Chesson to Granville
Aborigines Protection Society
7, Adam Street, Adelphi, London
1st November 1869
My Lord,
I am desired by the Committee of the Aborigines Protection Society to enclose for your Lordship's information a proof of a letter giving a deplorable account of the condition and treatment of the Indian tribes of Vancouver Island.
It is not in the powers of the Society to carry out the suggestions of the writer that they should establish an agency in the island, neither does the Society desire in any wayManuscript image to encroach on the functions of the colonial government. But we could respectfully submit to your Lordship that the facts disclosed in Mr Sebright Green's letter tend to show that humanity and good faith have not been observed towards the Indians and that your generous interference is called for.
I have the honor to remain
My Lord,
Your Lordship's obedient Servant
F.W. Chesson, Secretary
Minutes by CO staff
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Sir F. Sandford
Send a copy for report to Mr Musgrave & so inform the Society asking for a spare copy of the Enclosure.
WR Nov 5
FRS 5/11
G 9/11
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
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Printed article concerning the miserable condition of the Indians on Vancouver Island, including a letter from W.S. Sebright Green of Victoria, 24 June 1869. Transcribed below.
Other documents included in the file
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Sandford to Chesson, 15 November 1869, advising a copy of his letter had been sent to Musgrave for comment, and requesting another copy of the printed enclosure.
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Draft reply, Granville to Musgrave, No. 104, 15 November 1869.
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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THE INDIANS OF VANCOUVER ISLAND


THE miserable condition of the Indians in Vancouver Island has long been notorious; but we think that few of our readers will be prepared for the deplorable state of things brought to light in the following letter from a gentleman resident in the island: —

24th June 1869
“In the absence of any definite information respecting the Aborigines’ Protection Society, of which I am informed you are the Secretary, I write to ask you whether your Society can be induced to take up the cause of the Indians in this colony, who stand deplorably in need of assistance. As you are probably aware, this colony was little more than a series of Hudson-Bay fur trading forts, until 1858, when the discoveries of gold upon Fraser River brought it into more prominence as a gold country. I need not enter into the history of the colony further than to remind you that the two adjacent colonies of Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia are, since 1867, united into the one colony of British Columbia, with a Governor and Legislative Council, of whom two-thirds are nominated by the Governor.
“I have myself been here over seven years, and having originally settled in one of the country districts (Cowichan), in the very heart of Indian tribes, and after some months’ experience there, having been forced to throw up my land rather than expose my wife to what I considered danger from the proximity of Indians, burning under an acute sense of unfair treatment on the part of the Colonial Government, and having, since my return to this city, for upwards of five years practised my profession of attorney in the Supreme and other Courts of the colony, I have had ample opportunities of observing the way in which Indians are treated. We have, I regret to say, no Indian policy whatever: there are no Indian agents, and the only friends that the Indians have in the colony are the Missionaries, who are, however, almost powerless for want of government assistance. Each Governor has, in turn, treated the Indians differently; one making them amenable to the English laws, another suffering them to shoot and kill one another within rifle-shot of the city, without interference. In 1862, after a considerable influx of white population, the district of Cowichan was thrown open for settlement, and the Indians were promised remuneration in money, or blankets for the land which was taken from them, a reserve was set apart for them, and every sort of assistance and protection was promised them. They have never been paid for their land, their reserve has not been kept intact, and they have no sort of protection extended to them: on the contrary, the law prohibiting the sale of liquor to Indians is set at defiance by infamous white men, who take care that it is worth while for the police to fail to see their misdeeds, and the Indians are supplied with a compound of coal oil, nicotine and fusil oil, which leads them to the commission of all sorts of crimes, and is rapidly killing them off. I do not say that the Government takes no steps to enforce the law, but I do say that I could point to at least a dozen men known to be engaged in this nefarious traffic, and making their living thereby. The wives and daughters of two of the tribes who have their location nearest to the city are positively solde for the purposes of prostitution, which is carried on to a frightful extent. Last summer the city was visited by the scourge of small-pox, which carried off hundreds of Indians. Out of one hundred and three cases which happened to come withinManuscript imagemy personal knowledge, but three recovered. The provisions made by the authorities for the protection of the Indians during the prevalence of this frightful scourge were infamously bad. After numbers of deaths had occurred, the sum of ten dollars was expended in the erection of a tent, open at the sides, to which the poor creatures were taken from the town in carts, and left to die or recover as chance, and the negligence of a deserter from the American army, hired as their attendant, would have it. Hundreds of bodies were left on the rocks outside the harbour unburied, and you can imagine how disease was fostered by such a course of proceeding. Again, as regards the trial of Indians accused of crime, their defence is a mere matter of chance: if they happen to have money, they in most cases retain counsel; if not, sometimes the Court assigns them counsel, but then it is only after the prisoner is arraigned and has pleaded, and counsel knows nothing of the man, and has no opportunity of learning anything about the case. The Missionaries have but little assistance from the Government. In fact, to judge from the policy adopted of letting Indian affairs take their chance, it would seem that our Government was following the example of America, and trying to exterminate the Indian race. If your Society would establish an office here, or appoint an agent to whom Indians might apply at all times for assistance, it would make a great difference.
It would of course be the business of such an agent to investigate all indian grievances, and to render assistance in case of need, as well for the purpose of protecting Indians from acts of aggression, as for putting the law in force for the punishment of evil-doers. It might also be possible for an agent, having the support and encouragement of your Society, to form a local Society here, which would assist the education and training of the Indians. I shall be much obliged if you will bring the matter before your Board, and let me know what further steps I can take to bring the Colony within the scope of the operations of the Society.
I am, yours obediently,
W.S. SEBRIGHT GREEN


Additional light is thrown upon the present condition of the Indians of Vancouver Island by the following extracts from Scenes and Studies of Savage Life, by Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, (Smith, Elder and Co., 1868,) which have been forwarded to us by a valued correspondent: —
"No institution is more specifically defined among the Ahts than that of slavery. It has probably existed in these tribes for a long time, as many of the slaves have a characteristic mean appearance, and the word slave is used commonly as a term of reproach. — p. 89.
The slave is at the absolute disposal of his master in all things. “A master sometimes directs a slave, on pain of death, to kill an enemy, and the slave dares not again appear in the presence of his master without the head of the person. The case in this instance is one in which — native evidence being excluded by the working of the British criminal law as administered in Vancouver Island — the slave would be put to death, while the chief, who cares nothing for a slave’s life, would probably go free, and boast of his successful crime. — p. 91.
Men formerly were preferred to women, but since the island has been colonized, women have brought higher prices, owing to the encouragement given to prostitution among a young unmarried colonial population. A young woman, worth, say, thirty blankets on the west coast towards the north end of the island, will, at Victoria, be worth fifty or sixty blankets, or about thirty pounds. I know of several instances of slavedealing between the west coast and Victoria within the last two years. The coast of British columbia and the islands towards the north are however, the chief sources of this odious and shameful traffic with Victoria.— p. 92.
Chesson, Frederick William to Leveson-Gower, Granville George 1 November 1869, CO 60:37, no. 12285, 350. 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/B695MI16.html.

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