Tag Archives: Victoria

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.

Gold fever comes to Victoria a.k.a. Tent Town

Outside the walls of the HBC Fort Victoria, a tent town sprang up. John Keast Lord of the Royal Engineers observed bartenders and monte-dealers plying their trade in large canvas shelters, “ablaze of light, redolent of cigars, smashes, cobblers, and cocktails.”

Tent town Victoria

Tent town Victoria

The Hudson’s Bay Company first took some gold dust and nuggets to be assayed at the San Francisco Mint in February 1858. By the end of April, ships were heading north to Victoria.

Steamers (sternwheelers or sidewheelers) began making round trips between San Francisco and Victoria in ten days, taking 500 passengers and full freights north each time.

From the Knickerbocker Magazine in New York:

Many of the steamers and vessels went up with men huddled like sheep — so full that all could not sit or lie down together…

The goldseekers arrived to find out there wasn’t any accommodation for them. So they pegged up wedge-shaped canvas tents, lean-tos and other make-shift shelters.

Lekwungen Territory

Across the way was a Songhees village. This was part of the larger Lekwungen Territory. The Songhees were comprised of several local groups who collectively referred to themselves as Lekwungen. They lived in houses with single-pitch shed roofs over horizontal plank walls parallel to the waterfront.

Monte: a card game that became popular during the California gold rush. It was originally played in Mexico and brought north after the Mexican War in 1847. Players bet on the turn of the card by the dealer.

Smash: gets its name from mint leaves which were ‘smashed up’ in the shaking of ice, whiskey and sugar. Goldseekers preferred to drink their smashes quickly; not sipped.

Cobbler: a cocktail made with either brandy or whiskey and slices of fruit, sugar, and ice. Cobblers were often served with a straw so one didn’t swallow any pits.

Here is my page from my graphic novel I’m working on, “Cartoon Introduction to the Fraser River Gold Rush.”

Can you spot the figure standing next to the San Francisco Mint?

Cows vs. Cabbages in Victoria

cow

British Colonist newspaper advertises cow for sale

In the late 1850s and early 1860s, farms dotted the landscape throughout the Victoria area. Just north of Esquimalt Harbour was a large farm of almost 400 acres. In addition, many settlers in Victoria kept their own cows and chickens as well as vegetable gardens. Druggists sold seeds for vegetables such as turnips and cabbage.

Sometimes there was conflict between neighbours such as the case of ‘Cows vs. Cabbage’ reported by the British Colonist newspaper on June 9, 1864:

Cows vs. Cabbages

Mr. Myers of Fort Street complained yesterday to the stipendary Magistrate that two cows had broken into his garden and had devoured 400 or so cabbages. He had detained one of the animals and had complained to the owner of the other, whom he knew, but who had refused any compensation, telling him he might take a pail of milk every time he caught her in his garden. Mr. Wood [Magistrate] said the custom here seemed to be to allow animals to run at large, and he was afraid he could do nothing for him. His [Myers] best plan would be to milk the cow he had detained until the owner sent for it.

Mr. Myers wrote to the paper the next day to set the record straight:

“…the Magistrate [advised] to sue the owners of the cows for damages, a course I shall certainly pursue in respect to the owner of one of the cows (the owner of the other having compensated me).

Coincidentally, the following notice appeared in the newspaper that same day:

Grazing to Let.
The Grass on a Farm of About 100 acres near Mount Tolmie and within two miles of Victoria suitable for grazing Cattle and Sheep TO LET, with immediate possession for one or more years.
Apply to Mr. Weissenburger Land Agent, Government Street

Ad Wednesday: Olympia Oysters for sale

Olympia Oysters for sale! Here are some advertisements from November 22, 1865 published in the Vancouver Daily Post (based in Victoria). The Vancouver Daily Post was one of four daily newspapers covering the colony of Vancouver Island.

Oysters_PA
Oysters, Oysters!
The celebrated
Olympia Oysters, In Every Form!
-at-
Piper & Alisky’s,
Government street, opposite the Theatre.
Special accomodation for families

Oysters_Occidental

 

BIVALVE-IC.

Peter at the Occidental!
Having made arrangements with Captain Finch for
ALL THE OYSTERS
from Olympia, has now the pleasure of informing
The Public, The Trade, and Families,
That in addition to dispensing from the Stand
Fries, Roasts, Stews, etc., as usual,
he is prepared to furnish the
OLYMPIA OYSTERS
by the bag (100), gallon, quart, etc., to suit all customers, and on the most liberal terms.

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.

The gold rush at Goldstream, BC

At the beginning of October 1863, a party of four miners were sent out by Governor James Douglas to prospect for gold in the Victoria area. Ten days later, they returned and reported that they had discovered diggings paying 4 or 5 cents to the pan at a stream flowing into Gold or Deadman’s Creek.

“A number of persons carrying packs and mining tools started for the scene of new excitement. The new “Douglas Diggings” at Goldstream presented the appearance of a thorough mining locality possessing every facility for working. The proximity of the location would tender the working expenses trifling; mining would be easy owing to excellent facilities for washing and the shallowness of the diggings; and, the road was accessible as a dray could be taken within four miles of the spot, whence packing was very easy on horse or foot.”

Goldstream

Goldstream

Goldseekers made their way to the stream that lay between the 12th and 13th mileposts on the five foot-wide Cowichan trail, about two or three miles from Langford’s Lake.

On October 20, 1863, one day after the discovery of gold was reported, the Colonist printed:

“One hundred people were headed for the diggings. A great many lost their way with some going down the trail to Sooke and others unable to follow the proper trail. Those who succeeded in reaching the mining grounds spoke in the highest terms of the appearance of the country as a gold-bearing region and expressed confidence in the ultimate results of efficient prospecting. A quantity of liquors and other things were sent out from town, and several applications for permission to sell the former were made.”

In just a few days, the population at Goldstream grew to over 300, including several Cariboo miners. Companies were formed and claims were staked. There was even talk of making the trail from Langford’s Lake to Goldstream a wagon road.

As the weeks went by, it became apparent that the gold was scattered through the quartz for some miles. Finding flecks of gold in a pan soon dwindled. Only with machinery was it possible to hit paydirt and the expense of reaching bedrock was greater than anticipated.

As interest in the area began to wane the following spring, there were a few companies said to have ore assessed which made their claims valuable.

In April, 1864, The Muir Company’s ore was assessed at $10,500 for gold and $24 for silver to the ton. “A great demand for shares in this company resulted with their value rising from $7 per share (of 15 feet) to $15.”

In response, W.A.G. Young, Colonial Secretary, rose in the House to request $4,000 for the purpose of constructing a road to Goldstream. Amor De Cosmos called the gentleman to order for he was not aware that Young represented the Governor any more than any other member of the house.

On July 17, 1864 the discovery of gold on the Leech River became known and the miners abandoned their claims at Goldstream.

The Esquimalt by-election of 1861

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

Esquimalt

Esquimalt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Tomline Gordon won the election by one vote.

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

Muskets and Revolvers in the Gold Rush

From its beginning in 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company traded muskets to First Nations trappers for beaver pelts. Many of the firearms introduced during the early fur trade period were of inferior quality, and were known to sometimes blow up in the hands of the person using it. Often times, these trade guns were returned to an HBC post where a blacksmith would make repairs. Supplies of amunition were also relatively costly and had to be purchased through trade. For these reasons, traditional forms of weaponry and hunting equipment continued to be used side by side with firearms, and depending on the circumstances, the guns were less effective than the bow and arrow.

musket

musket

Factories in Birmingham and London, England manufactured trade guns for the Hudson’s Bay Company. A distinctive feature of these guns was the dragon or serpent shaped side plate.  This was considered a mark of quality and most Natives would not trade for a gun that did not have the serpent plate.

In later years, the Hudson’s Bay Company began to order firearms with percussion caps for use as trade goods. The HBC guns were made so that a hunter could shoot while wearing a glove or even a mitten. As well as the serpent sideplate, on the gun itself was an indented image of a fox, identical to that of the fox on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s coat of arms.

revolver

revolver

Revolvers were brought north by the American goldseekers. This type of gun allowed the user to fire it multiple times without reloading. This was a big change from the single-barreled smoothbores of the horse-pistol type. The caliber of the pistol was the same as the rifle or musket carried by the owner, so that a single bullet mold could serve both guns.

Here is an advertisement from the June 24, 1859 edition Daily Colonist:

35 tierces [casks] of  fine corned beef at 7 cents per pound. 40 Colt’s Revolvers at prices less than in California, suitable for parties fitting up for the North.
Apply to H. Holbrook at the Hotel de France, or at the wharf of J.T. Little, Wharf St.

Rifle muskets were another type of gun used during the BC gold rush. Volunteer militia groups known as ‘rifle companies’ were actively promoted. The town of Victoria had two.

In September 1864, a concert was held at the Victoria Theatre as a fundraiser for the Victoria Rifle Volunteer Corps.  In a review of the concert, the British Colonist newspaper wrote that the theatre was elegantly decorated with muskets, bayonets and flags of all nations. The program included “Rifle Fever” sung by the Germania Sing Verein.

HMS Plumper and the Rowdies of Victoria

In 1857, Captain George Richards of the British Navy sailed to Vancouver Island on his ship the HMS Plumper. Richards was given instructions to chart the international water boundary as well as the coastline and nearby islands of Vancouver Island. Plumper carried a scientific library with reference books on botany and natural history. The ship’s surgeon was in charge of collecting and preserving specimens. There was also a team of navigation and surveying specialists.

HMS Plumper

HMS Plumper (on the right)

It wasn’t the sort of ship that was supposed to take part when a crisis arose, but there was at least one occasion when Captain Richards and the crew of the Plumper were called upon to help diffuse a situation. This was especially true in the early days of the Fraser River gold rush when Fort Victoria was overwhelmed with gold seekers.

In its August 9, 1858 issue, the Daily Alta California printed a letter from Victoria with the title “The Rowdies In Victoria”

Some excitement has been created here in consequence of a most daring outrage having been committed, by a band of rowdies, in rescuing a prisoner from the police, and rather roughly handling the Sheriff. At least three thousand persons were collected, and the police force being small in number, were compelled for the time being to let their prisoner slide. The circumstances being reported to the Governor, a dispatch was immediately sent off to the man-of-war.

At midnight, H. M. S. Plumper entered Victoria harbor, from Esquimalt, and landed one hundred men. On the following morning the Plumper anchored within two cables length of the town, prepared to give practical demonstration if any resistance was offered. A small police force re- arrested the man, who is now awaiting examination.

The proceedings on the part of the Government exhibited the fact—that will go far to preserve order for the future—that they are not only determined to put down rowdyism, but that they have sufficient strength to command obedience to the laws. The conduct of the Government in this instance has been cordially responded to by the entire community.