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THE PIONEER STEAMER

CALIFORNIA

 

 

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ERRORS AND MISTAKES

 

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BEFORE the resumption of the story of the California, the reader should be told about the diversity of data, or plain errors, both in official and private publications dealing with the steamers of the United States Mail and the Pacific Mail Steamship Companies. This statement does not refer to the use of 'sea time' in the marine news, by which the date of departure and arrival of a steamer is frequently advanced an entire day; neither does it refer to the copying of these advanced dates by writers not familiar with marine time quotations.

 

That many other mistakes crept into the shipping records of 1849 and 1850 was almost unavoidable because, lacking our present means of instantaneous electrical communications, the shipping news of eighty years ago was laboriously prepared in writing by agents at the various ports of entrance or departure, to be forwarded by the next best means of conveyance to the distant headquarters, New York, New Orleans, Panama, or San Francisco. All such records which would be useful for the verification of dates have been destroyed. Again, careless clerks, entrusted with the copying of these records, made numerous mistakes, with the result that years afterward, when historians attempted to establish the exact dates of the arrival and departure of the early steamers, say at San Francisco, the mass of contradictory data made it a well-nigh impossible task. For example, Bancroft, in his 'Annuals of the California Gold Era,' in the chapter devoted to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, inserts a statement of mail service showing the order and dates of the trips of the Panama steamers during 1849 and part of 1850. Now it will readily be conceded that he had at his disposal the best sources of information and that his researches were exhaustive and thorough. Nevertheless, he prints two dates for the arrival of the Panama at San Francisco, June 4 or June 8, 1849.¹ Again, the dates of the arrival of that steamer at San Francisco, January 18, 1850, also of the Tennessee, April 13, 1850, are marked 'understood to be' or, in plain English: 'there is no definite information – take your choice.'

 

On account of these and other discrepancies found, not only in the publications of Bancroft, but in the writing of other historians dealing with the events that occurred late in 1848 and the early part of 1849, the writer examined the shipping records preserved at the New York Custom-House, a laborious task, but indispensable if historical accuracy is desired.

 

Errors in manuscripts of passengers on the first steamers are easily accounted for, because the majority of such records were written a long time after the occurrence of the events, and consequently the writers had to rely frequently upon illusive impressions and a more or less retentive memory, both of which were a constant source of error. For an illustration, take a paragraph in the 'Memoirs and Reminiscences of H. E. Robinson,' by E. O. Crosby, written about the year 1880:

 

This company had despatched the steamer California in July, 1848, to make the voyage around Cape Horn. This was followed by the Oregon which left in September, 1848, to be again followed by the steamer Isthmus, which was despatched in October, 1848.

 

There are here two rather serious mistakes, because the California left New York October 6, 1848 and the Isthmus sailed December 26, 1848. Curiously enough, a writer in the Quarterly of the Society of California Pioneers³ gives the date of the sailing of the California from New York as October 5, and yet no date has been so thoroughly verified as that of the departure of the pioneer steamer.

 

The various matters discussed in this and the preceding chapters constitute in reality the background for a proper understanding of the events to be narrated, and keeping them well in mind we shall return presently to the California passing out into the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden trip to the distant shores of the Pacific.

 

¹Bancroft's Annuals of the California Gold Era, volume 6, page 138.

²Sea time, October 7, 1848, 6.50 P.M.

³Volume 1, No. IV, December 31, 1924.

 

 

 

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NEW YORK TO RIO DE JANEIRO

THE DIARY OF DR. STOUT

 

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IT IS self-evident that a number of the passengers on the California must have kept a record of the daily events during the voyage from New York to Rio de Janeiro, but as far as the writer has been able to ascertain none such memoirs have been preserved except the log, or diary, written by Dr. A. B. Stout, the Surgeon of the California, a man of scientific attainments who had formerly studied under Professor Louis Agassiz. In the line with his academic training, Dr. Stout's entries – barring a few – are brief scientific notes dealing with the state of the weather, the position of the steamer, and the health of the passengers. As such, a definite historical value is attached to them. However, as on every ship the Surgeon is a persona grata with all cabin' passengers, and, as the Doctor doubtless entertained most cordial relations with the leading personalities on board the California, among the others General P. F. Smith, the successor of Governor Mason, William Van Vorhees, the Reverends O. C. Wheeler, G. Woodbridge, J. W. Douglass, S. H. Willey, etc., one cannot suppress a feeling of regret that the Doctor neglected to use his facile pen to leave to posterity, instead of scientific data, a multitude of personal reminiscences which would give the present generation an insight into the minds of those courageous men and women. Those who desire to read all the entries in Dr. Stout's diary will find a complete record in the 'First Steamship Pioneers', but to avoid the danger of a wearisome recital, only a few of the more prominent events that happened between October 6 and November 26, 1848, will now be mentioned.

 

The third day out, Mr. Oliver Baird, the Chief Engineer, discovered that the cross-head of the engine was cracked. A careful inspection led to the decision to go ahead without attempting to make repairs. Again, an accident to the boiler occurred on the 8th. We don't know that exact nature of this untoward event, but the Doctor writes that it kept the Captain up nearly all night, and on account of it the steamer had to slow down her speed from ten to five knots per hour. By the 22nd of October the California was nearing the Equator, and at three o'clock of the afternoon of Tuesday, October 24, the steamer had crossed the Line. A more serious event transpired on October 30, when Captain Forbes, who had insisted upon attending unflinchingly to his duty, was taken ill with a hemorrhage of the lungs and had to be attended by Dr. Stout.

 

In the absence of reliable charts the California sailed quite a distance beyond Rio. She had nearly reached San Sebastian Island before the error in navigation was discovered and the vessel's prow turned back. This error accounts for the loss of almost an entire day. Finally, on Thursday, November 2, at 4 P.M., the California cast anchor in the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, where, as it later turned out, she was destined to remain for twenty-three days, an unavoidable delay caused by the illness of Captain Forbes. The entries in the diary reveal that Dr. Stout desired to consult a more experienced physician about his patient's condition, and therefore called in Dr. Bache, Fleet Surgeon on board the Brandywine. The latter advised Captain Forbes to resign at once and rest on shore for a couple of weeks. Urged by Dr. Stout, Forbes acquiesced and retired to a villa in Catete, one of the fine suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. By this change he recovered sufficiently to resume command of the steamer until her arrival at Panama. The Marine News of the New York Herald¹ gives the following report about the arrival of the California at Rio de Janeiro:

 

The steamer California, the pioneer of Mr. Aspinwall's Pacific Mail steamers which left New York on the morning of the 6th of October, arrived at Rio de Janeiro on the morning of the 2nd of November, making the run in the exceedingly short space of 25 days. A letter from Captain Forbes to her owners speaks in the most flattering manner of the performance of both engine and ship. Nothing occurred during the passage to mar in the slightest degree the perfect unanimity which prevailed throughout every department of the noble vessel.

 

¹New York Herald, December 22, 1848.

 

She will take a supply of coal at Rio and proceed on the 12th of November for her destination. At this rate she would reach Panama many days before the period advertised for her departure for San Francisco.

 

A similar notice, giving further details, appeared in the New York Daily Tribune:¹

 

The Pacific Mail Steamer California: -The 'Eratus Corning' which reached this port yesterday from Rio de Janeiro, brings us intelligence of the California, the first P. M. S. on the route between Panama and Oregon. She sailed hence on the evening of the 6th of October last, and came to anchor in the harbor of Rio on the morning of the 2nd ult. (Nov. 2nd), thus accomplishing the distance (5000 miles) in 25 days. Capt. Forbes and all the officers and crew were well, and everything on board was in excellent order. The engines did their duty to the entire satisfaction of all, and no accident occurred to any part of the machinery during the voyage. Both engines and boat have thus apparently had a fair test of their quality, and all doubt of the California reaching Panama by the 5th of January – at which time she is advertised to sail for San Francisco – is thus entirely removed.

 

The Panama, the second of the Pacific line, which sailed from this port the 27th ult. Is in every respect equal to the California and will no doubt reach the Isthmus at her appointed time. At the same rate of speed, the voyage thence to San Francisco will be made in about 18 days, including the stoppage at different ports on the coast, and to the Columbia River in 24 or 25 days.

 

The most important information, however, concerning the voyage of the California from New York to Rio de Janeiro, we glean from an article in the New York Herald

 

U.S. Mail Steamer California: - This fine vessel belonging to Mr. Aspinwall's Pacific Mail Line, left Rio de Janeiro on the 28th of November for Panama. She made the passage from this city in less than 24 days, the quickest ever preformed between the two ports. While referring to the qualities and speed of this vessel, the annexed statement from a Washington paper may be given with much propriety, the allusion only to the time being incorrect. In justice to the ship, the fact of her having run by Rio some 16 hours, while Captain Forbes was confined to his room by sickness, ought to be mentioned.

 

¹New York Daily Tribune, December 22, 1848.

²New York Herald, January 17, 1849.

 

Thirty-two hours is an important item in the passage of a steamer, and should not have been omitted in her log.

 

We have had an opportunity of examining the log of this splendid vessel as far as Rio de Janeiro, where she arrived November 2 on her way out to take her place in the line from Panama to Oregon. She took Lieut. Mauray’s new route to Rio, and was instructed by her owners not to steam at the rate of more than 200 miles a day. With an average pressure of only 10 lbs. of steam she made 197 miles a day, reached Rio in 26 days from New York, having accomplished in that time without stopping to coal upwards of 5100 sea miles, or nearly one-fourth of the entire distance round the globe, at a single stretch. She might have readily steamed 5000 miles without letting her fires go down, for she had ample coal on board for that purpose when she arrived at Rio. This is, we believe, the greatest distance ever accomplished at sea under a continuous head of steam. It is more than double the distance from Halifax to Liverpool, and the case with which it has been accomplished will give some idea of the ingenuity and skill which have been brought to bear, and the success with which they have been applied in combining models and machinery for that distant and important service.

 

The Panama, the third steamer in the same service, goes to sea on the 15th of next month.

 

 

 

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THROUGH THE STRAITS OF MAGELLAN

 

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When the crew had finished coaling and the engines had been thoroughly overhauled, the California hoisted anchor on November 25¹ for the Straits. Quoting an entry in the diary:

 

From Rio the voyage to the Straits of Magellan presented only the usual routine of sea life.

 

To this terse note is added a table and Dr. Stout's computation of the actual sailing time of the vessel through the Straits and the time lost by fogs, adverse winds and currents.

 

TABLE SHOWING THE PROGRESS OF THE CALIFORNIA FROM DECEMBER 7 to 12

 

Thursday

December 7, 1848

at 6.30 A.M.

Made Cape Virgins

Thursday

December 7, 1848

at 12.30 P.M.

Entered Straits of Magellan

Thursday

December 7, 1848

at 2.30 P.M.

Off Cape Possession

Friday

December 8, 1848

at 5.30 P.M.

At Port Famine

Saturday

December 9, 1848

at 11.30 A.M.

 At Fortesque Bay

Sunday

December 10, 1848

at 7.30 A.M.

 At York Roads

Monday

December 11, 1848

at 3.00 P.M.

At Fortesque Bay

Tuesday

December 12, 1848

at 2.30 P.M.

Leave for Cape Pillar

Tuesday

December 12, 1848

at 5.30 P.M.

Off Cape Pillar

 

 

Actual sailing time through the straits

 

 

41h. 30m.

Time Lost

 

 

108 h.

 

 

Bancroft, in his 'Annuals of the California Gold Era,² dilates on the difficult task which Captain Forbes performed and gives him unstinted praise for guiding the steamer through the dangerous waters of the Straits:

 

The California was the third steamship to pass through them, the previous ones being in 1840 the Peru and the Chili, each of 700 tons, built by an English company for trade between the west coast of South America and England.  Under the command of William Wheelwright they made the passage of the Straits in thirty hours sailing time.

 

¹New York Herald, January3, 1849: 'Marine Intelligence – Rio de Janeiro – Forbes for Panama- to sail positively on Nov. 25th.'

²Bancroft's Annuals of the California Gold Era, volume 6, page 129.

 

6Dr. Stout's diary likewise comments on the skill and bravery of the Captain:

 

The navigation here was new to our commander. The charts were uncertain. The narrowness of the channel and its devious course prevent steering by compass. The way must be found by the skill and sight of the navigator. But now arises another danger. Sudden squalls of wind and fog called 'willewahs' from the west dash with violence over the high lands and in a few minutes shut the scene from view. It was in one of these surprises that the California dropped her anchor in York Roads. There she was struck by a 'willewah' and the ship dragged anchor. The strong wind and rapid ebb tide was hurrying her towards the mouth of the harbor when touching on a rock the ship came to a dead halt. By dint of quick work, however, the gallant ship glided off the rock uninjured.

 

The Doctor concludes this interesting narrative as follows:

 

A few hours later the California had passed Cape Pillar and made her first salutation to the Pacific Ocean.

 

The special correspondence of the New York Herald in a communication dated Panama, January 14, 1849, gives some additional details concerning the passage of the steamer through the Straits. He writes:

 

The California is a splendid steamer. Captain Forbes reports that the weather in the Straits of Magellan was very bad; yet the California, (now the fleetest and staunchest steamer in the world,) forced through the Straits in 40 hours – having experienced two very heavy gales before she entered them – leaving the Straits amid a tremendous gale, the wind blowing W. N. W.; although the weather was foggy, and the sea extremely rough, the California did not ship a solitary spray. The California met with no accident whatever during the whole voyage, the engines operating far better now than when she left New York.

 

¹New York Herald, February 24, 1849.

 

 

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THROUGH THE PACIFIC TO VALPARAISO

 

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THE Stout diary devotes but a few lines to the voyage of the California from Cape Pillar to Valparaiso:

 

In a few days the California anchored in the harbor of Valparaiso [December 16, 1848] where she stayed fifty hours.

 

Another item deals with the continual bad health of Captain Forbes which obliged him to give up the command of the steamer. News of this change appeared in the New York Herald.¹

 

Captain Marshall, late of the Natchez, supersedes Captain Forbes in the active command of the California, and Captain Brooks, an old whaler who came as passenger on the Crescent City, will be Assistant to Captain Marshall. Captain Forbes will go to San Francisco as nominal commander. With these skilful navigators we shall reach San Francisco in safety with ordinary luck. Messrs. Howland & Aspinwall deserve great credit for their arrangements for the convenience and despatch of passengers in these far regions.

(Sd. S. H. H.)

 

In his 'Annuals of the California Gold Era,' Bancroft jumps from the departure of the vessel from New York to her arrival at Callao, and briefly refers to her stoppage at Valparaiso in a footnote. As comparatively little information has been preserved about the sojourn of the California at Valparaiso, an item in the New Orleans Times headed 'Affairs in So. America,' is of particular interest:

 

Yesterday, the 24th of February, we received a Chilean paper, the 'Neighbor' published in English in Valparaiso. It is of the 29th of Dec. [1848] and contains a few items of intelligence.

 

The steamship California, the first of the projected line to run from Panama to Oregon, entered our bay about 10 a.m. on the 20th of Dec.³ [1848].

 

¹New York Herald, February 18, 1849, and March 6, 1849.

²New Orleans Times, February 24, 1849.

³December 16, 1848.

 

The California sailed on the 22nd for Callao and then goes to Panama where a full number of passengers from New York via Chagres are expected to meet her. It is said that many wished to take passage in her for California. A full complement of passengers could have been made up from this port alone, so numerous were the applications, but owing to the number expected at Panama none could be taken.

 

 

 

 

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SAILING TO CALLAO

 

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LEAVING Valparaiso December 22 [1848], the steamer anchored at Callao Roads on the 27th. Quoting an entry in the Stout diary, the passengers there encountered for the first time the 'real gold fever, its contagion being overwhelming. Everybody sought to embark for the Golden Land.' Dr. Stout ten makes the statement to which we shall have occasion to advert later on: 'Though it had been understood that no additional passengers should be admitted, influence prevailed, and finally 50 passengers¹ were accepted.' A letter dated Panama January 7, 1849, written by an officer of the United States Army, corroborates the presence of a large number of gold-seekers at Callao: 'I learn that there are about 400 passengers waiting at Valparaiso and Callao for the steamer California.

 

During his stay at Callao, Captain Forbes, whose state of health showed little improvement, went to Lima for a consultation with physicians known to the consignees, Messrs. Alsop and Company. Whatever happened at this conference can only be surmised, but for a certainty we know that the California left Callao on January 10, 1849, with a number of additional passengers, all Peruvians. After a short sail of two days, the steamer touched at Paita and left for Panama on January 14. On account of the few hours the California remained in the harbor of Paita, correspondents had no opportunity to forward letters home. There is, however, an item in the National Intelligencer of February 15, 1849, copied by the New Orleans Daily Picayune in its issue of February 23, 1849. It represents the verbal report of Lieutenant Joseph Lanman, United States Navy, who had arrived at Washington, D. C., on February 13 as the bearer of dispatches from the Pacific squadron.

 

¹New York Herald, February 24, 1849: 'There were some 67 Peruvians on board the California at Callao.'

²New York Herald, Feb' 2, 1849.

 

He states that he left Paita in the California on January 12 for Panama, that the steamer had seventeen cabin passengers and eighty forward passengers, and 'it was understood that they should not interfere with the through passengers from New York to California who might be waiting at Panama.'

 

It was on January 17, 1849, that the pioneer steamer, after an uneventful short sail, dropped anchor in the harbor of Panama. Here are the words of an eye-witness:

 

The hurrah which rent the welkin as the yearned-for steamer quietly and unpresumingly (sic) presented her proboscis and gently dropped anchor cannot be described.

 

With the arrival at Panama, Dr. Stout's record comes to an end, for, as has been explained, the daily items comprise only the first leg of the voyage – New York to Panama. However, there is no reason for discouragement because for the remainder of our story we have another guide, the Crosby Manuscript, about which we shall have a good deal to say in a later chapter. But first of all, let us see what happened at Panama.

 

 

 

 

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PANAMA

 

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IN THE 'Annuals of the California Gold Era,'¹ Bancroft makes the date of the arrival of the California January 30, 1849:

 

The suspense of the Argonauts was relieved on the 30th of January by the arrival of the California.

 

How this plainly wrong date could have survived in the various later editions of the 'Annuals' without having been challenged and rectified is hard to explain. Probably in his original draft Bancroft wrote the 20th of January and the printers' devil changed this into the 30th. However, the 20th of January is equally wrong. The arrival of the California at Panama on January 17 is confirmed by the following paragraphs contained in a letter, dated Panama, New Granada, January 17, 1849, by the correspondence of the New York Daily Tribune.²

 

 

P.S.

11 a.m.

There is a steamer coming in the distance and the interest is intense. We cannot yet make her out.

 

  2 p.m.

It is the California. Her captain will probably be ashore soon.

 

  8 p.m.

Captain Forbes has come ashore. All well. No accident. Her delay only caused by detention 25 days at Rio for coal. Barring that, she has made a most remarkable passage.

(Sd. D. H. R.)

 

In addition to the above clear-cut statement, there is the letter by E. S. Penfield, dated Panama, January 18, 1849, also directed to the New York Daily Tribune.³

 

The California arrived yesterday.

 

In his description of the conditions that prevailed at Panama on the arrival of the California, Bancroft writes:

 

The Isthmus was fairly swarming with gold seekers, some 1500 in number, all clamoring for and many entitled to a passage on the California.

 

¹volume 6, page 133.

²New York Daily Tribune, February 17, 1849.

³Ibid., January 18, 1849.

 

 

 

Twenty-Four Hours Ahead of the Mail.

By the Picayune's Private Express.

 

 

LOG OF THE STEAMER CALIFORNIA. - The U. S. steamer California, Capt. Cleveland Forbes, sailed from New York (sea time) October 7, at 6 50 P. M.; came to anchor at Rio de Janeiro November 2, at 4 P. M., which place she left on the 26th at noon, arriving at Valparaiso, December 16, at 9 A. M. December 22, at 5 P. M., left Valparaiso and anchored in Callao Roads December 27, at 10 A. M. Coaled and left Callao January 10, at 6 30 P.M. Entered the harbor of Payta at 9 A. M. on the 13th. Detained at Payta twenty-four hours. Left Payta January 14th, at noon, and arrived at Panama January 18th, at noon, having been detained twelve hours by hazy weather. Recapitulation: New York to Rio Janeiro (sailing time to anchorage) 2 days 22 hours; Rio Janeiro to Valparaiso, 19 days 22 hours; Valparaiso to Callao, 4 days 18 hours; Callao to Payta, 2 days 15 hours; Payta to Panama, 4 days. New York to Panama, sailing time, 56 days 19hours.

 

 

NEWS OF THE CALIFORNIA

In the New Orleans Picayune for February 23, 1849

Evening Edition

 

 

 

Over 400 were received on board to find room as best they could, though the steamer had accommodations for only about 100 persons.

 

Perhaps the writer meant to say 'for only about 100 additional passengers,' because when the steamer left New York she had accommodations for fifty or sixty passengers in the first cabin and one hundred to one hundred and fifty in the steerage or forward cabin.

 

Like Bancroft, the 'Memoirs and Reminiscences' of H. E. Robinson deal at length with the frenzied multitude of people clamoring for transportation.

 

…each being resolved to go at all hazards. With a few who had arrived first at Panama, the agents had taken their names and applications for passage, but the number increased so rapidly that they stopped taking names, and as some of the passengers from New York brought letters from Howland & Aspinwall to be first provided for, the outlook for the majority of those seeking passage became daily more doubtful.

 

The reason for the presence of such an unprecedented number of people at Panama is fully explained in a letter dated Panama, January 23, 1849:¹

 

The Falcon which had sailed from New York Dec. 1, 1848, brought out about 200 passengers on their way to California. Only a small part of these had procured tickets at New York or New Orleans from Panama to San Francisco, supposing it would be easy to procure them here. Subsequently to the sailing of the Falcon other vessels arrived at Chagres full of passengers, and as the Falcon's passengers had not bought up the tickets to fill the California, they were taken by those who came in the bark 'John Benson,' steamer 'Crescent City,' etc. When the crowd from all these various quarters came in and were waiting for the California, they became uneasy by delay. The California was behind her time some ten days. News came in that the Panama had broken down off Bermuda and had to put back to New York for repairs. Apprehension of some similar disaster having happened to the California then became general.

 

At this junction, the 17th inst., a steamer was announced running up the bay, and in a few moments she was ascertained to be the California.

 

¹New York Journal of Commerce and New York Daily Tribune, February 26, 1849.

 

What a revulsion of feeling followed! Falcon passengers without tickets urged their claims on the ground of being regular passengers on the U. S. Mail line, even to the exclusion of ticketed passengers who came on other way vessels. But the agents, Messrs. Zachrisson, Nelson & Co. admitted the tickets and provided the Philadelphia, a packet now discharging coal here, to take on all who should be left by the steamer. However, to get on at the slow progress of a sailing vessel ill suited men bound to make a fortune in the gold region in the difference of time between 20 and 45 days. Grounds of blame were invented for the conduct of Messrs. Zachrisson, Nelson & Co., Howland & Aspinwall's agents here, and a few hundred men having nothing else to do, impatient of a moment's delay, wrought themselves into not a little excitement on the subject. Therein originated the meeting which will be famous in the newspapers of New York.

 

Additional information comes from a former compositor of the New York Daily Tribune, then at Panama.¹

 

The steamer California arrived here last Wednesday with about 70 Peruvians on board as passengers. Many Americans here are very indignant that these people were on board, but the Captain of the steamer assures them that he will take just as many Americans as though the Peruvians were not on board, he intending to let them sleep on deck, which he would not allow an American to do. The steamer will accommodate near 300 additional passengers.

 

As neither Bancroft nor Crosby, nor any other writer, has left a complete and accurate account of the important events that occurred after the arrival of the California at Panama, and, as these events possess real historical value, we reproduce an article published in the New York Daily Tribune of February 24, 1849, it being the best and most accurate account of the unique proceedings:

 

LATE AND IMPORTANT FROM PANAMA

 

The following letter, three days later than previous advices, and containing intelligence of much interest, was forwarded to us by the brig Henrico, from Chagres to Charleston:

 

PANAMA, Jan. 22, 1849

MESSRS. EDITORS: You are already apprised that the great excitement about the Gold of California has induced an unexpected number of persons to come across the Isthmus, en route for the mines.

 

¹Letter in New York Daily Tribune, March 9, 1849

 

Many of these cannot be accommodated on the steamer, and this with other circumstances has generated a state of feeling which will be better understood by what I am about to report than by any other form of description.

 

On Saturday last, notice was given of a meeting of Americans at the American Hotel, at 8 P.M. Accordingly some three hundred men assembled, (the greater part not knowing for what intent they had come together,) and the meeting was organized by appointing his Honor W. P. Bryant, Chief Justice of Oregon, President; Dr. S. Haley, Vice-President; Capt. McDougal of Ind. and H. E. Robinson, Esq. Of New Orleans, Secretaries. Capt. McDougal, Capt. Heath and Judge Woodruff, were appointed a Committee to wait upon Capt. Forbes of the California, and Messrs. Zachrisson & Nelson, Agents of the same, and invite them to the meeting. Mr. N. alone responded in person to the invitation. A Committee consisting of the Vice-President, one of the Secretaries and Rev. Mr. Woodbridge, was then appointed to consider and report upon the course pursued by Capt. Forbes, in bringing passengers from the Pacific Coast to the exclusion of Atlantic passengers; and also upon the circular issued by Gen. Smith, relative to the trespass of foreigners upon the public lands or mines of the United States in California – which Circular reads as follows:

 

Wm. Nelson, U. S. Consul at Panama:

 

Sir: The laws of the United States inflict the penalty of fine and imprisonment on trespassers on the public lands. As nothing can be more unreasonable or unjust, than the conduct pursued by persons not citizens of the United States, who are flocking from all parts to search for and carry off gold belonging to the United States in California; and as such conduct is in direct violation of law, it will become my duty, immediately on my arrival there, to put penalties prescribed by law, on those who offend.

 

As these laws probably are not known to many who are about starting to California, it would be well to make it publicly known that there are such laws in existence, and that they will be in future enforced against all persons not citizens of the United States in California. Your position as Consul here, being in communication with the Consuls on the coast of South America, affords you the opportunity of making this known generally, and I will be much obliged to you if you will do it.

Persefor F. Smith, Brev. Major-General U.S.A.

Com'g Pacific Division

 

The meeting then adjourned to this evening, at 7 o'clock. The people met as usual, the President in the chair. The Committee on the conduct of Capt. Forbes and the Circular, reported the following resolutions, all of which were adopted with such unanimity and enthusiasm as to leave no doubt of the sense of the meeting upon the subjects treated therein:

 

Resolved, That we, the passengers across the Isthmus, have a legal and just right for privilege of passage by the steamer California, over and above all others who have taken passage in said steamer at ports on the Pacific; that we claim this preference in accordance with the terms and conditions published by the owners or agents of the California, viz: 'Atlantic passengers are to have priority of berths, and in the order of the dates of their receipts;' that the agreement for passage made by the Atlantic passengers was long previous to any concluded by the passengers from the Pacific.

 

Resolved, That to take passengers from places on the Pacific to the exclusion of those from the Atlantic now in this town, would be a violation on the part of the owners or agents of the agreement they have made with us.

 

Resolved, That it being openly avowed that the primary object of a greater portion of the individuals who have taken passage by the California, at ports on the Pacific, is to trespass on the Gold Mines, the property of the United States, peaceably if they can – forcibly if they must; that they are fully prepared with mining implements for this purpose, with men and with means; that such avowed object is illegal and in direct violation of our laws; they not being citizens of the United States can have no rights as such in California.

 

Resolved, That the agents of the steamer California, at Callao, Messrs. Alsop & Co. have assumed a most unwarrantable position in requiring Captain Forbes to take passengers from that port, especially as they were notified by him that such was contrary to the instructions he had received from the owners; that we have entire confidence that Captain Forbes will discharge the responsible duties resting upon him justly and impartially.

 

Resolved, That in the opinion of this meeting the interests of this line of steamers will be greatly promoted by the agents carrying out the principles, rules and regulations which they publish.

 

Resolved, That we heartily approve of the circular letter of Gen. Smith to the American Consul at this place, notifying foreigners that they are prohibited by the laws of the United States from trespassing on the public domain, and that it will be his duty to enforce those laws against persons not citizens of the United States, on his arrival in California. That we believe the future prosperity and character of California will depend upon the due administration and observance of the laws of our country, and to this end, we hereby pledge ourselves, one and all, to stand by the hero of Coutreras.

 

Resolved, That the Chairman of this meeting appoint a Committee of 15 persons, to confer with the agent of the California as to the rights of the Pacific passengers, whether they are, by the existing regulations of the Company's steamers, entitled to their berths on the steamer California, and that said Committee confer with Capt. Forbes, and with him devise such means of redress as they may deem for the general good.

S. Haley            }

H. E. Robinson}   Committee.

S. Woodbridge }

 

 

****

 

The Committee to make inquiries, &c. then reported the following questions and their answers – the latter, excepting the fourth, being voted unsatisfactory to the meeting:

 

The Committee appointed to propound question, &c. report the following questions which they propounded to Zachrisson & Nelson, the Agents of the California in this place, and the answers which said Agents returned in writing:

 

First. - Do the agents of the Pacific Mail Company consider that they have been guided in the transaction of the business of the Company here, by the laws of United States respecting the duties, and obligations of public carriers, which laws enjoin that every citizen, who applies for transportation in accordance with the published terms, of such public carriers, shall be taken, to the extent that their means will admit of.

 

Messrs. Z. N. & Co. reply: We have! We understand, that public carriers, for instance on Mail routes, are obliged to supply a deficiency of accommodations by offering other conveyances, when in their power; as has been the case with us in this instance, by putting up the ship Philadelphia for San Francisco.

 

Second. - Have tickets for passage in the California been sold in Panama? And if so by what rule of priority have the Agents been guided in disposing of such tickets?

 

Answer. - The tickets disposed of in Panama have been given in accordance to the priority in the registering of names and dates of payment.

 

Third. - Why do the agents now refuse to take freight on the California, when persons have been induced to bring it here at extraordinary expense, and to effect insurance on it, on her, in consequence of the advertisements and assurances given by the owners and agents in the United States that it would be taken at certain rates, and if it is because she is already full, where was her cargo taken on board?

 

Answer. - We refuse it on the ground that we have no room in the ship.

 

Fourth. - Do agents of the Pacific Mail Company here recognize any priority of claim on the part of passengers by the Atlantic Mail Company over passengers by transient vessels?

 

Answer. - We have acted in accordance with our instructions by giving preference to the Atlantic passengers per mail line, having through tickets. Persons who have neglected to procure such have taken their chance in order of application, &c.

 

Fifth. - Why were passengers taken at Callao contrary to positive assurances given in the United States by the owners and agents that this would not be done?

 

Answer. - They were taken under the supposition that there would have been abundance of room in the ship, the agents at that port not anticipating that so large a number would be waiting at Panama.

 

Respectfully, your obedient servants,

ZACHRISSON, NELSON & Co.

 

To Capt. Wm. H. Sewall and Hon. E. Woodruff, Com.

 

Thanks were then voted to the landlord, and the meeting adjourned. You have here a plain unvarnished statement of facts. There is intense feeling (I might use a stronger expression and be within the truth) on the part of many. But the order-loving and law-abiding portion are so much in the ascendant, that we feel a confident assurance that all will pass off without serious consequences.

 

I have read this report to several of the most respectable and responsible Americans here, and it has their full sanction for all it pretends to be. D. H. R.

 

Great credit is due to the prompt action of General Smith, the definite pronunciamento by the highest United States official then at Panama, that hereafter no person, not a citizen of the United States, would be allowed to search for gold in California. With the promulgation of this decree the highly dangerous tension gradually subsided, and by the further diplomatic action of the agents of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company a really threatening situation was fortunately side-tracked.

 

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ACAPULCO

 

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THE blazing rays of the sun striking on the unruly waters of the Bay of Panama on the morning of February 1, 1849, reveal to the beholder a very pretty picture. The California, with sails set and steam up, has just raised her anchor and is steering for Acapulco, her next port of entrance.

 

Bancroft does not even mention the date of the departure of the steamer, thought it is plainly stated in Senate Executive Document no. 50, 32nd Congress, 1st Session. The New Orleans Picayune of March 11, 1849, in a communication from one of its correspondents, is another corroborative witness:

 

We left Panama on Feb. 1st and arrived at Acapulco after a disagreeable voyage of 8 days.

 

We now approach a rather intricate problems, relating to the number of passengers taken by the California at Panama and the total number of persons on the pioneer steamer as she arrived at San Francisco. The elucidation of these questions occupies the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.


© 2010 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

 

 

 

 

 

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