No. 19
8 May 1858
Since I had the honor of addressing you, on the 6th of April last, 1 on the subject of the "Couteau" Gold Mines, they have become, more than ever, a source of attraction to the people of Washington and Oregon Territories, and it is evident from the accounts published in the latest San Francisco Papers; 2 that intense excitement prevails among the inhabitants ofthatManuscript image that stirring city, on the same subject.
2. The "Couteau" country, is there represented and supposed to be, in point of mineral wealth, a second California or Australia, and those impressions are sustained by the false and exaggerated statements of steamboat owners, and other interested parties, who benefit by the current of emigration which is now setting strongly toward this quarter.
3. Boats, canoes, and every species of small craft, are continually employed in pouring their cargoes of human beings into Fraser's River, and it is supposed that not less than one thousand whites are already at work, and on the way to the gold districts.
4. Many accidents have happened in the dangerous rapidsofManuscript image of that River; a great number of canoes having been dashed to pieces and their cargoes swept away by the impetuous stream, while of the ill fated adventurers who accompanied them, many have been swept into eternity.
5. The others nothing daunted by the spectacle of ruin, and buoyed up by the hope of amassing wealth, still keep pressing onwards, towards the coveted goal of their most ardent wishes.
6. On the 25th of last month the American Steamer "Commodore", 3 arrived in this Port, direct from San Francisco with 450 passengers on board, the chief part of whom are gold miners for the "Couteau" country.
7. Nearly 400 of those men were landed at this place, and havesinceManuscript image since left in boats and canoes for Frasers River.
8. I ascertained through inquiries on the subject, that those men are all well provided with mining tools, and there was no dearth of capital or intelligence among them. About 60 British subjects, with an equal number of native born Americans, the rest being chiefly Germans, with a smaller proportion of Frenchmen and Italians, composed this body of adventurers.
9. They are represented as being, with some exceptions, a specimen of the worst of the population of San Francisco; the very dregs, in fact, of society. Their conduct, while here, would have led me to form a very different conclusion; as our little town though crowded to excess with this suddeninfluxManuscript image influx of people, and though there was a temporary scarcity of food, and dearth of house accommodation; the Police few in number; and many temptations to excess in the way of drink, yet quiet and order prevailed, and there was not a single committal, for rioting drunkeness or other offenses, during their stay here.
10. The Merchants and other business classes of Victoria are rejoicing in the advent of so large a body of people in the Colony and are strongly in favor of making this Port a stopping point between San Francisco and the Gold mines, converting the latter, as it were, into a feeder, and dependency of this Colony.
Victoria would thus become a Depôt and centre of trade for the gold districts, and the natural consequence would be an immediate increase in thewealthManuscript image wealth and population of the Colony.
11. To effect that object it will be requisite to facilitate by every possible means the transport of passengers and goods to the furthest navigable point on Fraser's River, and the obvious means of accomplishing that end is to employ light Steamers in plying between and connecting this Port (Victoria) with the Falls of Frasers River, 4 distant 130 miles from the discharge of that River, into the Gulf of Georgia; those Falls being generally believed to be, at the commencement of the remunerative gold diggings, and from thence the Miners, would readily make their way on foot or after the summer freshets, by the River, into the interior of the country.
12. By that means also the whole trade of the gold regions would pass through Fraser's River,andManuscript image and be retained within the British Territory, forming a valuable outlet for British manufactured goods, and at once creating a lucrative trade between the mother country and Vancouver's Island.
13. Taking a view of the subject, simply in its relations to trade and commerce, apart from considerations of national policy, such perhaps would be the course most likely to promote the interests of this Colony, but on the contrary, if the country be thrown open to indiscriminate immigration the interests of the empire may suffer, from the introduction of a foreign population, whose sympathies may be decidedly anti-British, and if the majority be Americans, strongly attached to their own country and peculiar institutions.
14. Taking that view of the question it assumes an alarming aspect and suggests a doubt as to the policy of permitting the freeentranceManuscript image entrance of foreigners into the British Territory for residence, under any circumstances whatever, without in the first place requiring them to take the oath of allegiance, and otherwise to give such security, for their conduct, as the government of the country, may deem it proper and necessary to require at their hands.
15. It is easy, in fact, to forsee the dangerous consequences that may grow out of the unrestricted immigration of foreigners into the interior of Fraser's River. If the majority, of the immigrants, be American, there will always be a hankering in their minds after annexation to the United States, and with the aid of their countrymen in Oregon and California, at hand, they will never cordially submit to British rule, nor possess the loyal feelings of British subjects.
16. Out Manuscript image
16. Out of the considerations thus briefly reviewed, arises the question which I beg to submit for your consideration, as to the course of policy that ought, in the present circumstances to be taken, that is whether it be advisable to restrain immigration, or to allow it to take its course.
17. The opinion which I have formed on the subject leads me to think that, in the event of the diggings proving remunerative, it will now be found impossible to check the course of immigration, even by closing Fraser's River, as the Miners would then force a passage into the gold District, by way of the Columbia River, and the valuable trade of the country, in that case, be driven from its natural course, into a foreign channel, and entirely lost to this country.
18. On the contrary shouldtheManuscript image the diggings prove to be unremunerative, a question, which as yet remains undecided, the existing excitement we may suppose, will die away of itself, and the Miners having no longer the prospect of large gains will naturally abandon a country which no longer holds out any inducement for them to remain.
19. Until the value of the country, as a gold producing region, be established, on clearer evidence than can now be adduced in its favor; and the point will no doubt be decided before the close of the present year, I would simply recommend that a small naval or military force should be placed at the disposal of this government to enable us to maintain the peace, and to enforce obedience to the Laws.
20. The system of grantingLicencesManuscript image Licences 5 for digging gold has not yet come into operation.
21. Perhaps a simpler method of raising a revenue would be to impose a Custom's duty on imports, to be levied on all supplies brought into the country whether by Fraser's or the Columbia River.
22. The export of gold from the country is still inconsiderable not exceeding 600 ounces, since I last addressed you. The principal diggings are reported to be at present, and will probably continue flooded for several months to come, so that unless other diggings apart from the River beds are discovered, the production of Gold will not increase, until the summer freshets are over, which will probablyhappenManuscript image happen about the middle of August next. In the mean time the ill provided adventurers who have gone thither, will consume their stock of provisions, and probably have towards [sic] retire from the country, until a more favourable season.
23. For the time being, all my efforts will be directed to maintaining the peace in the gold districts; to supporting the rights of the Crown; protecting the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company; and infusing a British element into the population.
24. I shall be most happy to receive your instructions on the subjects in this letter.
I have etc.
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Lord Carnarvon
Just arrived. This does not add much to the letters received through the HB Co, 6 but you will observe that Gov. Douglas expressly asks for a "small naval or military force."
HM June 25
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft, Colonial Office to Secretary to the Admiralty, 26 June 1858, forwarding copy of the despatch for consideration.
Manuscript image
Draft, Colonial Office to John Shepherd, Hudson's Bay Company, 28 June 1858, forwarding copy of the despatch for information.
Manuscript image
Draft reply, Lytton to Douglas, No. 2, 1 July 1858 (two drafts, with revisions).
  1. = Douglas to Labouchere, 6 April 1858, No. 15, 5180, CO 305/9, p. 61.
  2. = reports of gold discoveries For example, Gold Discoveries Confirmed! The Gold Fields of the Pacific Coast, and Further from the New Gold Mines, San Francisco Daily Alta California, 3, 5, and 6 May 1858.
  3. Originally named the Brother Jonathan, the Commodore, 1181 tons and 221 feet in length, was built in New York in 1850 and saw service on the Atlantic coast until Cornelius Vanderbilt bought it in 1852 and brought it to San Francisco. Vanderbilt sold it to the Nicaragua Steamship Company, which ran it from San Francisco to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, from 1852 to 1857. John T. Wright bought the ship in 1857 and sailed it between California and Esquimalt from 1857 to 1861, when he in turn sold it to the California Steam Navigation Company, which rebuilt it ?? in 1861 and renamed it the Brother Jonathan. The vessel continued to serve the west coast until it sank off Crescent City, California, on 30 July 1865. Erik Heyl, Early American Steamers (New York Erik Heyl, 1953), pp. 63-64. Frederick Way, Fr., comp., Way's Steamboat Directory (Sewickley, Pa., [1942]); William M. Lytle, comp., Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1807-1868 (Mystic, Conn., 1952); Randall V. Mills, Stern-Wheelers up Columbia (Palo Alto, Calif., 1947). Best??
  4. = Hell's Gate I.e., Hell's Gate in the Fraser Canyon; also referred to in the newspapers of the time as the "Big Cañon," sometimes differentiating between the Upper Cañon or the Lower Cañon. A.C. Anderson (Hand-book and Map to the Gold Regions, pp. 5-6), described Hell's Gate as the series of rapids called the 'Falls', which were three miles in length and situated about twelve miles above Fort Hope. There is no such abrupt descent as the name implies, Anderson continued. At low water these rapids may be ascended with light craft, by making portages; but at the higher stages of the water they present a difficulty almost insurmountable. Cf. Douglas to Labouchere, 6 April 1858, No. 15, 5180, CO 305/9, p. 61.
  5. = regulations, 30 Dec 57. On 30 December 1857, Douglas issued regulations, pursuant to his proclamation of two days earier, requiring miners to purchase licenses for ten shillings a month before they could dig for gold. Douglas to Labouchere, 29 December 1857, No. 35, 2084, CO 305/8, p. 271. Check if same as regulations published in the Gazette, 30 June 58, PABC. The fee was later reduced to five shillings a month??
  6. Shepherd to Stanley, 11 March 1858, 2396, CO 305/9, p. 460; and Shepherd to Lytton, 3 June 1858, 5419, CO 305/9, p. 469. Others??
People in this document

Anderson, Alexander Caulfield

Carnarvon, Earl

Douglas, James

Labouchere, Henry

Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer

Merivale, Herman


Organizations in this document

Colonial Office

Hudson's Bay Company

Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty

Vessels in this document

Brother Jonathan, 1851-1865

Places in this document

Columbia River


Fraser Canyon

Fraser River

Hell's Gate

New York

Oregon Territory, or Columbia District

San Francisco

Strait of Georgia

The Falls

Thompson Region

Vancouver Island


Washington Territory