Murdoch to Merivale (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Emigration Office
23 September 1859
I have to acknowledge your letter of 2nd Instant enclosing a Despatch from Governor Douglas on the present state of British Columbia, and expressing the desire of the Duke of Newcastle to be furnished with any observations which occur to us upon it.
2. Governor Douglas commences by an epitome of a Report recently furnished to him by Mr Sanders theManuscript imagethe Assistant Gold Commissioner, the substance of which could not be stated more succinctly than in their Despatch. The effect of it is to show that the land along the whole course of Frazers River is highly auriferous, that probably a large part of the interior of the Colony is equally so, and that even the lands that have been worked are so far from exhausted that additional skill and labour would again render them very productive and profitable. Govr Douglas further reports that detachmentsManuscript imagedetachments of Sappers and Marines are actively employed in opening Roads, that the traffic on the roads that have been opened is very great, and that the expense of transport has been reduced from 37 Cents per lb last winter to 10 cents per lb at present. He adds that while on Frazers River there are large Tracts of land adapted for settlement, on Harrison's River, which is less fertile, there are forests of magnificent trees and great water power, so that each will contribute thoughManuscript imagethough in a different way, to the wealth of the Country. From Harrisons River he anticipates a large export of Spars and deal. A powerful water Saw Mill has been already erected near the Town of Douglas by a Mr McDonald. These accounts must be considered as highly satisfactory.
3. But Governor Douglas likewise states that in consequence of the delay caused by the survey of the site of 'Queensboro' (now called New Westminster) and other necessary work, no Country Land has as yet been brought intoManuscript imageinto the Market, and that there is much popular clamour on that account. To meet this difficulty he proposes to establish some system of occupation which would enable settlers to occupy and improve certain tracts of land under preemptive rights until the Surveys are completed. To this point our special attention is directed by your letter.
4. It appears to me that nothing but the clearest necessity should induce the Government to have recourse to such an arrangement. It may perhaps beManuscript imagebe unobjectionable in the case of isolated adventurers in tracts of Country far removed from actual settlement, and where no other rights have grown up or are likely to be immediately created. But in a Country like British Columbia and as a means of meeting the demands of a large body of settlers it could not fail to introduce great confusion and uncertainty of title, and to lay the ground for future disputes and litigation. From the nature of the case there wouldManuscript imagewould be no definition of the boundaries of individual settlers, and it is impossible to believe that under such circumstances rival claims to the same land would not continually spring up. And in a Country where superficial improvements are so easily made and as easily obliterated, the decision of such claims would involve very great difficulty; not only to the Executive Government, who would first be called upon to decide them, but even to CourtsManuscript imageCourts of Law. The History of every new Colony shows the embarrassment and loss which has arisen from a careless or indiscreet system of disposing of the Crown Lands in the first instance.
Captain Gosset now in B. Columbia is well aware of these embarassments of which he saw plenty when he was Surveyor General in Ceylon.
The land moreover would be occupied and claimed in every kind of shape most convenient to the individual settler, and it would be very difficult, if not impossible to fit these claims into a future survey without leaving portions of unappropriated land, the value of which would be destroyed by the shape and position of the adjoining claimsManuscript imageclaims and which would thus become not only valueless but injurious. This was the case in Ceylon and Natal where land was granted with great laxity and without reference to any General survey, and the records of the Colonial Office contain ample proof of the confusion and expense which has been caused in Ceylon. It appears to me that it would be far better to delay the completion of the survey of the Capital, and to draw from the Survey party thereManuscript imagethere employed sufficient strength to lay out the Country Lands that may be immediately required. It seems hardly probable that the demand for land in New Westminster can be so great as to require that the survey of its site should be immediately completed, and at all events it would seem easier to provide for a demand for unsurveyed land in the Town, where the lots are only 1/6 of an acre in size, than for Country LandsManuscript imageLands where the demands would be for many hundred acres at a time.
5. Upon the whole I would recommend that no countenance should be given to Govr Douglas' proposal to sanction the occupation with preemptive rights of unsurveyed land.
I have etc.
T.W.C. Murdoch
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
The Commrs opinion is that it will be more advantageous for the Colony in the end not to sanction Governor Douglas' plan of holding Land under a preemptive right, even though that plan be temporary. But has he sufficiently adverted to the consideration (which the Duke of Newcastle entertains) that the vicinity of the Americans makes it almost impossible to maintain the system of disposing of Land in the Colonies which is so easily indoctrinated at Whitehall. Home views on this point are sometimes carried to excess—irritate the Colonists—and retard the success of a settlement. In B. Columbia I believe that it would be even wise to give the land away in small sections provided the gift was bestowed on actual laborers of British origin. In Canada they now give to any man who will settle himself in certain parts of the Ottawa Country 100 acres of Land. If in Canada this plan is found advisable, it wd surely seem worthy also of adoption in B. Columbia. But I do not yet advocate that step; for we had better try for some time longer whether we can't get a revenue out of the Land. Canada has many resources for raising a revenue, & can afford to give away a few thousand acres of Land. In B. Columbia, we have not quite arrived at that point of being able to be liberal. With respect, however, to the immediate subject of the Governor's proposal Manuscript imageI am tempted to submit to you a Letter which has been addressed to Mr Gairdner (with whom I have had some conversation on this topic) by the late Surveyor General of Victoria—at the Antipodes. From that Letter you will learn that a scheme, similar to that of Govr Douglas', has been in successful operation there, under circes resembling those in B. Columbia, viz: the difficulty of getting Country Lands surveyed. It will deserve Consideration which plan to adopt—whether to insist on Manuscript imagethe rigorous adherence to principles which, though sound in themselves, are not applicable in all cases, or to sanction a departure from them under the peculiar circumstances of British Columbia.
ABd 26 Sepr/59
Nothing can be sounder than Mr Murdoch's reasoning, but how are we to exclude squatters in Brit. Columbia, when in Oregon, on the other side of an imaginary line, every man (as I understand the case) can select 160 acres of Country land where he pleases, with a certainty of never being disturbed until the Government Surveyor reaches him, perhaps years afterward, & perhaps the prospect of not having to pay Manuscript imageeven then?
HM S 27
Duke of Newcastle
This report might be sent to the Govr. He might be instructed to press on surveys, even of a rough kind, as rapidly as possible (altho' the Sappers & Miners are now perhaps otherwise employed), but permitted to try his plan of occupation, with preemptive right, rather than allow the land to remain locked up against parties ready to cultivate it?
CF 29
I am very unwilling to set aside the opinion of Mr Murdoch on such a Matter as this—especially when I cannot hesitate to admit the soundness (in theory) of his arguments. I believe however that two such opposite systems as the English and American cannot co exist on two sides of an imaginary boundary, Manuscript imageand it is certain that the U.S. Citizens will not adopt ours.
It must not moreover be forgotten that in such a Colony as B.C. Population is wealth, and every new Settler will soon add much more to the Revenue than it will lose by dimunition (for a time) of Land Sales.
I prefer the plan of Captain Clarke to that of occupation with preemptive right, but there is one difficulty which makes me hesitate as to either. If the Land upon such conditions is thrown open to all I fear an immediate rush to all the best sites of American Squatters before our own People in this Country have even heard of the change. Is there any precedent for limiting the boon to those of British origin? Can Captn Clarke give any suggestion on this point?
I postpone decision till I receive an answer to this.
N 2-10