Sunday, April 19, 2009


Illustration done by Clement R. Markham of Panama City in 1853, the same year Henri traveled to Panama. Image courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London

The following exerpts are from Henri's letter home to his parents while waiting in Panama for his steamer to Lima.

Panama City, 18 May, 1853

“We left Acapulco on the 9th aboard the Cortez and arrived in Panama on the 15th. We were about 350 aboard, the largest contingent from California. Most were unkempt and unwashed, one would have never know that most of their pockets were full of gold.”

“The city of Panama has a huge influx of foreigners that arrive or depart on steamers roughly every two weeks. To give you an idea, Panama is a city of roughly 3000 people. When we arrived 900 travelers had already arrived from Atlantic steamers, we had 350 people aboard, six hours after our arrival, the steamer California arrived from San Francisco which disembarked another 500. The following morning another 600 came from Chagres, making a total of roughly 2300 travelers who were in Panama for three days until the steamers left again. Most of the travelers were in second or third class aboard steamers that were dirty and not well ventilated. If you were coming from the Atlantic side you were dropped off at Charges, and while some of the trip across the isthmus to Panama City was by train, most was on foot. People would carry their own belongings (or hire mules at exorbitant rates), in the oppressive humid and hot air, through marshland with often nothing but a distilled spirits to keep them going.”

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