[No. 7]
.ref target="#marg1"/> 27th Augst 1852 To the Right Honble Sir John S Pakington
              Hudsons Bay
Copy to                        }for inform 29 Nov/52
              RGeograph Soc.
Copy to Admiralty for […]
Ansd 18 Dec/52. 6
minutes to Hudsons Bay Comp 27 Dec/52.
Her Majestys principal Secretary of State For the Colonial Department

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Since I had last the honor of addressing you on the 22nd Inst1 I have carried out the project which I have long entertained, of a canoe expedition through the Canal de Arro, and along the east coast of Vancouver's Island, for the purpose of examining the country and of communicating with the native Tribes, who inhabit that part of the Colony, and I will now concisely state theresultManuscript image result of my observations, in the course of that Journey.
In our passage through the Canal de Arro, we were struck with the extreme incorrectness of Arrowsmiths Map of Vancouver's Island. The line of coast is well delineated, and could be traced upon the map, as far as the promontory named "Cowetchin head," but from that point, all resemblance to the coast ceases; the mutlitude of Islands forming the Arro Archipelago, which extend as far as, and terminate at "Cala descanso", being laid down as an integral portion of Vancouver's Island, whereas the true line of coast runs from 15 to 20 miles west of its position as laid down, on that map, the intermediate space being occupied by Islands, and channels of various breadths, generally navigable, but probably inconvenient for sailing vessels, on account of the strong currentsandManuscript image and frequent calms, which occur in those narrow waters. A correct survey of those channels will remove many of the difficulties, that would at present be experienced by sailing vessels navigating those straits, and should Her Majesty's Government, at any time direct surveys to be made in this quarter I think the Arro Archipelago will be found to have peculiar claims to their attention, as there is a prospect of its soon becoming the channel of a very important trade.
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On our route through the Canal de Arro we touched at the Cowegin River, which falls into that Canal, about 20 miles north of Cowegin head, and derives its name from the Tribe of Indians, which inhabit the neighbouring country.
They live in several villages each having a distinct chief, or headman2, who cannot be said to ruletheManuscript image the community which acknowledges his supremacy, as there is no code of laws, nor do the chiefs possess the power or means of maintaining a regular government; but their personal influence, is nevertheless very great, with their followers. The Cowegins are a warlike people mustering about 500 fighting men, and the total population is about 2100 Souls.
They were extremely friendly and hospitable to our party, and gave us much information in regard to the interior of the country; which by their report appears to be well watered, and abounding in extensive tracts of arable land.
The Cowegin River rises in a Lake within a few hours journey of the Salt-water arm of Nitinat (Barclay's Sound) on the west coast of Vancouver's Island, and is navigable for canoes to itssourceManuscript image source. Those Indians partially cultivate the alluvial Islands near the mouth of the River, where we saw many large and well kept fields of potatoes, in a very flourishing state, and a number of fine cucumbers which had been raised, in the open air, without any particular care.
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About 10 miles north of the Cowegin, the Chemanis River enters the Canal de Arro, it is altogether a smaller stream, than the former, and is navigable to a short distance only from the coast. It is inhabited by a branch of the Cowegin Tribe, whom we did not see.
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As we proceeded north from the Cowegin River, a complete change was observed in the physical character of the country, the primitive and transition rocks of the Victoria District, being replaced by the sandstone formations; in some placesfallingManuscript image falling with a gentle slope, in others presenting precipitous cliffs towards the sea.
The Promotory of Cala Descanso is the northern point of the Arro Archipelago, beyond which is the Inlet of Wentuhuysen, to which point my attention was particularly attracted, through a report of coal having been seen by the Indians in that vicinity. These people are called "Nanymo", and speak nearly the same language, but have not the reputation of being either so numerous or warlike in their habits, as the Cowegin Tribe.
We entered into immediate communication and found them very friendly and disposed to give every information, we desired, in regard to all matters concerning their own affairs, and the country which they inhabit.
They live chiefly by fishing, andalsoManuscript image also grow large quantities of potatoes, in fields which they have brought into cultivation near their villages. Those are built chiefly on a river, named "Nanymo" after the Tribe, which falls into the Inlet, and is navigable for Canoes to the distance of 40 miles from the sea coast. Food is cheap and abundant, and we were plentifully supplied with fresh salmon, and excellent potatoes during our stay there.
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The reports concerning the existence of coal in that place, were I rejoice to say, not unfounded; as the Indians pointed out, three beds, cropping out in different parts of the Inlet; and they also reported that several other beds, occurred on the coast, and in the interior of the country which we did not see. One of those beds measured 57 3/4 inches in depth, of clean coal, and it was impossible to repress a feeling of exultation inbeholdingManuscript image beholding, so huge a mass of mineral wealth, so singularly brought to light by the hand of nature, as if for the purpose of inviting human enterprise, at a season when coal is a desideratum in the Pacific, and the discovery can hardly fail to be of signal advantage to the Colony. The two other seams which we examined, were about 3/4 of a mile distant from the former, and measured respectively 3 inches and 20 inches in depth, and are valuable cheifly as indicating the direction of the beds.
There is every reason to believe from the appearance of the country, and its geological phenomena, that Vancouvers' Island about Wentuhuysen Inlet, is one vast coal field, and if that conjecture be correct the progress of the Colony, will be rapid and prosperous; notwithstanding the many adverse circumstances, which have hitherto retarded the development of its resources.
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That consideration induces me to offer a few remarks on the navigation of the Coast, between Victoria and Wentuhuysen Inlet. The shortest and most direct route between those points, is through the Canal de Arro, a part of the coast of which little is known, and judging from the maps in my possession, which has never been correctly surveyed. Merchant vessels are therefore deterred from taking that route and follow the circuitous channel explored by "Vancouver" in the year 1795, which greatly prolongs the voyage, making the difference of nearly a week, in point of time, on a short run of 140 miles.
It is therefore of the very greatest importance to the trade of this colony that the Canal de Arro, should be explored, and a correct survey prepared as soon as possible, shewing thesoundingsManuscript image soundings, shoals and anchorages where ships may bring to, in calms, or during the continuance of adverse winds; and I beg most earnestly to recommend that measure to your consideration; especially as Her Majestys Government, would thereby render an essential service not only to this Colony, but to the general interests of trade and navigation.
Our excursion did not extend beyond the Inlet of Wentuhuysen, from whence we commenced our return to Victoria, after distributing small presents to the chiefs of the various Tribes, with which they appeared highly satisfied.
In the course of that journey we observed traces of iron stone, in several parts of the coast, and we also procured a rich specimen of Copper ore, found in a distant part of Vancouvers Island, which will be hereafter examined.
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The Hudsons Bay Company's Schooner "Cadboro" lately visited the coal district in Wentuhuysen Inlet, and succeeded in procuring, with the assistance of Indians, about 50 Tons of Coal, in one day. The harbour is safe and accessible to vessels of any class, and the coal is within 2 cables length of the anchorage, so that every circumstance connected with this valuable discovery is suggestive of success.
The Hudsons Bay Company have also sent a small body of Miners to examine the coal beds and to commence immediate operations there.
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Her Majesty's ship "Thetis" arrived at Esquimalt, on the 22nd Inst direct from Queen Charlottes Island, and I believe Captain Kupar has orders from the Commander in Chief to remain on this coast, till the month of January next; chiefly with the view of guarding the Ports of Queen Charlotte'sManuscript imageCharlottes Island. The gold diggings in that quarter have not been productive this season, which has not however altered the general opinion entertained as to its wealth in the precious metals; the Adventurers ascribing their late want of success simply to the circumstance of the true beds not having been discovered.
Fine specimens of lead and copper ore, have also been procured on Queen Charlottes Island, which, in a commercial view, gives it an additional value.
I have the honor to be
Your most obt humble Servant
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale: This is, I think, the most favorable report the Govt have recd concerning the products of VanCouvers Isld & Queen Charlotte Island. The Governor, who is also Agent, or Factor to the H.B.Co will, in all probability have ‸given his ‸other Employers the same information as he has done to the Govt but lest he should not have been so communicative to the Co perhaps a copy of this desph had better be sent to them.
Send copy also to Admiralty, and Geographical Society; and Land Bd.
Shew this to Mr Arrowsmith, who has, of course, hadManuscript image
13 10199. Vancouver's Island
very limited means of acquiring geographical knowledge concerning the part of the world explored by Governor Douglas.
It appears to me that the Company ought to survey the rivers, & places mentioned in this Despatch as they will derive all the principal advantage from correct information in the river & sea Navigation: but if they will not, or ought not to undertake this service then I think for the sake of British interests, & the extension of Commerce in a quarter of the Globe which at no distant time will be of importance of to the Mother Country the Admiralty should be desired to make theManuscript image Survey.
ABd 12 Novr/52
HM N 15
I do not think the attention of the Govt of this country of this country3 has been sufficiently directed to the fact of the very great importance, of which the possession of Queen Charlottes & Vancouvers islands may have to this country.
Whatever be the event of the rumoured […] and partially proved, discovery of gold in the former—the possession of coal in 'Vancouvers island'—a solitary instance along the long line of coast of the two Americas (as far as we have yet discovered), together with its favorable position as regards Pt Francisco & the whole Western coast of N America ought to make it the centre of the Pacific commerce.
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Communicate as proposed by Mr Blackwood, & I think a suggestion should be made to the Admiralty as to surveying the navigation.
JSP 16
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Colonial Office to Chairman of the Hudsons Bay Company, 27 November 1852, forwarding copy of the despatch.
Minutes by CO staff
Similar letter to the President of the Royal Geographical Society.
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Colonial Office to Hamilton, Admiralty, 27 November 1852, forwarding copy of the despatch for consideration.
Minutes by CO staff
(I am to speak to Sir J. Pakington shortly about printing any of these papers for Parliament, at least so much as relates to Q Ch. Id.)
Other documents included in the file
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Draft reply, Pakington to Douglas, No. 6, 18 December 1852.
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Draft, Colonial Office to Barclay, Hudson's Bay Company, 27 December 1852, forwarding copy of the Admiralty letter respecting possible survey and advising of recent instructions to Douglas on the subject.
  1. This date is apparently incorrect. The correct date is 2 August.
  2. It is possible that the writer intended this to read "head-man," but upon further research, and as indicated by the image scan, it is more likely that the hyphen indicates a line-break in the middle of the word. See image scan.
  3. The words "of this country" are repeated. See image scan.
  4. Parts of this text are written within a stamp. See image scan.
  5. This number appears in the left margin. See image scan
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People in this document

Arrowsmith, John

Barclay, Archibaldus

Blackwood, Arthur Johnstone

Cuffe, John Otway O'Conner

Douglas, James

Hamilton, William Alexander Baille

Jadis, Vane

Kuper, Augustus L.

Merivale, Herman

Pakington, John Somerset

Vancouver, George

Organizations in this document

Colonial Office

Hudson's Bay Company

Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty

Royal Geographical Society

Vessels in this document

Cadboro, 1824-1860

HMS Thetis, 1846-55

Places in this document

Barkley Sound

Chemainus River

Cowichan Head

Cowichan Lake

Cowichan Region

Cowichan River

Descanso Bay


Gulf Islands

Haida Gwaii

Haro Strait


Nanaimo Harbour

Nanaimo River


San Francisco

Vancouver Island