Located on the southern Patagonia coast of Argentina, Puerto Deseado is the capital of the Santa Cruz province. Home to almost 14 thousand inhabitants, Puerto Deseado is on the estuary at the mouth of the Deseado River and is one of Argentina’s most important fishing centers.
The harbor was used by early navigators like Magellan, who discovered the estuary, naming it Rio de los Trabajos. Sir Frances Drake travelled the area in 1578, searching for Spanish colonies to sack.
Naming it Port Desire after the name of his ship, Privateer Thomas Cavendish landed there in 1586. Punta Cavendish at the mouth of the harbor still recalls his 10-day visit there. John Narborough claimed the area for Great Britain in 1670, and Captain John Byron went on to claim the Falkland Islands for England in the 1760s. But the Spanish attacked the settlement in 1770. One of the British ships, the Swift, escaped to Puerto Deseado but was shipwrecked there.
In 1780, Spanish soldiers commanded by Antonio de Viedma wintered at Puerto Deseado, and his men built the first houses, planted vegetable gardens, and grew wheat. Unfortunately, these first Spanish settlers fell victim to a scurvy epidemic shortly afterward.
In 1789, an expedition led by Alejandro Malasapina stopped in Puerto Deseado, befriending the indigenous Tehuelche (also called Patagonians). In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Spanish settlers established a fishing company, leather tanning station, and oil production facility. An English frigate arrived in 1807 intent on invading Argentina, bringing the enterprises to an end.
Puerto Deseado’s most famous visitor was the young Charles Darwin, who visited there several times while carrying out his surveys from the HMS Beagle in 1833.
In 1878, Argentina’s Navy took the territory and created the government of Santa Cruz. They created a colony there in 1880, and a group of colonists arrived in 1884. New Governor Lista traveled to Puerto Deseado aboard the Magellan in 1887, but his ship crashed against the rocks and the shipment was lost. The small colony barely survived. Governor Lista traveled to Buenos Aires to communicate the colonists’ struggles, recommending the colony be disbanded.
The colonists decided to stay there, though, and after twelve years, the government recognized them and proclaimed Puerto Deseado a town in 1899.