New Westminster
17th March 1868
My Lord Duke,
I am aware that my communications have not been very satisfactory of late and I am now venturing to write to Your Grace in the Confidential manner in which I was invited to do sobyManuscript image by Your Grace's predecessor in office.
2. It would be difficult to imagine a post more hard to fill than that I now occupy. A "rush" of Miners from California and Australia took place some years ago. American Steam boat proprietors encouraged it in every way, and I learn that as many as three thousand immigrants landed in the Colony in one day.TownManuscript image Town lots in Victoria and New Westminster became objects of large speculation and high bidding. At present they are being sold for taxes; and where on the Fraser 12,000 or 13,000 white men washed up Gold, a solitary Chinaman working his "rocker" represents the population for the mile of river. The whole strength of the Colony now is concentrated on William's Creek Cariboo whereaManuscript image a mile and a half of the richest diggings, I am told, ever found, keep a population of about two thousand miners. They form the main support of the Country and there is no doubt that from their brilliant winnings they pay the greater part of the Customs and Road Toll receipts.
3. Sir James Douglas seeing thousands of people arriving sometimes in onedayManuscript image day, formed naturally a very sanguine expectation as to the future of the Colony. He requested Lord Lytton to send out a Government Staff for a population which would in a few months reach 100,000. The prospective increase at that rate would soon lead to the creation of a most important dependency of the Crown. So Lord Lytton, and the Government of the day, announced as a new featureinManuscript image in English colonization, the growth of a Colony which would from its earliest infancy be self supporting.
4. Troops were sent out to be paid for by the Colonists. Extravagance locally prevailed. Rival roads were made to the Upper Country at an Expense of some £300,000, and this self supporting Country soon found itself dependent upon Loans raised in London for the support of its institutions.TheManuscript image The day of reckoning had to come. The tide of immigration reached its height and the stream of population rushed down again towards the Sea and then Southward.
5. But for a white population of now probably less than ten thousand had been established the Government required for the expected one hundred thousand, and the Executive became like many of our Mining population in the positionofManuscript image of a Gambler who has staked his almost vital interests simply upon his luck. Of course a fresh Loan had to be resorted to and the financial difficulty was postponed.
6. Yet British Columbia was not left to fight its own battle untrammelled. England would do but little to assist it, but it had a neighbour who lived entirely at its expense. VictoriawasManuscript image was made a free port. Vancouver Island paid no Customs duties and thus the trade of the really producing part of the now united Colony became centred in another and not very friendly Colony which was placed across the means of access to the great gold fields above. A labouring man who lived on the island paid no taxes. If he ventured on the mainland, there was not an article heconsumedManuscript image consumed or used which was not heavily taxed to meet the expenses of an alien Government.
7. But the Free port had not the attractions to retain a large permanent population, and the annual passage of the Cascade Mountains proved too severe a trial for most of the miners who remained in the Country. Those that stayed, were faithful to their industry even during the winter.TheManuscript image The high tide of immigration expected never reached the Colony, and the ebb proved much stronger than anticipated. Towns became deserted. They were "played out." They "caved" they "went in" according to Miners phraseology and became deserted. But the Government for the immediate one hundred thousand and the prospective five hundred thousand was maintained by London LoansandManuscript image and on my assumption of office, I found myself with two Magistrates on my hands, for instance, for the town of Douglas which now that they have been withdrawn, numbers, as I write, three white inhabitants. The salaries of these Magistrates were about £600 a piece. Hope is "played out." Lytton languishes. Princeton contains one occupied house. But Barkerville in Cariboo hasmadeManuscript image made considerable progress. Yale flourishes. New Westminster has not retrograded since I have known it. But Victoria the largest of our towns has lost all confidence in herself. Things are dull and depressed.
8. The great difficulty British Columbia has to contend with is its neighbourhood to California, and also, of course its distance from the Mother Country and I mayaddManuscript image add its own belief in the uncertainty of its political future. Men complain of starving in New Westminster. I have offered to repair the roads at 4s/2d a day. I cannot find one man to accept the work; No one will even work in a garden under 6s/3d a day. Yet food is extra abundant. Large salmon are sometimes sold in New Westminster at 12 to the dollar (4s/2d). AtLyttonManuscript image Lytton, higher up the Fraser, 16 can occasionally be procured for the money. Sturgeon can be procured in any amount and have hardly a market price. I have with another person in an hour and a half, without any exertion, caught 350 pounds weight of delicious fish. The Country is covered in the summer with berries. Firewood can be had for the taking. Water is abundanteverywhereManuscript image everywhere. Yet people go. They will not stay. The same "rush" which brought them in is taking them out. The wages I pay in a very modest Establishment are exorbitant. My own Cook having died I am employing a Chinaman. I pay him £120 a year and find him in everything even to a servant to attend on him. The Groom's wages were the same. The Butler's are; and footmenunderManuscript image under English contracts think it very hard that they should have less pay than a Chinaman. My late coachman received £240 a year. The quantity of Gold found in the Colony has turned peoples' heads. The man who finds that he has not got the means of providing a sufficient number of "drinks" at 6d or 1s/- a glass and cannot have his game of billiardsthinksManuscript image thinks he is deprived of his natural rights; He immediately pronounces the Colony to be ruined and leaves it by the first opportunity for San Francisco. Probably in less than six months he petitions Her Majesty's Consul for the means of returning to British Columbia.
9. My great grievance with the Colony is this determination of people to leave it. Let them setthemselvesManuscript image themselves in opposition to the Government. That is fair in an unprospering Colony. But the opposition shewn by selling off furniture and nailing up doors & windows and leaving the Colony, is one, I confess, to which I cannot be indifferent.
10. I have spoken in my despatches mentioned in the margin
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Govr to Sec: of State
No. 146, 22nd Novr 1867
No. 162, 13th Decr 1867
of the error committed in establishing competing roads to Cariboo.OneManuscript image One made at an expense of £105,000 of borrowed money, is practically useless. It is dead. We cannot allow it to fall out of repair, yet no one travels over it. The wayside houses are all abandoned. Large and powerful steamers in a perfect state of repair on each of the many lakes are now not worth their paint. The trail to the Rocky Mountains at theKootenayManuscript image Kootenay is useless. The road made in 1866 to the Big Bend of the Columbia has no traffic and a fine Country opened throughout on a scale of magnificence far beyond its requirements languishes from the absence of a population whose every want it could supply.
11. I hardly know what remedy to suggest. If immigration from England was established, it is probablethatManuscript image that most of the late arrivals would be attracted to California. Indeed I can scarcely say that in now writing to Your Grace I have any other object than furnishing as much information as I can respecting the state of the Colony.
I have the honor to be,
My Lord Duke,
Your most obedient
humble Servant.
Frederick Seymour
Minutes by CO staff
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CC 16 June
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I do not know that this requires any answer. It is a protracted groan & does not profess to be more or less.
Put by.
FR 17/6
CBA 18/6
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It does not give an encouraging idea of the writers energy & determination to overcome difficulties. He may perhaps find Victoria cheaper & a little more lively than N. Westminster—it shd be acknowledged however.
B&C 18/6
Other documents included in the file
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Draft reply, Buckingham to Seymour, Separate, 22 June 1868 acknowledging Seymour’s despatch “reporting on the state of affairs in British Columbia."