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Attached to the U. S. ship Vandalia, of the Pacific squadron, lying at anchor in the harbor of Valparaiso, in the month of August, 1850, I received a communication from the Superintendent of the National Observatory, informing me that orders to explore the Valley of the Amazon would be sent me by the next mail steamer.
The ship was then bound for the Sandwich Islands, but Captain Gardner, with that kindness which ever characterized his intercourse with his officers, did not hesitate to detach me from the ship, and to give me permission to await, at Valparaiso, the arrival of my instructions.
The officers expressed much flattering regret at my leaving the ship, and loaded me with little personal mementos—things that might be of use to me on my proposed journey.
On the 6th of August I unexpectedly saw, from the windows of the club-house at Valparaiso, the topsails of the ship mounting to the mastheads; I saw that she must needs make a stretch in-shore to clear the rocks that lie off the western point of the bay; and desirous to say farewell to my friends, I leaped into a shore-boat, and shoved off, with the hope of reaching her before she went about. The oarsmen, influenced by the promise of a pair of dollars if they put me on board, bent to their oars with a will, and the light whale-boat seemed to fly; but just as I was clearing the outer line of merchantmen, the ship came sweeping up to the wind; and as she gracefully fell off on the other tack, her royals and courses were set; and bending to the steady northeast breeze, she darted out of the harbor at a rate that set pursuit at defiance. God's blessing go with the beautiful ship, and the gallant gentlemen, her officers, who had been to me as brothers.
Owing to the death of President Taylor, and the consequent change in the Cabinet, my orders were delayed, and I spent several weeks in Valparaiso, and Santiago, the capital of Chili. This time, however, was not thrown away: my residence in these cities improved my knowledge of the Spanish language, and gave me information regarding the Bolivian tributaries of the Amazon which I probably could have got nowhere else.
The commander of the English naval forces in the Pacific, Admiral Hornby, was much interested in my mission, and searched for me, through his valuable library, for all that had been written upon the subject. I am indebted to him, and the officers of his fleet, for much personal kindness.
I must also return thanks to Messrs. George Hobson, H. V. Ward, George Cood, and Commodore Simpson, of the Chilian navy, for the loan of books and maps which assisted me in forming my plans, and deciding as to route.
Mr. Bridges, an English florist and botanist, who had descended the Chaparé and Mamoré, tributaries of the Madeira, as far as the mouth of the Beni, and who sent the first specimen of the Victoria Regia to England from this country, gave me such a description of it as enabled me to point out to Mr. Gibbon the most practicable route to the headwaters of those streams.
I also had long conversations with General Ballivian, ex-President of Bolivia, then an exile to Chili. He lent me a map of Bolivia, executed under his orders whilst President of that republic, of which I took a tracing, but which I had afterwards the misfortune to lose.
At Santiago I received information regarding the river Beni, and the interior of Bolivia and Peru, from a French gentleman named Pissis, an engineer in the employment of the Chilian government; and also from a gentleman named Smith, an employé in the large mercantile house of Huth, Gruning & Co., who had travelled much in those countries.
To Don José Pardo, chargé d'affaires of Peru to the republic of Chili, I owe much for information and advice. He gave me copies of letters from Vicente Pazos, a citizen of Buenos Ayres, who has always manifested much interest in the improvement and advancement of South America, and who, in 1819, published a series of papers on the affairs of that country, directed to Henry Clay. These letters I deem of sufficient interest to give a translation of.