Separate, Confidential
28 December 1861
It is commonly reported by the Newspaper Press in California, and on the authority of those Prints, repeated here, that a British Steam PacketvariouslyManuscript image variously stated as the "Fingal", and by other accounts the "Trent" was boarded some time last month, on the high seas by an armed party detached from the United States Corvette "Jacinto" under the Command of Commodore Wilkes; and that the Confederate Commissioners, Messrs Mason and Slidell, who were among the passengers on board, were, in violation of international Law and the rights of the Flag, seized uponandManuscript image and forcibly removed, notwithstanding the protest of the Master, who had no means of resisting the violence by which he was threatened.
2. As it is feared that complications may grow out of so rash and insolent an act, Endangering our friendly relations with the United States, I think it incumbent on me to review our means of defence, and the course which ought to be takenbyManuscript image by this Government in the event of hostilities being declared.
3. The Naval Force at present here, consists of Her Majesty's steam Frigate "Topaze", Captain The Honble J.W.S. Spencer; the "Hecate" Surveying Ship with the "Forward" and "Grappler" Gun Boats. With the exception of the Forward, whose boilers are worn out and unserviceable, these Ships are all in a thoroughly efficient state.
4. OurManuscript image
4. Our Military Force consists of the Detachment of Royal Engineers stationed in British Columbia, and the Royal Marine Infantry occupying the disputed Island of San Juan; forming in all about 200 rank and file.
5. The United States have absolutely no Naval Force in these waters, beyond one or two small Revenue Vessels; and with the exception of one Company of Artillery,IManuscript image I am informed that all their regular Troops have been withdrawn from Oregon and Washington Territory; but it must nevertheless be evident that the small Military Force we possess, if acting solely on the defensive, could not protect our Extensive frontier even against the Militia or Volunteer Corps that may be let loose upon the British Possessions.
6. In such circumstancesIManuscript image I conceive that our only chance of success will be found in assuming the offensive and taking possession of Puget Sound with Her Majesty's Ships, re-inforced by such bodies of local auxilliaries as can, in the Emergency, be raised, whenever hostilities are actually declared, and by that means effectually preventing the departure of any hostile armament against the British Colonies, and atoneManuscript image one blow cutting off the Enemy's supplies by sea, destroying his foreign trade, and entirely crippling his resources, before any organization of the inhabitants into military bodies can have effect.
7. There is little real difficulty in that operation, as the Coast is entirely unprovided with defensive works, and the Fleet may occupy Puget Sound without molestation.
8. The small numberofManuscript image of regular Troops disposable for such service would necessarily confine our operations to the line of coast: but should Her Majesty's Government decide, as lately mooted, on sending out one or two Regiments of Queen's Troops, there is no reason why we should not push overland from Puget Sound and establish advanced posts on the Columbia River, maintaining it as a permanent frontier.
9. A Small Naval Force entering the Columbia RiveratManuscript image at the same time would secure possession, and render the occupation complete. There is not much to fear from the Scattered population of Settlers, as they would be but too glad to remain quiet and follow their peaceful avocations under any government capable of protecting them from the savages.
10. With Puget Sound and the line of the Columbia River in our hands, we should hold the only navigable outlets of theCountryManuscript image Country, command its trade and soon compel it to submit to Her Majesty's Rule.
11. This may appear a hazardous operation to persons unacquainted with the real state of these Countries, but I am firmly persuaded of its practicability; and that it may be successfully attempted with a smaller force, than, in the event of war, will be required to defend the assailable points of our extensive frontier, which will be attacked onallManuscript image all sides if we remain entirely on the defensive, and neglect to provide full occupation for the Enemy at home.
12. In any case it will be my first duty, on war being declared, to provide for the defence of Her Majesty's Possessions by raising and organizing a local Militia to co-operate with Her Majesty's regular Forces. The people will no doubt be prepared to make many sacrifices on behalf of their Country,butManuscript image but even with the best possible disposition on their part, funds will be wanted for the Equipment and Sustenance of such a force which it is utterly impossible for this Colony to furnish. I therefore beg Your Grace will be pleased to favor me with definite instructions on this point, so that I may be in a position to take every advantage of circumstances, and may not involve Her Majesty'sGovernmentManuscript image Government in any Expenditure for which they may be unprepared.
I have the honor to be
My Lord Duke,
Your Grace's most obedient
and humble Servant
James Douglas
Minutes by CO staff
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Mr Elliot
Though the arrangement of the "Trent" Affair dispenses with the necessity of active operations against the United States in this quarter of the British Possessions I think it wd nevertheless be well to communicate to the War Office the Governor's views on the Military policy which it might have been necessary to adopt on the declaration of War. His suggestions may beManuscript image useful to the War Dept on some other difficulty arising with the Americans.
It will be necessary to write a short despatch to the Governor thanking him for the observations which he has offered on this subject.
ABd 7 March
Copy to War Office and acknowledge as proposed?
TFE 7 March
CF 8
N 9
Other documents included in the file
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Draft reply, Newcastle to Douglas, Confidential, 14 March 1862.
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Rogers to Secretary of State, War Office, 18 March 1862, forwarding copy of the despatch for information.
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Here appears a draft reply to Douglas, Separate, 6 July 1861, which has been filed with Admiralty 5020/61. This is followed by the Indexes for the collection.
Douglas, James to Pelham-Clinton, Henry Pelham Fiennes 28 December 1861, CO 305:17, no. 2297, 570. 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/V61078CO.html.

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