When in April 1848 a West Coast newspaper published the first rumours that gold had been discovered in California, the city of San Francisco was a gloomy town with few commercial prospects. Shops were abandoned, food production ceased and there was a serious risk of famine in the region as local inhabitants fled to the mines and thousands of adventurers made their way to the city. In the autumn, vessels from every direction, laden with provisions, clothing and all kinds of saleable goods, converged on San Francisco, the nearest port to the gold fields. Business revived, there was ample employment at high wages, real estate rose in value and the town, which a few months before had been nearly deserted, boomed.
Back in Porto, Portugal, William Wilby, Henry Edward’s father, a successful merchant and member of the resident British Community, believing that supplying goods and merchandise to the gold miners in San Francisco could be a wise commercial decision, resolved to finance his son in a new venture. Accordingly, Henry Edward formed a partnership with his friends John Searle and Joseph Clark. The three young men purchased a three-masted barque, the Bella Pernambucana, filled it with goods for sale, contracted an experienced Captain and October 1849, sailed from Porto for California under the Portuguese flag.
This book reproduces Henry Edward Wilby’s personal Diary in which he describes the harrowing voyage that began 14 January 1850 when their ship left Rio de Janeiro, sailing around Cape Horn, arriving in San Francisco 13 June 1850, but it does not stop here. The diary continues until 7 October 1851, some two years after leaving Porto, as Henry Edward describes his life in San Francisco, selling merchandise, fighting several great fires, watching a couple of public hangings and so much more, ending with a visit to the goldfields.