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April 17, 1847, California Star, California

Communication with the Pacific by the Isthmus of Panama

The English government has granted $100, 000 per annum to the royal company of trans-Atlantic steam navigation, for the establishment of a post route to the Pacific across the Isthmus. Each month a steamer will depart from Panama for Valparaiso and Lima, touching at Guayaquil, Payta, Islay, Arica. Iquique, Cobija, Copiapo, Huasco, and Coquimbo, arriving at Valparaiso on the 24th or 25th of every month. The Company at London have published the following notice: "A steam packet will leave Southampton the 17th of every month, and, by way of Jamaica, proceed to Chagres, where letters and passengers will arrive the 20th and 21st of the following month. The price of passage is for a forward state-room $250; for an after state-room $300; this price includes everything excepting wines and liquor. At Chagres the vessel will stop for the discharge of passengers and letters destined to ports on the Pacific. On return with passengers and the mail, the steamers touch at Jamaica, Havannah and the Bermudas. At Havannah, the passengers who have paid $80, find a steamer departing every month for New Orleans, and packets to New York. Mr. Perry, the English Consul at Panama is the agent of the company. The rate of freight for precious metals, monies or ingots, comprising all expenses across the Isthmus, and to their delivery at the Bank of England, is 3/4 per cent. For precious stones of all species, unwrought and paying no duty, the freight is 2 3/4 per cent ad valorem; payable as before; on jewelry subject to duty, and delivered at Southampton, the freight is 2 1/2 per cent."

John W. Geary's Crossing of the Isthmus of Panama

On February 1, 1849, John W. Geary, San Francisco’s last Alcalde and First Mayor, left New York for Chagres in the steamer Falcon on her second trip. In the morning the journey continued, they reached Gorgona on the fourth day, obtained mules, and set out for Panama. Mrs. Geary is said to be the first lady who made use of the side-saddle and rode in the American fashion on this journey, which took six hours instead of the two days it took before using mules. They waited for the steamer Oregon, the second vessel to leave for California gold mines (on December 2, 1848), and which was making the voyage around the Horn. The Oregon put into Panama on February 23, 1849, where more than 1200 passengers, all bound for California gold mines, were waiting to board her.

Passengers waiting on the Isthmus suffered privation and with his family, Col. Geary established residence in a few rooms near the jail. Within days of their arrival, they were robbed. Col. Geary went to the jail to obtain information, spoke good Spanish to the 13 guards there. They pretended not to understand him and proceeded to intimidate him through force. Col. Geary grabbed a musket as defense and during further altercation, he uncovered his stolen property in the jailhouse. He disarmed all the men, kicked one down the stairs, called the American consul that day, and preferred charges, which resulted in a public whipping of the thieves.

Then, while waiting two more weeks for the Oregon, Col. Geary organized and presided over a Masonic society, and then over an association of Odd-Fellows for the purpose of alleviating suffering. He also assisted in the publication of the first American paper in the English language ever issued in Panama. The Oregon and left Panama on March 13, 1849 with 250 additional passengers, including the Geary's.


Eadweard Muybridge, Studies in Motion. Kevin Kerr.

Noted photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge (1830-1904) photographed Panama's Isthmus at the turn of the Century.

His travels to Panama were funded by Pacific Mail line in the hope that his images would bring investors to the area.

Here is his view of a young boy standing at the water's edge in "Chagres, The City Front," from the stereograph series "Isthmus of Panama, illustrated by Muybridge.

Chagres, The City Front by Eadweard J. Muybridge.

Tri Weekly Alta California, San Francisco, California

The Rush for California -- October 16, being the day for the sale of tickets for passage in the two new steamers, to be started from Panama to San Francisco by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, the place of sale at Howland & Aspinwall's, was the scene of a strife for precedence unequaled even in the wondrous history of the Golden Crusade. As early as 4 o'clock in the morning some twenty persons were sitting on the steps in most neighborly proximity to the door, ready, like hounds in the leash; for the race up stairs. Before the doors opened hundreds had collected, and in a minute after the turn of the key every place where a man could hold on, even by the eyelids, was occupied.

So great was the pressure that the balustrades and windows were broken, and each individual, on issuing from the office, gave woeful evidence of the density of the crowd in the shape of caved in hats and torn and disordered clothing. One of the very earliest of those on the steps in the morning and almost the first man inside, did not get out until noon! Some 500 tickets for the two December steamers were run off as fast as the money could be paid over; but the crowd still clamored for more, and about 100 tickets for the steamer of the 1st of January were sold by way of dessert to the feast. The prices were, $300 for the cabin, and $150 for the steerage. One of the crowd, and the first on the ground, took his post at the wrong door by accident, as early as 11 o'clock at night. He found all quiet until about 2 o'clock, when one by one neighbors happened along like strong drops before a shower. Our early friend made the most pertinacious exertions to get in first, but broader shoulders took precedence, and he was number 30 at the desk. The next day there was another small crowd, who took off all the steerage and a large portion of the cabin tickets for the January steamer.

December 31, 1849, Alta California

Robberies on the Isthmus

We are informed by passengers who came by the last steamer, that the natives on the Isthmus have not maintained their character for honesty which was their distinguishing trait when the immigration across the Isthmus first commenced. They have ceased to consider honesty a politic principle, and have recently committed several robberies. One gentleman was stripped of a considerably amount of money. He was with others in a canoe, managed by natives, who made fast to a bank at a certain point of the river, went up to a hut, returned soon after, accompanied by a number of others, and robbed the Americans of all their valuable property. We also learn that a box of gold dust, shipped by the October steamer, by a mercantile house here, was opened, and five hundred ounces abstracted. It is supposed to have been stolen upon the Isthmus; but we are inclined to think that no native performed the job. We think it would be well for persons crossing the Isthmus at this time, with any considerable amount of money, to provide themselves with arms, as they might be necessary.

Bulls and Bears

April 30, 1850, Alta California

Panama Echo: Nothing of special importance has transpired in Panama during the week, if we except the operations on change in tickets of steamships and sailing vessels. A large operation has been realized in this line, and no little ingenuity displayed and "cutting under" manifested, by stock-jobbers in tickets and transfers. The bulls and bears appear to be fighting on their own hook, divided in opinion among themselves, and occasionally growling as if they were "hit" in a sore place. The bulls keep pushing up and the bears trying to pull down, and in this way the commercial mart is daily enlivened by the keen-sighted wisdom of ticket vendors, and the now infrequent peculiar greenness of purchasers. The advance on steamship tickets is from $50 to $150 from first cost (with the exception of the Gold Hunter, whose tickets, cabin only, are sold for $300). The active business is confined to the tickets on the New World, Columbus, New Orleans, and Northerner, yet to arrive. The market closes firm for the holders, while those on the "anxious seat" are expecting a decline, considering the brisk competition which is making itself felt on the Pacific side. Sailing vessels are carrying for $120 steerage, to San Francisco, and $200 cabin, or $180 double berths. Steamer tickets command the regular price, with the advance above noticed, and the tendency is upwards, though the crowd in Panama, brought by the Georgia and other ships on the Atlantic side, have been pretty well thinned out.

February 27, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California


Those who have travelled on this river are aware of the entire absence of every thing like comfort or safety. It will be a source of gratification to know that in the future this disagreeable part of the route will be remedied most materially, as we learn that Mr. A. J. Jewett arrived at Chagres early in the month of December, with the frames, machinery, and every thing requisite for the construction of two steamers, which were to be placed on the Chagres River. Mr. J, thought he would have the steamboats put up, and every thing in running order, in the course of fifty days, so that it is quite likely they are now ready for the trade. This is a desideratum long and anxiously wished for, and one which cannot fail of producing a rich harvest for the enterprising projector.

By the recent arrival we learn that the Panama railroad is progressing rapidly. Seven hundred and fifty men are now at work. The workmen on the line of the road have found considerable quantities of gold. In one instance, $10 worth was taken out in one day.

Extortion at Chagres. The harbor at Chagres is universally regarded as one of the worst in the world and the embarkation and landing of passengers is generally attended with a good deal of danger. It is stated that the price of passage to and from Chagres, on board the steamers, is from $5 to $10; and generally the homeward bound miner, or other traveller, is compelled to pay from $43 to $60 passage money down the river in an open flat-boat, without any conveniences, from Gorgona to Chagres. The board at the latter place is reasonable enough, being only $3 per day.


For Chagres, direct
To sail on Friday, the 25th of July
The well-known and favorite steamship ALABAMA, R.W. Foster, commander, will leave the wharf foot of Julia street, for Chagres, direct on Friday, July 25th, at 8 o'clock A.M. punctually.

Rates of Passage
In Saloon $70
In Lower Cabin $55
In Steerage $35
Freight, 40 cents per cubic foot.

All tickets for passage must be procured at the office of the Agents.

C.J. MEEKER & CO., 66 Poydras Street.


The new and elegant Double-engine Steamships UNION, Captain T.S. Budd, 1800 tons, and WINFIELD SCOTT, Capt. Kenny Couillard, 2100, compose the line, and will leave New York and New Orleans on the 1st and 15th of every month, at 3 p.m. from New York, and at 9 a.m. from New Orleans, except when these dates fall on Sunday. The ships will then leave on Monday. They are appointed to sail as follows:

From New Orleans:
The WINFIELD SCOTT, Tuesday, the 15th July
The UNION, Friday, the 1st of August

From New York:
The UNION, Tuesday, the 15th July
The WINFIELD SCOTT, FRIDAY, the 1st August

These ships have been built with great care and cost, and no skill or expense spared to secure strength, speed and comfort. They are in every respect first-class sea steamers.

For freight or passage, apply for steamer Winfield Scott, to
For steamer Union, to


The only through Line for California and Oregon, via Havana and Chagres
Fare Reduced
On MONDAY, July 28, at 8 o'clock A.M.

The splendid double engine steamship FALCON, H. Rogers, U.N.S., commanding, will sail precisely at 8 o'clock, connecting with the Pacific Mail Steamship, to leave Panama on or about the 15th of August.

Rates of Passage

From New Orleans to Chagres:

Main Saloons $70
Second Cabin $55
Steerage $35
From Panama to San Francisco:
Main Saloons $250
Second Cabin $225
Steerage $125

For passage or freight, apply to:

ARMSTRONG, HARRIS & CO., 106 Magazine Street
N. B. The Falcon will take freight for Chagres

Daily Alta California, San Francisco

From the Panama Herald, July 1851

The Isthmus

By this arrival we have received files of the Panama Herald to the 15th.

The rainy season had set in with unusual severity, and the roads between Panama and Cruces and Gorgona were in a horrible condition. Several accidents had happened upon the river. The Star says:

We learn from passengers just across the Isthmus, that the Chagres river is at such a high stage as renders its navigation above Gorgona not only difficult bet extremely dangerous. A boat containing six passengers and four crewmen, was capsized a few days since a little below Cruces, and we are sorry to say that two of the passengers, Americans, and two boatmen were drowned. We have not been enabled to learn any names.

Robberies were still frequent upon the Isthmus. A gentleman was robbed at the Mansion House, of $14,000, on the evening of the 6th ult., and we find in the Star the account of the following:

A day or two since, we received a letter from a young friend, Mr. L. Levy, who left here on the 5th for New Orleans. He writes us from Cruces, and says:

I arrived here safe myself, but am loser about seven hundred and fifty dollars, a French gentleman on the road having deprived me of that amount, about seven miles from this place. But as the Razor-Strop Man says, "there are a few more left, of the same sort."

New York Daily Times, Tuesday, February
From the Panama Herald, January 26, 1852

Our city is rammed, crammed, and jammed full of passengers for California, our hotels are full, our streets are full, and in fact we are full all over, with only one steamer in port to take them away.

The Oregon leaves this afternoon with over 400 passengers. The Christiana, Margaret, Amphytrite and Philena are all full, and will be off to-day or to-morrow. These four sailing vessels carry about 600 passengers, leaving a balance of 800 or 1,000 on the Isthmus to wait for the next steamer. Other sailing vessels would be put up for San Francisco were it not for the scarcity of provisions. We have vessels and passengers in abundance, but are wonderfully short of pork. In ten days, however, if the steamers which are expected make their appearance, we shall have abundance of steam.

Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California
The Panama Star complains of the filthy condition of the streets of the city, and . . .

HOUSE RENTS. --With the decline of general business which has marred the history of Panama for the past twelve months, we have also to note a slight -- very slight -- decline in house rents, in cases where old leases have been renewed. We will remember the time within two years, when it was next to impossible to procure at any rate, an office or a dwelling in a suitable location within the walls of the city. But a change has come over the aspect of affairs; and now houses of any dimension, from a two story house to an apartment ten by twelve, can be had in almost any street of the city, at rates, as we have said, somewhat reduced on those hitherto prevailing.

Panama Railway, Culebra Cut,
Summit Station, March 1855

TAXES IN PANAMA. -- According to the recently published tax list, there are at present 142 commercial establishments in Panama, assessed monthly $2,230. These taxes ranges from $5 to $100 per month, average $15.70 on each establishment. There are on the list 75 foreigners, who pay the sum of $1,635, and 67 natives, who pay $605, thus showing the taxes paid by foreigners to average $21.80, whilst those paid by the native houses average only $9; or in other words, the native merchants, on an average, pay a little over two-fifths of the average taxes of the foreigners --.Star

A mule belonging to the gold train which left this city on Thursday last, strayed from the train near the river Cardenas. Mr. Hurtado went out yesterday morning in search of the treasure, and found it, as we learn, safely packed on the back of the animal, which was comfortably grazing on the hillside. -- Star

Daily Alta California, December 1863, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

ISTHMUS MATTERS.--From dates of the Panama Echo, of Dec. 15 and 22d., we clip the following items of local intelligence:

The total population of the Isthmus of Panama is about 100,000 inhabitants, reported in three provinces: Panama, Veraguas, and Alanjo or Chiriqui (pronounced Cherokee). The province of Panama alone contains 70,000 inhabitants, the remaining 30,000 being divided between the two other provinces. The city of Panama has about 9,000. It is a remarkable fact that of the population of this country, the two sexes are equally divided.

Since the declaration of independence in 1821, the population has been declining rapidly, but now it is increasing at an astonishing rate.

The American Consulate at this place being vacant, and it being doubtful whether Mr. Corwine, lately appointed to the post will accept it, a number of Americans in Panama have signed a petition and forwarded it to President Taylor for the appointment of Mr. Wm. C. Lacy of this city.

Speculation in tickets is very active in these days, and the steamer tickets to San Francisco are sold at enormous prices. We are told that steerage tickets in the Panama have been sold as high as from $375 to $400.

November 20, 1879, The Cambridge Jeffersonian, Cambridge, Ohio

Harper's Magazine for November

Some time since my attention was called to a rare and beautiful flower in the possession of a popular florist of this city. This flower is known as the Espiritu Santo, or flower of the Holy Spirit. It is indigenous to the Isthmus of Panama, whence this specimen was brought. The flower is rare even in its native land. The stalk, which grows to a length of three and sometimes tour feet, is surmounted by the buds and blossoms. The flower, which is not large, is of a delicate creamy white, and exhales a faint sweet perfume. One-half of the flower is upright, the other, folded back, exposes a most dainty floral grotto, in which rests, as in a little cup-shaped nest, a tiny dove with outstretched neck and extended wings as if about to fly. The dove is of the same creamy white as the rest of the flower, with the exception of the upper extremities of the wings, which are beautifully speckled. The perfection and life-like appearance of the dove are incredible to persons who have not seen the flower.

In its native land the Espiritu Santo is held in religious venetalion, and is supposed by the devout though ignorant natives to be a special emanation of the person in the Trinity whose emblem it bears. It is believed that if the flower be rudely plucked from the parent stem, or trampled under foot, the hand or foot which is the guilty agent of the deed will shortly wither and lose all life and power. If, on the contrary, it be plucked with a prayer, and for a good purpose, the hand that culls it will be shortly filled with treasure that must bring joy to the heart of its owner, being God-given. No wild beast has power to harm the fortunate possessor of a fresh and living blossom of this wonder-working plant, and of course it is equally efficacious in sickness.

Pacific Rural Press, May 16, 1885

The Interocean Ship Railway

Interocean Ship Railway.

The attention of the whole world has been turned to the projects for getting vessels from the Pacific into the Atlantic, and vice versa, across the Isthmus, so as to save the long and expensive sea voyage around the cape. The engineering difficulties are great, and opinions are at variance as to the best means of overcoming them. The transisthmian projects which for many years have attracted the attention of may be divided, perhaps not improperly, into three classes:

1st. Those in which the construction will be at the mercy of floods.
2d. Those lacking good harbors.
3d. Those which empty into the Doldrums or Zone of Calms.

Of these three fatal objections, the Panama tide-water canal scheme is open to the first and third, and the Nicaragua lifting-lock plan to the second and third. The ship railway project of Mr. James B. Eads, illustrated in this number is open to neither of these objections. It is not so costly, and will shorten by by considerably over 1,000 miles the contemplated route via Panama between the Atlantic States and this city or the East Indies.

This project of the ship railway is one devised by Mr. James B. Eads, the distinguished engineer, perhaps best known for the successful engineering displayed in the designing and construction of the Mississippi jetty system, which other engineers said would not work and which does work. The idea is a novel and original one, though it seems strange that no one ever thought before of its practicability. Mr. Eads hit upon the plan while studying the various canal projects, neither of which did he approve. He, of course, studied up carefully what might be brought forward as objections to his plan, and prepared to prove its practicability.

Eads Railway.

He saw that by means of the ship railway he would reduce the distance from New York to San Francisco, necessary for vessels to traverse, which is 15,687 miles by way of Cape Horn, by some 10,000 miles; and from New Orleans to San Francisco from 15,687 miles to something less than 4,000. He knew there would be difficulty in making people believe the plan feasible. He remembered the difficulty of introducing hydrogen gas in London, of sending the first vessel across the Atlantic under steam, of substituting the screw propeller for the paddle wheel, and how the original projectors have been scoffed at. Mr. Eads knew that ships had been going on and off lifting docks without injury from time immemorial, and was sure that vessels that could safely withstand the terrible buffeting of ocean waves could be moved over a smooth roadbed without fear of injury. In order to be sure as to the roadbed, he took with him to the Isthmus Mr. J. J. Williams, an able engineer, who had made several surveys for interoceanic railroads and canals, and Mr. E. L. Corthell, who had successfully carried out his plans at the mouths, of the Mississippi, and is an expert in railroad construction, having been chief engineer of the West Shore Railroad. Being a practical man, Eads naturally sought to discover a route that would furnish a substantial roadbed, possess something in the shape of harbors at either end, and above all a location outside of that, to the mariner, vexatious belt of perpetual calm. He found a cross section of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec which combined all these qualities; nay, more, for of all the routes across the narrow strip of land joining Mexico with South America, none shortens so much as this the voyage from the Atlantic and Gulf States to California.

Having selected the site for his ship railway, he now sought a concession from the Mexican Government. This was obtained in 1881, and extends over a period of 99 years from its date. It authorizes the construction across the Isthmus of Tehauntepec of a ship railway, an ordinary railway and a line of telegraph. Besides thin, it exempts all ships and merchandise in trannitu from Government duty, grants the concession naire a million acres of public land, and guarantees protection during the construction and consequent operation of the works. To crown all tho right is given the company to obtain the aid of any foreign Governmen1', and in consideration of this assistance the company is authorized by the terms of the concession to discriminate in favor of the commerce of such giovernment against that of all other countries, save, of course, Mexico.

Very favorable amendments have recently been made by the Mexican Government, as follows:

1st. A guarantee in cash or Government bonds of $1,250,000 per annum for 15 years after the railway is put into successfuli operation. This is equivalent to 5 percent on $25,000.000.

2d. The right is granted lo go to one or more foreign governments for the remainder of the guarantee and the right to giveto the guaranteeing nations a rebate of 25 per cent on the tolls of their commerce for 30 years and a representation in the Board of Direction. This now includes Mexico, as she is to assist in the work.

3d. The right to collect tolls in gold.

4th. The right to import coal free of duty for ships in transit.

5th. To establish and operate true of duty and taxes two or more lines of tow-boats

6th. An additional grant of 330,000 acres of public lands.

The concession obtained, Mr. Eads set about having a careful survey made, topographical and physical, for the several previous surveys were with reference to a canal or an ordinary railway.

The length of the whole railroad line will be about 134 miles from Atlantic to Pacific. Beginning on the Atlantic side, the route will start from the Gulf of Mexico, the ships sailing up the Coatzacoalcos river to Minatitlan, a distance of about 25 miles. From Minatitlan there extends for about 35 miles an alluvial plain having an underlying stratum of heavy, tenacious clay. On the high land and ridges clay, loam and sand are found. Next cocomes an undulating table-land, and then irregular mountain spurs of the main Cordilleras, running through the entire continent, making at this point one of the most marked depressions to be found in its whole length. From this point the line passes through a valley formed by a small stream to the plains of Tarifa, where is situated the summit of the line. This is 726 feet above low tide. After traversing these plains, the Pass of Tarifa is reached. This is the most accessible of the many passes in this depression in the mountain chain. From here the line gradually sinks to the Pacific, reaching the plains on this side 118 miles distant from Minatitlan.

From New York to San Francisco via the Panama canal, a steamship would be compelled to pass the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, sail south a long distance, and after crossing sail north again the same distance before reaching the short route to San Francisco. In other words, she would have to traverse about 1,200 miles more than if the had crossed the Isthmus at Tehuantepec. From Gulf ports to Sin Francisco and the East the difference in distance in favor of Tehuantepec is still more marked; the route between New Orleans and San Francisco via Tehuantepec being about nineteen hundredi (1,900) miles shorter than via Panama. From Liverpool to San Francisco there is a saving of 600 miles via Tehuantepee. With sailing vessels and sailing vessels, much as we hear of steamers, carry fully three quarters of the world's freights to-day, and are likely to continue to carry slow freights the contrast is still more marked. However, sailing vessels which are floated across the Isthmus via Panama are left in a region of almost perpetual calm, and have to go hundreds of miles before reaching the trade-wind regions. It would be a generous estimate to allow for only ten days' good authorities say from 20 to 30 days' delay between the Pacific side of the Panama canal and the point where a sailing ship strikes the northeast trades, by reason of calms and the slow progress made while in tow. Allowing that a sailing ship can average 170 statute miles in a day's run, this would add 1,700 miles to the 1,200 miles extra run required via Panama, and hence would serve, practically, to make the Tehuantepeo route 2,000 miles shorter in the run from New York to San Francisco, and 3,500 miles shorter in the run from New Orleans to San Francisco.

In the ship railway project a ship is lifted out of the water by means of a submerged pontoon, similar to those in use all over the world; but no such force as that used in hauling a ship up out of the water on a marine railway is required on the ship railway, although, as well known, ships are constantly taken on the marine railway without injury. In the Eads system, however, there is no necessity for using any force whatever on the ship itself. It is lifted out of the water in a cradle which rests upon a series of rails; and these being brought even with the tracks on the dry land, the cradle, in its capacity of a car, is wheeled along an almost level railway across the Isthmus of Tehauntepec, and when it reaches the other side a similar means is employed to float it again. This is the whole project a combination of the lifting dock in general use, and an improvement upon the marine railway, because the ship is never, as in the latter, required to be off an even keel.

The engravings which appear in this article will give a good idea of some of the details of the plans. The cuts originally appeared in the Scientific American, and we obtained them for the Press from the Eads Ship Railway Company, New York, to which we are indebted also for information additional to that which has been before published.

The pontoon or floating dock (see Figs. 1 to 4) is of the same general construction aa those in use all over the world, save in some important modifications rendered necessary to lit it for its especial work. For it is not enough that the vessel should be docked and lifted out of the water, but that it shall be caused to rest upon a cradle in such a manner that its weight shall be equalized fore and aft, and thus enable the carriage with its load to move easily and safely. This is effected by means of a system of hydraulic rams arranged along an intermediate deck about six feet below the upper deck of the pontoon (see Fig. 2). The arrangement of the rams is in both lateral and longitudinal lines, the former standing a little less than seven feet apart, the one from the other. The area of the combined rams in each lateral line is the same; the area of the one ram under the keel forward or aft is equal to the area of the five or seven rams amidships. They may be connected and made to work in unison, so that the same pressure per square inch of surface of the rams will exist throughout the whole system, or they may be disconnected by valves, so that a greater pressure may be brought upon the rams in a certain section or on a certain line. It is no part of the duty of these rams to lift the vessel.

They are designed only to resist its weight as it gradually emerges from the basin. They get their power from a hydraulic pump placed on a tower affixed to the tide of the pontoon, and rising and sinking with it, but of such a height that, even when the pontoon rests upon the bottom of the dock, it is not entirely submerged. The pontoon itself is directed by powerful guides, which cause it to descend and emerge from the water always in the same position.

A ship having entered the mouth of the Coatzacoalcos river, on the Atlantic side, and come up to the basin, the carriage with its cradle is run on the floating dock, then water is let into the compartments of the pontoon, and the dock and cradle gradually sink to the bottom.

Then the ship is brought in from the exterior basin, and so adjusted as to position that her keel will be immediately over the continuous keel block on the crakle, and her center of gravity over the center of the carriage. The water is then pumped out of the submerged pontoon in the manner employed in floating dock systems, and it rises gradually, bringing the cradle up under the ship's hull (see figure 2). As soon as the keel block of the cradle is close to the ship's keel, the hydraulic pump is called into action, and pushes up the pendant rods and posts of the supports gently against the vessel, closely following the lines of her hull and the run of the bilge. The pressure upon the rams increases as the vessel emerges from the water, but the water pressure under them being prevented from escaping by the closing of the valves, the ship's weight, when she stands clear of the water, is borne by the rams by means of the supports.

In the case of a ship weighing 5,000 tons, each of the 50 lines of rams would, of course, be called to sustain a burden of exactly 100 tons and these lines being placed at equal distances the one from the other, it will readily be seen that the ship's weight is equally distributed. The weight and displacement of the vessel is learned from the pressure gauge on the hydraulic pump.

The vessel being clear of the water, handwheels or adjusting nuts that move in threads cut in the columns of the supports are run down to the bearings on the girder plates, whereupon the valve is opened and the rams withdrawn, leaving the girders to support the weight of the ship. Now, each girder has the same number of wheels, and as described above, bears its just proportion of weight and no more; hence, each of the multitude of wheels under the carriage is called upon to bear the same weight. This weight has been calculated to be only ascertain the exact amount of the excess of' weight, so thit should this gauge show too great a preponderance, the pontoon must be lowered and the ship placed in a new position. The pontoon cannot elevate the rails on its deck above what would be a prolongation of the rails ashore, because of the heads of the anchor bolts or guiding rods, and these will also prevent any tipping of the pontoon when the shipburdened cradle is moving oil. The carriage with its cradle, which comes up upon the submerged deck, is calculated to hold a ship even more firmly than the launching cradle used at the ship-yards, with its shores and stays. This carriage moves upon six rails, three standard ; gauge tracks, each of four feet eight and onehalf inches. Ships themselves are girders and must of themselves be so, from stem to ftern, because in the tempestuous seas in which they art; designed to roam the one part is constantly being called upon to support the other; now her the wheels. There is also a system of supports for the vessel, each haying adjustable surfaces hinged to the top of the supports by a toggle joint, in such a way that they may be made to closely follow every depression amd yield easily to every protuberance or bulging. They pierce the girders of the carriage, and are exactly pendent over the hydraulic rams when the carrriage is on the pontoon and rests in its proper position. Thus, as will be seen, the ship when crossing the Isthmus rests upon what might be called a cushion, and indeed she will have experienced far rougher treatment, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific under only ordinary conditions of weather, than that had while in transit by rail across the Isthmus . . .

These turntables in design resemble pontoons, for they rest upon water and will be strong enough to receive the carriage and its burden. The turntable pontoon will be firmly grounded upon the circular bearers of the basin, when the carriage is run upon it by the admission of water. This is pumped out by a powerful centrifugal pump, the water being drawn through the cylindrical pivot of the pontoon, which is hollow, and discharged into the basin. When the pontoon has been made sufficiently buoyant to be turned easily upon its pivot by steam power, the ship carriage is then quickly pointed in its new direction. The valves then permit the water to enter once more, and the pontoon turn-table again rests on its bearings. These turn-tables may be made to serve another purpose. By their means a ship can be run off on a siding, so to speak, where she can be scraped, painted, coppered, calked, or otherwise repaired without removal from her cradle, and thus be saved the heavy expense of going on a dry dock.

The locomotives for hauling the ship carriage over the isthmian railway will not differ from those in ordinary use, except that they will have about twice the traction power of the most powerful locomotives that run on ordinary railroads. The big freight engines of the day have no difficulty, as we know, in drawing freight trains of a total of 1,500 tons; and as they ship carriage moves along three tracks it would be easy, if such a course were necessary, to place three locomotives in front of it and three behind. The time estimated for crossing from ocean to ocean is only 18 hours. The engraving (Fig. 5) shows the method by which a steamship is to be carried over the railway.

The cost of the ship railway as completed by expert engineers will be abut fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) . . . The Tehauntepec Ship Railway is a private enterprise that does not ask a dollar from the Government, and there will be little trouble in its construction, if the Government does not . . . injure its prospects and defeat its aim, which is to furnish a cheap, rapid and safe passage for ships across that narrow strip of land, which heretofore has proved an effectual brrier to aspiring canal builders.

The company supporting Mr. Eads and which owns the concession granted by Mexico, and is composed of some of the most wealthy and influential men in Pittsburg, St. Louis, New Orleans and other cities. They are thoroughly in earnest, and determined to build the ship railway.

It is by far the shortest distance by water between our Eastern and Western ports. It is a direct and necessary supplement to the Mississippi river, and is virtually its commercial extension into the Pacific ocean . . . the greatest and most direct benefits are those to be reaped by our whole Pacific Coast. There is no doubt that the gradual decrease in ocean rates for freight has worked to the advantage of our Pacific country, from the Rio Grand to Maine. The heavy and slow freights especially, that it does not pay to haul over transcontinental railways, will then, by a quick voyage, be placed at Galveston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York and Boston for the use of the immense population tributary to these ports . . . The distance from San Francisco to New Orleans is about 2,400 miles by rail and 3,570 by water, the former being equivalent to 9,000 miles of water transportation. This gives the ship railway an immense advantage over any present routes by rail, and, as has been previously seen, over any present water routes. And, from the distances given in this article, it also ships $75 to $80 per ton, but they can build iron ships at from $50 to $60 per ton.

It is therefore very important for our American commerce and for our own merchant marine that the interooeanic route should be located where it can be used to advantage by our sailing vessels. The importance of this will be appreciated by every commercial man along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, for we are still building these fine wooden sailing ships for the San Francisco trade and for other sea-going business.

Again, if this country desires to control the interoceanic route, and to be able to defend it, let it adopt a route that is capable of defense. At Tehuantepec, with a favorable treaty with the Government of Mexico, and by means of railway lines that are extended and are extending from the United States to the Mexican capital, and beyond even to Tehuantepec by American citizens, a land force of 100,000 men could be quickly transported from the Pacific Coast, Mississippi valley and the Atlantic Coast to meet an invading force.

The Gulf of Mexico, if we have a navy that can do any defensive work, can be easily protected, as the only two outlets to it from the ocean are at the Florida straits and between Yucatan and Cuba.

Another immense advantage to the whole Pacific Coast by the construction of the ship railway will be the impetus it will give to immigration from European countries. We need, especially for the increased cultivation of our soil that the ship railway will bring about, these hardy agricultural immigrants, who now do not reach us on account of the great expense of transportation over the transcontinental railroads. With our country filled up with these industrial people, who so easily will become a part of our body politic, we can then relegate to their own country the unassimilating Chinese population that have infested our Coast.

Now that the Congress of the United States has refused to ratify the Nicaragua canal treaty, and there are such grave doubts in regard to the completion of the Panama canal, we must rely upon the Tehauntepec Ship Railway as the final solution of this great problem of transportation so directly and essentially effecting our prosperity.



Canal Zone, Panama.
Canal Zone Street
Colon, Panama

Colon was founded as a result of the California gold rush; in 1850, the city became the starting point of a railroad that carried people across the Isthmus of Panama. These fortune seekers came by ship from the eastern United States, crossed the isthmus, then continued by ship to California.

The town was first named Aspinwall after one of the railroad's builders. In 1890, the name was changed to Colon, the Spanish word for Columbus, to honor Christopher Columbus.

Once construction of the railroad was begun shacks rose on piles amid the swampy vegetation of the island. The settlement took a sudden start forward in 1851 when a storm prevented two New York ships from landing their passengers at the mouth of the Chagres River. The delayed travelers were instead landed at Colon, and the rails having been laid as far as Gatun, they were carried thither by the railroad. This route proving the more expeditious the news quickly reached New York and the ships began making Colon their port.


Daily Alta California, June 20, 1851, San Francisco, California

Unfortunate Accident at Cruces

We learn that an unfortunate accident occurred at Cruces on Saturday, by which a native boatman was shot by an American, who was about taking passage down the river. It seems, from the story told us, and which is no doubt correct, that a party of returning Californians had hired a boat to take them down the river; that just as they were about starting, another Californian, whose name we cannot ascertain, stepped up and demanded passage, he having previously paid the boatman. There being no more room in the boat, an altercations occurred, during which the Californian drew a pistol, at the same time insisting upon his right, and asserting his determination to go in the boat.

Upon investigation, it was found that one of those already embarked had not paid, whereupon it was decided that he would have to give place to the one who had. The difficulty being thus settled, the armed Californian was putting away his pistol in its belt, when, in letting down the hammer, it unfortunately slipped from his thumb, and discharged the pistol, the ball from which entered the right side of one of the boatmen. Of course, a great excitement immediately ensued, and it was with the utmost effort that a general melee between the natives and Americans could be prevented. The Californian was taken prisoner and continued in the jail at Cruces, where he was at our latest advices. All parties, however, are becoming perfectly satisfied that the catastrophe was one of accident, and not of intention. The wounded man was immediately taken care of, the ball extracted, and, we are glad to say, is doing well.

Porto Bello

April 14, 1895, Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia


Sir Henry Morgan and the Sacking of Panama
by Howard Pile

It has already been told how Pierre le Grand took the Spanish treasure-ship the vice-admiral of the West Indies flotila -- off Cape Tiburon in the western part of Hispanola: how that achievement was the beginning of buccaneer-piracy, which was taken up by others who became even more famous than he such men, as Mansvelt, Bartholomew Portugues, Roch Brazlllanous, Francoiso Lolonoise, and finally the great Sir Henry Morgan one time governor of Jamaica, under King Charles II.

Of him then Captain Morgan- it is now to be told and of his famous attack on the great and beautiful city of Panama, on the west coast of the isthmus of Darien.

In the years that followed that famous achievement of Pierre le Grand, the buccaneers so harried and swept the Spanish main that it became no longer safe for Spain to send treasure ships across the ocean, except in large fleets and under convoy of powerful ships of war. Until such fleets could be assembled and such convoy secured the treasures of gold and silver collected by the Spanish agents in the Americas had to be deposited in such great fortified towers as Carthagenia, on the north coast of South America, or Panama, on the west coast of the Darien isthmus, each of which was a great fortress cities defended by massive buttressed walls and towers and by outer fortifications commanding all approaches to it.

Again and again and again the buccaneers turned their eyes toward these two strongholds with their accumulated wealth. But it was not until the coming of Henry Morgan that anyone dared undertake such a tremendous task as an open attack, either upon the one or the other . . .

It was not until Henry Morgan organized them into regular armies, supported by regular fleets of war ships, and with these fleets and armies attacked other fleets and fortified Inland strongholds, that the buccaneers reached the height of their terror and devastation.

At that time the Island of Jamaica had been taken by the Spaniards from the English under Admiral Penn the father of William Penn, the famous Quaker. The conquerors had there settled and had fortified themselves, and soon the Island had become altogether English. The chief town of Jamaica was then the famous city of Port Royal. It stood planted upon the tip of a sand spit that sheltered within its white arm of coral the quiet waters of Port Royal now Kingston harbor.

The World Atlas of Pirates.

There is no space in such a short story as this to to tell of all the famous adventures of the great Captain Henry Morgan, any one of which would make the renown of one of the buccaneers how he pirated along the coast of Campeehe; how he attacked and captured the town of Sante Jago, in Cuba; of how he captured and sacked the city of Maracaibo which Buccaneer Lolonoise had stripped of nearly everything a few years before; of how he made that terrible and lurid night attack on the fortress of Porto Bello when the buccaneers stormed the burning castle and where the brave and hapless governor, with the roof blazing above his head and the floor burning beneath his feet, stood, sword in hand, his wife and daughter clinging about his knees, fighting to the last until somebody fired a pistol and he sank dead in a heap upon the ground.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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