No. 137
12 April 1859
Sir
I regret to state that no small amount of injury has undoubtedly been caused to the Colony of British Columbia by the owners of the Steam Boats, which are now, and have been for some time past running on Fraser's River.
These individuals are citizens of the United States and they oppress alike the MinerManuscript imageMiner and the Merchant by their exorbitant charges for passage and freight.
2. The rate now levied for the transport of a Ton of goods from this place to Fort Hope is Seventy-two dollars, or more than £14 Sterling. The charge made last summer when I possessed the power of regulating prices was Twenty-five dollars or £5 a ton from this place to Fort Yale, which is fifteen miles of difficult navigation beyond Fort Hope, and large profits were made at that rate.
I fear the owners are now continuing to perpetuate the evil by taking out British Registers for their vessels, by means of transfers to British Subjects which thereManuscript imagethere is every reason to believe are only nominal and fictitious, although all the requirements of the law being complied with it is difficult to establish legal proof of that fact.
3. In this part of the world competition is not allowed to produce its legitimate effects; it is the practice to buy up every rival line or to pay them handsomely for allowing their ships to be idle, and the public are charged a higher rate to cover the additional expense which their oppressions have incurred.
The American Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company is a notable example of this method of proceeding, this Company having hitherto bought off every line establishedManuscript imageestablished to compete with it. I will instance another case. Last year a Steamboat called the "Maria" was started on the Sacramento River in opposition to the Boats of I believe the California Steam Navigation Company. She was bought off by that Company. Her proprietor immediately brought her up to this place to run on Fraser's River, buying off another boat which he, on arrival found on the River, and sending this second boat down to San Francisco to commence another opposition on the Sacramento River in order to be again bought off.
4. The Victoria Steam Navigation Company, a British Company, who have one large River Steamer employed between thisManuscript imagethis port and Langley, are now engaged in building a smaller vessel for the higher navigation of Fraser's River. The Directors of this Company lately applied to me for the protection of Government against the machinations of these Foreign speculators. I commented upon the extravagant rate of freight and suggested a large reduction as the best means of meeting their competitors, whereupon the Directors offered to provide vessels in sufficient numbers to perform the whole transport business on Fraser's River at the rate of Twenty-five Dollars or £5 Sterling a ton, provided they were secured against these, in reality American owners of British registered vesselsManuscript imagevessels, in the exclusive privilege of navigating the River until the end of next September.
Monopoly would in such a case be a public gain, but being illegal I could not entertain the proposal, though I cannot but regret that under such circumstances I have no power by which I could protect the public interest.
5. The Directors further assured me that they had been invited by the American Owners to join in the combination for maintaining the high rates of freight; but as the Directors declined making the Statement in writing no legal use could be made of it.
6. The Government legalManuscript imagelegal authorities here are of opinion that we have no power to refuse the change of Register from American to British even for vessels employed in British Inland waters.
7. I transmit a copy of two letters from the Secretary of the before mentioned company, and as the matter is one of much importance to the interests of the Colony, as well as being a National question, I should feel obliged if it were submitted for the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and that I may be informed whether I should be justified in withholding a British Register from Vessels becoming British under such circumstancesManuscript imagecircumstances as those described, which appear to me simply an evasion of the law.
I have etc.
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
Would you think it useful to refer this desph &c to the Board of Trade before any other steps are taken with it?
ABd 28/5
This might be the best course? The question seems an awkward one.
HM My 31
To the Bd of Trade at once—requesting from them the earliest answer. I think that the papers might, to save time wh is valuable at the present season, be simultaneously referred to the Law Officers asking them for an early reply wh wd be communicated to Govr Douglas by the 16th.
C June 1
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Merivale to J. Booth, Board of Trade, 8 June 1859, forwarding copy of the despatch for consideration.
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Draft, Merivale to Attorney General and Solicitor General, 8 June 1859, forwarding copy of the despatch for consideration.
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Draft reply, Newcastle to Douglas, No. 3, 30 June 1859.
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
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James N. Thain, Secretary, Victoria Steam Navigation Company, and Alexander S. Murray, British Columbia Steam Navigation Company, to Douglas, 7 April 1859, requesting exclusive navigation rights to the Fraser River.
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Thain and Murray to Douglas, 7 April 1859, stating that foreign steamboat owners were taking out British registers for their vessels.
Douglas, James to Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer 12 April 1859, CO 60:4, no. 5449, 286. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. James Hendrickson and the Colonial Despatches project. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/B59137.html.

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