Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP1638

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Sent by:
John Wallace
Sent to:
Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell)
18 July 1853

Sent by John Wallace, Columbia, California, U.S.A. to Mary Ann Wallace (née Greenell) [none given] on 18 July 1853.

Record created:
23 May 2011 by NHM
Verified by:
24/08/2012 - 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 (WCP1638.1417)

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 WP1/3/106
Copyright owner:
©Wallace Family
Record scrutiny:
24/08/2012 - Catchpole, Caroline;

Physical description

Transcription information




My dear Mother Columbia July 18th 1853

Agreeable to the request of all I did you a Daguerreotype of myself as I now am. I had commenced shaving before I thought heard that you would have wished to see me in my rough costume, but I now have probably more beard than would be considered necessary for a civilized christian[sic] -- so that you view me in a medium state, gradually passing from the rough barbarian state of early Californian life to the more peaceful and mild state of civilization. As I am not a miner I could not properly appear in that character, but in the position which I now hold as chief Engineer to the "Toulumne County Water Company" which is a company no way to be sneezed at, although it has not yet answ[ere]d the sanguine expectations of some of its members. The stock of the company is however good and it is confidently anticipated that after this month when all our debt has been paid off that it will realize five or six per cent per month on the Capital Stock which would be considered great interest in England but here it is thought to be rather small considering the nature of the work, as some of the much smaller works of the same kind have paid as much as fifty per cent per month on the first cost of the work.

I have no doubt the professional Daguerreotypists at home will severely criticise this American production of art but I do not think it can be taken as a specimen as in the mining towns they have not the conveniences[?] which are required to produce perfection. I should very much like to have a family picture in a group, yourself, Franny & Alfred as a specimen of Thomas’s best style. [I] am glad to hear my brother-in-law is doing very well in his business [[2]]

I hope to have a copy of Alfred’s work when published2. The American people have an eye towards the Valley of the Amazon and a surveying expedition has lately returned from thence and I believe there is a pamphlet published on the subject by Lt Murray (but I am not sure of the name).3

I am thankful for the information my brother sent me in April last it was valuable to me and exactly what I wanted, my main object being to get the method of calculating the amount of water discharged thro[ugh]’ a given channel at a given grade. I had observed that theory could not be relied upon entirely -- you seem to think we have fall enough to carry any amount of water but we could easily dispose of three as much if we could only obtain it. In my quarterly report read at the meeting in June I stated the amount of water discharged to be 10 million gallons every 24 hours[.] By the calculation you send I see it would make it about 11½ millions. Now considering that I had no accurate mode of calculation and scarcely any data to go upon I congratulate myself upon my being so near to the truth -- and consider myself a considerable Yankee at "guessing"

You seem to have a wrong idea of our reservoir[s][.] What we have are used for holding the water that runs through the main channel during the night and on Sundays[,] so that we distribute the whole of the water that runs in the 24 hours during the day time. The water is of course drawn off from the bottom of the reservoir by means of a gate and a long wooden spout laid through the bottom of the dam so you’ll see there is no difficulty in getting the water out of the dam especially when we have the pressure of about 20ft head of water. We have [been] again unfortunate in our operations [[3]] lately. About 6 weeks ago one of our largest reservoir[s] situated about ½ a mile from the from the Town, suddenly burst just before day light in the morning and the whole rush of water mixed with mud along with logs, trees &c. came rushing through the centre of the Town filling several houses and carrying causing many serious and ludicrous scenes, damaging stores and provisions[,] wearing apparel and sundries, filling up miner[‘]s holes and carrying off their tools, &c.[.] A committee was of our Company immediately formed to estimate the amount of damage sustained, by each individual and to make compensation &c.[.] The whole of amount of damages which we have paid for is eight thousand dollars, and there are a few small accounts yet unsettled. I had to set to work and construct a new dam which I got completed in 3 weeks at a cost of little less than 4 thousand dollars. This reservoir will hold about 8 million gallons of water. Since then we have had several breaks in the flume owing to blockage. So that I have been very busy, and have had scarcely an hour to myself for the last two months or sh[oul]d have answered your letters sooner. My much[?] previous one was duly received with the account of the little female dog which was so mysteriously found and lost!

Do you know, hear or see anything of the Spaniel[?] Mr[?] [word illeg.] in England? It is all the rage here just now and numerous and wonderful are the revelations that they make [word illeg. crossed-out]. I have not yet had an opportunity of testing or examining the subject, but from what I can hear, it appears to be a kind of mesmerism acting on on inanimate objects, or a curious instance of mind acting on matter.

Having nothing more to add | I remain you affectionate son | J Wallace


1. The letter is a transcription made by Mary Ann Wallace (1792 - 1868) of the original letter sent to her by her son, John Wallace (1818 - 1895). There is a second, typewritten, transcript made by John Wallace’s son, John H. Wallace (Catalogue no. WCP1638_L5007), that relates to excerpts of this letter. (Query this: though there are similarities it is likely the typewritten transcript is of a letter written to ARW.)

2. A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, With an Account of the Native Tribes, and Observations on the Climate, Geology and Natural History of the Amazon Valley; first published by Reeve & Co., London, December 1853.

3. This is probably a reference to the expedition lead by Commander William Lewis Herndon of the United States Navy in 1851-52.

Please note that work on this transcript is not yet complete. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document, if available.