Muskets and Revolvers in the Gold Rush

From its beginning in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company traded muskets to First Nations trappers for beaver pelts. Many of the firearms introduced during the early fur trade period were of inferior quality, and were known to sometimes blow up in the hands of the person using it. Often times, these trade guns were returned to an HBC post where a blacksmith would make repairs. Supplies of amunition were also relatively costly and had to be purchased through trade. For these reasons, traditional forms of weaponry and hunting equipment continued to be used side by side with firearms, and depending on the circumstances, the guns were less effective than the bow and arrow.

musket

musket

Factories in Birmingham and London, England manufactured trade guns for the Hudson’s Bay Company. A distinctive feature of these guns was the dragon or serpent shaped side plate.  This was considered a mark of quality and most Natives would not trade for a gun that did not have the serpent plate.

In later years, the Hudson’s Bay Company began to order firearms with percussion caps for use as trade goods. The HBC guns were made so that a hunter could shoot while wearing a glove or even a mitten. As well as the serpent sideplate, on the gun itself was an indented image of a fox, identical to that of the fox on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s coat of arms.

revolver

revolver

Revolvers were brought north by the American goldseekers. This type of gun allowed the user to fire it multiple times without reloading. This was a big change from the single-barreled smoothbores of the horse-pistol type. The caliber of the pistol was the same as the rifle or musket carried by the owner, so that a single bullet mold could serve both guns.

Here is an advertisement from the June 24, 1859 edition Daily Colonist:

35 tierces [casks] of  fine corned beef at 7 cents per pound. 40 Colt’s Revolvers at prices less than in California, suitable for parties fitting up for the North.
Apply to H. Holbrook at the Hotel de France, or at the wharf of J.T. Little, Wharf St.

Rifle muskets were another type of gun used during the BC gold rush. Volunteer militia groups known as ‘rifle companies’ were actively promoted. The town of Victoria had two.

In September 1864, a concert was held at the Victoria Theatre as a fundraiser for the Victoria Rifle Volunteer Corps.  In a review of the concert, the British Colonist newspaper wrote that the theatre was elegantly decorated with muskets, bayonets and flags of all nations. The program included “Rifle Fever” sung by the Germania Sing Verein.