Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and Santiago. Oysters of excellent flavour are found in the sheltered waters of Chiloé. The Cetacea, which frequent these southern waters, are represented by four species—two dolphins and the sperm and right whale—and the Phocidae by six species, one of which (Phoca lupina) differs but little from the common seal. Another species (Macrorhinus leoninus), popularly known as the sea-elephant, is provided with short tusks and a short trunk and sometimes grows to a length of 20 ft. Still another species, the sea-lion (Otaria jubata), furnishes the natives of Tierra del Fuego with an acceptable article of food, but like the Phoca lupina it is becoming scarce.

Of Reptilia Chile is singularly free, there being recorded only eleven species—five saurians, four ophidians, one frog and one toad—but a more thorough survey of the uninhabited territories of the south may increase this list. There are no alligators in the streams, and the tropical north has very few lizards. There are no poisonous snakes in the country, and, in a region so filled with lakes and rivers as the rainy south, only two species of batrachians. The insect life of these strangely associated regions is likewise greatly restricted by adverse climatic conditions, a considerable part of the northern desert being absolutely barren of animal and vegetable life, while the climate of Tierra del Fuego and the southern coast is highly unfavourable to terrestrial animal life, for which reason comparatively few species are to be found. Writing of a journey inland from Iquique, Charles Darwin says (Journal of Researches, &c., p. 444): “Excepting the Vultur aura, ... I saw neither bird, quadruped, reptile, nor insect.” Of his entomological collection in Tierra del Fuego, which was not large, the majority were of Alpine species. Moreover, he did not find a single species common to that island and Patagonia. These conditions subsist with but few modifications, if any, from the Straits northward to the 42nd parallel, the extreme humidity, abnormal rainfall and dark skies being unfavourable to the development of insect life, while the Andes interpose an impassable barrier to migration from the countries of the eastern coast. The only venomous species to be found in central Chile is that of a spider which frequents the wheat fields in harvest time.

Population.—The population of Chile is largely concentrated in the twelve agricultural provinces between and including Coquimbo and Concepción, though the next six provinces to the south, of more recent general settlement, have received some foreign immigrants, and are rapidly growing. In the desert provinces the population is limited to the mining communities, and to the ports and supply stations maintained for their support and for the transport, smelting and export of their produce. The province of Atacama has, in addition to its mining population, a considerable number of agriculturists located in a few irrigated river valleys, which class is largely increased in the adjoining province of Coquimbo. The more northern provinces, however, maintain their populations without the support of such small cultivated areas. In the southern territories unfavourable conditions of a widely different character prevail, and the population is restricted to a few small settlements and some nomadic tribes of Indians. Here, however, there are localities where settlements could be maintained by ordinary means and the population could be greatly increased. Since the census of 1895 the population of Punta Arenas has been largely increased by the discovery of gold in the vicinity. The twelve provinces first mentioned, which include the celebrated “Vale of Chile,” comprise only 17% of the area of the republic, but the census of 1895 showed that 72% of the total population was concentrated within their borders. The four desert provinces north of Coquimbo had only 8% of the total, and the seven provinces and one territory south of Concepción had 20%. According to the census of 1895 the total population was 2,712,145, to which the census officials added 10% to cover omissions. This shows an increase slightly over 7% for the preceding decennial period, the population having been returned as 2,527,320 in 1885. The census returns of 1875 and 1866 gave respectively 2,068,447 and 2,084,943, showing an actual decrease in population. During these years Chile held the anomalous position of a country spending large sums annually to secure immigrants while at the same time her own labouring classes were emigrating by thousands to the neighbouring republics to improve their condition. Writing in 1879, a correspondent of The Times[1] stated that this emigration then averaged 8000 a year, and in bad times had reached as many as 30,000 in one year. The condition of the Chilean labourer has been much improved since then, however, and Chile no longer suffers so serious a loss of population. In 1895, the foreigners included in the Chilean population numbered 72,812, of which 42,105 were European, 29,687 American, and 1020 Asiatic, &c. According to nationality there were 8269 Spanish, 7809 French, 7587 Italian, 7049 German, 6241 British, 1570 Swiss, 1490 Austro-Hungarian, 13,695 Peruvian, 7531 Argentine, 6654 Bolivian, 701 American (U.S.), 797 Chinese. According to residence, 1,471,792 were inhabitants of rural districts, and 1,240,353 of towns. The registration of births, marriages and deaths is compulsory since the 1st of January 1885, but the provisions of the law are frequently eluded. Notwithstanding the healthiness of the climate, the death-rate is high, especially in the large cities. In Santiago and Valparaiso the death-rate sometimes rises to 42 and 60 per 1000, and infant mortality is very high, being 73% of the births in some of the provincial towns. This unfavourable state of affairs is due to the poverty, ignorance and insanitary habits of the lower classes. The government has made repeated efforts to secure immigrants from Europe, but the lands set apart for immigrant settlers are in the forested provinces south of the Bio-Bio, where the labour and hardships involved in establishing a home are great, and the protection of the law against bandits and criminal assaults is weak. The Germans have indeed settled in many parts of these southern provinces since 1845, and by keeping together have succeeded in building up several important towns and a large number of prosperous agricultural communities. One German authority (Hüber) estimates the number of Germans in two of these provinces at 5000. The arrivals, however, have been on the whole discouragingly small, the total for the years 1901–1905 being only 14,000.

Although Chileans claim a comparatively small admixture with the native races, it is estimated that the whites and creoles of white extraction do not exceed 30 to 40% of the population, while the mestizos form fully 60%. This estimate is unquestionably conservative, for there has been no large influx of European blood to counterbalance the race mixtures of earlier times. The estimated number of Indians living within the boundaries of Chile is about 50,000, which presumably includes the nomadic tribes of the Fuegian archipelago, whose number probably does not reach 5000. The semi-independent Araucanians, whose territory is slowly being occupied by the whites, are concentrated in the eastern forests of Bio-Bio, Malleco and Cautin, all that remains to them of the Araucania which they so bravely and successfully defended for more than three centuries. Their number does not much exceed 40,000, which is being steadily reduced by drunkenness and epidemic diseases. A small part of these Indians live in settled communities and include some very successful stock-raisers, but the greater part live apart from civilization. There are also some remnants of tribes in the province of Chiloé, which inhabit the island of that name, the Chonos and Guaytecas archipelagoes and the adjacent mainland, who have the reputation of being good boatmen and fishermen; and there are remnants of a people called Changos, on the desert coast, and traces of Calchaqui blood in the neighbouring Andean foothills.

There is a wide difference in every respect between the upper or ruling class and the common people. The former includes the landed proprietors, professional men and a part of those engaged in commercial and industrial pursuits. These educated classes form only a small minority of the population. Many of them, especially the landed proprietors, are descendants of the original Spanish settlers and are celebrated for their politeness and hospitality. The political control of the republic was secured to them by the constitution of 1833. The common people were kept in ignorance and practically in a state of hopeless servitude. They were allowed to occupy small leaseholds on the large estates on condition of performing a certain amount of work for the landlord. Every avenue toward the betterment of their condition was practically closed. The condition of the itinerant labourers (peons) was still worse, the wages paid them being hardly sufficient to keep them from starvation. The Chilean peon, however, comes from a hardy stock, and has borne all

  1. A. Gallenga, South America (London, 1880), p. 181.