|By Frank Marryat (1826 - 1855)|
"At eight, A.M., Chagres was reported in sight, and as we neared the land, it presented an appearance far from inviting. The American steamer, "Cherokee," ran into the anchorage with us, and immediately disgorged five hundred American citizens in red and blue shirts.
"I landed with as much expedition as possible, and commenced at once to bargain for a canoe to take me up the river. This I at last effected at an exorbitant price, and on the express condition that we should not start until sunset. A few months back the native Indians of this place considered themselves amply repaid with a few dollars for a week's work, but since the Californian emigration has lilied their pockets with American eagles, they have assumed American independence: and now the civilised traveller, instead of kicking the naked aborigine into his canoe, or out of it as his humour prompts, has to bargain with a "padrone", as he calls himself, dressed in a coloured muslin shirt and a Panama hat, with a large cigar in his still larger mouth; and has not only to pay him his price, but has to wait his leisure and convenience.
"The town of Chagres deserves notice, inasmuch as it is the birthplace of a malignant fever, that became excessively popular among, the Californian emigrants, many of whom have acknowledged the superiority of this malady by giving up the ghost, a very few hours after landing. Most towns are famous for some particular manufacture, and it is the fashion for visitors to carry away a specimen of the handicraft; so it is with Chagres. It is composed of about fifty huts, each of which raises its head from the midst of its own private malaria, occasioned by the heaps of filth and offal, which putrefying under the rays of a vertical sun, choke up the very doorway.
"On the thresholds of the doors, in the buts themselves - fish, bullock's heads, hides, and carrion, are strewed all in a state of decomposition; whilst in the rear is the jungle, and a lake of stagnant water, with a delicate bordering of greasy blue mud. As I had with me my man Barnes and three large blood-hounds, I hired a boat of extra size capable of containing us all, together with the baggage, this being preferable to making a swifter passage with two smaller canoes and running the risk of separation. At about three we started, the "Cherokees" in boats containing from ten to a dozen each. All was noise and excitement, - cries for lost baggage, adieus, cheers, a parting strain on a cornet-(-piston, a round dozen at least of different tongues, each in its owner's own peculiar fashion murdering Spanish, a few discharges from rifles and revolvers, rendered the scene ludicrous, and had the good effect of sending us on the first step of a toilsome journey in a good humour. So up the river we went, and as Chagres disappeared behind us, we rejoiced in a purer air. There is an absence of variety in the scenery of the Chagres river, as throughout its whole length the banks are lined to the water's edge with vegetation. But the rich bright green at all times charms the beholder, and the eye does not become wearied with the thick masses of luxuriant foliage, for they are ever blended in grace and harmony, now towering in the air in bold relief against the sky, now drooping in graceful festoons from the bank, kissing their own reflections in the stream beneath.
"Every growing thing clings to and embraces its neighbour most lovingly; here is a bunch of tangled parasites that bind a palm tree by a thousand bands to a majestic teak, and having shown their power, as it were, the parasites ascend the topmost branch of the teak, and devote the rest of their existence to embellishing with rich festoons of their bright red flowers, the pair they have thus united.
"The teak, which is here a very bald tree, is much improved by the addition of these parasites, which give him quite a juvenile appearance, and form, in fact, a kind of wig, to hide the infirmities of age. Here is a dead and well bleached sycamore tree, half thrown across the river, but still holding to the bank by its sinewy roots; and at its extremity is an ants' nest, about the size of a beehive, and along the trunk and branches green leaves are seen to move about at a prodigious rate, tinder which ants are discovered on inspection.
"Immediately under the ants' nest are some glorious water-lilies, and close to these, by way of contrast, floats an alligator who has been dead some time, and hasn't kept well, and on the top of him sit two black cormorants, which having, evidently, over-eaten themselves, are shot on the spot and die lazily. So we ascend the river; a-head, astern, on every side are canoes; here, surmounting a pyramid of luggage, is a party of western men in red shirts and jack boots, questioning everybody with the curiosity peculiar to their race. Presently it is my turn. -
"I had a mind to reply, but at this stage I relapsed into dogged silence, well knowing that there are some lanes which have no turning, and among these is a western man's curiosity. The padrone of my canoe, who steered the boat, had brought his wife with him, and she sat with us in the stern sheets, laughing, chattering, and smoking a cigar.
Chagres River - Illustration by Frank Marryat
"I slept in the canoe, and at daylight the boatmen returned, having made a night of it. The monte banker had been lucky, he informed me, and had left his wife behind, to which I was ungallantly indifferent. Another day on the river, and another night spent at a hut, and on the third morning we arrived at Gorgona, from whence we had to take mules to Panama.
"The bargaining for mules at Gorgona was in every respect similar to the canoe transaction at Chagres; and after passing a day in the sun, and accomplishing in the evening what might, but for the vacillation of the natives, have been done at once, we started for Panama in company with the baggage, Barnes walking from choice with the dogs. With our mules in a string we plunged at once into a narrow rocky path in the forest, where palm trees and creepers shut the light out overhead; - splashing through gurgling muddy streams, that concealed loose and treacherous stones-stumbling over fallen trees that lay across our road - burying ourselves to the mules' girths in filthy swamps, where on either side dead and putrid mules were lying - amidst lightning, thunder, and incessant rain, we went at a foot pace on the road to Panama. The thunder-storm changed the twilight of our covered path to darkness, and one of my mules missing his footing on the red greasy clay, falls down under his heavy load. When he gets up he has to be unpacked amidst the curses of the muleteer, and packed again, and thus losing half an hour in the pelting storm, file after file passes us, until, ready once more to start, we find ourselves the last upon the road. At Gorgona a flaming advertisement had informed us that half way on the road to Panama the "Washington Hotel" would accommodate travellers with "forty beds." Anxious to secure a resting-place for my own party, I left the luggage train under the charge of Barnes, and pressed forward on the bridle road.
"At nightfall I reached the "Washington Hotel," a log hut perched on the top of a partially cleared hill an immense amount of fluttering calico proclaimed that meals could be procured, but a glance at the interior was sufficient to destroy all appetite. Round it, and stretching for yards, there were mules, drivers, and passengers, clustered and clamorous as bees without a hive. To my surprise the crowd consisted for the most part of homeward bound Californians - emigrants from the land of promise, who had two days before arrived at Panama in a steamer. Some were returning rich in gold dust and scales, but the greater part were far poorer than when first they started to realise their golden dreams.
"And these latter were as drunken and as reckless a set of villains as one could see anywhere. Stamped with vice and intemperance, without baggage or money, they were fit for robbery and murder to any extent; many of them I doubt not were used to it, and had found it convenient to leave a country where Judge Lynch strings up such fellows rather quicker than they like sometimes. They foretold with a savage joy the miseries and disappointment that awaited all who landed there, forgetting that there travelled on the same road with them those who had in a very short space of time secured to themselves a competency by the exercise of industry, patience, and temperance. The Yankee owner of the Washington was "realising some," judging from the prices he charged, and that every eatable had been consumed long before my arrival. The "forty beds" respecting which we had met so many advertisements on the road, consisted of frames of wood five feet long, over which were simply stretched pieces of much soiled canvas-they were in three tiers, and altogether occupied about the same space as would two fourposters - they were all occupied.
"Wet with the thunderstorm, I took up my station on a dead tree near the door, and as night closed ill and the moon rose, awaited the arrival of my man and dogs with impatience. Hours passed, and I felt convinced at last that fatigue had compelled Barnes to pass the night at a rancheria I had seen a few miles back. Rising to stretch my limbs, I became instantly aware of a succession of sharp stings in every part of my body; these became aggravated as I stamped and shook myself. In sitting on the dead tree I had invaded the territory of a nest of ants of enormous size-larger than earwigs; they bit hard, and had sufficiently punished my intrusion before I managed to get rid of them. During the night file upon file of mules arrived from Panama. These were unloaded and turned adrift to seek their supper where they could; and travellers, muleteers, and luggage were spread in every direction round a large fire that had been lit in the early part of the evening. Deserting my inhospitable tree, I found myself comfortable enough among a heap of pack saddles, buried in which I slept till morning. With the first streak of day everything was moving, luggage was replaced on kicking mules; the sallow, wayworn, unwashed tenants of the "Washington," with what baggage they had on their backs, started for Gorgona on foot. The morning oath came out fresh and r(cy from the lips of these disappointed gentlemen; nor could the bright and glorious sun reflect any beauty from their sunken bloodshot eyes; when they disappeared in the winding road leading to Gorgona, it was quite a comfort to me to reflect that we were not about to honour the same country with our presence. In less than an hour I found myself alone at the half-way house; the crowd had dispersed on either road, but as yet my baggage bad not arrived. When it did come up at last we were all very hungry, but as there was nothing left eatable at the "Washington," we started for Panama without breaking our fast.
"Through a tortuous path, which had been burrowed through the forest, we stumbled on at the rate of a mile and a half an hour; at times the space between the rocks on either side is too narrow to allow the mules to pass; in these instances all our efforts are directed to the mule that is jammed; heaven knows how we get her clear - several shouts, some kicking, a plunge or two, a crash, and, the mule being free, proceeds on her path, whilst you stop to pick up the lid of your trunk, which has been ground off against the rock, as also the few trifles that tumble out from time to time in consequence. And shortly afterwards we meet more travellers homeward bound, some on foot, with a stout buckthorn stick and bundle, and others on mules, with shouldered rifles. Each one, as I passed, asked me what state I was from, and if I came in the "Cherokee" steamer. I had been questioned so much after this manner at the "Washington" that I began to think that to belong to a state and to arrive in the "Cherokee" would save me much trouble in answering questions, for my reply in the negative invariably led to the direct query of Where did I come from? So along the road I surrendered myself invariably as a "Cherokee" passenger and a native of Virginia, and was allowed to pass on in peace. At last the country becomes more open, huts appear occasionally, and the worst part of the journey is well over. Still the human tide flows on to Gorgona, for another California steamer has arrived at Panama; and now we meet some California patients carried in hammocks slung upon men's shoulders, travelling painfully towards a home that some of them will not live to see. Trains of unladen mules are going down to meet the emigration, some with cargoes of provisions for the Washington Hotel perhaps.
"Pass on filth, squalor, and poverty, and make way as you should for wealth, for here, with tinkling, bells and gay caparisons, comes a train of mules laden with gold - pure gold from Peru; as each mule bears his massive bars uncovered, glittering beneath the cordage which secures them to the saddle, you can touch the metal as they pass. Twenty of these file by as we draw on one side, and after them, guarding so much wealth, are half a dozen armed natives with rusty muskets slung lazily on their backs; but behind them, on an ambling, jennet, is a well "got up" Don, with muslin shirt and polished jack-boots, richly-mounted pistols in his holsters, and massive silver spurs on his heels, smoking his cigarette with as much pomposity as if the gold belonged to him, and he had plenty more at home. This gentleman, however, is in reality a clerk in an English house at Panama, and when he returns to that city, after shipping the gold on board the English steamer, and getting a receipt, he will change this picturesque costume for a plaid shooting-coat and continuations, and be a Don no longer. As the gold train passed, I thought, in contrast to its insecurity, of the villains I had parted from in the morning, all of whom were armed. Then followed a train much larger than the first, and just as little guarded, carrying silver. For years these specie trains have travelled in this unguarded state unmolested, not from the primitive honesty of the natives, for a greater set of villains never existed, but from the simple difficulty of turning a BAR of gold to any account when once it has been taken into the jungle. Since the time of which I am writing many attempts have been made to rob the gold trains, but, when pursuit has been active, the bars have invariably been discovered in the jungle a short distance from the scene of the robbery.
"The country became more open as we approached Panama, and when the town appeared in the distance, we bad no shelter from the sun, and the dog, panting and footsore, dragged on very slowly. Here I found a man by the roadside attacked with fever, shivering with ague, and helpless. He was going to Gorgona, but as he had no mule, he wished to return to Panama. I hoisted him on to mine, and we proceeded; he was very ill, wandered in his speech, and shook like a leaf; and before we got into Panama, he died from exhaustion. As I did not know what to do with him, I planted him by the road-side, and on my arrival at the town, I informed the authorities, and I presume they buried him. Weary and sunburnt, we arrived at the gates of the town, outside of which we found a large American encampment, in the midst of which we pitched our tent. Every bed in the town bad long before been pre-engaged, and these cribs, after the fashion of the "Washington," were packed from fifty to a hundred in a room. We slept comfortably that night under one of Edgington's tents, the baggage inside, and the dogs picquetted round us.
"Since Panama has become the half-way resting-place of Californian emigration, the old ruin has assumed quite a lively aspect. Never were modern improvements so suddenly and so effectually applied to a dilapidated relic of former grandeur as here. The streets present a vista of enormous sign-boards, and American flags droop from every house.
"The main street is composed almost entirely of hotels, eating-houses, and "hells." The old ruined houses have been patched up with whitewash and paint, and nothing remains unaltered but the cathedral. This building is in what I believe is called the "early Spanish style," which in the Colonies is more remarkable for the tenacity with which mud bricks hold together, than for any architectural advantages. The principal features in connection with these ancient churches are the brass bells they contain, many of which are of handsome design; and these bells are forced on the notice of the visitor to Panama, inasmuch as being now all cracked, they emit a sound like that of a concert of tin-pots and saucepans. At the corner of every street is a little turretted tower, from the top of which a small boy commences at sunrise to batter one of these discordant instruments, whilst from the belfries of the cathedral there issues a peal, to which, comparatively speaking, the din of a boiler manufactory is a treat. If those bells fail to bring the people to church, at all events they allow them no peace out of it. The streets are crowded day and night, for there are several thousand emigrants, waiting a passage to California. Most of these people are of the lower class, and are not prepossessing under their present aspect; and many of them, having exhausted their means in the expenses of their improves their manners or their personal appearance. Long gaunt fellows, armed to the teeth, line the streets on either side, or lounge about the drinking bars and gambling saloons; and among these there is quarrelling and stabbing, and probably murder, before the night is out. The more peaceably disposed are encamped outside the town, and avoid these ruffians as they would the plague; but the end of this, to the evil-disposed, is delirium tremens, fever, and a dog's burial. With a good tent and canteen, an abundant market close at band, and plenty of books, the time passed pleasantly enough, until I had arranged for my conveyance to California, which I shortly succeeded in doing, in a small English barque.
"It is nothing new to say that the Central Americans are an inert race, and that the inhabitants of New Grenada, of Spanish blood, seem to assimilate in habits with the famous military garrison of Port Mahon, the members of which were too lazy to eat; - for these people are too indolent to make money when it can be done with great rapidity and very little trouble, consequently, the advantages of the Californian emigration are entirely reaped by foreigners. Not a permanent improvement has been added to the town, and if this route was abandoned altogether, the city would be little the richer for the millions of dollars that have been left there during the last few years. The sole exception, almost, is that of a native firm, which has amassed much wealth by contracting for mules for transportation. The projected railroad will be undoubtedly carried out, and will give a vast importance to the isthmus: but it is built with American money and for American purposes. The new town of Aspinwall, in Navy Bay, is American; it is in its infancy at present, and likely always to remain rather "thin," for the reason that the marshes that surround it render it unhealthy. I cannot see what the New Grenadians are to gain by all this exercise of energy and capital; some day or other, perhaps, the brass guns on the ramparts of Panama may be remounted, and the breaches in the walls will be repaired, but by the time these events occur, I think the flag that will float from the citadel will not be that of New Grenada.
High And Dry - Illustration by Frank Marryat
| " I must confess I felt great delight when we made the mountains at the entrance of San Francisco Bay; I had been cooped up for forty-five days on board a small
barque, in company with one hundred and seventy-five passengers, of whom one hundred and sixty were noisy, quarrelsome, discontented, and dirty in the extreme. I had secured, in company with two or three gentlemen, the after-cabin, and so far I was fortunate. We had also bargained for the poop as a promenade, but those fellows would not go off it; so there would some of them sit all day, spitting tobacco juice, and picking their teeth with their knives. Occasionally they became mutinous, and complained of the provisions, or insisted upon having more water to drink; but the captain knew his men, and on these occasions would hoist out of the hold a small cask of sugar, and knocking off the head, place it in the middle of the deck, and immediately the mutinous symptoms would subside, and the jack-knives would cease to pick teeth, and diving into the sugar cask would convey the sweetness thereof to their owner' mouths!
"Quarrels were of daily occurrence; there was a great deal of knife-drawing and threatening, but no bloodshed, and this was probably attributable to the fact that there was no spirit on board.
"It requires a dram or two even for these ferocious gentry to conquer their natural repugnance to a contest with cold steel; and I may remark here that on first finding himself amongst a swaggering set of bullies armed to the teeth, the traveler is apt to imagine that he is surrounded by those who acknowledge no law, have no fear of personal danger, and who will resent all interference; but a closer acquaintance dispels this illusion, and the observing voyager soon finds that he can resent a man's treading on his toes none the less that the aggressor carries a jack-knife and revolver. One Sunday during our voyage we were addressed spiritually by a minister who dissented from every known doctrine, and whose discourses were of that nature that rob sacred subjects of their gravity.
"He shed tears on these occasions with remarkable facility; but under ordinary circumstances, I should imagine him not to have been sensitive in this respect, as I overheard him during the voyage threaten to "rip up the ship's cook's guts," and he carried a knife with him in every way adapted for the contemplated operation. Under all circumstances I was very glad when the land about San Francisco Bay appeared in sight. The morning was lovely; and it needs, by the way, a little sunshine to give a cheerful look to the rugged cliffs and round gravelly grassless hills that extend on either side of the bay; - in foggy weather their appearance is quite disheartening to the stranger, and causes him to sail up to the anchorage with misgivings in general respecting the country. Quarrels were now forgotten, and each heart beat high with expectation, for now was in sight that for which many had left wives and children, farms and homesteads, in hopes of course of something better in a land so favoured as undoubtedly was this before us. But hope as we will our best, fear and doubt will creep in; and who knows what blanches the cheek of yonder man! Is it the exhilaration consequent on reaching a goal where certain reward awaits him? or is it a lurking fear that all may prove illusion?
"It is a more intense feeling, perhaps, than that of the man who sees before him the card which carries on its downward side his ruin or his fortune; for the gambler cannot if he would find any stake against which to risk the happiness of wife and children, the affections of a well-loved home, and the chance of misery and speedy death in an unknown land. Such the emigrant knows to have been the lot of thousands who have gone before him; but he has also heard of rich "pockets" and "great strikes," of fortunes made in a month - a week - a day : who shall then say which of these emotions blanches his check, as we now fly rapidly past the "Golden Gate" rocks that guard the harbour's mouth?
"As we open the bay, we observe dense masses of smoke rolling to leeward; the town and shipping are almost undistinguishable, for we have arrived at the moment of the great June Fire of 1850, and San Francisco is again in ashes!
The next 21 chapters are about his experiences in California and I have not included them on this page, of the passage from the East to California.
| "I secured my passage on board the "Northerner," and started on my way to England, in company with about two hundred and fifty passengers. The weather was delightful, and the wharf was crowded with friends who had come down to see us off : the partings were not very heart-rending; in fact, the great joke seemed to consist in those who were on the wharf pelting us with oranges and cheap novels as we cast off.
"As we steamed out of the bay and lost sight of the busy city at last, we could not but think of the changes and reverses that all of us had been witness to, and most of us had shared. I for my part, as I recalled the noble courage with which misfortune had been borne with by the people, echoed the remark that Smith and Jones had made conjointly on the ruins of the first fire.
SMITH. "It's a great country"
JONES. "It's nothing shorter"
"We were very comfortable on board, and arrived at Panama, so much pleased with the ship and the voyage, that it was lucky for the captain that there were no speaking-trumpets to be purchased at Panama; as it was, we did not let him off without a letter of thanks - and our thanks in one form or the other he certainly deserved; his name was Isham. Captains of ocean steamers do not always perform their duty, many are apt to forget that more devolves upon them than mere seamanship, some forget even this.
"In the great points, of cleanliness as regards the ship, attention to the real wants of the passengers, and a judicious arbitration of such little outbreaks as will occur in crowded vessels, the commanders of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Line (to which the " Northerner " belonged) deservedly enjoy a reputation. The ocean steamers on this line, as also on the opposition, which takes the Nicaragua route, are magnificent vessels. Many of them are over three thousand tons burden, and are very fast and beautifully found. Ventilated with open ports two feet square between each stateroom, they are comfortable and wholesome even when carrying eight hundred passengers; and it is the want of ventilation that makes a crowded ship unbearable anywhere, and in the tropics unhealthy.
"A large proportion of ocean steamers are wretchedly off in this respect, and travellers in the East or West Indies are often limited when under hatches to such air as can penetrate through a scuttle hole about the size of a saucer.
"One American steam ship, the "George Law," possesses what I have never met with in any other boat; she has not only life-boats suspended from her davits on all sides, but she has two metal airboats elevated on deck, that can be launched immediately under any circumstances. Besides these boats there are on board several hundred life-buoys, one of these being suspended to each bunk throughout the ship. These life-buoys are formed of cork and painted canvas, and have straps to fasten them under the arms. As I recall the fearful and unnecessary loss of life that has been recorded in the last two years, I have scarcely patience when I reflect how much of it might have been avoided had each passenger, as on board the "George Law," been provided with ten shillings worth of cork and canvas. I was ten days on board the "George Law," and each night as I went to bed, my eyes were arrested by my life-buoy. It said plainly to me, did this life-buoy, (not knowing that I was a sailor by profession) "Collisions will take place, spontaneous combustion will break out, and sunken wrecks and rocks and sand-banks will be run upon; should any of these occur, will you not quietly buckle me on, being prepared by your daily contemplation of me for any such emergency, and will you not then calmly assist wherever you are wanted, in the full confidence that even if the ship sinks under you, you can float without exertion until you are picked up by the lifeboats?" Certainly the contemplation of a life-buoy by one's bed-side, will bring such thoughts to mind, and by keeping the danger before each man night and day, prepares him when the hour comes, to act coolly and reflectively. But we may look farther even than this; if the presence of life-buoys accustoms passengers to contemplate danger, and to meet it calmly when it comes, does it not stand to reason that the captain and crew of a sinking vessel are better able to exert themselves for the safety of the vessel, or otherwise the lowering and provisioning of boats, when the passengers, confident in their cork and canvas, are calmly awaiting the order to jump overboard, instead of at once plunging into the waves, only to struggle and call piteously for help, thus unmanning some and rendering others unable to assist them. How many boats have been successfully lowered from a sinking ship, but being overloaded too suddenly, have turned over and drowned all that could not swim: would this be so if all had lifebuoys? How many boats have left a ship in the dark night but half full, fearing the impetuous rush which a panic-struck crowd would make at it if again it touched the ship's sides? Yet the cost of such a buoy is but ten shillings, and that of a life-boat thirty pounds.
The next section deals with techniques for saving lives in shipping disasters and I omitted from this section.
"The weather being fine, the roads were in tolerable order when we arrived at Panama; we made light, therefore, of the journey, and, having arrived at Gorgona, we dismounted from our mules, and, taking boats, went swiftly down the rapid river, landing at the village of
Barbacoes, to which point the railway was now completed.
Crossing the Isthmus
| "The station-house consisted of a large shed, in which hundreds of fowls and thousands of eggs were being, cooked, eaten, and paid for with astonishing rapidity. I observed, among other things, that the coffee was just as weak and scalding hot at
Barbacoes, as at Wolverhampton, or any other refreshment station.
"There was no timetable here at this period; but the line had this advantage over most others, that the train started at the time specified by the authorities; for they waited until it suited them, and then gave the order to " let her slide."
"On this eventful day, however, we had not "slid" above two miles when the train stopped. Returning Californians are of a vivacious temperament generally, and are seldom at their ease when sitting down inactive; therefore, the instant the train stopped, every man jumped out to see what was the matter. The cause was soon apparent; we were ascending an inclined plane, and the little engine - which, Hercules by name, was not Hercules by nature - had declined to proceed any further. In vain the sooty stoker emptied his oil-can into the fire to induce if possible more steam; the little engine, as it ineffectually tried a fresh start, looked piteous, and seemed to say, " How can you expect a little chap like me to pull nine hundred of these big fellows up a hill like this? Let 'em get out and shove me over." This argument seemed to strike the conductor, for, without further preface, he said, " Now, lads, heave together," and at once we all set our shoulders to the concern, and got more speed out of it than " Hercules " had done from the start. There was but one line of rails laid down, and, although the authorities were not particular with regard to the time of starting, we had the, comfort of knowing that a collision with the other train could not be very serious. I wonder what we should have done had we been met by an up-train; one of us would have bad to retire, for "Hercules" could not have taken us back, and it was not likely we were going to shove ourselves back to Barbacoes.
"The scene would have been splendid, for like the two goats that met on the narrow bridge, one train would have tried to force the other back, and in this contest of personal strength I think the nine hundred returning Californians would most probably have won the day, and entered Aspinwall in triumph.
"Having reached the top of the hill, we all got in, and Hercules making the most of the descent ran away with us for three miles, when we got out again and so on. The road lay through a thick jungle of splendid teaks, and palms, and ferns of every variety; the rich epiphytes brushed against our carriage windows, and the air was suffused with that sweet fragrance which is alone known in a tropical forest after rain has fallen. Myriads of little land-crabs of a turquoise colour lined the banks, and as the time had now arrived when we might discharge our revolvers and put them away, the blue land-crabs had the advantage of several hundred bullets, and whilst Hercules rushed impetuously through the jungle, pop, pop, pop, went the " six-shooters," and as the land crabs turned over on their blue backs to die, they presented to the astonished beholder yellow bellies and green eyes.
"In a pouring rain we arrived at Aspinwall, and this being the terminus, we proceeded at once on board the steamers that were waiting to convey us to New York. There happened to be an unusual number of opposition boats in the bay, so that fares were so reduced that the roughest fellow there could take a first-class berth. This was very unfair to those of us who had booked our places through at the office of the Mail Line in San Francisco, for we had paid a certain price for a certain degree of comfort and room, and this was denied to us so soon as the price of the saloon fare rendered it so overcrowded that the tables had to be laid twelve times each day to accommodate the first-class passengers with first-class fare.
"Thus the saloon was continually occupied, and each moment it was, " Sound the gong "-" Hurry up the soup," and down rushed the " next lot," as an auctioneer would say, leaving a hecatomb of Californian hats at the foot of the companion ladder. We had on board the junior partner of some English house, who was returning front a business visit he had made to some part of South America. He gave himself great airs, and being dressed with the extreme taste which characterises your fast city man, he threw us all into the shade, for we as yet were not fashionably attired, nor had we put razors to our chins.
"One day at dinner this fellow, being affronted at some negligence on the part of the waiter, said, " Aw! do you take me for a returned Californian?"
"This remark being audible above the din of knives and forks produced a sudden silence, and, for a moment I thought that Mr. Bobbins's ears would have been taken off with a carving knife. Fortunately, for him, however, each one was in high spirits at the thought of reaching home, and being very hungry continued his dinner without waiting to resent the impertinence.
"There was a man on board who had brought with him from the mines two young grizzly bear cubs, who were just getting large enough to be dangerous, and that evening, as Mr. Bobbins was dreamily enjoying a cigar on deck, he was aroused from the contemplation of his patent leather boots by moonlight with, "Sir, allow me to introduce to you two returned Californians." Ursa major, thereupon, being held up, scratched Bobbins's face, whilst ursa minor attacked the patent leathers, which he forcibly removed, together with a toe-nail or so, with his teeth.
| "Whilst one miner held a screeching, biting, ringtail monkey over Mr. Bobbins's head, another produced a savage bull-terrier, who, having done his duty at the mines
dogfully, seemed very anxious indeed to make the acquaintance of Mr. Bobbins's throat.
"It was some time before the "returned Californians" could tear themselves away from their new acquaintance, and when they did, they tore away more of his cross-barred trousers and cut-away coat than any tailor could repair.
"The next day we arrived at Havannah, and Mr. Bobbins was wise enough to leave the ship and await a passage in another vessel, and I only wish that every travelling "gent" who, puffed out with conceit, causes his countrymen to blush for his ignorance and vulgarity, may get as durable a lesson as that which Mr. Bobbins received from the four-footed "returned Californians."
"At Havannah we found that Americans were in bad odour, on account of the fillibustering expeditions which had but lately been repulsed. As we steamed out of the harbour, an intelligent miner observed to me,
"I mention this, because a large portion of the people of the United States, remembering only the successful frigate actions in which, during the last war, they reaped laurels, are ignorant respecting the real strength of their navy at this moment.
The preceding is a direct quote from Frank Marryat's book. He wrote "Mountains and Molehills or Recollections of a Burnt Journal", published in London by Longman, Drown, Green and Lonmans in 1855. The book dealt mostly with his experiences in California during the gold rush with the first chapter, on crossing the Isthmus of Panama. He made the trip a second time, after part of the Panama Railroad, had been laid. This second trip is related on the following page..
Bruce C. Ruiz
March 16, 2002
|Marryat's Second Trip|
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