep farming has been recognized as a consequence of this transfer; owed not only to the transportation of the animal-commodity, but also to the British know-how on shepherding. Britons mostly occupied the positions of managers and foremen at stations (or ranches) and refrigeration sites where primarily they produced frozen meat.[4] However, Scotsmen were the majority of the first migrants as shepherds.[5] Thus, it is recognized that they significantly contributed to the kick-start of the sheep farming system in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Traditional analysis includes Scotsmen as part of a so-called “British model” of the sheep farming industry, and describes Scottish shepherds as individual “pioneers” who installed an economic activity that spearheaded the development of the region.[6] Other approaches regarding the settlement of the Scottish shepherds in the region have focused on Scotsmen’s role in the genocide of the indigenous people in Tierra del Fuego. The most infamous case was Alexander McLennan, a former British soldier, responsible for multiple murders as a station manager on the Argentine side of the island, which was the property of the Spanish-born landowner and businessman, José Menéndez. Eventually, McLennan retired from sheep farming activity in 1907, without punishment for his crimes and with a farewell gift (a gold hand-watch, from his boss Menéndez). He died ten years later due to alcoholism in the Chilean city, and the main commercial point at the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas.[7]

There has been interest in more particular experiences of Scottish shepherds in the colonial shaping of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. One example is the research on the settlement of William and Mary Halliday with their family. They also went from the Falkland Islands to developing sheep farming in their own Patagonian station called “Hill” in the national territory of Santa Cruz (Argentina), in 1888.[8] Historians have also given significant attention to the transnational trajectory of the shepherd William Blain, during the second half of the nineteenth century. Many publications about his memoirs explain his origins, journey to the Falkland Islands, his participation in the killing of indigenous people, and also his work in sheep farming spaces. His stories on the rise of The Monte Dinero Sheep Farming Company in the eastern Patagonian side of the Strait of Magellan, and his stories as a sub-manager in the “Springhill” station in the north of Tierra del Fuego (on the Chilean side) have been broadly rescued.[9]

A lot more investigation is needed on Scottish farmers in the region, and further questions can be posed towards these histories. For example, how did Scotsmen develop sheep farming capitalisms? Scots were not only part of a “model” because they were all different parts of wool or meat commodity chains with their own transnational backgrounds. The Blain and Halliday cases are significant examples, but not the only ones. The analysis of differentiations and disciplines in the pastoral productive spaces that they managed needs to be part of specific research exploring trajectories where they or their descendants became capitalist landowners, managers or high ranked employees. Asking new questions of already reviewed sources and finding new ones, can acquire more in-depth analysis of the know-how and practices of station management and the labour disciplines of Hamilton, Jamieson, McLean, Saunders and others. New research can connect specific borderland experiences and contribute to a global comprehension of the history of grasslands and settler imperial capitalism worldwide. Perhaps they were part of a “British model”, or were particular cases of sheep farming capitalisms. Therefore, the understanding of Scottish settlers in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego still requires further research to understand how they developed those productive systems.

Authors Bio: Nicolás Gómez Baeza is a first-year PhD student in the Department of History, University of Warwick, funded by ANID Chile. His dissertation studies transnational histories of labour disciplines in sheep farming at Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, focusing on British managers’ practices and backgrounds from Britain and its Empire.


[1] About the “big sheep-ride”, see: Thomas Saunders’ diary about those events is in:

[2] For this information, see:

[3] About the colonization of the Falkland Islands, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego by sheep farming, see: Harambour, Alberto. “Sheep Sovereignties: The Colonization of the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego, 1830s–1910s.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. 2016. URL:

[4] For statistics, see: Nock, Laurie. “Ethnicity and Economics in Punta Arenas, Chile.” PhD Dissertation,

Department of Anthropology Montreal, McGill University, 1990, pp. 408-511.

[5] Nock, Laurie. “Los británicos en Magallanes.” Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia. 1985, p. 23.

[6] This is the case in: Martinic, Mateo. Los británicos en la Región Magallánica. Ediciones de la Universidad de Magallanes: Punta Arenas, Chile, 2007.

[7] Marchante, José Luis Alonso. Menéndez, rey de la Patagonia. Editorial Catalonia, 2014, pp. 201-4. Mentioned as “Mac Klenan” in Borrero, José María. La Patagonia Trágica: asesinatos, piratería y esclavitud. La denuncia que dio inicio a la saga de la Patagonia Rebelde, 1928. Zagier & Urruty, (1928) 2005, p. 41. Called “McInch” in: Bridges, Lucas. Uttermost part of the Earth: Indians of Tierra del Fuego. Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1948, pp. 268-9 (thanks to Alberto Harambour for the access to the first edition of this book).

[8] Mainwaring, Michael. From the Falklands to Patagonia: the story of a pioneer family. Allison & Busby, 1983.

[9] Most recent transcripts, translated to Spanish, of Blain’s memoirs: Harambour, Alberto. Un viaje a las colonias. Memorias y diario de un ovejero escocés en Malvinas, Patagonia y Tierra del Fuego (1878-1898). Transcripts by Mario Azara. Santiago de Chile, Ediciones DIBAM, Centro de Investigaciones Diego Barros Arana, 2016. A similar work in: Harambour, Alberto et al. “Memorias de William Blain en Malvinas y Patagonia (c.1881-1890)”. Magallania,  Punta Arenas ,  v. 43, n. 2, p. 223-249, 2015. URL:

Further Reading

  • Bandieri, Susana. Historia de la Patagonia. Editorial Sudamericana, 2014.
  • Bascopé, Joaquín. En un Área de Tránsito Polar: Desde el establecimiento de líneas regulares por el estrecho de Magallanes (1872) hasta la apertura del Canal de Panamá (1914).Villa Tehuelches, CoLibris, 2018.
  • Coronato, Fernando Raúl. Ovejas y ovejeros en la Patagonia. Prometeo, 2016.
  • Harambour, Alberto. Soberanías fronterizas: Estados y capital en la colonización de Patagonia (Argentina y Chile, 1830-1922). Ediciones Universidad Austral de Chile, 2019. (This one has been recently awarded in LASA CONO SUR
  • Mancilla, Luis. Los chilotes de la Patagonia Rebelde.La historia de los emigrantes chilotes fusilados en las estancias de Santa Cruz, Argentina, durante la represión de la huelga del año 1921. Puerto Montt, América Impresores (2da edición) 2019.
  • Twohill, Nicholas. “The British world and its role in the relationship between New Zealand and the southern cone countries of South America, 1820-1914.” Historia, Santiago, 43.1, 2010: 113-162. URL: