No. 42
Victoria Vancouver's Island
11th December 1854
Sir
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt, on the 6th of Inst of your Despatch No 3, of the 20th of August last, transmitting copy of a Petition *
*
Vide C/5924 at the end of this volume.  
to the Queen, together with the copy of a Memorial addressed to the Duke of Newcastle, by certain inhabitants of Vancouvers Island, complaining of the composition of the recently established Supreme Court of Civil Justice, and of other matters affecting the good
government
government of the settlements on Vancouver's Island, and your desire that I should furnish you with an early report upon those complaints, which I shall now do.  
The Petition to the Queen after the usual Preamble goes on to assert that the Petitioners are "groaning" under grievances inflicted by the Local Government of this Colony of Vancouver's Island, that there can be no sound basis for happiness, amongst a people, where the Courts of Justice, are not pure, efficient and reliable, then proceeds to state their wish to have the laws of our country ably and impartially administered, by men of integrity, ability, learning and experience, and closes by intreating that Her Majesty would graciously cause a strict inquiry to be immediately instituted into the circumstances of the recent creation of a Court, entitled "The Supreme Court of Civil Justice for Vancouver's Island" and the appointment of Mr David Cameron the Governor's Brother-in
-law
-law as Judge of the same,["] and by declaring their belief that whilst it is allowed to continue, they cannot but complain of, as an intolerable grievance, which they pray may be speedily removed.  
In reporting on this Petition I am really at a loss how to treat the subject brought before Her Majesty for redress, or what to explain, or what to defend, as the grievances alluded to in the Petition, are not stated, and I have carefully reported to Her Majesty's Government every step that has been taken by this Government, in the establishment of the supreme court of Civil Justice, and the reasons, which led to the temporary appointment of Mr Cameron, as Judge, and I trust it will appear that the sole object of those measures has been to maintain the purity and efficiency of the Courts of Justice, and to secure the impartial administration of the Laws.  
I moreover feel confident that
no
no instant of neglect of duty, in that respect, can be justly laid to the charge of the Governor and Council of this Colony.  
I will now proceed to recapitulate for your information the causes which induced the Council to decide on establishing the supreme Court. I have on various occasions informed Her Majesty's Government, that as Governor of Vancouver's Island, I had no person of experience to advise or assist me in the administration of public affairs, the entire onus and responsibility of which consequently devolved on me.  
As a relief from the unceasing calls upon my time, for the settlement of disputes between the Colonists, I appointed in the month of March 1853, during Her Majesty's pleasure, four persons to fill the office of Justice of Peace in this Colony, and it was
decided
decided that they should hold a petty session on the first Thursday of every month, and a general session four times a year, and to them I referred all disputes that properly came within the Jurisdiction of a Justice's Court.  
In the month of June following I had occasion to call Mr Skinner, one of the Justices then appointed, to account for issuing a rash and ill considered process, at the instigation of Mr Webster, a crafty American Adventurer, who was striving to secure a monopoly of the timber exports from Soke District.  
That person accompanied the constable employed by Justice Skinner, in serving the process, to the settlement at Soke. The Constable there arrested, without any just cause, and at the suggestion of the said Webster, two vessels, one English and one American, which were taking in cargoes of Spars, commanding the masters of those ships in
the
the Queen's name, to receive no more timber on board of their vessels.  
On complaint being made to me by the said Masters, of that unjustifiable act, I ordered the vessels to be immediately released from custody, and pursuaded the sufferers to overlook the proceeding, which had evidently arisen from ignorance of the Law, and not from malicious motives, on the part of the Magistrate.  
In the month of Septr 1853 a case was tried here before the Justice's Court, which attracted much attention in this country.  
It was commenced at the suit of the before mentioned Webster, against the Muirs, an industrious family holding several hundred acres of land at Soke, and was decided in a very hasty manner against the defendants, who where condemned to pay damages to the
amount
amount of 2213 dollars, besides the costs of suit.  
The manifest injustice of that sentence to which I soon afterwards called the attention of the Council, see Extract of minutes of Council 20th Septr 1853, transmitted with my Despatch No 2 of the 7th Jany 1854, deeply impressed upon my mind the necessity of limiting the Jurisdiction of the Justice's Court, to matters strictly within their province, and legal experience, and of making a better provision for the administration of Justice, by establishing a higher Court, where cases of importance might be carefully heard and investigated, proper records kept, and justice as much as possible be done to all parties.  
In the mean time until that measure was carried into effect I appointed Mr Cameron
to
to the office of Justice of the Peace, and enjoined him to keep proper records of every important case, and to be careful in observing the forms required by Law, which from the ignorance of the other Magistrates, had been previously neglected in the Justice's Court.  
I was also induced to take that step by the proceedings of Mr Webster, who encouraged by his former success, had commenced a fresh suit, founded on some frivolous pretext, against the unfortunate Muirs, a circumstance of which Mr Muir, Senior, with tears in his eyes, came to inform me; and strange as it may appear, after that addition to the bench, Mr Webster decamped, and has never returned to this Colony.  
The establishment of a Supreme Court, was thus in the first place suggested by the inefficiency of the Justices Court,
and
and was moreover rendered indespensable by the increasing wants of the Colony, and the absence of any other Court properly possessed of Jurisdiction in Civil cases. There is nothing unconstitutional in the nature of the Supreme Court, nor inconsistent with the practice of the Mother country, and of all other British Colonies. The constitution and forms of pleading drawn up by Mr Cameron, were transmitted in my Despatch No 2, of the 7th Jany 1854 for consideration and correction; and I therefore cannot conceive by what process of reasoning the authors of the Petition could be led to suppose that a measure so manifestly intended for the protection of the subject, and the efficient administration of Justice, could be intended as an invasion of their civil rights.  
The temporary appointment of Mr Cameron to the office of Judge of that Court might be so considered, as he has no doubt his faults like other men, but I am confident of his
firmness
firmness and integrity, and fully convinced that he will not wilfully commit an act of injustice, nor decide on a point of Law, which he does not fully understand, and besides there is no other disposable person in the Colony so well qualified by experience or legal knowledge to fill the office which were he suspended, must for want of a qualified person, remain vacant.  
I beg also to remark that I have no wish to retain Mr Cameron as Judge, and will suspend the temporary appointment made to him, should, such be your wish; in that case however a Judge should be sent out from England, otherwise the clamour will be equally great among the Colonists, for the want of a properly constituted Civil Court.  
The argument of the petitioners, founded on the fact of Mr Cameron's being a Servant of the Hudson's Bay Company, will apply with equal force to the other Magistrates, as they are Servants of the Puget Sound
Company
Company, and in a much more dependent position than Mr Cameron; this is however an unavoidable evil, as there are no qualified persons in the Colony for such offices, except the officers of those Companies.  
The Memorial to the Duke of Newcastle, appears to be a mere repetition of the complaints set forth in the Petition to the Queen. My opinion of Mr Cameron's character and capacity has been before stated. I highly approve of his manly and fearless conduct, in the administration of Justice, and in checking neglect and the careless discharge of duty on the part of his brother Magistrates. He did so in consequence of my instructions, and the accompanying Copy of an address, forwarded to me and signed by all the Free holders in the Colony except two
will
will shew that his services were appreciated by those who have really an interest at stake in the Colony, and that they did not think with the Memorialists that the appointment of Mr Cameron would endanger either their property or their personal safety, or that "he had acted with notorious and gross partiality" in the capacity of Justice of the Peace.  
Those charges against Mr Cameron are I believe without any foundation in truth. Any parties so aggrieved had a right to appeal to the Governor & Council, for redress, a right which is well understood, and the people here are not slow in using it, yet no appeal has ever been made to the Council against any of Mr Camerons legal proceedings.  
The Memoralists in stating that the appointment of Mr Cameron, was hurried through the Council, in one day, are evidently in error, as you may observe by Copy of the Minutes of Council held on the 20th day of September 1853, transmitted
with
with my Despatch No 2, of the 7th January 1854, which will show that the inefficiency of the Justices Court, and the establishment of a superior Civil Court, as a protection to person and property, were the subjects discussed on that day, the 20th of Septr; and that the Council adjourned without coming to a decision, till the following 23rd of Septr when the measure, as it now stands was finally decided on.  
Mr Cooper's complaint of having been "betrayed into acquiescence with Mr Cameron's appointment," is therefore as unreasonable, as his weak and vacillating conduct was unseemly, at a time when he was bound to support the measures of Council, knowing them, as he admitted, to be necessary for the proper administration of Justice, and solely intended to promote the best interests of the Colony.  
I really do not understand what the Memorialists refer to in the closing paragraph of that Document, as no attempt has been ever made "to deprive them of their just rights, or to require the sacrifice of their dearest interests, or to exercise over them a lawless and
arbitrary
arbitrary Power."  
They have not ventured to specify their "real grievances" nor the wrongs inflicted upon them "nor the grievances under which they are deeply suffering," neither have they ever stated them to me. I have therefore come to the conclusion that those grievances are less real, than imaginary, a conclusion, strengthened by the present prosperous state of the country. The people moreover appear happy and contented, the frugal and industrious are rapidly improving their condition in life, there are no taxes nor public burdens, the Laws are justly administered, the means of education are extending, intemperance is on the decrease, and crimes are almost unknown; in short, since the departure of the Revd Mr Staines, and his co-adjutor Mr Swanston, I have not heard a complaint from any person in this Colony, except in regard to the sale price of Land, which seems to be the only real grievance affecting the Colonists generally, and that grievance, I have no power to redress.  
Mr Staines unfortunately for himself was a violent party man, and was prudent neither in his conduct,
nor
nor associations; the affidavit of William Conolly, herewith transmitted does not give an exalted opinion of his loyalty or attachment to his country, seeing he was using his influence to encourage Her Majesty's Subjects, to take lands on the Arro Islands, under the United States, thereby aiding and abetting the contemplated encroachments of that Government on Her Majesty's Territories.  
I have the honor to be Sir
Your Grace's most obedient humble Servant
James Douglas
Governor

The Right Honorable Sir George Grey Bart.
Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State
For the Colonial Department
Minutes by CO staff
Lord Palmerston
See 5924.  
I think Govr Douglas sufficiently answers the objections taken, and should propose to inform him so; unless indeed you are prepared to appoint a regular lawyer to this office, and to require of the H.B.Co. to make provision for the payment of his salary.  
But the answer may wait until the necessary Order in Council, to constitute a Supreme Court, is sent out.  
HM
Mh 22
Wait till then.
 
P
1/4-55
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
  • 1. Copy, memorial to Douglas, 11 January 1854, signed by 54 persons "holding landed property or otherwise interested in the welfare of the Colony," condemning the recent petition protesting the appointment of David Cameron as judge, which they claim was signed by persons "without having any real grievance to complain of, of whom not a few were absolutely unacquainted with the substance of the petition they signed." The memorial bears the names of 14 persons who signed the original petition.  
  • 2. Affidavit of William Conolly to John Work, 15 March 1854, reporting that Staines, who no longer had need for his services, had encouraged him go to San Juan and take possesion of land so as to establish pre-emption rights there because Colonel Ebey would be arriving the following week to take possession of the island for the United States government.  
 
Despatch to London:
Douglas to Grey, Sir George, 11 December 1854, National Archives of the UK, 1918, CO 305/5. 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=V54042.scx. Accessed 21 November 2017. 

Last modified: 14:09:01, 16/2/2015