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History of Harberton

Harberton is the oldest estancia (farm) in the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego (TF).  Its founder, Thomas Bridges, was an orphan found on a bridge somewhere in England and later adopted by an Anglican missionary, the Rev. G.P. Despard.  In 1856, at the age of 13, he was taken with his adoptive family to Keppel (Vigía) Island in the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, where an agricultural mission station was being established.  There he learned Yahgan, the language of the Yámana canoe people from TF, who were taken there for training.  By his first trip to Tierra del Fuego, in 1863, he was able to speak with the Fuegians and explain what the Mission wanted to do.  He founded the Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870, establishing there permanently with his wife, Mary Ann Varder, and their small daughter Mary, in 1871.

In 1884, he received the first Argentine expedition to Tierra del Fuego, which set up the subprefecture at Ushuaia. Two years later, after thirty years with the Keppel and Ushuaia missions, Bridges received Argentine citizenship and a donation of land from the Argentine National Congress under Julio A. Roca in acknowledgement for his work with the natives and with shipwrecked sailors of the Cape Horn area.  The estancia he founded, at first called Downeast, is located 40 nautical miles (60 km) east of Ushuaia.  It was named Harberton after his wife’s birthplace in Devon, England and was the first productive enterprise in Tierra del Fuego (earlier enterprises, such as sealing, whaling and gold digging, were all exploitive).

Harberton now belongs to the grandchildren of Thomas Bridges' sons Will and Lucas.  Its manager, Thomas D. Goodall, is a fourth generation great-grandson of the founder, and lives at the estancia in the original 1887 house with his family, members of the fifth and sixth generations.

Declared an Argentine National Historical Monument in 1999, the estancia maintains its original simple buildings of wood covered with corrugated iron, its gardens, stone piers, and terraces.  Originally operating with sheep (for wool), cattle (for meat), Harberton also had the first almacén (store) and imported supplies for all of southern TF, as well as selling vegetables, meat and supplies to the gold miners of the era.

There are many books and articles about the Bridges family and TF, but the undeniable classic remains Uttermost Part of the Earth, by E. Lucas Bridges, son of the founder.  One of the world's great adventure stories, it was chosen by the New York Explorer's Club as one of the 100 best first-person exploration narratives of the 20th century.

As an estancia, the sheep were gradually discontinued after 1995 as uneconomical.  The estancia now has only cattle and is open to the public from October 15th to April 15th, except on Christmas, New Year and Easter.

· Estancia Harberton · Tierra del Fuego · Argentina ·