Thursday 13th September 2012 (Letter 18th August 1882)

GCC sends an update from Panama

This latest letter from my great grandfather, entomologist George Charles Champion, contains little of great interest, but brings his mother up to date on his activities during the previous two months. By this stage in his four-year expedition, he was writing less and less, perhaps because his activities seemed too mundane and similar to those mentioned already in previous letters. It is still interesting to note the effects on availability and prices of goods, even in the distant and remote state of Chiriquí, of the presence of huge numbers of workers engaged on construction of the Panama Canal. This French attempt, under Ferdinand De Lesseps, was doomed to failure, with an estimated 22,000 workers dying of tropical diseases, but in 1882 the digging had only just begun, and the demand for food products even as far away as Chiriquí was already being felt.

The emptiness of the landscape in Chiriquí in 1882 is also mentioned. Even today, there are vast areas of virtually uninhabited land, although now large numbers of housing developments are springing up, particularly attracting Canadians fleeing their icy winters.

A river similar to that mentioned by GCC


August 18th, 1882

My dear Mother,

A few lines to say that I am quite well and going on as usual; I have no special news; am busy packing up a 5th case for Mr.Godman to send off by next steamer. I was glad to hear of the safe arrival of my 4th box. Since I came to Chiriquí, have heard very seldom from Mr. Godman or Salvin. I have sent my boy purposely to David, involving a 50-mile ride on horseback to get letters – for nothing; perhaps, however, their letters have got lost on the way.

When I first arrived in Central America, I little thought I would have to live as I have had to do, but I have got used to it long ago; I remember very well my first impressions at Zapote; now I think nothing of it. Though we are now having a great deal of rain, the rivers have not risen very much, one can still travel easily enough; our worst river for this is Rio Piedra, but the water is still low. I forded it a few days ago; these rivers which carry off all the drainage from the mountain range to the sea are full of immense blocks of stone, and as they run downhill, have a very strong current. It is now cooler with the wet weather, the thermometer normally about 85 in the shade now falling as low as 70 in the night; in the dry season especially in February, it is much hotter; it is a great bother in the rainy season to dry one’s things, you need to put everything out in the sun in the morning, the rain seldom begins till the afternoon.

Owing to the Canal business in Panama, many articles of food are getting very scarce; of course you get all these things fast enough by paying more in David. Bananas, so abundant and cheap a few months ago, can hardly be got now; great difficulty sometimes to get sugar.

In some respects I prefer Chiriquí to Guatemala; you can get nearly everything you want in David and expenses are very much lighter, the only thing in this country is you cannot travel so much, the country is very thinly inhabited, scarcely any roads and only about half a dozen villages or towns, though everywhere there are plains and good pasture for cattle, there are people living. Shall wait a few days for the steamer, then leave perhaps to visit Vivala, or other places far distant.

I remain etc.

French attempts at construction of the Panama Canal

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