How many American gold seekers drowned while trying to cross the Strait of Georgia or in the Fraser River? Getting to the gold diggings on the Fraser River was not easy. It took two days of paddling from Victoria just to reach the Fraser River. Some used canoes, rafts and even whaleboats. Once they made it to the mainland, there were several dangerous rapids to run on Fraser River.
Governor Douglas wrote in a May 19, 1858 despatch to Lord Stanley, the Colonial Secretary in London: “Many accidents have happened in the dangerous rapids of that [Fraser] river, a great number of canoes having been dashed to pieces and their cargoes swept away by the impetuous stream, while of the ill-fared adventurers who accompanied them, many have been swept into eternity.”
What happened to the 8,000 men who didn’t return?
The Alta California newspaper reported that 27,534 people sailed directly to Victoria from San Francisco between April 1, 1858 and March 31, 1860, and 19,051 returned during that same period. What happened to the 8,483 persons who did not sail back? Did they return by another route, did they settle in Washington Territory or did they lose their lives by accident?
The Alta California article, printed on May 26, 1860, went on to say that the free port of Victoria was still importing large amounts of American goods yet “the white population of Victoria and British Columbia” was no more than 6,000. Clearly they weren’t counting all the blacks who emigrated!
Whaleboats down the Fraser River
L. F. Bodkin was one of the American miners who struck it rich on Island Bar north of Spuzzum in 1858. He stayed and worked through the winter then in March 1859, he prepared to head back east with about $2,000 worth of gold dust. He canoed down the Fraser River and at Fort Hope he embarked in a whaleboat along with several other miners. They had just rowed past the mouth of the Harrison River when the whaleboat hit a snag and flipped over. Everyone made it out alive, but Bodkin lost his gold.
Just the previous month, Captain Brock of the ‘Gold Hunter’ found the body of a fifty year old man from San Francisco in the same vicinity and buried him “on the point of the first riffle above the Harrison River”.
Immediately after that disaster, Bodkin returned back to the bar and worked it for another year and a half, this time accumulating about $4,000 in gold dust. This time though, he wasn’t so lucky.
On August 15, 1860 Bodkin attempted to canoe down the Fraser River with his gold dust and a load of fresh beef to Boston Bar. He was just four miles from his destination when he attempted to run a “small but dangerous riffle” and the canoe capsized. Two others, “an Indian and Chinaman” managed to hang onto the overturned canoe until they were rescued by some miners three miles downstream.
Bodkin, his beef, and all his gold were gone.