So anxious were the Bishops for me to reach my field of labor, that they pressed my immediate departure. I found it, however, no easy work to break up all the plans of a lifetime and to prepare to go out to an entirely strange land; yet less than a month was devoted to this. I was obliged to spend the next week in a rapid visit to St. James' College, Maryland, where I had promised to deliver the address before the Literary Societies, the Commencement having been postponed to this late period on account of sickness during the summer. It, however, added much to the pleasure of the journey to have the company of my friend Mr. Hobhouse. Then came two weeks of labor and packing at Albany, with the pain of an auction that dispersed old familiar household treasures which I could not take with me. Then the leave-taking and the farewell sermon, and on Monday I turned my back upon what had been my home for fifteen years. Two days' visit to West Point, to take leave of my son Lawrence,--a few days at New Haven, at Mrs. Hillhouse's, where my wife was enabled to meet with most of her family,--and we went to New York to sail. My last clerical duty was on Sunday morning, the 18th, when, in Trinity Church, New York, I preached an ordination sermon for Bishop Wainwright.
Tuesday, Dec. 20th, found me on board the steamer George Law, with my wife and my son Willie. Troops of friends were about us to say farewell, and with some it was our last meeting in this world. Before a year had passed, three of them had gone. Among those who stood with me in the cabin, were Bishop Wainwright and the Rev. Charles W. Halsey, Rector of Christ Church, New York, and a member of the Committee for Domestic Missions. In a few months both of these were in their graces, while my old colleague in Albany, Dr. Horatio Potter, who was then with them, was sitting in Bishop Wainwright's seat. Another, too, who was there, the Rev. J. H. Hanson, was also shortly numbered with the dead. He had come on board to hand me his volume of "The Lost Prince" (in defence of the claims of Eleazar Williams to be the Bourbon), which had that day issued from the press. The weather was dark and gloomy,--a few inches of snow had fallen, and was lying half melted on the ground,--no sunshine lighted it up, the air was raw and chilly, with a leaden sky above,--and everything seemed in unison with our feelings.
At two P.M. the steamer fired her gun, and the last cable which bound us to the wharf was thrown off. As we slowly glided out into the stream, and saw sorrowing relatives and friends standing on the wharf and -waving their last adieus, we felt that our ties to home were broken and we were fairly under way. It is easy to talk of severing the associations of a lifetime, and going forth to seek a new home, "not knowing the things that shall befall us there"; but when it comes to the actual reality, and catch our last view of the faces of friends sorrowing because they may see us no more, it becomes something widely different. Yet the die was cast, and we could only look to the shadowy future.
At five P. M. the engine was stopped for a few moments, and a small boat came alongside to take the pilot off to his own little vessel, which was dancing on the waves a short distance from us. Our steamer had previously been searched, and tickets shown to find out those who had smuggled themselves on board. This is a necessary precaution before we get to sea, particularly in these California vessels, as so many, when funds are wanting, are willing to adopt any measures to get to the land of gold. Two or three poor wretches were detected and sent back in the pilot's boat. As they were handed--not in the most gentle manner--over the side of the steamer, we were aroused by terrific shrieks, and found they proceeded from a poor German who was being forced into the boat. He shouted and yelled and clung to the railing, and in all my life I never saw such a picture of agony and despair as was depicted on his ghastly face. "I paid de ship; oh, mine goots, mine goots, I leave mine goots. Mine comrade, mine comrade!" he shrieked. "Put him off," sternly shouted the captain. But just as his last hold was being unclasped by the sailors, there was a rush through the crowd, and another German appeared, holding out a ticket. It was the missing document, just in time to save him. It seemed that both their names had been placed on the same ticket^, which was in charge of his comrade, the clerk had not noticed it, and their ignorance of English prevented them from making the proper explanations. No wonder he shrieked, when his "goots" were on board, and he was about to be sent back to New York without friends or means.
The first evening was dreary enough. It was excessively cold, and there was no fire. "Upon appealing to one of the black waiters in behalf of the ladies, he gave us the comforting reply--"No fire aboard dis ship, 'cause you be warm in two days." There were about seven hundred passengers, the majority of them a very rough set. In fact it cannot be otherwise, as most of those who flock to California from all parts of the world are mere adventurers. The unavoidable confusion of this crowd contrasts badly with the order and propriety of our vessels to Europe. There are about a hundred and fifty first cabin passengers. As soon as they have finished a meal, the second cabin passengers pour in to get theirs at the same table.
Then, too, there are thieves who go up and down in these steamers for the purpose of stealing. The returning Californians, who are supposed to be well supplied with gold, are their particular victims. There is necessity, therefore, for the most vigilant police. On the second day out, a passenger's trunk was opened and rifled. The key was found in the steerage, and a man whom a waiter had seen at two o'clock in the morning in the first cabin was arrested. He was stripped and examined by the captain and purser, but nothing was found to convict him. The next day, the mate arrested a steerage passenger who was loading his revolver, as he said, to shoot another. The pistol was confiscated and the man informed that if he indulged in amusements of that kind, he should have summary justice executed upon him.
In the first few days we had the most remarkable run I have ever seen at sea. There were scarcely any waves or wind, and everything about us was as calm as it could have been on the Hudson river, presenting no possible inducements to sea-sickness. Our progress has averaged about two hundred and twenty miles a day. On board of a ship "one day telleth another." We lounge in the cabin, try to read, and walk on the deck. A few, who have the entree of Captain McGowan's pleasant stateroom on deck, gather there, and hoar from the old Californiana wonderful stories of the terrors of crossing the Isthmus. It is strange how soon we get up a home feeling in the vessel and all its associations become familiar. There is, however, an entire monotony. Mrs. Osgood, I believe it is, says, the only two things which vary life at such a time are--
"Sometimes we ship a sea, alas! and sometimes see a ship."
We went, one morning, under the direction of the Captain, on an exploring expedition through the ship. We descended by the narrow iron stairs story after story, until we got below the surface of the water. There were the immense boilers, and all around us the massive machinery working as smoothly and quietly as possible, seeming, in the results they produced, to be the very triumph of human ingenuity. The two engines cost about $80,000. Thence we wont down into the crowded steerage. There, open berths are ranged on each side, and they struck us, particularly when we reached the tropics, as decidedly more comfortable than our closed staterooms. Open portholes at the sides and gratings above give air and light, while, owing to the assiduous care of Mr. Howard, the first mate, perfect cleanliness prevails. I noticed life preservers hanging on every side, of which, the Captain told me there were eight hundred on board. The whole place, too, seemed vocal with music. There was a German who had several hundred canary birds in small cages, which he was taking out to San Francisco, where they will bring very high prices.
The first cabin presents a curious appearance, of an evening when the sea is quiet and all can be out. Dispersed along the tables, which stretch the whole length of the cabin, are perhaps a hundred men playing cards, though all gambling is strictly forbidden. Many more passengers, male and female, are scattered about, talking or trying to read while a musician who has placed his notes on the table is practising on the violin as coolly as if he were in his own room alone. By ten o'clock, however, all is quiet in the cabin, for no lights are permitted) after that hour, in the staterooms.
Friday noon found us exactly in the latitude of St. Augustine, and the air gave proof that we were rapidly drawing near to the tropics. The little stove in the Captain's room (the only one, by the way, in the ship), has been taken down, and to-day the awnings are to be put up. Overcoats are discarded, and the decks present a summer scene.
The Festival of the Nativity dawned upon us as beautiful a day as the imagination could conceive. There seemed scarcely a ripple on the sea, and not a steamboat on the Hudson, in the month of June, passes over a smoother surface. At 8 o'clock we made our first land, the little Island of Maraguana, exactly as the Captain had predicted. At ten o'clock arrangements were made on the quarter-deck for service, and I read the prayers of the Church and gave them a Christmas sermon. We had a large congregation, though very few Church people. It was pleasant to be able thus, on the wide sea, to observe this Festival, and, while we knew many prayers were offering up for us at home, to send forth ours for the faithful everywhere. In the afternoon I went forward to the steerage, and by means of a colporteur, who was distributing tracts, arranged a service. The passengers crowded around me in a circle, and listened to the prayers I read and the address I made them, which, with many, I fear, is the last they will ever hear on that subject. About a hundred and fifty are going out as laborers on the Panama Railroad, and half of them, before six months have passed, will be in their graves. I pressed on them this contingency as fully as I could, and gave notice if any of them wished to see me during the voyage, either for advice or in sickness, to send for me and I would go to them.
The days now are growing longer. At half-past six the sun had just set, and the west was covered with golden clouds. The air was as warm as June, and in the evening the passengers were all gathered on deck, the brilliant constellations in this southern sky rendering it as bright as moonlight. And thus closed the Festival, as pleasant a day as could be spent, were it not for the consideration of absence from those we hold dear.
Monday, 26th. Hot--hot! We passed the point of Cuba in the night, and are now within sight of the hills of San Domingo. A steamer is seen on the distant horizon, which the Captain decides to be the Yankee Blade, that left when we did. Flying fish are rising from the ocean about «u and every one on board is giving evidence of the effects of a tropical atmosphere. Reading is hard work, and writing harder. In the afternoon we made Jamaica, and until dark were running along the coast near enough to see the trees and houses. It is a bold, mountainous region, similar in appearance, we were told, to the Sandwich Islands. The eminences were wreathed at the top with clouds, while a purple light from the setting sun rested on the beautiful slopes. At six P. M. a canoe came off and put on board a half-naked negro pilot. We were then about forty miles from Kingston. At nine o'clock we reached the entrance of the harbor, the remains of the old city of Port Royal, destroyed many years ago by an earthquake. A couple of rockets thrown up brought off the health officer and custom house official to discharge their duties, and then we anchored for the night.
Sunday, 27th. At daylight we had before us the prospect of this beautiful scenery, the high mountains back, and the old city on a plateau at their base. The steamer weighed anchor at six o'clock and went in three miles to the wharf. The groups of cocoanut trees with their tufted tops made picturesque features as they rose out of the gardens of the city. Our first visitors were troops of negroes, who plunged into the water to swim round the ship and dive for coins thrown to them, a performance in which they never failed to be successful, coming up with the money in their mouths. In company with a few friends, I went on shore and took breakfast at the hotel. In that delightful atmosphere, before the coolness of the morning had gone off, the breeze blowing in through the open windows, our breakfast of coffee, rolls, eggs and oranges was a perfect luxury after a week at sea.
Kingston has an antique air, and at the same time marks of a visible decay. The houses are all alike, with large piazzas and every contrivance for avoiding heat. Nothing1, however, but the arrival of a steamer infuses any life into the place. The streets are crowded with the most wretched looking negroes to be seen on the face of the earth. Lazy, shiftless, and diseased, the men will not work since the Manumission Act has freed them. Even coaling the steamer is done by women. About a hundred march on board in a line, with tubs on their heads (tub and coal together weighing about ninety pounds), and with a wild song empty them into the hold. The men work a day, and then live for a week on its wage. The depth of degradation to which the negro population has sunk, is, we were told, indescribable. The inhabitants of Sodom were pure compared with them. "Once," said a gentleman to me, "you did not see an untidy negro in the streets. Now, look at them!"--pointing to a group of squalid wretches. This is the unvarying testimony of the residents.
Everything about the streets has a very tropical appearance. Turbaned negro women are everywhere, offering for gale the greatest profusion of fruits. We took a carriage to drive into the country, stopping on our way at the Parish Church, which happened to be open. It is a venerable building in the form of a cross, the walls and pavement covered with monuments of the old aristocracy of the island, or of British officers who had died here. The Rector, the Rev. Dr. Stewart, had not yet arrived for service, but the sexton, having learned my name, informed him of our visit, and, just before we sailed, lie came down to the steamer to see me. It was too late, however, to go on board, and he was obliged to merely send me his card.
Just beyond the city is a fair country house, once occupied by Santa Anna during one of his temporary exiles from Mexico. The barracks, too, where the West India Regiment is quartered, are near the city. The Regiment is composed of negroes under the command of British officers. The privates, with their black faces and crimson uniforms, made a curious appearance.
We drove out to the residence of the Bishop, Aubrey George Spencer. He is a grandson of Lord Spencer and . a descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough. Both the Bishop and his brother, the late Bishop of Madras, had visited the States, where I had become acquainted with them. His residence is about four miles from the city, and is the most beautiful place in the neighborhood. It was purchased by the government for an Episcopal residence, but has been given up by the Bishop for a college. I regretted to find he was absent for health at his place farther up the mountains, as it would have afforded me pleasure to renew our acquaintance. The Rev. W. Hanford, of the college, was there, who received us with the utmost cordiality, and with whom we spent a pleasant half-hour.
The summer houses differ only in size. They have broad verandahs, and the luxuriant gardens are often fenced in with cactus, twelve feet high. The roads were crowded with negro women on their way to market, their fruit carried in large baskets on their heads, or on little donkeys driven before them. On our way through town we stopped to see our consul, Col. Harrison. The old gentleman, now eighty-four years of age, is, perhaps, the only man living who had a commission from Washington. He is a cousin of the late President Harrison, his room-mate at school, and commissioned with him in the army. When fifteen years of age, as he told us, being in England, he was pressed for a sailor, and remained for several years on British ships of war. At last, in the Mediterranean, there came an old Admiral, who, before the Revolution, when stationed on our coast, had been entertained by his family in Virginia. Young Harrison made himself known to him, and was at once released and restored to his country. He had now passed more than half a century in the West Indies. Last year he visited New York, after an absence of fifty-two years. What a change must he have witnessed! It was like dropping down on a new planet.
The Star of the West, which left when we did, has just come in. She goes to San Juan for her passengers to take the Nicaragua route. I went on board of her, but found no familiar face. Among her passengers was Thomas Francis Meagher, one of the expatriated Irish patriots, who, we heard, was quietly shut up in the Captain's office. Being on British ground, it was advisable for him not to leave the protection of our flag. He is to deliver in San Francisco a course of lectures on the Irish Orators.
We have an accession of passengers. Fifty coolies, imported into Kingston from the East Indies, to work in place of the negroes, are going to labor on the Panama Railroad. Poor fellows! they will probably soon find their graves. At two o'clock the gun again fired, and, as before, we swept out into a smooth and summer sea.
December 29th. For two days we have been sailing over the Caribbean Sea. How the very name brings up the stories I read in my boyhood of the exploits of the bold buccaneers in these waters! The north star, night after night, is sinking in the heavens, while on the edge of the horizon, toward morning, we see the brilliant Southern Cross--that emblem of our salvation--gemmed on the skies, on which the old Spanish Cavaliers gazed with such mysterious awe. To-night we expect (D. V.) to reach Aspinwall.