1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Juan Fernandez Islands

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JUAN FERNANDEZ ISLANDS, a small group in the South Pacific Ocean, between 33° and 34° S., 80° W., belonging to Chile and included in the province of Valparaiso. The main island is called Mas-a-Tierra (Span. “more to land”) to distinguish it from a smaller island, Mas-a-Fuera (“more to sea”), 100 m. farther west. Off the S.W. of Mas-a-Tierra lies the islet of Santa Clara. The aspect of Mas-a-Tierra is beautiful; only 13 m. in length by 4 in width, it consists of a series of precipitous rocks rudely piled into irregular blocks and pinnacles, and strongly contrasting with a rich vegetation. The highest of these, 3225 ft., is called, from its massive form, El Yunque (the anvil). The rocks are volcanic. Cumberland Bay on the north side is the only fair anchorage, and even there, from the great depth of water, there is some risk. A wide valley collecting streams from several of the ravines on the north side of the island opens into Cumberland Bay, and is partially enclosed and cultivated. The inhabitants number only some twenty.

The flora and fauna of Juan Fernandez are in most respects Chilean. There are few trees on the island, for most of the valuable indigenous trees have been practically exterminated, such as the sandalwood, which the earlier navigators found one of the most valuable products of the island. Ferns are prominent among the flora, about one-third of which consists of endemic species. There are no indigenous land mammals. Pigs and goats, however, with cattle, horses, asses and dogs, have been introduced, have multiplied, and in considerable numbers run wild. Sea-elephants and fur-seals were formerly plentiful. Of birds, a tyrant and a humming-bird (Eustephanus fernandensis) are peculiar to the group, while another humming bird (E. galerites), a thrush, and some birds of prey also occur in Chile. E. fernandensis has the peculiarity that the male is of a bright cinnamon colour, while the female is green. Both sexes are green in E. galerites.

Juan Fernandez was discovered by a Spanish pilot of that name in 1563. Fernandez obtained from the Spanish government a grant of the islands, where he resided for some time, stocking them with goats and pigs. He soon, however, appears to have abandoned his possessions, which were afterwards for many years only visited occasionally by fishermen from the coasts of Chile and Peru. In 1616 Jacob le Maire and Willem Cornelis Schouten called at Juan Fernandez for water and fresh provisions. Pigs and goats were then abundant on the islands. In February 1700 Dampier called at Juan Fernandez and while there Captain Straddling of the “Cinque Porte” galley quarrelled with his men, forty-two of whom deserted but were afterwards taken on board by Dampier; five seamen, however, remained on shore. Other parties had previously colonized the islands but none had remained permanently. In October 1704 the “Cinque Porte” returned and found two of these men, the others having been apparently captured by the French. On this occasion Straddling quarrelled with Alexander Selkirk (q.v.), who, at his own request, became the island’s most famous colonist, for his adventures are commonly believed to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Among later visits, that of Commodore Anson, in the “Centurion” (June 1741) led, on his return home, to a proposal to form an English settlement on Juan Fernandez; but the Spaniards, hearing that the matter had been mooted in England, gave orders to occupy the island, and it was garrisoned accordingly in 1750. Philip Carteret first observed this settlement in May 1767, and on account of the hostility of the Spaniards preferred to put in at Masa-Fuera. After the establishment of the independence of Chile at the beginning of the 19th century, Juan Fernandez passed into the possession of that country. On more than one occasion before 1840 Mas-a-Tierra was used as a state prison by the Chilean government.