Friday. 29th. July 1842.
A pleasant summers day. a shower
in the evening with thunder, and lightening.
C. and I spent our morning sewing, the chil.
dren rather troublesome.
C. very weak, and faint at intervals but she
managed to sew, lay on the bed, and amuse
me in spite of draw backs.
Our coal came to day. “Eight tons.”
I set off in the evening for Chelsea, with Julie, and Louis, but the stages were too full. We walked
around the park, and returned home to tea. The panorama of Jerusalem, and Thebes(1), was
consumed by fire, during the thunder shower.
It is a great loss to Mr Catherwood , they say,
“ten thousand dollars.”
Their last collection of Mexican curiosities were
also destroyed. What a grief to Mr C., an
event so unlooked for, and so discouraging.
We saw the flames from our house; The
thought of this sad loss would have drawn
tears from my eyes.
1)In July of the same year these pieces of Maya pottery and carved wooden lintels, dated with glyphs, from the ruins of Kabah and Uxmal were put on exhibit at Catherwood’s Rotunda, along with hundreds of his large sepia drawings. The public scarcely had time to see them, however, for on the night of July 31, 1842, the Rotunda caught fire. Philip Hone, the New York merchant whose Pepysian diary is a shrewd, opinionated record of all that took place in those times, was himself a witness:
“Catherwood’s Panorama of Thebes and Jerusalem burnt last evening about ten o’clock and those two valuable paintings were destroyed together with the other contents of the building, among which were a large collection of curiosities and relics … collected by Messrs. Stephens and Catherwood in their recent travels. … This will be a severe loss … to science and the arts in general.
The New York Herald on the following day recorded that the building and its contents were totally destroyed and estimated their value at $20,000. Catherwood and his partner Jackson were not the sole sufferers. There was also Stephens himself, who had brought back the Maya remains at so great a personal sacrifice; he especially grieved for the great carved wood lintel, decorated with the glyphs that would have told the date of the Kabah structure. “I had,” he said, poking among the ruins the morning after, “the melancholy satisfaction of seeing their ashes exactly as the fire had left them.”
- American Heritage Magazine, June 1961