Chapter 8

Valparaíso, 1849


Previous Page                                                                           Next Page



          In May or June of 1849 Carleton Watkins was introduced to the life-changing secrets of the daguerreian art by Robert Vance in Valparaíso, Chile, or so we believe based on the circumstantial evidence. Valparaíso, located at the southwestern tip of South America [Fig. 1], was built on hills that slope to the edge of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by barren volcanic looking features.  Some newcomers described the geography as projecting "ugliness"[1] and it was perceived as ". . .an outpost of purgatory."[2]  Given the large number of unfavorable reports by foreign visitors, one question springs to mind: What attracted Carleton and Vance to this unwelcoming place that was nearly six thousand miles from home?

           The harbor of Valparaíso was no real harbor at all, just an arm of the sea [Fig. 2], but, nevertheless, hundreds of vessels sought refuge to resupply after navigating Cape Horn en route to California.  Its commerce in 1849 was managed by American, English, French and German interests, as evidenced by the signage around the Plaza Victoria, that was given ". . . in every idiom, except Spanish."[3] Out of a population of around fifty thousand, it was estimated ten thousand were foreigners. 

          What Valparaíso lacked in physical beauty, it made up for in other cultural and social amenities that made it ". . .the source of a thousand pleasures."[4]  For this reason it was the favored port for officers of the U. S. Navy Pacific squadron.  Valparaíso even supported a subculture of "shoppies," men who made themselves available for companionship with other men.  "I fear the morals of Valparaíso are not of the highest order," one American visitor wrote. [5]  Such was the general tone of the city where we believe Carleton spent the first full year of his adult life.

          Let us recount from Chapter Seven what Carleton told his friend and biographer, Charles Turrill, about how he was taught to operate a camera by Vance.   Carleton told Turrill that when Vance's camera operator suddenly quit he (Carleton) was asked to take charge of the portrait gallery ". . . until [Vance] got a new man."  Watkins continued, saying that "[I] knew absolutely nothing in regard to photographic processes, and was simply for


 Next Page

[1] Walpole, p. 78.

[2] Colton, p. 191.

[3] Sarren, p. 78

[4] Colton, p. 201

[5] Schaeffer, p. 24.