THE SOUTH PACIFIC MAIL (1909-1965)
West Coast of South America in English. The Legacy of The South Pacific Mail.
By Roberto Pérez Castro
The rich legacy of English-language newspapers published in South America during the 1800s continued across the first half of the 20th century. By the 1900s, two English-speaking publications had survived in Chile: The Magellan Times, based in Punta Arenas (1914–1932), and The South Pacific Mail (1909–1965), originally based in Valparaiso.
On November 6, 1909, Henry Hill published the first edition of The South Pacific Mail, as he vowed to continue the legacy of The Chilian Times (1876–1907) and The Anglo-Chilian Times (1907-1908).
According to Juan Ricardo Couyoumdjian, the financial situation of these publications was strained following the massive earthquake of 1906, which nearly destroyed Valparaiso and forced many English-speaking families to move to nearby Viña del Mar.
The British Consul in Valparaiso considered the newspaper as a business venture created by Hill to earn a living. It was initially edited using the printing presses of Imprenta Universo, created by German businessman William Helfmann. Couyoumdjian comments that the impact of the newspaper spread quickly.
Less than three months after its first edition, it circulated in 30 Chilean towns and cities, such as Lima, Callao, and Mollendo, in Peru, as well as La Paz and Oruro, in Bolivia. Its distribution was also assisted by the presence of Anglican missionaries in the contact zone with Mapuche communities such as Pua, Quino, and Carahue.
Its editions reached the port of Panama, along the shipping routes across the west coast of South America. Later, its subscriptions reached people in the United States and Canada, and it was mailed to different organizations and diplomatic representations in Europe as a reference on Chilean affairs in English.
Expansion and Consolidation
By 1914, it was labeled “the official organ of the English-speaking communities in Chile and Bolivia”, with a new printing press inaugurated in 1911. With its added capacity, it began editing books, magazines, and newspapers in English and Spanish. Some of the most important were La Revista Comercial, The Anglican Church Chronicle, Mackay’s School Review, La Revista Viñamarina, and The Film. An illustrated magazine, Noticias Ilustradas, was launched during the First World War as a war report, Noticias Ilustradas de la Guerra.
The tone of the newspaper was undoubtedly different from other English-speaking publications. Juan Ricardo Couyoumdjian explains that during its first years, the publication did not want to voice any political preference or receive subsidies from other organizations. Likewise, it never attempted to compete with the Chilean press as a news provider, but rather positioned itself as the voice of the British, and later the English-speaking community in Chile.
Over the years, it provided social details of the British residents in different cities of Chile but also commented on important events occurring in the United Kingdom. At the same time, it sought to be a window of Chile to the outside world by publishing weekly editions in English dedicated to different dates and places in the country.
The British Consul, Norman Ingrey, qualified the newspaper as combining a magazine with a “provincial” weekly. In 1915, the newspaper opened new offices in Santiago. Later, the editions were printed in La Unión de Valparaíso and, by 1925, it was sold to fellow Briton Thomas C. Peddar.
The World Wars
Both the First (1914–1918) and Second World War (1939–1945) were critical periods for the newspaper. It became an essential instrument to promote British and American interests in the face of the neutrality and non-belligerence of the Chilean government.
It translated significant announcements by British and American authorities into Spanish to catch the attention of the Chilean population. In both wars, Anglo-South American volunteers were also able to receive The South Pacific Mail in London.
It was delivered by family members or an international subscription to the Anglo-South American Depot (1915–1919) and South America Volunteer House (1943–1946), residences created by members of civil society linked to British interests in Latin America.
During the First World War, the newspaper became a center of operations and communications of the British community living in different cities of Chile. It promoted and published different patriotic initiatives of the Anglo-Chileans, recapitulating their events, accounting summaries, and their reception in Europe.
Likewise, it channeled the letters of the West Coast volunteers deployed in the front lines.
The newspaper served as a channel to gather fundraising efforts and the economic policies from London and Washington, such as the Statutory Lists forbidding British and later American nationals from trading with citizens suspected of working with the enemy. The publisher was accused of doing business with the Germans and had to clear up the fact that he no longer worked with the Helfmann family or Imprenta Universo.
It soon became a vehicle for propaganda and protest, with strong letters and editorials warning about dealing with “the Huns” in Chile. It also publicly questioned Chile's effort to remain neutral, its lack of commitment to the struggle, and the supposed apathy and indifference of Chileans and Argentines to the principles at stake during the conflict.
The outbreak of the Second World War affected the newspaper considerably. Between 1940 and 1941, it had to apologize for the poor quality of the ink and paper. However, with the entry of the United States into the war in 1942, it improved its layout and sections considerably.
By 1943, its credits integrated not only the Peddar as Owner and publisher but alsoR.H. Edmonson as Editor, and began publishing the BNSC Bulletin. The four-page spread, extended to longer specials in various editions, was created and financed by the British National Service Committee to coordinate the war effort in different cities of Chile.
The content of its pages followed the trends of the Great War: it promoted allied propaganda and updated the British and American Statutory Lists each week. It took a peculiar stand: while criticizing the non-belligerence of Chile, it also called on resident Britons to contribute to the war effort, while respecting the local rule of law of a neutral country. Unlike 1914, it didn’t stereotype German and Italian people but focused on the influence of the Nazi and fascist ideologies.
It was also a channel for cultural diplomacy, as it promoted the British and American cultural and intellectual ideals the war effort sought to defend. It showcased the contributions of different British and American cultural institutes in Chile, as well as the support of The British Council.
At the war's end, the publication was a voice to gather the contributions of all the volunteers from Chile who served in Britain and their repatriation. Nevertheless, during the post-war era, the newspaper soon faced important problems. Even though Britain invested in initiatives to restrengthen its commercial interests in South America while playing the role of rival and partner of the United States, the circumstances of the post-war period halted that effort.
The South Pacific Mail’s target demographic was not just resident English-speaking communities, but also travelers. Much of the appeal of this publication to potential advertisers was that it devoted each week to a different topic, such as Empire Day, the Fourth of July, or the Chilean festivities (Dieciocho).
It also served as a travel magazine, showcasing the beauties of Chilean towns as well as the contributions of different countries. This was an opportunity for local businesses, as well as those owned by people of different nationalities, to advertise their products and services in their dedicated editions.
Throughout the years, the newspaper kept featuring news from different West Coast cities and their local activities. With a strong and dedicated opinion in its editorial page, it also featured articles about the cultural legacy of Britain and its links to Chile. On other pages, it integrated news from Britain, the Commonwealth, and the Dominions and a more in-depth review of specific Chilean events, covered in detail in the daily newspapers.
During its 60-year run, the newspaper showcased important events.
The visit of British ships in 1911, commemorating the coronation of George V
The Royal Tour of Edward, Prince of Wales to Chile, in 1926
A tribute to the humanitarian relief given by British ships Ajax and Essex in Talcahuano after a devastating earthquake hit southern Chile in 1939.
A welcome to the visit of the American Vice President Henry Wallace in 1943.
Commemorations for the wedding and coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The official visit of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in February 1960.
A tour of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1962, visiting Santiago, Viña del Mar, and Valparaiso.
A fire destroyed The South Pacific Mail's Santiago offices in January 1949. A year later, it announced that the Americans D.A. Phillips and J.T. Colins were the new publishers; Inez Taylor was its business manager; and Oswald Hardey Evans became its literary editor.
British subjects were concerned and asked the new owner if they would turn the Mail into an American paper. He answered, “of course not”. But they informed me that they would increase its American coverage proportionally to British and world topics, and subsequently turned Santiago into the head office.
Soon after, its cover page changed radically from its traditional logo and began using a more stylish font. By the 1960s, its content leaned strongly toward American culture.
The newspaper finally published its last edition in 1965, ending the tradition of English-speaking newspapers in Chile.