The Esquimalt by-election of 1861

During the gold rush years, elections in British Columbia were contentious affairs. The Esquimalt by-election of 1861 was a race between George Tomline Gordon and Amor De Cosmos.

Esquimalt

Esquimalt

Amor De Cosmos was also known legally as William Smith. Gordon’s allies raised the issue of Smith’s name and they argued that if William Smith ran as Amor De Cosmos his election would be contested. As a result, the official entry for Cosmos was “William Alexander Smith commonly known as Amor De Cosmos.”

“The day of polling arrived and great was the excitement in the little town of Esquimalt. The fences and walls were profusely decorated with placards and posters and the reds (Gordon) and the blues (De Cosmos) took possession of the village long before the polls opened at ten o’clock in the morning. The saloons were wide open, and horses, buggies, and express vans, and on one occasion a wheelbarrow, were used to take electors to the poll…from the amount of interest manifested one would have thought that the fate of the British Empire depended on the result of the election in that borough.”

As the day wore on it became evident that not all of the electors would vote. Several electors who had promised one side or the other failed to put in an appearance.

C.B. Young volunteered to bring James Moore down to the polling station. Moore was the chief clerk of Langley & Co., the pioneer chemists of Victoria, whose establishment stood on the corner of Boomerang alley and Yates Street.

Ten minutes before the voting was to close at four o’clock, Young and Moore arrived on horseback. Moore was led to the returning officer’s table, with Young on one side, and De Cosmos on the other. In those days, there were no paper ballots; electors stated the name of their chosen candidate.

The votes so far were at a tie:
George Tomline Gordon 10
William Alexander Smith, commonly known as Amor De Cosmos 10

“What is your name?” Moore was asked.
“James Moore.”
“Where do you reside?”
“In Victoria.”
“What is your qualification?”
[Moore was a property holder in Esquimalt and gave the address of the lot.]
“For whom do you vote?”
“Amor De Cosmos,” came the answer.

“A wild cheer burst from the Gordonites. Gordon himself…leaped up and down…in a state of frantic glee and excitement.” Gordon demanded that Sheriff Naylor put the vote down as being for ‘Amor De Cosmos’ and not ‘William Alexander Smith, commonly known as Amor De Cosmos’.

“No, no,” said Young. “He meant William Alexander Smith, commonly known as Amor De Cosmos,” didn’t you, Moore?”
“Yes,” said Moore.
“Too late,” said Sheriff Naylor. “The vote is recorded for Amor De Cosmos.”
At four o’clock the poll was closed and Naylor read the return as follows:

William Alexander Smith, commonly known as Amor De Cosmos…..10
George Tomline Gordon…10
Amor De Cosmos….1

“I declare a tie between Mr. Smith and Mr. Gordon and I cast my vote as returning officer in favour of Mr. Gordon whom I declare duly elected member for Esquimalt.”

George Tomline Gordon won the election by one vote.

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