Week 13


James’ illustration of “Apparatus & Machinery of the Light House”

By 8 A.M. on Sunday we were all dressed – had our coffee & repaired to the key to observe the weather. The Norther had ceased & the sea was smooth with the exception of an occasional swell or two which did not prevent us from going on board, where we found all right. At 11 we again went on shore to go to the Consuls – who asked us to deliver a letter at the Castle for the commandant. We gladly promised as we expected to have a favourable opportunity of seeing this celebrated castle which the Mexicans had been unable to take by force & could only starve a surrender.

When we approached the Castle an soldier standing on a lone gallery which encircled the light-house pulled a string twice, which was attached to the clapper of the bell & caused it to sound the same number of times. This we understood to be a signal to those whose duty it was to look out for some one coming. We stopped not however, but pulling in close to the walls, we passing a narrow entrance, not far from which on a small landing place built at the foot, was a sentry to whom we presented the letter saying ‘por el commandante.’ The sentry pointed to another soldier, who was coming from the interior of the castle & whom we found was to conduct us to the presence of the doughty hero. It was no easy matter to find out where he was. We passed under several arched gateways, where sentinels were posted, and called at several houses where it was likely the Colonel would be but for long time re no puntize. At last we found him – in a very mean room – up two pair of dark stairs – quite in dishabille no stockings – no shoes – & the rest of his equipment any thing but decent and clean. We made our bows & presented the letter. He apologised for the condition we found him in – but in a manner that shewed him to be perfectly easy how we might receive his excuses or what opinion we might form of him in his then state. It is a very good rule to take time by the forelock, or to seize the advantage of the tide, so we on the point of departing in a sort of lingu franca, a medley of English & French & Spanish asked permission to be permitted to view the Castle. The desired permission was graciously accorded – after which we took a most familiar adieu – & set out on our expedition under the guidance of the same soldier who by the bye as we were descending the stairs did not omit, to beg of us some dineiros – not as you may ignorantly suppose from the sound dinner – but hard cash. When we had forked out a trifle, he very politely walked in advance of us, and enabled us to pass without question the various sentinels. We visited all the parts of the Castle above ground only, having no time to descend to see the loathsome damp prisons underneath, a week in which is worse than death. It would be impossible to enter into a minute description of all that we saw – for our view was hasty & brief. I shall therefore take a very cursory glance & make mention of such each particular as struck me most.

In its construction the Castle appears to be as strong as stone & mortar can make it. I believe it has been built with all the precision & perfection which a knowledge of engineering & the art of rearing fortified places could make – there being guns of heavy calibre planted in excellent embrasures, where ever circumstances might require them. The guns themselves are very long brass ones & if kept in order would look very well – but they are not so – the accommodation of the soldiers there are excellent barracks arranged like streets – & the whole presents a town in miniature in the form of squares – There are abundant capabilities under ground for storing many months provision & ammunition, placed out of the reach of bombs and balls. There are also large tanks of water, rendering the place entirely independent of all external supplies – these we saw with much pleasure. I saw no fine houses for the officers – all seemed much on a par – & perhaps this is not a circumstance to be regretted. At one corner of the Castle the light house is situated. It is a circular tower. I know not of what height, half way up is a stone gallery all round. The ground work is red, with numerous white pilasters, which when new must have presented a very pretty appearance, tho’ now the whole looks mean & decayed. This tower is crowned with a sort of sky-light, polygonal & of glass. To protect this glass as well as to support it, there are strong iron rods, between which is wire, like a net. At the summit of all is a weather vane.

Light House of San Juan de Ulloa

You enter the Pharol by an old dilapidated door at the foot of the Tower. You then ascend by two flights of stairs running spirally – and you must be cautious how you proceed, as the iron balustrade placed to prevent you falling over is very rickety & rather a temptation to danger than a preventive of it, if you should trust to it for support. The last step places you next on a level with the glass part of the building – which in fact forms a very small room where you have hardly room to move & contains all the apparatus & machinery of the light-house.

In the centre was a copper box marked A, from the middle of which a long perpendicular rod B, from which again the various lamps with their reflectors branched, forming a circle. The number of lamps was different at different parts of the circle – but I cannot specify them. Right in the focus of the metal reflectors the light was placed so that not till they were right opposite you could you have the full glare of the light. The light is a revolving one, & displays at certain intervals – & all this was accomplished by a very simple apparatus. A rope C, is attached to the [rod] B & passes thro’ a hole in the box A – over a pulley D & descends pretty low, having a heavy weight fixed to the end. When it is wished to set the machinery agoing, the man winds up at E where there is a wheel & handle – and as he winds, the rope coils round a wooden box inside the copper box A & requires some time to be unwound moving the light and reflectors as its operation is sustained. To the left of the rod B is a piece of brass connected somehow or another with the rest, F by which the watchman is enabled to check or stop the revolution of the lights while he trims the lamps. There is still one thing I have not explained – viz. how the light appears & disappears at certain intervals. The contrivance is exceedingly simple. One part of the circle of reflectors has no lamps at all & consequently presents a dark surface to the observer. Why there were any blind reflectors at all I know not – perhaps they were required to serve as a balance to the rest.

On the whole then this concern of a lighthouse was pretty fair considering – All the apparatus was brought from North America, the Mexicans had nothing to do with it and therefore can claim no merit. And in the management also they are entitled to a very limited modicum of praise. At one [instance] indeed the light ceased to blaze & ships were left without a guide, because forsooth the stock of oil was exhausted & no individuals were philanthropic or patriotic enough to furnish and additional supply. By dint of arguments & representations the government were shamed into a very rare instance of generosity & advanced the necessary direct to purchase more oil.

Again we were often much amused in watching the proceedings of the lighting man. Sometimes he would fall asleep – the weight would run down – the lights ceased to revolve – and as chance would have it the Navigator would either have a fixed light or no light at all, according as the bright or dark side was to him. Sometimes the light would dim & dreary for lack of oil – & yet the watchful keeper would never perceive it for his eyes would be shut. At other times when they were more looked after, they shewed an unusual alertness & over carefulness. They trimmed the lamps frequently & took a long time on the operation – consequently in order to accomplish this he had to check the revolution of the lights so that very often a quarter of an hour would elapse ere the machinery was setting agoing again – things very inexplicable & puzzling to one who should come for the first time – & might perhaps make him overshoot his port and give him three or four days occupation and amusement in beating back.

Having gratified our curiosity in seeing all that was to be seen in the light-house, [we] proceeded, preceded always by our guide, to walk round the ramparts, from which we had a most delightful view of the town – sea – and country. But the best view of all was from the summit of a square tower placed at the corner of the fortification, opposite the Pharol. There we had an extensive view all around. The whole of the Castle, with its numerous gateways – drawbridges – courts – & canals as it were, lay below us – & the contemplation heightened our admiration. To sea ward we observed an immense reef of rocks with not more than a few feet of water – & more than a mile or two in extent – completely precluding all danger from that quarter & of course rendering the placing of guns to command it useless. A little out side of this reef were two or three broken up hulks of what had once been Mexican frigates, & next to them lay the merchant vessels now in port. To landward we saw the City of Vera Cruz a gentle and undulating hill, swelling up behind it. In seeing all these objects more clearly, we were assisted by a most excellent London made glass – with which we were most politely accommodated by the half-naked lookout for vessels, whose station was in this tower.

As we had occasion to go once more to the Town to day, & it was getting late we were obliged to hurry off, without waiting to see any more of the wonders of this Pride of the Mexicans. We accordingly quickly retraced our steps – and stopped not till we reached our boat, regardless of observing the various humans of the place – the lounging soldiers, with their wives or doxies – others playing at pitch & toss – others drinking – or eating a sleeping – & even the very guards inactive resting on their arms. Once away from the Castle we pulled hard for the town – executed our business – and returned on board just before the setting in of a Norther.

Monday 17th February – it had been arranged yesterday that we should get our Mail & our Freight from Vera Cruz to day at 9 oClock – but during the night it blew strong from the Northward, and continued with nearly equal violence all day, so that it was impossible for us to go on shore. The weather was fine & the temperature very chilly.

Tuesday 18th – this morning we had a calm and accordingly we went for our Mail. What with the Mail – Freight – & many passengers, we were not ready to start till 2 P.M., altho’ long ere that time we had cast our chain loose from the ring in the Castle & taken up one of our anchors. At the hour abovementioned we were all right, & were glad to have the advantage of a Southerly wind, which was directly in our favour. The weather was delightful & the sea smooth, so that our numerous passengers enjoyed them [selves] for a little on deck.

Wednesday 19th Feb.ry -in the morning – moderate and favourable breeze during the day – not so favourable at night.

Thursday 20th – very fine weather – light winds and foul in the morning – during the afternoon more favourable.

Friday 21st – very fine weather – wind moderate and barely favourable.

Saturday 22nd – fine weather – Moderate but not quite favourable wind – making us go too much to the Northward.

Additional remarks on the XIII Week. After leaving Vera Cruz, till the end of this Hebdomadal Period, the weather has been uniformly most delightful – as cool as we have it in the pleasant months of September and October – & as clear & Sun shiny. This is the natural result of the fresh breezes, with which we have been favoured. These have been neither altogether favourable nor the contrary. We have been enabled to make a good deal of Easting (good) at the expense of our Southing – for we have had nothing but ESE & SE winds. Now just before our departure from Vera Cruz, ever since we left Jamaica, we had constantly NE winds – would that we had them at present, is all the cry. But after all we have made good progress considering – nor has the time passed so monotonously as usual, on account of the number of our passengers, consisting of a father & mother – 3 daughters – 2 girls belonging to their friends – 2 sons – 3 servants – & 3 gentleman passengers –

At first all were very sick, and the sight was unpleasant enough – but they in general soon [came] round – the sooner I believe from remaining so much on deck in the open air – Nunquam vidi tan-multos necessarios – ex agrgento – stanno et luto fino compositos, qui saepe in ordine ____ in puppum dispositi sine pudore, – tranquam more solito.

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