Wednesday 8th February 2012 (Letter 13th March 1879)

My apologies for the long delay in adding this post. My intention was to publish my great grandfather’s letters to his mother, the first of which I added as the previous entry. I then found that he had not written to his mother again until he was already in Guatemala City, and he did not describe his sea voyage and his crossing the isthmus of Panama from the Atlantic (Caribbean) side to the Pacific in his letter to her. However, luckily I have access to the letters he wrote to his employers, Godman and Salvin, and I publish here a letter he wrote to Mr Godman, in which his fairly eventful travels are described in some detail, including his lost baggage and other travails.

Off Costa Rica

March 13th 1879

Dear Sir,

I arrived at Jamaica on March 8th at 8 AM and soon after received a note from Mr Newton asking me to go and see him at his residence, “Maryland”, 3.5 miles from Kingston. Accordingly, after breakfast on board, I hired a “bus” (as they term an extraordinary-looking vehicle in use here) and at once proceeded to Mr Newton’s house taking the parcel directed to my care with me. Mr Newton made me very welcome and I remained overnight, joining the “Nile” at 10 AM the next morning. Not knowing how long I should remain with Mr Newton I neglected taking a net with me – only took an umbrella and a few bottles, and thus missed an opportunity of collecting a few Diurni, almost the only insects I saw there, though I heard rather too many at night.

SS Nile

I went for a ramble with Mr Newton in the morning and saw a few butterflies but was unable to take any. The heat was very great and the place exceedingly dry so we did not go very far. In the evening Mr Newton drove me to the foot of the hills and we clambered up about 2000 feet; had to return at once as it was getting dark. I found beetles excessively scarce; only obtained three or four species, excessively dull and very British-looking, rather disappointing as a first idea of a tropical fauna. Mr Newton asked me to remain a fortnight with him and go on by the next steamer, but I of course could not do this.

The “Nile” left at 10 AM on the Sunday morning and we reached Colón early in the morning of the 11th. It poured with rain the whole of the morning so I was again unable to do any collecting. I left Colón by the 1 PM train for Panamá, arriving at latter place about 5, just in time to catch the tender leaving for the “Granada” steamer, which already had most of her passengers on board and was only waiting for the English mail. The vessel sailed shortly after I got on board and is due at San José on the 16th, so I ought to reach Guatemala in a little over a month from England. At Panamá did not get more than a dozen yards from the terminus, had a good deal of bother with my luggage, and narrowly escaped being swindled in various ways. As it was they charged me $6.80 (28 shillings and sixpence) for excess baggage by the railway. I enclose particulars of my extra expenses so far, and will of course do so in future.

SS Granada

I saw VERY MANY species of butterflies (some in abundance) in the first twenty miles from Colón, they looked very tempting from the train, just out of reach in the swampy ground we were crossing. Beyond Matach….??? I saw but very few; it seemed altogether as dry on the Pacific side as it was wet on the Atlantic. Have not seen yet a single tropical-looking beetle, if I may except a fine-looking Cetonia I noticed mounted in a gentleman’s scarf pin at Jamaica.

I greatly regret not having been able to have done a little collecting en route, must try to make up for it in Guatemala; am afraid I shall not do very much until settled down and my things unpacked. Then i must endeavour to retrieve my lost characters. Capt. Dow was away from Colón and Panamá. He must be somewhere along the Pacific coast. I may find him at San José but it is rather doubtful – this vessel only calls at La Libertad this side of Guatemala.

March 14th. I am in great trouble today about my heavy luggage. I find it is not in this steamer! Am now told that there were two steamers leaving Panamá the same evening for San José and in the confusion it must have been put on the other steamer, the “Honduras”, a slower vessel and not due at San jose until some days after this. It is a great nuisance and will I fear detain me some days at the port. I was most particular at Panamá to see my luggage taken from the train to the wharf, re-labelled, and put onto the tender with the mails, etc., little dreaming there were two steamers on point of starting and the tender taking passengers and luggage for both. When I got onto the “Granada” it was nearly dark and there was a very great deal of confusion, hence this mishap. Will leave a note about it tomorrow at Libertad. I send this letter on by a passenger to post at San Francisco.

SS Honduras off Champerico, by Muybridge, 1875

With best regards to Mr Salvin and yourself,

I remain, yours truly,

Geo. C Champion

March 15th. Arrived at Libertad at daylight and left again at 11.30 for San José, where we are due tonight at 9 PM.

The country about Libertad looks very dry and parched.

8.45 PM. Just arrived off San José. Mr Magee’s people met me on board.

Extra expenses en route February and March 1879:

Panamá Railway excess baggage 1, 8, 6
Stewards and other fees on “Nile” 1, 0, 0
LSWR train 0, 11, 0
Dunlop & co. 0, 12, 6
Southampton dock charges 0, 1, 0

Total: £3, 13, 0

The pier at Puerto San Jose where GCC arrived in March 1879

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