A Scotsman in Peru

Henry Swayne (1800 -1877), a Scotsman born in Dysart, Fife, emigrated to Peru in 1824 representing the firm Swayne Reid & Co. of Liverpool. He was the youngest son of David Swayne and Christina Wallace of Dysart.

Henry Swayne was a resident in Peru for over 50 years during which he owned and operated several cane sugar and cotton plantations along the Peruvian coast. In 1851, Mr. Swayne married a Peruvian lady and established a distinguished family in Peru which has always been identified with the best interest of that country and which exists up to the present time.
Henry Swayne won recognition for the introduction of steam ploughs and other innovative farming techniques of the time and for an exemplary treatment of the labour force. Numerous English travellers of that time documented their observations during their visits to Mr. Swayne’s estates; among them Thomas J. Hutchinson in his book entitled “Two Years in Peru” written in 1873, wrote:
“Mr. Swayne has four estates here (in Cañete), namely Quebrada, Casa Blanca, Huaca and Carillos (Santa Barbara) all of which are communicable one with another by tramways. The ploughing on these is done by steam ploughs. Besides, he has a farm near Cerro Azul, another close to Chilcal and a hacienda at Ungara on the southern side of the second range of hills that run transversely through the valley, and south of the Cañete River. His property in this valley includes an extent of more than ten thousand acres, and has an annual produce of more than two million dollars’ worth in rum and sugar. At the Quebrada, I first saw Chinese labourers on the coast of Peru. Their treatment is exceptionally good, and on Mr. Swayne’s different properties they number beyond fifteen hundred (1,500)”
“The manufactory of Montalba is famous for its sugar refining, according to the best systems practised in Europe. That of Arona for the beauty and picturesqueness of hillocks. Whilst Hualcara is well known for the excellence of all its products. The same can be said of Santa Barbara. But those of the Huaca, Casa Blanca and La Quebrada of Mr. Swayne, surpass all the rest, not only by their discipline, but by their steam works, that are the most perfect in the valley. They likewise realize the largest amount of products”
Another traveller of that time and United States Commissioner to Peru, E. George Squire, in his book entitled “Peru, Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas”, published in New York in 1877, describes the deplorable conditions of the estates in the Nepeña valley prior to its purchase by Mr. Swayne and its subsequent development into a profitable industry with the introduction of new technology and the employment of experienced professionals. The following are excerpts of chapter XII:
“The hacienda, or estate, of San Jacinto was anciently one of the largest and finest in the valley of Nepeña; but before its purchase by Mr. Swayne, a few years before our visit, it had very much run down. It was deserted by the negro slave soon after their emancipation; the dwellings had fallen out of repair; the roof of the church connected with it had tumbled in; the walls of the cemetery behind it were crumbling down; the acequias had broken their banks and were dry or only half filled; while the chaparral and scrub, broom and acacias had invaded the irrigated grounds and desert had encroached on them as the supply of water on the higher levels had diminished. Its extent will appear when I say it was nine miles long by not less than three in average width, covering the entire valley from one mountain range to the other. Sugar had been the principal product of the estate, but Mr. Swayne had supplanted it in great part with cotton, and was bending every effort to increase its production. Ginning-mills and cotton-presses had been erected, and we found at the hacienda quite a colony of English, German and American engineers, mechanics and overseers. The long, narrow, half-ruined dwelling house, large enough to shelter a regiment, was in the course of renovation; the church was undergoing repairs; and the quarters for the Chinese and other workmen were going up, arranged and finished with proper regard to health and comfort. Men were mending broken walls, restoring acequias, making bricks, and planting the garden. On every side was seen the movement and heard the inspiritingly sound of industry the buildings of the hacienda stand on the very northern edge of the valley. The position is high, dry and commanding. Around all is a heavy wall, almost like that of a medieval fortress, entered by a lofty archway.”
On page 204 of his book, Mr. Squire summarized his impression of farming in Peru: “Generally the hacendado exercises little judgment or foresight in the matter of irrigation and leaves the direction of his estate to his major-domo, whose notions of cultivation of the soil are purely traditional or empirical. A few however, like Mr. Swayne, make irrigation a study, and with remarkable results. Not only was his field of cotton large and uniform, and the quality of the staple good, but the irrigation was so well directed that each field was ripened in succession, at short intervals of time, thus enabling a large crop to be picked with a minimum number of hands and distributing over weeks the work that is with us crowded into days. ”
The increase in production and efficiency came as consequence of heavy investment in the acquisition of new properties and purchase of machinery. Silver coins and notes were issued at the Swayne estates for payroll payment and commercial transactions in Lima. The wealth built by Mr. Swayne was seriously diminished in the latter years of his life due to the drop in cane sugar prices as a consequence of the important developments in the beet sugar industry in Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Also, the end of the Civil War between the Northern and Southern States in North America affected the profits obtained from the sale of cotton. This loss was compounded two years after his death, during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884), for although the intervention of the British Foreign Office spared the Swayne’s property from the plunder and vandalism of the invading Chilean army, the economic dislocation brought about by the conflict led to an increase in the already overextended financial debt. In 1900, the surviving family of Henry Swayne negotiated a deal with their creditors, the Lockett Family, a Liverpool merchant house, which resulted in the establishment of The British Sugar Company.
As a good Scotsman, Henry Swayne was known for his sense of humour and eccentricities. It has been reported that Mr. Swayne, not satisfied with the laundering at his estates, shipped his dirty linen to be laundered in Liverpool as recorded in an article written by Ronald Gordon, a former manager of the Swayne properties, and then operated by The British Sugar Company, which appeared in the February 4, 1972 issue of the Peruvian Times. Henry Swayne was an avid horseman and is recognized as having been the first to introduce English thoroughbreds and establishing this sport in Peru. As a tribute to his contribution, a race and award named after him is held every year at the racetrack of Monterrico, in Lima.
Henry Swayne’s death on January 29th, 1877 at his house in Lima, was deeply felt not only among his surviving family but by the industry and society of Peru in general. Accounts of that time indicate his funeral was accompanied by numerous and important members of government, industry and society.
The South Pacific Times, an English publication circulating in Peru in the 1870’s, wrote in his obituary:
“It is with much regret that we announce the death of Mr. Henry Swayne, a gentleman who for more than half a century has been identified with the best interests of this country. Mr. Swayne was born at Dysart, Fifeshire, Scotland. He arrived in Peru in 1824, and was partner in the house of Swayne, Reid and Co., his brother Mr. Robert Swayne, being the head of the firm in Liverpool. In 1832 the house here closed, and Mr. Henry Swayne took possession of the sugar plantations known as Quebrada and Casa Blanca. In 1833 Mr. Swayne made a visit to Europe, and from the time of his return in 1834 he devoted himself entirely to the management of his estates until, we may say, the time of his decease. Mr. Swayne in 1851 married a lady, who with four sons and one daughter mourn his loss. The deceased gentleman was in possession of some of the finest sugar plantations in Peru.”
In his obituary in the issue of February 1, 1877 of “El Comercio”, Peru’s leading and most influential newspaper, the legacy of Henry Swayne’s work and genius to the Peruvian industry is paralleled to the contribution of another Briton, William Miller, Grand Marshal of Ayacucho, in the Independence of Peru. Destiny has them resting within a few yards from each other at the British Cemetery in Bella vista, Callao.
(Thanks to Tony Hammond)

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