Kettles in the gold rush

Copper or brass kettles were an important exchange item for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the fur trade.

Metal containers with lids were more popular than others because the lid permitted food to be cooked more quickly and kept the contents cleaner in the outdoors. They were traded and sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company and were used well into the 20th century.

A variety of sizes of pots was manufactured. At one site where a canoe had dumped its cargo overboard by accident, archaeologists discovered a set consisting of 17 pots of various sizes nested into one another probably to save on space.

During the Fraser River gold rush, a group of gold seekers hired Natives to pack supplies across the short land bridge at Seton-Portage, before setting out across Anderson Lake in a dugout canoe. Partway through the crossing, the guides made an unexpected departure from their intended course, beaching the canoe at their village where one native quickly snatched the gold seekers most prized possession, the camp kettle.

One of the gold seekers, Charles Gardiner from Prince Edward Island, recalled the event.

“I jumped out and gave chase,” exclaimed Gardiner, “but only a short distance until two guns were cocked and levelled at my head…In a few moments the old Chief came down with the kettle in his hand, which we had to buy back. My partner taking the handkerchief from his neck, gave it to the old Chief, who gave it then in our presence to the villain who took our kettle. The Chief then asked for some mucamuc (Chinook term for food). We told him we had none, when again he took the kettle which we had to purchase this second time with flour.”

Judge Matthew Begbie frequently camped outdoors as he travelled around the colony of British Columbia to and from courthouses. Begbie’s kettle, missing a lid, was probably a prized possession as well. Today, it sits in the Quesnel Museum.