British Columbia Overland Transit Company
The British Columbia Overland Transit Company was organized in London in 1862 by Arthur Sleigh, a man described by the Toronto Globe as a swindler and complete scoundrel.1 Because of his reputation, Sleigh was studiously kept in the background, while James Henson, the company's secretary, acted as its public representative.2 The company offered transportation from England to British Columbia, which was in the throes of the Cariboo Gold Rush. Passengers were to arrive in Canada by ship, continue to St. Paul, Minnesota by rail, then cross the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains in wagons via the Red River Settlement.3 The first group of thirty-three travellers arrived at St. Paul in June 1862 to find that no arrangements had been made for the completion of their journey.4 The company's agents, H. L. Hime and James Hayward, had both been told by Sleigh that the other had been given the money necessary to cover the expedition's expenses.5 Eight travellers were able to return to England but twenty-five who could not afford the trip became stranded in St. Paul.6 The Manchester Weekly Times reported that some, it is said, are toiling away in the mines there for their daily bread, and, unless friends release them from their slavery, it may last a life time.7 The Colonial Office was asked to help the stranded but declined, saying that it was quite impossible for the government to assist those who had embarked in impracticable enterprises, and had allowed themselves to be imposed upon by designing persons from the consequence of their imprudence.8 Sleigh closed the firm's office, sold his house and furniture, and disappeared into space.9 Henson was charged with fraud, but successfully argued that he had no knowledge of Sleigh's criminal intent.10 Henry Fenton Jadis, who held a senior position with the government's Board of Trade and was brother of Colonial Office clerk Vane Jadis, was not so fortunate.11 He had become entangled in the scheme by agreeing to act as one of the company's directors. He and several other directors, including British member of Parliament F. H. Berkeley, were found liable in civil court and ordered to pay damages to Sleigh's victims.12 Some, including Jadis, were forced into bankruptcy as a result.13 The London Morning Post offered the following summary of the whole sorry affair: the object of the company itself was not the legitimate one of expediting inexperienced travellers to their destination by taking upon itself the responsibility of the intermediate arrangements, but the replenishment of the empty pockets of Colonel Sleigh and of one or two of his chosen confrères who were in on the secret.14
  • 1. The Overland Transit Company, Globe (Toronto), 16 September 1862, 2; Morning Post (London), 17 February 1863, 4.
  • 2. British Columbia Overland Transit viâ Canada, Daily News (London), 8 April 1862, 1; British Columbia Overland Transit viâ Canada, Standard (London), 8 April 1862, 1; D. G. F. Macdonald, British Columbia and Vancouver's Island […] (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1862), 405-409.
  • 3. James Parsons, ed., Reports of Cases [English Courts of Common Law, vol. 109], 145.
  • 4. Birmingham Daily Post, 20 February 1863, 2.
  • 5. British Columbia Overland Transportation Company, Globe (Toronto), 9 July 1862, 1; Collapse of the Overland Transit Company, Globe (Toronto), 9 July 1862, 2.
  • 6. Finnis to Pelham-Clinton, 22 August 1862, CO 60:14, no. 8373, 380. B626F02.html
  • 7. The Overland Transit Swindle, Manchester Weekly Times, 30 August 1862, 4.
  • 8. Collingwood to Rogers, 18 August 1862, CO 60:14, no. 8205, 348. B626C01.html; Finnis to Pelham-Clinton, August 1862, CO 60:14, no. 8373, 380. B626F02.html
  • 9. The British Columbia Overland Transit Company, Morning Post (London), 22 August 1862, 6; Morning Post (London), 17 February 1863, 4.
  • 10. Manchester Guardian, 18 February 1863, 2.
  • 11. The Royal Kalendar [1862] (R. & A. Suttaby, 1862), 164.
  • 12. Parsons, Reports of Cases, 156; Birmingham Daily Post, 20 February 1863, 2.
  • 13. Court of Bankruptcy, Observer (London), 28 February 1864, 3; Court of Bankruptcy, Daily News (London), 13 May 1865, 6.
  • 14. Morning Post (London), 17 February 1863, 4.
Mentions of this organization in the documents