No. 44
13 October 1858
1. I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your Despatch of the 16th of August 1858, No. 10, transmitting to me copy of a letter to Lord Derby, with a Petition to the Crown, from a gentleman named Nias, residing at San Francisco, California.
2. As you have thought it proper to submit this letter and Petition for my report, on account of the great importance of thesubjectManuscript image subject, I have to offer the following remarks in respect to the Petition.
3. Mr Nias says that James Douglas Esqre has sold large numbers of Town lots in said City of Victoria, and large tracts of suburban lands in vicinity of said City to Capitalists and Speculators without annexing conditions to said sale, requiring such Town lots and Suburban tracts to be improved with substantial improvements within a reasonable time. That said lots had been sold 50 and 60 to one person, at the Government price £5 and £10 per lot; and in reality worth from £50 to £1000 and upwards in some instances; and are now held at from 20 to 200 times the first cost.
The Manuscript image
4. The allegation contained in this part of Mr Nias' Petition has, I presume, application to my public acts as Governor of Vancouver's Island for the Crown, and Agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, my signature in the latter capacity being attached to all Town lot Deeds, and has, I suppose, no application to any of my acts as a private individual, otherwise it is utterly and totally untrue, as neither directly nor indirectly has one acre of land been sold for me, or in my behalf on Vancouver's Island.
5. All public land in Vancouver's Island is sold by the Colonial Surveyor in the public offices of the Colony at the fixed Government price of20Manuscript image 20 shillings an acre, and no change has, up to this day, been made; neither has the Governor any authority to alter that standard price.
6. In no instance have Town or Suburban lots been sold by the Colonial Government, for the reason that the colonization law of Vancouver's Island, provides that no grant of land shall contain less than 20 acres.
7. Tracts of different sizes have been offered for sale by individual proprietors of land in this Colony; and the Hudson's Bay Company to meet the public demand have sold a few suburban and a great number of Town lots near Fort Victoria, where they hold about 1200 acres of landbelongingManuscript image belonging to their Fur Trade concern. The Hudson's Bay Company have always sold suburban lots, consisting of 5 acres of land, at the rate of £25 for each lot; and Town lots measuring 120 X 60 feet, at first sold for £10.8.4, have now risen to £20.16.8 a lot.
8. The Petition states that such Town lots and suburban tracts have been sold at the Government price £5 and £10 per lot, and are now held at from 20 to 200 times "the first cost," a statement that is evidently incorrect as respects the actual sale price; and is equally so as respects their present value, the Government land being still sold at 20 shillings an acre and thousands of acres being in the market for sale without a purchaser and any number of Town lots maynowManuscript image now be bought at the original price of £20.16.8. There was a time last summer when private sales of small parcels of land in good situations were made at the rate of £100 an acre, but that unhealthy inflation was temporary and met with no countenance from Government, and that price could never as a rule be quoted as the value of land in Vancouver's Island.
9. We have always endeavoured to check the operations of capitalists who purchase land merely for re-sale at a profit, though it is not clear to my mind that, if practicable, it would in all cases be desirable to prevent such operations. Without however entering into that question at present, I will remark thatVancouver'sManuscript image Vancouver's Island Vancouver's Island has enjoyed a remarkable freedom from the speculations of Capitalists. The only large tract of land, about 6000 acres, sold in one lot, was purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company for their coal works at Nanaimo. In some few other instances the lots have rather exceeded 500 acres, but generally speaking, lots have been of moderate size, and purchased solely with the view of actual settlement.
10. The following synopsis of sales of Town lots and agricultural land effected since the commencement of this present year made up from a return received from the Colonial Surveyor will further show that Her Majesty's Colony of Vancouver's Island has not fallenintoManuscript image into the hands of Mr Nias' dreaded American "Land Grabber," and also the incorrectness of the assertion, in the Petition, that as many as 50 and 60 lots have been sold to one person.
The total number of Town lots sold is 1142, equal to an area of 190 1/3 acres, excluding, of course, the spaces retained for streets.
These 1142 lots were purchased by 434 individuals, which will give but 2 5/9 lots or 70 17/100 perches, or about 2112 square yards of land to each purchaser.
These facts alone would suffice to answer Mr Nias' assertion, but to place the subdivision in a clearer light, it may be stated that as many as 203 of the lots were soldsinglyManuscript image singly to 209 different purchasers, a few of such single lots having been purchased by more than one person on joint account.
Another illustration of the very general subdivision of property is afforded by the fact that for the limited number of 8 of the lots there were as many as 17 purchasers.
On the other hand, some single individuals did purchase more than one lot and probably for good reasons. Practically a Town could not have been established had every individual purchaser been limited to the acquisiton of one lot of 60 X 120 feet, for so small a quantity of land would not have sufficed for many of thedomesticManuscript image domestic and business purposes for which the purchases were made.
Besides, such a limitation would have banished Capital entirely from investment in Town land.
Agricultural lands, sold at £1 per acre
Saanich Disct 47 Purchasers of 38 sectns formg together 11,210 acres
Cowitchin do 34 " 27 " " 14,620 "
Lake do 2 " 2 " " 450 "
Sooke do 8 " 8 " " 2,040 "
Victoria &c do 35 " 35 " " 1,894 "
___ ___ _____ Total 126 " 110 " " 30214 " which gives a result of nearly 239 acres, certainly a very moderate quantity to each purchaser.
11. The Petition however, respects a subject of great importance. I will therefore take the liberty of making some remarks on the system recommended by Mr Nias for effecting sales of land. There is in my opinion noobjectionManuscript image objection to the system which has always been a favorite theory of my own. The only question is whether that system could be enforced in all cases with advantage to a country in the condition of Vancouver's Island.
12. On the rush of emigration to this Colony last summer, I greatly feared that the operations of land speculators might prove detrimental to the rising interests of Victoria, and as mere speculative purchases of land are repugnant to the whole system of colonization established in Vancouver's Island, I was prompted by my own views on the subject to make it a rule, as a condition necessary to perfect title,thatManuscript image that "substantial improvement" should be made within a reasonable time on all Town lots held in the Town of Victoria; but I was restrained from taking that step, by considerations as to the probable influence of such a measure in checking the progress of legitimate settlement, and I will here submit a few of those reasons for your information.
13. After striving for many years without much success to attract a population to this Colony, it struck me on reflection that it would be absurd to place a check on emigration, by imposing onerous conditions on purchasers of land, the very instant that people began to come into the Country; with thousands of square milesofManuscript image of uninhabited wilderness containing as good land as any in the District of Victoria, and equal in all other natural advantages, it seemed an excess of caution to guard the District of Victoria with such jealous vigilance. It also occurred to me that the value of land like that of other property is regulated by the law of supply and demand, and that with so much waste land as there is in this Colony, a high speculative price could never be long maintained. And also, that every person investing Capital in the purchase of landed property, becomes interested in the prosperity of that Country, where his Capital is invested, and is naturally ledfromManuscript image from motives of self interest, to seek its advancement and also that the phrase "substantial improvement" is a vague term, which may be evaded in many ways, a fence or a log hut may, for instance, be legally defined as "substantial improvements," it being in short exceedingly difficult to enforce the observance of any regulation, militating so directly as that would, with public opinion and convenience; neither would its enforcement be in all cases judicious—a laboring man, for example, is desirous of investing his savings in the purchase of a Town lot, but he is told no, you cannot have a Town lot unless you have enough moneytoManuscript image to build a house also, and not being possessed of sufficient funds, he goes his way disappointed, and the Town loses probably an honest and industrious inhabitant, who under a lenient system might have become a useful member of society. The scarcity and exorbitant price of building materials and labor might, as happened, at one time here last summer, absolutely put it out of the power of a poor settler, to undertake immediate improvements.
14. Arguments in short appeared to multiply in favor of the unfettered sale of land, and I in consequence gave up the idea of imposing any restrictions, presuming, moreover; that every onewouldManuscript image would consult his own interest, and do what was best for the improvement of his property. To take any other steps appeared very like killing the Country by over legislation.
15. I would here also remark that there is a remedy against speculative purchases of Town or other land, which may be applied whenever such purchases interfere with the progress of a country, or the convenience of the inhabitants, which is to impose a tax on all unimproved land.
16. The evils that have arisen in Oregon, from the conditions attached to the pre-emption law, are very great, having caused a vast amount of perjury and unsettled Titles.To explainManuscript image To explain this, a person is required there to take oath, that he intends to reside upon and improve his claim, or in other words, to make it his home. He receives on those terms 160 acres of land, and forthwith sells it, making his sons perhaps perjure themselves in the same manner. I have been told that in consequence of that law, there is scarcely a good title in Oregon, as few persons have complied with the conditions of residence and improvement; questions of title are therefore constantly coming before the Courts of the Country, and the utmost uncertainty and confusionprevailsManuscript image prevails.
17. Having hurriedly thrown together these remarks on the subject of land sales, I may further state, that the rapid growth of the Town of Victoria has been remarkable, and if the number of houses can be considered as such, I do not think any system could be attended with a greater amount of substantial improvement, than the system we have hitherto followed.
18. I have in conclusion to remark that Her Majesty's Government may rest assured that I will not fail to protect the public interests, and to prevent as far as lies withinmyManuscript image my power, any wasteful or partial dealings with the public land of this Colony or British Columbia.
I have etc.
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Merivale
This is the answer of Govr Douglas to the allegations of Mr Nias on the subject of land sales in Van Couver's Island. Should copies be sent to the Hudson's Bay Compy & the Emigration Commissrs?
VJ 15 Decr
HM D 15
Lord Carnarvon
I suppose so.
TFE 18 Decr
Copy of this sd go to the H.B.C. and I suppose also to the Em. Com. for their report though I sd be disposed to be satisfied entirely with Govr Douglas' explanation. If the Em. Com. concurs in the Govrs views of the subject and Sir E. Lytton agrees the Govrs conduct as to the sale of land so far as here described might be approved?
C Dec 18
I wish a report from the Em. Commrs before passing any opinion.
EBL D 21
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Colonial Office to H.H. Berens, Hudson's Bay Company, 6 January 1859, forwarding copy of the despatch.
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Draft reply, Lytton to Douglas, No. 18, 9 February 1859.
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Blackwood
A copy of this despatch to be sent to the Emigration Comrs in L[ithographed] F[orm] with reference to their report of 27h Jany.
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Elliot to Emigration Commissioners, 22 December 1858, forwarding copy of the despatch for report.
Douglas, James to Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer 13 October 1858, CO 305:9, no. 12718, 197. 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/V58044.html.

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