1809 N America
Vancouvers Isl

14 Septr 1848
I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to transmit to you, herewith, a copy of a Letter received by my Lords from Mr Montgomery Martin, requesting to be allowed access to certain despatches received by the Admiralty, on the subject of Vancouver's Island; and my Lords request that
6Cop Ans.d 30 Sept / 48.
you will lay Mr Martin's application, together with the dispatches alluded to, (herewith sent in original) before Earl Grey, and move his Lordship to favor my Lords with his opinion, whether these documents should be placed in Martins hands.
The despatches being in original it is requested that they may be returned.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient Servant
W A B Hamilton
1B Hawes Esq […]
Colonial Office
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
I have read over these papers, some of which are duplicate copies, & do not think that there can be any objection to allowing Mr Martin to peruse, & take copies of such passages as he pleases. The information is principally about Coal.
ABd 16/9/48
HM S. 18
Sep 19.    The papers which were prepared as the Return to Mr Chrysty's question contained I think all that was known about V.C. Island. Mr M. Martin might have a copy?
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Yes. — If there is any thing in these which we have not in the Office extracts shd be made before the papers are returned to the Adlty.
G. 22/
Copies have been made of Capn Gordon's Letter to Capn Duntze of the 7 Octr/46—& also of Messrs Skeen - Ogden & James Douglas' Lr to Capn Duntze of the 7 Sepr/46.
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
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R.M. Martin to Admiralty, 13 September 1848, seeking permission to examine some despatches relating to Vancouver Island.
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Peter Skene Ogden and James Douglas to Captain J.A. Duntze, 7 September 1846. Transcribed below.
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Commander G.T. Gordon to Duntze, 7 October 1846. Transcribed below.
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Colonial Office to Hamilton, 30 September 1848, returning the enclosures and approving their use by Martin.
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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7th Septr 1846.
Since we had last the pleasure of addressing you on the 11th Ulto this Settlement has not been disturbed by any repetition of the offences mentioned in that letter — a great number of Americans have been down from the Wallamatte and made excursions into the Country around this place with the Manuscript imagethe view of discovering eligible situations for settlement, but they have committed no overt act of trespass on the rights of the prior occupants of the land.
The Americans having never shewn any predilection for settling on the North side of the Columbia River until the United States Schooner Shark arrived at this Port and the excitement among them having greatly abated since her departure from hence, we cannot help thinking that the people were directly or indirectly encouraged by the Officers of that vessel to encroach upon our Settlement. This was to speak of it Manuscript imageit in the mildest terms a most imprudent Act on their part, which cannot possibly do any good, nor add one iota to the rights of the United States, but, on the contrary must lead to much evil by dragging the ignorant and over excitable population of the Country into mischievous courses.
We beg to add in justice to Captn Howison the Commander of the Shark that he evinced much concern on observing the length to which his countrymen were disposed to carry their encroachment, and made some exertions to put a stop Manuscript imagestop to their proceedings.
The prevailing opinion among the Americans now appears to be, that Great Britain will give up the Columbia and accept the 49th parallel of Latitude as a boundary, and moreover they firmly believe that the British subjects in this Country will not be allowed to hold the lands they now occupy when the Government of the United States comes into possession, consequently each and all are striving to establish pre-emption rights on our Settlements in hopes of coming into possession, the moment we are, according to their views, obliged to Manuscript image to surrender them.
In your communication to the Officer in charge of Fort Victoria, you request all the information in our power as to the Coals on Vancouvers Island, and we will now do ourselves the pleasure of detailing all that is known to us on the subject.
From the indications of the Strata which have been carefully examined, it appears very probable that the Mineral abounds over all the North Eastern part of Vancouvers Island, that is to say from Cheslakers, Lat 50.36 to Cape Scott at its Northern extremity, as traced by a dotted line in the accompanying sketch. The spot however familiarly known to us as the coal mine and where the Coal bed rises above the surface, is situated in McNeil's Harbour on the line of Coast designated; its position being about Lat: 50.39 Long: 127,10.' West, and is marked Coal Mine on the Sketch. The Coal Beds to the partial extent they have been explored, appear to divided by intermediate layers of Sandstone, and are seen most distinctly on the open beach, extending over a space of about one mile in lengthManuscript image length generally within the line of high water: the Mineral having evidently been laid bare by the wash of the sea, which has in course of time frittered, and worn away the encumbent mould and Sandstone.
A fresh water riverlet which runs across the bed in a direction perpendicular to the Beach has also laid bare a transverse section of the Coal to the distance of 3/4 of a mile from the sea shewing that the bed runs in a nearly horizontal direction as far as that point, beyond which the depth of the strata has not been ascertained.Manuscript image ascertained.
It is however important to know that the Coal can be worked with comparatively small expense over a field of such extent.
We have not ascertained to what depth the surface bed extends, but we know it exceeds three feet: having explored to that depth without finding any interposing stratum of mould.
A large quantity of Coal may at any time be got there by employing the Indians who are numerous and active, to dig and transport them to the Ship.
Manuscript imageThey are by no means averse to such employment, and ask a very moderate remuneration for their labour.
On one occasion when we employed them for that purpose, they brought in upwards of 90 Tons in a few days, which they dug with hatchets and other inconvenient implements, and there is no doubt that with proper excavating tools they could have done the work much more expeditiously.
Besides the loss of time, the want of Tools is attended with another disadvantage as it confines theManuscript image the workmen to the mere surface lumps, which is deprived of its bitumen by exposure to the weather, and does not burn so freely as the substrata.
In consequence perhaps of that circumstance, we have not succeeded in rendering the Coals serviceable in our forges, but they burn remarkably well when exposed to a strong blast in the furnace of the Steam Vessel. — Externally the Coal is hard and brittle, interspersed with Sulphurate of Iron, and contains but little earthy or incombustible matter.
Manuscript imageIt requires rather a higher temperature to burn than the better kind of Newcastle Coals, but is superior in this respect to some of the kinds sold in the London Market. It contains sulphur, a pretty large proportion of bituminous matter, and yields Coke in the proportion of 52 per cent.
If the British Government has any intention of making this Coal available for the use of their Steam Navy it will be necessary in order to keep a constant supply on hand, to form anManuscript image an Establishment on the spot of sufficient force to protect it against the Natives, who are numerous, bold and treacherous, and also to carry on the Mining operations. We would in such case recommend that an application on the subject be made to the Directors of the Hudson's Bay Company in London who could in a short time take measures to get the necessary means collected under the management of experienced persons acquainted with Indian Character and capable of drawing the greatest possible advantage from their presence. We
Manuscript imageWe shall be most happy to do anything in our power to forward this object, but it will in the first place be necessary to enter into arrangements with the Directors of the Company in London as we have not the means in the Country, and we do not feel at liberty to undertake a measure of such importance without their sanction.
We take the liberty of making this suggestion as to the proper mode of proceeding, in order that no time may be lost hereafter in carrying out the ulterior arrangementsManuscript image arrangements, should Government deem it an object of importance to form an Establishment at McNeil's Harbour or at some other point for the purpose of collecting Coals for the regular supply of the Steam Navy in the Pacific.
We are &c
(Signed) Peter. Skene. Ogden
James Douglas
3J.A. Duntze Esquire
Captain of H.M. Ship Fisgard
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H M Steam Sloop Cormorant,
October 7th 1846
With reference to that part of your letter of the 15th September last, wherein you direct me to ascertain whether the Coals which are said to abound on the Northern part of Vancouvers Island, can be collected in a sufficient quantity to afford a supply for steam fuel, I have the honour to inform you, that having arrived at McNeil's Harbour for that purpose, I made known to the Natives through Mr Sangster my wish to obtain a supply, and the next day several canoes came laden with Coal, and they continued to increase in number until our departure.
At the advice of Mr Sangster I slung a tub holding about six Cwts from the Fore Yard which was lowered into a canoe and quickly filled: in this manner we received 62 tons fromManuscript imagefrom the 24th to the 26th paying for each tub as it came up by articles of trifling value which I procured at your suggestion from the Officer in charge of Fort Victoria, the whole of the expenses incurred including a few presents necessarily made to the Chiefs, will made the Coals average not more than 4/s per ton.
During our stay I proceeded on shore accompanied by Mr Sangster and the First and Second Engineers. I found the North West part of McNeils Harbour to be a Peninsula, and in honour of First Lord of the Admiralty I called it Ellenborough. We found a seam of coal just below high water mark which appeared to descend at an angle of about 30 towards the land. We then ascended the Hill and very near the top at about 60 feet below5 the level of the Sea in the bed of a Stream, we found a layer of Freestone at about 5 ft 6 Inches below a surface of Peat, and below that, a seam of Coal much resembling in appearance the English Newcastle Coal; This seam was 10 Inches thick with Freestone below, having bored through and blasted this, weManuscript image we came to another seam 11 Inches in thickness, both seams appearing to run parallel to each other descending at an angle of 20 in a NWly direction. Being confident from these two trials that the seam thickened lower down, I did not make any further experiments here but proceeded the next day to a small sheltered Bay about eight miles further down the coast to the N W. which we called Baillie Hamilton Bay after Captain Baillie Hamilton Secretary of the Admiralty, here we observed another rich seam extending along the beach below high water mark and which we traced a quarter of a mile in an Inland direction.
The seams we found were similar in appearance and thickness to those on Ellenborough Peninsula which confirms me in an opinion I had formed, they they were connected
On trial we found the coal of good quality; they flare much in the Furnaces and do not appear to have any of the injurious effects on either the Fire Bars or Furnaces that Welsh Coal have. The proportionate expense for four hours as comparedManuscript imagecompared with Scotch and Welsh is as follows viz.
                                 Tons — Cwt
    Welsh ﹏﹏﹏﹏﹏ 2 ﹏﹏ 18
    Scotch ﹏﹏﹏﹏﹏ 2 ﹏﹏ 14
    Ellenborough &}
                                }﹏ 2 ﹏ 18
              Hamilton }
This difference may appear considerable in proportion, but the Coal having been procured from the surface where it has been exposed to the Action of the Atmosphere, and much of it to the injurious effects of Salt water will weigh considerably in favour of the Ellenborough and Hamilton Coal Had it been procured at several feet from the surface I have no hesitation in saying that the result would be at least equal to the best Scotch Coal: We have also tried it at the forge and welded several Bars of 1/4 and 1/2 inches; and the heats were as clean as if taken with the best English Coal.
It is my belief that the field doesManuscript imagedoes not extend further to the Westwd than the Eastern Shore of Beaver Harbour and to the Eastwd than the Minkish River, marked in the accompanying Plan by a dotted line, indeed the feature of the Country from Beaver Harbour to Shucharte is quite different, being covered with hard Blue White Rock without any appearance of Freestone whatever.
It is impossible to form any opinion of the extent of the field in an inland direction, but from the appearances of the country I am of opinion that it is very considerable.
On first going on shore the natives appeared tenacious of our examining the Coals and accused us of coming to steal them, but having made a few presents to some of the chiefs, they entered into our views and became very active, and I am only surprised that with the rude implements they have for digging viz Hatchets and Wooden wedges they were able to procure so large a quantity in so short a time, and IManuscript imageI am persuaded that with the means we have, assisted by the Natives, we could fill our Coal Bunkers in from ten to fourteen days.
The Natives are a fine race of men, and appear industrious and friendly; but much addicted to thieving.
In conclusion I beg leave to remark that the Coal district in my opinion is admirably situated possessing as it does excellent anchorage in its neighbourhood, and being so far North that Vessels of almost any burthen can approach it by way of Cape Scott, thus avoiding the difficult and dangerous Navigation of Sir George Seymours Narrows and Johnstones Straits.
I have etc
(Signed) G T Gordon
  1. This addressee information appears at the foot of the first page of the despatch.
  2. Transcription of Ogden and Douglas to Duntze, as noted above.
  3. This addressee information appears at the foot of the first page of this despatch.
  4. Gordon to Duntze, as noted above.
  5. Another contemporary copy of this letter transcribes this word as "above." See Robert Martin (1848). The Hudson's Bay Territories and Vancouver's Island: with an exposition of the chartered rights, conduct, & policy of the Honble Hudson's Bay Corporation, at p. 42.
  6. Marginalia runs perpendicular to main text; author is unknown.
People in this document

Blackwood, Arthur Johnstone

Christy, Samuel

Douglas, James

Duntze, John Alexander

Gordon, George Thomas

Grey, Henry George

Hamilton, George Alexander

Hamilton, William Alexander Baille

Hawes, Benjamin

Howison, Captain

Martin, Robert Montgomery

Merivale, Herman

Ogden, Peter Skeene

Sangster, James

Organizations in this document

Colonial Office

Hudson's Bay Company

Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty

Vessels in this document

HMS Cormorant, 1842-1853

HMS Fisgard, 1819-1879


Places in this document

Beaver Harbour

Cape Scott

Columbia River

Ellenborough Peninsula

Fort Vancouver

Haddington Island

Johnstone Strait


Nimpkish River

Nisqually, or Fort Nisqually

Port McNeill

Seymour Narrows

Vancouver Island


Willamette Valley