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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.The Gold Diggins'


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March 11, 1849, Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper, London, England

The Niagara, bound for Japan, 1800.
The Niagara Bound for Japan
Eugene Atget

The accounts from California, received by the Niagara, confirm in some measure the statements previously set forth, that large deposits of gold have been discovered on the banks of the Sacramento; but there are still great discrepancies in the reports of the quantity that had been collected, and the supplies for the future are to purely hypothetical that it seems needless now to speculate upon them. That many of the adventurers will succeed in realizing large fortunes there is no reason to doubt that that many more will be disappointed in their object is equally certain; and it is very much to be feared that thousands will lose their lives in this race for wealth, and sacrifice themselves to their own cupidity. Sickness prevailed to a great extent at the "diggings," particularly in the vicinity of the Tulare marshes at Sutters, and in the valleys of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

From these parts many of the people are said to return to San Francisco well stored with fever and ague, if not with gold. But these were minor troubles, when compared with the evil passions which had broken loose, and with unrestrained violence were committing the most frightful atrocities. The moral condition of the country was bad enough before these late discoveries, but now it is in a state of perfect chaos: there is no protection for life or property, might only is right, and all sorts of lawless deeds are perpetrated with impunity. Drunkenness is, unfortunately, too prevalent, and robberies and murders are said to be numerous, although all do not forge to light. The inhabitants are unsettled, and the whole state of society completely unhinged. Agriculture and the mechanical arts are completely neglected: there are no schools, or any prospect of there being any for the present; gold occupies the whole attention of the people, and is likely to be a curse on the country.

A correspondent strongly recommends those who can do well at home not to think of going there. He says, "Some will make money doubtless, but more will make themselves sick, and perhaps return poorer than ever, if they do not make shipwreck of good morals, and die, like some already, in revelling and drunkenness. If they can get more gold here, it should he borne in mind that they will have to pay ten times the amount for all the necessaries of life, and the chances are against being so well off in the end. At the mines, sugar, coffee, butter, hams, potatoes, and other like articles, are selling at one dollar per pound; and real estate at San Francisco had risen greatly in value. One allotment, of fifty yards square, which cost two years ago fifteen dollars, was sold lately at 10,000 dollars."

Gold Washing in California 1800s.
Gold Washing in California

A gentleman, who had been employed in surveying land in California, and whose experience in the gold districts of America gave his testimony great weight, writes thus:

"The geological formations of California are similar to those in other parts of the west coast, where gold has been found, and the deposits correspond in every respect with previous discoveries; the veins are confined to the primitive formation, and are found in fissures of limestone quartz high up in the range, from whence it is washed by heavy rains into the mountain streams, which form themselves into rivers; and is thus deposited in the alluvial soil formed by their periodical floods. It is also found in the sand and gravel in the beds of the rivers, from which it is easily separated by washing away the soil, the specific gravity of the gold being greater than the earth. It is found in the largest lumps near the crevices from which it had been displaced near the source of the streams, and forges less from friction as it is carried down the rivers till near the coast, where it is collected in the form of fine dust, which is generally the purest metal, being wholly separated from the quartz, through which it was originally mixed."

Another authority states that the placers of California are not richer than many previous discoveries, which have not only been washed out of gold, but also out of memory; hence it is argued from analogy that the new El Dorado will not produce anything like the quantity which many people are inclined to believe, and that, considering the enormous accumulation of gold which has taken place all over the world since the discovery of South America, it would require a very large annual supply to effect that revolution in prices which appears to be looked for by some, the stock existing in both hemispheres being so large that the four millions sterling produced annually by Russia alone has failed to bring about any change. However, the information at present available is still so uncertain, that nothing more than a guess can be made as to the probable future supply. Time only can solve the question; but we augur nothing but good to this country from the discovery; it will give a powerful stimulus to commerce; the merchant, the manufacturer, and the agriculturist, will reap the benefit of its distribution, and industry will be the heir to it, in what quantities or in what time it may.

The latest dates from San Francisco were to the 19th November. The weather was very cold, and a letter from Mazatlan states that mining operations had ceased for the time in consequence of its inclemency and the rains. Capt. Spring, of the Huntress, writes on the 6th November:

"Many are now returning sick from the mines, arising from exhaustion from irregular living, and many are dying from want of attendance and the ordinary comforts of life, while their hard earnings lie under their pillow (if pillow they have) in the shape of one to ten pounds of gold dust tied up in a dirty rag. Two of these cases occurred yesterday, and two more to-day."

The California Herald says:

"The whole value of gold which has been gathered in California, is estimated by those acquainted with the matter, at three millions of dollars, two of which left there in various ways, and the remainder is on its way to the United States. It must not be supposed, however, that every one gets rich there on the moment; for the work of getting the gold dust and washing it is very arduous Capt. Dally, of San Francisco, organized an expedition of ten men, who went to gold digging, and were absent three weeks; but they did not gather enough to cover expenses and were disbanded."

French Nautical Map: Russia, Alaska, Oregon, Pacific Ocean. 1765.

Quicksilver (generally in the form of cinnabar) had been discovered in various parts. Emigrants continued to pour in. Two thousand had arrived from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands, and South America. Provisions were in abundance, both at San Francisco and the diggings, supplied from Chili and Oregon; flour had fallen from twenty-five to sixteen dollars per barrel. Board in San Francisco was ten dollars a week. It had been ascertained that the Sacramento was navigable to 150 miles above San Francisco for vessels drawing eight feet water, and 100 miles further for vessels of less draught. The American steam-ships navigating the Pacific had not obtained permission from the Mexican government to touch at Mazatlan or Acapulco for coal, on account of the tonnage duties.

There had been disturbances about the placer and two men killed by Indians. The hostile Indians are a numerous tribe, highly incensed against the emigrants last arrived from Oregon, from whom they allege they have received recent injuries. The settlers were deliberating on the means of establishing some kind of state government, "until congress shall vouchsafe to give them one."

The following extract from a letter written by Commodore Jones, commander of the United States' naval forces in the Pacific, are pregnant with ominous information respecting the state of the country:

"The worst forebodings of evils consequent upon the want of the certain and energetic administration of justice in this territory are almost daily realized. Within the three last weeks we have certain accounts of fifteen murders. In one instance, an entire household of ten persons a respectable ranchero, his wife, two children, and six servants. The man, whose name was Reed, had been very successful in digging during the summer, and had returned to his home, near Santa Barbara, with a large amount of gold. His house was surprised by an armed party, and the whole family, as above stated, were barbarously murdered, and the house rifled of its golden treasure.

"The perpetrators of this horrid deed are still at large; of the other five cases, four are highway robberies, committed on persons returning with gold from the mines. In a word, I may say with truth that both persons and property are insecure in Upper California at this time; and I am sorry to add that, in all cases of outrage and violence as yet discovered, emigrants from the United States, disbanded volunteers, runaway sailors, and deserters from the army and navy, are believed to be the perpetrators.

"The mutinies attended with murder have been fully confirmed, and, not without good reason, caused much uneasiness to shippers of gold from this coast.

"To guard each and every sailing vessel hence with large sums of gold-dust would require every ship of the navy. The best thing that I can do is to keep tho vessels of this squadron at sea as much as possible plying between the ports most frequented by our mercantile marine."

California.California.

Birds Eye of the Village of San Francisco. 1800s.

M & N Hanhart Chromo Lithograph Co.
Established in Mulhouse in 1830 by Michael Hanhart who initially worked with Godefroy Engelmann in London. The firm, established at Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, was named after his two sons Michael and Nicholas. Artists like Joseph Wolf, Joseph Smit, J. G. Keulemans and others worked for him to produce natural history illustrations that were used in the Ibis (1859-1874), Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1848-1900) and a range of books.


Gold Dust and Gunsmoke
Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes
Gold rush Outlaws.
John Boessenecker

Trials of Laura Fair.
The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West
Carole Haber
On November 3, 1870, on a San Francisco ferry, Laura Fair shot a bullet into the heart of her married lover, A. P. Crittenden. Throughout her two murder trials, Fair's lawyers, supported by expert testimony from physicians, claimed that the shooting was the result of temporary insanity caused by a severely painful menstrual cycle. The first jury disregarded such testimony, choosing instead to focus on Fair's disreput able character. In the second trial, however, an effective defense built on contemporary medical beliefs and gendered stereotypes led to a verdict that shocked Americans across the country. Carole Haber probes changing ideas about morality and immorality, masculinity and femininity, love and marriage, health and disease, and mental illness to show that all these concepts were reinvented in the Victorian West.


Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800The Silk Road of the Sea.
John N. Miksic
The Silk Road of the Sea.This book synthesizes 25 years of archaeological research to reconstruct the 14th-century port of Singapore in great detail. The picture is of a port where people processed raw materials, used money, and had specialized occupations. Within its defensive wall, the city was well organized and prosperous, with a cosmopolitan population that included residents from China, other parts of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Illustrated, with more than 300 maps and color photos, Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea presents Singapore's history in the context of Asia's long-distance maritime trade between 1300 and 1800. The author is Associate Professor, Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, and Head of the NSC Archaeology Unit, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of GlobalizationThe Silk Road.
Richard Foltz
Drawing on the latest research and scholarship, this newly revised and updated edition of Religions of the Silk Road explores the fabled cities and exotic peoples that make up the colonial era while examining how cultural traditions also travelled to the people encounted on the Silk Road. The author, Richard Foltz, is a cultural historian specializing in the Iranian world. He has also worked as a musician, film critic, and travel writer. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and has taught at Brown, Columbia, and the University of Florida. His work has appeared in over a dozen languages."This brief but tightly packed book is a wonderful counterweight to romanticized notions of the so-called Silk Road . . . Foltz masterfully deals with disparate histories from one point of the compass to its seeming opposite, while weaving a wonderfully lucid story of merchants, pilgrims, and missionaries." -- The Journal of Asian History

When America First Met China
An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail

Eric Jay Dolin
Ancient China collides with America in this tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships. Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin traces our fraught relationship with China back to its roots: the unforgiving nineteenth-century seas that separated a rising naval power from a ancient empire. It is a prescient fable for our time, one that continues to shed light on our modern relationship with China. The furious trade in furs, opium, and bêche-de-mer -- a rare sea cucumber delicacy -- might have catalyzed America's emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe. Peopled with fascinating characters -- from Robert Morris: Financier of the American RevolutionRobert Morris, Financier of the American Revolution. to the The Glorious Reign of Emperor Qianlong: Splendors of China's Forbidden City, who considered foreigners inferior beings -- this saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines becomes a must-read for any fan of Nathaniel Philbrick's MayflowerMayflower. or Mark Kurlansky's Cod.Cod, the fish that changd the world. Two maps, and 16 pages of color and 83 black-and-white illustrations.

Latin America, World Journeys, Discovery.The Explorer's Eye: First-Hand Accounts of Adventure and Exploration
Fergus Fleming, Annabel Merullo, Michael Palin
During the eighteenth century, exploration entered a new phase: many more explorers were motivated by scientific inquiry rather than greed. Their job was to open new lands, but also to investigate the globe's mysteries. They were expected to make a full record of everything they encountered, and include pictures as well as words. Combining firsthand accounts with original images, The Explorer's Eye gives insight into who these people were, how they operated, and, above all, what they saw. Here you have Alexander von Humboldt braving the electric eels of South Africa, Robert Peary explaining the rigors of polar travel (and his wife giving her own slant), Umberto Nobile lamenting the loss of his Zeppelin in an ice floe, Jacques Cousteau examining the planet from under the waves...

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Details of nearly 500 different antique maps of India, Ceylon, Indian Ocean, Pakistan. They are listed by region and in date order from 1477 to 1850. The prices given are the current rated values, all of which are for maps in fine condition.

This serves as a general guide; prices frequently change based on supply and demand.

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Brenda J. Baker

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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