Head to Rogers (Permanent Under-Secretary)
Hudson's Bay House
April 17 1866
I have the honour to inform the Secretary of State that in a recent letter from Governor William Mactavish we are told that a considerable number of Traders have visited the Peace River and Athabasca districts from British Columbia and have introduced spirituous liquors among the Indians there.
On this subject Governor Mactavish speaks as follows— The introduction of Rum among theBeaverManuscript image Beaver Indians is an evil; they have long been unable to get it, though formerly the North West Company had traded liquor with them, when they were noted, even among Indians, for turbulence when under its action. It will also affect us seriously, as our people will under its inducement be debauched and most likely our establishments made the scene of many irregularities. I do not know if law in British Columbia forbids the use of liquor in Indian trade, or whether if such a law exists
See Orde No 16 of /65 in Accomg Volume.
it could be brought to bear on liquor carried through the Colony for Indian trade beyond its borders; but it would be as well to see what couldbeManuscript image be done to stop the transit of liquor through British Columbia, at least openly, for I doubt very much if it can be totally stopped. I would also beg to call the attention of the Governor and Committee to the fact that in the Country to the north of Portage La Loche, or what was formerly the Licensed Territory, there are no qualified Magistrates. While there were only Indians to deal with, the Company's Officers sufficed, but now that strangers are flocking in, and those strangers engaged in an opposition Trade, the circumstances are changed.
The district referred to is not in the Company's Territory and issituatedManuscript image situated in the old Licensed Territory at least 800 miles beyond the Red River Settlement.
I have reason to think that in 1861 a proclamation was in force in British Columbia imposing a penalty of from £5 to £20 on each sale of liquor to Indians but this is described as being at that time entirely inoperative on the Coast and probably would be so Inland. Moreover the district referred to by Governor Mactavish is on Peace River and is not within the limits of British Columbia even as extended by the Act 6th and 7th Victoria Cap. 83. The operation of this Act is limited to thewestManuscript image west of the 120th meridian of West Longitude.
The Act of 1859 (22nd and 23rd of Victoria Cap. 26) was intended to provide some machinery for the government of the old Licensed Territory but I am not aware that the powers conferred by that Act have ever been exercised. There are I am informed no white persons resident in the Country except the Officers and Servants of the Hudson's Bay Company—consequently there is no one there who could be appointed a Magistrate or who would be employed to enforce rules and regulations for the prevention of the sale of liquor to the Indians such as this last ActauthorizesManuscript image authorizes the Queen in Council to make. It is obvious enough that as the free traders introduce liquor expressly for the purpose of competing with the Hudsons Bay Company the Officers and Servants of that Company could not be invested with powers for the hinderance of the traffic. If such rules and regulations could be made and enforced it would be generally for the advantage of the Indians themselves and the Company's own Officers would be spared the temptation of competing with those traders by similar means.
It is the earnest wish of the Hudson's Bay Company to discourage in any way and every where the sale ofliquorManuscript image liquor to the Indians and they never adopt it except in cases where it is forced on them by competition from other quarters.
It is possible that the Right Honorable the Secretary of State may cause steps to be taken for intercepting the transport of spirituous liquors down Peace River by some action on the part of the Government of British Columbia, for it is by this route that they are introduced into the district in question; but I confess I see no other means of successfully meeting the evil.
I have the honor to be,
Your most obedient Servant
Edmund Head
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Elliot
The Ordce last passed in B.C. (/65) prohibiting the sale or gift of spirits to the Indians within the Colony is very sharp in its punishment. Each offence £100 fine; in case of non payment 12 months imprisonment with or without hard Labor, with increased punishment on 2d offence. Vessels & boats to be confiscated.
The Colony has thus unmistakably shown its disapproval of spirit selling to Indians, & within its limits, and where there are Magistrates it may be hoped that the Law will do good service. But beyond the Colony, & in a district which does not belong to the Company, & where there are no Authorities it is hard to say what can be done to meet the evil complained of by Sir E. Head. If the Act 22 and 23 Vict. C. 26 will not meet the case there wd seem no other than the feeble alternative suggested by Sir E. Head of urging the B.C. Authorities to do the best in their power to arrest the transport of Spirits thro' the Colony. At the same time it is not impossible that spirits may reach the Peace River from the Russian Territories on the Coast.
ABd 19 April
Sir F. Rogers
The Hudson's Bay Co were always, I believe, considered entitled to much credit for their treatment of the Indians in these remote districts, and for not corrupting and destroying them by the introduction of spirits. The fear of such consequences was one of the chief objections to depriving the Company of its exclusive privilege and allowing an influx of private Traders. ItManuscript image will be a just subject of regret if this mischief cannot be prevented.
The real difficulty however is one which one hardly sees how to overcome, vizt, the situation of the Country in the very heart of North America. It is 800 miles beyond Red River, and of course a great deal further from the nearest seat of any Canadian Authorities. It cannot therefore be ruled from Canada.
Again it is entirely beyond the limits of our Colony on the Pacific: it cannot therefore be ruled from British Columbia. The Act of Parliament of 1859 confers two powers upon Her Majesty in respect of the North Western Territories—1st to appoint Magistrates, 2nd to make Regulations.
But a Magistrate in suchaManuscript image a Country would be immediately starved to death or killed by the Indians, unless he depended entirely on the Charity and Countenance of the H.B.Co, between whom and the private traders he ought to be an impartial Arbitrator. With no Magistrate and no effective Force, regulations would be futile. I own therefore that I do not myself see what the Government of England can do to prevent the injurious sale of spirits among the Indians in the very centre of the North American Continent; and I fear that if the facts alleged by Mr Mactavish be correct, they will only be a proof that the principal evil apprehended from opening the trade in these remote districts has begun to be realized.
TFE 21 April
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Moreover I hardly see what an isolated Magistrate could do in stopping the liquor trade. It is lamentable enough.
Would it be worth while asking Gov Seymour whether he can suggest anything & whether Sir E. Head's suggestion of stopping liquor on its way thro' B. Cola is practicable.
FR 21 April
It is our duty to do all in our power to stop the sale of liquor to the Indians, but the difficulties are as Sir F.R. says very great. Would it not be well to see Sir E. Head & ask him for more definite suggestions & then communicate with Gov. Seymour.
WEF 23/4
I think these Papers should be communicated to Gov. SeymourManuscript image with an intimation that I should be glad, when he has considered them, to arrange that he should meet Sir E. Head at this office & determine whether any & what steps can usefully be taken to check this great evil.
EC 25
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Elliot to Seymour, 27 April 1866, forwarding copy of the despatch and requesting an appointment to meet with Head on the subject.