Tag Archives: Fraser River Gold Rush

Manifest Destiny and Self-government at Hill’s Bar

Down the Fraser River from Fort Yale, deposits of sand and gravel accumulated over the years.  In the Halkomelem language this low bank was known amongst the Stó:lō as Hemhemetheqw, meaning a “good place to make sockeye salmon oil.” Californian miners called these low banks ‘bars’ and based on experience, knew they were good places to find gold.

A group of California prospectors started for the ‘New Eldorado’ in March, 1858. Edward Hill was the first goldseeker of his group to stake a claim there and so this low bank was named Hill’s Bar.

In March 1858, James Moore, a friend of Hill, reported that the “whole tribe of Yale Indians moved down from Yale and camped on Hill’s Bar, about three hundred men, women and children, and they also commenced to wash for gold.”

A goldseeker named Furness made $750 in gold dust in four weeks and Hill himself averaged $50 a day.

As more and more people arrived every day, conflicts arose between the Natives and the miners, mostly American.

Before James Douglas had a chance to reach Hill’s Bar at the end of May, 1858, American miners imposed their own self-government. On May 21st, they posted laws regulating mining claims on that bar, according to what they had learned in California.

Manifest Destiny

Many Americans believed that it was their republic’s “Manifest Destiny” to expand its rule over the whole of the North American continent. American expansionists demanded all of the Pacific Slope lying south of the Russian Possessions (Alaska). Within ten years, they were engaged in wars with both Britain and Mexico to achieve their goals.

When the border was settled at the 49th parallel and not at the 54th as they had hoped, expansionists consoled themselves that there was nothing of any value in New Caledonia, the area where the Fraser River lay.

However, as soon as gold was discovered on the Fraser River, once again the slogan of “54-40 or Fight” was raised throughout the land.

When James Douglas came to Fort Yale, he warned the American miners that the Americans in arming themselves and going out against the Indians were guilty of treason.

He also warned the miners that “the Indians of Washington Territory have sent couriers all through the Fraser river territory, calling on the Indians to unite and drive out the whites. In consequence, the Indians heretofore hunting for the Hudson’s Bay Company have applied for early and increased supplies of ammunition, which was refused to them.” The HBC didn’t want to arm the Natives in their conflict against the miners.

Some miners such as Lucius Edelbute, who had been in involved in conflicts with Native peoples in California, thought it would be better for his group to identify themselves as ‘King George Men’ (British) rather than ‘Boston Men’ (Americans) when they came to the Fraser River. With the use of a Chinook jargon dictionary, they were able to talk their way out of a difficult situation when a group of Natives surrounded them and demanded that they return their salmon to the river which they did so immediately.

This poem printed in the Pioneer and Democrat newspaper (Washington) on November 5, 1858 shows that Manifest Destiny was still alive and well.

Frazer River

Now, hurrah, for up the Frazer,
Where the gold is without measure;
Where the bars and banks are gleaming,
And the floods with gold are streaming.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Every day the sun is shining,
Men by thousands come here mining,
And, by rocker, pick and shovel,
Swear among the sand and gravel.

Now hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer river’s falling.

Tis a rapid, foaming river,
And the heart will often quiver
When canoes go downward, splashing,
Whirling, spinning, leaping, crashing.

Mind your “p’s” don’t make a blunder,
If you do, you’ll go to thunder.

Up above, among the mountains,
Men have found the golden fountains;
Seen where they flow! Oh joy transcendent!
Down, down, in noiseless stream transplendent,

Then, hurrah, and set your riggings—
Sail above, to richer diggings.

When news gets where Buch and Cass is,
Johnny Bull can go where grass is,
He may rave and rant to foaming,
It will never stop our coming.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for papers,
The license men may cut their capers.

Soon our banner will be streaming,
Soon the eagle will be screaming,
And the lion – see it cowers,
Hurrah, boys, the river’s ours.

Then, hurrah, nor wait for calling,
For the Frazer’s river’s falling.

I’ll scrape the mountains clean, my boys,
I’ll drain the rivers dry,
A pocket full of rocks bring home,
So brother don’t you cry,
O’ California, That’s the land for me,
I’m bound for San Francisco with a wash bowl on my knee.


‘Buch and Cass’ refers to U.S. President James Buchanan and Secretary of State Lewis Cass. ‘Johnny Bull’ refers to the people of England

Occupations of the 1860s – Assayer to Water Carrier

What occupations were there during the BC Gold Rush? People did many different kinds of jobs.  The colonial government of Vancouver Island printed a notice January 1, 1861 with a list of trade license fees in Victoria. Some occupations are still around such as bakers, carpenters, confectioners, hair dressers, tailors, and insurance agents. As you can see from the list, some vocations are rarely heard of anymore and others have disappeared altogether.

This list of construction trades also shows that people were constructing solid buildings in Victoria – those rough wood shanties were a thing of the past.

Assayer – tested gold for purity (read the story about Marchand’s assay office)
Blacksmith – made farm tools, cooking tools, and sometimes shoed horses and oxen as well
Boarding-house Keeper – rented rooms usually for a week or more and one meal a day was provided. Check out this ad for Mike Cohen’s Red House in Victoria.
Bootmaker – wellington boots, and work boots were in demand during the gold rush.
Brickmaker – prepared the bricks and then fired them in a kiln
Camphene Dealer – camphene oil was used to light lamps
Carman – delivered goods on a horse-drawn wagon
Clothier –  made suits and sometimes drapes
Coach Builder – coaches was a shortened word for stagecoaches
Confectioner – made candy, cough drops (back then sugar was considered medicinal)
Cooper – made wooden barrels
Corn Dealer –  agents who bought grain from farmers and sold it either for feed or seed
Hosier – sold socks and undergarments (see my post on Hardy Gillard – Hoser, Glover & Outfitter)
Indian Trader – would’ve bought items directly from Natives such as furs, baskets, fish
Ironmonger – sold guns and hardware
Jobber – a wholesale merchant
Lime-burner – burning lime in a kiln was a dangerous job because of the toxic fumes. Lime was turned into powder – an essential ingredient for mortar
Livery stablekeeper – housed and fed horses (a hotel for horses)
Mason – a stone worker
Paper hanger – someone who ‘hangs’ wallpaper
Peddler – sold wares directly from a wagon to passersby – often at the edges of town
Plasterer – applies plaster (there was no stucco or drywall in those early days)
Saddler – a maker of riding saddles
Sailmaker – made sails out of canvas for scows, canoes
Saloonkeeper – typically refers to someone who dispensed liquor, although there were coffee saloons and shaving saloons as well
Scourer – this could refer to someone who washed wool or most likely, washed clothes
Scrivener – a professional writer (good for responding to legal documents)
Shipwright – they made ships
Soda water manufacturer –  water was mixed with various compounds and/or flavoring, and of course, carbonation
Syrup manufacturer – syrup was used by confectioners and saloon keepers
Teamster – driver of a team of horses or oxen
Tentmaker – one of the first commercial users of sewing machines was a tentmaker
Tinsmith – maker of stoves, stovepipes and even gold pans (see The Tinsmith of Barkerville for more)
Water Carrier – water was brought to Victoria in wooden barrels carried on horse-drawn wagons.

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, water was expensive. Every saloon charged “one bit” (12 cents and one half penny) for a glass of water. Some even charged as much as 15 cents! Cocktails were “two bits” (25 cents) in comparison.

Children worked in various trades, even at saloons where they washed glasses and swept the floor. Women worked as well, primarily as domestics or garment workers.

Shaving Saloons and Beards of the BC Gold Rush

tufts2

tufts were commonly worn before 1850

By the mid-1850s, beards were popular. In 1857, a journalist strolled through Boston’s streets, conducting a statistical survey: of the 543 men he tallied, no fewer than 338 had full, bushy beards, while nearly all the rest sported lesser facial hair of various sorts. Only four were “men of the old school, smooth shaven, with the exception of slight tufted promontories jutting down from either ear.”

Doctors encouraged men to grow beards as a means of warding off illness, especially sore throats. It was believed that a thick beard would capture the impurities in the air before they could get inside the body.

Many different styles of beards were seen – flowing beards, stubby beards – as well as many types of moustaches.

In 1858 the South Australian Advertiser printed: “Some men wear beards, whiskers and moustaches; others shave the whiskers and beard and leave the moustache; whilst others preserve the moustache and part of the beard but eschew whiskers!”

beard1

a beard style of the mid 1800s

The word ‘whiskers’ typically referred not only to bushy cheek growths—to massive sideburns and muttonchops, but also to a ‘wreath beard’ or ‘chin-strap beard’. Check out my portrait of packer Joel Palmer. In the mid 1860s many men imitated the look of the Civil War general, Ambrose Burnside, known for his ‘mutton chop’ style, where whiskers broadened across the cheeks and met in a moustache. Thomas Hibben wore this style of mutton chop. Another style known as ‘Piccadilly Weepers’ – very long, comb-able, pendant whiskers – came into being in the 1860s.

The Royal Engineers who came to British Columbia in 1858 all had long full beards. Many of the gold miners probably didn’t have time to trim their beards either.

From an article printed in the British Colonist “A miner’s experience on the Pacific Slope” Thomas Seward recalled the summer of 1858 when he was digging for gold on the Fraser River:

Our life at this period was so monotonous it is hardly worth describing, one day exactly resembling another. Rising with the sun and cooking our breakfast of beans, boiled over night, making our bread of water and flour in our gold pans, frying, perhaps, a salmon or slice of bacon…Dinner at twelve showed no change of bill of fare, and supper followed in its footsteps with striking fidelity. The life was a hard one, certainly, but I was not unused to it, and as a pretty energetic worker, rocking out sometimes as many as 400 buckets in a day…

On April 21, 1859, it was reported that Queenborough (which later became known as New Westminster) consisted of two wharves, fifteen houses, two restaurants, two bakers, a grocer, and a barbershop.

Some later advertised ‘shaving saloons’. Here is an ad from a Halifax newspaper in 1860:

shavingsaloon

Fred Paine on Johnson Street (four doors down from Wharf Street) advertised himself as one of the first to shave and cut hair in Victoria. His advertisement which was printed in the British Colonist in 1863 gives his prices which Americans would have been familiar with – 2 bits meant 25 cents and 1 bit was 12.5 cents (12 cents and one half penny).

Cutting Hair…. 2 bits
Shaving…. 1 bit
Shampooing….1 bit
Dressing…..2 bits

Shoemakers and Sore Feet in the Fraser River gold rush

At the onset of the Fraser River Gold rush, most people were still making their own shoes and boots to save money.

In 1856, a popular book was published, “Every Lady Her Own Shoemaker” which showed how to make a shoe that would cost half as much as a store-bought shoe. All that was needed was a pre-cut sole, fabric for the upper, thread and needle.

There were two main methods of making shoes by hand – ‘turned’ and ‘welt’.

The turned method was for shoes with a lightweight upper and flexible sole. Women’s slippers or light dress boots would be made using the turned method. A popular style of shoe for women in the 1850s was the gaitor or Congress boot, either laced or with elastic sides.

gaitor boot for women

gaitor boot for women

 

The welt method used an insole, outsole, uppers, and a leather strip called a welt. The shoemaker positioned the welt between the upper and insole and sewed them together with one seam along the inner edge of the welt. A thin narrow shank and wood shavings filled the space between the insole and the outsole to add stability to the shoe. A heel was added.

Heavy boots and cheaper shoes, such as brogan, were held together with either pegs or nails. Pegged shoes did not have stitch indentations on the bottom of the outsole since each had its own peg. It is interesting to note that the nails used for constructing shoes left round holes while the pegs were square and left square holes that often skewed to a diamond shape over time. Pegged brogans were often made with a midsole which was a full layer of leather. These made the shoes durable but heavy. Brogans were almost heelless so they were hardly made for walking. Wellington boots had heels but weren’t meant for hiking either.

When the gold rush miners had to walk vast distances every day just to get to the Fraser River gold diggings, they soon started making their own footwear, including moccasins. Here is an excerpt from Herman Reinhart’s diary:

“I never suffered so much in my life as on that trip to the Fraser River. My ankles…would swell up so that I could hardly get along, but I had to drag on anyway. I made me moccosins of carpet from a saddlecloth I had, and I would have to put on a new sole every night after I got into camp. How glad many of us were when we…could sit down and rest our sore feet.”

In February 1858, the Mechanics Magazine published “Certain improvements in the construction of heels for boots and shoes,” by W. Westley.

“These consist of forming an entire or partial rim of metal the shape and height of the heel and the inside of which is filled up with gutta percha, scrap leather, or wood, through which holes may be made for attaching the heel to the boot or shoe. The metallic rim may be be japanned, or covered with steel around the bottom edge; or the rim itself will be made of cast iron, chilled on the under edge, to prevent rapid wearing away.”

A breakthrough in technology came in 1862 when the McKay Stitcher was invented. This machine, based on an earlier invention by shoemaker Lyman Blake, sewed the soles of shoes to the uppers without a welt. A lining then covered the seam that went through to the inside of the shoe. This prevented wear of the stitching thread. The shoes made on this machine came to be called “McKays.”

parts of a Wellington boot

parts of a Wellington boot

Here is a page from my upcoming graphic novel on the Fraser River gold rush. In the first panel I drew a Wellington boot which was commonly worn in the 1850s.

20hermanstory

Simon Fraser discovers the Fraser River

I am working on my graphic novel, A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush. I thought that a good place to start was Simon Fraser and the river he discovered. Fraser’s goal was to find the Columbia River which emptied into the Pacific Ocean (Astoria, Oregon). The mouth of the Columbia River had been located by this time but the rest of the river was unknown to European fur traders who saw this potential route as the key to getting their furs to market.

Fraser River - from my Fishing for Gold graphic novel

Simon Fraser looks for the Columbia: A Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush – graphic novel

The North West Company and the route to gold

The name ‘Fraser’s River’ or ‘Frazer’s River’ would be tied to the gold rush that changed the course of British Columbia history, repeated in bold headlines from California to Australia.

What’s in a name?

Simon Fraser - North West Company explorer

Simon Fraser – North West Company explorer

One day while farming in Upper Canada, Simon Fraser was told that there were thousands of foolhardy goldseekers trying to make their way up the same river he had explored fifty years earlier in 1808.

Back then, Simon Fraser was an explorer with the North West Company; the first fur trade company to establish forts west of the Rockies. Fraser named this vast area New Caledonia. He established Fort George in 1807 (present day Prince George).

Simon Fraser was determined to find a river route to Oregon. The Dakelh told him that the wide river that flowed by the fort, Ltha-Koh-Cho, emptied into the coast. Could this river be the Columbia River?

This river becomes too treacherous to paddle the whole way, the Natives told him. There were easier alternative routes to the coast.

After the ice melted and the ground had thawed in May 1808, Simon Fraser and two Native guides, 19 voyageurs and 2 clerks set out on their journey.

Simon Fraser concluded the Natives had been right after all. This river was not a good way to travel! Fraser returned to Fort George after the nail-biting trip with a diary full of stories of climbing sheer bluffs, hanging onto rock walls with bare hands and abandoning their canoes. At one point the voyageurs, exhausted, injured and disheartened, turned mutinous. Fraser talked them out of it.

Later, his friend David Thompson named the river after Fraser.

Note: My drawing is an interpretation of what Simon Fraser looked like during his journey back to Fort George. According to Kwantlen oral history, the fur traders were a bearded, ‘fierce-looking’ lot.

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 nuggets, 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.”

The history of Chinese gold miners

Chinese gold miners

Chinese gold miners

There were many Chinese gold miners who participated in the Fraser River gold rush. Many of them were experienced prospectors who had panned for gold in California. Just as many had panned for gold back home in China.

The Chinese were mining gold by 1300 BC. They had systematic ways to prospect for it. In the 7th century an official wrote, “If the upper soil contains cinnabar, the lower will contain gold.” They had also discovered that plants were a key indicator of what lay beneath the surface. “If in the mountain grow spring shallots, there will be silver under the ground; if leek in the mountain, gold.”

The Chinese also had interesting ways of clearing the gold from other debris. They panned for gold and washed as much debris away as they could, then they mixed what was left with chaff, and fed it to ducks. Later they collected the droppings, panned out the gold a second time, mixed the refined gold with another batch of chaff and fed it to the ducks. They did this process three times and then they fed the ducks a final batch of chaff to collect any gold bits left behind. This brings to mind the old saying, “don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”.

At the beginning of the first millenium, China’s rulers owned gold reserves of 200 tons, about the same as the Roman Empire. Then the mining collapsed. When the Mongols came to power in 1300 AD they tried to turn the gold mines around. They ordered 4,000 households in Shandong to pan for gold. They supressed bandits and removed tyrants who were robbing the mines, and warned their own generals not to steal gold.

Wei Zhongxian, a former criminal and gambler, obtained a position in the imperial household, which was advantageous because creditors were not allowed to pursue him in the Forbidden City. When the crown prince became emperor Wei began his climb to power. He built shrines and statues to himself and adopted the title Nine Thousand Years. The emperor, known by custom as Ten Thousand Years, gave Wei the Linglong Mine in 1621.

According to legend, a river flowed into the sky from the peach orchard of the Grand Old Lady of the West to a peak in the Linglong hills. The river fed streams that flowed down the mountain and collected in a basin. One day a hunter discovered a pool teeming with gold fish. They leapt from the surface and spewed streams of golden liquid. When news of this pool reached the imperial court they sent an official to Shandong. The official was so overwhelmed at the sight of the gold fish that he dove into the pool and disappeared. A second emissary arrived and found the pool dry. Not wanting to return to the Forbidden City with bad news, he ordered 10,000 peasants to dig in the mountain for the fish. They found the Linglong gold.

Wei ran the Linlong mine for six years and the country’s gold production increased to 40,000 ounces a year. When the emperor died, Wei’s enemies killed him. Seventeen years later the dynasty collapsed and so did Linglong.

The new Manchu rulers believed that the gold veins were that of dragons’ and digging them up would disrupt spatial harmony. On a practical note, the Manchu feared that the gold could finance an insurrection amongst the people they had conquered. Subsequently, they decreed an end to gold mining and they executed those they caught digging for gold illegally.

The last gold bars left the Chinese treasury in 1842, in reparation payments to the foreign occupying powers – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Japan. It was at that point the ruling Dowager Empress repealed the gold mining prohibition. In actual fact, the mining had never stopped.

During the time of the prohibition, a British colonial official stationed in Burma wrote “by far the larger portion of all the gold used [in Burma] is brought from China. It is imported in the form of thin leaves of gold made up into little packets, each packet weighing about one viss [3.6 pounds].” Gold had also leaked out of China along the Himalayan smuggling routes. When the gold mining prohibition ended, the gold simply headed back to the domestic market.

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