Monday 12th March 2012 (Letter 6th August 1879)

G C Champion still delayed in Guatemala City

Today’s entry contains the next of my great grandfather’s letters from Guatemala. He is still detained in the capital, and clearly the frustration is building. Mr Morgans, to whom he refers several times, is the manager of the sugar cane/aguardiente liquor factory in San Gerónimo, in the province of Baja Vera Paz.

GRAN HOTEL, GUATEMALA,
August 6th 1879

My dear Mother,

I am still detained in the capital, but hope to get away tomorrow or next day. Shall have to go without Mr Morgans after all – his business is not yet finished, have been expecting to leave almost every day for the past week. I hope to have the company of a young Canadian (a Mr. Hutchison, of Montreal) on the journey to San Gerónimo, Mr Morgans will follow in a few days. It is very expensive living here in the hotel especially when you have an animal to feed also, and the idle life does not suit me at all, so shall be only too glad to get away. Have been driven nearly crazy with neuralgia, for the last two or three weeks, and unable to sleep at night, but am a little better now, went yesterday to see a dentist, and he told me that I ought to have three wisdom teeth extracted but I don’t care to have this done unless absolutely necessary.

Have made many acquaintances in Guatemala, so generally have someone to talk to. Mr Morgans, though he only came out two months before me, seems to know everybody in the place. I went with him and others to the theatre on Monday evening, to see “La fille de Madame Angot”; it was very good indeed. The performers were all Mexicans and some of them sang very well, the theatre was crowded.

We are still having a great deal of rain, every day more or less, and the roads are in consequence in very bad order; in fact, the road to the port of San José is said to be almost impassable and the diligences have stopped running; what they will be like in another month I don’t know, for there is a lot more rain to come yet. This season is said to be the wettest for many years past.

Last Sunday there were processions in the streets, men carrying images, candles, etc, and, with a lot of priests and others, they held short services in the streets, finishing up by letting off a lot of fireworks, rockets, crackers, squibs, etc and in broad daylight! They would then go to another street and repeat the process, many of the houses were draped with red cloth for the occasion. The people are very bigoted indeed, though the President has put down many of these processions. Every day we see soldiers marching about the town, the place is full of them, and I think they make all the display they can to prevent revolution. There are several watchmakers here (Swiss, and Germans). I see a good deal of the managers of the principal shop here, kept by a Swiss named Widmer (who is now away in Europe), he tells me trade is very bad; we must not grumble much about high rents, they pay 50 dollars a month or £120 a year for the shop only, the upper part of the house is part of the Gran Hotel, they have a good stock, but all inside on the counter and at the back, nothing whatever in the window, very little English work, mostly French, Swiss or American, they charge an enormous price for everything, as do all the other shops here. The import duties are very high, then everything has to be brought up by road (90 miles) from the port; this of course makes a good deal of difference in the costs; luckily I am not obliged just yet to buy much in the way of clothing, and though have had to purchase a few things, many necessaries supplied by Mr Godman I cannot use because they are so heavy, and every pound extra in weight is of great consideration when travelling in this country.

Mr Morgans came out by way of Belize, he tells me that the country is much finer on the Atlantic side, than on the Pacific, where I have been all along so I hope to get on better bye and bye. San Gerónimo is about midway between.

The European mail came in on Sunday evening. I went to see if there were any letters for me, but there were none, have only received one newspaper as yet, I believe you have sent more.

There is a great deal of talk about the Panama canal project in Guatemala, many think it will end in failure.

I get on better now with the food in the hotel, but am obliged to avoid their green peas, beans, cabbage, and all of which they serve up mixed with evil smelling, oily liquids, which do not agree with me. There are plenty of different sorts of fruit about now, such as pineapple, mangos, oranges, limes, bananas, apples, cactus fruits and very many other sorts, some of which are very good but no better than our English strawberries, cherries, pears, and I often walk into the market when I have nothing else better to do; it is well worth visiting.

It astonishes me how people can afford to drink, gamble and enjoy themselves as they do, they must make plenty of money somehow or other; all those who can afford it keep horses, and very many go out riding on horseback in the evening; very few carriages or vehicles of any sort are to be seen in the streets, almost everything from a piano downwards is carried either by mules, or Indians.

There is a sort of park in the town, it is very gay just now with dahlias and other flowers, there are a lot of palms also. The band plays occasionally in the evening.

Must now close this, cannot think of anything more to tell you, with best love to all and hoping you are all well.

Believe me dear Mother,
Yours affectionately,
George C. Champion.

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Thursday 8th March 2012

ASTONISHING INSECT DISCOVERIES – AND AN APPEAL!

Today has been (and continues to be!) a day of personal insect-related discoveries! This entry is an illustration of just how diverse my great grandfather George Charles Champion’s insect knowledge was – we tend to think of him as concentrating on Coleoptera (beetles) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), but in fact he worked hard on and made major contributions to current knowledge of a very wide range of insect orders. It has now come to my attention that not only do quite a large number of insect species bear his name in the specific part of their scientific names, such as Drucina championi, Caio championi and Nectarinella championi, but there is even an entire genus named after him: Championica.

My Guatemalan entomologist friend Jose Monzon sent me a picture of an Orthopteran (grasshopper) which he photographed near Izabal, in Guatemala – it is of an as yet unidentified member of that very genus Championica, named after my great grandfather – and a fine-looking creature it is!

Championica sp

The citation from the Biologia Centrali-Americana, Insecta, Orthoptera, Vol. 1 (1893-1899) by Henri de Saussure et al., Page 405, reads:

Championica, gen. nov.

Dedicated to Mr. G. C. Champion, who has collected a large amount of material for this work.

And now, this afternoon, I find yet more incredible information! Jose has just e-mailed me to say that there is a genus of weevils, described in 1956 by Kuschel, named Championius. There are three species, all of which are very hard to find, and all inhabiting cloud forest in Guatemala! Very little is known of them and there are no references.

Another amazing, and touching piece of information is that Canadian entomologist Bob Anderson has just described a new species of weevil from the Cerro Zunil, one of my great grandfather’s top collecting localities, and has named it Theognete championi, in honour of the original author of the genus, none other than G C Champion!

Zootaxa 2458: 1–127 (14 May 2010) 61 plates; 12 references
Accepted: 6 Feb. 2010
A taxonomic monograph of the Middle American leaf-litter inhabiting
weevil genus Theognete Champion (Coleoptera: Curculionidae; Molytinae;
Lymantini)
ROBERT S. ANDERSON (Canada)

And finally, Jose sent me this picture of a truly amazing, and as yet un-named Leaf-Grasshopper. Thus far he has only found two examples, and it is of great importance to find more. It is very large, and even has a transparent reflective mark that looks like a drop of water on a genuine leaf.

The Leaf-Grasshopper

APPEAL!!

Jose Monzon has a considerable number of new, undescribed species that require further research and investigation, both in the lab and in the field…but he needs funds!!! If anyone reading this can suggest sources of funding for this vital work, please contact me. The more that is known about these truly astounding creatures, the more incentive there will be to conserve their endangered forest habitats. Thank you.

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Sunday 4th March 2012 (Letter 24th July 1879)

GREAT GRANDFATHER GEORGE BUYS A “CHARGER”!

I add the next of my great grandfather entomologist George Charles Champion’s letters to his mother, dated July 24th, 1879. I can well imagine him travelling the mountainous road from Antigua to the capital on his newly-purchased mule – what took him six hours now takes less than 45 minutes.

The Cathedral, Guatemala City, Muybridge, 1875

The Cathedral, Guatemala City, 2011

GRAN HOTEL,
GUATEMALA,
CENTRAL AMERICA.
July 24th 1879

My dear Mother,

I am writing direct to Mr.Godman, so have written a short letter to enclose with it; am now once more in the capital and located for a short time at the Gran Hotel, once again I hear the everlasting ringing of the church bells; this time I am not so “dull” as being a stranger in the place and now having many acquaintances to talk to. This place now wears a very different aspect; everything is green and fresh, whereas in March the vegetation was all burnt up with the heat of the sun and want of rain.

I left Dueñas on July 21st for Antigua, spent a day and a night here with Mr. Wyld, and started almost before daylight next morning per mule for Guatemala; was lucky enough to travel back in company with Don Juan Rodriguez, starting about 6 a.m. It took us nearly 6 hours to travel the nine leagues of road, between Antigua and Guatemala, the views from the high mountains we had to cross were magnificent early in the morning, later the clouds came lower and obscured the higher ground; we travelled the whole distance without stopping on the road, the mud however delayed us a good deal. Mr. Wyld was very kind to me and did not want me to leave so soon, but I was there long enough, nearly a month, had plenty of English newspapers etc from him to read while at Dueñas.

Have been fortunate to make the acquaintance of an Englishman, Mr. Morgans, who is manager of a large estate in Guatemala. He has kindly invited me to go and stop with him there, which I shall be only too glad to do. This estate, San Geronimo, is very large, and I believe belongs to an English Company, it is two days’ journey from here, shall perhaps start hence in less than a week in company with Mr. Morgans; oddly enough, San Geronimo is one of the places Mr. Salvin directed me to go to. Mr Morgans is a very agreeable man, very fond of natural history, and about my own age, and I was very pleased to meet him through the introduction of the English Consul.

Have at last bought a charger! A mule, Mr. Wyld thought a mule better for long journeys and also that it would sell better when I left the country; had to pay a very high price for a good animal, but I think it is worth the money, it is very tame and does not give us the least trouble. It was not the least fatigued when we arrived yesterday, though it had not rested at all, or eaten on the road; mules are very sure footed, they rarely slip even if the road is very bad. On my return to Guatemala, had to pay 34/- for the letters received during my absence and forwarded on to me to Antigua, for one letter containing about 1/- worth of card, had to pay no less than 4 dollars (16), 8/- had been previously paid for the stamps, so it made the card rather expensive. Other things are equally dear. I am told you cannot get a decent pair of boots under at least 30/- and so on.

The shop-keepers seem to make a very good thing of it indeed. They are mostly French or Swiss, not many Germans. Nearly all are Europeans, but few Americans, and still fewer Guatemalans.
Very few live on the premises, but have houses elsewhere in the town, for which they have to pay very high rents, perhaps higher than in London.

Must bring this to a close, have very many things to attend to just now, so with best love to all,
Believe me etc.

City of Guatemala from Cerro del Carmen, Muybridge, 1875

The same view in 2012, from Cerrito del Carmen