Humbug and Happy Holidays

We usually associate “humbug!” as one of Scrooge’s favourite words, but ‘humbug’ was often used during the gold rush.

The word humbug derived from the Irish word ‘uimbog’ which referred to a false metal or something of a spurious appearance.

James II had coins made up using lead, pewter, copper, and brass. So low was its intrinsic value that twenty shillings of Dublin Mint currency was only actually worth two pence sterling. After the Battle of Boyne, William III ordered that the crown piece should be taken as one penny. The worthless coin became known among the Irish as Uim bog, pronounced Oom bug. Phrases using uimbog became common. “Don’t think to pass off your uimbug on me.”

Here is a portion of a letter from Quesnelle – dated June 28, 1860 which was printed under the title: ‘Generally humbugged’

As soon as the gold miner arrives at the goal of his golden expectations, he either finds it a humbug, or that the precious metal is deposited in no greater quantities than where he had left; that provision is both dear and scarce; that greater obstacles are in his way towards getting a pile, than he had before encountered; a feeling of disappointment surrounds him – he has been duped, and thinks of nothing but to return again, and sadder, but not on the whole, a wiser man.

When the Cariboo Wagon Road was built in 1862, the British Colonist printed a notice in the April 15th issue:

There is no delay on the Yale and Lytton route. No impassable frozen lakes nor portages detain the traveller. The whole length of the Fraser River Route is now open, and all the travel to the upper country is over that route. 500 persons have passed Hope and Yale this season. Don’t be humbugged but look to your interest and save time and money by going the Yale and Lytton Route.