Saturday 31st March 2012 (Letter 21st December 1879)

GCC’s last letter home in 1879 – Christmas without plum pudding and beer!

This is the last letter my great grandfather, entomologist George Charles Champion, sent home from Guatemala to his mother in London in 1879. He himself admits it is a somewhat rambling missive, but it nonetheless contains some interesting details of his life in the wilds of Central America.

HACIENDA DE SAN GERÓNIMO,
SALAMÁ,
GUATEMALA,
December 21st, 1879

My dear Mother,

Still no letters, we are told owing to an accident on the Panama Railway; it is just possible, however, we may get an English mail tomorrow; it is now nearly seven weeks since I received a letter. Mr Morgans and Hutchison have not received theirs also. I hope you are all well; I don’t think I have yet had a reply to my first letter from Vera Paz. I arrived in August and little thought I should make such a long stay. I hope to make San Gerónimo my headquarters for some time to come yet, it is a good place to recruit after living in the miserable native ranchos.

We are now very near Christmas, though it is difficult to believe such is the case with hot weather like we are having here, there is just a chance I may be in Cobán (about 45 miles away) on that day, but probably, I shall be with Mr. Morgans, whether in San Gerónimo or Cobán.

Have heard nothing of the box sent on Oct 1st by Mr. Godman; have just written to the port of San José about it. I sent off a 4th consignment to Mr G. a few days ago, I think I shall provide plenty of work for them all and more I believe than they bargained for amongst the smaller things, in fact I don’t know what they will do with some of these latter when they get them (one of their principal helpers in the British Museum has died since I have been out here, and however that is their business not mine). Sometimes Mr. Godman writes, sometimes Mr. Salvin and occasionally also Mr. Bates, so I hear from them pretty often.

By staying here I am not only more comfortable but saving a very great deal in the way of expenses. Thanks to Mr McNider who first introduced me to Mr. Morgans, my expenses so far with two animals, servant etc have been considerably less than I expected, in fact do not nearly as yet amount to £100, so all things considered, I must consider myself very fortunate in this respect; shall miss Mr. M very much when he leaves.

Sundays I generally spend indoors (unless travelling), though I am seldom idle; this Sunday morning I am writing my letters. Large numbers of women are now employed gathering the coffee, all of which goes to London, this is I believe the most profitable part of the business, the sugar though it sells in this country for nearly double the prices in London, does not pay well, a very great deal is used in making aguardiente, rum for which San Gerónimo is famous. For one to work this country well, it will occupy considerably more than one year. Unless anything calls me back, shall not of course return at the expiration of the first year. I trust business is not going back on account of my absence – if it is by all means write and tell me, for at the end of the first year, that is in March next I am at liberty to return if I wish. While in Guatemala I hope to save enough, to be useful to me in after life. Mr Godman evidently wants me to stay for some time to come.

We hear that the headquarters of the foreign ministers in Central America is to be shifted from Guatemala to San José, the Capital of Costa Rica, also that Mr Graham, the minister in this country is promoted, and that another man is coming out; we still of course shall have a consul – Sir Henry Scholfield; Mr.McNider was only acting in the consul’s absence.

You get to know all these people in Guatemala, Mr. Graham is not very much liked, he is not very sociable and holds himself rather high. The Gran Hotel is a dear place to stop at but it is cheap in the long run, because there you become acquainted with most of the people worth knowing in this country; a great deal of my luggage is still there.

Last Sunday I went on horseback with Mr.Morgans and others up in to the mountains near Santa Barbara; we went prospecting for lead, which is found on the estate, but were unsuccessful, we however spent a very pleasant day; the air is very cool and fresh up in these high places. I don’t know a more beautiful tree than an orange full of ripe fruit and you see them in fruit all the year round, and in tropical countries where there is no winter there are continually a succession of flowers and fruit, in addition to the orange. There is another fruit very similar, only a darker yellow, this is sour like a lemon, we also have lemons (almost wild), and limes. The latter I don’t care much for, just now also we have almonds, bananas, granadillas and, have not yet seen in this country, any currants, raspberries, cherries, or plums. I don’t suppose we shall get any plum pudding this Xmas, though I have once or twice eaten plum pudding at the Gran Hotel, and San Gerónimo. We get a few vegetables here, as vegetable marrows, pumpkins, cabbages, beans and others – natives of the country, sometimes also potatoes, of meat but poor beef, never mutton, live more upon fowls.

It is very dry and dusty now, sometimes we get a little shower but not often; near Salamá it is very arid and except near the rivers scarcely anything green to be seen, all burnt up by the sun, in places like these you see many large queer Cacti growing. It is long since I tasted beer (which by the way in the capital costs about a dollar a bottle), and it is but seldom I have taken any spirits, seldom drink anything but water and coffee.

Must not grumble at my health, always have a good appetite even for black beans, am troubled a little at times with slight climatic complaints, and that is all.

Must now bring this rambling letter to a close, will keep it open till tomorrow evening in case of our getting the mail. Remember me to Greenwich and Peckham people and to Mr Green, trusting you are all well and wishing you all a happy new year.

Believe me dear Mother
Your loving son,
George C. Champion

Dec 22: Your letter and 3 newspapers of Oct 31 arrived today, am glad to hear you are all well, will reply to it in due time.

Dec 25. Mr Morgans having decided to send a man specially to Guatemala to post our letters, has given a few days’ grace. My letters were ready to post, however, on 22nd at usual time.
Have spent Christmas day here with Mr. Morgans, Mr. Hutchison, Don Marcelo, and two visitors, a Frenchman living about 12 miles off and an Englishman (a Mr. Warren, a native of West Malling, Kent, who is repairing the telegraph line near Salamá, of course very quietly and nothing to distinguish it from any other day, not even anything different to eat in the way of pudding. Sunday, weekday, Xmas or any other day are all alike, scarcely remember one from the other. Very hot and dusty and glad of sunblind while at dinner. More fully in next.

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