National Geographic : 1905 Oct
THE PANA Panama and protect its transit have had many disagreeable experiences while an chored in the harbor of Colon or Aspin wall, as it used to be known. One event in my own service there I can hardly re call even at the present day without a shudder. It was in the winter of 1886 when we reached this port with some of the Galena's machinery needing re pairs. After coaling from a Norwegian barque, which was lashed alongside the ship with much difficulty, owing to the heavy sea, we began to take the ma chinery apart. Realizing, however, that if caught by a " norther," which might come up at any time-without power to move the shipoutof the harbor-disaster was likely to follow, I decided to pro ceed to the little closed harbor of Porto Bello, which lay about 30 miles to the eastward of Colon, and there make the necessary repairs. At the end of two days, when about to return to Colon, word was received through the com manding officer of a French corvette that during our absence a heavy norther had occurred at Colon, and that the French ship had escaped from the harbor almost by a miracle. As that vessel was a much higher powered steamer than the Galena, I cannot bear to think of what might have occurred had we remained in this treacherous harbor. Returning to Colon as soon as possible, the sight that met our gaze I shall never forget. Nineteen vessels had been totally destroyed by the terrific storm, and wreckage and dead bodies strewed the beach for miles around. The barque from which we had taken coal was driven ashore at Christobal Colon, near which we had been anchored, and there was not a ves tige of her in sight. A similar fate would surely have been the Galena's had she remained in the harbor with her motive power inoperative. Over 50 lives were lost in this storm and the destruc tion of property was enormous. No doubt this loss of property took a large share of the money which was unac- MA CANAL 457 counted for belonging to the canal company.* THE PROBLEM OF SANITATION Few persons who have not visited the Isthmus can have any conception of the magnitude of this problem, and only those who witnessed the great waste of life and money from the want of proper sanitary measures during the closing months of the old Panama Canal Com pany's existence can form a proper estimate of the value of good sanitary conditions in this trying country. It should be remembered that practi cally all of the labor used in the canal section must be imported. At first, under the influence of de Lesseps' great name, large numbers flocked to the Isth mus from Jamaica, which island is said to furnish a class of labor second to none for tropical work. Impetus was given to this emigration of the islanders by the fact that the trade in sugar,which was then the staple article of production in Jamaica, was ruined by the bounty paid for the cultivation of this important commodity in our own southern states, and the great fruit business which now gives the island considerable revenue was then in its infancy. It was therefore not a difficult matter for the company to make contracts with the idlers to go the short distance to the Isthmus, where good prices for labor prevailed. But when, after a comparatively short time, a few decrepit negroes returned to their homes in an endeavor to eradicate from their systems the effects of diseases,with reports that the thousands who did not return had gone to their last resting places, a reaction set in and the Jamaica market became less available. Further, the British government, seeingtheir beau tiful island overrun by paupers who had returned from the Isthmus without the power of earning the food for their de pleted bodies, finally put a stop to this emigration altogether. *See page 472.