David J. Weber, Book Review Editor
Consignments to El Dorado: A Record of the Voyage of the Sutton. By Thomas Whaley. Compiled and edited from the original manuscript, with journal and letters of 1848-9 by June Allen Reading. New York: Exposition Press, 1971. Appendices. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Notes. 268 pages. $10.00.
Reviewed by John Haskell Kemble, Professor of History at Pomona College and one of the nation’s leading authorities on maritime history. Among Professor Kemble’s published works are The Panama Route, 1848-1869 (1943), and editions of Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (1964) and On to California and the South Sea: The Diary of Albert G. Osburn, 1849-1851 (1966).
Gold-seekers bound for California by ship around Cape Horn had plenty of time on their hands which goes far to account for the many journals of Argonauts who chose that route. Incidentally, it is notable that few of these were kept up after the writer reached California. His time was usually too much occupied with more pressing matters to allow for a continuation of the record.
Thomas Whaley, the writer of the journal and letters which are published in the volume under review, was relatively early among those who were attracted to California by the news of the gold discoveries. He sailed from New York on 1 January 1849 in the ship Sutton, and arrived in San Francisco on 22 July. No unusual hazards or hardships were encountered on the voyage which was punctuated by calls at Rio de Janeiro and Valparaiso. Sutton carried 55 passengers from New York, and added more at Valparaiso where news of California gold had created considerable excitement by the time the ship arrived there.
Unlike most Argonauts, Whaley went to California with a view to entering business in San Francisco rather than to dig gold. This gives special interest to the journal and letters because of their reference to business prospects, goods taken for sale, and conditions in San Francisco in the summer of 1849.
Whaley’s account of the voyage itself is often lively, and contains more detail than many such journals. Especially notable is a description of the 4th of July celebration complete with the text of one of the orations given.
The text of this edition opens with ten pages of letters written in December 1848, letters of both family and business character, which provide a good deal of useful and interesting information on the planning which went into a mercantile venture to California. Of the 171 pages of jounral and letters written between 1 January and 31 August 1849, over a third are letters to Whaley’s mother, fiancee, and business associates. Often these contain material exactly parallel to that in the journal, and sometimes even in the same words. This makes for rather tedious reading at times, but to have eliminated all repetitions would have presented serious editorial problems.
Letters and journal are preceded by a long introduction which is mainly devoted to the appearance and character of New York at the time of Whaley’s departure and to a genealogy of his family which is carried back to the Middle Ages. The editor’s notes on the text are uneven, and some of them would have been greatly enhanced by further research. Appendices contain data on Whaley’s fellow passengers from the files of the Society of California Pioneers, a list of ship arrivals in San Francosco in July 1849, register and enrollment records of Sutton, and other maritime data. This reviewer would have been grateful if the introduction or notes had given more information about the collections in Whaley House Museum in San Diego.
If the surviving Whaley papers contain material on his business career in San Francisco and San Diego after the summer of 1849 which is comparable in richness of detail to that published in this book, it is to be hoped that at least a representative selection of these will appear in print.