No. 2, Executive [Queen Charlotte Islands]
Victoria Vancouver's Island
8th June 1853
My Lord Duke
I have the honor to inform your Grace that Her Majesty's Steam Sloop "Virago", Captain Prevost, has just returned from a voyage of observation to Queen Charlottes Island, and a copy of his report is herewith transmitted [Marginal note: 29&th May 1853], for the information of Her Majestys Government.  
In the course of that cruize Captain Prevost, completely circumnavigated the Island, or more properly speaking the Queen Charlotte Groupe, for it consists of three or more Islands, and visited its principal harbours.  
In pursuance of my instructions to him, [Marginal note: 27th April 1853], he left in Mitchel Harbour,
the
the notice which accompanies the copy of his letter [Marginal note: 24th April 1853], warning all persons against settling there or disturbing the soil in search of Gold, without a Licence.  
He found the Natives friendly and obliging, on every part of the Island which he visited; they had a few pieces of gold in their possession, for which they asked a price greatly above its value: one of those pieces, about an ounce in weight is described as being a nodule of pure gold, except at one point, which was coated with grains of white quartz, shewing that it had been attached to a bed of that rock. The natives declared that they had not discovered any beds of Gold except that formerly worked in Mitchel Harbour, which appears to be exhausted. I am however disposed to question the correctness of their statements, on that subject, and to think that their acquaintance with the Gold deposits of the Island is more extensive than they chose to reveal, and that feeling is rather strengthened by a report of their having repeatedly taken quantities of lump and dust gold, for sale to the Russian Settlements in Norfolk Sound.
Captain
Captain Prevost, also procured specimens of Coal at Skiddegate's harbour, a discovery which may become of much future importance to the country.  
The seam is about 24 inches thick and crops out from a cliff nearly 100 feet above the sea level, and at the distance interiorly of one mile from the coast. Specimens of Arsenic and Antimony were also procured by Captain Prevost, and I have received a specimen of a massive ore, which contains Manganese, Antimony and a small portion of silver.  
The physical character of those Islands, as described in Captain Prevost's letter, agrees in almost every particular, with the accounts I have received from other sources, which unite in representing them as unfavorable for settlement.  
The general surface is mountainous and there is no level land except, a district near the north end of the Island, and it is in every point thickly covered with trees, chiefly fine large pines, which will form a valuable export; and by that means may be cleared away for the cultivation of the soil.  
The natives cultivate the potatoe to some extent on the
high
high beaches, and along the edges of the forest, where the soil is productive and yields large crops of that vegetable. The coasts abound with fish of various sorts on which the natives chiefly subsist and also prepare large quantities for barter with the Tribes, who inhabit the shores of the continent, with whom they carry on a brisk trade.  
No vessels were seen in the course of the Virago's cruize and there were no traces of any parties having been on the Islands for the purpose of working gold, since the visit of Her Majesty's Ship "Thetis", in October last.  
The capture of the American Schooner "Susan Sturges" Matthew Rooney, Master, mentioned in Captain Prevost's report, was made by the Masset Tribe, and other Indians belonging to the north end of Queen Charlotte's Island and the Russian Islands of the Prince of Wales' Archipelago, on the 26th of September last, and is one of those unfortunate occurrences which it is exceedingly difficult to deal with. The Indians took and plundered the vessel, and are therefore deserving of punishment;
but
but, as they spared the lives of the crew and committed no further atrocity, I do not suppose that Her Majestys Government would approve of their being put to the sword.  
I have moreover ascertained that Captain Rooney who was engaged in carrying on an illicit trade was warned to leave the coast by Captain Kuper of Her Majesty's Ship Thetis, in the month of July last, and that he was repeatedly cautioned by the Officers of the Hudson's Bay Company's service in respect to the bold and daring character of the natives, yet we find that, despite those cautions, he did, a few months afterwards, return to the coast of Queen Charlotte's Island for the express purpose of trading with the natives, in a small vessel manned with a complement of seven hands including himself and Mate, and in every other respect insufficiently provided with the means of defence; and in consequence she fell an easy prey to the savages who boarded her in great numbers, overpowered the crew, and after plundering her of every article of
value
value, burnt and destroyed the vessel.  
In the whole of his proceedings Captain Rooney displayed a lamentable want of judgment, and a total disregard of those precautions which reason and humanity should have taught him were necessary for the safety of the lives and property under his care, and moreover when it is considered that he was committing a violation of law, in trading on the British coast without a Licence, your Grace will perceive all the difficulties which surround this case.  
In those circumstances I should have declined inflicting any punishment whatever on those Indians, until I had an opportunity of receiving your Graces instructions on the subject, had it not been for the effect produced on the minds of the Natives themselves, who are so ignorant of the customs of civilized nations, that they cannot be made to understand their motives of action, and have a very indistinct idea of the difference between English and American vessels. They have committed a crime, for which they expect to be punished, and if that punishment be much longer
deferred,
deferred, they may be tempted to commit outrages of greater daring and atrocity. They are naturally much elated with the capture of the "Susan Sturges", and have by their taunting addresses to other Tribes, incited them, though yet without success, to attack the whites.  
To check this growing spirit of evil, I have deemed it advisable to despatch Her Majesty's Steam Sloop "Virago", to Queen Charlotte's Island to enquire more particularly into the causes which led to the capture of the "Susan Sturges", and if necessary to inflict such a measure of punishment upon the authors of that outrage, as the case may require, without however delivering their country over to military execution, or levying war upon the Tribe at large, for which the force under Captain Prevost's command is inadequate. I have recommended that the Chiefs concerned in the capture should be seized, and placed in confinement until they restore an equivalent as far as may be in their power, for the captured property, which I am of opinion will have the desired effect of restraining them from further acts of aggression.  
I hope that measure will
meet
meet with your approval, but, should your Grace take a view of the subject different from that which I have entertained I beg to receive your instructions which I shall endeavour to carry into effect.  
I herewith transmit a copy of my instructions to Captain Prevost, with Captain Rooney's statement of the circumstances attending the capture of the "Susan Sturges". [Marginal note: 8&Sth June 1853, 22&nd December 1852]  
I have the honour to be
My Lord Duke
Your Graces most obdt Servant
James Douglas
Lieut Governor

The Right Honble His Grace The Duke of Newcastle
Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State
For the Colonial Department
Minutes by CO staff
Mr Elliot
Send to the Foreign Office those portions of the despatch & the correspondence which relate to the Governor's proceedings in the case of the "Susan Sturges" adding that the Duke of Newcastle proposes, if the F.O. concur, to express his approval of the Govrs conduct, & instructions to Capn Prevost. In ansg the desph approve the Proclamation left at Mitchell's Harbor?  
ABd
11 Augt/53
Should this go to the F.O.?
 
FP
11
In anticipation of any remonstrance from the U.S. I think it had
better be sent.  
N
13
Other documents included in the file
  • Draft, Colonial Office to H.U. Addington, Foreign Office, 23 August 1853, forwarding extracts of the despatch for information and approval.  
  • Draft reply, Newcastle to Douglas, 27 August 1853.  
  • This Despatch not to be sent until the Foreign Office have replied
    to the reference made to them in the accompanying Draft.  
    WH
    Foreign Off answer 8654.  
    [WH]
  • 3. Prevost to Douglas, 29 May 1853, reporting the proceedings of the Virago's visit to the Queen Charlotte Islands, including information about the attack on the Susan Sturges, and offering to return to discourage further hostilities by the natives.  
  • 2. Douglas to Prevost, 27 April 1853, forwarding copies of his proclamation and regulations respecting gold mining in the Queen Charlottes, and authorizing Prevost to issue licences and collect fees. [P. 55]  
  • Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
    • 1. Douglas to Commander James C. Prevost, 27 April 1853, acknowledging his letter of the same date advising Douglas of HMS Virago's intended visit to the Queen Charlotte Islands and requesting copies of any official information Douglas had issued. [P. 56]  
    • 4. Douglas to Prevost, 8 June 1853, requesting him to inquire into the causes that led the natives to capture the Susan Sturges, and advising that John Kennedy, Chief Trader in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, would accompany him to give assistance.  
    • 3.1 Notice, dated 24 May 1853, posted by Prevost at Mitchell Harbour. [P. 59]  
    • 4.1 Matthew Rooney to Douglas, 22 December 1852, describing the capture of the Susan Sturges and her crew. [P. 60]  
 
Despatch to London:
Douglas to Newcastle, 8 June 1853, National Archives of the UK, 8062, CO 305/4. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871. Ed. James Hendrickson and the Colonial Despatches project. Victoria: University of Victoria. http://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/getDoc.htm?id=V53202.scx. Accessed 18 September 2018. 

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