No. 3, Executive [Queen Charlotte's Islands]
26 July 1853
My Lord Duke,
I have the honor of reporting for the information of Her Majesty's Government, the safe arrival of Commander Prevost of Her Majesty's Steam Ship "Virago", at this place, on his return from a cruize on the coast of Queen Charlottes Island, and other Ports of this coast.
Captain Prevost arrived by boat from "Nanaimo", about 80 miles north of Victoria, where the "Virago" will be detained a few days taking in Coal, and he will return thither immediately by the same conveyance, to bring Her Majesty's Ship to this Port.
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Your Grace will observe by Commander Prevosts Report [Marginal note: 23rd July 1863], a copy of which is herewith transmitted, that in pursuance of instructions, from me [Marginal note: 8th June 1853], which were transmitted with my letter to your Grace, of the 8th June last, requiring him to visit Queen Charlotte's Island, for the purpose of enquiring into the causes, which led to the capture of the "Susan Sturges", and if necessary to punish the authors of that outrage, he touched at Skidegate, a port of that Island, to procure the evidence of two Indians, who were on board the "Susan Sturges" at the time of her capture; but not finding the parties there, he followed them to Fort Simpson, an establishment belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, and commenced an investigation, with the assistance of Dr Kennedy, of the Hudson's Bay Company's service, and I herewith forward copies of the statements made by the several Indians [Marginal note: Scowell's statement. John Winnet's statement. Edenshaw's statement], whose evidence was then taken, which do little more than corroborate the information previously in our possession. He then proceeded to Massett Harbour, and anchored in a commanding position off the principal Village, which could have been easily destroyed by the guns of the "Virago."
"Seakai" Manuscript image
"Seakai" one of the minor Chiefs and the Indian, who commenced the plunder of the "Susan Sturges", and proposed to murder the crew, was arrested, and detained on board the "Virago", but of the other leaders concerned in the capture of that vessel, some were absent, and "Tatulat", the least guilty, eluded pursuit by flying to the mountains, in the Interior of the Island. In these circumstances the only exemplary punishment, that could be inflicted on the Tribe, was the destruction of the Massett Village, but as many innocent persons must necessarily have been involved, in that calamity, Commander Prevost, from a laudable feeling of humanity, spared it, from the Flames, and simply exacted restitution of the plunder of the "Susan Sturges", which still remained in their possession, consisting of two boats, and an iron safe; which were given up, by the Indians present.
The punishment inflicted upon the Massett people though, disproportioned to the offence, will have a good effect, upon the minds of the Natives at large, as admitting that the power of the Government was on this occasion exercised with scrupulous humanity, enough hasbeenManuscript image been effected to convince them, that the same power might easily be used for their destruction. I would remark to your Grace that Merchant vessels should never enter into close communication with the savages of this coast, without a strong crew and being well equipped with fire arms, for I am fully convinced that the destruction of one half of the fighting men of any given tribe of natives, would not deter the survivers from attempting to plunder, the next defenceless vessel that fell into their power, even without having formed any preconcerted plan, and merely from the instinctive thirst of gain which is the ruling passion, more powerful even than the fear of death, in their unprincipled, and badly regulated minds. The loss of the "Susan Sturges", as I stated to your Grace in my letter of the 8th June last, arose entirely from the neglect of those necessary precautions.
A small merchant vessel, with a total complement of seven hands lightly armed, and equipped, imprudently ventures among a crowd of bold and crafty savages [Marginal note: See Scowell's statement], one of them in attempting from curiosity to clamber over the bulwarks of the ship, is severely wounded by James Camden, a seaman oftheManuscript image the "Susan Sturges", the other natives taking umbrage at that hasty act, rush in numbers into the ship, and meeting with no resistance, take possession of the deck, and begin the work of plunder. Such is a brief statement of the case, [Marginal note: Report page 4] and I observe that Captain Prevost, takes a view of it, in substance identical, with that which I expressed in my Despatch to your Grace of the 8th of June last, that the "Susan Sturges", would not have fallen a prey to the savages, had even common precautions, been used to protect her.
I will further observe to your Grace relative to the subject of the "Susan Sturges" that it is not the intention of this government to take any further measures, with the view of punishing the Indians of Masset, unless compelled thereto, by their own violence or misconduct, or directed to that effect by instructions from Her Majesty's Government.
Captain Prevost, after leaving Masset ran along the west coast of Queen Charlotte's Island, and called at Mitchel, or Gold Harbour, which he found deserted, no attempt having been made this year, by any parties, to dig gold in that quarter.
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In consequence of the number and warlike character of the Natives, the humidity of the climate, and the almost impenetrable forest, which covers the surface of the country, it possesses fewer attractions than the gold fields of California, and Australia, for which it has been deserted by the crowd of needy adventurers toiling for bread, who flocked thither last year.
Such persons cannot maintain themselves on Queen Charlotte's Island; there must be a combination of skill and capital to develop its mineral wealth, which I hope will at some future day add to the power and wealth of the empire.
Begging to refer your Grace for further information to the accompanying report.
I have the honor to be
Your Graces most obedient Servant
James Douglas
Lieut Governor
Queen Charlotte's Island

The Right Honble His Grace The Duke of Newcastle
Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State
For the Colonial Department
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
Send to the Foreign Office with reference to our letter of the 23 Augt?
VJ Sepr 27
HM O 5
FP 6
N 8
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Colonial Office to H.U. Addington, Foreign Office, 19 October 1853, forwarding copy of the despatch for information.
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
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1. Commander James C. Prevost to Douglas, 25 July 1853, reporting the results of his enquiry into the capture of the Susan Sturges, and enclosing the statements of three Indigenous men questioned on the subject. Transcribed below.
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1.1 Statement of Edensaw, chief of North Island, no date.
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1.2 Statement of Scowall, chief of "Chatsina Tribe," taken at Fort Simpson, 18 June 1853.
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1.3 Statement of John Winnets, "Skidegate Indian," taken at Fort Simpson, 19 June 1853.
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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Copy

29498
53

Sir

I have the honor to communicate to you, the result of my second visit to the Queen Charlottes Islands and also the offers taken by me in consequence of your request to bring the Natives of the northern part of the island to an account for their barbarous conduct towards the crew of the Susan Sturges American Schooner, last September, which ended in the plunder of the vessel and her total destruction by few.
I first visited Skidegates in hopes of procuring the evidence of 2 Indians of that tribe, who were on board the Susan Sturges at the time of her capture but they, as well as the chiefs were absent on a trading visit of Fort Simpson, where accordingly I followed them and assisted by Dr Kennedy commenced an investigation the statements of the different Indians examined I enclose for you information the approach to Masset Harbouris
His excellency,
Governor Douglas
⎯&c⎯&c⎯&c
Vancouver Island
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is not only dangerous but little known on its eastern side a long sprit of sand appears to run off and we crossed a bar with only 21 foot water on it anchoring within 2 cattles length of the principal village. Canoes of chiefs came alongside without any fear, but having declaimed “Seakai” father of “Wha”, a minor chief who first boarded the Susan Sturges, the men became heightened and luckily we had only women and children. The object of our visit was thus known amongst them, and in consequence we failed in taking prisoner “Taloulat” a Masset Indian, who is said to have secured the iron sale which contained $1500 as his share of the plunder from another Indian of the name of “Steeltae”, who stole it from the Susan Sturges all the principal chiefs and fighting men amounting to perhaps 130 in number were absent at Sitka, this together with the contradictory statements of the various parties examined made it impossible to confine any punishment we could inflict to those parties who were directly concerned in the capture of the Susan Sturges, from the same cause we were unable to serve upon the persons of the principal chiefs who aided and assisted in her capture and to recover the captured property was equally impossible, ten months having elapsed since the events took place, most of it if not all, having been disposed of to different parties between Sitka and Fort Simpson.
Our only resources left was to obtain an equivalent for the party as far as lay in power which after a little discussion carried on accordingtoManuscript image to Indian fashion we discovered could only be obtained by force. Such was our commanding position, in a few minutes we could have knocked down the whole of the village, destroying much property contained in their houses and this without any risk of loss of life, on our part, but I hesitated to do this, as in the general destruction many innocent lives might have been taken away, the quarter portion being women and children and much property destroyed belonging to those who had not shared in the plunder, besides the savages, Queen Charlottes Island being a territory of the Queen. I had to consider them as her subjects, entitled to a certain extent to the protection afforded by the laws of H.M. Government.
Accompanied by Dr Kennedy stranded amongst them and after a little hesitation they consented to give up all the property in their possession of this unfortunate vessel consisting of two boats, and the iron safe, which after many threats of certain punishment, if anything of the kind again occurred we consented to receive, endeavouring to impress upon their ignorant minds that had any lives been taken, the murderers would have been certainly shot, or some other dreadful punishment inflicted upon them.
I trust that the presence of a man of war, in this post where none had ever visited before, and in consideration of the above circumstances, the leniency displayed towards these Indians will have the desired effects of deterringthem Manuscript image them from committing again such wanton outrages and in future these Islands may be safely visited by vessels lawfully licensed to trade and properly armed.
I cannot close this without expressing my hopes H M Government will think proper to caution all vessels trading on this coast, not to attempt to hold any intercourse with the Indians without the utmost caution being observed, and being always ready and prepared to resist treachery or surprise by the Native tribes, such is their love of property, no power on earth can induce them to resist plundering when an opportunity occurs.
Having for the last two months been constantly occupied in examining into the particulars of the loss of the Susan Sturges, and weighed maturely the different opinions expressed, and the circumstances connected with the said loss. I cannot help expressing a strong opinion on this point, being fully convinced no such events would have taken place had the vessel been properly armed and prepared with a proper number of men to defend herself from the treacherous designs of the Native tribes, she was trading with.
The land about Massett appears fertile, flat, and cultivated with a large quantity of potatoes, its Inhabitants the finest formed men on the whole coast.- Indian report states, had we followed up the Inlet we were at anchor, in, for about 25 Miles, we should have reached a deep lagoon as the head of which several fresh water streams empty themselvesfrom Manuscript image from a large fresh water lake between this lake and Skidegates, they frequently communicate by land but the distance we could not ascertain from the two specimens we were able to collect and the reports of Mr Gordon, Mate who followed a river some little distance up shore every reason to believe, coal exists not very far distant. It blew a hard gale from the SE during the three days we were there, which together with the strong tides running 5 miles per hour (at spring tides perhaps 7), and the nature of our visit prevented me from obtaining further particulars of this by far the most interesting shot we had yet visited, leaving Masset on the afternoon of Saturday 16th, we were detained in Parry’s Passage, North Island, for 2 days.
Streaming along the western side I called a second time at Mitchells Harbour, and satisfied myself no vessels have been there this year, in fact the late excitement caused by the Gold discovery has entirely subsided, even the Indians of the Kitewas tribe, whose village is situated close to the entrance of Gold Harbour, were occupied in their usual avocations of fishing to.- I also touched at Skongoi in Rose’s Harbour, and crossing the Newitte Bar, on the evening of the 21st, have this day anchored at Nanaimo to fill up with coals previous to my departure.
Having been charged with the particular duties of preserving H M Interests, and protecting H M Subjects in the QueenCharlottes Manuscript image Charlottes Islands, it is with much satisfaction I am able to acquaint your Excellency, as well as for the information of H.M. Government, that has during the three months H M Steamer under my command, has been employed on this duty. I have twice circumnavigated those Islands calling each time as the following Harbour, Skidigates, Virago Sound, North Island, Mitchels Harbour, Skangoi, and Massett, with the exception of the two latter, without meeting with a vessel or foreigner of any description, and can readily assure you, no further anxiety is likely to be caused by the late gold discovery at Queen Charlotte’s Islands.
Agreeable to the orders of the commander in chief, I have the honor to acquaint, you, that as soon as I can possibly get ready, for sea, I shall leave this for San Francisco, calling at Esquimalt for a day-
I have the honor to be
Sir
Your obedient
Humble Servant
Commander

& Senior Officer
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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29498
53
Commander & Senior Officer

Statement of Edenshaw - Chief of North Island
Went on board the Susan Sturges at Skidegates, and with his wife and child came off Massett Harbour in Rooney’s cabin. Wished Rooney to remain longer at Skidegates before he came to the Northward, that he might get a stronger party of his men telling Captn Rooney he had a very weak crew. — When off Masset Harbour the Susan Sturges got into light and baffling winds and was drifting about the entrance to the harbour, several canoes came alongside and commenced trading dried fish. The crew were variously engaged on one side of the vessel, all at once his wife called out to him, one of the crew had struck an Indian, he ran forward, and saw that all the Indians in that canoe had boarded the vessel. Rooney and Laing got down into the cabin and shut themselves up for some time, he (Edensaw) doing all he could to prevent the Indians from entering the cabin. Seakai was the first to push by him and was the first man to plunder, taking the Captains spyglass. Stemwelli another chief and Seakai proposed to murder the crew to prevent which Edensaw proposed to them to save their lives, but to plunder the vessel. During this time Edensaw received from Stemwelli a slight cut in the face from a push of his gun. the Indians plundering the vessel. When he received the certificate from Captn Rooney dated 26th September 1862 he was guarding the door of the cabin and itManuscript imageit was given to him then. Captn Rooney not knowing how long he had to live, as the Indians were threatening to kill him. States Captn Rooney told him Scowall was the first to cut open the deck, by which an opening was made into his sleeping cabin. Acknowledges he cut away the anchors to prevent the vessel from drifting in shore which if she had done, he thinks all the crew and himself would have been murdered
In answer to what he said to the canoe which first came alongside: she contained Duncan’s son, and some of his own relations who came to enquire what articles of trade they should bring alongside, and he told them to bring salmon and dried fish, which they would exchange for barter. They met the large Massett canoe with Seaki in it, and he proposed to them at once to go and take the vessel
They had a report overland from Skidegates that she was very weakly manned and when Captn Rooney left the vessel there were only 3 men on board. After the small canoe met the large one most of the chiefs went into the latter to proceed to the Susan Sturges namely Weha and his brother Stemwelli, Seaki and Tealoolat, the latter did not join in the plunder when on board except taking the large boat, but afterwards when on shore took the safe which held the gold from Steeltae. Does not know who set fire to the vessel. but after she was plundered they all left, night coming on, and the next morning saw her on fire a long way out to sea. Scowall was not on board when the plunder first commenced but when he came found 4 or 5 barrels of powder in the lockers of the after cabin, which he took. also the carpenters Manuscript image chest of tools. Edensaw made several attempts by giving the Indians Tobacco, cotton & powder to get them away from the vessel without plundering the vessels but could not succeed, states also there were no women in the canoes which first came off but latterly they came from the shore and joined in the plunder.
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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Commander & Senior Officer

Statement of Scowall chief of Chatsina Tribe, taken at Fort Simpson June 18th 1853
Was on a visit at Massett trading potatoes with a large and small canoe, about 15 men in all, had been there 4 days when the Susan Sturges arrived off the Harbour. a small canoe communicated with her and from the chief Edensaw they heard they had only 7 men on board. and that he was doubtful whether he would take possession of her or not. This message was delivered to the Massett people generally and the canoes went off as stated by Captn Rooney without their women and children and armed with muskets, knives & pistols; when they came alongside the next morning. Edensaw suggested to Captn Rooney not to allow more than 2 or 3 men to come on board at a time. Rooney told him to do so, when one of them forced himself over the boarding netting and received a wound in the face with an axe from one of the men James Camden the Indians said one of our men is killed, and made a rush on board, and commenced the plunder. Scowall by his own statement was not then on board but seeing from the shore the Susan Sturges drifting about and sails flapping he went off to see what was the matter, when he got there he found them all in an uproar plundering the vessel, while they were busy he got hold of Captn Rooney, secreted him, and having him in his canoe while the plunder was going on, managed to slip on shore when there he felt pretty Manuscript image secure.
The next day Edensaw came and made a demand for them but he said yesterday you were not so anxious about their safety, you were looking after blankets and plunder” and would not give them up. During the night he managed to slip out of the Harbour and brought them to Fort Simpson. When he first got on board he asked the reason why they intended to take the vessel, it was not good for them to take her when she was not a wreck. Rooney said take the goods and property in her and allow the crew and vessel to go away. he was opposed by the Massett Indians, and thinks Edensaw was at the bottom of it, he had no voice in the matter as it was not in his lands. Shortly after this Edensaw cut the lashings of the Anchors, and let them both run out to the clinch. after the anchors were dropped, they called out to the remainder of the Indians to come on board. It was then they began to cut the sails adrift and destroy the vessel, and finally burnt her, man of the name of Nalthrow of the Masset tribe set fire to her. Does not know the number of Indians engaged in the plunder, he thinks a great number perhaps 400 — 3 tribes of Massett and Edensaw’s men. — Kirgori 6 men — Chatsina. 5 men. —
Documents enclosed with the main document (transcribed)
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29498
53
James C Prevost Commander & Senior Officer
Statement of John Winnets Skidegate Indian taken before Commander James C Prevost, and Dr Kennedy June 19th 1853. — Fort Simpson NW coast of America Lat 54° 34’ Long 130° 26’ W

On the 25th September 1852 a canoe with 5 men came alongside when off Point Rose did not hear what conversation passed between Edensaw and this canoe, but learnt afterwards from the Massett Indians, he had said I am only pretending to be kind to Captn Rooney now, when I get him to Naiden (Edensaw’s harbour) I will try and take her. — The Massett people then to be beforehand with him attacked the Susan Sturges the following; Weha Massett chief was the owner of the large canoe, which the Indians boarded from his brother was the first to get over the netting and then he received a cut in the head from Tim, the next Indian who followed exclaimed, let us take the vessel, and steal the property when all made a rush and overpowered the crew Edensaw did not offer to prevent them —
Scowall came alongside, while the vessel was being plundered, and succeeded in getting possession of Rooney and the male and took them on shore. Weha being the first possessor of the latter but on Scowall offering 4 blankets he was he was given up to him. 7 blankets were afterwards given for Rooney & Lang by the Hudsons Bay Coy. The name of the man who stole the safe with the gold is Steeltae the man who took it from him on shore, is Taloulat the Indian John Hinnets was taken to San Francisco by Manuscript image Captn Rooney and formed one of the crew of the Susan Sturges
Douglas, James to Pelham-Clinton, Henry Pelham Fiennes 26 July 1853, CO 305:4, no. 9498, 61. 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/V53203.html.

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