Tag Archives: Victoria

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.

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.

Fort Victoria before the Fraser River gold rush

Fort Victoria in 1860

Fort Victoria before the Fraser River gold rush

It may be hard to believe but at one time the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Victoria was surrounded by farmland and most of the buildings were stables and barns.  Here are the recollections of an early pioneer, Mr. J.R. Anderson:

“First of all, the Fort with its buildings. On the site of the present Arcade Block there were two buildings 25 feet long; the northern one was a bakery and the southern one Governor Blanshard’s residence. Then between View and Yates a small fort was erected in 1851, and Mr. Douglas occupied it as an official residence and office. The stockade was about 50 yards square. At the junction of Douglas and Johnson Streets at the ravine there was a little cemetery.

Between the present post-office and Bastion Street were two log houses about 20 feet long, used by employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  On the left of Fort Street, just above Douglas, were the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stables and barns, consisting of two buildings, one about 60 by 40 feet, the other 40 by 25 feet.  The area contained within the present Fort, Vancouver, Courtney, and Broad Streets was cultivated area.

There was a house in the vicinity of Burdette and Douglas, where a man named Gullion and his wife lived.  Dr. Kennedy lived in a house on Burnside Road, where it crosses the Colquitz.  Also on Burdette, near Vancouver Street, there was a dairy and cow-stables.  It will be noted that there were very few houses, most of the ground being occupied as farm lands. Among these was Beckley Farm in James Bay, within the area bounded by Government, Superior, Oswego Streets, and Dallas Road.  North Dairy Farm was on Quadra, at the Cedar Hill cross-roads. Staines’s Farm was on some flat ground facing Shelbourne Street.  John Tod had a farm at the Willows.”

In a few words, Alfred Waddington described Fort Victoria before the Fraser River gold rush as a quiet hamlet with “streets grown over with grass” inhabited mainly by ‘Scotchmen’ employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Contrast that with Edward Mallandaine’s account of Fort Victoria in 1860:

“A number of wharves have been constructed this past season; a new timber bridge across the James Bay has been built, giving access to the newly-erected government offices for public lands and the Government House, all in brick and of an ornamental character; streets leading to the bridge have been new graded; several of the leading streets have been metalled over, and are passable at all times. A temporary want of funds alone prevents more being done in this way, as also the completion of two embankments (in lieu of bridges) in a ravine severing two of our streets.

Wooden buildings have ceased to be the order of the day, thus diminishing the constant dread of fire…Some public spirited citizens taking the lead, a hook and ladder company has been organized, and subscriptions, to a considerable amount, made to defray the necessary outlay of building, hook and ladder, engine, etc…

We have a police barracks (which important building holds also the Supreme Court and the Police Court), an extensive warehouse (a large bookstore and dwelling) of two stories, at least two hotels of considerable dimensions, and several houses, all erected in brickwork with stone fronts and some pretensions.

The Hudson’s Bay Company are at this moment erecting a warehouse, of portentous dimensions, of stone, which they take the trouble too import from a distance not exceeding forty miles; and a new bank, the Bank of British North America, …has also, in the same spirited style, built itself an architectural home of rubble-stone faced with squared granite masonry.”

You can see a link to the plan of Victoria in 1860.

Why the blacks of San Francisco left California in 1858

Business flourished during the California gold rush. Black men like Mifflin Gibbs and Peter Lester were successful merchants in San Francisco who enjoyed the benefits of their financial success except political freedom.

By 1851, anti-black sentiment on the Pacific Coast was growing.  Oregon’s new constitution expressly forbade free blacks from entering the state. The California state legislature passed the Civil Practice Act which disqualified blacks from testifying against whites in court.

Capturing fugitive slaves in California 1856

Capturing fugitive slaves in California

The following year, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. This permitted the arrest of any escaped slaves found in California and their return to servitude if they were taken out of the State within a year of their escape. The Fugitive Slave Act also did not allow escaped slaves to testify in court in their own defence.

Many southerners had brought slaves with them to California to dig for gold. As the gold rush waned, many slave owners wanted to bring their slaves back home with them. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1852, many raids were carried out to kidnap ‘fugitive slaves’ who had left their owner and living in California under the assumption that their freedom was secured by living in a ‘free’ state.

In San Francisco, Gibbs and other black merchants had to pay a poll tax for the right to vote, yet when they tried to do so, they were prevented by angry mobs.

The Case of Archy Lee

Charles A. Stovall was a rancher living in Carson City who had come from Mississippi with a slave named Archy Lee. Stovall, who had complained of ill health, had run out of money and sent Lee to work elsewhere with the intent that Lee would hand over his wages. In January 1858, Lee sought his freedom and in a short time, Stovall applied to have his ‘fugitive slave’ returned.

The blacks of San Francisco raised money for Lee’s defence and followed the case closely. One week later, the leader of the Assembly, A.G. Stokes, introduced a bill that if a slave owner were travelling through California and a slave escaped, the owner should have his property restored to him.

In February, the Supreme Court upheld that Stovall was a resident of California and not travelling or visiting in the State. Stovall was trying to uphold slavery in California which had entered into the Union as a ‘free’ state.

Stovall kidnapped Lee and arranged to sail for Panama on March 4th. The blacks discovered where Lee was being held and applied for a writ of habeas corpus to gain his release. Stovall evaded being served and arranged to have Lee moved to another hiding spot.

On the day that the steamer was to sail for Panama, police found Stovall in a boat with Lee. Both were brought back to the docks where a large crowd of blacks had gathered.

While Stovall was arrested, there was still the legal hurdle of testimony. The state senate judicial committee in Sacramento had upheld the ban on black testimony. The next day, on March 5th, the court turned down Stovall’s application to dismiss the writ and Stovall’s lawyer agreed to give Lee his freedom. The crowd of onlookers were shocked and outraged when Lee was arrested as a fugitive slave and ordered back to jail. A near riot broke out.

Eventually Archy Lee was granted his freedom, but there was more to worry about.

Bill 339

In March, the government introduced Bill 339 to restrict and prevent immigration and residence of blacks in California. It also made it illegal to bring a slave into California for the purpose of freeing him or her.

As the economy was slowing down, blacks were having a harder time finding employment. Black merchants were facing discrimination. There was nowhere to turn.

On the night of Archy Lee’s liberation on April 14, 1858, San Francisco’s black community held a meeting to raise the remainder of funds to cover his legal costs and to discuss destinations for a mass emigration.

On hand at the meeting was Jeremiah Nagle, a landowner in the British colony of Vancouver Island. He was the captain of the steamship Commodore which was making regular voyages between San Francisco and Victoria. Nagle answered their questions about life on Vancouver Island and he also told them something else: gold had been discovered in the Fraser River.

Within a few days, Gibbs and thirty-four others were on their way to Victoria to start a new life. Hundreds more followed over the spring and summer of 1858.

Temperance in the BC gold rush

liquor ad 1861

liquor ad 1861

In contrast to the many saloons and breweries which were successfully established in Victoria during the Fraser River gold rush, a temperance movement also began. Temperance movements were dedicated to the moderation, or in some cases complete abstinence in the use of intoxicating liquor.

On June 23, 1859, John T. Pidwell placed an advertisement in the Victoria Gazette celebrating the efforts of the eastern temperance movement and advocating the creation of a B.C. division.  Pidwell, future father-in-law of David Higgins, had arrived in Victoria in 1858 from New Brunswick where he had taken an active role as a member of the Sons of Temperance.

In his essay the Passing of a Race, Higgins remarked that certain well-regarded businessmen were profiting from selling so-called ‘liquor’ to the local tribes while the police and government turned a blind eye.

It was a notorious fact that certain firms were never disturbed. They were immune from the visits of constables, and Justice was not alone blind—she was so deaf that she could not hear the plaintive cries of the wretched victims…

From the British Colonist newspaper September 30, 1862:

Last evening a meeting of gentlemen was convened at the rooms of Messrs. Franklin for the purpose of forming a Temperance Society and Debating Club, when a certain well-known citizen was unanimously voted to the chair, which he took with many thanks for the honor conferred, and sitting down, rested his chin upon his right hand and appeared absorbed in deep thought. Several motions were made, but the chair paid no attention to them for several minutes, when the wondering audience discovered that the chairman whom they had unanimously chosen was in an advanced state of “How-come-you-so” —just in good trim for a small tea party at which whisky formed the principal beverage, but hardly the right thing for a temperance meeting…

The following is a recipe from “Six Hundred Receipts Worth their Weight in Gold” by John Marguart printed in 1867.

How to make Silver-top, a temperance drink

Take 1 quart water, 3 1/4 pounds white sugar, 1 teaspoonful lemon-oil, 1 tablespoonful flour, with the white of 5 eggs, well beat up; mix all the above well together. Then divide the syrup, and add 4 ounces carbonate of soda into one part, and put it into a bottle, and then add 3 ounces tartaric acid to the other part of the syrup, and bottle it also. Take 2 pint tumblers, and put in each tumbler 1 tablespoonful of the syrup (that is, from each bottle of the syrup) and fill them half full with fresh cold water; pour it together into one tumbler. Superb.

The First House of Assembly of Vancouver Island

The first House of Assembly for the British Colony of Vancouver Island met for the first time on August 12, 1856. There were seven elected representatives who had been voted in by slightly more than forty male property holders. The House met in “Bachelors’ Hall” inside the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fort known as Fort Victoria. Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, the first Speaker of the House, described the scene as a room:

“…about twenty feet in length by about a dozen in breadth, lined with upright plank unpainted, unadorned, save perhaps with a few “cedar mats” to cover fissures. On each side were two doors leading to as many dormitories. In the centre stood a large dilapidated rectangular stove its sides made of sheet iron, beautifully and picturesquely bulging. At the end was a wooden table, upon which stood a hundred page ledger, an inkstand, pens, and a small supply of foolscap…Around the Speaker’s table stood half a dozen very ordinary wooden chairs, for the use of the members and at a respectful distance a couple of benches, without backs for the audience.”

At the end of the year the Colony paid the Hudson’s Bay Company (simply known as the ‘Company’) twenty-five dollars for using the room. Their last meeting was held December 7, 1859.

When the House of Assembly first met there was talk of the British Government’s (the Home Government) free trade negotiations with the United States under the Recriprocity Treaty and what that would mean for Vancouver Island. As it was still under the exclusive control of the Company, free trade was considered a good thing.

In the Spring of 1858 as news of the Fraser River gold rush were beginning to spread, discussions turned to the dominant control of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Local Victoria merchants wanted protection from imported goods that were coming north on ships as fast as the flood of miners.  Mr. McKay wanted to introduce a bill which would see imported goods levied by 5 cents but this was countered with 80 signatures on a petition brought forward by Mr. J. D. Pemberton. McKay’s motion was defeated.

Up to this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company had exclusive navigation and trading rights on the Fraser River. James Yates wanted to petition the Home Government in Britain to attach ‘Frazer’s River’ and the surrounding country to ‘Vancouver’s Island’, and remove it from the exclusive control of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Taking a less drastic approach, Mr. Skinner rose to move that a conference with Governor Douglas was needed. Particularly, he wanted to know by whose authority the Company had received exclusive navigation privileges on the Fraser River and by “what right the Hudson’s Bay Co’s. goods only are allowed to be carried up.”

Mr. Yates offered to postpone his motion for a petition to the British Government until after a conference with the Governor was held.

Governor Douglas stalled over the issue, but Yates and several others continued to question his ability to both govern the colony and continue the Company’s exclusive trading rights throughout the mainland.

Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers Hall in Victoria

Yates Street, Victoria 1862

Stationers Hall – Yates Street, Victoria 1862

Hibben & Carswell’s Stationery Store on Yates Street  was one of the first businesses in Victoria.

This painting by Owen Staples (based on an unkown artist’s sketch) shows a glimpse of Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers Hall. It is the white building on the left side of the street just above the pile of logs. This was the original site of the store until it moved to another location on Government Street.

Stationers Hall on Yates Street had an interesting past. It was designed by architect Richard Lewis, who later served as Victoria’s mayor. In addition to housing the stationery store, the building was occupied by the Society of Free Masons, George R. Fardon’s photographic studio, and other private lodging.

Hibben & Carswell Stationers Hall

Hibben & Carswell Stationers Hall

In his book, Some Reminiscences of Old Victoria, Edgar Fawcett recalled visiting George Walkem at his rooms over Hibben & Carswell’s Stationers.

“The walls were plastered, and white, and all over were covered with [Walkem’s drawings of] animals and portraits of noted characters of the day done with a crayon pencil. These portraits were of such men as Judge Begbie, the Governor, an admiral of the station, or some noted politician. It was a sight well worth seeing, and would so be considered today.

Long after Mr. Walkem left these rooms these walls were left intact, and many schemes were devised to remove the pictures with the walls… I am sorry to say it proved to be impossible.”

Early water woes in Victoria

When the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Victoria suddenly became a “full-grown town” in 1858, it lacked most civic amenities, including street lights and drinking water.

By late 1861, the Fraser Canyon gold rush had lost its lustre and the Cariboo gold rush had not galvanized the masses of goldseekers. Supplies in Victoria were still quite expensive.

Annie Harvey wrote in her memoirs:

“…what would we say to paying 25 cents for an egg? That was what my uncle paid for the eggs used in the first Christmas pudding we enjoyed in British Columbia. As to needles, my mother needed a few extra large ones, and upon going to a shop to purchase them, the man held up a package, inquiring, ‘How many do you want? They are four for 25 cents.”

Victoria was over ten years away from getting gas for street lights. There was only coal oil, paraffin and camphene lamps to light homes, stores and other buildings. The streets were dark at night.

Incredibly, drinking water was scarce. Unless one had a well, it was necessary to buy water from water carriers who sold water stored in barrels on horse drawn carts.

Harvey wrote: “At one house…we were obliged to rely on tanks of rainwater, buying all the water we drank, and if the water in the tanks ran short we were obliged to buy for all purposes…The summer did away with that trouble when the boys could take their daily swim [in the ocean] clad only in nature’s garb.”

Robert Burns McMicking: Telegraph and Telephone

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert McMicking: Overlander, Goldseeker, and Telegrapher

Robert Burns McMicking was born on July 7, 1843 in Canada West. The McMickings were a long established family descended from United Empire Loyalists. His grandfather had received land near Queenston for services rendered during the War of 1812.

At the age of 13, Robert was hired by the Montreal Telegraph Company.

Six years later, when news arrived of the Cariboo gold rush, Robert and his brother Thomas decided to head west with several others using the now famous overland route. The party of Overlanders arrived in the Cariboo in September of 1862 after a five month harrowing journey, later recounted by his brother Thomas for the British Columbian newspaper. Three men died along the way and horses and oxen perished.

Some of the Overlanders went to seek their fortune in the Cariboo goldfields while others, including the McMickings, worked for a short time on the Cariboo Wagon Road, earning enough money to get them to New Westminster.

In 1865, the Collins Overland Telegraph Company had just installed a telegraph cable from New Westminster to Barkerville. There were telegraph stations at various intervals along the Cariboo Wagon Road, including ones at Clinton, 83 mile house, Soda Creek, Quesnel and at Barkerville. The company was looking for telegraphers and Robert McMicking was hired.

In 1870, after Collins Overland Telegraph was taken over by the Western Union Telegraph Services, McMicking was promoted to the head of the company and moved to Victoria. Ten years later he started the Victoria and Esquimalt Telephone Company in 1880 and worked to have telephone services in Victoria.  He also played an important role in bringing electric lighting to that town.