R. E. (R. Edward) Gosnell.

A history; British Columbia online

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chants and shippers who determine the points at which trade shall center.
Victoria, combining the greatest commercial facilities with the fewest risks
to navigation, soon came to the front as a shipping center; to this end her
roadstead with its good holding ground and her whole mile frontage of deep
water largely contributed. Of the great loads disgorged on the Victoria
docks from the San Francisco steamers, most of the inglorious parasites, the
Jews, brokers, Paris cooks and broken down gamblers stayed in Victoria to
live by their wits, preying upon the fortunate miners, while the adventurous
spirits pressed on up the Fraser toward the source of gold. All miners had
to pay a monthly license to the government.

The Fraser River begins to swell in June and does not reach its lowest
ebb till winter; consequently the late arrivals found the auriferous ground
under water. Thousands who had expected to pick up gold like potatoes
lost heart and returned to California heaping execrations upon the country
and everything else that was English. The state of the river became the
barometer of public hopes and the pivot on which everybody's expectation
turned, placer mining could only be carried on upon the river banks, and
would the river ever fall ? A few hundreds of the more indomitable spirits,
undeterred by the hope deferred which maketh the heart sick, pressed on to
Hope and Yale, at the head of steamboat navigation, being content to wait
and try their luck on the river bars there when at last the waters should fall.
These intrepid men ran hair-breadth escapes, balancing themselves on precipice
brink or perpendicular ledge, carrying on their backs both blankets and flour,


enduring* untold hardships, buoyed up only by the gleam of possible gold,
that will-o'-the-wisp whose glamour once it touches the heart of a man spoils
him for conservative work and till death comes leaves him never.

These determined ones pass through miseries indescribable, creeping long
distances ofttimes on hands and knees through undergrowth and tangled
thickets, wading waist deep in bogs and clambering over and under fallen
trees. Every day added to their exhaustion; and, worn out with privations
and suffering, the knots of adventurers became smaller and smaller, some
dying, some lagging behind to rest, and others turning back in despair — it was
truly a survival of the fittest, and here as elsewhere hopeful pluck brought its
reward. At length the river did fall, and the arrival of the yellow dust in
Victoria infused new hope among the disconsolate. In proportion to the
number of hands engaged on the placers, the gold yield of the first six months,
notwithstanding the awful drawbacks of the deadly trails, was much larger
than it had been in the same period in either California or Australia.

The production of gold in California during the first six months of
mining in 1849 was a quarter of a million. All the gold brought to Mel-
bourne in 185 1 amounted to a million and a half. From June to October,
1858, there was sent out of British Columbia by steamer or sailing vessel
$543,000 of gold. But in this sum is not included the dust accumulated and
kept in the country by miners nor that brought in by the Hudson's Bay Com-
pany or carried away personally without passing through banks or express
office. It is a conservative estimate to declare that these last items would
so augment the $543,000 as to bring it up to at least $705,000 for the first
four months. Yet this wonderful wealth was taken almost entirely from the
bed of a few rivers, bank diggings being entirely unworked. A very small
portion of the Lower Fraser, the Bonaparte and the Thompson, was the exclu-
sive sphere of operations, the Upper Fraser and the creeks fed by the north
spurs of the Rockies remained an unknown country.

The comparative figures of the gold yield were encouraging to those who


thought, but much of the get-rich-quick element became disgruntled and re-
turned to San Francisco, and the country was well rid of amateur miners,
romantic speculators who built castles in the air and did neither toil nor spin,
a spongy growth on the body politic. The stringent English way in which
law was administered had no attractions for these gentry who fain would have
re-enacted on British soil those scenes of riot and bloodshed which stained
California during the first years of its mad gold rush.

How Placers are Worked.

To work placers one must have access to water, wood and quicksilver.
In California mines water was very scarce, in New Zealand the early miners
were hampered by the lack of wood for structural purposes, British Columbia
had wood and water galore. Arrived in the auriferous region, the miner
must first locate a scene of operations, this pursuit is called " prospecting."
Armed with a pan and some quicksilver the prospector proceeds to test his
bar or bench. Bars are accumulations of detritus upon the ancient channel
of some river; they constitute often the present banks of the river; benches
are the gold-bearing banks when rising in the form: of terraces. Filling his
pan with earth the miner dips it gently in the stream and by a rotary motion
precipitates the black sand with pebbles to the bottom, the lighter earth being
allowed to escape over the edge of the pan. The pan is. then placed by a fire
to dry, and the lighter particles of sand are blown away, leaving the fine gold
at the bottom. If the gold be exceedingly fine it must be amalgamated with
quicksilver. Estimating the value of the gold produced by one pan, the
prospector readily calculates whether it will pay him to take up a claim there.
In this rough method of testing, the superior specific gravity of gold over
every other metal except platinum is the basis of operations — the gold will
always wash to the bottom.

Next to the individual " pan " comes as a primitive contrivance for gold
washing, the " rocker." This is constructed like a child's cradle with- rockers


beneath, and is four feet long, two feet wide, and one and one-half feet deep,
the top and one end being open, a perforated sheet iron bottom allows the
larger pebbles to pass through, and riffles or elects arranged like the slats of
a Venetian blind and charged with quicksilver arrest the gold. The rocker
takes two men to work, one pours in the earth and the sluicing water, the
other rocks.

On a still larger scale is sluicing, which is really the same principle ex-
actly as the pan and the rocker adapted to a powerful series of flumes or
wooden aqueducts, down which some mountain torrent is deflected, the gold-
bearing earth being shoveled in from the sides. By means of an immense
hose called a " giant," whole mountain sides of rich sand are broken down
and subsequently treated.

Quartz mining ultimately becomes the permanent method of extracting
gold after the alluvial placers have been worked out. In these early days
of gold mining in British Columbia, the quartz industry was not even in its
infancy, requiring as it does money, machinery and concerted action to crush
the imbedded gold from out the encircling quartz. Placer mining is poor
man's mining, and has a charm, a glamour of expectancy which yields to no
elaborately planned out campaign of imported machinery, consolidated com-
panies and the selling of shares. The free prospector, singly or in partner-
ship, works off his own bat, makes his own discoveries and locations and hugs
to his soul each night the delirious hope of m.illions on the morrow. Gold
fever is a disease that the doctors cannot cure, and if its fiery stream courses
through a man's blood for two or three successive years, no conservative posi-
tion in the world with a certain salary fixed and limited will have power

to hold him.

Early Placers of British Columbia.

The Fort Hope Diggings first attracted the miners of the gold rush cf
1858, the best paying bars being the Victoria Bar, French Bar and Marinulle.


The official returns of this region give a minimum average of between $5 and
$10 per man per day here. Two miners realized $1,350 in six weeks.

The Yale Diggings embraced the river banks between Hope and Yale
and for some distance beyond Yale again. Hill's, Emery's, and Boston Bars
being the most noted diggings. The enormous rush of miners reaching first
the Hope, Yale and the Lower Fraser, although by no means exhausting
these grounds, did take the cream of the big gettings from these deposits, and
now the cry for richer and more distant grounds went up.

In California was gold not more plentiful near the source of the streams
and are not the rivers of British Columbia greater than those of California?
Further back towards the frozen ocean the fortune hunters will go. And so
the peaceful settlers on Vancouver Island, on the Cowlitz, and from the valley
of the Columbia, leave ox and plow and steading, the bond servants of the
monopoly break their contracts and throw off their allegiance, the saw-mills
of the Sound are silent, and the northern trek begins again. By sea and by
land the Argonauts pour in, from Oregon they come and from California,
from Canada and Europe, from Australia and these isles of the sea, and the
world sees enacted the third great devil dance of the nations.

Douglas, the King of Roads.

Douglas was a diplomat, he looked ahead and he knew how to manage
men. When the first benches on the Fraser were worked out, and the miners
would fain push on and break new ground, it became imperative that a more
practical and less hazardous route to the front must be opened up. The In-
dians knew of a way from Lillooet, through the Harrison Lake and River
and over the Douglas portages. In Victoria 5(X> miners had their faces turned
towards the new diggings. Douglas would try the virtues of co-operation.
His proposition to the miners was this: Each man as an evidence of good
faith would deposit $25 in the hands of the Hudson's Bay Company, and sign
an agreement to work upon the trail until it was completed; the Hudson's


Bay Company in return agreed to carry the miners to the point of commence-
ment on the Harrison River, feed them all the time they worked, and give
them back their $25 at the expiry of the contract. The length of proposed
trail (including water way) was seventy miles. The scheme worked well,
it was an object lesson in economics, the miners were well pleased with their
bargain, and the Hudson'^s Bay Company found itself in possession of a
money making toll-road. Miles were money in those days; beans that could
be bought in Victoria for a cent and a half a pound were worth five cents at
Port Douglas where the trail began, and at the end of the communistic high-
way had increased to the value of a dollar and half a pound.

Death of the Monopoly.

Every monopoly dies in time, and even the Hudson's Bay Company, with
its giant agrarian clutch, must pass under the law. On August 2nd, 1858,
the Imperial Parliament passed an Act to provide for the Government of
British Columbia, the new name given to that Pacific Province of the Mother
Land, stretching from the forty-ninth parallel north to the Naas and the Fin-
lay, and including the territory from the crest of the Rockies westward to
the sea, with the Islands of Queen Charlotte and adjacent isles. With the
expiration of the company's exclusive license to trade with the Mainland In-
dians, the Imperial Government re-purchased the company's rights to Van-
couver Island for the sum of £57,500. In the year 1863, the Hudson's Bay
Company stations in British Columbia were reduced to thirteen, Forts Simp-
son, Langley, Hope, Yale, Thompson River, Alexandria, George, St. James,
McLeod, Connelly Lake, Fraser Lake, Sheppard, and Babine.


In i860 the Cariboo rush began. The Cariboo country may be roughly
described as lying between the headwaters of the Fraser and the Thompson
in latitude fifty-two degrees to fifty-four degrees north. The chief river of


the region was the Quesnel, well known to the old Hudson's Bay Company
traders, and the old Fort Alexandria lay but 40 miles distant. Previous to
i860 the Fraser mining had been almost exclusively by rocker and sluice, and
with the more or less satisfactory scratching of the surface operations had
ceased, but in the new Cariboo country shafts and drifts and pumping
machines are to penetrate the mysteries of deep placers. The 1,500 miners of
Cariboo shipped to Victoria before the end of next year (1861), two million
of dollars in coarse nuggets, and the name Cariboo became as well known
throughout the world as either Sacramento or Ballarat.

Each creek had a history of its own, Quesnel Forks being the first to
develop into a permanent camp and early assuming the dignity of a small
town. Here a party of five with two rockers took out in one week a hundred
ounces of gold. On the south branch of the Quesnel below the outlet of
Quesnel Lake mining operations persisted until the year 1872, at which time
a gang of Chinamen were still making ten dollars a day to the man.

In Cedar Creek exceptionally rich diggings developed, here the Aurora
claim with sluices, flumes and working plant costing $8,000, yielded in the
year 1866, $20,000, and in August of the next year it was paying one hundred
ounces a week. On the right branch tributaries of the Quesnel was the
famous Keithley Creek, at whose mouth in 1861, grew up the town of Keith-
ley. On this creek in this year five men in a single day laid bare $1,200 in
good sized nuggets, and their daily outget for a time was sixteen ounces of
gold per man. In the autumn several companies turned out a hundred dol-
lars a day to the man; the diggings continued on Keithley Creek until 1875,
the conservative Chinee continuing for a decade afterwards to scrape these
auriferous sands. In 1864 Cunningham Creek " made good " ; here a party
of four white men unearthed an old river channel and one day took out $460

The Antler Creek roused the interest of two continents. The London
" Times " declared the bed of Antler Creek to be, like the heavenly streets.


paved with g-old ; rockers yielded easily fifty ounces in an hour or two, a shovel-
ful sometimes realized $50, and good sized nuggets could be picked out by
hand. The inevitable stampede followed, and by June, i860, houses, saloons,
and sawmills were in evidence. Individuals at Antler made as high as $1,000
a day, much of the ground yielding $1,000 to the square foot, the creek easily
produced a gross output of $10,000 a day for the entire summer.

Grouse Creek evolved the famed Heron claim which had a wonderful
history. An original outlay of $150,000 put this claim in running order.
It immediately yielded $300,000, and on the assumption that it was then
worked out, the locators sold it for $4,000. The newcomers cut an outlet
18 inches deeper than the previous one, with the result that for the whole of
that season eighty ounces a week were produced. The Heron Claim re-
mained quiescent until the year 1866, when in conjunction with the Discovery
and other claims a yield of $15,000 to $20,000 per share was realized.

Then Williams Creek looms large on the horizon. In 1865, Barkerville,
on Williams Creek, became the distributing point for the whole Cariboo
country, the aggregate output of which in seven years reached the total of
no less than twenty-five millions of dollars. The gold here was found on a
deposit of blue clay, the figures of individual earnings being astounding. The
Steele party picked out of the clay 796 ounces in two days, their aggregate
for two months being $105,000, while prospects of $600 to the pan are au-

The year 1862 eclipsed the year 1861, and 1863 was better than 1862,
and from 1863 to 1867 the deep ground diggings of this Creek were the main
producer of all Cariboo.

Cariboo is a sea of mountains and pine covered hills, rising to the height
of 8,000 feet above the sea level. Everywhere are evidences of volcanic
eruption, strata are uptilted and the beds of old streams are heaved to the
hill tops. Round this center of wealth the main artery of the Fraser wraps
its semi-circular course and to the main stream the gold-bearing branches


pour their tribute. Lightning, Antler, Keithley and WilHams Creeks take
their rise in the Bald Mountains, radiating directly from a peak in this range
known as the Snow-Shoe Mountain. In this mountain is supposed to lie the
matrix of the Cariboo gold supply. The great drawbacks which confront
the miner are the denseness of the encircling forests, the rugged formation of
every foot of the land and the consequent arduous and expensive nature of all
transportation work. Added to this is the shortness of the season for work,
the severe winter precluding all operations between the months of October
and June.

The extraordinary yield of the Cariboo mines appears in the facts that
in 1 86 1 the whole of Vancouver Island and British Columbia were Supported
by the gold gotten from Antler Creek alone, and for four years Williams
Creek supported a population of 16,000, many of whom left the country with
large fortunes. And yet Williams Creek is only a narrow gully worked for
less than two miles of its length in the roughest manner, the mining being
practically a scratching of the surface unaided by costly machinery and desti-
tute of steam or electric power.



There are two sides to political history, an outside and inside. The one
is contained in the records of speeches, in newspaper discussion, and in of-
ficial archives. There are many blanks in the knowledge thus acquired.
The other side is seen by personal contact with the principal actors in the
political arena, by having access to the charmed circles behind the scenes.
We also get glimpses of the inside in private diaries and journals, in letters
not intended for publication, in autobiographies, in club gossip, in the heart-
to-heart talks in the sanctum sanctorum of the home or office. These are in-
valuable in completing the true picture of the times we wish to paint for the
public gaze. They destroy many illusions, they explain many mysteries, they
illuminate many manuscripts. British Columbia is not exceptional in having
its secret pages of history, known only to those who were the principal actors,
or those who had the entree to their confidences. To write a chapter on politi-
cal events, which shall truly mirror them, requires the personal and familiar
knowledge of the man who was contemporary with them, was an eye-witness,
and mingled in the strife. There are few such men in the province qualified
to discourse on them. Most of the generation who took part in the early
scenes of political activity are dead. Of those who are still living by far the
greater number have long since retired, and without being chroniclers of the
daily routine, are not available for accurate reminiscences. The one man'
who has been continuously active, as journalist and participator in public life,
from the outset — that is, since 1859 — is Mr. D. W. Higgins, ex-editor of the
Colonist, ex-M. P. P., and ex-Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. After
passing through the California gold excitement and founding the San Fran-


Cisco Call, he came to British Columbia, attracted by the rush, and in i860
started the Victoria Chronicle, subsequently amalgamated with the pioneer
paper, the Colonist, with which he was identified as proprietor and editor for
many years subsequently. Having had an intimate knowledge of affairs,
such as a journalist and parliamentarian can obtain, and possessing an almost
unfailing memory of details, he was asked to contribute a chapter outlining
the course of politics during his long experience in the province, which he
kindly consented to do. What follows is from his pen, and while to some
extent it may be representative of his point of view for which he is responsible,
may be accepted as a reliable summary of events within a lengthened and
memorable period still within the memory of a lifetime. While the facts cor-
respond in the main with the printed record there are many sidelights which
give to the narrative peculiar interest and value.

That the reader may intelligently grasp the political conditions of the
British Pacific while under Hudson's Bay Company rule and before the ter-
ritories of Vancouver Island and New Caledonia were formed into Crown
Colonies, with one governor and separate civil lists, a brief history of the
situation as it existed prior to the entry of the Colonies into the Canadian
Confederation, and for some years subsequently, becomes necessary.

Although Vancouver Island and New Caledonia (now British Columbia)
were ruled by Sir James Douglas, the Company's chief factor, the American
element largely predominated ; but there was a fair sprinkling of British sub-
jects from all parts of our great empire, including many from the Canadas
a'nd the Maritime Provinces. The men from the Colonies, having left a
constitutional form of government behind them, chafed and fretted under the
form of government that they found here, and those who settled in and about
Victoria almost at once began an agitation for a representative government.
In the fall of 1858, when the miners had returned from their claims on the


mainland, to pass the inclement months at Victoria, the agitation for reform
began to take definite shape. Many of the colonial men had mixed in politics
in their homes. Some were good talkers and could make speeches from the
platform that stirred the people, and it was not long before the government
was denounced on all sides as a despotism, a family compact, an oligarchy,
etc., etc.

Opposition to Hudson's Bay Company Rule.

The Pacific Colonies at that time occupied an anomalous position politic-
ally as well as commercially. Victoria was the centre of gDvemment, of
finance and trade. It was the place where the immigrant landed from the
ship that conveyed him to these shores. It was there that he outfitted for
the Mainland mines, and it was the place where he bade adieu to civilization
and plunged into the trackless wilds of New Caledonia in search of hidden
treasure. There was a staff of officials for each colony, but both staffs re-
sided at Victoria. Governor Douglas held the reins, presided at both council
boards, and curbed with a strong hand any attempt to curtail his powers as
the irresponsible head of two irresponsible executives. There was a sem-
blance of representative government, but it was a mere mockery. A few
. popular members were returned to what may be properly designated a
" mock " parliament, but the official members of the legislative assembly, who
were all nominees of the governor, were largely in the majority and were
ever ready, under instructions from the ruling hand, to vote down any meas-
ure that proposed to confer constitutional rights upon the people. The man-
ner in which the popular members were returned was unique. It would
have been amusing if it had not possessed an intensely dramatic side, in that
it was devised with the object of stifling the voice of the people, and for
years that object was successfully attained. No. elector could vote unless
he had a property qualification of £io and had been registered as a voter for
a certain time before the election. Upon one occasion, in 1859, at the vil-


lage of Nanaimo, which had not then come to the front as a coal-producing
centre and contained a few score of inhabitants, mostly Hudson Bay Com-
pany's traders, only one man was found to possess the two necessary qualifi-
cations — ^property and registration. The voting was open. The sheriff
mounted a packing case and opened the poll, with all the solemnity of a
returning officer presiding over a great English or Canadian constituency,
by reading the Governor's proclamation that informed the true and loyal
voter (s) of Nanaimo that a vacancy had occurred in their (his) representa-
tion and that it became their (his) duty to fill the said vacancy by returning
a loyal Briton to represent them (him) in the legislative assembly. Where-
upon, a certain Captain Stuart, the solitary voter, nominated Charles A.
Bayley, a Victoria hotel-keeper. A bystander who was not a voter seconded
the nomination. The poll was then declared open. Captain Stuart cast his
vote for his man at 4 o'clock, and there being no other voters or candidates,

Online LibraryR. E. (R. Edward) GosnellA history; British Columbia → online text (page 10 of 79)