© 2004-2016

Patagonia Bookshelf



The Straits of Magellan in the Days of 'Forty-Nine.

An Interesting Paper by Edward E. Chever Read Before the California Historical Society.

Quite a number of ladies were present at the meeting of the California Historical Society last night in parlor A, Palace Hotel. President John K. Jarboe was in the chair. Secretary A. S. Hubbard presented the society with a relic of early days in California, in the shape of an order of Governor Mason appointing L. W. Boggs of Sonoma an additional sub-commissioner to try certain persons. The order is signed Richard B. Mason, Colonel First Dragoons, and Governor of California. An invitation was received from the Massachusetts Historical Society to be present at the one hundredth anniversary of its formation, on January 24, 1891. Thomas Wentworth Higginson will deliver an address, and the venerable ex-Speaker of the National House of Representatives, Robert C. Winthrop, will give a reception to the guests of the society. The annual meeting of the California Historical Society will be held on February 10th in the Academy of Sciences building.

The principal business of the meeting last evening was the reading of a very interesting historical paper by Edward English Chever, a pioneer of California and Colorado, entitled "A Voyage from Boston. Through the Straits of Magellan, to San Francisco in 1849, With Personal Experiences Connected Therewith." It was Mr. Chever's fortune to be one of the passengers on board the Saltillo, the first vessel that sailed from Boston to the gold regions of California, on the 27th of December, 1848. His experiences were recorded at the time, but without expectation of keeping them for forty years, or of finding anyone who would be interested in the narration. The Saltillo was a brig of about 300 tons, the captain of which was a remarkably handsome man, of social qualities, but, unfortunately for himself and his associates, he drank to excess. The passengers, twelve in number, were a fair average of the advance guard of gold hunters. But three of the passengers or crew are known to be living. Of these, two reside in San Francisco, and one at the Sandwich Islands. The Saltillo's cargo consisted of general merchandise, which included a large shipment of alcohol. The trip from Boston to the equator was made without any special incident. The first sight of land after leaving Boston was on March 15, 1849, when the cry of "Land, ho !" called all hands on deck soon after dinner. The land was Cape Virgin, a table mountain with precipitous sides 300 feet high. The passage through the entrance to the straits was accomplished safely, though not without some peril, the vessel being what sailors termed a lubberly craft, and her decks were kept constantly awash. The vessel anchored near Cape Possession, about three miles from shore. Going ashore, the beach proved to be covered with cobblestones of large size instead of sand. The hills were covered in places with a low-growing aromatic shrub. After anchoring for a night, the vessel sailed the next morning, running across Possession Bay in fall sight of Mount Aymond and the Asses' Ears, the latter appropriately named and serving as landmarks for navigators. The First Narrows, which are three leagues wide, were reached soon under a fourteen-knot breeze. Guanacos, llamas and ostriches were seen with a glass on the nearest cliffs, their forms standing in high relief against the sky. An unpleasant episode occurred in the captain getting drunk and becoming as crazy as a lunatic, threatening to kill people. At Elizabeth Island the vessel anchored again, and on going ashore the country was found to be very beautiful. No Indians were found, although the party penetrated some miles into the interior. Another vessel, the schooner Anthem, anchored near the Saltillo, and the people on both vessels had a pleasant interchange of talk. Mount Sarmiento, 6800 feet high, was in sight, and near the shore was a Chilean ship. At Point St. Marys was a Chilean convict colony, and at Port Famine, thirty-five miles distant, was another one. It is the most picturesque part of the straits. Indians from the Fugean side of the straits were seen here for the first time. They wore no clothing, excepting a skin of a wild animal thrown over the shoulder. "Williwaws" are of frequent occurrence in this part of the straits, coming from the mountains. On Sunday, April 9th, the steamer Panama was seen passing through the straits, the captain of which refused $500 to tow the brig through the straits. New York papers of the 17th of February were obtained.

In Borja bay several American vessels were encountered, which were visited by the people on the Saltillo. Mr. Chever was transferred to the Sea Witch, a little vessel of 100 tons. Heavy squalls kept the little fleet in the straits until April 22d, when the Sea Witch emerged from the straits and the vessel's bow was directed for the first time toward California. From the straits the voyage to San Francisco was made in fifty-four days and was uneventful, they arriving here on June 15, 1849. The vessel was boarded by Harbor Master Edward A. King, who brought news to Mr. Chever that his brother, David A., was on shore. The harbor at that time was a forest of masts, the vessels coming mostly from South America, Mexico and the islands of the Pacific. Mr. Chever told of his trip to Sacramento in the Sea Witch and of a visit paid to Captain Sutter, whom he describes as a man about 5 feet 7 inches in height, stout and bald. The rest of the paper was devoted to the doings of Mr. Chever's brothers in different parts of the State. The thanks of the society were extended to Mr. Chever, and a copy of his paper will be deposited in its archives.

Source: "Daily Alta California" (San Francisco), 1891
Clipped: 30-VI-2013
Copyright © 2004-2016 Duncan S. Campbell + Gladys Grace P.
— for personal and educational use only — please cite this URL —