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German colonization of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue

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Title: German colonization of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Occupation of Araucanía, Huilliche people, Puerto Montt, Mapuche history, Mapuche uprising of 1881
Collection: 19Th Century in Chile, Chilean People of German Descent, German Diaspora in South America, History of Los Lagos Region, History of Los Ríos Region
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

German colonization of Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue

Main areas of German settlement in Southern Chile.

From 1850 to 1875 the region around Valdivia, Osorno and Llanquihue in Southern Chile received some 6,000 German immigrants as part of a state-led colonization scheme. Some immigrants were leaving Europe as consequence of the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states. They brought skills and assets as artisans, farmers and merchants to Chile, contributing to development. German settlement had a long-lasting influence on the society, economy, and geography of Southern Chile.


  • Colonization 1
    • Early colonization 1.1
    • State-sponsored colonization 1.2
  • Economic impact 2
  • Relations with Mapuches and Chileans 3
  • Land ownership conflicts 4
  • Forest fires 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8


Early colonization

Beginning in 1842 German expatriate Bernhard Eunom Philippi sent a proposal of German colonization of Southern Chile to the Chilean government. In 1844 Philippi presented a second colonization scheme; both of these schemes were rejected by Chilean authorities. The second scheme considered the colonization of both the shores of Llanquihue Lake and the mouth of Maullín River. The mentioned river was also to be made navigable.[1]

In 1844 Philippi formed a partnership with Ferdinand Flindt, a German merchant based in Valparaíso, who also represented Prussia there as consul. With financial backing from Flindt, in 1844 Philippi purchased land in Valdivia and along the southern bank of Bueno River to be developed by future immigrants. Philippi's brother, Rodolfo Amando Philippi, contributed to the colonization plans by recruiting nine German families to emigrate to Chile. These families arrived to Chile in 1846 aboard one of Flindt's ships. By the time the first immigrants arrived, Flindt had gone bankrupt and his properties were taken over by another German merchant, Franz Kindermann. He supported German immigration and took over Flindt's responsibilities.[1] Some of these immigrants settled near La Unión.[2]

State-sponsored colonization

Worried about the potential occupation of Southern Chile by European powers, Chilean authorities approved plans for colonization of the southern territories; they also wanted to have residential development to make a claim for territorial continuity.[2][3]

The Chilean legislature entered colonist recruitment with passage of the Law of Colonization and Vacant Lots (Ley de Colonización y Tierras Baldías), which was signed by president Manuel Montt in 1845.[3] That same year Salvador Sanfuentes was appointed intendant of Valdivia and tasked with surveying the colonization potential of the Province. To carry out the survey, Sanfuentes commissioned Philippi as "provincial engineer".[1]

The Chilean colonization project took advantage of the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states to recruit immigrants.

The outbreak of the 1848 Revolution in the German states persuaded the previously hesitant Philippi to travel to Europe to recruit settlers.[1][2] The Chilean government initially ordered Philippi to recruit 180-200 German Catholic families. Trobuled by Catholic bishops in Germany who opposed the departure of their parishioners, Philippi asked for and was granted permission to recruit non-Catholic immigrants.[1] Philippi also succeeded in having the Chilean government put fixed prices on fiscal colonization land to stimulate immigration of economically independent individuals and avoid speculation. Most of the immigrants recruited by Philippi during his 1848-1851 stay in Germany were Protestant. The few Catholic families recruited were all poor people from Württemberg.[1]

The immigrants recruited by Philippi arrived in 1850 at Valdivia, where Vicente Pérez Rosales was declared colonization agent by the Chilean government.[4] One of the most notable early immigrants was Carl Anwandter, who settled in Valdivia in 1850 after having participated in the Revolution of 1848 in Prussia.[5] Most immigrants had their own economic means and were therefore free to settle where they wished. They settled mainly around Valdivia. The few Catholic families from Wüttemberg, who needed Chilean state support, could be allocated as the government wished. By 1850, this last group was too small to establish a functional German settlement at the shores of Llanquihue Lake as Philippi had envisioned. He decided to settle the Catholic families in the interior of Valdivia Province. Upon his return to Chile in 1851, Philippi was admonished by minister Antonio Varas for sending too many Protestant settlers. As punishment Philippi was appointed governor of Magallanes instead of being appointed leader of the future Llanquihue settlement as he wished. In Magallanes, Philippi was killed by indigenous people in 1852.[1]

We shall be honest and laborious Chileans as the best of them, we shall defend our adopted country joining in the ranks of our new countrymen, against any foreign oppression and with the decision and firmness of the man that defends his country, his family and his interests. Never will have the country that adopts us as its children, reason to repent of such illustrated, human and generous proceeding,...
— Oath of Carl Anwandter[6]

Pérez Rosales succeeded Philippi as government agent in Europe in 1850; he returned to Chile in 1852 with many German families to settle the shores of Llanquihue Lake.[7]

Example of German architecture in Puerto Varas, a town at Llanquihue Lake with strong German influence.

The sponsored colonization of Valdivia and Osorno lasted until 1858.[8] The shores of Llanquihue Lake were largely colonized between 1852 and 1875 but Puerto Montt (then called Melipulli) and Puerto Varas had already been founded by Chileans in 1850.[8][9] Frutillar on the shores of Llanquihue Lake was founded in 1856.[9] The Puerto Montt and the zone around the Llanquihue Lake developed rapidly; its status as colonization territory established in 1853 was superseded in 1861 when the Llanquihue area was constituted as regular province. The zone had a formal police force established in 1859 to deal with cattle theft –the most common crime at the time. By 1871 Puerto Montt had over 3000 inhabitants and the whole Llanquihue Province had a population of 17,538.[10]

Valdivia, situated at some distance from the coast, on the Calle-Calle River, is a German town. Everywhere you meet German faces, German signboards and placards alongside the Spanish. There is a large German school, a church and various Vereine, large shoe-factories, and, of course, breweries...
— Carl Skottsberg[11]

Economic impact

Following independence in 1820, Valdivia entered a period of economic decline.[12] Since colonial times the city had been isolated from Central Chile by hostile Mapuche-controlled territory, and it depended heavily upon seaborne trade with the port of Callao in Peru.[12] With independence this intra-colonial trade ended but it was not replaced by new trade routes.[12]

About 6000 Germans settlers arrived in Southern Chile between 1850 and 1875. Of these 2800 settled around Valdivia. The plurality of those Germans settled in Valdivia came from Hesse (19%), and 45% of them had worked as artisans in Germany. The next largest occupation group were farmers (28%), followed by merchants (13%). Most German settlers who reached Valdivia brought current assets, including machinery or other valuable goods. Wealthy immigrants in Valdivia provided credit to poorer ones.[12] The nature of the German immigrants to Valdivia contributed to the city's urban and cosmopolitan outlook, specially when compared to Osorno.[13]

In Osorno German industrial activity declined in the 1920s at the same time that the city's economy turned towards cattle ranching.[14][13] With land ownership heavily concentrated among a few families, many indigenous Huilliche of Osorno became peasants of large estates (latifundia) owned by Germans.[13]

Drawing of the landscape around Puerto Montt in 1850 by Vicente Pérez Rosales.

Among the achievements of the German immigrants was the deepening of division of labour, the introduction of wage labour in agriculture, and establishing Chile's first beer brewery in Valdivia in 1851 by Carl Anwandter.[13][12]

Relations with Mapuches and Chileans

Early German settlers had good relations with the indigenous Mapuche and Huilliche, in contrast to their more uneasy relation with the Spanish-descent elite of Valdivia, whom they considered lazy. A pamphlet published in Germany by Franz Kindermann to attract immigrants states that while neither Chileans (meaning those of Spanish descent) nor the Mapuche liked to work, the latter were honest.[13]

the indians [...] that live next to us are absolutely pacific and inoffensive people, with who we have a better dealing than with the Chileans of Spanish origin
— Carl Anwandter[13]

German-indigenous relations chilled over time. The Germans became the new European social elite of southern Chile. They adopted some customs of the older Spanish-descent elite. In addition, German immigrants and later German-Chileans became involved in land claims conflicts with Huilliche, Mapuche and other Chileans.[13]

Land ownership conflicts

As German colonization expanded into new areas beyond the designated colonization areas, such as the coastal region of Osorno and some Andean lakes and valleys, settlers began to have conflicts with indigenous peoples. The Chilean state ignored laws that protected indigenous property, in some instances purportedly because people who were Christian and literate could not be considered indigenous.[13]

The Sociedad Stuttgart, a society established to bring German settlers to Chile, had one of the first major conflicts.[15][16] In 1847 and 1848 this society purchased about 15,000 km2 under fraudulent conditions from Huilliche west of Osorno.[15][16] The Chilean government objected to these purchases but the transactions were ratified in Chilean courts.[13]

As result of Chilean and European settlers, including Germans, settling around Bueno River, Osorno Huilliches living in the Central Valley migrated to the coastal region of Osorno.[15]

German settlers taking lands in the south of the Mapuche territory was one of the factors that led chief Mañil in 1859 to call for an uprising to assert control over the territory.[17] According to Mañil, the Chilean government had granted Mapuche land to the immigrants, although it was not under national control.[13] But, the southern Mapuche communities near the German settlers did not respond to Mañil efforts to create unrest.[13] Mañil's uprising did provoke a decision by Chilean authorities to conquer the Mapuche in Araucanía; this in turn opened more land for European and Chilean colonization, at the expense of the Mapuche.[17]

Forest fires

Vicente Pérez Rosales burned down huge tracts of forested lands to clear lands for the settlers.[4] The area affected by these fires spanned a strip in the Andean foothills from Bueno River to Reloncaví Sound.[4][note 1] One of the most famous intentional fires was the one of the Fitzroya forests between Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt in 1863.[19] This burning was done taking advantage of a drought in 1863.[19] The forests were burned to clear them rapidly for settlers, who had no means of subsistence other than agriculture.[19]


  1. ^ This was not the first instance where Fitzroya forest burned. Some localities have a long history of repeated fires, for instance dendrochronological studies shows at Cordillera Pelada a sequence of Fitzroya forest fires dating as far back as 1397.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g
  2. ^ a b c Villalobos et al. 1974, p. 456.
  3. ^ a b Otero 2006, p. 79.
  4. ^ a b c Villalobos et al. 1974, p. 457.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Pérez Rosales, Vicente. (1882) 1970. Recuerdos del pasado (1814-1860). Buenos Aires: Editorial Francisco de Aguirre.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Otero 2006, p. 80.
  9. ^ a b Otero 2006, p. 81.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d e
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c Otero 2006, p. 86.


  • Otero, Luis (2006). La huella del fuego: Historia de los bosques nativos. Poblamiento y cambios en el paisaje del sur de Chile (in Spanish). Pehuén Editores. ISBN 956-16-0409-4.
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