Argonauts of the gold rush

While gold seekers who came overland were known as ‘Overlanders’, those who came by sea were called ‘Argonauts’.

The word Argonaut comes from Greek mythology. A band of heroes went with Jason in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. This word is broken down into Argo (the ship in which Jason’s Argonauts sailed), and nautes (a sailor).

Coming by ship, there were two routes that argonauts took in order to get to the west coast during the Fraser River gold rush. The first was the route via Panama or Nicarauga, and the second was around the Cape Horn.

The route around Cape Horn was the longest voyage. Ships that left New England spent an average time of six months at sea and some as long as 200 days.

Not surprisingly, argonauts were relieved when the ships stopped at Valparaiso or another Central American port. Most diaries mention how the passengers eagerly ate tropical fruits, especially after having to endure months of a montonous diet.

Argonauts who sailed via Panama or Nicarauga spoke of being able to pick tropical fruit within a short distance. One passenger wrote that he spent the morning “walking under orange, and lemon, and tamarind trees, picking guavas and mangos, sitting under a coconut tree cutting the end with my machete and drinking the rich pulpy milk.”