Nimrod Headington Journal, 1852, part 9

Trip to California, Nimrod Headington’s journal, details his 1852 journey by ship, sailing from New York to San Francisco, to pan for gold. [1] [2]

This is the ninth in a series of blog posts, the transcription of Nimrod Headington’s 1852 journal.

Today’s installment begins the end of May, 1852. They sailed from New York over 95 days before and now their ship is docked at Valparaiso, Chile. Headington is in the city of Valparaiso.

[Late May, 1852] I next visited the cemetery, and this is the manner in which they bury their dead. The common herd of poor class they bury all in one common grave. They dig a hole 40 or 50 foot long and 10 or 12 foot deep, and when one dies, they throw the body in without any coffin and throw just enough dirt on to cover it up. And when another dies, they throw it on top of that and a little more dirt, and so on until that hole is full and then dig another. I saw the legs and arms of several sticking out. In this way hundreds are buried in one common grave while the wealthy class and all foreigners are buried in single graves in coffins.

There are a great many sailors buried here. I noted some of the inscriptions or epitaphs on some of the tombstones:

      To me remains no place nor time.
      My country is in every clime.
      I can be calm and free from care
      On any shore since God is there.

      After many toils and perils past,
      In foreign climes I fell at last.
      Reader, prepare to follow me,
      For what I am you soon must be.

      Ship mates, all my cruise is up.
      My body moored at rest.
      My soul is where? Aloft, of course,
      Rejoicing with the blest.

I found this epitaph on the tomb of an old sea captain, buried here in 1828:

        Here lies the rigging spars and hull
        Of sailing master David Mull

The following lines I found on the tomb of an America lady buried here:

        Light be the turf of thy tomb  
        May its verdure like emerald be.
There should not be the shadow of gloom
In aught that reminds us of thee.

These lines were inscribed on the tomb of an American Sailor buried in 1840:

        With bounding heart I left my home   
        Not thinking death so near.
But here the tyrant laid me low,
Which caused a messmate’s tear.

I might have taken many more of the inscriptions, but the day being almost gone, I had to stop and retrace my steps toward the city in order to reach there before dark, as I had some suspicion of these natives, especially in the dark. They all carry their big, dark knives by their side, attached to a belt, and they both fear and hate a Yankee.

Sundays here is their day for sport, horse racing, bull fighting, and all sorts of gambling. A great race was to take place on Sunday while we were there. And as we wanted to see all the sights, we went out to the racecourse. Thousands of people were there. The races were very fine—very fast running horses and piles of money bet on them. After the races were over, two of the men that owned the horses commenced quarreling. They were both mounted on horses, and very soon they drew their revolvers and made a dash at each other. And when the smoke cleared away, both of these men lay dead upon the ground.

For sin and licentiousness Valparaiso excels any city in the world of its size. Even the women are so depraved that they have no shame. 

There was an English Man of War anchored close to our ship while we lay in this port, and on Sunday they sent an invitation to our ship to attend church service on their ship at 4 o’clock p.m. Eight of us in a small boat rowed over to their ship, and we were a little too soon for church. They took great pleasure in showing and explaining everything on their ship. Also their implements of war. They had 36 cannon and large amounts of muskets with glittering bayonets. Everything was very clear and neat and in proper place, much more so than on our ship. It was not long until the bell rang for church, and all hands gathered between decks and were soon seated on benches. The chaplain read the services and prayers, and every word was repeated after him by all the soldiers, sailors, and seamen. Soon the bell tolled again, and the services were ended. The benches were all stowed away, and the brooms were brought out and sweeping commenced. They do not allow a speck of dirt to accumulate in any part of the ship. They invited us to remain to supper with them, and out of curiosity to see how the lived, we accepted their invitation. I did not eat much, for all they had was pilot bread and tea, and the bread was so hard that I could not eat it. They had 260 soldiers on board. Then we left them, they shook hands with us and wished us good luck.

May 31st.  All ready to sail, and when our captain went to the consul to get his clearance papers, he found that someone had filed a petition against allowing the ship to go without being thoroughly cleansed and whitewashed. So he could not get his clearance. We had three doctors on board, and they went to the consul’s office and prevailed on him to issue the clearance, promising that they would have the ship cleaned as soon as she got to sea. The wind blew from off the sea so hard all day that we could not run out. [3]

To be continued…

I will post Nimrod’s journal in increments, but not necessarily every week.

[1] Nimrod Headington (1827-1913) was the son of Nicholas (1790-1856) and Ruth (Phillips) (1794-1865) Headington. He was born in Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, on 5 August 1827. He married Mary Ann McDonald (1829-1855) in Delaware County, Ohio, in 1849. Nimrod moved to Portland, Jay County, Indiana, by 1860 and a couple years later served in the 34th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War as a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, and Major. Nimrod died 7 January 1913 and is buried in Green Park Cemetery, Portland. Nimrod Headington is my fourth great-granduncle, the brother of my fourth great-grandfather, William Headington (1815-1879).

[2] Nimrod Headington at the age of 24, set sail from New York in February 1852, bound for San Francisco, California, to join the gold rush and to hopefully make his fortune. The Panama Canal had not been built at that time and he sailed around the tip of South America to reach the California coast.    

Nimrod Headington kept a diary of his 1852 journey and in 1905 he made a hand-written copy for his daughter Thetis O. Tate. This hand-written copy was eventually passed down to Nimrod’s great-great-granddaughter, Karen (Liffring) Hill (1955-2010). Karen was a book editor and during the last two years of her life she transcribed Nimrod’s journal.

Nimrod’s journal, Trip to California, documents his travels between February of 1852 and spring of 1853.

[3] Nimrod Headington’s journal, transcription and photos courtesy of Ross Hill, 2019, used with permission.

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