A tale of tragedy, catastrophe, and the triumph of the human spirit.
In 1830 a Yamana Indian boy, Orundellico, was bought from his uncle in Tierra del Fuego for the price of a mother-of-pearl button. Renamed Jemmy Button, he was removed from his primitive nomadic existence, where life revolved around the hunt for food and the need for shelter, and taken halfway round the world to England, then at the height of the Industrial Revolution. He learned English and Christianity, met King William IV and Queen Adelaide, and made a strong impression on many of the major figures in Britain, eventually becoming a celebrity. Charles Darwin himself befriended the Fuegian and later wrote about their time together on The Beagle, voyaging back to the southern tip of South America. Their friendship influenced one of the most important and controversial works of the century, On the Origin of the Species.
Upon his return to Tierra del Fuego, Jemmy found that life could never be the same for him there. The Beagle's captain deposited the young man on a lonely, windswept shore and charged him with the tasks of "civilizing" his people and bringing God to his homeland. At first ostracized and attacked by other Fuegians, Jemmy later became the target of zealous and ambitious missionaries. Thirty years after his return, a missionary schooner in Tierra del Fuego was attacked, with nearly everyone on board killed, and Button himself was accused of leading the massacre.
Button's life story illustrates how the lofty ideals of imperialism often resulted in appalling consequences. Thoroughly researched and remarkably well written, this fascinating and poignant story is ultimately about survival, revenge, murder, and the destruction of a whole race of people, blurring the boundaries of civilization and savagery.