Murdoch to Rogers (Permanent Under-Secretary)
31st October 1868
I have to acknowledge your letter of 21st inst. with a despatch from the Governor of B. Columbia reporting on the results of the land system in that Colony and in Vancouvers Island.
2. In B. Columbia and Vancouvers Island a system of preemption of land before survey which prevails largely in the United States but does not exist in any other British ColonyManuscript image was established by laws passed by the respective Legislatures. The main features of this system are, that any person may take possession of any unoccupied and unreserved Country land to the extent of 160 acres on obtaining a licence from the Magistrate of the District. A record of the transaction must be made by the Magistrate within 7 days on payment of a fee of $2 and when the Government survey comes up to the land the claimant is entitled, if there has been a continuous occupation, to purchase the land at $1 an Acre. Surveyed LandManuscript image could also be acquired in the usual manner by purchase at auction.
3. In a despatch dated 12th May last the Duke of Buckingham & Chandos desired to be informed how the preemptive system had worked—especially how far it had been taken advantage of by settlers—to what extent their lands had been surveyed and granted—whether the conditions of personal residence and improvement had been enforced—and whether any difficulty had been experienced in obtaining payment and in settling boundaries. Govr Seymour's despatch is the answer to his Grace's enquiries.
Manuscript image
4. In respect to B. Columbia he states that with the exception of 27,797 Acres sold in New Westminster and its vicinity—almost the whole of which remains unimproved, all the farming establishments have been formed on the preemptive system, that the number of claims registered is 1696, of which about 500, comprizing 90,000 Acres, are actually settled and improved—about 20,000 acres being fenced and about 6000 under cultivation. Since 1863 there have been numerous applications to have preempted lands surveyed, which had been complied with in theManuscript image case of 48 Farms comprizing 5289 Acres—but in only 20 cases comprizing 2090 acres, has the purchase money been paid, and the Government have no power of compelling payment. In respect to personal residence he states that there is some doubt as to the effect of the Law in B. Columbia—and that residence by a hired agent or servant has been held to be sufficient—but as to the running of boundaries he says that the Settlements being very much scattered but few cases have occurred of coterminous lots, and whereManuscript image such cases have occurred there has been no difficulty in adjusting them.
5. In Vancouvers Island about 75,000 acres had been sold by private contract at 20s/ an Acre previous to 1861, in which year preemption was established. Under the system 1013 claims comprizing 132,153 Acres have been recorded—of which 700 claims comprizing about 87,500 acres have been settled and improved, about 8500 acres being fenced, & 2500 under cultivation. There has been no difficulty in enforcingManuscript image personal residence in Vancouvers Island—but I infer from the Governors silence that no preemptive lands have been there brought under survey or finally purchased.
6. Contrasting the results of the Sale of land after survey and its preemptive occupation before survey as seen in B. Columbia & Vancouvers Island, the Governor expresses his decided preference for the latter. He states that the purchased land, especially in B. Columbia, remains perfectly unimproved—not a tree felled, nor an acre ploughed—whileManuscript image the preempted land, though small in extent, yet is of the utmost importance as the first step towards the development of the Colony. He observes that the sum obtained for the sold land is of no importance in comparison with the addition to the wealth of the Colony produced by the occupiers of the preempted lands, who, during the recent season of depression, have been the main support of the Colony. He points out that it is only by a very liberal land system that the Colony can competeManuscript image with the adjacent territories of the United States—and he expresses an opinion that it would be good policy in the Governments to survey and grant free of charge portions of land to settlers who should have resided on & occupied the land for a specified term of years—although he acknowledges that this would be impracticable on account of the expense of surveys. He, therefore, concludes that the present system, with some slight modifications, will best suit the circumstances of the Colony.
Manuscript image
7. It is impossible to deny in the face of the facts stated by Govr Seymour, that the sale of land by auction has not, in B. Columbia at least, been as successful as elsewhere. But it must be remembered that those sales took place under exceptional circumstances which necessarily gave them a highly speculative character. The existence of gold in the Colony first became generally known in the spring of 1858, and caused an influx of miners from the United States which in a single month exceeded 10,000 persons. In theManuscript image autumn of that year a sale of lots at what was then intended for the capital took place, and they were eagerly bought up by speculators. The site of the capital was afterwards transferred to New Westminster, and with it the rights of the purchasers at the previous site.
8. But the expectations at that time formed of the yield of gold in B. Columbia have not been realized and the white population was we believe in 1866 (the latest year for which we have a return) less than one third of what it was at the date ofManuscript image the establishment of the Colony. It is not surprizing that under these circumstances town lots and land in the immediate vicinity of the capital, which had been bought in the expectation of an extravagant increase in their value, should have been abandoned when that expectation was so signally disappointed. That under these circumstances the existence of this land in an unimproved condition must be, as Govr Seymour states, an obstacle to the progress of the Colony cannot be disputed,Manuscript image and it is time to consider whether without injustice measures might not be adopted to compel the purchasers either to improve or to part with it. The question is one especially for the Local Government who are better acquainted than anyone else with the circumstances of the sales and the condition of the purchasers. I would, therefore, suggest that the Governor should be instructed to consider in what way the public injury arising from the unimproved condition of the land might be best abated. In respect to Vancouvers Island we are surprized to hear that there isManuscript image any quantity of sold land uncultivated or unused. The sales in that Island previous to 1861 were principally to the Hudson's Bay Co and their Settlers, and we had been under the impression that whatever land was purchased by them was purchased for immediate occupation. If, however, it is the case that land belonging to private owners is becoming an obstruction and a nuisance in Vancouvers Island also, the necessary measures should be taken there, as well as in B. Columbia, to remedy the evil.
Manuscript image
9. As regards the preemptive system generally it appears to suit the present condition of the Colony. At all events it may be taken for granted that in the depressed state of the Colony it would not be possible to attract or retain any settlers if the terms offered were less favorable than are offered in the adjoining territories of the United States. So long as the population is small and immigration slow, and the prospect of increase in the value of land not such as to tempt speculators, it may not be difficult to restrict the acquisitions of Settlers under the preemptiveManuscript image system to the narrow limits which the law allows. If so the evils which have elsewhere arisen from a too facile system in the disposal of land may be avoided. But if at any future time the Colony should rise in popular favor & immigration became more rapid, the working of the system would require to be carefully watched that the earliest symptoms of its being abused might be at once and rigorously dealt with. It would be scarcely possible under such circumstances to control the operations of speculators. No regulations either as to theManuscript image quantity of land to be preempted or as to occupation & improvement would long prevent that class of men from possessing themselves of large tracts of the best land which they would hold not for use but for future sale. The almost unlimited extent of land in the United States has hitherto prevented any serious inconvenience from the operations of land jobbers in that Country. But even there it is stated that in some districts, especially in California & Kanzas (vide "Contemporary Review" for Novr '68), all the best locations are in the hands of private persons, and that immigrants are therefore compelledManuscript image to pay for the land they require 4 or 6 times as much as is demanded by the Government. It is scarcely probable that the same result should be produced in B. Columbia or Vancouvers Island for many years, but the possibility of it ought to be kept in view. Meanwhile the sparseness of the settlements will for the present prevent any inconvenience from conflicting claims on the part of neighboring Settlers—and this objection, therefore, to occupation before survey may be put aside. In respect to theManuscript image deferred payments it may be assumed that in a majority of cases the Government will lose the money. Nevertheless the importance in a political point of view of increasing the population is so urgent, while the difficulty of inducing Settlers to go to the Colony is so great, that it seems inevitable to accept this contingency as the necessary condition of the settlement. In the meantime the Colony derives, as the Governor observes a greater advantage from their settlement than the price their land would have sold for at auction—while their labourManuscript image on their lands is tending to render the Colony self-sustaining. Under these circumstances I would submit that the present system should not be interfered with. However open it might be to objection in Colonies more thickly peopled and more attractive to Emigrants, it is not likely to have any injurious effect, for the present at least, in Colonies so exceptionally situated as B. ColumbiaManuscript image and Vancouvers Island.
I have the honor to be
Your obedient
Humble Servant
T.W.C. Murdoch
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Sir F. Rogers
The previous papers have only just been returned to the Dept which accounts for the delay which has occurred. Answer 106-11068 in the sense of the 9th par of this report.
WR 18/11/68
Manuscript image
I think I wd simply say that HG saw no reason for interfering with the system at present pursued, though it is one wh in case of any large increase in immigration wd require careful watching. Add that any neglect to define & record carefully all rights of property as they are acquired will cause great embarrassment to the settlers hereafter—& that the Govr shd take care that no such neglect is allowed.
FR 18/11
CBA 21/11
B&C 23/11
Manuscript image
See subsequent 49/5572 March 22, 69.
Manuscript image
Mr Cox
No decision has as yet been come to with regard to the Ordinance of 1867 "for regulating the acquisition of Crown lands in B. Columbia".
Is the Ordinance to remain in its present state—neither approved nor disallowed?
EB 14 Dec 1868
Manuscript image
CC 14/12
Manuscript image
Sir F. Rogers
This Ordinance was sent over in a duly authenticated form ie with the Seal of the Colony & signature of the Governor (3370/67). But theManuscript image Governor informed us that he had "reserved" it. In the same Despatch he stated that he had "withheld his assent" to it.
From a recent Despatch (9941/68) it appears that the Bill is totally inoperative, for that "the original has no seal & is unsigned" though the copy sent over—by an "imprudence" of the Secretary had the seal affixed to it. The Govrs signature was only attached in evidence of its correctness.
The law itself was strongly reported against by the Governor, the Attorney General & the Surveyor General, and I assume that it is not intended to be in any way sanctioned. The Governor expresses his satisfaction that he has not been desired to bring it into operation.
The Governor had no power to "reserve" a Bill, but he has practically deferred his assent to it until he receives instructions from home.
The question raised is whether any further notice need be taken of this Bill which is at present inoperative for want of the Govrs assent.
I should be disposed to inform the GovrManuscript image that his assent should not be given to the Bill.
HTH 14/12
Manuscript image
That course will be most certain [to] avoid misunderstanding. So write.
FR 14/12
WM 16/12
G 18/12
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft reply, Buckingham to Seymour, No. 102, 1 December 1868 stating that Buckingham sees no reason to interfer with British Columbia’s preemption system and informing Seymour to carefully define and record all rights of property as they are acquired.
Manuscript image
Draft reply, Granville to Seymour, No. 2, 21 December 1868 advising Seymour to not give assent to the Ordinance for regulating the acquisition of Crown Lands in British Columbia.