[Various places, mostly South America & California: 1858]. pp. Narrow quarto journal. Quarter cloth and marbled boards, front board lacking. Leaves loose; minor wear at edges. Moderate toning and dust soiling. Accomplished in a highly legible script. Good. Item #3056
An engaging manuscript narrative of a California Gold Rush voyage, including a harrowing account of passage through the Strait of Magellan and lively descriptions various ports of call along the route. Theodore Klages left Hamilton, Ontario for California on August 17, 1858. The narrative offered here appears to be a polished version of his journal and was likely written within a year or two of his voyage.
Klages departs by train for New York, passing through Niagara Falls and stopping in Albany. He remarks early on that he is about to traverse some 15,000 miles of water and conveys the sense of danger of his coming voyage. He leaves New York on August 22 aboard the steamer Hermann with some 600 passengers. On August 30, they cross the Tropic of Cancer, and the Captain celebrates with a small display of fireworks; by September 10, they have crossed the Equator. Four days later, a quarrel breaks out and a man stabs another man three times, but the victim survives; the aggressor is “manacled & locked up to await his trial in the next Port.” On September 18, they arrive in Rio de Janeiro, 26 days after leaving New York. Here Klages offers an extended description of the city, its harbor, mountainous, and tropical surroundings. He takes daily walks through the city; visits several coffee plantations; and during a visit to a cathedral, and sees the Emperor and his wife: “All the people as he passed bowed on their knees and said a short prayer.” Klages comments at length on local society and mentions the 7-mile long city aqueduct. Along with several companions he hikes to the summit of a mountain west of the city: “It seemed to me as I stood on that mountain top as though I was looking at a new world…. It appeared like a Paradise, a vast garden of fruits and flowers.” After nine days in Rio de Janeiro, the narrative cuts, perhaps because of a missing leaf, to the Strait of Magellan where the ship is beset by “a perfect hurricane”:
"We arrived at the mouth. The night was dark as pitch. The sea running high and dashing furiously against the distant rocks resembling the roar of artillery. We had still one dangerous place to pass… a number of rocks known as the Judges & Apostles, many of which are just below the surface of the water while others extend from twenty to 200 feet out of the ocean. Many a poor marine has had to make this place his resting place…. At each lightning flash we could discern the rocks. Showing their fearful sides and expecting momentarily to be dashed against them. They being not more than a hundred yards to our side…. Some of the passengers were praying, some crying, singing and others cursing, the last of which most resorted to. In that moment how many thought of those dear ones whom they had left behind, never to be seen by them again…. At about this time part of our Wheelhouse was carried off by the sea, along with the last of our bulwarks. Our Pilot was thrown twice over the wheel, being unable to hold it. The steamer was beginning to become unmanageable…. Had anything happened to the engine during this gale we all should have been lost. No one would have been saved to have told the tale of our ship wreck…. The storm continued all night, but towards morning it began to abate, so that we were able to make from three to four miles per hour. The whole ocean looked like a sheet of foam, and the waves rolling mountain high and tossing our ship to and fro as though it were but an eggshell. But now we began to breathe more free, our hearts seemed to expand with the thought of being saved and the hope of making our destined harbor safely."
After making it out alive and seemingly against the odds, they pass the Western coast of Patagonia, and reach the small town of Lodi [??] Chile where they procure provisions, cattle, and coal. Most of its inhabitants are “government debtors, forced to work in the coal mines until the sum which they owe had been canceled.” Klages observes, “The most become old and decrepit before the sum has been attained for which they are held. The slaves of North America live like princes to what these poor beings have. They wear but little clothing. Their whole habiliments consisting of a shirt extending to the knees.”
Next, they steam to Valparaiso, Chile, where they find some 167 vessels in the port. Here Klages comments at length on a wide variety of topics, including the local social structure:
"The people here are comprised of these distinct classes. The peon or half breed form the lowest and are the only persons by whom all low drudge work is performed. Next comes the mechanic and the highest in the scale is the aristocrat or wealthy man. They seldom if ever associate together…. The half breeds are all well built robust men, and some of them are descendants of some of the first Spanish families, but who becoming government debtors and being partly Indians are doomed to drag out a miserable existence."
Other topics covered include the landscape, climate, architecture, languages, and American investment in the region. The steamer leaves Valparaiso on October 26, soon arriving at the Island of Taboga, located just nine miles from Panama. Here the ship's captain leaves the vessel, having been called back to New York by the steamer company. On November 15, they pass four active volcanoes along the coast of El Salvador, one of which is said to have destroyed the old city of Guatemala. Soon after, one of their Quartermasters dies from Panama fever, whereupon Klages witnesses his first sea burial.
On November 27, the Hermann arrives in San Francisco. Klages stays in a hotel where he enjoys a fine meal and promptly makes inquiries in reference to business, which he finds to be dull, prompting him set out for the Southern mines. On the 29th, he takes a steamer to Sacramento, then a stage to Stockton, arriving on the first of December. Proceeding to the mines, Klages and his fellow miners run into a number of “Chinamen” panning for gold without much success, a dispiriting experience for the greenhorns. After several days of prospecting, Klages throws in the towel, calling it “a bad job.” He concludes:
"People who have never been in the mines can hardly form an idea thereof. By the most, it is considered a perfect wilderness, where the houses are few and far between. Once it was so, but now wherever gold is found there is also a flourishing village, in many instances built right in the heart of them. The ground in such places has all been washed and in many cases three and four times over. Persons therefore going to the mines stand but a poor chance…
The Los Angeles Herald records various lands sales involving one Theodore H. Klages from 1895 to 1902; his name likely being uncommon, this evidence would seem to suggest that Klages remained in the state despite his disappointments. A lively record of a Canadian’s voyage to California in pursuit of gold.