Project Canterbury

Early Days of My Episcopate
by the Right Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D.D.

New York: T. Whittaker, 1892.

Chapter XXIII. Return

WITH this chapter I conclude the history of my early labors in this Diocese. On April 20th, 1857, I returned to the Atlantic States, with my family. Our voyage down the coast was in the Golden Age, over an unrippled sea, and with every attending circumstance to make it pleasant. On the other side, our steamer was the Central America, Capt. Herndon, U. S. N. Some three months after, on her return voyage, she went down with three hundred passengers on board, including the gallant Herndon.

During this summer my election as Diocesan was ratified by the Bishops and Standing Committees; and in the autumn I prepared to return to California. It was not, however, until November 20th that I was able to set out. Of my own family, I had only my wife with me. My eldest son Lawrence, (a Lieutenant in the Third Artillery,) I left stationed at Governor's Island, and my other son, Willie, was a student at Yale College. I had, however, the wife and daughters of the Hon. William Duer under my charge.

A more disagreeable voyage than this proved to be, is seldom made. I copy the record of it from my letter to Rev. Dr. Van Kleeck, as published in the Spirit of Missions.

My dear Brother: It was with no pleasant feelings that I parted from you, as well as my other friends, on the deck of the Star of the West, on the 20th of November. It seemed as if the pain of leaving was even greater than it was four years since; and yet, I know not why it should have been so, for then I was going to a strange land, "not knowing the things which should befall me there;" but at this time I was only returning to my new home, where I knew many earnest friends were prepared to welcome me.

Shall I give you an account of our voyage? It has little of adventure, but it may be interesting to some of your readers, who have friends in this land, merely as showing what a voyage to California sometimes is.

Friday, Nov. 20th. If was at three p. M that we cast loose from the wharf--our signal gun was fired--the cheers of the crowd, watching our departure, were given, and soon we could see no longer even the waving handkerchiefs of those who, with tearful eyes, were thus striving to keep, to the last moment, their connection with some whom they should not see again for years,

It was evident enough, before we cleared the Narrows, that our steamer was crowded to excess and greatly overloaded. She is but eleven hundred burthen, (little more than one third that of the steamer which is to receive us on the Pacific,) and carries probably more than a thousand passengers. The officers acknowledge seven hundred and sixty passengers, while she might comfortably accommodate half that number. The first night out of New York, in winter, is always dismal. The severe cold--the single stove in he cabin, blocked up by hundreds trying to reach it--and the desolate air of everything, to those who have come from comfortable homes--effectually remove all the poetry from "life on the mountain wave." To add to our discomforts, a gale began before midnight, a most unfortunate time of the voyage, as most of the passengers had not yet settled into their places or become accustomed to the sea. It was with many of them a night long to be remembered.

Saturday, 21st. Unable to leave our berths, we passed the day in half-unconscious, dreamy misery. The rough weather continued, and the only thing of which we were thoroughly sensible was the steady pitch--pitch--of our vessel.

To gain places for more passengers, two rows of staterooms have been built on the deck of the Star of the West--the only steamer in which I have sailed on the Atlantic which has such upper works. The San Francisco was built in this way, and during the storm in which she was wrecked, this upper cabin was swept entirely clear from the deck, with almost every passenger it contained. Our state-room was selected in this place for the sake of air, in anticipation of tropic heat--but in this rough weather a deck state-room is the least desirable location on the steamer. Our own room, too, happens to be the one nearest the stern, where, of course, the motion of the vessel is more felt than in any other part. In the evening we had a renewal of the gale, followed by another night of sickness and discomfort.

Sunday, 22nd. No Sabbath-day of rest and quiet; but our vessel still pitching, we remained in our berths through the morning. At noon, I was up for the first time since we left New York, and managed to get Mrs. Kip to the Captain's state-room, midships, where the motion is less felt. There she lay on the sofa through the day, while we thought and talked of those who were in peace at home, and whose prayers we knew at that hour were ascending, that we might safely reach "the haven where we would be."

At night, a renewal of the gale. We have in our stateroom not only more motion than in any other part of the ship, but we hear more of the force of the waves. Below us, at the stern, the parted waters meet again, and seethe and dash together, and we cannot escape the ceaseless sound. Every few moments a wave would strike the bows, and our vessel would seem to stop as though a giant had struck her, and quiver for a moment in every plank, and then again dart forward on her way. As our upper cabin creaked, and seemed to sway in the wind as we rolled, the fears of my wife reached their height, and most earnest were her entreaties to me to take her down into the lower cabin. Knowing, however, that it was perfectly suffocating there, where every table and seat, and even the floor, had its occupants, I was obliged to insist on our running the risk of the upper cabin.

In the night we were opposite Cape Hatteras, and probably near the spot where the ill-fated Central America went down. The thought recalled melancholy remembrances of pleasant hours with Herndon and Van Rensselaer, when I went home in her in the early summer. Now, the Gulf Stream, over which we are passing, is sweeping on her wreck to where it pours its treasures into the Arctic Seas.

Monday, 23rd. Sea still high. We have lately been making, against this head wind and sea, but one hundred and fifty miles in twenty-four hours. Our steamer, though naturally a good sea boat, labors terribly, and shows how she has been overloaded, with the most culpable recklessness of life. Were any accident to happen to our machinery, with this dense mass of human beings on board, it would probably involve the loss of all; for she has not boats for one fifth of the passengers.

When able to leave our berths we took refuge in the Captain's room, where we remained till late in the evening. The other ladies under my charge I have not seen for two days. They are in the dining room cabin, where I have not dared to venture; and I suppose, like myself, they are hors du combat.

The night was the worst we have yet had; not only very rough, and with a strong head sea striking our bows, but at midnight a rain storm commenced, and it poured in torrents. In the last few days and nights the crowded steerage passengers must have suffered terribly. We have been frequently shipping seas, from which it was impossible to protect those forward.

Tuesday, 24th. Day dawned with a dull leaden sky, the horizon in mist, the sea running high, and every prospect of bad weather. I found, however, that the barometer was rising, and at ten it commenced clearing. The sunshine dried our decks, and though the sea is still heavy and we are making little progress, everything wears a more cheerful aspect.

During the next few days, though never calm, it was sufficiently smooth to bring out the passengers, some of whom had not been seen since we left New York. We have the strange medley" to be seen nowhere but in a California steamer--army and navy officers; Spaniards, Mexicans, Costa Ricans, (whom Walker had dislodged,, returning home; ladies going to join their husbands in California; two Presbyterian missionaries returning to the Sandwich Islands; six Sisters of Charity; and over one hundred children. We have the usual developments of evil, which mark those who have broken away from the restraints of home, and who, by their conduct, falsify the old maxim--"Coelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare current." But there are also the good and true--who are to be the leaven of all that is pure in that distant land, and whose prayers are the incense which rises up before the Throne of the Highest. Some of them are members of our Church, and when Sunday comes, they welcome the services which remind them of holy scenes at home.

Among our passengers is the celebrated German traveller, Wagner, who, twenty years ago, won a world-wide reputation by his explorations in Africa and afterwards in the East. He is now sent out by the King of Bavaria as head of an exploring party, to spend a couple of years in examining the Equatorial Regions of South America, on the western coast. They go from the Isthmus to Peru. With him is a distinguished artist, and also a German Baroness who has joined the party to pursue certain botanical researches. On her card, which she gave me, her name is La Baronne de Hermayr Hortenburg, née Baronne de Sternburg. She was perfectly familiar with the cities of Southern Europe, and it was a pleasant relief, in this distant sea, thus to revive my recollections of the galleries of Italy.

26th. In the evening made our first land, the light on Salt Keys, one hundred and twenty-three miles from Havanna.

27th. At eight A. M. when I came on deck, found we-were coasting along the shores of Cuba. The "Gem of the Antilles" was before us, and in the distance was seen Moro Castle, at the entrance of the harbor of Havana. In an hour more we had come to anchor. A narrow passage, strongly fortified on both sides, is the only entrance.

We were soon surrounded by boats from the city, and after the proper officials had made their visit, were permitted to go on shore. The first thing at landing was to go to an officer on the wharf, where passports were furnished us, for which we paid one dollar each. We walked up to the public square on which the palace fronts. It is filled with tropical trees--the palm, the cocoa, and the banana--presenting a strangely beautiful view to one from a colder clime. Soldiers meet us at every turn, and it is said that thirty thousand can be collected in this city in a few hours. The streets are narrow, to secure shade and coolness, and the high, substantial houses and shops remind one of cities in the South of Europe. Ladies, in their light summer dresses with the rebozo over their heads, were shopping; but in all cases remained in their carriage, and the goods were brought out to them by the clerks.

The usual vehicle is the volante, a kind of gig holding two, with very long shafts, so that the horse is at a distance from the carriage, and is ridden by the driver postilion fashion. We hired several of these for our party, and set off to see the city and its environs. Driving through the large open square where the fashion of Havana assembles in the cool of the evening, and through the parade ground, we reached the open country beyond. In every part of the city are marble fountains, generally surmounted by a statue of one of the royal family of Spain. Beyond the city, we passed through long lines of elegant villas. Most of them are built low, painted with gay colors, a species of China tiling being much used. The house is buried in tropical foliage, and the avenue which leads to it is entirely overarched with the meeting boughs.

We drove out to a deserted villa, about four miles from the city. We heard that it had been for years in chancery, and had thus been suffered to fall to decay. The house itself was rapidly crumbling to pieces, its frescoes peeling off, and its gay colors fading. Around it, stretched long walks, lined with statues, now mutilated, but showing that it had once possessed every convenience for comfort and pleasure. We saw the out-houses, where the proprietor must once have kept an extensive aviary and zoological collection. All the departments were untenanted but one, through which a stream of water flowed, where a solitary alligator was yet imprisoned. The air was like June, and as we walked around the grounds, we saw on every side evidence of the luxury of this climate.

We returned to the city by a different road, affording similar scenes. Our next visit was to the Cathedral, a fine, extensive building, the exterior presenting a venerable appearance, and the chancel within being rich with varied marbles. Beneath this was buried the remains of Columbus--"the worthy and adventurous general of the seas"--as the old Spanish chronicles call him. He died at Valladolid, in 1506, and in 1536 his remains were transported to St. Domingo, that he might rest in the new world which he had discovered. When that island was ceded to France in 1796, they were once more removed and interred in the Cathedral of Havana, that they might be in Spanish soil. They were brought with great parade on the man-of-war called the Discoverer, the full account of which is given in the appendix to his life by Irving.

Against the wall, on one side of the chancel, is the monument, the upper part of which contains the portrait of Columbus, in bold relief, while on the lower part, surrounded by nautical instruments, is the Spanish inscription, of which this is the translation:

Oh, remains and image of the great Columbus!
May ye last a thousand ages, preserved in the urn
And in the remembrance of our nation

It was blowing very fresh when we left the wharf in a little sail-boat manned by native boatmen. It danced over the waves, to the great terror of the ladies, and it required a series of tacks to bring us up to the steamer. At three o'clock we were again under way, having taken in about seventy passengers, who came from New Orleans.

28th. Another rough day. We had, too, this morning, an alarm of the most fearful kind that can occur at sea. We were just leaving the breakfast table, when below in the second cabin there was a rush, and the shriek of women, and the cry of fire. It took but a few steps to bring the Captain to the spot. One of the women, in a room below containing three berths on each side with a narrow passage between them, had undertaken to cook with an alcohol lamp. After lighting it, she left the room, when a roll of the ship upset it, and in an instant the burning alcohol was all over the floor. The children shrieked, when a man in the cabin rushed in, and providentially, had presence of mind enough to tear off the bedding and commence smothering the flames. This he had partially succeeded in doing, when the Captain came to his aid. In an instant more the flames would have been beyond all human control, and in this crowded vessel, out of sight of land, with not boats enough for one-fifth of the passengers, there would have been but few left to tell the story of our fate.

Sunday, 29th. The sea too rough, and I myself too ill to attempt the service in the morning. In the afternoon, the weather being more pleasant, arrangements were made upon deck, and the greater part of the cabin passengers were present. I read the service and preached a brief sermon.

We are now beginning to have a new firmament about us. The old familiar constellations which shine upon our own land have some of them sunk below the horizon, and in place of them we have the Southern Cross.

30th. The sea smooth, but we have the excessive heat of the tropics. For some days there has been a whispered report of sickness aboard. It has gradually deepened into certainty, and to-day the officers acknowledged that yellow fever is prevailing. It is fearful to be crowded together thus, in this stifling heat, with an infectious disease gradually increasing, and no way of escape.

Tuesday, Dec. 1st. To-day the deaths began. The steamer has been stopped three times in seven hours to enable me to read the Burial Service. In the morning, a man died,--at noon, his daughter,--and in the afternoon, a young man, a cabin passenger. There is something inexpressibly solemn in a burial at sea. The body, swathed in canvas, like a mummy, and covered with the American flag with a heavy weight at its feet, is placed upon a board at the gangway. As I begin the service, the wheels of the steamer gradually grow slower, until they stop for an instant, when I reach the words--"We commit his body to the deep." As I utter this sentence, the flag is withdrawn, the board is tilted up, the body glides down into the sea, and our vessel once more quickens its speed, leaving the waves of the Caribbean Sea to sweep over him who was lately our fellow passenger.

To show the crowded state of the steamer and the impossibility of separating the sick and dying from the well, I will mention one fact. There was but one saloon, out of which the State-rooms opened (except the few on deck), and where we were obliged to take our meals. On the cushions of this saloon, during the last few days, two ladies, a mother and daughter, have been dying of the black vomit, in full sight of our dinner table. The mother died as we entered Aspinwall, and the daughter, it was known, could not survive till night.

This night many of the passengers passed on deck, rather than risk the pestilential air of the cabin.

Wednesday, Dec. 2nd. Near Aspinwall; and well for us it is so. A few days' longer crowding together, would have infected half our passengers. We heard another death reported early in the morning, and, with great thankfulness took our last breakfast on this vessel. But never can we forget that Capt. Gray has done everything in the power of man under these difficult circumstances. He has been untiring as a navigator and in his attentions to his passengers. He is worthy of a better vessel, and we took leave of him with regret.


We came in sight of Aspinwall at about nine o'clock. It is my third visit to it, yet there seems but little improvement. A few wooden hotels, and shops whose only harvest is reaped from the steamer passengers, are the abodes of those who choose to live on this pestiferous spot. The palm trees wave above it and around is all the luxuriance of tropical vegetation. Two miles from shore, the "U. S. steam frigate, Wabash, was lying, to some of whose officers we were indebted for kind attentions during our brief stay.

We landed at ten o'clock, and as the train did not leave till three P. M., remained at one of the hotels. There are but few Americans here, the inhabitants being principally Mexicans or natives. The sick were now selected from the passengers, and left behind in a hospital belonging to the Company.

It was a pleasant afternoon, unusually cool, when we set off for Panama. I made the journey four years since, by boat, up Chagres River for one day, and then another day from Cruces on mules, through the mountain passes. Now, by the railroad, the fifty-five miles are travelled over in about four hours.

Just beyond Aspinwall, is the cottage in which John L. Stephens died. After all his experience in Egypt and the East, he yielded on this spot to the deadly malaria. Our train went but slowly, for the heavy rains had, in some places, undermined the road; yet every moment opened prospects through the ravines of the mountains, or amid the dense tropical foliage of the forests, with an occasional glimpse of Chagres River, which charmed the eye. Every few miles we passed a little native settlement, the light walls of the houses made of cane and the roof thatched with leaves. The children were playing around, generally in a state of nudity.

We reached Panama just before dark. Since the massacre by the natives, two years ago, the passengers have not been permitted to enter the city. The depot is without the walls, and we were conveyed at once to the steam-tug, Here we were all crowded on board, while the steerage passengers were towed behind in barges; and in about an hour we reached the Golden Gate. We have a magnificent steamer, three times the size of the Star of the West, and there is a prospect of as much comfort as is usual at sea.

A fortnight's voyage is before us, yet the Pacific is not liable to storms, and we dread it less than we did our thirteen days on the other side. We have reason to be thankful for our preservation from the dangers through which we have already passed, and may well say, in the words of Dr. Wm. Croswell's Traveller's Hymn--slightly altered,

Lord, go with us, and we go
Safely, through the weariest length,
Travelling, if Thou will'st it so,
In the greatness of Thy strength;
Through the day, and through the dart,
O'er the deep and pathless sea,
Speed the progress of our bark,
Bring us where we fain would be.

But I must curtail the rest of this narrative, particularly as I have already given, four years ago, my experience on the Pacific. For the first week we were speeding on over a scarcely rippled sea. With a splendid steamer and cloudless weather, there was nothing we could wish altered. As we crossed the Gulf of Tehuantepec, and again in passing the Gulf of California, we had rough weather, as is usual, for the wind sweeps down over these bodies of water. On the morning of the 8th, we stopped at Acapulco, Mexico, to coal. The entrance to the harbor it by a winding passage, and the inner basin is so enclosed that you are surrounded by the hills and cannot see where you were admitted.

We remained here through the day, anchored a short distance from shore, so that the passengers had an opportunity of landing. Acapulco is a mere Mexican, town, commanded by a fort, and picturesque from the palm trees which line the shore. Amid the political troubles of Mexico it has been rather famous for its turbulence, and at the present time some two hundred of its political prisoners are confined on a desolate island a few miles from shore. As our steamer passed in the evening we saw their fires at the water's edge. The canoes, rowed by he half naked natives, soon surrounded our steamer, bringing a plentiful supply of all tropical fruits. I did not go on shore, as it was my third visit to this place, but our stopping formed a pleasant episode in the voyage.

The following evening we ran into Manzanillo, another Mexican port, to land some passengers. It is an obscure town, but the place at which the steamers, on their downward trip, generally receive a large amount of silver from the interior, to be sent to the United States and England.

We spent two Sundays on board. On the first, I read service and preached in the saloon. On the second, as the Rev. Dr. Armstrong, from the Sandwich Islands, was to preach, I went forward, and held service among the steerage passengers. A small cask was covered with the American flag, for my desk, while the congregation sat down on the deck in circles around me. There were probably no Churchmen among them, for I saw no Prayer Book. I therefore read a few appropriate Collects and a Lesson, and preached a short extemporaneous sermon. In the Hymns, however, which I gave out two lines at a time, they joined most heartily.

Wednesday morning, 16th. We crossed the bar at about four o'clock, and in an hour more were at the wharf. Our two guns rang over the hill-sides, and shortly we were greeted with a warm welcome, and the announcement that kind friends had put our house in order and that the fires were now lighted and breakfast preparing. So we drove home and sat down to our morning meal as quietly as if we had never left the house.

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