Page 1. " A piece of brontosaurus "

Chatwin's mother uses the now obsolete name for the Apatosaurus dinosaur of the Jurassic period.

The brontosaurus 'hoax' was revealed in 1903 when scientists discovered that the remains found in 1874 by O.C.Marsh, and thought to be of a previously unknown species, were in fact from the Apatosaurus, which had already been discovered. However,  the brontosaurus was not officially removed from paleontology classifications until 1974.

Page 1. " it had fallen into a glacier, travelled down a mountain in a prison of blue ice "

Glacier - Argentina
Public DomainGlacier - Argentina - Credit: NASA Expedition 21 Crew
Chatwin begins his vivid, laconic description of the landscape before he sets foot in Argentina. Patagonia has some of the world's only glaciers not in retreat. 

There are evocative images of their movement here.

Page 1. " Charley Milward was captain of a merchant ship "
Cueva del Milodon
Public DomainCueva del Milodon - Credit: Jorge Morales Piderit

Charley Milward was a notorious member of the Patagonian community in the early 20th century. At one point he was British Consul in Punta Arenas. Chatwin recounts his extraordinary story in the penultimate chapters of In Patagonia.

Although closed to the public, you can still visit his house near the Cueva del Milodón where he found the "brontosaurus" skin.

Page 3. " mylodon or Giant Sloth "


Mylodon Fur
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMylodon Fur - Credit: FunkMonk
The extinct Mylodon was named by the biologist Richard Owen in 1842. It died out about 10,000 years ago, but remarkable remains, including fur, dung and toenails, are on display at the Natural History Museum in London.


Page 3. " Last Hope Sound in Chilean Patagonia "

Last Hope Sound
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLast Hope Sound - Credit: Mirko Thiessen
Patagonia is full of gloomy-sounding places: Last Hope Sound (in Spanish Ultima Esperanza), Port Famine, Desolation Island.

The names belie the dramatic scenery, but underscore the terrors early explorers experienced.

Page 3. " the Cannibal of the Kremlin "
Jospeh Stalin
Public DomainJospeh Stalin - Credit: Library Of Congress

Chatwin grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and was driven to escape to distant corners by the spectre of Stalin dropping cobalt and hydrogen bombs on Europe.

Cobalt bombs never actually existed.  They were hypothesized as a form of nuclear weapon with immense radioactive fallout that could render whole areas uninhabitable.

Page 5. " The history of Buenos Aires "

Chatwin chooses a delightfully original way to present the history of Buenos Aires, where he starts his journey. Using the surnames in its telephone directory, he defines the city as a place of exile and immigration. There is a much more comprehensive history here.

When he arrived in December 1974, the city was in turmoil. Juan Perón had died five months previously, there had been a massacre at the airport, and the military were plotting to overthrow his widow, Isabel Martínez de Perón. Once in Patagonia, Chatwin alludes to the difficult political situation on several occasions. It is not his theme, but the shadows are present.

Buenos Aires
Creative Commons AttributionBuenos Aires - Credit: Tiago Luiz "Cata" - Flickr

Page 5. " Eva was in good shape "
Eva Peron
Public DomainEva Peron - Credit: Archivo gráfico de la Nación

The Perón Mausoleum is located in the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires, in the presidential home. Maria Eva “Evita” Duarte de Perón's body was briefy displayed there, alongside the closed casket of her former husband Juan, following his death. 






That Eva was in good shape after her tour of European bank vaults is a reference to the controversial story of her remains, which mysteriously disappeared after her death. After its long tour of Europe, her body was moved to the Recoleta Cemetery in 1976.


Page 5. " expecting a military coup "

The coup Chatwin anticipates finally took place in March 1976 following a brief and unsuccessful period of rule by Isabel Perón. It signalled the start of the Dirty War.


Page 5. " the red river "
Rio de la Plata
Public DomainRio de la Plata - Credit: NASA

Buenos Aires sits on the south side of the Río de la Plata estuary, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. A confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers, it extends for approximately 180 miles.

The name means River of Silver, although it is usually translated as River Plate. It kicks up a good deal of sediment, which can make it appear reddish-brown in colour.

Google Map
Page 5. " leather suitcases in the hall "
by cm

This slightly random comment is surely a play on the UK #7 single hit of 1977 (the year of the book's publication), Another Suitcase in Another Hall from the Buenos Aires musical Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

Listen on Spotify:  Another Suitcase in Another Hall performed by Barbara Dickson.


Page 5. " General Rosa's gauchos "

  Juan Manuel de Rosas governed Buenos Aires for seventeen years, from 1829 to 1832 and from 1835 to 1852. He is credited as the architect of Argentinian unity, but he ruled by force, imposed strict censorship laws and virtually wiped out the indigenous Araucanian population.

Gaucho officially means people from the agricultural areas of La Pampa, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires province, but is more often used as a general term for Argentinian cowboys.

Page 5. " Raymond Monvoisin "

The obscure French painter Monvoisin (1790-1870) travelled to South America in the 1840s, where he helped set up the Academy of Painting in Chile and influenced pictorial art in Argentina.


Page 6. " Ernesto Guevara "
Che Guevara
Public DomainChe Guevara - Credit: Museo Che Guevara, Habana, Cuba

Revolutionary, intellectual, military theorist and popular icon of millions of T-shirts and posters on student bedroom walls around the world, Ernesto "Che" Guevara needs little introduction as one of the most significant figures in South American history.


A key player in the Cuban Revolution and first Castro government, he was named one of the 20th century's most influential people by Time magazine and continues to inspire hundreds of books, essays, memoirs, songs and films, including the two-part epic released in 2008 starring Benicio Del Toro as Che.

Page 6. " Bazarov "

A Russian spy, Boris Bazarov infiltrated the British Foreign Office in 1930, causing a major scandal.

Page 6. " an old White émigrée "

A term used to describe Russians who had fled Russia after the Revolution, and not to be confused with people from White Russia (now Belarus).

Natasha Richardson played a White Russian aristocrat reduced to poverty and prostitution in 1930s Shanghai in the Merchant Ivory film The White Countess.

Page 7. " I took the train to La Plata "
La Plata station
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLa Plata station - Credit: Matias - Flickr

Located 56km southeast of Buenos Aires, La Plata is capital of the Buenos Aires province. The National History Museum Chatwin visits is the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, one of the most respected museums in South America, with an outstanding collection of dinosaur relics.

Google Map
Page 7. " May 1968 "

A reference to the student riots that erupted in Paris in May 1968, before spreading through Europe and on to Mexico. They had little direct impact in Argentina, which was under military dictatorship at the time.  But there was a growth in guerilla movements that led, amongst other things, to the formation of the Trotskyite People's Revolutionary Army (ERP).


Page 7. " glyptodons "

Public DomainGlyptodon - Credit: Heinrich Harder
Armoured but toothless, the herbivorous glyptodon was about the size of a VW Beetle.

Page 7. " W.H. Hudson "

The novelist and ornithologist, William Henry Hudson was born in Buenos Aires province in 1841 of American parents. He studied the flora and fauna of Argentina before settling in the UK where he helped found the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). He wrote Idle Days in Patagonia which Chatwin later refers to as 'so quiet and sane it makes Thoreau seem a ranter.' 

Page 8. " notoungulates and condylarths "

GNU Free Documentation LicenseToxodon - Credit: Arthur Weasley
  Notoungulates were hoofed, heavy-bodied mammals from the Paleocene and Pleistocene periods, such as the toxodon (which resembled a rhinoceros).

Condylarths, a mammalian order now extinct, included some of the earliest herbivorous mammals.

Chatwin goes on to list other early creatures present in South America, before the Panamanian landbridge formed allowing North American mammals to outcompete indigenous species: megatherium (an elephant-sized sloth), liptoterns (a grazing beast, similar to a horse), astrapotheriums and the macrauchenia ('like a camel with a trunk').

Page 9. " puma and sabre-tooth tiger "

Creative Commons AttributionPuma - Credit: Jöshua Barnett
The sabre-tooth tiger became extinct approximately 12,500 years ago, but the Puma still thrives. It is sometimes referred to as the Cougar, Panther or Mountain Lion. Chatwin is later told they are everywhere, much more prevalent than you might think.

Page 9. " Monroe Doctrine "

The fifth US President, James Monroe, decreed in 1823 that America would henceforth look upon European attempts to colonise or interfere with lands in the Americas as acts of aggression. Intended to prevent any further colonisation by Europe, at a time when Latin American countries were seceding from Spanish control, the Monroe Doctrine was an audacious announcement from a fledgling nation, but it has stood the test of time.

Page 10. " I hoped to find Bill Philips "

In his biography of Bruce Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare reveals that Philips was in fact David Bridges, son of Lucas Bridges who wrote one of Chatwin's favourite books on Patagonia, Uttermost Part of the Earth.

Chatwin frequently changed the names of the people he met to protect their identity (on this occasion at Bridges's request). That didn't stop some of them coming forward after its publication to complain that he had made things up. But according to Shakespeare, there was no fabrication in this instance. Bridges told him, 'I found it accurate. It's not flattering, but it's the truth.'

Page 10. " General San Martín, the Liberator "
General San Martin
Public DomainGeneral San Martin - Credit: Francois Joseph Navez
Along with Simón Bolívar, San Martín is considered one of the great heroes of South American independence. He liberated Chile from the Spanish and helped set Peru free. Today, the Order of the Liberator San Martín is the highest decoration awarded in Argentina.
Page 10. " maté kettle "
Creative Commons AttributionMaté - Credit: Juan Pablo Olmo

Made from the dried leaves and twigs of the Yerba maté plant, a holly indigenous to parts of South America, maté (pronounced mattay) tea is traditionally drunk from hollowed-out gourds or metal kettles. It's a ritual still enjoyed several times a day, especially in Argentina and Paraguay, where the kettle is passed from person to person and the tea drunk through a straw. It has a bitter taste that the uninitiated can find alarming.

How to make maté:

Page 11. " Are you here because of Darwin "

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was the British naturalist who proposed (with Alfred Russel Wallace) the theory of evolution by natural selection.

He set sail on HMS Beagle in 1831, and disembarked at Punta Alta in Patagonia where he made his first major find: gigantic fossils of extinct mammals.  He spent three and a half years on land, and 18 months at sea (despite suffering terrible seasickness), collecting hundreds of specimens, making notes on plankton and marine life, and travelling into the interiors to study indigenous peoples. By the time he returned to England in 1836, he was a celebrity.

Darwin was not the first scientist to suggest the ideas that would make up the theory of evolution by natural selection, but his ground-breaking book On The Origin of Species (1859) has forever linked his name to the theory.  The theory is itself still evolving.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin online


Page 12. " Marches "

Another group of Patagonian settlers, the Italians Philips complains about have come from Le Marche, a coastal region of eastern Italy on the Adriatic. 

Suffering from the consequences of a terrible economic depression and the rise of fascism, entire villages fled in the 1930s.


Page 13. " Ouraka "
Magellanic Plover
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMagellanic Plover - Credit: Alastair Rae

The bird identified as an ouraka is hard to attribute. It may be the threatened Southern Caracara, but that is mainly found further south in Tierra del Fuego and on the Falklands, and hardly fits Bill's description as the 'ugliest bird in the book.'

The tero-teros are almost certainly the Magellanic Plover which, in common with other plovers, makes a vicious screeching noise at those who stray too close to the nests they build on the ground.

Patagonian birdlife

Page 15. " time of the Indian raids "

Patagonia before the arrival of white settlers was sparsely occupied by various nomadic groups, including the Chonik, Mapuche (or Araucanians) and Ona. As Chatwin is still in the north at this point, on the border with the Pampas, the Indians could have been Querandi or Tehuelche, the latter the source of the myth of the Patagonian giants. Many were wiped out by white settlement (which brought disease) and the raids of the Conquest of the Desert, initiated by General Roca in the 1870s.

Page 17. " Patagonia begins on the Río Negro "
Northern Patagonia
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNorthern Patagonia - Credit: Marianocecowski
Nicholas Shakespeare contests that In Patagonia contains several factual errors. Patagonia is usually said to start at the Río Colorado, and not 12okm further south at the Río Negro as Chatwin states. The Negro, which is actually greenish-brown, is a translation from the Araucanian Curú Leuvú and not a reference to its colour.




Page 18. " Araucanian Indians "

The Mapuche Indians were called Araucanians by the Spanish colonisers, probably taking their name from rag ko (clayey water). Originating in Chile, they migrated to the Argentine pampas. Chatwin suggests they became candidates for the legend of the Noble Savage via the Spanish poet Alonso de Ercilla and the French philosopher Voltaire. Whilst Voltaire was the arch inventor of fictitious savages, Ercilla had actually fought against the Araucanian in Chile, leading him to write his epic poem La Araucana.

Page 19. " a court in exile "
The Kingdom of Araucania
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Kingdom of Araucania - Credit: Marcelo Véliz

The peculiar story of the Kingdom of Araucania unfolds throughout sections 7 and 8 of In Patagonia. There is a more sober history here, including the election of shadowy French lawyer Orélie-Antoine de Tounens as king by Lonkos Kilapan (Chatwin's Quilapán), his kidnap by Chilean soldiers, exile to France, and attempts to drum up International support. Tounens had unsuccessfully petitioned the French Senate in 1867 (the original documents are here), but according to the Mapuche Nation the Prince Philippe that Chatwin meets in Paris is now doing important Public Relations work, including advising the United Nations of the Araucanians fight for self-determination.

Page 20. " pretender to the Aztec throne "
Montezuma II
Public DomainLast of the Aztecs - Credit: N Matthew

When the Aztec Empire was overthrown by the Spanish in 1521 its leader Moctezuma (Montezuma) II had eight daughters and eleven sons, leaving plenty of scope for heirs; although estimates put the Aztec population at 19 million before the Spanish conquest, and less than 2 million after.

Page 20. " Order of Memphis and Misräim (Egyptian Rite) "

An obscure publication that comes from a shadowy masonic organisation that spread internationally, including to Argentina and Chile. The two complex Rites were fused together in 1881 by Garibaldi and draw heavily on the occult, Egyptian alchemy and mythology.

Page 21. " Murat was a stable boy "
Joachim Murat
Public DomainJoachim Murat - Credit: François Pascal Simon Gérard

  Joachim Murat, son of an innkeeper, had the good fortune to marry Napoleon Bonaparte's sister.  The Emperor made him King of Naples in 1808, a title he lost after the Battle of Waterloo did for his brother-in-law.

Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, one of Bonaparte's soldiers, was crowned Charles XIV, King of Sweden in 1818 after Charles XIII unexpectedly declared him heir and Crown Prince in recognition of his sympathetic treatment of Swedish prisoners in the war against Denmark. 

Page 22. " rounded the Horn "
Sailing round Cape Horn
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeSailing round Cape Horn - Credit: - Flickr

Cape Horn in Tierra del Fuego is the southernmost tip of Patagonia. Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, it was the only shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was known as a ship's graveyard due to the treacherous conditions. Tounens makes it through and lands at the port of Coquimbo, which was just starting to flourish with gold and copper industries.

Google Map
Page 22. " Sr Guillermo Frick of Valdivia "

One of the first German settlers in Chile, Willhelm Frick contributed considerably to Chilean music. Here is his Araucanian National Anthem:

Page 25. " Messageries-Maritimes steamer "
Messageries Maritimes steamers in Marseilles
Public DomainMessageries Maritimes steamers in Marseilles - Credit: US Library of Congress

Founded in Marseilles in 1851, the Messageries Maritimes was a highly successful French maritime company during its golden age (from 1871 until the outbreak of World War I), sailing to China, Australia, Africa and the South Atlantic. With their trademark twin-funnels the steamers became iconic vessels on the world's oceans.

Page 25. " Le Coffret de Santal "

The French poet and inventor Charles Cros had some eccentric - and some good - ideas. He petitioned the French government to build a giant convex mirror that could be used to communicate with aliens, was a member of the avant-garde movement in Paris, and wrote a poem called The Kippered Herring. He is best known as the man who almost invented photography and for his forerunner of the phonograph, the Paleophone. The collection Le Coffret de Santal can be read (in French only) here.

Much less is known about his brother, the third King of Araucania.

Page 25. " Pétain Government "

Set up by Marshall Phillipe Pétain after the German defeat of France in 1940, the government that controlled the southern part of the country was better known as the Vichy Regime

Its shameful collaboration with the Nazis, particularly in the deportation of French Jews to the death camps, is well documented by Sebastian Faulks in Charlotte Gray.

Page 25. " Kipling's story The Man who would be King "

Rudyard Kipling's short story The Man Who Would Be King told of two British adventurers in India, Peachey and Dravot, who became kings of a remote region of the Hindukush (part of Afghanistan). John Huston directed a film adaptation in 1975, starring Sean Connery as Dravot and Michael Caine as Peachey.