While in Cleveland Edward Palmer made his home with Hon. John W. Taylor, formerly speaker of the House of Representatives, a man of national reputation, who after a long and active life had become a helpless paralytic and was living in that city with a married daughter. Mr. Taylor was visited by many eminent men, and young Palmer was present at many interesting discussions of current events.
At that time there was much talk of opening Paraguay, the hermit nation of South America, to the outside world. It had not been long since Commodore Perry had knocked at the door of Japan and gained entrance; and the scientific results of the United States Exploring Expedition, which appeared in print from time to time, were frequent topics of conversation. When the United States government decided to send an expedition to Paraguay, young Palmer applied for a position as collector of natural history specimens. A small vessel, the Water Witch, commanded by Thomas Jefferson Page, was fitted out for the purpose, and Edward Palmer's name was entered upon its rolls.
His duties at sea were to assist the ship's surgeon in caring for the sick and administering medicines. He was placed in charge of the ship's dispensary and was assigned to various stations at drills and quarters. On arriving in South America he was to collect and prepare specimens of birds, reptiles, mammals and plants, as well as objects of ethnological interest.
The Water Witch left the United States in February, 1853, reached the mouth of the Rio de la Plata without accident, and after a short stay at Buenos Ayres proceeded to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. She then steamed up the river beyond into the territory of Brazil, where much interesting information and material were collected. A history of this memorable expedition and of the war with Paraguay which resulted may be found in Captain Page's work on La Plata. Dr. Palmer's personal notes contain much of vivid interest, and I regret that there is not space in the present paper to give them in detail. It is sufficient to say that he was called upon not only to superintend the delivery of ammunition from the magazine of the vessel, but also to dress gunshot wounds and to attend to the burial of the dead.
No account of the scientific results of the expedition was published. There was no one at the time to identify and describe the plants collected, which for a time were lost; and we come upon them now and then in the collections of the national herbarium, many of them still unnamed.
One of the most interesting episodes of the Water Witch Expedition was the meeting of an officer sent from the ship on a reconnaissance with Bonpland, the companion of Humboldt on his travels in America.
- Page, Thomas Jefferson, "La Plata, the Argentine Confederation and Paraguay," New York. 1859.