Elliott to Lytton
15 Vallatort Villas Stoke,
Devonport
31st August 1858
Sir,
Your letter of the 17th inst: relative to the information I volunteered respecting Vancouvers Island should have had earlier attention had not illness prevented it.  
When I first visited Vancouvers Island in HMS Pandora in 1846 & 8 it was not Colonised, the only Inhabitants except Indians being about Thirty all of whom were Servants of the Hudson Bay Company; the Indians were then very numerous and in some parts hostile. On returning again in 1857 in HMS Plumper I found a few Farms had been established in the Neighbourhood of Esquimalt Harbour by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company and taking an interest in, and having some knowledge of agriculture, I took an early opportunity of examining the progress made, and the nature and quality of the Soil and the best Crops likely to be obtained from it. In the first place the Farms I found were not under the direction of practical Men and with one exception but little had been done. The exception I allude to is a Farm of about 600 Acres under the direction of a Mr Langford who had 200 acres under the plough in a very good working condition, and his Crop of Wheat looked extremely well. Barley and Oats were not above the earth but I was informed that they both produced good Crops, the average per acre being Wheat 30 Bushels, Barley 30, Oats 35 and in nearly all places the Potatoe thrives very well. In walking over these Farms in the Autumn what particularly attracted my attention was the almost total absence of green Crops, such as Turnips, Cabbage, Carrots &c for winter meat for their Cattle, and altho the Farms have been established some 5 years, not a grass seed had been sown, therefore they had nothing to depend on for out door food should the Winter prove severe. The Winter passed to the middle of February 1858 very mild, when a sudden change took place and the Thermometer fell to plus 5 or 27 degrees below the freezing point. This lasted a week, and I heard many of the Farmers say that had it continued another week they would scarcely have had a head of Cattle remaining out of a herd of several hundred bullocks and Sheep. Such a state of things in such a beautiful Country I think highly reprehensible and only requires a few practical energetic Farmers to establish themselves to show forth to the Western World the Capabilities of one of the finest and most fertile Islands in the Globe. I must here remark that in the Months of Janry February and March the Sheep get so poor as to be almost unfit for food and the Bullocks have been refused by the Men of the Ships of War.  
The Soil is principally composed of a black Vegetable Mould of from a foot to 18 inches in depth and covering a hard clay. In other places it is light and Sandy of a cream color not above a foot deep and covering Limestone which is abundant and produces very good lime either for building or manure.  
The Island so far as is at present Known is in most parts much wooded but in the Cowitchin Valley about 70 miles above Victoria, there are many thousand acres almost without a Tree or a Shrub, here the Farmer could put his plough into the ground at once. It may not be out of place to here quote the remark of the American Commissioner (Mr Campbell) who visited Cowitchin in HMS Satellite in 1857, viz that it was worth the whole of Washington Territory. I do not anticipate that Vancouvers Island will ever become a great agricultural Country or grow much more than the requirements for its Population, on account of its being so much wooded, but it produces the finest Timber in the world, and on its being opened up will doubtless be found rich in Iron, Copper, Tin, Potters Clay, Coal and probably Gold.  
The Sea face of the Island is at present little known but I have reason to believe that on its being Surveyed we shall find it contains some very fine harbours accessible at all times to Sailing Vessels, in which case it would save the tedious passage to Esquimalt which is about 60 miles up the Straits of Fuca.  
The Climate altho the Island is situated in the same Latitude as England does not resemble it, in the Winter months or from December to March scarcely a day passes
without
without heavy showers, or continuous rain, and after April little or no rain falls, the Temperature is also higher in the Summer, and during the Months of June and July thick fogs are prevalent lasting in some instances for three weeks, and obscuring everything.  
The Island of San Juan, or Belle View is about 15 miles from Victoria altho only about 5 from the nearest point of Vancouvers, the land here is very similar to Vancouvers only not so thickly wooded, the Puget Sound Agricultural Company have a large Farm there under cultivation, and the Americans have placed there an officer of the Customs who acts in his Capacity on all Vessels calling, even the things landed by the H.B.C's Vessels for the use of their Servants undergo his scrutiny. This Island I consider is of vast importance to us from its near proximity to Vancouvers and would no doubt if ours save us many a trouble with our lawless neighbours, and I cannot see what it could ever benefit them, except as a near retreat for any act committed against the laws established at Vancouver.  
In
In conclusion I beg to state that I shall at all times be most happy to answer any questions that may arise relative to Vancouvers or vicinity.  
And have the honor to be Sir
your obedT Servant
W. Elliott
Paymaster R.N.
Minutes by CO staff
Mr Merivale
Thank the writer for this communication.  
ABd
6 Sepr
Yes. The letter is moreover worth reading.  
HM
S 7
His information as regards the climate is worth noting, though thick fogs for three weeks continuously during June & July seem strange. As regards grass seeds &c I do not see why a small stock cd not be sent out to Govr Douglas in the freight ship. The bulk of such articles wd be very small & they might be very useful.
Lord C. This has been provided for. We have allowed 5 for Seeds.  
ABd
 
It seems from this account that S. Juan—the key to the islands wh connect V. Couvers I. with the Mainland—is already appreciated by the Americans who have established an officer there. I thought that it was temporarily at all events in our hands?  
C
Sep 8
Send an Extract from this letter to Lord Malmesbury. I mean that which states the Americans have established a Customs House at St Juan. Enquire whether Lord M. thinks they have that right.
Look to past correspce on this point  
ABd
State that some of these islands
The writer refers only to V.C. Island
ABd
claimed by the Americans in the Channel are stated to have good harbours & that it is of the utmost importance in a military & maritime point of view—to obtain if possible from the Americans the cession of these islands & not to relinquish St Juan especially if it can be avoided.  
EBL
Other documents included in the file
  • Richard Mayne to Lytton, 2 September 1858, private note enclosing the letter from Elliott and advising of that gentleman's willingness to proceed to London to communicate further on the subject of Vancouver Island.  
  • Draft, Colonial Office to Elliott, 22 September 1858, thanking him for his communication.  
  • Draft, Colonial Office to E. Hammond, Foreign Office 25 September 1858, forwarding extract of the letter for their information and stressing the importance of the islands off Vancouver Island.  
 
Correspondence (private letter):
Elliott to Lytton, 31 August 1858, National Archives of the UK, 9088, CO 305/9. 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=V586E04.scx. Accessed 20 July 2018. 

Last modified: 13:42:34, 21/1/2016