Carleton Watkins                                “Ho! For California!”

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Scant documentation exists for how Vance and Watkins spent the second half of 1850 after the decision to leave Valparaíso became a reality, possibly in the month of August.[7]  Scholars have puzzled for half a century about why details of the arrival in California of both Robert Vance and Carleton Watkins cannot be found in sources of their time since circumstantial evidence establishes they were resident in California by the end of 1850.[8]  Among the sources for arrivals are passenger lists of vessels arriving in San Francisco.  These records show that a passenger named “John Vance,” and another passenger named, “R. Mason,” arrived in San Francisco aboard the ship Panama on Saturday, July 6, 1850, concluding a journey that required eighteen days at sea with stops in Acapulco, Mexico, and San Diego.[9]  Errors in the spelling of names were commonplace in passenger lists.  However, for Robert Vance to arrive in San Francisco on July 6 would have required a departure from Valparaíso the first week of June, 1850.  That timing was impossible because on July 20 Vance advertised that he was in Valparaíso having returned from his travels to “La Costa” (meaning Bolivia and Peru) [Fig. 2].

It cannot be established if “John Vance” could possibly have been Robert’s brother, William, or if “R. Mason” could have been Robert Vance’s partner in the “Vance y Mason” calle de la Aduana no. 11 daguerreian portrait business.   Nor, however, can the coincidence of persons named “Vance” and “Mason” as passengers on the steamship Panama be ignored.
According to San Francisco City Directories of 1850-1852, steamships operated by the Pacific Mail Steam Navigation Company departed San Francisco on the first and sixteenth of each month for Panama, Nueva Granada, resulting in two round trips monthly, or more than twenty annually.  However, passenger records for only a fraction of that number have survived, which means there are no records for arrival by sea for thousands of Gold Rush era emigrants.   Thus, unraveling the journey by Vance and Carleton from Valparaíso to San Francisco in the second half of 1850 requires inferential thinking.

           We now believe that Vance and Carleton could have departed Valparaíso on either the steamship Chili [sic] or steamship Peru on 26 or 27


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[7] Palmquist 1998, p. 47.

[8] Palmquist and Kailbourne, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, report that:  “Although the exact date of Vance’s arrival in San Francisco is unknown, he was established in a [portrait] gallery ‘in Stedman & White’s Building’ by December 9,1850,” according to an advertisement in the San Francisco Public Balance of that date .

[9]Louis J. Rasmussen, San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists, Vol. I, Colma, California:  San Francisco Historical Records, [1966], p. 144.