Thomas Hibben: stationer of the gold rush

Thomas Hibben

Thomas Hibben

Thomas Napier Hibben established one of the first stationery stores in Victoria.

Hibben was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1828. Lured by the California gold rush, Hibben crossed the plains in 1849 in a “prairie schooner”, a challenging journey which took many months. After a brief period looking for gold, he became partners with Charles P. Kimball and they ran the Noisy Carriers Book & Stationery Company in San Francisco.

Upon hearing of the Fraser River gold rush in April 1858, Hibben left the partnership and came to Victoria. Here he met James Carswell and they purchased the former Kierski’s bookstore. In addition to books and stationery, they sold gold pans, cutlery and a variety of other useful goods at their store on Yates Street.

In the early 1860s, Hibben travelled to England where he married Janet Brown and the couple returned to Victoria.

Hibben & Carswell Stationers continued until 1866. At the end of that time Mr. Hibben purchased Carswell’s interest and continued the business as Hibben & Co. Stationers on Government Street.

In 1889, Hibben published the comprehensive “Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon” – the trading language used by many during the gold rush and recognized in the British Columbia courts until the early 20th century.

Edgar Fawcett, a Victoria pioneer, recalled the story of how James Carswell got lost in the woods outside of Victoria:

“One summer day Mr. Carswell…got lost in the woods near Muir’s farm 30 miles from town, and after the [picnic party] returned to town without him, a search party was organized and a reward offered by Mr. Hibben for his partner’s return.

They left next morning, and after a long and strict search, as the party was returning to town to report their want of success, whom should they see ahead of them but the lost James Carswell, trudging along on the highroad to town. He was told that they were a search party sent out to look for him, and that they were glad they found him. “Found me!” said Mr. Carswell; “why, I am on my way home!” and they then proceeded to town together.

When the party reached home Mr. Carswell was told that Mr. Hibben had sent the searchers, and had offered a reward for his finding. This Mr. Carswell objected to pay, protesting that they had not found him, but that he had found himself, and was on his way home when they met him. It caused a great deal of merriment, and was a standing joke for some time.”