Voyage to California (16) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

(1) John Jackson Lewis, (2) Edith May (Lewis) Rider, (3) Marian Faith (Rider) Irwin, (4) Marian Dunlop (Irwin) Guion, (5) Judith Anne Guion.

The following are transcriptions of John Jackson Lewis’s diary and journal of his voyage to California in 1851. He was travelling  from New York to visit his older brother William in San Jose.

Diary

Sailing in sight of the coast all day; it presents quite a rugged and mountainous appearance. Saw a school of porpoises to-day, also some black fish. A bird, somewhat allied to the wild duck, alighted on the bowsprit and remained there for some time. By evening the ship was heading n. west, the wind had freshened, and the sea was rough enough to make me somewhat seasick.

Journal

Weather pleasant and sea tolerably smooth. One of the beef cattle was to day judged unfit for use, even here, so she was knocked on the head and thrown overboard. A chicken was also thrown over without ceremony. I sat on one of the deck houses for some time in the evening, and watched the butchering of a beef, pig and sheep. This was performed in a very summary manner. The head and feet of the beef were cut off without skinning, and immediately thrown overboard. The animal was then skinned, and the hide shared the same fate. The sheep and pig were both skinned and their hides followed suit. The head and feet of piggy, however, were deemed worthy of use, and were retained accordingly. As there was no fat on the entrails to clean off, they were sent over at once.

The phosphoric light on the waves is at least quite as bright this evening as I have seen it. The foam made by the vessel as she pitches forward is quite luminous, and as it subsides, which it does very quickly, a shower of sparks takes its place on the surface of the water. It is quite pretty, but not nearly so brilliant as I anticipated from the representations of others. In fact, I have been much disappointed in the brilliancy of the tropics. I cannot see that the moon and stars shine anymore brilliantly then is there wont to do at home on a clear cold night, nor is the zodiacal light, as I have seen it, any brighter that I have frequently witnessed it at home. So far as this part of the world is concerned, it seems to me, the imagination of travelers has done much towards investing it with either beauty or magnificence, and I have pretty nearly arrived at the conclusion that it may be more enjoyed by reading about it than by coming to see it. Distance last 24 hours, 216 miles.

Tomorrow, more about My Guion Ancestors.

On Monday, I’ll begin posting letters written in 1944. Lad is still in the United States, Dan is in London and France, Ced is in Alaska, Dick is in Brazil, and Dave is now in the Army.

Judy Guion

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11 thoughts on “Voyage to California (16) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851

  1. […] via Voyage to California (16) – John Jackson Lewis – January to March, 1851 […]

  2. Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
    These were not times for the squeamish traveller, and the butchering aspect is a long way from what we’d expect, especially on a short journey or cruise these days.

    The matter-of-fact manner in which he records these events illustrates the extent of his daily experiences and those of his fellow passengers – not to mention the everyday life in any community.

    This is what make these anecdotes from the past such an extraordinary history as well as rich source of historical fact.

  3. These were not times for the squeamish traveller, and the butchering aspect is a long way from what we’d expect, especially on a short journey or cruise these days.

    The matter-of-fact manner in which he records these events illustrates the extent of his daily experiences and those of his fellow passengers – not to mention the everyday life in any community.

    This is what make these anecdotes from the past such an extraordinary history as well as rich source of historical fact.

    • Judy Guion says:

      Maureen – You are absolutely right and that’s one of the reasons I enjoy sharing them. The stories are not just about ordinary people living ordinary lives, but real-life history as experienced and recorded for all of us to share.

  4. I found this letter particularly interesting for its descriptions of butchering animals. I didn’t know live animals would have been brought along to provide food. In addition, the last paragraph seems to contradict prior journal entries. I wonder if John was feeling the effects of seasickness, homesickness, or travel weariness when he wrote it.

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