About this project


It is difficult to imagine a collection of documents more significant in the history of a Canadian province than the collection represented here. This digital archive contains transcriptions of virtually the complete correspondence between the British colonial authorities and the successive governors of the nascent Vancouver Island and British Columbia colonies, along with a great deal of associated writing, generated within the colonial office, and between public offices, which relates to the colonies. The colonial history of Vancouver Island and B.C., from 1846 to 1871, is represented here, in the words of those most intimately concerned with the governance and development of the land, its resources, and its population. But these documents are not only historically important; they are also enthralling, absorbing, and sometimes disturbing. In addition to the business of government, here are adventures and exploration, financial windfalls and disasters, conflicts, smuggling, and even murder. Underlying it all is the story of British colonies displacing the Indigenous owners of the land. Look into this collection for fifteen minutes, and you will surely find yourself drawn into the stories of the early settlers and the Indigenous people of 19th-century B.C. Although this is the definition of a colonial archive, we have worked with Indigenous colleagues and organizations to make this dataset as useful as possible to Indigenous researchers and those interested in Indigenous history. (see Decolonizing the Archives).
This collection is built on the solid foundations of a large-scale transcription project undertaken by Dr. James E. Hendrickson of the University of Victoria during the 1980s, which resulted in the publication of a 28-volume edition of the correspondence. You can read his original introduction to the print edition, and his acknowledgements, to get some idea of the scale and complexity of the transcription project. The print volumes were created from many thousands of files encoded in Waterloo Script, a text-encoding language processed using SCRIPT, a “document composition processor” developed at the University of Waterloo in the 1980s.
Waterloo Script is long obsolete, and the days of 28-volume print publications are likely coming to an end; but now we have a much more universal and flexible publishing platform, in the form of the World Wide Web. Our team at the University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre has converted those original files from Waterloo Script into TEI P5 XML, an XML standard developed and maintained by the Text Encoding Initiative, and we have built a Web application to make them readable and searchable.
To the transcriptions we have added abstracts, short biographies of the people and descriptions of the Indigenous groups, place names, and ships mentioned in the despatches, each searchable in its own index. We have also located copies of both the original letters and the numerous attachments (many untranscribed) and linked them to the transcripts.
Please see our disclaimer page if you intend to make use of the data for serious research or legal purposes.