Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1637

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Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
10 January 1853

Sent by John Wallace, Columbia, California, U.S.A. to Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on 10 January 1853.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline (All except summary checked);


One of a set of excerpts of letters providing in-depth descriptions John Wallace's life in the gold mining town of Columbia, California, building a system to bring water to gold mining operations in the town.

Record contains:

  • letter (2)

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LETTER (WCP1637.1416)

A transcription handwritten by other in English.

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/105
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
22/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




Colombia Jan[uar]y 10th 1853

Dear Mother,

Some letters have at last arrived which has revived my drooping spirits. I know my last was written in rather a doleful strain having been so many months without any communication from far distant friends. I was much surprised & grieved to hear of the great loss my brother has suffered and the hardships (with ill health) he has had to undergo. I consider that I have seen (what is commonly called) "The Elephant" in California, but Alfred’s Elephant must have been very like a "Whale" and if he is [well] jolly I think he even "Mark Tapley" would give him credit for it, unfortunately [fries?] at sea and shipwreck [[2]] are so common that much cannot be made out of them. Even in a book of travels which I suppose Alfred will still be able to write from memory. I know it must have be very hard to lose at one "fell swoop" what has taken him years to collect and what no money can replace, but still if he should be able to go abroad again he may collection what he has lost in less time than it cost him at first recollect the great and similar loss that Sir Stamford Raffles sustained (and if I forget not) under exactly similar circumstances and yet he went to work again and collected all that he had before lost ( of course having the means (as well as the will) is a great thing - but there is yet time before him – and the name of Sir Alfred Wallace may shine forth as an enterprising collector and author. I hope shortly to have a letter from Him with the full particulars of their disastrous voyage home and his future prospects profits. Your letter mentions the death of my cousin J.R. it must have been a severe affliction to his widowed mother and sister (being her only son). He was always rather delicate, another young friend J.H. you mention the death of which I was more surprised to hear of when I saw him last he was a remarkably stout and healthy lad. It appears to me that the want of healthy exercise in the open air is the death of half the young people in England, plough-boys and young working farmers generally attain a full age if not addicted to drinking. I suppose my young friend M.H. is doing well in Texas, and has plenty of money. I suppose his occupation is farming and raising stock as I believe it is a fine country for that. There are several Texan men in California but they are generally a very rough set of fellows. The community of this place is decidedly a mining community, every one is more or less a miner and all are dependant[sic] on the miners them for support. The [[3]] miners make their own laws regulating the mines and carry them out in many cases in opposition to the general law of the state, thus a law was passed by the legislative allowing all foreigners to mine by paying a certain monthly tax in many of the mining districts. Chinese and Mexicans are not allowed by the miners to work at all tax or no tax and they carry out their ideas of liberty and equality by driving them out, and the government does not say nay to the sovereign will of the miners. All classes of men are engaged in mining and are of course all equal. The Americans are great upon titles, and nearly every other man has a title of some soch[sic] or other. Captains are innumerable but then they are always dress’d up as such you will perhaps see a man dirty and ragged returning from his work and will be told that he is judge so and so or General what’s his name. If you ask anything concerning a certain major you will hear that he is a miner and so on through the Chapter of Judges, Lawyers, Doctors, Physicians, Colonels, Generals and a whole host of others all claiming their titles and boasting of being practical miners. There was once in a time when the sovereign miners did not have it exactly their own way. When he first introduced our water and when he had only a small supply we fixed the price the price rather high and but still we had plenty of applications for it and for a great deal more if we could have furnished it, but some of the miners thought the price much too high and there was a great deal talk about it and a public meeting called to discuss the matter where at Sunday speeches were delivered and threats made use of if we did not come to their terms and reduce the price of water to what they should dictate, and finally a deputation was appointed to wait upon the company and to express the sense of the meeting (if there was any sense in it) I being at that time President had to receive this grand deputation and [[4]] and to express the determination of the Company after they had fully stated their case. I simply told them that as far as the threats went it was entirely the wrong way of going to work as it would only make the Company more determined against them and might cause bad feelings, but that if any gentleman could not afford to pay the price we set upon the water He of course was not compelled to use it and there were plenty more that could be thankful to have it, and, I added, that it was entirely a new feature in mercantile transactions for the buyer to fix the price of the article he wished to purchase – and finally that the Company would reduce the price when they had a sufficiently copious supply that would warrant them in so doing so. They afterwards had another meeting to learn the report of the Committee which did not seem to give much satisfaction, a few speeches were made but of a much calmer and more subdued tone than the former ones and the meeting separated. Since then there have been no more indignant water meetings, a few of the principal characters were marked and for a length of time we did not let them have the water at any price, so that it took them down a peg or two and deterred others from acting in the same insolent manner. The town of Columbia is a large place considering the short time it has been in existence, it containing nearly fifteen thousand inhabitants in the Town and immediately around it, and in fine weather is a place of great business, about one year and half ago when we commended our week there was only two log houses and a few tents to be seen. The diggings around here having been deserted on account of the scarcity of water, as soon as our Company was organised and commenced working the Town began to grow and has been increasing ever since entirely on the credit of our Company as it was well known that the locality [[5]] was rich indeed the whole extent of Country for miles around Columbia is exceedingly rich and will now afford work for several years to come. Provisions are still very dear, many are leaving the miners for the larger towns of Stockton and San Francisco where they can live much cheaper than here. I must now close or shall be too late for the post. I shall send from papers that you may see the present state of the country.

Yours affectionately, | J Wallace

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