Tag Archives: bc gold rush

Where was the first BC gold rush?

Where was the first BC gold rush? The very first documented gold rush in British Columbia took place at Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) in 1852.

In 1850, specimens of gold ore from the Queen Charlottes were traded at the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Simpson. Chief Trader John Work ordered test blasts at Englefield Bay and a lot of gold was found.

In October 1851, the Hudson’s Bay Company sent Captain William Mitchell, however, the natives opposed the idea of the harbour being blown apart and seeing gold being taken away in large quantities. They wanted to retain gold for their own trading purposes.

James Douglas, then chief factor of HBC on the Pacific Coast and Governor of Vancouver Island, proposed the idea of setting aside Gold (Mitchell) Harbour for a trading post with the order:

Should any other party be employed on the vein when you reach Gold Harbour, you will require them to remove from the spot, as the place belongs to the Hudson’s Bay Company by discovery and prior occupation, as well as by Her Majesty’s exclusive license of trade granted to the company.

Within six months, news of gold spread to the United States and small ships of gold seekers set out from San Francisco.

“In the spring of 1852, an expedition was fitted out from San Francisco, lured by the accounts received from that island, to the effect that gold had been discovered there. The schooner Susan Sturgis, Capt. Rooney, with thirty-five adventurers arrived at Mitchell’s Harbor on the western coast of the island.”

The gold seekers didn’t have much luck finding gold themselves, but the Haida did trade gold with them for a price.

Captain Baker, at Olympia, sent a letter to the Oregonian newspaper in the spring of 1852:

We were wrongly informed, but did not give up till we found the place. We were several times for weeks wind-bound in different harbors… There are eleven tribes on the Island… those at Gold Harbor … have been spoiled by the HBC Co. and want to barter more than twice the value of their gold.

Francis Barnard and the BC Express Company

Francis J. Barnard

Francis J. Barnard of BC Express Co.

The BC Express Company was a name that was synonymous with the Cariboo gold rush. In 1865 alone, the BC Express Company hauled $4.5 million worth of gold from the Cariboo to Yale.

Who was the man who started founded this famous BC gold rush company? His name was Francis Jones Barnard. Barnard was born in Quebec City in 1829 and came to British Columbia at the height of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858.

It was a long trip out west and he spent a short time panning for gold, after which he sold his claim and worked as a constable. Later he became a purser on board the steamship “Fort Yale” and survived the explosion that sank it.

In 1861, Barnard acquired the packing business of Jeffray and Company, which also carried the official mail without charge from Victoria to Yale.

In 1862, Barnard established the BC Express Company with one mule and the government awarded him a paid contract to carry the mail from Victoria to the Cariboo. The following year, he bought a two horse wagon to carry express mail and gold from Yale to Barkerville.

By 1866 Barnard became the sole proprietor of the horse express business from Victoria to Barkerville.

The BC Express Company incorporated in 1871. This consisted of F.J. Barnard, holding one half interest, and Steve Tingley and James Hamilton each holding one quarter interest. Hamilton died in 1886 and Barnard sold his share to Tingley who thus became sole owner.

Book of BC Gold Rush Short Stories just published

Gold Rush Short Stories

Mayhem at Rock Creek and more Gold Rush Stories

My new book of BC gold rush short stories has just been released on Amazon! Mayhem at Rock Creek & more Gold Rush Stories includes:

  • Trouble in Fort Yale
  • The Trial of Justice Nuttall
  • Rations in a Prosperous Land
  • Captain Hovie’s Messenger
  • The Molasses Letter
  • Disputed Claim
  • Justice Arrives in Lillooet
  • Mayhem at Rock Creek

What did the Royal Engineers eat?

Alexis Soyer

Alexis Soyer, chef and inventor

Alexis Benoist Soyer was a French chef who believed that soldiers could be saved through good food. He invented a field stove which he took around to every regiment he visited in the Crimean War. It’s no wonder then, that the British Army adapted his recipes and his field stove.

When the Royal Engineers came to British Columbia to chart the boundary, they were well prepared. Soyer’s recipes included “Salt Meat for 50 men” and “Soyer’s Food for 100 men, using two stoves”. This worked when they were stationed at Fort Victoria and later as they surveyed New Westminster.

It was a different story when they were out in the bush surveying a road to the Cariboo:

“our fare consisted almost exclusively of bacon and dampers, with tea and coffee. Now and then we might be lucky enough to shoot a grouse.”

Dampers were “cakes of dough rolled out to the size of a plate and one or two inches thick. They are cooked either by being baked in the wood ashes of the fire, or fried in the pan with bacon fat.”

Here is a recipe I found for dampers:

2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk

Add salt to flour, add sugar, then rub in butter. Mix in milk to make a medium-soft dough. Knead lightly on flat surface until smooth. Pat into a round shape. Place damper mixture on coals or hot ash. Cook for maximum of 40 minutes. Discard burnt outside and eat the inside. Serve with butter, syrup or jam.

Gold Rush Careers: Packers

The following advertisement appeared in the British Times Colonist on January 4, 1862:

P. Smith & Co. Packers Over the Douglas & Lillooet Route Are still Packing and Forwarding to LILLOOET And are Prepared to Forward 250 Tons per Month AT MODERATE RATES. All goods marked in our Care will be received and forwarded without delay.

P. SMITH & Co. Packers, Douglas and Lillooet, B.C.

During the gold rush, merchants relied on packers to carry food and supplies either by mule, horse or sometimes camel. The routes that the packers followed went through difficult and treacherous terrain.  In the early days, the packers would follow the Hudson Bay Brigade Trails. The Douglas to Lillooet route was a trail that was carved out by miners and involved many portages.

The Hudson’s Bay Company employed skilled Mexican packers from as far away as Sonora in Mexico.  Later, these same packers worked during the Cariboo gold rush, with the advantage that they were already familiar with the fur brigade trails.

Here is some recollections from a gold rush prospector:

“Pack trains went out from Walla Walla into Boise, and also from Walla Walla clear over the international boundary up into British Columbia, carrying supplies for fur traders, hunters and prospectors. With my brother who came up to this country with me, I located a ranch near Walla Walla and I left him in charge of it. I came in to town one day and found an auctioneer who went by the name of Tea Garden in the act of selling a horse. I had $20 to pay for one, and I got this one for $17.50.

“With my blankets and enough food for the trip I set out for Boise, then a placer gold camp. I spent the summer there working at ground sluicing and then returned to Walla Walla, where I sold the ranch and went into packing, which I followed for several years. We got as high as a dollar a pound for supplies of different kinds in the interior, and our route was through the Spokane country or into northern Idaho and down the Kootenai River across the international boundary to Wild Horse, British Columbia.

“The Hudson’s Bay Company in the early days had a monopoly of the trading business in this country, but when I arrived the independent American traders were driving the Hudson’s Bay men out of the territory. A pack train would consist of 30 or 40 mules or horses with a head packer and about five other men, including a cook for the outfit. The horses would carry about 300 lbs. each, the weight depending on the kind of merchandise. One trip I made too late in the winter and was caught by heavy snows and cold weather. Instead of turning my horses out on the Kootenai Meadows, I tried to make the journey back to Walla Walla. I bought feed for my horses at stations along the way for a dollar a pound, but they nearly all died. I started with about 40 and got into Walla Walla with seven or eight.


Gold Rush Sternwheeler Captain

A sternwheeler captain was an important figure in the gold rush. Sternwheelers plied the rivers and lakes throughout BC for nearly a century from the early 1850s.

Sternwheelers were popular because they had a flat bottom which made the craft buoyant and their wooden construction made them easy to repair. During the gold rush, passenger accommodation was the bare minimum. Passengers were sometimes asked to help load wood for the boiler, fight a fire on board, or use their blankets to plug a hole in the hull.

Collisions and explosions weren’t uncommon and many sternwheelers were also holed by dead trees floating in the rivers or became lodged on bars.

Competition amongst sternwheeler companies was fierce and despite the dangers of navigation, captains often raced their sternwheelers against their rivals.

Captain William Moore

Captain William Moore first came to BC in 1852 when he piloted a sternwheeler to the Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) at the time of the gold rush there. He survived several bankruptcies to become one of the longest entrepreneurs in the business. In 1859 he had a sternwheeler built, Henrietta, which was one of the first to arrive at Yale. Later, he built the Alexandra which was intended to be the largest on the coast. It wasn’t profitable, however, and Moore lost the boat to creditors.

He got a government contract to build a pack trail from the Stikine River to the gold bearing creeks and charged two cents a pound toll. Flush with money, he returned to Victoria and ordered a new sternwheeler, Gertrude, to be built which he ran on the Stikine River. He tried several times to return to the Fraser River with other sternwheelers, but each time he lost business to the competition.

Several times, Moore was accused of carrying excessive steam. On one of his sternwheelers, the Western Slope, the steam guage was registered 40 pounds low. In addition, one safety valve was wedged shut and couldn’t release without first blowing out the floor of the cabin above. The second valve hadn’t blown even with 40 percent more pressure added over the limit. Moore and his chief engineer were each fined $200.

Cariboo Camels

Camels in the Gold Rush

In 1862, an advertisement appeared in the British Colonist advertising 25 camels for sale. Who brought them to BC and why?

Camels were commonly used in southwestern United States. In fact, the U.S. had its own Camel Corps. Camels could pack twice as much as a mule and with their long legs, could travel very quickly.

These Bactrian camels originally came Mongolia and arrived first in San Francisco before making the trip north to Victoria in April, 1862. From the British Colonist newspaper:

The Hermann – this steamer left San Francisco at 8 o’clock on the evening of the 10th and arrived here at 7 o’clock yesterday morning, making the trip in three days and eleven hours. She brought about 350 passengers, 23 camels, and 200 mules…

On this last portion of their trip they were looked after by a man named Hadji Ali, also known as Hi Jolly. Hi Jolly had been a driver in the U.S. Camel Corps. Many people came down to the wharf just to see the camels, as it was such an unusual sight.

A few weeks after the advertisement appeared, John Calbraith bought 23 camels (two had gone missing in Victoria). He must have had a change of heart because the camels stayed in Victoria until early May when another man, Frank Laumeister, brought them to Lillooet by way of the Port Douglas trail.

At first there were high expectations that the camels would carry as much as six hundred pounds a trip and travel through snow unimpeded. One of the first problems someone noted was that they were highly excitable and did not react well to seeing other mules and horses on the trail. Stampedes were very common. Mr. Laumeister was threatened with court action if he didn’t get his camel trains off the Cariboo Wagon Road.

The camels probably suffered without their usual desert diet and it was reported that they would “eat anything from a pair of pants to a bar of soap.” Their feet suffered from the difficult terrain. Some died in blizzards or fell off the steep cliffs. One miner retired to a farm near Hat Creek and used a camel to help pull a plough. The camels were bought and sold and some made it to the gold rush at Wild Horse Creek.

The last known surviving camel was treated like a pet at a family’s farm at Grande Prairie (now Westwold) in the interior of BC. It died in 1905.

What about Hi Jolly? He stayed around for the gold rush for a short time but he didn’t have very good luck either. He lost all his money to some gamblers and returned to the United States.

Red House in Victoria

This poem appeared in the British Times Colonist on February 5, 1863. It’s a wonderful example of poetry in advertising. I kept the punctuation and capital letters as they were printed.

Machine Poetry by Mike Cohen

A miner from the Diggings once came down,
Whose wretched aspect was perceived by all the town;
His boots were soleless, and his pants were torn –
In fact, he looked an object, quite forlorn.
He sought a bed – but where to get that bed
He did not know nor where to rest his head
While pondering this, a good sight met his view;
The El Dorado Beds – price 50 cents and 5 and 20 too.

“Let’s have a quarter’s worth,” our miner said,
And quick as he thought, he soon in bed was laid.
He slept a weary sleep, and the next morn arose,
The more refreshed, for he had doffed his clothes.
Those pants he did not wish again to wear,
And thought perhaps his host would sent out for a pair;

He called out for the landlord, and much surprised was he,
Our friend Mike Cohen, of The Red House, there to see.
“What, Mike, you in this line!” our miner said:
“Then bring me up some pants, and something for my head.”
Mike brought them up, and quick as thought,
Our friend the miner a new suit had bought,
Paid down his money, then, looking in the glass,
His compliments to Mike he thus did pass:
“Whenever a man wants rigging out in something new,
For little money, Mike, I’ll send him straight to you.

And now, friend, Mike, pray tell me where
For breakfast I can get good fare?”
“‘Tis but next door, a Restaurant I keep!”
Says Mike, “and you will find it good and cheap!”
The miner went, and breakfast had,
And said that for a quarter ’twasn’t bad;
For Mike, I see, knows how to do the trade,
And put all the others right into the shade.

The role of gold commissioners

In 1858, after news of the Fraser River gold rush had reached the British Parliament, the Colonial Secretary E.B. Lytton wrote:

“…it would seem desirable to appoint if you have not already done so Gold Commissioners armed with the powers of Magistrates.”

Gold commissioners were expected to act as the district’s land recorder, coroner, postmaster, justice of the peace, Indian agent, and revenue officer, as well as its stipendiary magistrate.  Gold Commissioner Richard Hicks recalled:

I came to Fort Yale when great excitement existed … the population amounted to upwards of five thousand and included some of the worst California could produce . . . I had to perform every office and work – even to grave digger. My hands were full night and days.  I worked hard.

Scandals broke out when it was discovered that some of the gold commissioners, including Richard Hicks, had profited from their position. In 1859, Chartres Brew, who was the Chief of Police, was also given the title of Chief Gold Commissioner. At the time, Governor James Douglas wrote:

“Matters were becoming complicated from the want of an active and intelligent Chief to supervise and instruct the Assistant Gold Commissioners. I was hampered by not having trustworthy and capable men at my disposal…”

Gold rush lottery ticket

Gold rush lottery ticket with Neversweat claim in background (BC Lottery Corp)

If you are at a lottery counter in BC, take a close look at the Gold Rush lottery tickets. Different historical photographs are printed on each ticket. One background features a reproduction of the “Neversweat” claim shown below.

The Neversweat claim on Williams Creek (near Barkerville) yielded $250,000 from a depth of 120 feet. Gold miners worked under arduous conditions; cold water often dripped from leaky flumes and saturated their clothes. Wages at the time were $8 to $10 a day; half of which was spent on food sold at exorbitant prices.

In the photograph you can see one Chinese miner. The British Columbia census of 1871 counted 1,548 Chinese in Barkerville of which only 53 were women, but by the late 1870s, Chinese families began to arrive in the Cariboo.

There were many ways to get gold that was deep in the ground. One of the options was to dig a tunnel horizontally into the side of a hill or at the bottom of a gulch or a ravine.  The sides and the roof of the tunnel had to be supported against cave-ins by the use of heavy timbers.  Rock and gravel would be removed from the tunnel using either wheelbarrows, or a narrow track of rails and a rail car.