No. 30
1 August 1859
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Despatch No 58 of the 30th April last enclosing for my information and guidance the copy of a correspondence with the Foreign office on the subject of the attempts then being made by certain American Citizens to survey and occupy the island of San Juan in the Gulf of Georgia and instructing me to pursue the course indicated by the Earl of Earl of MalmesburyManuscript imageMalmesbury for maintaining the right of the British Crown to the Island.
2. In pursuance of those instructions I appointed John F. de Courcy Esqre to the office of Justice of the Peace for the district of San Juan vice J.C. Griffin Esqr whose commission as Justice of the Peace had lately expired.
3. I have now the honor to communicate for the information of Her Majestys Government that a detachment of United States troops landed some days ago on the Island of San Juan, without any previous intimation of their intentions to this Government, for the purpose of permanently occupying the same, as you will observe from a communication Manuscript imagewhich I received from Mr de Courcy on the 30th July, herewith enclosed. That officer having according to his instructions proceeded to introduce himself to Captain Picqett [Pickett] (the United States officer in command of the detachment,) in his official capacity and to inform that officer that his instructions required him to warn off all persons attempting to assert any rights of occupancy as against the British Dominion in the island of San Juan.
4. Mr de Courcy's communication contains Captn Piquets reply which only goes to shew that the sovereignty of Her Majesty over the Island of San Juan was not acknowledged by the Government of the United StatesManuscript imageStates and that the occupation of the Island by United States Troops was to be permanent.
5. Mr de Courcy also states that he overheard Captn Piequett promise protection to any and every American Citizen who might think proper to squat on the Island of San Juan, adding also that they had a right to squat on any part of that Island.
6. On receiving intelligence of that proceeding I lost no time in making a demand on Captain M. de Courcy the Senior Naval officer, in command of Her Majestys Ships stationed hereManuscript imagehere for a powerful vessel of War to be despatched immediately to San Juan, and requested him to instruct the officers in command to prevent the landing of further armed parties of the United States soldiers for purposes of occupation as well as the erection of fortifications of any description by the party already on the Island. A copy of those instructions dated 29 July 1859 is herewith transmitted for your information.
7. Her Majestys Ship Tribune under command of Capt Hornby was accordingly despatched the same day with instructions to that effect. Mr Cary Her Majestys Attorney General who zealously volunteered his services forManuscript imagefor the occasion also repaired to the Island of San Juan for the purpose of preventing any illegality in the proceedings of the Magistrate there as it was resolved that all our measures against the persons who had landed, and were occupying the land on San Juan should be carried out by the ordinary exercise of the civil power.
8. These are the first hurried steps which I adopted feeling assured that bold and decided measures in the first instance, would have the effect of arresting further attempts to occupy the Island and that as collision was inevitable in the event of both Governments assertingManuscript imageasserting extreme rights of possession it was better to have to cope with a small detachment, than to wait until reinforcements from Washington Territory, should make their dislodg[e]ment impracticable with our present force.
9. My own duty was also clearly defined by the instructions conveyed to me, in Secretary Sir George Grays [Grey's] Despatch No 5 of the 21 September 1854 which authorizes me to continue to treat those islands as part of the British Dominions.
10. In the evening of the 30th July I received a Despatch from Mr Attorney General Cary, herewith transmitted, representing the AmericanManuscript imageAmerican force as more powerful than had been reported to us and that the British force under the command of Capn Hornby could not effect the object we proposed without a strong probability of resistance.
11. I therefore immediately entered again into communication with Captain de Courcy, suggesting that another powerful vessel of War might be despatched to the spot trusting that the exhibition of an overwhelming force might prevent resistance and the probable effusion of blood.
12. In a personal conference theManuscript imagethe same evening with Captains de Courcy and Richards R.N. they expressed a very strong opinion on the proposed employment of Her Majestys forces against the Troops of the United States and suggested that milder measures should be first tried, professing however their readiness to receive my instructions, at the same time entering their protest against any forcible demonstration.
13. Out of respect to the opinion of these officers, and especially as I felt assured that the measures of Government could not be carried into effect with the requisite spirit and vigour unless the officers intrustedManuscript imageintrusted with their execution were cordial in their support I agreed to a modification of the instructions issued to Capn Hornby directing him to prevent the landing of armed parties of United States troops and the erection of Military works by the party already on the Island, which part of his instructions was revoked and the Magistrate Mr de Courcy has [been] directed not to issue any process against the United States detachment of Troops then on San Juan.
14. Captain de Courcy further suggested that the detachment of supernumerary Marines stationed in British Columbia should be recalled for service under his command in San Juan and HerManuscript imageHer Majestys ship Plumper was accordingly despatched yesterday morning to New Westminster for that purpose.
15. It was also suggested that Captain Prevost Her Majestys Commissioner for the settlement of the water boundary should immediately enter into communication with Mr Campbell the United States Commissioner to ascertain if the Military occupation of the Island of San Juan by United States Troops had taken place with the sanction of the United States Government, and if not to urge him to use his influence with General Harney commanding the Troops in Washington Territory to refrain from taking a course wh was likely to produce collision andManuscript imageand interrupt the harmonious relations subsisting between the United States and Great Britain.
16. I ad[d]ressed in consequence a communication to Capt Prevost requesting him to pursue that course. It was also arranged in the same personal conference that the "Pylades" should leave today to reinforce the detachment of ships under command of Captain Hornby at San Juan.
17. That measure has however not been carried into effect as Captain de Courcy waited upon me this day at 11 a.m. accompanied by Coln Hawkins Her Majestys Boundary Commissioner to suggestManuscript imagesuggest the importance of conveying intelligence of the occupation of San Juan to Her Majestys Government without delay, and as with diligence there is still time to overtake the Mail Steamer leaving St Francisco on 5th August, Captain de Courcy proposes to convey such intelligence immediately to St Francisco by Her Majestys Ship Pylades. To that course I see many serious objections especially the detachment of so powerful a ship on a distant service at such a critical time.
18. I ought here to inform you that I submitted my plan of operations with respect to San Juan, to the Legislative Council of Vancouver's Island forManuscript imagefor their consideration, and that it met with their entire approval and they promised to give me their most earnest aid and cordial support in my attempts to assert the rights of the British Crown over San Juan.
19. I thought it due to the suggestions of Captain de Courcy made this morning to summon a Council composed of the chief officers of Vancouvers Island and British Colubmia now present in Victoria, at which Captain de Courcy and Colonel Hawkins were also present and assisted.
20. The result of their consultation has been handed toManuscript imageto me and is embodied in the accompanying address recommending for the reasons therein set forth the withdrawal of all British subjects from the Island of San Juan, under protest against the act of hostility which has rendered such a step necessary.
21. I feel assured that not one of the gentlemen who have attached their signatures, would have hesitated one moment in hazarding life and property in their countrys defence, the difficulty in the present case is that they do not know that San Juan is their country. I therefore profoundly respect their motives; though I still believe that vigorous measures Manuscript imageon our part would soon dispose of the question in our favour. A policy of national concession is always mischievous and in the case of these Colonies dangerous.
22. I have thrown these hurried remarks together for your information on the subject of this dispute, so recklessly excited by the acts of the United States, which appears the more remarkable as they appear causeless, adding neither to the force nor the justice of whatever claims they may have to the Island of San Juan.
23. I have not had time Manuscript imageto weigh the measures recommended by the Council held to day, neither am I certain they can be carried out, without a complete sacrifice of British interests, but Her Majesty's Government may rest assured that I will not adopt any reckless or inconsiderate course.
24. I have further to request that you will favour me with your instructions by the return of Post.
25. Colonel Hawkins having volunteered to take home this despatch I beg to refer you to that officer for further information respecting this virtual invasion of San Juan, as I must despatchManuscript imagedespatch him immediately, in order to save the mail.
26. At the moment of closing this despatch Captain Prevost has returned from an unsuccessful mission in search of Mr Campbell, and has handed me the report of his proceedings which I now enclose.
I have etc.
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Mr Merivale
The duplicate of the desph has been handed to the Duke of Newcastle.
For. Office.
ABd 26 Sepr
Mr Fortescue
The Duke has minuted a brief answer to this & the other despatches on the subject.
HM S 28
CF 29
Sept. 30/58
My dear Merivale
This despatch does not influence our instructions to Lyons; but I think you had better let us have a copy of it.
[Sincerely?]
E. Hammond
Documents enclosed with the main document (not transcribed)
Manuscript image
John F. de Courcy, Stipenidary Magistrate, to W.A.G. Young, Acting Colonial Secretary, 29 July 1859, reporting the landing of U.S. troops on San Juan and his conversation with the commanding officer, Captain Pickett.
Manuscript image
Douglas to Captain Michael de Courcy, Senior Naval Officer, Esquimalt, 29 July 1859, directing him to send a ship to San Juan to prevent the landing of further armed parties.
Manuscript image
George Hunter Cary, Attorney General, to Douglas, 30 July 1859, advising that Captain Hornby's force was not adequate to carry out his instructions against the 150 Americans on San Juan.
Manuscript image
Report to Douglas, dated 1 August 1859, from a council comprised of Robert Finlayson, John Work, Donald Fraser, David Cameron, Michael de Courcy, J.S. Hawkins, and Matthew B. Begbie (George H. Cary dissenting), advising against taking any aggressive action against the U.S. troops on San Juan.
Manuscript image
Douglas to Captain Prevost, 30 July 1859, directing him to contact U.S. Boundary Commissioner Campbell to ascertain whether the invasion of San Juan was carried out on government orders.
Manuscript image
Prevost to Douglas, 1 August 1859, reporting his unsuccessful attempts to find Campbell and his subsequent conversations with Pickett and de Courcy on San Juan.
Manuscript image
Copy of orders issued by Pickett on 27 July 1859, signed by James W. Forsyth, 2nd Lieutenant 9th Infantry.
Other documents included in the file
Manuscript image
Draft, Elliot to E. Hammond, Foreign Office, 6 October 1859, forwarding copies of two further despatches from Douglas relative to San Juan.
Minutes by CO staff
For Copying. The Duke of Newcastle has perused & minuted these despes.
Douglas, James to Lytton, Edward George Earle Bulwer 1 August 1859, CO 305:11, no. 9569, 1. 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/V59030.html.

Last modified: 2020-12-02 13:40:34 -0800 (Wed, 02 Dec 2020) (SVN revision: 5008)