J B Williams' Journey -
Transfer to Porco
But there were more changes afoot than Mr Pascoe's leaving.
"Monday, Septr 1/84. Went to mine as usual. Nothing special doing. When I came out P. Walker gave me a letter from J. Prout. I also got orders to leave this house tomorrow."
So J.B.W. removed his goods and those belonging to old Mr Bennett and moved in with Bill.
"Wednesday, Septr 3/84 ... News was telegraphed here today that Pacheco, the chief adventurer here, had been elected President of Bolivia. There was a flag on every house, crackers going off, drums beating, singing and crying "Viva Pacheco". Most everyone you meet is half drunk, and some drunk. I don't expect there will be much doing tomorrow..."
On September 9 J.B.W. went to see Mr Pascoe "and decided on going with him" and that is all he tells us, but presumably Pascoe was to manage another mine and wanted workers he knew. He left ahead of J.B.W.
"Saturday, Sept.. 13/84 Mr Pascoe and Don Juan left here today for Porco. The natives were embracing him and seem very much affected by his leaving..."
Next day J.B.W. started to gather his own things together and on Friday, September 19, worked his last day in the mine at Tatasi. Next day he collected an order to draw his pay in Guadelupe and prepared to leave for Porco on the morrow. There were others going with J.B.W. but he doesn't say who, or how many.
"Sunday, Septr 21/84. We got up about 5am, had some coffee and were ready to start by six, but our troop men were not ready until about half past eight, when we started. The road was very mountainous, and cold at times, but going down the valley it was very hot. We arrived at Guadalupe about 5pm and found J. McKay and C. Ivel. They provided dinner for us and bed. I slept pretty well, being tired after riding 7 leagues.
Monday, Sept. 22/84. Got up about 6am, had some coffee and went out to look at the Silver Works, then went to the office and got our orders for Potosi, then had breakfast and started again on our journey about 11am. Guadalupe is a small place between the mountains, on the bed of a river.
We had a rough road for the first hour, having to descend by a zigzag route down a cliff several hundred feet. When we got to the bottom we travelled all day on the bed of the river, several houses and trees on either side. We arrived at our stopping place about 7pm, put our blankets on the ground and slept in the open air."
They journeyed on over the mountains for another four days, riding with a brief break around mid-day, from about 5am to 7pm and stopping for the night wherever they found a suitable place :
"...but it came on to rain so we stopped at the house of an Indian and slept on the floor of his outhouse, without any supper, only a cup of tea and some crumbs of dry bread."
The journey took longer than they intended, which was probably why they ran out of food, and on the last day they were caught in a snowstorm which persisted all day. They arrived at Porco about 9pm on Saturday, 27th September, and "were received very kindly". Porco lies to the south of Potos’.
Sunday was spent admiring the town with its sundial in the middle of the Plaza and on Monday they inspected the mines, which were up on the mountain, some way from the town. There were a few men working and the voyagers themselves were not put to work for over a week. A temporary house had been found for them, but it was large and rather cold.
J.B.W. spent the free time mending his clothes and cutting a stone for a grindstone to sharpen his tools and as Saturday was yet another feast day they did not start work until Tuesday. This must have been actual physical labour rather than the overseeing work J.B.W. had been doing latterly, as he complained that his hands were "pretty sore". They also had to do their own catering:
"Friday, Octr.11/84. Went to mine as usual. Got home about 5.30. Had a sheep brot, then skinned it and cooked some soup for tomorrow. A man arrived here today from Potosi called W. Tregoning."
J.B.W.'s experience on board the Galicia no doubt helped with the sheep skinning and resulted in fried liver and eggs for Sunday breakfast. In the evening he wrote a letter for Holman (who may not have been able to read or write because J.B.W. usually read his letters to him) while Holman cooked dinner. The work at the mine seems to have been grindingly boring and for many months only accounts of the activities of the native population enliven the diary.
"Octr.19/84. Got up about 7am and lit the fire and got breakfast as it was my turn to cook. After breakfast I made some stew for dinner, after which I wrote a letter to my wife. Some natives went through the Plaza with a dead child on a table, draped in muslin, and a man going in front playing a buck fiddle and dancing. The man was carrying the table on his head with the child lying on it. Billy Tregoning was here playing his concertina and we had some singing until bedtime."
However, a rich strike of metal and a dispute over mining rights varied the work programme a little.
"Thursday, Octr.23/84. Bill Tregoning and myself were put to take down a piece of rich ore, no-one being allowed in the mine but ourselves, and we locked in. Received a sack of provisions from J.P.Prout.
Monday, Octr.27/84... Billy and I were the only ones that went into the mine, the others were out on the mountains keeping off a party that came here to dispute the right of this company to some of the mines."
He tantalisingly says no more of the dispute, or of what means the defenders used to protect the company's interests, but Mr Pascoe returned from Potos’ later in the week, so perhaps he had been trying more legal methods.
Now J.B.W. and his companions were moved from their temporary rooms in the town up to the mine.
They had a lot of trouble getting their belongings up "they were constantly falling off and rolling over the mountain." J.B.W. was not well, he had a heavy cold and a bad cough, but he managed to keep working although the cold persisted for a long time.
For a while the diary entries often consist of the date only, except for Sundays which he normally spent entirely alone on the mountain, the other men having gone down to the town. With no daily newspaper or radio to record the passing days it would have been vital to note them in some way. He apparently had no almanac.
By the end of November Merrifield was ill again and went off to Potosi "to see if he can get cured" and J.B.W. was called to help with the workers' pay-out and keep the accounts. Apart from this, letters from home - and they were frequent, several arriving most weeks - were the only bright spots. His brothers and sisters, his in-laws and sundry friends all wrote, and were answered promptly. There was little else to do.
"Sunday, Decr 14/84. Bill went to town today. After breakfast I read several Psalms, then took a stroll up on the mountains, then read several hymns from the Salvation Soldier hymn book, then wrote a letter to Maurice (his youngest brother) and F.B.Benny. Mr Pascoe and Don Samuel came here riding this afternoon but did not stop long. Bill has returned bringing word of the death of Henry Bennett, our old boss at Tatasi.
Wednesday, Dec 17/84. When the Peones came to work they brot us a black cat and dog..."
The cat and dog became J.B.W.'s only companions on Sundays.. Things were very quiet at the mine and food was often in short supply, probably more through lack of transport than actual shortage of food, although it is possible that their pay had not yet come through as J.B.W. records receiving a lump sum some weeks later.
"Wednesday, Dec 24/84. Things very quiet, not much like Xmas Eve at home. The men left off work about 3pm. We were very badly off for animal food so we had a cup of coffee and some bread and butter for dinner...
Christmas Day. Bill is gone to town and I am left with the cat and dog. After breakfast I cleaned up the house and cooked dinner, then went over to Santa Cruz to see Bill Tregoning, and found him much better than Monday. On my way over I read several portions of scripture relating to the advent of our Saviour."
I have a picture in my mind of J.B.W. riding over the mountains on a mule, reading his bible. News came that Don Juan Merrifield had died on Christmas Day -
"...but before he died he confessed to the Priest and was baptised in the Catholic faith...... I met with an old Indian in Porco, the one that showed me the way to Sta.Cruz. I gave him 20 cents and he took off his hat and went on his knees and took my hand and kissed it. They seem very grateful for any favors you show them and will do anything for you in return.
Monday, Decr.29/84. Got up as usual and had a cup of tea and waited for the men. Not many here today. One brought us a deer. I don't know what kind of meat it is as I never tasted any."
...and he doesn't say what he thought of it when he did, but no doubt they were grateful, as food was still scarce and he several times records going supperless to bed, or making do with "a can of lobster and some fried potatoes".
Canned fish seems to have been readily obtainable most of the time. J. Prout sent him 3 lbs of tea. There was always danger in the mine to add spice to a boring life:
"...Had a narrow escape as the boys left the windlass run while we were in the shaft, but escaped with only a fright."
Pay was coming through now. J.B.W. got a cheque from Mr Pascoe for 400 dollars and sent it on to J. Prout, who seems to have acted as intermediary banker for several of the men.
"Tuesday, Jan 13/85. My 29th birthday today, but nothing to eat or drink to celebrate it..."
But on 24th January John Prout arrived from Huanchaca and next day J.B.W. left with him for a couple of days in Potosi, 10 leagues away. They stayed in the French Hotel and did some sightseeing.
"Tuesday, 27 Jan/85... Potosi is over 13,000 feet above the sea level, and the mountains 2,000 odd over. We went into the Cathedral. It is gilded in gold and looks very grand for this part of the world."
Back at work two days later "a rock flew back as they holed the shaft and broke the leg of the native I was working with."
J.B.W. was gradually taking over more responsibility. Holman had left, and he now had the keys to the mine. He and J. Reed were invited to dine with Mr Pascoe on Carnival Sunday, 15th February, and this was followed by the usual hiatus in work at the mine.
"...All the crowd were up here drinking, dancing and carrying on. The tunnel had a good christening with liquor, flour, fruit, etc. When the rest went below (down to the town) we stayed here alone.
Thursday, Feb.19/85. I went down again today to see if I could fish up a few men to go to work, but only one came. Mr Pascoe left for Potos’ to see the doctor as he is rather unwell."
Even after the effects of the carnival wore off there was still trouble.
"Tuesday, March 3/85. Manuel did not come up this morn as he was away looking for some men who ran away without settling their a/c. They brot back one and he is now in the prison and won't be let out until his debt is paid."
By mid-March Mr Pascoe was a little better and the mine was producing some good ore at last.
"...Mr Pascoe and the adventurers were here today and went into the mine..."
Sundays were no longer spent alone because J.B.W. now had to take the accounts down to Mr Pascoe and help pay the men, and he was often invited to a meal. There was the usual procession of feast days, culminating in Easter, with little or no work getting done and diary entries varying from "Nothing new" to "Things just as usual" and the months ground slowly on. Mr Pascoe was still unwell.
"Monday, May 18/85. Mr Pascoe came up here with Don Mariano Calancha who is going to take his place for a week or two while he is away at the baths.
Friday, 22 May/85. Had an overhauling of the accounts with the new boss. Found no mistakes.
Sunday, 24 May/85. ......Went to Porco with Don Mariano C. After paying the men, the Cashier, Boss and myself were invited to breakfast with the priest. Job Biscombe was here from Potosi and taken very ill. I came home and sent him a can of mustard."
- which sounds as though food poisoning was suspected.
"Tuesday, May 26/85. This morning we had word of the death of Job Biscombe after a severe illness of about 24 hours. John Reed and myself went down to the funeral and we were the only Englishmen present, with just enough natives to carry him to the graveyard. He had no coffin. It was the first I ever saw buried in that way. It was a sad sight. The grave was dug in and between the walls of the old Church. He was thrown in and buried like a dog. There were skulls and bones lying in all directions."
Breakfast with the priest on Sundays now became a regular occurrence. Did they converse about religion and, if so, what did the Catholic priest make of this Cornish Methodist, or J.B.W. of him?
By now occasional Spanish phrases sprinkle the diary and the date is often written in Spanish. They were taking out stone "to build some new houses here" and soon after, young Harry Bennett, now fatherless, came up the mountain to live with them. There was still difficulty in getting men to work in the mine.
"Sunday, 19 July/85. I went down town again pretty early but could not get anyone to work, but after pay succeeded in getting 17 to start for the mine, but when they got up on the mountains 7 started to run like deers and when we got to the mine we only had 9. I sent one of the dependentries back to tell Mr Pascoe, so he mounted his mule and captured 3 and sent up here, which I kept in the mine 3 days and 3 nights.
Monday, 20 July/85. We are short of men as near all the Indians cleared yesterday."
August 1885 was marked by the return of Mr Pascoe from yet another spell of sick leave. "Hope he won't get sick again", and by a cheque for 800 dollars sent off to J. Prout. Mid month the car went off the rails and injured one of the carmen and two days later a man died in the mine.
"...I had him brot out and put in the Almasen (almacen = store) until morning when I made a stretcher and had 8 Indians to take him to his home. I went with them. Don Mariano Calancha arrived from Potosi."
Mr Pascoe had gone to Sucre. Again no reason is given but although "the load in the Principal is cut rich" there was little doing in the mine and one or two workers were given notice. There was another accident at the end of the month when some timber gave way and a workman was buried, "but he got off with one arm dislocated at the elbow". Watching the town processions had palled.
"Sunday, 30 August/85. Feast Sta Rosa. A grand procession parading the Plaza, dressed in all kinds of hideous colours and fashion, more like a Circus than anything else. Tregoning and I came home early, tired of such sights.
Monday, 31 August. No men at mine today. I hear they are all drunk at Porco so I don't expect we shall get any men this week. Tregoning got a note from the Administration saying they were thinking to dispense with his services to lessen the cost.
Sunday, Septr 6/85. I was down to Porco today as usual and had breakfast with the directors. Got home in pretty good time."
From now on entries become even sparser, merely reporting that some good ore was being taken out, the comings and goings of Pascoe and Calancha who both had bouts of illness, and the advent of letters from home.
On 5th November J.B.W. moved to "my new house" which was probably one of those newly built at the mine, but he gives no further details. "Nothing New", "Nothing particular doing", "Things just as usual" mark off the days.
On 9th December two Englishmen started work at the mine, on night shift, though J.B.W. says nothing else about them. Next day he took over the office in Mr Pascoe's absence. Don Mariano was still ill though he returned a few days later and he and J.B.W. spent Christmas Day, 1885, making up accounts and paying the men, who rewarded them by drinking themselves to the usual standstill.
From now on J.B.W. seems to have ensconsed himself into his mineside mountain home, refusing an invitation to a party in Porco on New Year's Day and hurrying back on Sundays as soon as the pay work was finished. He sent a man off "to Huanchaca with four donkeys to buy some things for us" and the man was back six days later, but J.B.W. doesn't say whether they bought food or other goods.
However, on his 30th birthday on 13th January, 1886, "...Got up about 5am. Went into the mine. Came out again and had some coffee, then went in again, and when I came out found Don Mariano, and also a horse saddled for me to ride to Porco and have breakfast with Don Santiago and the rest..."
Next day they cut into "a rich bunch of ore" and took out over 20 sacks of "near pure silver" and they continued to extract good metal for some time.
Except for occasional glimpses of life among the other workers, the majority of diary entries remain of the "nothing new" variety. On the last day of January "Mrs Martinez gave birth to a son (the firstborn)" but ten days later ... "Don Jose's child died, and I made a coffin for it and on 24th February ... The bosses came up and we took out a lot of rich metal. After I got to bed was called to go over and stop one of the natives from beating his woman. He had been drinking and got wild."
He cheered up a bit for the beginning of the Carnival on Sunday, 7th March, which was marked by heavy rain.
"Tuesday, 9th Mar/86. All the folks came up here after breakfast, drinking, dancing and spreeing. I went down in the evening and it was a grand sight to see the Indians dressed up in wings of some large birds and dancing, etc. Everyone except myself seemed the worse for drink, but I am still a Teetotaller and intend to remain so."
As usual it was a week or more before most of the workers returned; a few who came up earlier ran off again. However, by April things were back to normal and they began paying the men at the mine instead of down in Porco which meant that now J.B.W. had no reason to go down into the town.
On 20th April he received a letter from J. Prout with the sad intelligence of "Dear Father's death, died Feby. 5/86."
It is often difficult to tell whether J. Prout refers to his brother-in-law, John Pearce Prout, who was in Bolivia too, or to his father-in-law, John James Prout in St. Agnes. This time he presumably meant the latter and, assuming his father-in-law wrote at once, the journey time for letters seems to have been about ten weeks. He received letters next day from his wife and sister, conveying the same sad news and, considering that their method of transport was by train, ship, and mules, this says something for the postal services of over a century ago.
Easter at the end of April brought yet another week's hiatus from work in the mine and the next week he sent off another 600 dollar cheque to J. P. Prout.
After that very little seemed to happen, except that on 23rd June he records "had a row with Calancha", the first time he ever admits to a cross word with anyone. Aggravatingly, he says no more about it.
From mid July entries degenerate for several weeks to only the date being entered and then revert to "nothing new", except for a brief visit from J. Prout on his way to Potosi. Even the great feast of Santa Rosa at the end of August is barely mentioned, though letters from home, sometimes as many as five at a time from his wife and various other family members, are always noted.
In mid September... "Last night a boy fell down the shaft, a distance of 25 metres, but fortunately there was water at the bottom and he escaped unhurt..."
- but apart from noting having to work all night occasionally, and the comings and goings of Pascoe and others, more often than not there is only the date.
From mid November no letters came from home for several weeks but on Sunday, 19th December, "Wrote to my wife and sent a cheque for 1000 D or 3333 francs" and three days later letters at last arrived from Mary Ann and his sister Ellen.
He managed to shake himself out of his lethargic mood at Christmas:
"Christmas Day, 25 December, 1886. Joe Cowling and myself had an invitation from Mr Pascoe to come down and dine with him, so we saddled a donkey each of us, and took a ride out. It was a beautiful day and the spring flowers were popping up their heads, as if glad to welcome the Advent of the blessed Redeemer, while the birds poured forth their sweet notes, as if they wished to continue the strain of the angels on the plains of Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
Sunday, 26 Decr. 1886. We rose about 5am and got ready for our trip to Potosi where we arrived about 1.30pm, feeling rather tired, not being accustomed to riding. In the French Hotel we met a lot of Cornish boys, more than I have seen before for over 3 years. We did not move about much that day, being tired."
They spent Monday visiting friends in the town and admiring the new machinery from England in "the English Company's Establishment" and Tuesday buying food to be taken to Porco by the next donkey train.
"We also got our pictures taken". They arrived back at the mine on 29th December, where J.B.W. found a New Year's card from his wife awaiting him, a bit of clever timing on Mary Ann's part.
"Thursday, Decr.30/86. Went into the mine and found it was quite time to return and see how things were carried on.
Friday, 31/86. I measured all the contracts, and then helped Don Jose to make up the a/c for the pay. We were in the office until near midnight, so that is how I finished the Old Year. I will now leave this, and commence my record for the N.Year in a new book and so turn over a new leaf."
But if he did, then it was lost because there is no further record until another small notebook starts on 26th September, 1887 - and that covers his journey home to England.
Next chapter - Homeward through Argentina
Top of page