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THE VOYAGE BY OCEAN
MODERN ARGONAUTS-PACIFIC MAIL STEAMSHIP COMPANY-ESTABLISHMENT
OF THE MAIL LINE FROM NEW YORK VIA PANAMÁ TO OREGON -- Sail-
Since the voyage of the Argonauts there had been no such search for a golden fleece as this which now commanded the attention of the world. And as the adventures of Jason's crew were the first of the kind of which we have any record, so the present impetuous move was destined to be the last. Our planet has become reduced to a oneness, every part being daily known to the inhabitants of every other part.
part. There is no longer a far-away earth's end where lies Colchis close-girded by the all-infolding ocean. The course of our latter-day gold-fleece seekers was much longer than Jason's antipodal voyage; indeed, it was the longest possible to be performed on this planet, leading as it did through a wide range of lands and climes, from snow-clad shores into tropic latitudes, and onward through antarctic dreariness into spring and summer lands. In the adventures of the new Argonauts the Symplegades reappeared in the gloomy clefts of Magellan Strait; many a Tiphy's relaxes the helm, and many dragons' teeth are sown. Even the ills and dangers that beset Ulysses' travels, in sensual circean appetites, lotus-eating indulgence,
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Calypso grottos and sirens, may be added to the list without filling it.
“ The wise man knows nothing worth worshipping except wealth,” said the Cyclops to Ulysses, while preparing to eat him, and it appears that as many hold the same faith now as in Homeric times. At night our Argonauts dream of gold; the morning sun rises golden-hued to saffron all nature. Gold floats in their bacon breakfast and bean dinner—which is the kind of fare their gods generally provide for them; and throughout the bedraggled remnant of their years they go about like men demented, walking the earth as if bitten by gold-bugs and their blood thereby infected by the poison; fingering, kicking, and biting everything that by any possibility may prove to be gold. They are no less victims of their infatuation than was Hylas, or Ethan Brand, who sacrificed his humanity to seek the unpardonable sin. Each has his castle in Spain, and the way to it lies through the Golden Gate, into the Valley of California.
The migration was greatly facilitated by the establishment of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company just before the gold discovery, encouraged by the anticipation of new interests on the Pacific coast territory. Congress fully appreciated the importance
One J. M. Shively, postmaster at Astoria, Oregon, while on a visit to Washington in 1845, is said to have been the tirst to call the attention of the U. S. govt to the advisability of establishing a line of mail-steamers between Panamá and Astoria. His suggestion does not seem to have had much weight, bowever. Later in the same year the threatening attitude of Great Britain in the north-west caused President Polk to lay before congress a plan for rapidly increasing the population of Oregon by emigration via the Isthmus, using sailing vessels. J. M. Woodward, a shipping merchant of New York, assisted in preparing details for the plan. His investigations led him to believe that a line of mail-steamers might profitably be established between Panamá and Oregon, and a number of merchants and capitalists were readily induced to join in forming a private company. The most complete history of the Pac. Mail S. S. Co. during the first five years of its existence is contained in the following government document: Mails, Reports of the Secretary of the Navy and the Postmaster-gene 'al, Communicating, in Compliance with a Reno. lution of the Senaie, Information in Relation to the Contracts for the Transportation of the Mails by Steamships brtueen New York and Californiu, dlarch 23, 1852, 320 cong. Ist sess., Sen. Ex. Doc. 50. An excellent chapter on the formation of the company is also to be found in First Steumship Pioneers, 17-33; see also Larkin's Doc., MS., vi. 173.
of rapid communication with that section, and by virtue of an act passed on the 3d of March, 1847, the secretary of the navy advertised for bids to carry the United States mails by one line of steamers between New York and Chagres, and by another line between Panamá and Astoria. The contract for the Atlantic side called for five steamships of 1,500 tons burden each, all strongly constructed and easily convertible into war steamers, for which purpose the government might at any time purchase them by appraisement. Their route was to be “from New York to New Orleans twice a month and back, touching at Charleston, if practicable, Savannah, and Habana; and from Habana to Chagres and back twice a month.” For the Pacific line only three vessels were required, on similar terms, and these of a smaller size, two of not less than 1,000, and the other of 600, tons burden. These were to carry the mail “ from Panamá to Astoria, or to such other port as the secretary of the navy may select, in the territory of Oregon, once a month each way, so as to connect with the mail from Habana to Chagres across the Isthmus.”
The contract for the Atlantic side was awarded on the 20th of April, 1847, to Albert G. Sloo, who on the 17th of August transferred it to George Law, M. O. Roberts, and B. R. McIlvaine of New York. The annual compensation allowed by the government was $290,000; the first two ships were to be completed by the first of October, 1848. The contract for the Pacific side was given to a speculator named Arnold Harris, and by him assigned to William H. Aspinwall, the annual subsidy for ten years being $199,000.?
? Woodward bid $300,000, with side-wheel steamers, and one of his asso. cintes proposed to do the work for half that sum with propellers. The last offer was accepted, but the bidder withdrew, and Harris received the award, after arranging to assign it to Woodward, it is claiined. He looked round for a better bargain, however, and on Nov. 19, 1847, the contract was transferred to Aspinwall
, despite the protests of Woodward, who was beaten in a long and expensive series of litigations.' First Steamship Pioneers, 26. The same authority states that Aspinwall was induced to take the contract by Armstrong, a relative of Harris, and U. S. consul at Liverpool.
PACIFIC MAIL STEAMSHIP COMPANY.
Owing to the greater prominence meanwhile acquired by California, the terminus for this line was placed at San Francisco, whence Oregon mails were to be transmitted by sailing vessels.
Through Aspinwall's exertions, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was incorporated on the 12th of April, 1848, with a capital stock of $500,000. The three side-wheel steamers called for by the contract were built with despatch, but at the same time with care and of the best materials, as was shown by their long service.
On October 6, 1848, the first of these vessels, the California, sailed from New York, and was followed in the two succeeding months by the Oregon and the Panamá. When the California left New York the discovery of gold was known in the States only by unconfirmed rumors, which had attracted little attention, so that she carried no passengers for California. On
3“To the mouth of the Kalumet river, in lieu of Astoria, with the reserved right of the navy department to require the steamers to go to Astoria, the straits of Fuca, or any other point to be selected on the coast of Oregon. In consideration of which the steamers are to touch, free of charge, at the three points occupied by the U. S. squadron, or at such ports on the west coast, south of Oregon, as may be required by the navy dept. Modification of June 10, 1848. In 1850 steam connection was required with Oregon. U. 8. Gov. Doc., ubi sup., p. 5-6, 36; see also Hist. Oregon, i., this series.
*Gardiner Howland, Henry Chauncey, and William H. Aspinwall were the incorporators, and the last mentioned was elected the first president. In 1850 the capital stock was raised to $2,000,000, in 1853 to $4,000,000, in 1865 to $10,000,000, in 1866 to $20,000,000, and in 1872 it was reduced to $10,000,000.
• Their measurements were 1,050, 1,099, and 1,087 tons respectively. The Panamá should have been second, but was delayed. The Atlantic company proved less prompt. For several years they provided only three accepted steamers, Georgia, Ohio, and Illinois, and the inferior and temporary Falcon, besides other aid; yet full subsidy was allowed. The captains were to be U. S. naval officers, not below the grade of lieut, each assisted by four passed midshipmon. U. S. Gov. Doc., ubi sup.
6 And only four or five for way-ports. Rio de Janeiro was reached Nov. 2d, and the straits of Magellan were safely threaded between Dec. 7th and 12th. The California was the third steamship to pass through them, the previous ones being, in 1840, the Peru and the Chili, each of 700 tous, built by an English company for trade between the west coast of South America and England. Under the con mand of William Wheelwright they made the passage of the straits in thirty hours sailing time. According to the journal kept by A. B. Stout, the California's sailing time in the straits was 41 hours, and the time lost in anchoring during foys and high winds 108 hours. First Steamship Pioneers, 111-12. This journal is, I believe, the only account extant of the California's voyage as far as Panamá. A stoppage of 50 hours
Hist. Cal., VOL. VI. 9
reaching Callao, December 29th, the gold fever was encountered, and great was the rush for berths, although but fifty could be provided with state-rooms, owing to the understanding at New York that the steamer should take no passengers before reaching Panamá.' It was well for the Isthmus of Panamá, which fairly swarmed with gold-seekers, some 1,500 in number, all clamorous for, and many of them entitled to, a passage on the California.S
This mass of humanity had been emptied from the fleet of sailing and steam vessels despatched during the nine preceding weeks for the mouth of the Chagres River, which was then the north-side harbor for the Isthmus. Hence the people proceeded up the river to Cruces in bongos, or dug-outs, poled by naked negroes, as lazy and vicious as they were stalwart." Owing to the heavy rains which added to the discomfort and danger, the eagerness to proceed was great, and the means of conveyance proved wholly inadequate to the sudden and enormous influx, the natives being, moreover, alarmed at first by the invasion. The inwas made at Valparaíso, and on the illness of the commander, Cleaveland Forbes, John Marshall, then commanding a ship en route for China, was induced to act as tirst officer in lieu of Duryee, who was appointed to the command of Marshall's ship. Ii., 29–30, 118. A few days later Forbes resigned.
First Steamship Pioneers, Edited by a Committee of the Association, is the title of a quarto of 393 pages, printed in San Francisco for the 25th anniversary of the association in 1874. From the profuse puffery with which the volume opens, the reader is led to suspect that the printing, picture, and wine bills of the society were not large that year. Following this is a chapter entitled “Steain Navigation in the Pacific, conspicuous only for the absence of information or ideas. Chapter II. on the P. M. S. S. Co. is better, and the occurrences of the voyage by the passengers on the first steainship to Cal., of which the main part of the book is composed, no less than the biographical notices toward the end, are interesting and valuable.
? At Payta, accordingly, where equal excitement prevailed, no more passengers appear to have been taken.
Six sailing vessels and two steamers are mentioned among recent arrivals with passengers from the U. S. See Panamá Star, Feb. 24, 1849; Pioneer Arch., 5, 21-4; Robinson's Stat., MS., 23-4.
"The boats were usually from 15 to 25 feet long, dug from a single mahog. any log, provided with palm-leaf awning, and poled by 4 or 6 men at the average rate of a mile an hour. Often the only shred of clothing worn by the captain was a straw hat. Warren's Dust and Foam, 153-6; Henshaw’s Events, MS., 1; Gregory's Guile, 1-9. A small steamer, Orus, had been placed on the river, but could proceed only a short distance, and the expense of transit, estimated at $10 or $15, rose to $50 and more. Protests in Panamá Star, Feb. 24, 1949; Dunbar's Romance, 55-89.