Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1632

Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
Frances ("Fanny") Sims (née Wallace)
28 December 1851

Sent by John Wallace, Mill Seat Camp, California, USA to Frances ("Fanny") Sims (née Wallace) [none given] on 28 December 1851.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
23/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


No summary available at this time.

Record contains:

  • letter (1)

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LETTER (WCP1632.1411)

A transcription handwritten by other in English.

A contemporary handwritten copy possibly in the hand of Mary Ann Wallace.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/100
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
23/05/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Mill Seat Camp

Dec[embe]r 28th 1851

Dear sister

I will commence this letter to you as I have not written one for some time, it must serve for the family. I was glad to receive yours and part of one of Alfreds which was very acceptable dated Sep[tembe]r 4th, I find my a letter from my mother an account of a number of Newspapers having been sent which I never have received, the fact is the post office here is small & all newspapers that are not called for within a short time after they arrive are thrown on one side & either destroyd or given away and as I do not go to Sonora oftener than once a month, I have always managed to be too late; however that is the way it has been but I must endeavour to call oftener in future and try and get a Paper now and then, the letter from my brother is very interesting and he seems to be going ahead with his travels & expects to come out strong some day as an author although I am fearful he will not find that very profitable however if he can make his travels & collections pay moderately, it is a very pleasing employment and one which he would prefer to another. He talks about his hardships and privations but I think if he was travelling in California he would soon get used to them and think it is luxury to lay on a board instead of the ground tho the ground if much the best bed during the Summer when the weather -- only the dust [is] so[metimes] inconvenient --

[[2]] The water winter is now thoroughly set in, although the fallacy of not being able to work in the mines during the rainy season is entirely exploded, in fact most mines depend upon the wet season for making up for losses during the summer & autumn months, when they are not able to work for want of water, and the rainy season is therefore looked upon as a boon to most miners, there are places where it is impossible to work to advantage even with any amount of rain, and to overcome this difficulty ditches are cut from the nearest creek or river to supply these places with a stream of running water. It is for this purpose that we have been toiling among the mountains for nearly six months and have not yet compleated[sic] our work although when it is compleated[sic] it will be a valuable and extensive undertaking and will furnish water to gulches and flats covering an extent of upwards of twenty miles of the richest kind of mining district. Our sawmill is not yet compleated[sic] as the mill wright we employed to do the job left it in such a incompleat[sic] state that after it had been going only about a week it got so much out of repair that we were obliged to get some other mill wright to examine the works and they found that the foundations were not put down low enough and several parts of the machinery had to be made anew -- so we are all now busy in digging out the foundation, laying new timbers and doing everything to make it substantial, the alteration will cost upwards of a thousand dollars besides our labour and the loss of time, but we are determined to have one of the best mills in the country and we think after our present work is finished we may be able to sell boards and timber so as to make the mill a permanent source of profit, the great inconvenience is that we are so far from Sonora, but we have a pretty good road made and have also ox teams & Waggons[sic] --

[[3]] You will probably think I was very foolish to join this Company and enter into such a large speculation but the fact was none of us [was] at first aware of the magnitude of the work we had undertaken; things of this kind are managed differently here to what they are in England, instead of accurate surveys being taken & calculations being made as to the expense &c a superficial examination was made of the probable route to be taken, a meeting called of the names miners and such inhabitants of the neighbourhood, speeches were made by different persons who had examined the route and the probable distance to the river was calculated at from 8 to 10 miles and the time required for a company of 150 men was estimated at not over three months. It was at once determined to go about the work on the following week -- a code of laws and regulations were drawn up directors and superintendents appointed and I was chosen surveyor to the company. We all commenced in high spirits on the following week (Monday the 1st July) beginning at a Pass[sic] in the mountains which we named "Summit Pass" working from thence towards the river, our first object was to grade a road on the side of the mountain 6 feet wide following all the irregularities of the rugged mountain side, but keeping a perfectly level road as regards the height. I say perfectly level but that is not strictly true as we progressed we kept the road on a gradual rise of about 10 f[ee]t to the mile so as to allow the water to flow in when we had compleated[sic] our job. The setting out of the road or grade was of course my work so I had to keep a head and put down Pegs[sic] at every rod (16½ft) for the work men to work to I had 3 or 4 men constantly with me cutting Pegs[sic] and driving them in measuring the distances and holding the staff &c while I carried the Theodolite[sic] & levelled & directed the driving [of] the Pegs[sic] &c[.] [[4]] It thus took us about two months before we levelled the road to the river a distance of 15 miles from the spot we started from. we[sic] had originally intended to put up a water power saw mill at the place where we struck the river, but when we arrived there we found not water enough for the purpose at that time of year & therefore some other plan had to be adopted. We accordingly agreed to send to San Francisco for a steam engine and put up a steam saw mill at some convenient spot on the mountain and first compleated[sic] the canal from a creek 5 miles from the Summit Pass where in the winter time there will be sufficient water for our purpose & afterwards to compleat[sic] the remainder before the ensuing summer. It took upwards of a month before we could get the steam engine up here and we have been ever since building the mill[.] We are already now for building the flume (or canal) as soon as the mill can go on cutting the boards which I expect will be in in another week and we shall then soon compleat[sic] this portion if the weather is favorable[sic] although there are symptoms of a very wet winter as it has been raining the whole of this week (Christmas week) and we had a violent snowstorm about a month ago. We have had a great deal of timber work to do on the grade in building over all the gulches & ravines which we have to pass and also have sleepers laid along the road 6 f[oo]t long & 4 f[oo]t apart with two mortices in each for upright -- side pieces to support the sides of the canal -- My being surveyor excuse ensure me any pay as we all work alike, this is another feature in Californian speculations which I suppose is not found in any [other] part of the world, each member of our company contributes his labour to be employed in the most advantageous manner and we are consequently all on the same footing we have Lawyers[sic], doctors[sic], minsters[sic], mechanics, sailors & Labourers[sic] all working together with french[sic] men, Spaniards, Germans, Norwegians, English[,] Scotch[,] Irish & of course Americans [[5]] yet we are all on an equality and have to work alike we have several members who do not work at all they have to pay unto the company 5 dollars per day which is the average value of a mans labour, each member besides his work has paid in at different times nearly 100 dollars to defray expences[sic], so you see there has been paid to the company near 15 thousand dollars in hard cash besides our labour for 6 months. Our Chief Engineer and Superintendent is a General Bernard who has the control of the works, assisted by the board of directors. We also have a President[,] Vice Presidt[,] Secretary and Treasurer chosen monthly by the company a great many members have from time to time sold out their interest in the company, not being able to keep it up we have therefore constantly new members coming in, the value of shares now is about 400 dollars although each share reckoning a mans labour is much more -- all this account of the company may not be generally interesting. I feel very much interested in it and have been very active and worked very hard from the first and mean to stick to it (if no accident befalls me) to the last. There is probably no instance on record where a small company of working men have projected and carried out a work equal in Expenses & Engineering difficulties to many of the small railways in England & under disadvantages which do not occur in more settled and civilized countries[.] When it is fully compleated[sic] it will be one of the greatest works that has yet been attempted in this country[.]

I cannot say I spent a very merry Christmas as the whole of the week it has been raining incessantly night and day and preventing us from working -- there being a little gleam of sunshine on Xmas day morning I ventured on a walk to Columbia about 6 miles distant but before I arrived there the rain the rain came on as bad as ever I however compleated[sic] my journey at the expence[sic] of a wet jacket[.]1


1. The copy of the letter ends at this point without any closing signature.

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