Cartagena, Columbia

In sight of Columbia

Sunday 27th – was ushered in by thunder, lightning and rain – Peal succeeded peal, flash followed flash and the torrents descended till about noon, when to our joy the horizon, which had been cloudy and obscure began to be cleared up, and disclosed to our view at no great distance, the land of Christopher Columbus. With even a very moderate breeze we should have reached it in a few hours – but unfortunately a light wind – which had just sprung up, died away and disappointed our hopes. The calm continued all day nearly all and night – and yet we made some little progress towards the land by the agency of a current, which set in towards it. From Punta de Canoas to about 10 miles from Carthagena, to la Papa, a lofty eminence, which lies a little above that city and indeed commands it, we saw the land, that it was a moderate height, and no ways peculiar as seen from the distance where we were.

Anchor in front of Cartagena

Monday 28th Sept.r – altho’ not 18 miles from Carthagena, we were obliged to content ourselves the whole day with the view in the distance – a dead calm prevailed during which we had some amusement in catching young sharks, which were swimming about in great numbers. In the evening a fresh breeze sprung up, by the aid of which we came to Anchor in front of Cartagena at 10 P.M.

Tuesday 29th – rose at 5 this morning in order to see how we were placed, and found that we were right in front of the Town, & not more than two or three miles off. When I say that we were so close to Cartagena, you will naturally suppose that we had reached the end of our voyage – but no, as you may judge from the following description.

Appearance of Cartagena

From our present situation Cartagena seemed to be built along the foot of a hill called La Popa (the People), which, rising gradually, terminates in a lofty point, on which a convent is erected called Nuestra Senora de la Popa. Altogether to us that figure of this hill then resembled our Salisbury Crags – but as I shall afterwards mention, a change of our position altered its figure. The Capital of Columbia, as we now are, appears rather pretty & indeed almost all foreign places do when seen from a distance. It has in sufficient abundance the usual appurtenances of Towers steeples &.c aexcleomnia hujins generio. The houses are close to the sea side, and are surrounded and protected by substantial walls, before which on this side no vessel can anchor without being exposed to the artillery on the ramparts.

Approach to the Harbour of Cartagena

At the Southern extremity, is an entrance of the Harbour, but which will only admit small boats. Beyond this opening there is a barrier formed by a small narrow low slip of land intervening between the sea and the Harbour. This neck of land continues for a little distance, when it is broken by what was formerly the principal entrance to the Harbour, and is called Boca Grande (i.e. Large Mouth), but which is now so artificially shut up, as to be impassable to all but vessels which draw very few feet of water. Still going Southward you have land again, which swelling out constitutes an island of tolerable elevation, named Isla de Tierra Bomba. Round the SW end of this island we came to the only entrance for large vessels, called the Boca Chica (ie narrow mouth) and this is well defended on the one side the Castillo de San Fernando, and on the other by the Castle of S.t Joseph.

Come to Anchor in Harbour of Cartagena

By this entrance of the Boca Chica you enter first a large sheltered Bay, of great beauty – thence the east Coast of Tierra Bomba, inclining to the mainland, leaves a channel of a mile in width. Having passed thro’ this you come into a second Bay, opposite to the Boca Grande, which again narrows into a strait, by which you are conducted into the Harbour. From this lengthy account you will see that before coming to anchor in the Harb.r (where the packets always anchor) we have to make a circuit of 14 or 16 miles, which often require many hours to accomplish.

At 2 oClock P.M. we came to anchor in the Harbour of Cartagena, after being much pleased with the beauty of the scenery, which we saw as we gradually advanced. I ought to have mentioned, however, that at 7 this morning the captain went on shore with the Mail, leav.g us to go forward under the direction of a Black Pilot.

Monsieur Boyere [Passenger – Story told by Him]

In the morning one of our Passengers a Monsieur Boyere accompanied our Captain. He is a native of France, but from a long residence in England spoke our language with considerable fluency and little foreign accent. His character was that of a young well informed gentleman, who had both seen and observed much. I know nothing of his history or occupation, but suppose him to be as almost all in these countries are engaged in merchandise. ‘Allo audore, fabulaur arte quidine administrandam audivi,” home nempe quondam albam ex nigra generationem formasse; (id est prince mulattos et femina nigra procreasse deinda ex filiabus suis Quadronos procreasse et postrenio e filiabus sudrum filiaru. A — procreatis albos liberes produxisse. Oh tempora, oh mores ! Broh pudor – humani generis- faedum infandum negotium. Haud dulicto quin Dominus. Boyere mihi versum dixerit- at ad verba firmanda declaravit, hominem supra dictum in Santa Marta Columbiae provincia diu vixisse, et onnes ibi habitantes hane em bene cognovisse.

[Which seems to focus on mixed procreation resulting in the different degrees of colour : a subject that he revisits when reviewing slavery at Jamaica later in this voyage.]

Difficulties presented to the landings of strangers at Cartagena

Our other passengers were under the necessity of waiting on board until the Harbour Master had visited us and taken down their names; Nay more Monsieur Maurel, a Frenchman was not permitted to land until he had procured some Columbian on shore to become security for his good behaviour and for any intermissions. This restrictive regulation applying to every newcomer of a foreign nation, and also to any one who, altho’ he has lived at Cartagena, happens to have gone out of the country for a few days or weeks, must be considered as very oppressive and hurtful to the interests of trade.

In the observance of it they are exceedingly strict – and in consequence, strangers, ignorant of this and unacquainted with a single inhabitant, have been obliged to remain on board, until by some means or other, a Columbian can be prevailed upon to sign his name as his security, upon which he receives a pass, and must present himself before the Police, and have a thousand questions asked of him. If you cannot obtain a security & venture to smuggle yourself into the Town, you have hardly a chance of escaping the vigilance of the lynx eyed police, who have various means of finding you out. A discovery is followed by a fine of 100 dollars and imprisonment in jail for a certain time.

Monsieur Maurel Passenger

Fortunately for our passenger Mons.r Maurel, he received his pass in the course of the day, and presented himself to the public officers appointed for the purpose – which had he not done in a day or two, the Captain (at least such is the case with captains of Merchant vessels) would have been required to produce him. Mons.r Maurel was about 37 years of age, very tall, and having his right cheek sadly disfigured by an ugly scar, left by a sabre wound. He spoke English tolerably well – well enough at least for me to be able to understand the account he gave me of himself. He had been a soldier, a professor, and is now a merchand. He had served several years in the army of Napoleon, in whose praise he was most enthusiastic, and consequently very much against the Bourbons, and he had been present at the battle of Waterloo, which he would not admit to have been gained by British valour, but the mistakes and treachery of Bonaparte’s generals. When tired of “wars alarms,” he turned himself to literature and became a professeur de Rhetorique, in one of the “Cours Royale” (royal colleges) of Paris, in which he included Latin, French and Greek, in fact he was Professor of Humanity as we say. What caused him to leave the trade of teaching the young idea how to shoot, I know [not] of – but so it was, that he left “la belle France” for painful travel in foreign lands. His political & ultra liberal opinions I suspect rendered him unfit to be instructor of the youth of Paris, whom it was natural for the Government to wish to be educated in sentiments of obedience and loyalty to the legitimate House of Bourbon.

Be the case what it may, he visited England, then Martinique, then Guadeloupe, next Jamaica and lastly Cartagena. In his travels he had already consumed eight years, trafficking here and there as opportunity offered. His mercantile adventures, however, were on a small scale, and judging by his dress, and the circumstance that he went with us only as a steerage passenger, altho’ being a Mason the Captain was kind enough to allow him to mess at the cabin table. Judging I say by all these things they had not apparently enriched him. As might be expected I found him well acquainted with the Latin language – & but so so with the Greek, which he had much neglected – often we spouted together to the great delight of us both.

[Other passengers]

The other passengers, whom we brought here, were a Miss Mary Ann Creichton, a lady of colour and her young slave Fanny, and her child. [The former proved to be the chere amie of a Senor Thomler, a Merchant in Carthagena.] That lady was indisposed during the whole voyage, but she appeared to be very pleasant in her manners.

Disturbances in Columbia – General Cordova

The prescribed time of remaining at Cartagena is 48 hours, but it is usual to detain the packet one day longer. In our own case, we expected a longer detention, as only four days before our arrival the country had experienced one of those political disturbances, which are of such frequent occurrence in infant states, and ill established governments. It appeared from general reports that a General Cordova, clearly the companion in arms of Bolivar, the Liberator of Columbia, concealing his own ambitious designs of personal aggrandisement, had raised the standard of rebellion and revolt under the flimsy pretence, that Bolivar entertained the purpose of subverting the liberties of his country, by converting the republic into a monarchy, of which he proposed to be the founder. The reason of advancing such a charge against the Liberator, is said to have been that the army under his command had offered him a crown – which he refused as proceeding only from his troops, and not from the people in general. Whatever truth may lie in this statement Cordova, it is certain, took advantage of Bolivar’s absence in Peru, where he was endeavouring to recover from that republic the expenses of the war just concluded, to leave him and raising a few hundred men, to proceed to certain fastnesses in the mountains, the which Bolivar must of necessity pass before he could reach Bogata – and this pass is said to be such by nature that a few men of resolute spirits could defend it against thousands, and effectually preclude their farther progress. Here Cordova prepared several proclamations claiming to himself high pretensions as a patriarch and representing the conduct and intentions of Bolivar in the most odious light. These manifestoes, altho’ so plausible and indubiously circulated did not appear to create much preposition in his favour – but on the contrary the general sense of the country was against him. With respect to Cartagena itself, the Governor of it is a General Montilla, an adherent of Bolivar – and hence it may be easily guessed that he would not be slack in his endeavours to quell the present disturbances. Two days before our arrival the whole disposable regular troops were sent off, partly by land and partly by water – so that only a few ill disciplined and worse equipped militiamen of all colours black, white & brown, were left for the protection of the Town. The Governor himself proposed to proceed to the seat of war in a short a time as some necessary previous arrangements would permit.

Such is a very slight sketch, which in have thought it necessary to give you, that you may understand, and several circumstances here after to be mentioned.

Read on … Life in Cartagena