In 1860, the gold commissioner for the Cariboo Philip Nind recommended to Governor Douglas that a gold escort be instituted to strengthen the government presence and as a service to miners who feared the long hill leading up the bluffs on the south side of the South Fork River, near Quesnel Forks where they were easy prey for robbers.
The government also saw the advantage of a gold escort because it would be a way to get more business to the government assay office in New Westminster. Most of the miners (who were American) preferred to send their gold dust on steamers south to San Francisco to get a better rate of return. On July 9, 1861 the British Colonist reported:
“Treasurer Gosset has succeeded in one of his pet hobbies by getting the machinery of a Gold Escort in working order…The route of the escort will be from New Westminster to the Forks of Quesnel River via Port Douglas and Cayoosh [Lillooet]. Ex-Justice Thomas Elwyn of Cayoosh will have charge of the route from Cayoosh to the Forks of Quesnel; and will be accompanied by a sergeant and four soldiers of the Royal Sappers and Miners mounted. The escort from Cayoosh to Douglas will be under the charge of Mr. Hankin and two mounted policemen.”
It was initially reported that to have one’s gold dust transported by the Gold Escort would cost one shilling per ounce (for trip Quesnel to Lillooet) or sixpence per ounce (Lillooet to New Westminster). Later, the government broke down the charges even further.
Initially, express companies were concerned about this new competition coming from the government, but the Gold Escort couldn’t match the delivery times of the express companies and nor would they guarantee the safety of one’s gold. In addition there were problems with those put in charge.
Quite a few officers quit when Mr. Hankin had them perform menial tasks – including cleaning his boots and looking after his horse and not allowing them to sit and take meals with him.
When Philip Nind returned in 1863 from a lengthy absence (having gone to England for almost two years to recuperate), he was put in charge of the ill-fated Gold Escort.
The Escort left Williams Creek on July 15, 1863 with about $50,000 in gold dust and on reaching Port Douglas, found that they were too late for the steamer. Captain Nind and five others came down to New Westminster in a canoe and they deposited the treasure with the government assay office.
Nind thought that he brought down one third of the gold then available on the creek. One horse died on the way up and Captain Nind’s own horse died on July 8th near the New Westminster cricket ground.
The British Columbian newspaper, which had always been a critic of the Gold Escort printed this poem, “Poor Old Horse, let Him Die”.
Come drop a tear, for this poor horse
Had once a decent name;
But alas! he joined the Escort,
And died of grief and shame.
And now no more he’ll follow up,
The cart along the track,
Nor clamber over the mountains,
With a “Greeny” on his back.
Then may the “grey backs” ne’er disturb
His bones—where they now rest—
For well they know that while he lived
He always did his best.
A few weeks later, on August 8, 1863 the British Columbian reported:
“Notwithstanding the effort made in Victoria to induce the public to patronise the Escort, Dietz & Nelson’s Express carried up a larger number of letters on Wednesday than it has ever done before.”