Tag Archives: Victoria

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.

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.