No. 224
18 October 1859
My Lord Duke
Since I had last the honor of addressing Your Grace on the 13th of September, I have been engaged in making an official tour in British Columbia, in the course of which I visited the towns of New WestminsterManuscript imageNew Westminster, Langley, Douglas, Fort Hope, and Yale, travelled through the passes of Fraser's River to Spuzzum, and inspected all the Mining Districts West of that place.
2. In my progress through the country I have had opportunities of conversing familiarly with the people, of ascertaining, by personal intercourse, their wants and views, their real and fancied grievances, and of studying practically the best means of promoting the settlement and permanent interests of the Colony.
3. I more especially directed my enquiries into the working of the "Gold Fields "Act"Manuscript imageAct," which came into operation in the month of August last, and was much gratified to find that the Act had been viewed with satisfaction, and met the approval of the mining population of the Colony.
4. It has, however, some objectionable features which will require amendment. The small size of the Bar and Bank claims prescribed by the Act, the former limited to Twenty five feet frontage on the banks of great rivers, and the latter to a space of Twenty-five by Thirty feet, was perhaps the most general and almost the only serious objection made to it; and it must be admitted thatManuscript imagethat the objection applies with great force to ground which has already been worked over, and to places where the pay streak is thin and deeply covered with Soil, which the miner has to remove at a great expense before the gold can be obtained.
5. There was a general feeling last year among the Miners in favour of the minute subdivision of the mining ground into distinct claims; but that feeling no doubt arose from the greater number of Miners in the field, the limited extent of the then known auriferous districts, and the natural desire of each to possess a separate miningManuscript imagemining claim. The Revenue is so largely benefited by that subdivision, as each mining claim is required to pay an annual charge of One Pound Sterling into the Colonial Exchequer, that the principle was, without hesitation, and for that reason only, adopted in the "Gold Fields Act."
6. In constructing that Act, it was foreseen that no mining law, however comprehensive, could be made applicable to the wants and circumstances of an extensive country like British Columbia, and the expedient was therefore resorted to of providing for the establishment of Elective Mining Boards in everyManuscript imageevery District, with power to frame Bye Laws regulating the size of claims, and otherwise of adapting the provisions of the General Act to the particular circumstances of each Mining District.
7. Until the Mining Boards are constituted, the Assistant Gold Commissioners are empowered to grant relief in all cases of real hardship, or whenever the public or the interests of individual Miners may be endangered through the rigid enforcement of the Act; and it was also decided that in certain cases where Miners have incurred much preliminary outlay on account of their claims, that the same person may be allowed toManuscript imageto hold more than one mining claim, under a lease from the Crown, and at a rental equal to the revenue accruing to the Colony from an equal number of mining claims held by different persons; an arrangement which gave general satisfaction, and will, I have no doubt, remove all cause of complaint in respect to the extent of mining claims.
8. I met, in the course of my journey, with roving miners from every part of British Columbia, and ascertained from them many interesting facts connected with the Gold Districts. Last year an impression was generally entertained by the Miners that the Gold depositsManuscript imagedeposits had been made by Fraser's River, and that the Gold was brought down by the Stream from a source existing somewhere in the main range of the Rocky Mountains; they have since discovered that not only the bed, but also the higher banks of the Fraser, which rise terrace-like one above the other as they recede towards the hills on either side, are composed of auriferous earth, and beds of water-worn gravel, a circumstance that has led them, not illogically, to the conclusion that the river occupied at some former period, a much higher level than its present bed; and that the water has been drainedManuscript imagedrained off, by its gradual deepening through the natural process of attrition, or by Volcanic agency.
9. Alluvial diggings of extraordinary value have been discovered on Quesnel River, a tributary which flows into the Fraser about Fifty miles beyond Alexandria. Some adventurous Miners have ascended this Stream as far as the lake of the same name from which it rises, and have been rewarded with rich strikes; as much, it is reported, as £40 a day having been made to the hand, but instances of such goodManuscript imagegood fortune are uncommon.
One circumstance, however, which deserves to be recorded, and which is established almost beyond a doubt, through the concurring testimony of the Miners who have seen the Country, is the fact that the channels of Fraser River to a distance of 150 Miles beyond Fort George, the extreme point to which they have yet prospected, are found to be auriferous, yielding on every Bar, from Twenty, to Twenty five shillings a day to the hand.
10. I fell in with three persons who left St. Pauls, Minnesota, some time last yearManuscript imageyear; they passed the winter in the Rocky Mountains, continued their journey Westward in the Spring, and struck the South Branch of Fraser River near "Tete Jaune's Cache". They saw many veins of Quartz on the Western Slopes of the Mountains, and beds of reddish earth, which in California are considered a sure indication of the presence of Gold; they prospected the banks of the South Fraser, as they dropped down the stream in a rudely formed canoe, and were nowhere disappointed in finding Gold in highly remunerative quantities.
11. The District between Yale and Lytton abounds in rich Bank and Bar diggings. Mr W. GillManuscript imageMr W. Gill, a respectable merchant residing at Fort Yale, assured me that he once saw 74 ounces of Gold Dust taken out of one mining claim at Boston Bar, by three men in twenty four hours, and that the same claim yielded regularly from Forty-eight to Fifty ounces of Gold a day for about four weeks, when the holders were driven out by a sudden rise in the River, the claim being only accessible at extreme low water for about four weeks in the year.
12. The Miners also report the presence of Gold in the various little streams between Pavillion and Alexandria, andManuscript imageand in short, believe that there is Gold in almost every part of the Country.
13. Two veins of Gold-bearing Quartz were discovered by a party of Cornish Miners near Fort Hope, during the time I remained at that place, and the discoverers, who entertain sanguine hopes of success, intend to work them as rapidly as their scanty means will permit.
14. The District between Hope and Yale is not so populous as last year; the present mining population consisting of about 600 persons... The washing is now principally done byManuscript imageby sluicing, which requires fewer men and does much more work than the process of hand-washing. A large amount of capital is invested in ditches, which carry supplies of water for sluicing to every Mining Bar in this District; The Miners, whose operations were previously confined to the bed of Fraser's River, are thus enabled to widen their field of labour by pushing shafts and other mining works into the Banks far above the highest water levels of the River. One of those Ditches is five miles long, and runs through ground replete with engineering difficulties, which have been overcome with a degree of skill and dexterity, andManuscript imageand with a paucity of means, that excites a feeling of admiration at the practical talent, and daring enterprise displayed in the construction.
15. When the Gold-lead or pay streak is deeply seated, the amount of labour which has to be executed, is something almost incredible; the whole of the surface-earth, often twenty-five feet in depth, with its covering of bush and forest trees of enormous size, having to be removed before the treasure can be grasped.
16. There exist extensive dry diggings from Yale upwards towards the Fountain, which for want of water have not been made available for mining; but it is believed that the neighbouring mountainsManuscript imagemountains contain abundant sources from whence supplies of water may be brought in, and every inducement will be offered to persons desirous of embarking capital in enterprises of so much public utility, and which are indispensable in the development of the Gold Fields.
17. The Mining population of the District, extending from Yale to the Fountain, is supposed to exceed 800 men, and about 1000 men are engaged in the same pursuits between Alexandria, Fort George and Quesnel's River; it is however supposed that the miners in the latter District will be compelled by the severity of the weather to abandon it in winter, the cold being then intense, often 20 degrees below Zero (Fahrenheit), the RiversManuscript imageRivers frozen, and the ground invariably covered with snow in the months between November and March. Surface mining is therefore impossible at that season, and the miner has no inducement to remain, and possibly has not means enough to purchase a supply of food to keep him until the return of the mining season. Those remarks on the climate apply exclusively to the upper Districts of Fraser's River, and not to the country below Alexandria, which enjoys a comparatively mild, dry and pleasant climate.
18. The value of the present gold exports from British Columbia is estimated at £14,000 a month, or £168,000 per annum; but this estimate doesManuscript imagedoes not include the large amount of Gold Dust remaining in the hands of the Miners, nor give a just idea of the whole quantity produced, which no doubt far exceeds the value herein stated.
19. The entire white population of British Columbia does not probably exceed 5,000 men, there being, with the exception of a few families, neither wives nor children to refine and soften, by their presence, the dreariness and asperity of existence.
20. A very marked improvement has taken place, since my last visit, in the Towns of Yale, Douglas and Hope; the buildings, though entirelyManuscript imageentirely of wood, being well and neatly constructed, and it was even more gratifying to observe the growing respectability and quiet orderly deportment of the resident population.
21. In each of those places as well as at New Westminster and Derby, Divine Service is regularly performed by resident clergymen; and the almost total absence of crime, shews how usefully and extensively their influence is felt.
22. No schools have been as yet established in the Colony; but my attention will be given to the subject of education, and provision made for elementary schools, whenever the wants of the country render them necessary.
23. These Manuscript image
23. These facts, carefully selected from the mass of material collected during my late excursion will convey to Your Grace an idea of the present social and industrial condition of the Colony of British Columbia; and I will now proceed to the notice of other matters, of no less importance.
24. The Colony is yet destitute of one highly important element, it has no farming class; the population being almost entirely composed of Miners and Merchants. The attention of Government has been very anxiously directed to the means of providing for that want by the encouragement of agricultural settlers, a class which must eventually form theManuscript imagethe basis of the population, cultivate and improve the face of the Country, and render it a fit habitation for civilized man. The miner is at best a producer, and leaves no traces but those of desolation behind; the Merchant is allured by the hope of gain; but the durable prosperity and substantial wealth of States is no doubt derived from the cultivation of the soil. Without the farmers aid, British Columbia must for ever remain a desert, be drained of its wealth, and dependant on other Countries for daily food.
25. The Colony has not proved attractive to agricultural settlers. The Surveyed Country land was all put up to public sale at New Westminster on theManuscript imagethe 5th and 6th of the present month (October), when four lots only were sold, none of which realized more than the upset price of ten Shillings an acre, as there was no competition and few purchasers.
26. At Douglas and Hope various applications were made to me, for rural land, by persons who had taken a fancy to the country, and in some instances made valuable improvements. They asked to be secured in the ownership of any land they might improve, at the upset price of ten shillings an acre; and that it should not be exposed to public sale, with a value enhanced by their own labour and outlay, as in that case they would either have to purchase their own improvements orManuscript imageor see their prosperity pass into other hands.
27. There was nothing unreasonable in their proposal, and as meeting their views would, I felt assured, have the effect of promoting the settlement of the country, I had every wish to do so, but there was a difficulty in accomplishing the object, for the reason that no Country land had been surveyed in those Districts, nor could surveys be completed before next year, when the petitioners would probably all have left the Colony in disgust. I therefore had recourse to an expedient which fully met the case, without sacrifice to the Government, and to the perfect satisfaction of the public, by issuing a circular addressedManuscript imageaddressed to the Assistant Commissioners of Crown Lands at Hope, Yale, Douglas, Lytton, and Cayoosh, directing them to permit all persons being at the time British subjects, and all persons who have recorded their intention of becoming British Subjects, to hold tracts of unsurveyed Crown Land, not being Town sites, nor sites of Indian Villages, and not exceeding 160 acres in extent, with a guarantee that the same would be fully conveyed to the holder when the land is surveyed, at a price not to exceed ten shillings an acre.
28. This is in fact the basis of a preemption Law founded on occupation and improvement, the Government agreeing on those conditionsManuscript imageconditions to convey the land at a fixed price; it being moreover provided that the rights of actual settlers, of those persons only who are found in possession when the land is surveyed will be recognized and allowed. Persons wishing to acquire larger tracts will be required to pay a deposit of five shillings per acre on all land over 160 acres preempted for their benefit; a condition intended to serve as a protection to bona-fide settlers, and to prevent speculators from preying on the public, and defeating the proposed object of encouraging the settlement of the Country.
29. If that plan should fail in attracting a population I think it will be advisable to resort to a Canadian system of making free grants not exceeding 100Manuscript image100 acres of rural land to actual settlers, on condition of their making certain specified improvements.
30. The great object of opening roads from the sea-coast into the interior of the country, and from New Westminster to Burrard's inlet and Pitt River, continues to claim a large share of my attention. The labour involved by these works is enormous, but so essential are they as a means of settling and developing the resources of the Country, that their importance can hardly be overrated; and I therefore feel it incumbent on me to strain every nerve in forwarding the progress of undertakings so manifestly conducive to the prosperity of the Colony, and which at the same time cannot fail ere long to produce a large increaseManuscript imageincrease in the public revenue.
31. We hope to complete the last section of a pack-road leading by the left bank of the Fraser, from Derby to Lytton, a distance of 170 miles, on, or before the 1st day of February next. From Lytton, a natural pack-road now exists leading to Red River Settlement by the Coutannais Pass, through the Rocky Mountains, and from thence following the valley of the Sascatchewan, chiefly over an open Prairie Country of great beauty, and replete with objects of interest to the tourist and the sportsman; a settler may then take his departure from Red River in spring with his cattle and stock, and reach BritishManuscript imageBritish Columbia by that road in course of the autumn following. This is no mere theory, the experiment having been repeatedly made by parties of Red River people travelling to Colvile, from whence there is a good road to Lytton; so much so indeed that one of those persons assured me that the whole distance from Lytton to Red River, with the exception of the Coutainnais Pass, which is thickly wooded, may be safely travelled with carts.
If the Canadian Government would undertake to open a road from Red River to the borders of Lake Superior, which really presents no very formidable difficulties, the connection between British Columbia and CanadaManuscript imageCanada would be complete, and the whole distance might I think, be travelled on British Soil.
32. The declared value of British Columbia Imports for the Quarter ending with the 30th day of September last is 207,848 dollars; and the Customs receipts for the same period, amount to £5202, against £4242 for the preceding quarter, shewing an increase on the latter of £960. A large sum has also been derived from Sales of Town Land, Licenses and other sources of Revenue, but those returns not having been received mustManuscript imagemust be reserved for a future communication.
Trusting that these details may not prove unacceptable,
I have etc.
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
This despatch supplies some general information respecting the condition of the Colony, which will be found useful in endeavouring to form a just idea of the actual position and progress of the Country.
1. The white population is estimated at 5000 (It was 4,000 in June).
2. The exports of Gold are about £14,000 a month.
3. There are no agricultural settlers and the Country Lands are apparently unsaleable at 10/- Manuscript imagean acre. (Par. 25)
4. The Customs duties are producing about £20,000 a year.
5. Par. 31 points out the natural facilities which exist for the construction of a road as far as the Red River.
The despatch should be referred to the Emigration Commrs for a report on the measures to which Governor Douglas has had recourse in granting rights of occupation & preemption of unsurveyed Lands, & the suggestion of making free grants.
HT Irving 29 Dec
Mr Merivale
Paragraph 31 seems very important. Proceed as proposed? Send an extract of that Par. to Govr Genl of Canada?
TFE 20/12
The Duke of Newcastle has already before him the question of admitting the tenure of land before survey & that of preemptive rights, which it seems to me the Governor has now practically solved, for it will not be easy, if desirable, to recede from what he has done. He is disposed to the Canadian system of free grant along lines of road, & I am much inclined to think him right. The question here being, not to attract a population from a distance, but to tie down an existing nomadic population to the soil. I think copy of the whole despatch had better go to Sir E. Head for information.
HM D 21
I consider this a very satisfactory despatch as regards the future of this Manuscript imageColony. I have already expressed my preference of Captn Clarke's Victoria plan to the preemptive scheme, but the latter is a great improvement in such a Colony as B. Columbia upon the slow process of Survey & Sale and I have no doubt it will give an impetus to Agricultural speculation—without which the Colony will never thrive.
Paragraphs 30 & 31 are highly interesting, but I am sorry to say Sir E. Head writes to me privately much less hopefully on this subject. Send him however copy of this despatch.
It will only be necessary to refer, in answering Govr D, to the despatch which covered Captn Clarke's draft of an Order in Council.
N 31
Other documents included in the file
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Draft reply, Newcastle to Sir E. Head, Canada, No. 4, 19 January 1860.
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Draft, Merivale to Emigration Commissioners, 20 January 1860, forwarding copy of the despatch for suggestions and observations.
Douglas, James to Pelham-Clinton, Henry Pelham Fiennes 18 October 1859, CO 60:5, no. 12499, 174. 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/B59224.html.

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