As soon as they heard about the gold rush in British Columbia, brothers Clement and Henry Cornwall sailed from their home in England. They arrived in Victoria in June, 1862 and set out with pack horses from Port Douglas at the head of Harrison Lake. Of wealth and means, the brothers had the intention of becoming land owners. They took their time exploring the countryside from Lillooet to Hat Creek and Loon Lake then made “a long & dusty drive of 20 miles” south along the western ridge of the Thompson River to Gavins Creek. On the way they passed “a desirable looking flat watered by 2 streams with a fine surrounding range for cattle.” This was also strategically located on the packer trail – proposed to become part of the Cariboo Wagon Road.
This was to be the future home of the roadhouse known as Ashcroft House – named after the family home in England.
During their first summer and fall, the Cornwalls began to stock their property with horses, mules and oxen. They found the cattle too expensive to buy in quantity because any drover who brought cattle this far from Oregon, which was the closest place where cattle could be bought at a fair price, wanted the very high prices he could get by taking his herd to the Cariboo gold diggings. The Cornwalls therefore had to start as farmers rather than cattle ranchers.
They hired help to cook and build a build a house as well as to harvest wild hay. They looked after packers’ horses over the winter months. In the meantime, they hired two men to whipsaw timber into useable planks for a roadhouse. It took the workers five months to carry out this gruelling task from January to June of 1863 for four cents per foot plus their food.
Ten acres of barley, timothy grass, clover, oats and alfalfa were planted in the spring of 1863, as well as a variety of vegetables.
On September 24, 1863, the Royal Engineers completed the Cariboo Road past the newly completed Ashcroft House.
In later years, the Cornwalls were granted a lease of 6,000 acres of grazing land in Hat Creek Valley for their cattle. By 1867 the brothers had established themselves as two of the leading ranchers in their part of the interior.