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Title: Extracts of letter from E. H. Lamont, California
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
Filelamont, e.h/40
SenderLamont, E.H.
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginSan Francisco, California, USA
Recipient Genderunknown
SourceThe Belfast News-Letter, Friday, 14 December, 1849
ArchiveThe Central Library, Belfast
Doc. No.101137
Partial Date
Doc. TypeEMG
LogDocument added by LT, 11:01:01.
Word Count2045
NoteN.B. extracts of letters by Lamont
A letter from our young townsman, Mr. E. H. Lamont,
who has recently landed at San Francisco, has been
received by his friends. The following extracts will
be read with interest:-

The town of Valparaiso, as seen from the sea, lies
at the extremity of its spacious bay, stretching along
the beach, in a half crescent form. A series of hills
run at right angles with the town, terminating in bluffs
so close to the shore as to leave little building room
between them and the beach; so that the town between
the beach and the cliffs consists, principally, of two
range of streets, save where the hills are divided, the
ravines between them being densely crowded with houses,
which are built up the acclivities of the mountains,
the hills, in some cases, being entirely covered with
red-roofed white cottages. In winter, during our visit,
the hills were tolerably well clothed with verdure,
their sides being perfectly green, but the tops, in many
places, having a red scorched appearance.

* * * * * * * * * *

The ship's papers having been examined over, then
came the passenger-boats clamouring for hire. I had
made arrangements with a party of ten that we should
land together, and for two dollars we procured a boat.
I was among the first over the ship's side; soon we
were all right, and I gave the word, " Pull away, my
hearties." The Chilanos, joining in the laugh that
emanated from our overflowing spirits, took up the
word, " Pully way, marties," increasing our
merriment; and, brimful of mirth and happiness, we
reached the shore in less than no time.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The day of our landing, the 15th of July, was the
middle of their winter, yet it was as warm on shore as
our midsummer, without that oppressive closeness
commonly felt by us in such hot weather. The evenings
were cool - one day it rained all day lightly, another
part of a day heavily; and this, during our fortnight's
stay in this charming place, I learned was a fair
sample of their winter weather. Their summer is not
greatly warmer - the climate is delightful and healthy,
the country fruitful and luxurious, and its native
productions numerous, yielding nearly all kinds of
grain, vegetables, and fruit - oranges, grapes, figs,
almonds, etc., and wheat, which is largely exported,
is of a very superior quality. The wine of some parts
is tolerably good, and, from the quality of grapes,
might be much better if care were bestowed on its
manufacture. That made about Valparaiso, which is
indifferent, brings about two dollars per gallon;
everything, however, during our stay, owing to the
great influx of strangers, was uncommonly dear. Chile
is, also, rich in minerals, especially silver, the
mines of Filipe being among the richest in the world.
During the time I remained, the Panama steamer came in,
having called at the Northern intermediate ports, and
brought with it, as usual, from the mines a quantity
of silver, which I saw - bars of about two feet long
and a-half thick, in various piles, in and about the
Custom-house, with the porters sitting on them as on
any other merchandise, while they were being removed
in open ox-carts for transmission elsewhere, without
seeming to cause the least curiosity. At home we
would have had crowds looking with envious eyes at
such a sight. There were also, quantities of metal
tubes of quicksilver lying in the same unguarded
manner in the street.

* * * * * * * * * * *

I believe the Southern Province to be a much better
field for emigration than any of the British colonies,
especially the neighbouring one of Australia, for here
is a still superior climate, a more fruitful soil, with
what Australia is deficient in, bays and navigable
rivers. In the districts offered to the emigrants they
are, also, nearer that great new market, San Francisco,
which will be principally supplied with flour from Chile;
and, as California must, for a length of time, remain a
non-producing country, with a rapidly increasing
population, the consumption of land produce will be
great. Commerce could be added to agriculture by an
enterprising colony; and I believe that as much or more
might be made here with more quietness and happiness
than in the gold regions. The people of the country
are said to be honest, hospitable, and gracious to
strangers. Since the war of independence, the country
has improved, in every respect; travelling is now safe
in all parts.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Horse-racing and cock-fighting, which I Have witnessed
here, seem to be the principal amusements of the country
people. In Valparaiso they are fond of theatricals,
music, and dancing. During my stay, I was fortunate
enough to be present at one of their philharmonic
concert balls. The rooms of this society were spacious
and lofty, neatly, if not elegantly fitted up; the ball-
room, as well as the refreshment and dressing-rooms,
being carpeted. Possibly, it was paved with brick, as
I have seen the upper stories of several houses here.
I dare say this is done for economy, the wood of the
country being generally hard, and building timber
The music was good, and the whole entertainment very
agreeable. An excellent privilege exists here for
strangers, that a gentleman may ask a partner to dance,
without introduction. The few words I know of badly-
spoken Spanish, which I stuck in on all possible
occasions, afforded much amusement to my fair companions;
and if I question if I did not come off as well as if
I had been a perfect Spanish Don, as far as the talking
was concerned. The ball and house dress of the ladies
is much the same as at home - save, perhaps, a little
richer - and the hair of young ladies is worn in plaits
down the back. In the street, a beautiful shawl is
commonly thrown over the head, falling considerably
beyond the waist. The Church dress is of black, with
black embroidered shawl, set off by a brilliantly
coloured little kneeling carpet carried in front, as
some of our young ladies do their prayer-books; and,
thus walking along, with downcast eyes, their duennas
behind them, the Spanish ladies appear the very type
of devotion. It is a common saying here, that the French
ladies should be seen in the street, the English ladies
in the house, and the Spanish ladies anywhere; and,
though their faces are far from beautiful, being rather
broad, the little turned up nose and short upper lip
give them a piquante expression. Their eyes are almost
universally dark, large, and lustrous, their hair black
and straight, and the rich warm tinge of their skin is
enhanced by the deep red of their lips, which, however,
they should always keep shut - save that this would
prevent your hearing their very musical voices - for
opening them usually exposes teeth crooked and dark,
which repel a nearer approach to their ruby companions.
I left Chile with greater regret than I could have
believed it possible to have experienced after so short
a stay. It is the land of the picturesque, and the
hand of the artist alone could give you an idea of the
scenes that vary in novelty and beauty on which side
soever you turn - writing cannot give you a proper
description of them. The sides of the hills are covered
with hyacinths, cactuses, and many other flowering
plants only seen in our hot-houses, whilst numerous
aromatic shrubs perfume the atmosphere, as you brush
your way through them; and the gilded plumage of the
little humming-bird, as it flutters from flower to
flower, enlivens the scene. Yet there were several of
our fellow passengers who could see no beauty in the
The morning of the 28th of September found us a few
miles beyond our destination (San Francisco); fortunately
a brig which was sailing out came near us, and gave us
the requisite information as to the bearings of the
harbour. The weather was finer than it had been for some
time, and our course was near the shore, of which we had
a fine view, and were much prepossessed in favour of
this part of it, which, however, appeared more picturesque
than fertile, being mountainous - the bold coast
occasionally opening and showing beautifully sheltered
valleys, where one might spend a retired and happy
lifetime, if a happier home was not open to him. We
entered the harbour, which is rocky and bold to the
North, but has sloping sandy hills to the South, with,
occasionally, in the hollows, green spots, where we
could descry, even at this distance from the city, a
mile or more, the tents of the emigrants.
On rounding the fort point, the magnificent bay of
San Francisco lay like a placid sea before us, the
bright sun shining on its sparkling waters. The mists
that hang around the coast, damping the spirits as
they do its shores, are here entirely dissipated. A
perfect forest of masts presented itself to our view,
lying inside the harbour, which is round the Southern
point of the bay, and protected outside by a beautiful
wooded conical island. The town itself - I beg its
pardon, city, as it is called - is situated on the rise
of a sandy hill, and is a most miscellaneous collection
of all sorts and sizes of habitations, the hovel of
boughs, the tent, the shanty of wood and canvas, the
neat little Spanish casa, and the British warehouse.
Its inhabitants are as grotesque as its houses;
Americans, English, Mexicans, Indians, Malays, Chinese,
Sandwich Islanders, Negroes, &c., in various costumes
are bustling about, all employed at immense sums. A
carpenter, a young lad of our ship, got immediately
on landing, fourteen dollars per day for his work. At
the diggings, a labourer gets eight dollars per day,
but they average about ten dollars per day on their
own account. To go from the ship to shore costs a
dollar each man; to take one or two trunks from the
wharf up the city, two dollars. Ground and houses
are at an enormous price. The market has been over-
stocked with most kinds of goods. The duties are
33« per cent., ad valorem; the landing expenses are
enormous. Yet money is flying about here like dirt;
people seem to think nothing of dollars.
We got the tent and some of our luggage on the shore,
having previously agreed for a piece of ground to pitch
it on, at the top of the town - a healthy situation,
from which we have a delightful view of the harbour,
and enclosed by a paling, which makes it secure. For
the spot on which the tent stands, we pay 10 dollars
per month, or about ÷27 a year, which is considered
very cheap. There are many places we could get for
nothing, but they are either remote or unhealthy.
Around us are the tents of several of our shipmates, I
believe all bound for the diggings. After erecting
the tent, another young fellow and myself went to the
well, in a valley about a quarter of a mile over the
hill, for water, where we met several others employed
in the same manner, all very gentlemanly persons.
Indeed, occupation is no criterion of birth here -
you may see a boatman or a cart-driver with gold
spectacles and diamond ring, finding he can make more
by his hands than his head. Oh! this California is a
sad leveller.
In the meantime, M- went to buy meat and bread, four
loaves, worthy about 1s. at home, costing a dollar.
The meat, however, is only 9d. per pound. We were very
comfortable after our dinner of boiled beef and soup,
with biscuit mashed in it, which, though I say it that
should not, having, on this occasion, installed myself
cook, was pronounced excellent; and I must say I relished
it highly.
Gambling is the prevailing vice here. This is carried
to a dreadful extent, and thousands are squandered at
the gaming-table. the place, however, though there is
no regular police, seems perfectly quiet, and life and
property as safe at San Francisco as at home.
San Francisco, October 1st, 1849.