From the diary of a voyage in the "Crouch Brothers," from Melbourne to Valparaiso and back to Portland (Victoria, Australia) (1855) ; by A. Pilleau Esq., J. P. Extracted from 5 newspaper articles published in the "Portland Guardian and Normanby General Advertiser" during December 1855.

Valparaiso Bay—Winter storms—Layout of town—Architecture—Bolsa—Foreign Clubs—Arcade—Bank—Theatre—Principal hotels—Cafés—Birlochos—Female dress—Cemetery—Horse racing—Military parade ground—Panoramic coastal walk—Loss of barque Hansburgh—explosion and fatalities of transport ship Indefatigable—Winter storm:shipping losses—Earthquakes—Electric telegraph—Railroad—Praise of climate

By a recent Custom house regulation, no boat is allowed to communicate with a ship even to speaking, previous to the Port Captain's visit; we therefore had to await the arrival of that functionary, for about a couple of hours, during which time we were visited with a dense fog that, disregarding the Customs regulation, boarded us, nolens volens [like it or not, Ed.].

The Bay of Valparaiso is about two miles and a half wide by about one mile and a half deep at the anchorage with a depth of water from twenty five to forty fathoms. On Angeles Point to the West, stands a Lighthouse three hundred and eleven feet above the sea, and whose light may be seen ten miles off in a clear night. The harbour lies very much exposed to the northerly winds which during the winter season blow at times with great violence sending in a heavy sea. Up to the present time none of any consequence have blown this year, but last year during a severe "Norther" thirteen vessels were driven ashore and became total wrecks; three of them were driven one upon another until they broke up. The chief danger in fact arises from the coasting vessels being badly found, parting their cables and drifting on to the Foreign ships. Two black balls are hoisted at the flagstaff, to warn vessels of an approaching Norther and steamers are compelled by the Port regulations to get up their steam ready to proceed to sea. The harbour is generally much crowded with ships and will contain about three hundred sail.

Valparaiso lies under the disadvantage of possessing but a very limited amount of ground for building purposes, a range of very steep hills from one thousand to eighteen hundred feet high completely encircling the Bay. There are but two principal streets running round the harbour, where the principal houses and shops are to be found, but at the Eastern end where there is more space the Town extends out to a considerable extent. The sides of the hills facing the sea have frequently to be cut away and blasted in order to continue the streets and find building room, and frequently the backs of the houses actually touch the face of the hill. The summits of the range and slopes of the ravines are all covered with houses wherever a terrace can be cut to place a hut on, and it appears as if the first Earthquake would topple them on to the Town below. It contains sixty thousand inhabitants, every house containing a large average of members. The total population of Chile is estimated at one million and a half. A very fine, handsome range of Custom house stores, part of which are furnished and in use and more still in progress, faces the harbour on the West side. They are built of kiln burnt bricks about twenty inches long, by twelve wide and two and a half thick; all the walls, even to the partition walls, are full three feet thick, to withstand the earthquakes, all the tie beams and joists being of a very massive character. They are painted outside with patent paint. The merchants' counting houses are long roomy substantial buildings, having balconies to the upper stories, and generally the young men of the house live in them whilst the most wealthy English residents live in substantial houses on the summits of the hills overlooking the harbour.

The huts of the lower orders are built of adobes or sun-burnt bricks or wattled and dabbled with mud and straw, and little or no lime appears to be used with the mortar.

The religion of Chile being that of Rome there are several large chapels which are highly decorated though not equalling those at Santiago. They are much thronged every morning, especially by the women before going to market and who usually carry with them a handsomely worked woollen rug to kneel on. There is an unpretending English chapel on the English hill and also an American meeting house.

The Bolsa overlooking the harbour is well supplied with English, American, and Australian newspapers, and has besides the advantage of direct steam communication with England and the United States twice a month. The mail for England, via Panama, leaves Valparaiso on the fifteenth and thirtieth of each month and arrives on the seventh and twentieth, calling at the intermediate ports. The passage money from Valparaiso to Panama is two hundred and four dollars, from Panama across the Isthmus by rail to Aspinwall twenty five dollars, and from Aspinwall to Southampton three hundred and thirty dollars more; this amount is exclusive of wines.

In addition to the Bolsa, there is an English and a German Club, both of which are well supplied with periodicals.

In the Calle del Cabo stands the Arcade, a handsome pile of buildings built by the enterprising and wealthy house of Cousiño, Garland and Company, and occupied by many handsome and well furnished shops. The same firm have nearly completed a substantial chain suspension pier, extending ? from Cruz de Reyes point from three to four hundred feet into the sea, fastened at the bottom with screw piles and to be furnished with screw moorings off the pier capable of holding ships of one thousand tons. Opposite the Arcade, these gentlemen are also building a large bank, which will no doubt be of immense benefit to the merchants of the city. Valparaiso hitherto has had no bank, all money transactions being conducted in hard cash, every merchant having to keep his money in his strong chest, and it is common to see advertised in the newspapers that Mr "So and So" is about to commence business having a capital of so many thousands of dollars in his iron chest.

In the Plaza Victoria on the north side stands the Theatre, a plain looking but commodious building capable of holding two thousand people. All the boxes in the dress circle and second tier are purchased by the wealthy classes who frequently give as high as two thousand dollars for a box which then becomes private property, but a further payment of a dollar a head for each using the box is also exacted. The pit contains five hundred seats, each seat being numbered and partitioned off, and as the body of the pit is ? divided by a gangway every man can at once walk up to his own seat according to the number of his ticket. The theatre is at present occupied by a very excellent French Opera Company, all the Opera's being arranged in that language, Prima Donna Mademoiselle Lassenne was enchanting all lovers of song, as much by the sweetness of her voice and brilliant acting, as by the beauty and grace of her person and amiable character. The theatre is open three nights a week and, as in all Catholic countries, Sunday evening is the principal night of the week. Having [been to] the entire behind the scenes and to all the rehearsals which mostly take place on the intervening evenings, I had the opportunity of witnessing all the mysteries of the Green room and saw some highly amusing scenes. The company one and all were very desirous of visiting the Australian Colonies.

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The hotels in Valparaiso are anything but first rate, the principal are L'Union, Hotel Aubrey and Hotel de Chile, these three are generally so crowded that it is difficult to procure a room, but notwithstanding the patronage the cuisine is very indifferent. Breakfast is served at any hour between eight o'clock and noon, and dinner at five; no other meals are served, and there is no public coffee room or even a billiard room. You must spend your spare time either in your own room or lounging about the Corridors. The Spaniards all eat their dinner with incredible rapidity even outstripping the proverbial railroad speed of Yankees, and the instant a man finishes eating he commences smoking, Men of all countries are found at table, and Spanish, French, German, English, and Yankee drawl, are dinned into your ears on all sides. The charge per day for bedroom breakfast and dinner is two dollars.

The Cafés of which the two best are the Café Maillard near the Bolsa and the Café Victoria near the theatre, are pretty well thronged day and night, billiards and dominoes being played incessantly, and although no public gaming houses are allowed by the Government, a great amount of private gambling is transacted at the Cafés. I was pointed out a man who at one single game was a winner of eighty thousand dollars. All the lower orders and boys are inveterate gamblers.

There are many amusing sights to be seen in the streets and markets which will repay the observant stranger for an hour or two's lounge of a morning. Long things[strings?] of mules and donkeys line the streets, laden with every conceivable kind of merchandize, bags of flour, bricks, stores, tables, chairs, nothing comes amiss to these useful and accommodating animals. Horses are also both plentiful and good and generally very reasonable in price; a very first rate horse can be purchased for sixty dollars. Chileans ride with a most enormous saddle, and not satisfied with using large cloths under the saddle, use very thick pillows made of tanned sheep and goat skins the wool dyed different colours; these with the Poncho, invariably worn by the Peons, the enormous South American spur, the rowel of which is sometimes four inches long and extraordinary looking, old fashioned wooden stirrup attract the notice of the strangers.

The Birlochos are queer misshapen machines, built quite independent of any idea of balance, and will accommodate two or four people. They are drawn by one shaft horse, the Birlochero riding another on the near side, a piece of bullock hide with a hook on each end, hitches on, one end to the shaft and the other to his saddle so that descending a hill, the shaft horse has all the work himself; however they rattle along at a great pace and you may drive from one end of Valparaiso to the other for a real piece, sixpence English. The Chilean women many of whom are very beautiful with their dark olive complexions, black eyes and long silky black hair, wear no bonnets when abroad; they have a very picturesque appearance, enveloped in the black mantilla thrown gracefully over the left shoulder and followed by their servants: but it is to be regretted that the sombre colour of their dress should so universally prevail; this I believe is owing to the great influence the priests have over them who force them to wear black whilst their natural taste would lead them to indulge in all the colours of the rainbow. When, attending chapel of a morning they all wear black.

On the precipitous point of the mountain range overlooking the town, about the centre, stands the cemetery which is very tastefully laid out in walks, and planted with cypresses, Australian and cape wattles, shrubs and flowers the yellow flowering mimosa appearing to be a favourite tree here probably from its flowers resembling the everlasting flower with which in Roman Catholic countries they weave their funeral chaplets. There are several very beautiful marble monuments which probably have been imported from Europe. A portion of the Cemetery is divided off for the Protestant burying ground.

At the Western end of the range approaching the Light house is a large open and sufficiently level space of ground called "the Playa Ancha" used as a Race Course and parade ground. There, every Sunday afternoon are to be seen the dandies of Chile both town and country, mounted upon their gallant steeds, wearing their gayest coloured Poncho, immense silver spurs costing forty or fifty dollars, racing with each other over the ground and thinking themselves the very perfection of dandyism; here too are plenty of refreshment booths and shops where "se vende vino y aguardiente y licores de todas clases" and where they are dancing fandangos and zamacuecas to the music of guitar, and here also is to be seen the brave army of Chile, Artillery and Cavalry, Infantry of the Regulars and Militia regiments having a regular field day, and firing their salvos with infinite self satisfaction. The Chilean troops are however a fine body of men, well disciplined and bearing a very soldierly appearance. All their dress is produced from France and looks very well and good, and the officers both of the army and navy appear to be gentlemanly and well educated men.

From the Playa Ancha to the Signal hill which stands 1070 feet high distant about two miles from the Lighthouse, you have a magnificent walk and which well repays the fatigue. Right under your feet stands the town and harbour of Valparaiso every portion of which can be taken in by the eye whilst beyond lies the placid waters of the Pacific to the Northward and which are again seen stretching away to the Westward over Angeles Point. Turning to the Eastward you behold the magnificent panorama of the Andes stretching away at a distance of two hundred miles, rising tier upon tier, the summits of them clad in their eternal snows. Conspicuous amongst the whole range, in the direction of Quillota, stands out in bold relief "Aconcagua" rearing his gigantic head 23,200 feet above the level of the sea. The Range of the Andes runs down the entire Western coast of South America at a distance of about two hundred miles from the sea, extending as far as Patagonia.

On Sunday morning July 29th about 10 A.M., the barque Hansburgh belonging to Messrs Brocklebank of Liverpool laden with copper ore, was coming in under double reefed topsails in a heavy swell when the wind falling calm she struck on a ledge of sunken rocks outside the Lighthouse. Captain Crouch and two other persons went off in a boat to render assistance but their boat shipping a sea which nearly swamped them, had to return. The barque after striking rapidly filled and was run ashore amongst the rocks and became a total wreck, all hands saved. This occurrence seemed to be the commencement of a series of disasters both at Valparaiso and all down the coast.

On the 3rd of August about 11 A.M. the town was alarmed by a tremendous explosion in the harbour. On looking at the shipping, nothing but a dense mass of smoke could be seen; by degrees flames were seen bursting through the smoke and pieces of timber floating on the water, It was soon ascertained they proceeded from the Chilean government transport Indefatigable, whose powder magazine from some unexplained cause had exploded, blowing her upper deck and stern into the air, and killing and wounding many of the crew. It appears the Captain and some of the officers were just sitting down to breakfast when the Captain ordered one of the lieutenants to descend to the powder magazine and see if everything was safe, as the carpenter was at the time doing some repairs there. The moment the unfortunate young man entered the explosion took place, and of course both he and the carpenter perished. The Captain was blown through the deck and hurled many yards into the air, and Captain Crouch who with his boat was immediately on the spot was fortunate enough to pick him up, not materially hurt. The ship was lying at anchor off the Custom house at the time but no attempt was made to tow her away. She burnt for about forty minutes, then filled forward and sunk at her moorings. I witnessed seven or eight mangled bodies brought ashore but the total loss was never ascertained.

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About this time some strong northerly winds set in accompanied by several days of heavy rain, quite equalling the winter rains of Australia, and people were predicting disasters among the shipping at the ports to the Southward, as it was known that many vessels were loading on the coasts with flour and wheat. When the mail arrived these fears were but too fully realised. At Talcahuano, the damage was immense, occasioned as much by the winds and sea as by the river freshet. The mole and one or two mills were destroyed and several vessels lost. At the Rio Maule a heavy freshet drove ashore and swamped all the launches and all the shipping above the bar and at San Antonio a fine Australian ship the "William Cole" became a total wreck. In all nearly forty vessels were driven ashore, fourteen or fifteen lives lost, and an immense amount of flour and wheat destroyed. The price of flour rose at Valparaiso on the receipt of this intelligence, to sixteen dollars per bag of 200 lbs., a price hitherto unknown in this part of the world.

On the 11th August the inhabitants of Valparaiso were alarmed by a smart shock of an earthquake which took place about 6 A. M. and caused much consternation amongst the uninitiated in these matters. Animals were bellowing, and chandelier glasses rattling in many of the houses, and it was sensibly felt amongst the shipping the harbour. I did not hear of any material damage being sustained, and about a fortnight afterwards another shock was felt. I could not help thinking the corridor where my bedroom was situated at the hotel Aubrey was in very dangerous proximity to the hills that seemed ready to topple upon us at the first rumble.

Valparaiso and Santiago have been for some months connected together by the greatest of modern blessings, the electric telegraph, the distance between the two cities being about ninety miles. A railroad also in progress to connect them together. It is commenced at Valparaiso and finished for about eighteen miles but, so far, at an immense expense: ? for some miles along the sea coast the cuttings were through solid rock. The road will pass near "Quillota" a town about forty miles from Valparaiso, a little to the northward of the direct route to Santiago and standing at the foot of "Aconcagua", the highest peak of the whole range of the Andes.

I must not conclude my account of my visit to Chile without a few words of praise of its climate. Nothing can exceed[?] the beauty of the climate of Valparaiso and Santiago in the winter season. The first week I was there, we certainly had some very heavy rains similar to Australia, for rain only falls in the months of May, June, July, and August; but after ? one week, we had no more the whole month? I was there, but the most brilliant […] and exquisitely pure soft atmosphere you can possibly imagine. It had such a deliciously exhilarating effect upon the ? it was impossible to be out ? The fruit trees were all bursting out in blossom, magnificent Camelia ? flowering in the open air and attaining a size superior to any to be seen in England …