Chilean Coal and British Steamers: the Origin of a South American Industry

By Roland E. Duncan, published August 1975


Coal was known to exist in southern Chile since the sixteenth century, but was not mined industrially until a demand for steam coal was created in I838 by William Wheelwright’s founding of the English based Pacific Steam Navigation Company to provide a regular steamer service along the west coast of South America, inaugurated in 1840 using two paddle steamers, the Chile and Peru. From this beginning coal mining expanded to include the needs of the metalliferrous mining industry.  Paradoxically, competition for Chilean coal also came through British steamers, which brought in cheap Welsh coal, and returned with profitable cargoes, including guano.

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C) | Pacific
Subjects include: Logistics | Merchant Marines

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