Notes on the Geography of Uruguay: Fray Bentos: the Anglo
Ever seen the slaughterhouse on UNESCO's World Heritage List? Here's your chance.
You can see the large block of corrals near the base of the map. Just above it is the tannery or curtiembre, and at the upper left, near the loading dock, is the camarias frias or cold store for both chilled and frozen beef. A yellow line leads from the corrals to the Playa de Faena y Derivados, or slaughterhouse proper and, from there, to the cold store. Next to the cold store is the central office. The main entrance is off to the right.
We'll come in that way, stopping to see this sign recalling Justus von Liebig, "the father of organic chemistry" and, along the way, the inventor of "meat extract." Angus Kennedy was a tinsmith for the Liebig Extract of Meat Company and is buried in the Fray Bentos cemetery, but why he has a street named for him I don't know.
A more plausible contender for the honor would be George Christian Giebert, a German engineer living in Uruguay. About 1860 he read of Liebig's experiments with meat extract, a thick paste made by boiling and filtering meat. It wasn't affordable until Giebert proposed to Liebig that they organize a factory to boil the bodies of Uruguayan cattle that had been slaughtered for their hides. Liebig approved, and the rest is history.
Here's Mulhall in the Handbook of the River Plate, from the 1880s: "Mr. Giebert lived to see his enterprise pay dividents of 18 per cent. per annum to the shareholders, and died in 1874, in the prime of life, having obtained the grand gold medal at Vienna in the preceding year, besides two gold medals at Paris in 1867. The establishment is a town in itself." (1885 ed., p. 610).
LEMCO, or the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, was organized in 1865 in London and was always British financed. It was German staffed until 1924, when the Vestey Brothers, who already controlled the company financially, took it over and changed the name to Frigorifico Anglo del Uruguay. The German staff left for Argentina and elsewhere. Here's some of the company's fancier housing. Pre- or post-1924? Good question.
At some point, this bungalow became a company library.
Closer and we come to a bit of landscaping and a remarkable monument.
"Veritable" because competitors plagued the company from early days.
Denied copyright protection for the name Liebig, the company relied on Liebig's signature.
As early as 1873, the year of Liebig's death and the year before Giebert's, the plant was turning out 500 tons of the stuff annually. Corned beef was added to the product list in 1881 and sold under the brand name Fray Bentos. OXO bouillon was added in 1911. Chilled and frozen beef arrived in the 1920s with the Vestey takeover.
Who made the monument? Don't know, though it had to have been before 1924, when the name Liebig was dropped.
The riders have a "wise men from the East" aura.
The entrance still exists but has been stripped.
The plant's steam engines ran on coal at first, then oil. The pumphouse is now a steakhouse.
Products ready for export were carted over to this dock, a relic if ever there was one.
Rodley is between Bradford and Leeds. The Vestey brothers were from Liverpool, and Sir William at least is buried in the cathedral there. One of these days, this crane is likely to be buried forever in the mud of the Uruguay River.
View from the dock back toward the town of Fray Bentos. Did Vestey ever visit? Good question. With his wife, the whip-smart Evelyn, born (and buried) in Superior, Nebraska? Probably not, but who knows?
Here's the end wall of the refrigerator building or frigorifico. You can make out the name Anglo. If you scrutinize the space below, you can also make out the same word, especially the letter N below the cornice and straddling the second embossed rectangle. The sign at that time had read Frigorifico Anglo.
Side view. The building was built in stages, with the right-hand third added later. When built, the word LEMCO, for Liebig Extract of Meat Company, appeared under the central arch. Inside, the building consists of five floors, each with 10 classroom-sized compartments.
Here's the view between the frigorico and the office building. The rails linked the frigorifico to the dock, behind the camera. Livestock apparently were trailed into the corrals.
Here's the other side of the administrative offices, now housing a museum.
Looking from the office building further into the complex. The steel plates were imported as ballast, then laid here to protect the walkway. They form an indestructible sidewalk but one tricky in wet weather.
Further into the beast.
The chimney was attached to the boiler room needed for preparing the beef extract, bouillon, and corned-beef cannery.
The administrative office. The plant flourished through World War II, then went into a slow decline. Vestey sold it in 1968 to the Uruguayan government, which closed the doors for good in 1979.
A desk to die for. A bit much for carry-on, but you never know.
One floor below. The displays are interesting but not as compelling as the structure itself, built to last.
Welcome to the refrigeration plant with its ammonia compressors.
Presumably, it ran until the late 1970s.
You can see why UNESCO lists this place as a monument to the industrial revolution.
The electrical control room.
A touch of elegance.
Something like 70 pounds of meat was boiled and filtered to make a pound of beef extract.
Corned beef was sterilized in autoclaves like these.
And here's where cattle became meat. They walked in on that ramp on the far side.
One by one, they were trapped in one of three compartments.
A man on these boards rested his knee on the padded rim and clobbered the animal's skull with a sledgehammer.
The side gate was raised, and the animal tumbled down, where it was shackled and hoisted.
In the next few minutes, the animal was skinned and disassembled, its blood captured in troughs.
By the 1920s, beef halves were railed down this way to the refrigerator building.
From that path, here's a view of the boiler-room chimney, flanking the building where beef was made into extract.
The view back to the slaughterhouse.
And the view to the other side.
The interior of the refrigerator building is in rough shape. Here's the corridor leading to the refrigeration compartments, some for chilled beef and others for frozen.
At least one of the compartments is clean enough to show visitors.
Here's the "big house," the house built nearby for Giebert, the entrepreneur. He died before having much if any chance to enjoy it.
The museum has many historic photos, including this one of the entrance, presumably showing people leaving work.
Some corrals were in buildings; others weren't. The company owned its own ranches.
Were the workers able to stay as clean as they appear here or was this photo staged?
Not quite so immaculate. Some visitors claim that they can still smell blood in the building.
Loading at the wharf. The Vestey's had opened a refrigerated warehouse in London, and they supplied it with beef carried in the ships of their own Blue Star Line. Weddel, which is now a subsidiary of Swift, was an Australian company acquired by the Vestey's in 1934.
Sheep were processed, too.
Bagging organic fertilizer.
The frigorifico before its lateral expansion.
A grim mosaic of ID photos. The plant at its peak had 5,000 workers. Labor strife was minimal because there was an infinite supply of willing replacements.
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