Banfield, William “Eddy”
d. 1862
Banfield came to Victoria in 1849 and traded with Nuu-chah-nulth nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island from 1854 to 1858, becoming familiar with the daily activities and languages of these Indigenous communities.1 Publishing his ethnographic writings in the Daily Victoria Gazette, academics and politicians at that time regarded Banfield a foremost authority on the cultures and territories of the [Indigenous] people.2 For those reason, Sir James Douglas selected Banfield as the idea candidate for Indian Agent for the southwest coast of Vancouver Island in 1859, shortly after the “Swiss Boy affair”—in which the merchant brig was “plundered” by the Huu-ay-aht and Tseshaht peoples in Barkley Sound—had damaged relations between the British and the Huu-ay-aht.3
Banfield was tasked with securing an agreement for land use in Barkley Sound, where colonial investors wanted to build and operate a forestry mill and settle on the productive land.4 In 1859, Chiefs Tliishin and Howeesem “assented” to Banfield's land purchase agreement by affixing strips of sacred cedar bark to the document; however, considering the conventions of Huu-ay-aht law, Tliishin likely considered Banfield's payments as rent or homage rather than purchase.5 As one scholar argues, Banfield effectively prepared the ground for and managed the arrival of colonists in Barkley Sound, using violence, and threats thereof, when “necessary.”6
The cause of Banfield's death, in October 1862, remains uncertain. His body was found in the water near his home in Grapper Inlet, sparking accusations of foul play involving Chief Tliishin.7 After threatening violence against the Huu-ay-aht community, the British arrested three men who were supposedly involved in the death of Banfield, but who were all acquitted before a judge on account of weak evidence.8
Today, Bamfield, a community in Barkley Sound, takes the name (albeit misspelled) of the colonial Indian Agent. In response to a land agreement made in 2016, to purchase land and property near Bamfield, the Huu-ay-aht elected Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. recalled Banfield's land purchase in 1859, saying: It's good to be getting the land back, but we had to pay a lot more for it than the blankets and beads in those days.9
Mentions of this person in the documents
Vessels in this document

Swiss Boy

Places in this document

Barkley Sound

Vancouver Island