Tampico, Mexico

At 6 P.M. of Wednesday 30th June – we left the harbour of Vera Cruz and made all sail for Tampico.

Thursday 1st July – cloudy but pleasant weather – winds fresh and favourable.

Friday 2nd – at 7 A.M. we came to anchor off Tampico – and the Mail was immediately got ready to be landed. Tampico lay about 6 or 7 miles from our anchorage, and I had no expectation of visiting it – but thro’ the kindness of the Captain, I was asked to accompany him, which you be sure I did with pleasure. All things being prepared, we shoved off in the gig, and I was soon all on the “qui vive” to observe any thing new. The land on either side of us was very low and covered with trees and the creeping plants of a Tropical climate, very different from the bare sandy appearance of the country near Vera Cruz. Right ahead of us, and at the entrance of the river Tampico, we saw the appearance of a surf breaking high, and the huge waves as they rolled majestically on, stopped in their even course by some banks. This was the Bar of Tampico, over which there is 15 feet of water only.

Bar of Tampico – Beautiful appearance of the River

When we passed over it, tho’ sufficiently alarming, it was in a state of peace, comparable with its appearance in a fresh breeze, or in a storm. I hear it is awfully terrific, with its mountainous billows and tremendous surge. I hear it is attended with eminent danger to attempt to pass thro’, many having been lost there, – and if you have advanced rather far and perceived in to be impossible to proceed, you must not on any account try to put your boat about, but keep her head to the waves and back astern – otherwise your destruction is inevitable. The best time for crossing the bar is very early in the morning, before the sea breeze has set in.

But to return we having safely passed this dangerous bar, found ourselves at the commencement of a river, I should think not more than half a mile in breadth, and exchanged turbulence of the bar for the restful calmness, as of pool or pond. At a very short distance up, the Captain stopped for a short time to wait upon the Captain of the Port. This necessary piece of duty being completed we resumed our voyage, which we did for four or five miles more. I was highly delighted with our progress – it was so novel a thing to be sailing on the bosom of a narrow river, with all the peculiarities of river navigation in view. The banks for the most part were lined with trees of good height and size – occasionally you came to a part rather naturally destitute of trees or deprived of them by the hand of man. Sometimes the ground was elevated – sometimes low – sometimes both banks presented the same appearance, at other parts the one wooded & high, the other low – bare. Nor were the devious courses of the river less pleasing, which brought before us new and different scenery. If instead of its numerous and irregular meanderings or winding, it had been straight as the flight of an arrow, a great part of its beauty would have been lost from the tree lined uniformity.

Plenty of Alligators Sharks &.c – Reach Tampico

Another source of pleasure and gratification of my curiosity was the innumerable tribe of animals which we saw disporting themselves in and out of the water. Here were alligators of immense size, lifting their monstrous heads and bodies above the water as if to espy, who it was that dared to disturb them in their native element, and perhaps to look out if they could obtain their revenge upon the invaders by devouring them all whole. Not far from these another enemy to man, and far more dangerous was just visible – the voracious shark, with his dorsal fin constantly raised above water, followed in the wake of our boat, preceded by the faithful pilot fish. Truly, however pleasant and laudable it is to view these inhabitants of the deep preserved in museums, it cannot but cause a cold shudder to come over you, to think what might be your probable fate, should you fall over board by accident, or the boat be capsized by a sudden squall, as nearly happened to me in returning. In such an event you have but very little chance of escape, as the whole river swarms with them.

Much more, sincere and safe was our pleasure in beholding the various specimens of the feathered and winged creation. Numerous birds of beautiful plumage hovered among the woods and the whole banks covered with the long necked & legged stork. Countless butterflies also crossed our path – and I sincerely declare that I had no previous conception of the large size and incalculable variety of these insects. All the colours, both simple and compounded found their counterpart in one or other of them – and some as to size, seemed as large as birds at a distance. The Painter might find in the different combinations of light and shade some new ideas for disposing of his colours and the poet many similes adapted to express elegance and beauty.

With so many new and beautiful objects to attract my attention, I was not sensible of the slightest ennui, during our close progress to Tampico. At last reached our landing place, disembarked, and proceeded with the Mail to the house of M.r Crawford, the British Consul established here. In him I found a countryman, being a native of Port Glasgow and a relative of D.r Wishart of Edinburgh. From him and his lady I received much attention, and lived and messed at his house all the time I was on shore.

Account of Tampico – Its Products

The Town of Tampico, of which I shall now proceed to give you a very imperfect account, from observations made two days ago, is situated on the right bank of the River. It is not of more than 7 years date, and from its considerable size and increasing population presents a most memorable proof of the rapidity of growth in cities, where great advantages in trade hold out inducements to settle. The present is not the original site of Tampico, which was indeed almost opposite on the left bank, where you can still observe the traces in the shape of huts and ruined houses. The cause of this removal was the greater facility of trade, and a more elevated stance. Where Tampico now stands, vessels can discharge close to the wharf, and if I might venture to offer an opinion, in respect both of health and utility the change is decidedly for the better. There is little doubt, but that, if we judge, from the progress made in the short space since its foundation, and suppose this to go on increasing, Tampico will soon be ushered into importance and become one of the very first marts in Mexico This will more probably be the case, since it is proposed to have a steamboat, which will convey in a very short time the produce of the interior of the country for near 200 miles (the extent of the river as navigable) as I was told. Should the experiment succeed, its success will naturally encourage several other similar speculations and thus by means of a fine river, & a rapid conveyance, an increasing inter-change of produce will [be] the consequence, and Tampico from its situation will naturally be made Emporium of commerce between Mexico and foreign parts.

I can not exactly describe what effect the appearance of Tampico produced upon me, and at first if asked what I thought of it could hardly have given an answer. After I had been there two days, and traversed the Town several times, I said to myself what is [it] like to? I can give you no better idea of the opinion I have formed of it than as saying that it seemed to me to resemble a watering place which it has just become fashionable to frequent. And before it becomes a populous place where no relics of its primeval poverty and simplicity remains. To explain myself better, Tampico contains a great number of neat commodious houses, the stores or habitations of the richer and more respectable class of society. Close to these, and in many bye lanes are the poor miserable wigwams of the indigent, contrasting powerfully with the better habitations, as the comfortable country boxes of the gentlemen – frequenting the waters, so with the small confined abodes of the villagers. I do not think that I was every so much pleased with any place of the same size as I was with Tampico. In general the houses (that is the better sort) consist of one story, built of stone, faced with white plaster, and having flat roofs, with numerous gutters for the escape of the rain. Of these there are whole streets, uniform, neat and clean, which with few exceptions for the store houses of the merchants here. Almost all the doors are, as I mentioned with regard to Carthagena, are large and covered first with tin and afterwards painted green. Very few of the houses have two flats – and I think only one has three. The latter is not yet completed: it is in the English style, and has windows raised above the sloping roofs, as in York Place.

Progress of Building – People – Amusements at Tampico

As a remarkable contrast you can see the huts of the poor, which are merely boughs of trees or stakes driven into the ground & interwoven with pliant shrubs, and thro’ the interstices, the wind and the rain can drive at pleasure – the one of which is an inappreciable benefit in so hot a climate the other a great evil. The roofs of these huts are securely protected from the weather by being well thatched with the broad leaved of the palmetto. It is probable that these miserable habitations will soon be forced to be cleared away, to make room for ones more elegant and imposing. Every day new houses are being commenced – and so rapid hitherto has been the growth of the Town that the stumps of trees are still left unrooted up, and hardly more than one or two streets have any thing like a foot pavement.

There are no fine public buildings, as you may readily imagine. The Church is a decent homely building. The custom house so so, and the jail apparently small, which speaks something in favour of the good conduct of 6000 or 7000 inhabitants. There is also a billiard room.

Very few of the People are perfectly white, and these consist chiefly of foreigners, as Englishmen Americans and French. The generality have the slight Indian cast of countenance, or softened down by the admixture of Spanish blood. I did not see more than a very few negroes. The dress is the same as among us, with the exception that almost all here wear the Jacquet Jacket and seldom the long coat except on occasions of ceremony. The Tampicans may be considered a fine race of men, among whom I saw some whose well defined thews and sinews would make them a valuable study to the sculptor or the painter. The common class are very indolent and never work, unless when necessity compels them – and even after all, the moderate labour of one day will procure them the means of subsistence for a whole week, as their wants are few and their pleasures simple. They have few or no amusements – and as far as I could remark, the dance & gambling are the only legitimate ones. I had an opportunity of witnessing a weekly meeting for the purpose of enjoying the fandango. It was Saturday and I was struck with the sight of a small red flag, hoisted on a flag staff above the roof of one of the better sort of poor houses. I asked the meaning of it, and was told that Saturday night it was customary to give this public intimation, where a fandango was to take place. I immediately determined to be present, if possible, and accordingly, at proper time I went accompanied by the Clerk of Crawford, who of course was quite familiar with such things. If what I saw had not been somewhat different from the same kinds of meeting I had already seen, I would [have] passed my visit to it over in silence – but as there’s some difference I shall endeavour to give you some idea of it. I found a very large assemblage indeed collected – I should imagine several hundreds – and amidst so large a multitude the utmost order and propriety prevailed. To speak correctly, there were two collections of people, each differently employed in gambling & dancing.