R. E. (R. Edward) Gosnell.

A history; British Columbia online

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against those of Adam-Zad, the Bear that walks like a man. It was a pretty
game to watch, McKay says: "In 1847 ^ Chief of the Stikines, perfectly
trustworthy, told me" that he had been approached by a Russian officer with
presents of beads and tobacco, who told him that if he would get up a war with
the English in the vicinity and compel them to withdraw, he should have
gifts of arms and ammunition, a personal medal from the Czar of all the
Russias, a splendid official uniform and a lucrative Russian market for his
peltries forever."

Nor was the plotting all on the side of the Russians. This same year
Governor Shemlin of the Russian Company visited McKay at Bella Bella, to
ask his co-operation in ending the inter-tribal Indian wars which were de-



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moralizing' the fur trade. While the diplomatic McKay was dining and
wining Shemlin, a confidential messenger came to the door to report the
approach of a large fleet of the Hudson's Bay Company's canoes laden to
the water-mark with furs stealthily procured in the Russian domain. McKay
was quick witted. Word was sent to the flotilla to return to the harbor en-
trance, and then McKay assiduously set himself to the task of making Shemlin
gloriously and unconsciously dnmk. Scottish cordiality and Hudson's Bay
Company's rum did the trick, and while Shemlin safely slept beneath the
table, the illicit furs were packed away in the warehouses.

The First Gleam of Gold.

In 1848-9 Fort Victoria began to feel the reflex of the California Gold
Excitement. At the new gold town of San Francisco prices were exorbitant,
the minds of the thrifty among the Argonauts turned to the Northern Hud-
son's Bay Company's Fort, where the best of British made goods could be
bought at reasonable rates. Amid the reckless extravagance and prodigality
which distinguished San Francisco in those early days there remained some
who did not break saloon mirrors with $20 gold pieces or eat greenbacks in
sandwiches. These, like Mrs. John Gilpin, " although on pleasure they were
bent still had a frugal mind," and when winter closed their placers they char-
tered vessels and sailed northward to bargain with the Hudson's Bay Com-
pany traders for their summer supplies.

Finlayson, then in charge of Fort Victoria, says : " These fough look-
ing miners landed here from their vessels in 1849. I took them for pirates,
and ordered my men to prepare for action. They had, I soon found, leather
bags full of nuggets which they wished to exchange for goods. I had never
seen native gold and was doubtful of it; however, I took one of the pieces
to the blacksmith shop and ordered the smith to beat it out on the anvil. The
malleability reassured me and I offered to take the risks of barter, placing
the value of the nuggets at $1 1 an ounce. Other factors followed my ex-



90 BRITISH COLUMBIA

ample, and this year we had nuggets to ship to England together with onr
furs."

Finlayson thus naively recording his scruples about taking $i6 gold at
$1 1 an ounce had no prescience of the fact that this very Fort where he pre-
sided was destined within a decade to be itself the center of a gold excitement
which shook two continents. With upsetting news of monthly earned mil-
lions floating in the atmosphere, it required all the astuteness of a James
Douglas to keep the ill-paid and frugally-fed men of the Hudson's Bay Com-
pany true to their contracts. In fact, from the Columbia posts, many de-
serters made their way to the new El Dorado, some to return in the spring
dazzling the sight of their cirdevant co-workers with $30,000 and $40,000
pokes.

Crown Grant of Vancouver Island to the Hudson''s Bay Company,

1849.

A fur company is a bad colonizer, foxes and beavers do not breed in
apple orchards. The heart's desire of the Hudson's Bay Company was ever
to keep the thousands of square miles of the Northwest one unviolated game
preserve. After the fixing of the international dividing line at the forty-
ninth parallel, the Hudson's Bay Company monopolists quaked with fear lest
their American cousins, now pouring into the Western Coastal States, would
pursue their maraudings north of the Oregon country and seriously jeopardize
their Indian trade. True, several years of their exclusive charter had yet to
run, till the year 1859 by direct treaty had the Mother Country promised
them the privilege of sole trade with the natives. But with a free and pro-
gressive people making permanent settlements to the south of them, founding
cities and looking to the Sandwich Islands and Sitka and Mexico for trade,
the eyes of the Mother Country might not longer be blinded to her own col-
onization interests on the Pacific Coast, and in truth it was the intrusion of
their own countrymen rather than the Americans that the fur traders feared.



BRITISH COLUMBIA 91

Astute as ever, the officers of the company, Sir J. H. Pelly and Sir George
Simpson took the bull by the horns. If the trade of colonization could not
be stemmed, might they not contrive to get its current placed in their own
hands so they might at least direct it? So we find Sir J. H. Pelly writing
to Earl Gray in March, 1847, that the company was " willing to undertake
the government and colonization of all the territories belonging to the crown
in North America, and receive a grant accordingly." Small wonder is it
that the ingenious modesty of this suggestion made even the lethargic Mother
Land rub her eyes and consider. Then Sir J. H. Pelly and Sir George Simp-
son modified their suggestion with the assurance that " placing the whole
territory north of the forty-ninth parallel under one governing power would
have simplified arrangements, but the company was willing to accept that
part of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains, or even Vancouver Island
alone, in fact, to give every assistance in its power to promote colonization."

Consequently, in 1848, the draft of a charter granting them the Island
of Vancouver was laid before the Imperial Parliament. Mr. Gladstone spoke
against the bill, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce sent up a remonstrance
and the press spoke strongly against the measure. Gladstone objected to
giving a large British Island into the hands of a secret company whose meth-
ods were exclusive and hidden and conducted in a spirit of absolutism, where-
as the keynote of British government was openness. However, on the 13th
of January, 1849, ^^^ grant was consummated, chiefly because in the opinion
of the British law makers it would conduce to the maintenance of law and
order, the encouragement of trade and the protection of the natives.

By the terms of the charter the Hudson's Bay Company was given the
island with the royalties of its seas, forests and mines. They were lords and
proprietors of the land, promising on their part to colonize the island within
five years, selling the land to settlers at a reasonable rate, retaining to them-
selves ten per cent of such sales and applying the remaining ninety per cent to
permanent improvements of the colony, roads, bridges and public buildings.



92 BRITISH COLUMBIA

The crown reserved the right to recall the grant at the end of five years if
not satisfied with the evidence of good faith of the company, agreeing in
that event to repay the company all moneys actually spent by them in colonizar-
tion. This last clause made it a very good bargain indeed for the Hudson's
Bay Company — they had capital, they had ships in regular communication with
England, they had organization down to a fine point, they had been in northern
North America for a century and a half, they knew the country as no one
else had known it or would ever be able to know it, they were on the spot,
and, lastly, they were their own bookkeepers. Not hard would be the task
for the canny Scots to actually expend £10,000 and charge up the Common-
wealth of England with five times that sum. Are not governments made
to be fleeced? If the company were to hold the land after the trial trip of
five years or to give it up, what did it matter? In either case, the company
stood in to win. Lord Gray imposed the conditions of colonization, and
therein exposed the hand of a tyro. The immigrant to Vancouver Island's
shores had to pay a pound an acre for his land, and furthermore must produce
five other men or three families also provided with their required pound ster-
ling per acre to settle land adjacent to him. So each prospective settler of
Vancouver Island was to be a capitalist, an adventurer willing to risk chances
in an untried land, and also a real estate and immigration bureau in his own
person. Astute Earl Gray! In Oregon to the south, free land was offered
to the pioneer with no harassing restrictions, without money and without
price. A British subject if a married man, merely upon declaring, his inten-
tion of becoming an American citizen, was freely granted 640 acres of land.
It was a case of patriotism versus pounds sterling to the incoming rancher,
and the Hudson's Bay Company laughed up its corporate sleeve and continued
its trade in furs. Statesmen talked, settlers complained, and the Fur Com-
pany ruled. There is no burking the fact that the legalized colonizers of
Vancouver Island retarded colonization. Was this a boon or a bane? There
are so many points of view and so many factors in that complex question!



BRITISH COLUMBIA 93

British subjects were kept out, true. It is also true that the Hves of the In-
dians were prolonged, aboriginal conditions were conserved for them and the
dogs of development kept back.

First Colonial Governor.

On the loth of March, 1850, Richard Blanshard, the first Colonial Gov-
ernor, landed from the deck of the government vessel " The Driver." The
captain of " The Driver " and the officers of "' The Cormorant " in full uni-
form, stood by while Blanshard himself read his Royal Commission. It was
an anomalous position barren of all honor that poor Blanshard came to fill.
There was no Government House for him to occupy, and except the Indians
and servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, very few settlers indeed for him
to govern, and sadder than all these, there was no salary whatever to go with
all the gold braid. The government of Vancouver Island (i. e. Blanshard)
kept his royal state for the present on board " The Driver," and nolens volens
went where she went, to Fort Rupert, to Beaver Harbor, up and down the
coast. When " The Driver " moved on Blanshard accepted a bunk within
the Fort, and here took up his melancholy state. There were practically at
this time no settlers on Vancouver Island independent of the Hudson's Bay
Company, so Blanshard's rule degenerated into settling or trying to settle dis-
putes between the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company and their servants.
This was repugnant and abortive.

Briefly, the Hudson's Bay Company by the terms of their charter were
absolute, and Blanshard was not needed. In 1851 he sent to England his
resignation, which was duly accepted, and all eyes turned to James Douglas
as his inevitable successor.

Blanshard made an attempt at a little brief authority before his departure
by nominating a Provisional Council of three members, James Douglas,
James Cooper and John Tod, to whom he administered the oath of office, it
was his last and almost his first official act. In September, 1851, James



94 BRITISH COLUMBIA

Douglas was duly made Governor of the colony, having been its ruler in fact
for many years. Douglas now set himself to serve two masters, the Imperial
Government and his old Alma Mater, the Honorable Hudson's Bay Company.
With canny care he first arranged the important question of salary, in addi-
tion to his honorarium as Chief Factor, he was to draw £800 per annum as

Governor.

Rule of the Douglas.

When Douglas became governor Roderick Finlayson took his place on
the Provisional Council. Colonization went on very slowly; the settlers in
1853 on Vancouver Island numbered only 450, but even this scant population
demanded some judicial functionary, so we find in 1854 Mr. David Cameron
presiding in Victoria as Chief Justice of the Colony, with the princely salary
of £100 per annum. Previous to this the only arm of the law had been Dr.
Helmcken, whom Blanshard had appointed Justice of the Peace in 1850. In
1858 Mr. Needham succeeded Chief Justice Cameron, himself giving place the
next year to Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie. Sir Matthew was one of the dom-
inant men who left strong finger marks on the history of British Columbia
in the plastic days of its first growth. He continued to fill the position of
Chief Justice of British Columbia until his death in 1894 in the 75th year of
his age.

At a period when firmness and discretion in the administration of justice
were most needed, his wise and fearless action as a judge caused the law to
be honored and obeyed in every quarter. Sir Matthew was a man of schol-
arly attainments, and his versatility of talents evoked the admiration of those
who best knew him. As a judge, the tendency of his thought was eminently
logical, his judgment was fearless and decisive.

In 1854 the Hudson's Bay Company had but one unexpired year of its
charter, if settlement was not at least begun the charter must be lost. To
meet this difficulty several of the leading officers of the company, Douglas,
Work, Tod, Tolmie and Finlayson, purchased wild lands as near to the fort



BRITISH COLUMBIA 95

as they could get them, paying at the rate of a pound per acre for their hold-
ings. Outside settlers were naturally dissatisfied with this Family Compact
which thus reserved to itself the best of everything in sight, and in 1853 a
petition was sent to the Imperial Government praying that the Charter on its
expiry be not renewed. However, the petition was ignored, and in 1855 the
Charter was renewed for a further five years.

The First Legislature.

On the 28th of February, 1856, Mr. Labouchere, Secretary of State for
Britain, sent instructions to Governor Douglas bidding him call together his
Council and arrange for the dividing of the country into electoral districts,
and the subsequent election of the members of a Legislature. The result was
the issuing of a proclamation on June i6th, 1856, dividing the country into
four electoral districts, Victoria with three members, Esquimalt two members,
Nanaimo one member, Sooke one member, and the elections were duly held.
The first representatives of the new Assembly were J. D. Pemberton, Joseph
Yates and E. E. Langford for Victoria ; Thomas Skinner and J. S. Helmcken
for Esquimalt; John Muir for Sooke, and John F. Kennedy for Nanaimo.

In connection with this election Dr. Helmcken made his maiden speech,
which is the first recorded political speech of the colony. In it he strongly
deprecates the feeling of indifference which had made it extremely difficult to
secure candidates for an honorable seat in the new Assembly.

The first Legislature met on the 12th of August, 1856, Dr. Helmcken
was chosen Speaker. Governor Douglas delivered with dignity the inaugu-
ral speech, which gives in a succinct and forceful way his conception of the
status of the young colony. We transcribe it :

" Gentlemen of the Legislative Council and of the House of Assembly :
I congratulate you most sincerely on this memorable occasion — the meeting
in full convention of the General Assembly of Vancouver Island, an event
fraught with consequences of the utmost importance to its present and future



96 BRITISH COLUMBIA

inhabitants and remarkable as the first instance of representative institutions
being granted in the infancy of a British colony. The history and actual
position of this colony are marked by many other remarkable circumstances.
Called into existence by the Act of the Supreme Government immediately
after the discovery of gold in California, it has maintained an arduous and
incessant struggle with the disorganizing effects on labor of that discovery.
Remote from every other British settlement, w^ith its commerce trammelled,
and met by restrictive duties on every side, its trade and resources remain un-
developed. Self-supporting, and defraying all the expenses of its own gov-
ernment, it presents a striking contrast to every other colony in the British
Empire; and, like the native pine of its own storm-beaten promontories, it
has acquired a slow but hardy growth. Its future growth must, under
Providence, in a great measure depend on the intelligence, industry and enter-
prise of its inhabitants, and upon the legislative wisdom of this Assembly.
I am happy to inform you that her Majesty's Government
continues to express the most lively interest in the progress and welfare of
this colony. Negotiations are now pending with the Government of the
United States which may probably terminate in an extension of the Reciproc-
ity Treaty to Vancouver Island. I will just mention that an impost of £30
is levied on every hundred pounds of British produce which is now sent to
San Francisco or to any other American port. The Reciprocity Treaty ut-
terly abolishes these fearful imposts and establishes a system of free trade
in the produce of British colonies. The effect of that measure in developing
the trade and natural resources of the colony can therefore be hardly over
estimated. The coal, the timber, and the productive fisheries of Vancouver
Island will assume a value before unknown, while every branch of trade will
start into activity and become the means of pouring wealth into the country.
The extension of the Reciprocity Treaty to this Island once gained, the in-
terests of the colony will become inseparably connected with the principles
of free trade, a principle which I think it will be sound policy on our part to



BRITISH COLUMBIA 07

encourage. The colony has been again visited this year by a large party of
northern Indians, and their presence has excited in our minds a not unrea-
sonable degree of alarm. Through the mercy of God they have been pre-
vented from committing acts of open violence ; yet the presence of large bodies
of armed savages who are accustomed to follow the impulses of their own
evil natures more than the dictates of reason and justice gives rise to a feeling
of insecurity which must exist as long as the colony remains without military
protection. Her Majesty's Government, ever alive to the dangers which
beset this colony, has arranged with the Lords Commissioners of the Admir-
alty that the " President " frigate should be sent to Vancouver Island, and
the measure will, I have no doubt, be carried into effect without delay. I
shall nevertheless continue to conciliate the good will of the native Indian
tribes by treating them with justice and forbearance and by rigidly protect-
ing their civil and agrarian rights. Many cogent reasons of humanity and
sound policy recommend that course to our attention, and I shall therefore
rely upon your support in carrying such measures into effect. We know
from our own experience that the friendship of the natives is at all times use-
ful, while it is no less certain that their enmity may become more disastrous
than any other calamity to which this colony is directly exposed.

" Gentlemen of the House of Assembly, according to constitutional
usage you must originate all money bills. It is therefore your special prov-
ince to consider the ways and means of defraying the ordinary expenses of
the Government either by levying a customs duty on imports or by a system
of direct taxation. The poverty of the country and the limited means of a
population struggling against the pressure of numberless privations must
necessarily restrict the amount of taxation; it should therefore be our con-
stant study to regulate the public expenditure according to the means of the
country, and to live strictly within our income. The common error of run-
ning into speculative improvements, entailing debts upon the colony for a
very uncertain advantage should be carefully avoided. The demands upon



98 BRITISH COLUMBIA

the public revenue will at present chiefly arise from the improvement of the
country, and providing for the education of the young, the erection of places
for public worship, the defence of the country, and the administration of jus-
tice.

" Gentlemen, I feel in all its force the responsibility now resting upon
us. The interests and well-being of thousands yet unborn may be affected
by our decision, and they will reverence or condemn our acts according as
they are found to influence for good or evil the events of the future."

The Family Compact.

The personnel of the first Legislature of British Columbia was largely
Hudson's Bay Company in its complexion. James Douglas was lord para-
mount in his dual capacity as imperial viceroy and fur trader's factor in chief.
Work, Finlayson and Tod, chief factor, chief trader and ancient pensioner, re-
spectively, of the Hudson's Bay Company, comprised both secret council and
house of lords. The seven wise men of the House of Assembly were also
of the monopoly. Helmcken was staff doctor of the Company; Pemberton,
surveyor and ardent attache ; McKay, clerk of the company ; Muir, a cidevant
servant ; Skinner, an agent of the Puget* Sound Agricultural Company ; Ken-
nedy, a retired officer of the company; Yates, by the grace of the company,
merchant; David Cameron, brother-in-law of the Governor, was Chief
Justice, and A. C. Anderson, retired chief trader, was Collector of Customs.

Thus the Government of Vancouver Island continued until 1859, ^^
which time ended the second five years of the Hudson's Bay Company's colon-
ial domination. It is hard for a man to serve two masters. Douglas had
four to serve, namely, the Hudson's Bay Company's fur trade, the Colony
of Vancouver Island, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, and the,
Nanaimo Coal Company. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for any one
man to serve faithfully these four distinct and often antagonistic interests.



BRITISH COLUMBIA . 99

Gold.

And now the conservative fur traders and the few pastoral off-shoots
from the forts were to be startled by the insatiable auri sacra fames. Gold is
discovered. In 1857 ^ small party of Canadians set out from the boundary
fort of Colville to " prospect " on the banks of the Thompson and the Bona-
parte. Other parties succeeded in making good strides, and immediately the
news was in the air and soon a continent was inflamed.

Between March and June in 1858 ocean steamers from California
crowded with gold seekers, arrived daily in Victoria. The easy-going primi-
tive traders rubbed their eyes and sat up. Victoria, the quiet hamlet whose
previous shipping had consisted of Siwash canoes and the yearly ship from
England, in the twinkling of an eye found itself a busy mart of confusion
and excitement. In the brief space of four months 20,000 souls poured into
the harbor. The followers of every trade and profession all down the Oregon
coast to San Francisco left forge and bar and pulpit and joined the mad rush
to the mines. It was as when the fiery cross was sent forth through the Old
Land, men dropped the implements of their trade, left their houses uncared
for, hastily sold what could be readily converted into cash and jtunped aboard
the first nondescript carrier whose prow turned northward. The motley
throng included, too, gamblers, loafers and criminals, the parasite population
which attaches to the body corporate whenever gold is in evidence; the rich
came to speculate and the poor came in the hope of speedily becoming rich.
San Francisco felt the reflex action, every sort of property in California fell
to a degree that threatened the ruin of the state. In Victoria a food famine
threatened, flour rose to $30 a barrel, while ship's biscuit was at a premium. A
city of tents arose, and all night long the song of hammer and saw spoke
of rapidly put together buildings. Shops and shanties and shacks to the num-
ber of 225 arose in six weeks. Speculation in town lots reached an unpar-
alleled pitch of extravagance, the land office was besieged before four o'clock



100 BRITISH COLUMBIA

in the morning by eager plungers and some wonderful advances are recorded.
Land bought from the company for $50 resold within the month for $3,000,
a clay bank on a side street 100 feet by 70 feet brought $10,000, and sawn
lumber for structural purposes could not be had for less than $100 per 1,000
feet. The bulk of heterogeneous immigration consisted of American citizens
who strove hard to found commercial depots in their own territory to serve as
outfitting bases for the new mines. It is not speculators, however, but mer-



Online LibraryR. E. (R. Edward) GosnellA history; British Columbia → online text (page 9 of 79)