I wonder if modern education has not made some progress in a generation. Here was a boy of fourteen who had never studied history or physics or physiology and was assigned nothing but Latin, algebra and grammar. I left at fourteen and a half to come to California, knowing little but what I had picked up accidentally.
A diary of my voyage, dating from June 4, 1855, vividly illustrates the character of the English inculcated by the school of the period. It refers to the “crowd assembled to witness our departure.” It recounts all we saw, beginning with Washacum Pond, which we passed on our way to Worcester: “of considerable magnitude, ... and the small islands which dot its surface render it very beautiful.” The buildings of New York impressed the little prig greatly. Trinity Church he pronounces “one of the most splendid edifices which I ever saw,” and he waxes into “Opalian” eloquence over Barnum’s American Museum, which was “illuminated from basement to attic.”
We sailed on the “George Law,” arriving at Aspinwall, the eastern terminal of the Panama Railroad, in ten days. Crossing the isthmus, with its wonders of tropical foliage and varied monkeys, gave a glimpse of a new world. We left Panama June 16th and arrived at San Francisco on the morning of the 30th.
Let the diary tell the tale of the beginning of life in California: “I arose about 4-1/2 this morning and went on deck. We were then in the Golden Gate, which is the entrance into San Francisco Bay. On each side of us was high land. On the left-hand side was a lighthouse, and the light was still burning. On my right hand was the outer telegraph building. When they see us they telegraph to another place, from which they telegraph all over San Francisco. When we were going in there was a strong ebb tide. We arrived at the wharf a little after five o’clock. The first thing which I did was to look for my father. Him I did not see.”
Father had been detained in Humboldt by the burning of the connecting steamer, so we went to Wilson’s Exchange in Sansome near Sacramento Street, and in the afternoon took the “Senator” for Sacramento, where my uncle and aunt lived.
The part of a day in San Francisco was used to the full in prospecting the strange city. We walked its streets and climbed its hills, much interested in all we saw. The line of people waiting for their mail up at Portsmouth Square was perhaps the most novel sight. A race up the bay, waiting for the tide at Benicia, sticking on the “Hog’s Back” in the night, and the surprise of a flat, checkerboard city were the most impressive experiences of the trip to Sacramento.
A month or so on this compulsory visit passed very pleasantly. We found fresh delight in watching the Chinese and their habits. We had never seen a specimen before. A very pleasant picnic and celebration on the Fourth of July was another attractive novelty. Cheap John auctions and frequent fires afforded amusement and excitement, and we learned to drink muddy water without protest.