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Charles Ledger

Charles Ledger was the first European to export alpacas from their native South America.  This was an amazing chapter in the history of the alpaca industry, presaging by 150 years the birth of the modern Australian alpaca industry.

Ledger was born in London England in 1818.  By 1847 he was tending sheep and cattle in South America and In 1848 he began to breed alpacas at Chulluncayani. In1852 was asked by British consular officials to supply some of the animals for New South Wales, and after traveling to Sydney,Australia, he confirmed what he thought would be satisfactory business arrangements.

The export of alpacas from Peru was prohibited forcing Ledger to drive them through Bolivia to Argentina and return across the Andes to Chile, where he arrived in April 1858 with a depleted flock. Ledger arrived in Sydney with South American shepherds and 256 alpacas, llamas and vicunas in November.

Unfortunately, commercial interest in the alpacas had waned and Ledger was only paid £15,000, far short of what he had originally been promise.  The entire amount wen to Chilean merchants who had underwritten the venture.  Ledger was   Ledger was hired to tend the herd for a small salary.

Attempting to improve his lot, Ledger found himself entangled in politics and even worse off.  He had unusuccessfully attempted to work a deal with the government of Victoria  to take the alpacas.  NSW now suspended Ledger from his post. Then the herd developed a skin disease that killed sixty of them, reducing the herd to 291

On June 23, 1863, three hundred seven animals were divided into 51 lots and put to auction.  Only three lots found a buyer. 

By 1864, Ledger had given up on his herd of alpacas and returned to South America, complaining, "On the faith of promises made in this country I undertook every risk—did succeed—and am ruined!"

A second auction was held in 1866, but once again the reserve was largely unmet. Eventually the remaining alpacas and llamas were given away to squatters or to various lunatic asylums for the amusement of the inmates. Ledger was never paid or given the land grant he was promised.

But the story of Charles Ledger does not end there.   After Ledger returned to South America he found more success by smuggling cinchona seeds out of Peru. Eventually chinchona plantations were established in Java, breaking the South American monopoly on quinine, which was the only treatment for malaria at the time.

Charles Ledger died in 1905. His epitaph read, "He gave quinine to the world".  His estate was valued at two pounds.




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