Category Archives: Gold Rush People

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

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.

John Keast Lord: Gold rush veterinarian

John Keast Lord

John Keast Lord (1818-1872)

John Keast Lord was a veterinarian, naturalist and author. He was born and raised in Devon, England and graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 1844.

After service as a veterinary surgeon during the Crimean War, Lord was appointed veterinary surgeon and assistant naturalist to the British North American Land Boundary Commission in 1858. The Boundary Commission, led by the Royal Engineers, marked the 49th parallel between the mainland of British Columbia and the United States.

For the next few years until the Commission ended in 1862, Lord travelled across the province. He witnessed the plight of many lame pack mules that had been left behind by goldseekers. Some of the mules he was able to help, but there were many he couldn’t assist other than to end their suffering. In the winter time, he stayed on Vancouver Island where he compiled his many notes on the birds and wildlife he saw and documented his collection of specimens.

One of his first duties for the Boundary Commission was to go to California and purchase 80 mules and pack saddles, known as aparejos.  Here is his story:

“When equipping the eighty mules I purchased in California for Her Majesty’s  Commission, I had immense difficulty to discover any aparejos which were for sale, as packing happened just at that time to be unusually brisk. I remember at Stockton, when casting about amongst the more probable localities, wherein I might by good fortune possibly alight upon the kind of packing-gear I was in search of, a Yankee merchant, who dealt in everything from toothpicks upwards, came rushing after me, having scented my business as readily as a raven or a vulture would have done a dead carcass.

He began at once in nasal drawl—’ Say, cap, you are just a foolin’ your time; bet your pants, thar ain’t narry aparejo down har, fit to pack squash on.’ ‘Well,’ I replied,’ how can I tell that unless I inquire?’ ‘Waal, I raither guess you want to buy, and I want to sell, so just let us two take an eye-opener, cap, and then make tracks straight a-head for my store, war I can show you sich a lot of aparejos as you ain’t ever seen afore in these parts; I ain’t showed em to none of the boys as yet, guess if I did they’d have the store down slick; give me fifty dollars a-piece for the aparejos, rigging and all, and walk right along with ’em to the bluffs.’

Considering this rather good news, I did ‘liquor up’ with my new friend, and afterwards adjourned to the store, most anxious to secure what I imagined was a valuable prize. Picture my intense disgust when, on being conducted into a cellar, I saw a huge pile of packsaddles, such as had been sent to the Crimea and  returned, and which this speculative individual had picked up cheaply as a consignment from England.

I have already shown how utterly useless these trashy and badly made saddles were in the Crimea, an opinion fully confirmed by this somewhat singular discovery that in the very centre of the busiest ‘packing’ country, perhaps I may safely say in the world, not an individual packer could be found who would take them even as a gift.

The dealer, imagining he had for once in his life stumbled on a ‘ sucker,’ tried to palm them off on me as aparejos ‘that couldn’t be matched.’ It ‘took him down,’ though, when I winked wickedly, and, inventing a slight fiction for the occasion, said, ‘Why, these are the pack-saddles we sold off when the Crimean war ended; I know the lot right well; they are not worth that.’

I snapped my fingers, turned on my heel, and left my friend astonished, and two drinks (50 cents) out of pocket. So much for Crimean packsaddles. Two years afterwards I heard that the unfortunate dealer still possessed them.”

Arthur Thomas Bushby: music maker and policy maker

Arthur Thomas Bushby - musician and politician

Arthur Thomas Bushby – musician and politician

Arthur Thomas Bushby was born in London on March 2, 1835, the son of Joseph and Anne. His father was a well-respected merchant and his mother was a linguist, who could speak several languages including Danish and Spanish. As a young man, Bushby studied music both in England and in Europe.

Upon hearing of the Fraser River gold rush, Bushby left for Victoria in November 1858 and arrived on Christmas Day on board the Panama.

“Robert Burnaby and I went to church, a neat little conventicle—heard a rather decent bass voice in the choir—it was Begbie whom I had met coming out of church; he did not recognize me at first owing to my rough dress and beard and moustache.”

The following Tuesday, Bushby presented his letter of introduction to Governor James Douglas, who invited him to dine that evening with his family, Begbie, and Captain Gossett. There he met for the first time Agnes Douglas, who was seventeen. From that time on, he became a frequent visitor to the Douglas home where he played the piano and sang.

Bushby was appointed private secretary to Judge Begbie in February 1859, and accompanied Begbie on his first circuit of the interior. Working for Begbie was probably not without its challenges and Bushby revealed in his diary that he was most happiest singing and playing music. He even considered “rushing head long into the musical profession, go to San Francisco and have a try.”

A few months later, Bushby was appointed registrar of the Supreme Court. He continued to keep himself busy with musical productions in Victoria, especially with the Victoria Philharmonic Society, of which he was a founding member. In February 1861 he was given the post of registrar-general of deeds for the mainland Colony of British Columbia.

In May, 1862, Bushby married Agnes Douglas and the couple moved to New Westminster where he became involved in civic affairs as well as music and drama. He held a number of government posts which required him to travel to various parts of the province including Wild Horse Creek and the Cariboo. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1868 to 1870.

Bushby died suddenly on May 18, 1875 at 40 years old. He left behind his wife and four children.

John Bagnall: Victoria’s first pianoforte maker

1860's piano made in Canada

1860’s piano made in Canada

A piano or ‘pianoforte’ as it was also known, was a popular musical instrument during the BC gold rush era.

Many gold rush miners went to great lengths to have their musical instruments brought to their camps.

In 1863, a piano was carried from Quesnel to Barkerville. This same piano survived the Great Fire of Barkerville five years later. It was later purchased by the Kellys who made arrangements for the piano to be brought to Victoria where they retired.

The Canadian piano and organ industry started to gain momentum in the 1850s and was helped by advertisements in newspapers. Pioneering Canadian piano maker John Morgan Thomas was in operation in Montreal and Toronto from 1832 until his death in 1875. He was credited with the invention of the metallic frame which he and Alexander Smith patented in Toronto in 1840. In May 1866, Theodore Heintzman opened his own factory in Toronto and founded one of Canada’s most successful and longest-running piano-making firms.

Born in Staffordshire, England, John Bagnall arrived in Canada in 1862 from London where he worked at Collard and Collard, a piano manufacturing firm. He arrived In Victoria in early 1863, and advertised his services as a pianoforte maker and cabinet maker at a store on Fort Street. In addition to building pianos, Bagnall tuned and repaired pianos and harmoniums. He also sold music and lent instruments. His business prospered and just over a year later, Bagnall announced the opening of his piano factory. In 1881, Bagnall expanded his business by building organs.

Bagnall continued to work until shortly before his death in 1885 and advertised his company was “Sole Importers of English, French, German and American Pianos, Organs, and all kinds of Musical Instruments….”

Volkert Vedder and the trail to Hope

Volkert Vedder - one of the first pioneers of the Fraser Valley

Volkert Vedder – one of the first pioneers of the Fraser Valley

Volkert Vedder was one of the first pioneers in the Fraser Valley. The Vedder River and Vedder Mountain are both named in his honour.

Vedder was born in Schenectady, New York in 1808. Around 1830, he married Agnes Swart.  After his wife’s death in 1852, Vedder left New York for California. In 1856, Vedder came to the Fraser Valley with his two sons where he pre-empted 160 acres of land on the Vedder River, immediately north of the present settlement of Yarrow.  He later added to these holdings.

In 1860 he helped finance a pack bridge over the Coquihalla River near Hope. This bridge gave  access to the old (1849) brigade trail to Fort Colville and Kamloops, and to the newer (1858) east bank  trail up the Fraser River to Hills Bar and Yale; and a third trail up the Coquihalla and Boston Bar rivers  to Boston Bar.

In late December 1860, Vedder and two partners proposed to open the trail from Fort Hope to Chilliwack by “removing logs and other impediments so it is passable for animals for consideration of one hundred dollars.”

Assistant Gold Commissioner Peter O’Reilly approved the contract and the work was completed.

Four months later, on May 6, 1861, O’Reilly reported to the Colonial Secretary in Victoria:

“I have inspected the trail from the Chilwahook to Hope, which has recently been repaired by Mr.  Vedder. The trail is very wet and muddy caused by the passage of a number of mule trains from Sumas to Hope during the recent heavy rains, and in consequence of its sheltered position.”

A year later on May 31, Reilly again wrote to the Colonial Secretary:

“435 head of horses and mules have arrived at Hope via the Chilweyhook trail in the last month and have paid their [customs] duties here. The trail from Hope to Yale is in much need of repair. The steamer Moody arrived again this morning at  Hope, but could not proceed further.”

This trail was eventually used for the Collins Overland Telegraph.

Russian Jack: the stagecoach trip with Stephen Tingley

Being a stagecoach driver on the Cariboo Road was not an easy job; the conditions were unpredictable and dangerous. Being a passenger on a stagecoach was an unforgettable experience too.

“Russian” Jack who owned the Black Jack claim at Lightning Creek recalled an adventurous stagecoach trip with Stephen Tingley in April 1875:

Arriving at Yale before noon we, some nine or ten of us, got on board the stage and started up the Fraser River with Stephen Tingley driving…We got on without mishap. Mr. Tingley invited the passengers to get out and take a walk when we came to a steep place, and the Jackass Mountain gave us quite a walk.

We had something to eat at Boston Bar and got up to Lytton after dark. We were awakened at 4 a.m. In these roadhouses the charge was $1 for bed and the same for meals. As soon as we got dressed all were invited to have a cocktail before breakfast, and I found this was the custom all the way up. By five a.m. we were all on board and going up the Thomson River, which we crossed at Spence’s Bridge, then past the Basque Ranch and Ashcroft [Manor] where Judge Cornwall lived. Cache Creek was reached after noon and here we had to stay overnight as the Bonaparte was in flood, but James Campbell, the owner of the house, was good to us.

There were three brides on the stage, at this point one left us, going by way of Kamloops to Osoyoos, where her husband was collector of customs. The Bonaparte was rushing over the bridge and the bridge was swept away very soon after the [bride and her husband] got across.

Up above Hat Creek the water was running down the [Cariboo] Road and was not passable by the stagecoach, but these drivers were men of resource. Mr. Tingley had provided plenty of rope and drove the coach up the hill and went along till the road was clear. Then the rope was tied to the coach and all the passengers held on to the rope while Tingley drove down the steep hill…Later Tingley told me he had sent a man on horseback to find out if he could drive along the flooded road.

Passing Clinton we came up to Sauls, now the 70-Mile House, where we stayed overnight, arriving in the dark and leaving before daylight. Then we went down to the Lac La Hache Valley and got to the 150 Mile House, some 80 miles from Sauls. This house was then owned by Mr. Bates and was kept very differently from its present efficient state. Then we went up the Fraser towards Quesnel. Mr. Tingley left us on his return to Yale at the 70 Mile House and J. McKay was our driver till we came to Deep Creek, some distance from Soda Creek.

We found the bridge washed away, but there was a stagecoach on the other side. Bill Johnston, the new driver, had felled a pine tree across the swollen stream, and the passengers had to scramble across…

Arriving at Soda Creek in good time, we were cared for by Bob McLease. Again making an early start we reached the Quesnel River…we crossed in a canoe and put up at Brown and Gillis’ hotel. We were now about 40 miles from our destination, but as the altitude gets higher all the time there were patches of snow all the way. This was the middle of April, and frequently we had to walk as it was neither sleighing or wheeling.

When we came to Beaver Pass the stage could not go further and it was suggested that we should walk up to Lightning Creek…Mr. George Hyde, the owner of Beaver Pass house was requested to take us up in his sleigh, but most of the eight miles were done on foot.

We arrived on the eleventh day after leaving Victoria.

One thing that impressed on me, and that was the excellence of the drivers of Barnard’s Express. A few years before he died in 1915, Tingley told me that driving on the Cariboo Road now was child’s play to what it was in the early days.