Category Archives: GCC’s letters

Friday 24th August 2012 (Letter 1st May 1882)

GCC finds a huge moth, and loses a horse

CHIRIQUI, STATE OF PANAMA

1st May 1882

My dear Mother,

Back again in Bugabita once more. At the beginning of April, I was in David for a few days packing up a 4th collection from Chiriquí to send off; soon after I went up again to Potrero Volcano, previously in December last and spent about a fortnight there, returning a few days ago. Coming down from these cold places (4000’) you seem as if entering a furnace; hunger drove us down, the provisions all being exhausted, and we were unsuccessful this time with the wild boar; a monkey (the meat is awfully tough) but hunger is a good sauce, a few turkeys and partridges the only things shot.

Lakes near Volcan

Everything is burned up by the sun, no rain beyond a few showers for 4 months. The horses and cattle suffer very much; one of my sick horses died; the other recently bought cannot yet be mounted, so I had to hire for this journey; have to feed them chiefly upon sugar cane, there is nothing else to be got. But it is already threatening rain now in the afternoons, thundering a good deal, so I suppose the rains will soon begin.

I made rather a good, though small, collection this trip, there is an enormous moth 9.5 -10.5 inches in expanse of wings up in these high places, more like a bat when flying.

A huge Noctuid moth, Letis sp., similar to the one GCC mentions. This one was photographed in Guatemala

Went to David last month, chiefly in hopes of finding letters from you and Mr. Godman but without result, though there were English and Guatemalan letters awaiting me. In David they have been rather gay owing to the President of the State having recently paid a visit to the place. I left, however, two days before he arrived. Tobacco nearly all gathered in now, they are sowing rice, maize etc. There has been a change in the Consulate in Panama, I however send my letters as before; I suppose the new Consul will forward them.

There are enormous uninhabited forests between the Potrero Volcan and the first town in Costa Rica, Terrava; from the foot of the precipitous ascent of the Volcano you see a great deal of this forestland, the line of the view to the west is bounded by a range of mountains, a spur of the Cordilleras, terminating seawards in Point Burico – would have liked to have ascended the Cordillera but it is too steep. From the top the two oceans are to be seen; in going up from Bugabita to the Potrero you travel for 7 or 8 hours through dense forest.

We had a fresh arrival in Chiriquí recently, a Frenchman, who came by land from Panama; he has a great pile of letters of introduction to all sorts of people in Central America, including myself! He says he has come to study the languages, customs, antiquities etc, of the Indians, but to me he is rather a mystery.

One of the Germans settled here sends large collections of insects every year to Germany; indeed he almost makes his living by it. He lives about 2 miles from me, and we see a good deal of one another, he does not speak English so we have to talk Spanish.

In Bugabita, we are quite shut in by second growth, the roads are only narrow paths through the forest, about half a mile of us to the west the forest proper commences and continues for a great distance and far beyond the River Chiriquí Viejo, a clearing in these woods, the natives plant their rice, fencing in a piece here and a piece there, fence usually of a horribly spiny plant like a large pineapple, the cattle are turned loose to feed in these woods, the people catching them generally with the bribe of a little salt, these cattle are so hungry now they even eat the thatch of the houses and break in wherever they can to get at the sugar cane and bananas.

With regards to all old friends, and best love to all,

A rainbow near Volcan

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Monday 20th August 2012 (Letter 23rd March 1882)

GCC nearly burns up in the heat and the fires, and ascends to high on the slopes of the volcano

BUGABITA CHIRIQUI ESTADO DE PANAMÁ U.S COLOMBIA

March 23rd, 1882

My dear Mother,

I am still in Bugabita, though I have been away a short time at Los Potrerillos and other places on the slope of the Volcano, returning here yesterday. During this trip made an expedition with some Swiss plant collectors to a place high up on the slopes of the Volcano; we worked up through the forest to 6500 feet elevation, slept one night up there and returned the next day. I intended to remain longer but we were obliged to return owing to want of water, all the little streams are quite dry; shall have to go up again next month when the rains begin.

This place, Bugabita, is about 30 miles from Potrerillos, but we make the journey down in about 8 hours on horseback.

The whole country now is like an oven, people burning the brush and forest everywhere, so dry that the very earth itself seems to burn, misty everywhere from smoke, one night last week at the Potrerillos we all slept outside on the ground for fear of the fire spreading from the burning brush to the house itself in the night, the north wind too in March blows so strongly as to do a great deal of mischief. I think March is the most disagreeable month in this country, what with the heat, dust and smoke and terrific wind on the mountain, but we shall soon have a change – the rains begin in April. Am again very unfortunate with my horses, have one in such a bad state that it will probably die, another I bought to take its place has turned out to be worse than useless, then again in the dry season it is very difficult to find food for them; horses are turned loose to find food in this country, no-one keeps a stable.

Am long without letters from Mr. Godman, so at present do not know much about what he wishes me to do, except that he wants me to work higher and higher up the Volcano. The steamer in this month cannot make the journey from Panamá, the north wind is too much for it. People are now planting maize, rice etc, and gathering in the tobacco crops; sugar cane they cut all the year round, bananas the same, the dry season or summer lasts from December to April till at last the rains come with a great deal of thunder and lightning. I cannot say things are dear in Bugabita, the hire of a decent rancho (a house made of sticks and thatches with leaves of palm or sugar cane) costs about 4 reales (1/8d) a month, meat is 4/ the 25 lbs, large bananas about 10 or 12 for a penny, lard, of which a great deal is used with everything, 10d a bottle, rice about 1d a pound, coffee 8d a pound, sugar of course cheap, such as it is, a chicken 6d, eggs about 4 a penny, but beyond these things, there is nothing else to be got. We drink a great deal of the crude sugar, mixed with water (sometimes flavoured with pineapple or orange). This drink is called ‘Guarapo’ and is not at all bad. Am almost forgetting my own name in these countries, people call me Don Jorge as a rule, though they have various names they use to call a foreigner by, as – patron, patroncito, nopo, extranjero, paysano, el inglés, el naturalista etc etc; anyone coming here to enquire for me would find me much quicker by asking for me by any of these names than by my own. Footwear is the greatest trouble, have spent a great deal more on boots than on clothes so far in Chiriquí.

I have sent 3 collections so far from Chiriquí to Mr. Godman; next month, I hope to send another.

I have your letter of December 31st, which I received in David about a month ago. I think I answered it the following day before I returned to Bugabita. Also got a letter from Walker, he is very well and back again at Callao, he was 7 weeks at Panamá; they expect to go shortly to Acapulco, Mexico, and then to Vancouver. While I remain at Bugabita or Potrerillos, do not find it so very dull, always someone to go and talk with in English or Spanish. In David, have fewer acquaintances – one or two Italians, French or Germans, and a few natives, that is all.

The other day up on the slopes of the Volcano, we saw the tracks of tapirs, but they are very shy, and seldom seen, we only meet with wild pig and monkey. No one I believe, has yet been to the top of this mountain (11,000 feet); should like very much to ascend it, but water is too scarce for me, can stand hunger but not thirst. The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are both seen from the high parts of the Cordillera. In either India or Australia, I believe I would get letters much easier and quicker than I do in Chiriquí, but it is no use grumbling.

With best love to all, and hoping to hear from you very soon,
Believe me, dear Mother,
Yours affectionately,

A forested mountain close to the Volcan Baru

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Wednesday 15th August 2012 (Letter 31st January 1882)

GCC loses his coffee AND a close friend

This brief letter from my great grandfather, entomologist George Charles Champion, to his mother in London is his first for the year 1882. He is clearly becoming a little jaded, and finds the dry season less interesting as there are fewer insects for him to collect.

The Volcan Baru


BUGABITA CHIRIQUI STATE OF PANAMÁ U.S. COLOMBIA

31 enero (January) 1882

My dear Mother,

There is just a chance of this letter catching the steamer now at David, so I write a few hasty lines in hopes of being in time; have an opportunity of sending this tomorrow.

I have but little to tell you this time except that I am well and going on as usual. I received your letter of Dec 1st a few days ago, a friend bringing it on to me here to Bugaba.

Shall make Bugabita my headquarters for the remainder of the dry season, it is more convenient in many ways. Though I am no longer staying with Mr. Preedy, still I am very close and we see one another nearly every day; he lends me books and assists me in all sorts of ways. Since before Christmas we have not had a drop of rain, and now it is very dusty and dry everywhere, such a contrast to the rainy season; splendid weather all the time, almost cloudless sky but so hot! The pleasantest time is the very early morning. Then again the moonlight nights, sit out in the open air till quite late, no one cares to go to bed soon. At midday one is obliged to rest a little on account of the sun. My costume here in the low country is of the lightest description. The natives wear very little indeed and even the Europeans wear but little, and nearly everybody goes barefoot.

Live now principally on rice, eggs, bananas, salt beef, fresh on Sundays only, chicken and coffee, seldom anything else.

During the next few months, shall probably be travelling about a good deal, but always returning to Bugaba, shall not go so often probably to the Capital (David) as before but you address me to David as usual. I wrote to Guatemala about the coffee and have a letter in reply saying that it was stolen and that they will make it good this new crop, better late than never.

There is very little for me to do in the dry season, everything is too dry, so I often take my gun and shoot a few pigeons or a parrot, something to eat for a change. I wonder how you spent your Christmas. I think I wrote and told you how I spent mine. In the papers you sent I read of the death of one of my best Burton friends, Dr. Garneys, aged 40. I was very much upset when I read of his death; I little thought to hear of his dying so suddenly; he teased me a great deal about quinine etc. when I last saw him.

Hoping you are all well and with very best love to all,

Believe me etc.

A sunset in Western Panama