Category Archives: Gold Rush People

Biographies of people who figured prominently in the gold rush in British Columbia in the 1800s

Herman Francis Reinhart & the keg of East Boston Syrup

Herman Reinhart - American prospector

Herman Francis Reinhart – Fraser River goldseeker

In April 1851, Herman Francis Reinhart and his brother Charles left their parents’ home in the Midwest with a wagon pulled by a few oxen “for California or Oregon”. During that time, 30,000 people made the trek across the vast expanse of prairie to parts unknown. The mass emigration left behind animals, wheels, and sometimes entire wagons, to the dismay of the Native tribes along the “Oregon Trail” which passed through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada.

“We found lots of wagons left and in one place found 10 or 15 wagons, buggies, or carriages and trunks and boxes of books all strewn around, with all kinds of tools for mining and cooking utensils thrown away…”

The Reinhart brothers had been taught baking by their father and those skills served them well when they reached the west. In between prospecting for gold on the creeks, they worked as bakers and eventually even had their own Bakery Saloon complete with a bowling alley. Their fortunes came and went, however, and gambling for food was not uncommon. Here’s one of his stories:

“In Browntown at night George and I went to a large store, and a man named Barnes and a partner in whipsawing lumber wanted George and I to play them a four-hand game of Euchre for a pound of coffee, or $1.50 worth, whatever we wished to get in goods or groceries per game. I had but three or four dollars left, and George not a cent, but I was satisfied that Barnes and his partner played by signs, and I could post George to beat them, by the signs I could learn him. So I took George and spoke to him a while how to play and we went in and played and we beat them four games in succession at their own game…”

On May 10, 1858, Herman departed from Kerbyville in Oregon and set out for the Fraser River with some gold lightn1ngs, clothing, a sack of flour and a five-gallon keg of East Boston syrup. Because of the flood of prospectors heading north from Washington and Oregon, hostilities broke out when the First Nations tried to slow down and in some cases stop the flow of the goldseekers gripped by the ‘Fraser River fever’. At the Dalles, miners were told they had to travel in ‘companies’ for protection. There were three known organized companies that set out overland from Oregon to the Fraser in 1858. They were captained by Joel Palmer, Archibald McKinlay, and David McLaughlin. Reinhart arrived at the Dalles in June (see “Okanagan Lake Massacre“).

It was rough going and Reinhart’s horse gave out. He got others in the group to carry the keg of syrup and they ended up consuming most of it. In late August, Herman Francis Reinhart and his fellow miners reached “The Fountain” on the Fraser River (a large high bar at the mouth of Fountain Creek about 14 miles above Lillooet).

“There was no flour or groceries of any kind at The Fountain, only what our train had brought in by our packtrain. Major Robertson and a Dalles merchant started a store of groceries, provisions and liquors. Flour sold for $1 to $1.20 per lb., sugar and coffee $1.50 per lb., bacon $2.50 per lb., brandy and whiskey 50 cents per drink or glass…”

“…after six days prospecting we were about a hundred miles from The Fountain, and were about out of provision, … we had to turn back and get to our camp at The Fountain as fast as possible, or we would have to starve, for there was no game to shoot, and in one place we found strawberries just in bloom (in September!). So you can judge the season. We were in about Latitude north 53 or 54th parallel, or about seven or eight degrees north of the forty-ninth parallel of the line between the United States and British Columbia…The first day of starting back toward The Fountain, we run out of provisions, and I traded an old saddlecloth (the half of an empty 50 lb. sack) to an Indian for two dried salmon. He used the old cloth for a legging…”

“…after prospecting a few days longer with no success, we came to the conclusion to strike back to California. I had left good $8 and $10 per day diggings on Sucker Creek, where my brother Charley and my Partner Schertz were working my claim in company with them. So I sold some shirts, drawers, and books such as I could not carry with me. Will Cochran had sold his only horse at The Fountain, so we were both left on foot…”

Reinhart still had his keg of East Boston Syrup which was now almost empty.

“I took out a quart bottle of it to take with us, and I sold the balance, about five quarts, with the keg, for $20 gold piece, my shirts from $3 to $4 apiece, some undershirts and socks and the books-in all, I had some $75 or $80 left. And my breastpin, ring, rifle, pistol and blankets. I bought one pound of bacon for $2.50 of Robertson Company’s store; we had three or four pounds of flour left, and the bottle of syrup. We started with some five or six others for Victoria, right down Fraser River…”

N’kwala – Head Chief of the Okanagans

Chief Nicola

Head Chief of the Okanagans?

On the cover of the book, “Images from the Likeness House” is an unidentified picture of a chief from the interior of British Columbia. This picture is said to have been taken in 1897 which is after the death of Chief N’kwala, but it sure matches the description of him.

An American gold miner named Herman Francis Reinhart was among 300 miners who had been involved in the Okanagan Massacre in the summer of 1858. The miners arrived at Kamloops Lake in late August with two Natives they had captured. N’kwala, the head chief of the Okanagans confronted the group.

Here is Herman Reinhart’s description of Chief N’kwala which seems to match the above picture of the unidentified chief.

“Old Nicholas [sic] the head chief of the Indians around that country, came to see us about the two prisoners we had brought back from Lake Okanagan. He was an old man about 65 or 70 years old, wore a stove pipe hat and citizen’s clothes, and had a lot of medals of good character and official vouchers of good conduct for many years.

He was quite angry and said he was surprised to see 300 men take two Indian prisoners and bring them back two or three hundred miles because we thought they were spies, and it was mighty little in us and did not show great bravery. And about the Okanagan Lake massacre, that it was brutal, and he could not think much of the Bostons, or Americans, that would do the like.

He blamed us for butchering the Okanagan Indians in cold blood and the Okanagan Indians had sent some messengers to him to help avenge the death of his people, but he said he had better teaching from good men and priests, and good advice from Captain McLean head of the Hudson’s Bay Company [Chief Factor of Fort Thompson], and they advised him and his people to overlook the great crime but he had great trouble to quiet and calm down his young warriors, of which, with the Lake Okanagan tribe, he could have raised from 1800 to 2000 warriors, and could have surprised our command and cut them off to a man, utterly annihilating the whole of us, and taking all our animals and all our plunder. But he could not have told how it would have gone after, for he would have lost all control of his people, and the war chiefs would have usurped his power and carried on a general war against the whites, American and English. Being the massacre had taken place in British Columbia, it would be the duty of the English Queen Victoria to see justice done to her subjects, and he was right, no doubt.

Some of our boys were awful ashamed and some angry to hear an old man tell them so many truths, and some were mad enough to kill him for his boldness in his expressions to us all. But it was a fact none could deny, and Major Robertson let the two prisoners go. I think some of the men gave them some clothing and provisions, with some money to satisfy them for their loss of time and trouble.

Here is some more information about Chief N’kwala (Nicola) from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

“Nicola was descended from a long line of Okanagan head chiefs and, according to legend, was born at the fortified encampment established by his father, Pelkamū’lôx (which means “rolls over the earth”), near the junction of the Similkameen and Okanagan rivers (Washington). When Nicola was still a young boy PElkamū’lôx took his people north to Fish Lake (B.C.), where he settled near the band of his brother Kwoli’la at Chapperon Lake.

During the early fur trade era in New Caledonia (B.C.), Nicola’s influence was much appreciated by the traders of the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his generous welcome was largely responsible for the happy relationship between them and the Interior Salish people. In the late 1830s Chief Factor Samuel Black, in charge at Thompson’s River Post, lent him a plough so that he could grow potatoes and other vegetables at his summer camp on Nicola Lake; this first local effort at cultivation was soon imitated by other bands. Following the murder of Black by a young Shuswap warrior in 1841, Nicola calmed the HBC men, who feared a widespread uprising, by delivering a moving eulogy, reported by Archibald McKinlay, which called for the capture of the killer.”

Michael Costin Brown and the Bacon Train

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ichael Costin Brown was a gold miner, packer and hotelier. He was also among that first group of gold miners who discovered one of the richest streams in the Cariboo. This discovery sparked the Cariboo gold rush.

Michael Costin Brown

Michael Costin Brown

Originally from Ireland, Brown and his family immigrated to Ohio when he was eleven years old. When he was just 17, Brown ran a hotel in Oregon. He was establishing another hotel in Walla Walla when he heard gold was found in the Similkameen.

It was in March 1859, that he left San Francisco by steamer to Victoria. Brown and his group went prospecting in the Similkameen and Okanagan. Eventually he made his way to the Cariboo.

Brown was camped near Antler Creek in the winter of 1860. One evening, Wilhelm Dietz, an ex-Prussian sailor, and his partners, James Costello and Michael Burns, stumbled into Brown’s camp in a half-starved state claiming they had found gold in a nearby-unnamed creek. Brown decided to join them.

“We crossed the divide, eventually making the headwaters of the creek and after some time we traveled to a place near a little gulch or canyon, where we camped for the night, building a little shelter.

On the following morning we separated to prospect the stream, agreeing to meet again at night to report progress…

‘Dutch Bill’ made the best prospect, striking pay dirt at $1.25 a pan. Costello and I had done pretty well, finding dirt worth a dollar or so a pan. You can well imagine we were well pleased with the day’s exertions, and each man in his heart felt that we had discovered very rich ground. I shall not forget the discussion that took place as to the name to be given to the creek. Dutch Bill was for having it called ‘Billy Creek’ because he had found the best prospects of the three. I was quite agreeable, but I stipulated that Mr. William Dietz should buy the first basket of champagne that reached the creek. This appealed to Costello, and so the creek was then and there named—not Billy Creek but ‘Williams Creek’.”

The 6 men returned to camp and they all worked out certain plans: Costello would remain on the creek and guard their claims; Dietz, Burns, Collins and Metz would return to Antler for supplies; and Brown would travel 60 miles to Williams Lake to register their claim with the Cariboo’s only gold commissioner, Philip Nind.

Things began to go awry when news of their strike leaked out at Antler. They decided that Dietz should return to the claims the following morning. Using showshoes, he retraced his footsteps in a record 3 hours but his strenuous exertions were of no avail for the entire population of wintering miners at Antler followed his trail in the snow and within hours were staking claims up and down both sides of the creek.

Brown sold his claim for $2,500 and went into the packing business.

In Oregon during the spring of 1862 Brown purchased a packtrain of forty two mules on which he transported 8000 pounds of provisions to the Cariboo. In a store built at Richfield in 1863, Brown  sold slabs of bacon to the miners for $1.00 per pound.

In an era when everyone had descriptive names, Brown became known as “Bacon Brown”, and his pack of mules the “Bacon Train”. During the Cariboo goldrush bacon and beans were the steady diet of the miners, and as a result many complained of suffering with inflamed mouths caused by the strong curing agent in the bacon.

Michael Brown continued to mine in the Big Bend Country, the Omineca, the Cassiar, and at Lightning Creek in the Cariboo. Brown moved to Victoria in the 1870’s where he married, and settled down as owner of the Adelphi Hotel for the next twenty five years. But once a miner, always a miner, and when gold was discovered in the Klondike he had to go. At Dawson City he operated a hotel, the Melbourne, for three years, before retiring for a final time to Victoria.

Nam Sing and the gambling loan paid in flour

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the first Chinese miners who reached Quesnel in 1861 was Nam Sing. He became known as the one who supplied fresh food to the restaurants of the gold rush towns in the Cariboo.

Nam Sing

Nam Sing

Chow Nam Sing was born in China’s Kaiping County in 1835 and went to California for the gold rush. In 1861 Sing came north to British Columbia and panned for gold up the Fraser River until he reached the junction of the Quesnel River. During times of high water when it wasn’t possible to work his rocker, Sing cleared a small area and tilled the soil with his gold digging shovel on the west bank of the Quesnel River.

He raised a few vegetables for himself and sold the surplus to neighbouring miners using a scow to bring his produce across the river to the townsite. After the peak of the Cariboo gold rush in 1865, Nam Sing turned to vegetable gardening and ranching for a living.

In 1868, Nam Sing was taken to court for his involvement in a gambling debt.

Sing agreed to store sacks of flour for a gambler named Ak Tie who planned to use it to pay off his debt of $280 to businessman Sing Hing. When the time came to repay the loan Ak Tie was short on both money and flour. He was only able to pay most of his creditors 75 cents for every dollar he owed. Sing delivered 30 sacks of flour to Hing who valued it to be only worth $210. Instead of going after Ak Tie, however, Hing sued Nam Sing for the $70, alleging that it was he who had received the loan in the first place.

A witness named San Hing swore in court that he was in the house and saw the plaintiff hand over $280 in bills, “partly red and partly white” to Nam Sing. For his part, Nam Sing denied the debt altogether. The court sided with Hing saying that he had given positive evidence of the loan while Sing had neglected to bring Ak Tie to give his side of the story. In the meantime, the judge allowed Sing’s lawyer to apply for a new trial in order to produce the gambler.

Donald Fraser and Land Speculation in the BC Gold Rush

When the Fraser River gold rush was underway so was land speculation. One of the least known figures involved in land speculation in the BC Gold Rush was Donald Fraser.

Fraser was born in Scotland and was a classmate of Alexander Grant Dallas, a future son-in-law of Governor James Douglas. Fraser came to Victoria in 1858, whereupon James Douglas appointed him to the Executive Council of Vancouver Island.

The Hudson’s Bay Company thought that if it could entice gold rush miners to come to British Columbia then it would raise the value of land. What they needed was someone to promote the ‘gold diggings’ to the masses abroad.  As a correspondent for the Times of London, Donald Fraser was the ideal candidate to spread this propaganda.

According to Fraser, miners were finding gold without much effort:

The work is not heavy; any ordinary man can do it. The time at work is generally 10 hours. Every man works much or little, according to the dictates of his own sweet will. This independency is one of the chief charms of the miner’s life. Independence and hope make up the sum of his happiness. The cost of living is $1-a-day. To wash 250 buckets of ‘dirt’ is a short day’s work. The bucket is a common wooden water pail, rather small size. Went up to two men at a place by themselves ‘clearing out’ their day’s work. They ‘guessed’ their amalgam was worth $21 to $22.

In the summer of 1858, James Douglas travelled with Donald Fraser to Fort Yale. Here, even Fraser had to admit that the living conditions were primitive. At Hill’s Bar, Fraser found “a gang of miners dining on fried bacon and potatoes cooked à  la Maître d’Hotel, eating out of the frying pan  in which the edibles were prepared, set upon the stump of a tree…”

Fraser also suggested there were stagecoaches on the as yet incomplete wagon road. Many miners were disappointed to discover that they would  have to walk 400 or 500 miles farther carrying a load on their backs.

Not only was Donald Fraser a key political figure, but in a few short years, he became one of the largest land holders on Vancouver Island.

In 1866 Fraser returned to England. In London he joined a group including Gilbert Malcolm Sproat and Alexander Grant Dallas which wielded a lot of political influence. The group opposed the union of Vancouver Island with British Columbia in 1866 and helped to secure the capital of BC at Victoria in 1868.

Stamp_FortYale

William Hind – gold rush artist

William Hind was an artist and an ‘Overlander’—the name given to those gold seekers who trekked over the prairies to the Cariboo gold fields. Hind kept a sketchbook on his journey from Fort Garry and documented the struggles that the party of nearly 200 endured. With their Métis guides, the Overlanders set out with red river carts, traded for pemmican and hunted for food along the way.

William Hind - gold rush artist

William Hind – gold rush artist

Hind was born in England in 1833 and emigrated to Canada West in 1851 where his older brother, Henry Youle Hind, had established himself as a noted geologist.

When Henry was assigned to go on an exploration trip, he took William along to document the plants and landscapes as well as the First Nations they encountered.

With the discovery of gold on the Fraser River in 1858, the brothers
put together a travel guide publication, “A sketch of an overland route to British Columbia”, with a map and
guidebook on how to organize a trip, what dress, food and supplies to bring, how to pack, financial costs, topography, distances between points and included descriptive
information on the five major passes through the Rocky Mountains.

Henry encouraged his brother William to join the Overlanders on their journey. For the 1862 trip William brought along his artist materials which included papers, painting materials, an
easel and a pocket-size, leatherbound sketchbook.  William sketched almost daily, and was a keen observer of his surroundings which he portrayed almost scientifically.

Hind tried to keep an objective viewpoint, even when emotions were running high as they were during the Overlander expedition of 1862. The journey was far different from what William had envisioned and had laid out in their guidebook.

By the end of the journey, Hind had stopped sketching. When they arrived in the Cariboo, the Overlanders were starving, disillusioned and traumatized by what they had endured.

Hind went to Victoria and made vividly realistic watercolour paintings based on his sketches. He lived there for a few years and advertised his services as a sign painter.

The Kanakas of British Columbia

When Captain Cook came to the islands of Hawaii in 1778, he named them the Sandwich Islands, after his patron the Earl of Sandwich. Since that time, ships from Britain and France arrived at this new mid-ocean way station. Hawaiians, known as ‘Owyhees’, were recruited to work on the ships. They called themselves Kanakas, the Hawaiian word for ‘people’.

1851. Kanaka Village at Fort Vancouver, Washington.

1851. Kanaka Village at Fort Vancouver, Washington.

By the 1820s, the practice of recruiting Kanakas for work on the Northwest coast was firmly established. When the North West Company merged with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821, the merger meant that Kanakas were brought up north from Oregon Territory. As a result of a head tax on Sandwich Islanders that came into effect in 1845, there were few who wanted to stay behind. Many returned to Hawaii.

The Hudson’s Bay Company offered Kanakas three year contracts that included room and board and a wage of ten pounds a year. They worked at the Belle Vue Farm on San Juan Island where they looked after sheep under the direction of the foreman Charles Griffin and maintained a presence for the British. The Kanakas had a reputation as one that was willing to “fight the local Natives” and for this reason they were employed as guards. When a Washington Territory sheriff named Barnes was sent to San Juan with a group of assistants to seize some of HBC’s sheep for non-payment of taxes, “there was a whoop from the hill and Griffin, together with some twenty Kanakas brandishing knives were seen charging down toward them.” They retreated however, after Barnes and the others fired their revolvers.

In 1851, James Douglas, then the chief factor of Fort Victoria, set up a militia group comprised of “eleven Kanakas and two negroes” known as the Victoria Voltigeurs. It existed for 7 years as a rifle corps to guard the fort. Douglas relied on them frequently to apprehend Natives who threatened the HBC. He wrote of a case where the Voltigeurs chased a Cowichan Native into the woods, captured him and another and brought them back on board the Steamship Beaver. The two men were later hanged for the crimes.

During the mid-1850s the Voltigeurs were often used on more routine patrol duties on horseback “to visit the isolated settlements for their protection.” In 1856, eighteen Voltigeurs were sent a s part of a large expedition to Cowichan after the attempted murder of a white man by a Cowichan Native.

The Voltigeurs continued as a force until the gold rush began in 1858. The following year, the HBC’s monopoly on trade officially ended and many of the Kanakas left Victoria to join the gold rush in the Fraser Canyon. Kanaka Bar was one place where they left their mark. Many of them lived in Victoria on what was known as ‘Kanaka Row’ – a line of shacks at the head of Victoria harbour where the Empress Hotel is located.

There was a strong connection between Victoria and Hawaii (still referred to as the Sandwich Islands) in the early years of the gold rush. The Kanakas held onto their Hawaiian culture and customs. In 1862, it was noted that “A steady and increasing trade is carried on with S. Francisco, the Sandwich Islands, Oregon, Washington Territory and the coast of British Columbia.”

Russell Island near Salt Spring Island (visible from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal) was once owned by a Kanaka pioneer. Parks Canada operates a visitor centre on Russell Island in conjunction with the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.  Descendants share their family stories about life on Russell Island with visitors.

Alfred Waddington and the Bute Inlet route

Bute Inlet

Bute Inlet

Major W. Downie and his partner Alex MacDonald were the first to officially explore the Bute Inlet. In June 1861 Downie travelled the Homathko River, that flows from the Chilcotin Plateau to the coast. Downie travelled the Homathko River by canoe and foot for a total of 33 miles when a steep canyon forced him back.

Alfred Waddington, a merchant and a promoter, was excited at the prospect of a possible new route to the gold fields. He convinced his fellow merchants in Victoria, who faced competition from New Westminster, to give Downie’s route along the Homathko River a chance.

Alfred Penderell Waddington was born in London, England in 1801 where he attended school. After his father died in 1818 Waddington moved to France where his brothers had business interests. In 1850, he set his sights on California and the gold rush there. Waddington sailed to San Francisco in May and set up a wholesale provision firm which was soon profitable. Upon hearing of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858, Waddington came north to Victoria to set up another grocery firm.

Alfred Waddington

Alfred Waddington

By the end of the year, Waddington had published his observations in a book titled, The Fraser Mines Vindicated; Or, the History of Four Months. In his book, Waddington was optimistic about future gold prospects and wrote “it is beyond doubt that the other kind of dry diggings exist plentifully in the north…”

On September 19, 1861, Waddington left Victoria on the steamer Henrietta, visited the head of Bute Inlet, made friends with certain native people in Desolation Sound, navigated by steamer for 8 miles up the Homathko River and then by canoe for some distance beyond. He left five men to explore further while he returned to Victoria.The five returned to Victoria near the end of October.

Within a week, Waddington arranged for a second party. This included Robert Homfray, a surveyor who had worked for the Colonial Survey Office under J.D. Pemberton. Homfray was in charge of the group which consisted of three HBC voyageurs – Cote, Balthazzar, and Bourchier, along with Henry McNeill and two natives.

Homfray and his crew set out on October 31, 1861. Nine days later they reached the entrance to Bute Inlet. Here they were kidnapped. Fortunately, they were rescued by a chief of the Cla-oosh people whose village was in Desolation Sound. Homfray convinced the chief to guide them through the Homathko River valley.

Robert Homfray told of one log jam, twenty feet high and half-a-mile long, stretching right across the river. They proceeded up the rapids, manhandling the canoe over slippery log-jams, often up to their waists in water. He could look up and see the blue ice of glaciers above the steep walls of the river. The chief turned back. Then the weather turned bitterly cold and the ice froze on their clothes, their beards and hair. After almost losing their canoe when the tow rope broke, they decided to cache it, and proceeded on foot.

Just when they were coming to the end of their food, they encountered a tall Native, his body painted jet-black, and vermillion-colored rings around his eyes. He was pointing an arrow straight at them. They were able to convince the Native that they were friendly and they needed food. After giving them a dinner, they were told to return the way they had come. For Homfray and the others the trip back to the coast was worse than they could have imagined.

Their canoe was wrecked in a log jam, and most of their supplies lost. They salvaged some gear, including matches and two axes. It took them four days on a makeshift raft to reach the head of Bute Inlet and their buried provisions. They had to eat with their fingers and shared one empty baking-powder tin for drinking.

After riding half-way down Bute Inlet in a hollowed-out log, they were eventually rescued by the same Cla-oosh chief who brought them to his village. He later helped them return to Victoria. They had been away two months.

Waddington was more determined than ever to pursue the route. Before Homfray and his party returned, Waddington wrote a letter to Governor James Douglas and described  the Homathko as a “fine level valley, from two to four miles wide, and navigable for forty miles from the mouth for steamers of four or five feet draft . . . without a single rock or other serious impediment”.

Homathko River

Homathko River

John Wright architect of Victorian homes in the gold rush

John Wright was one of the first architects in Victoria.

John Wright architect

John Wright architect (1830 – 1915)

Born in Scotland in 1830, Wright immigrated to Canada West (Ontario) in 1845.  Together with his brother-in-law George Sanders, they set up an architect firm, Wright & Sanders in San Francisco.

Wright moved to Victoria in 1859 and his first commission was to design the tower, iron staircase and lightkeeper’s house for Fisguard Lighthouse at nearby Esquimalt.

In the early 1860s, Victoria went through a building boom, and Wright was kept busy, designing homes for wealthy Victorians.

Wright’s residential designs in Victoria were a reflection of the ‘Picturesque’ style which was popular in California  throughout the 1860s. The Picturesque style was a combination of Gothic and Italian villa styles.

He designed a home in 1863 for Richard Carr which was made mostly of California redwood. The Richard Carr house (birthplace of artist Emily Carr) is the only pure example of the Italian Villa style, characterized by its curved window head and cornice bracketing. It is one of the outstanding residential structures surviving from the 1860s in western Canada.

Among his designs were the Jewish Synagogue on Blanshard Street (1863) and the James Bissett house at 138-140 Government Street (1861).

His last project was Angela College on Burdett Avenue, a girls’ collegiate school named for its benefactor Angela Burdett-Coutts. (Between 1860 and 1863 Coutts had sponsored three boatloads of single women who were transported to the colony to alleviate the shortage of females.)

The economy in Victoria began to wane in 1866 and Wright returned to San Francisco. He became the first president of the Pacific Coast Association of Architects in 1881.

The Fraudulent Postmaster of Vancouver Island

John D’Ewes was a scandalous figure in early Victoria history who in a few short years made  a mess of the postal system and defrauded the public and the government of their money.

He came to Victoria in 1859 and accepted the job of Postmaster of Vancouver Island. It is unclear who recommended him for the position or if anyone was aware of the fact that he had been dismissed from his previous post as a Police Magistrate in Ballarat, Australia because he accepted bribes,

Ironically, his salary was raised to £200 per year, the amount which the previous postmaster had requested and was denied. His charm may have played a role: David Higgins described him as ‘a happy-go-lucky, hail-fellow-well-met sort of person, very polite and pleasant in his manners, and as jolly a companion as you would care to meet.’

D’ewes carried on his job without any oversight from the Treasurer, who himself was revealed to be a dubious character.

In the Spring of 1861, Michael and his brother Joseph saved up their money from working in the Nanaimo coal mines and deposited it with Postmaster D’ewes in Victoria. From there they left to seek their fortune in the Cariboo. As soon as they arrived however, Joseph became ill and returned to Victoria, leaving Michael to prospect for gold. Several weeks later Matthew wasn’t having any luck and decided it would be better for him to return to Victoria and join his brother with the intent that both could safely get through the winter on their combined savings of £100.

The only problem was, D’ewes had already left Victoria and with him went Heppel’s money. D’ewes had told everyone that he was taking a short leave of absence to go to the Columbia River for a ‘shooting trip’.

He never returned.

After several weeks, people began to make inquiries. Michael Heppel left Victoria to go look for him. Finally, in the fall of 1861, bits and pieces of the puzzle presented themselves and it was realized that D’ewes had up and left for good, taking with him untold amounts of money and leaving a long trail of personal debts. An auditor later discovered that D’ewes never kept any books and personally took the cash that people paid for their envelopes. Rarely did D’ewes use stamps; instead, he hand-stamped the envelopes with the Victoria Post Office seal and sent the letters on their way.

Our Postmaster Gone. We are pained this morning (Oct 17, 1861) to announce that Mr. John D’Ewes, Postmaster General of Vancouver Island is a defaulter to the Government, and that he has taken his departure from San Francisco for Panama, en route to England, as is supposed. Five weeks ago, Mr. D’ewes left here by the steamer Pacific, ostensibly on a shooting excursion to the Columbia River, but, as it now appears, really to avoid the payment of a large number of debts which he had incurred during his residence in this Colony, and also to escape a settlement of the accounts of his office with the Government…

After leaving San Francisco, D’ewes was next heard of in San Francisco where he told people that he was on business connected with the mail subsidy. The Alta newspaper, which printed the names of ship passengers, noted that D’ewes left on the steamship Uncle Sam, bound for Panama.

Heppel never returned to Victoria either and it was believed that he was so in despair at his situation that he took his own life. His family appealed to Governor Douglas to look into the matter, which he promised to do.

According to the ‘Writing on the Steamer’ blog, It was believed that D’ewes made his way to Homberg in Germany where he gambled his ill-gotten gains from the Victoria Post Office. There, he shot himself.