The despatches of British Columbia

by Dr. James E. Hendrickson

Table of contents

Introduction to the documents

The exchange of despatches (to employ the orthography of the nineteenth century) between the governor and the home government in London constitute a most important source of primary information about the colonization of British Columbia. Governors, by the terms of their instructions, were required to report fully on everything of importance that was happening in their colony. Virtually all of this material was written by hand, and some of it is extremely difficult to decipher.
Upon arrival in London, the despatches were processed by a small but efficient bureaucracy within the Colonial Office, whose job it was to advise—by way of written minutes—the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the minister responsible. To this end they were obliged to monitor events within the colony, share relevant information with other government departments, obtain advice or approval from them as necessary, and finally draft replies for the minister’s signature.
Despatches to and from London were numbered sequentially (except for certain communications labeled Private, Confidential, etc.) each calendar year and might run to three digits in a twelve month period. Whenever there was a change of author or recipient, the numbering reverted to “1.” Copies marked “Duplicate” were forwarded by the next mail in case a ship was lost at sea.
Referring to despatches by number served two functions. It enabled both the governor and the Colonial Office to ascertain what information was in the other’s possession at the time of writing, and it immediately alerted the recipient that a despatch might have gone missing.
The Colonial Office assigned class list CO 60 to the records relating to British Columbia. After a sufficient number of files were accumulated, in a few months, the files were bound into volumes, which were then numbered sequentially and placed on a shelf for ready reference. The original records are housed in the British National Archives at Kew. They have long been available on microfilm (35 reels), except for a few oversized items and comments that were written too close to the inner margin to be legible on microfilm. Because of their organization and difficulties in deciphering some of the handwriting, it is safe to assume that no single individual has ever read them in their entirety.
The despatches from British Columbia (CO 60) run to hundreds of pages of digitized copy. They are filed under three heads, as follows:
  • Despatches to London. Technically referred to as despatches, these are the governor’s formal communications to London.
  • Public Offices. These contain letters (as distinct from numbered despatches) between the Colonial Office and other departments or agencies. They were filed alphabetically by department, and then by date.
  • Correspondence. This contains letters from private individuals to the Colonial Office related to British Columbia. They are filed alphabetically by author and then by date.
The files also contain drafts of replies or instructions to the governor, and the Colonial Office also kept letter-book copies (CO 398) for their own reference. The originals, of course, were sent to British Columbia. When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871, the original despatches were transferred to Ottawa, except for those labelled “Confidential,” which were returned to the Colonial Office. The despatches labelled “Duplicate” remain in the British Columbia Archives. The copies digitized for this site are those held by the Library and Archives Canada.
Because there was no effective British jurisdiction on the mainland at the time of the gold rush to the Fraser River in the spring of 1858, Governor James Douglas of Vancouver Island took it upon himself to protect British interests there. Consequently, the first despatches relating to the gold rush exist as part of the despatches from Vancouver Island, (CO 305).
It took about three months for mail to be conveyed between Victoria and London at the beginning of 1858 (and perhaps two months by its end) so the Colonial Office did not establish a separate file for British Columbia until mid-June, by which time the decision had been made to establish a separate colony on the mainland. Thus records relating to British Columbia before it was formally established were filed elsewhere than CO 60, notably in CO 6, North America, General, and certain other files. In the interest of historical integrity, these additional documents are also included in the records of British Columbia and scheduled accordingly.
Although Douglas received the first despatch marked "British Columbia" in August 1858, he did not himself begin identifying, numbering, and filing his despatches for British Columbia until October 12, after he had accepted appointment as governor. And only on November 19 was the government formally established at Fort Langley.
While transcripts exist for some of the more important enclosures, many other enclosures have not been transcribed, and nor have draft replies (unless certain issues provoked extensive revisions). Transcripts are not provided for certain extraneous material, such as routine solicitations for patronage appointments, unless such applicants are known to have ended up in Vancouver Island or British Columbia. However every document appearing in a file, including those not transcribed, is listed in the file, along with a brief description.

The Colonial Office in 1858

Looking back over nearly three centuries of colonial history, the British imperial historian and essayist Sir John Robert Seeley concluded, “We seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.”1 The characterization was apt, for the British Empire, like Topsy, was never planned but “just grew.”
Although it has long been popular, as it was in the nineteenth century, to ascribe responsibility to Colonial Office officials for running the British Empire, it is probably more accurate to say, as Helen Taft Manning has argued, that nobody “ran” the Empire.2 Rather, both politicians and the Colonial Office tended to be reactive instead of proactive to events in its many dependencies. Nevertheless, as decisions were made, those ultimately responsible depended to an extraordinary degree on the advice from a handful of senior officials whose business it was to monitor events in colonies throughout the world.
From the planting of the first colony of Virginia in 1607, British expansion took place in the absence of any preconceived policy but instead occurred primarily in response to particular opportunities or events, either economic or political in nature. Such were the considerations that had led Parliament to grant the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company the proprietorship of Vancouver Island in 1849, and such led to the establishment of the colony of British Columbia on the adjoining mainland in 1858.
Following the American Revolution, responsibility for colonies had been transferred from the Board of Trade to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. The acquisition of many new dependencies following the Napoleonic wars, and relative peace thereafter, greatly increased the colonial work even as that of the military declined. Then, with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, a fourth secretary was created to take over the War Office, leaving the “Colonial Department,” as it had come to be called, under its own secretary of state for the first time.
That the administration of colonial affairs was rarely high on Parliament’s agenda is amply illustrated by the response of a new secretary of state on being welcomed to the office by his permanent under-secretary. As the secretary, unnamed, is alleged to have said, “And now Mr. Merivale, tell me, where are the Colonies?”.3
The Colonial Office was the first government department in which the work was so voluminous and complex that secretaries of state realized they required specialized assistance. Although it took time to evolve, the solution was to grant some of the permanent staff additional responsibilities.4
By the middle of the nineteenth century, both the staffing arrangements and the administrative routine had become highly regularized, primarily through the efforts of Sir James Stephen, who became permanent under-secretary in 1836. Assailed during his lifetime as “Mr. Over-Secretary,” or even more familiarly as “Mr. Mother-Country,” Stephen was an exceptional civil servant, a workaholic who made himself indispensable by meticulous attention to detail and an accumulation of knowledge of the far flung empire that any minister would ignore at his peril. Stephen’s great legacy was to institute an efficient and methodical system for handling the office records, a practice that remained virtually unchanged for almost forty years.5
To rationalize the system, Stephen urged as a rule that advice should be rendered in writing rather than orally, that the handling of paperwork should be regularized, and that drafts of all outgoing communications should be retained. To this end, he introduced a rubber stamp to be applied to incoming documents, bearing the names of senior officials for them to initial, so one could see at a glance through whose hands the document had passed and when.6
A further legacy of the Stephen era was the codification in 1837 of the “Rules and Regulations for Her Majesty’s Colonial Service,” which spelled out in minute detail how governors were to conduct colonial business. The “Rules and Regulations” quickly became an essential manual for governors, supplementing their formal Commissions and Instructions. Its injunctions ranged widely, covering everything from the method for citizens to petition London (only through the governor), how legislation was to be reported (with appropriate marginalia), to the size of stationery required for despatches (government issue only).
In 1858, the number of the “fixed establishments” (i.e. permanent positions) of the Colonial Office had reached thirty-nine, and they were divided into two classes according to whether their duties were considered “intellectual” or “mechanical.” The former were those who could be called upon to render advice to the secretary of state, namely the permanent under-secretary, assistant under-secretary, chief clerk, and four senior clerks who headed the four geographic departments within the office: Eastern, North American, West Indian, and Mediterranean and African. To this handful of men was added the parliamentary under-secretary, who served as the political point man for the government, and a précis writer, who served as a troubleshooter for particularly vexatious and complex issues.
The method of processing correspondence was described in some detail by a Parliamentary Committee in 1854:
When the letters of the day have been registered, they are delivered to the Senior Clerk of the Departments to which they respectively belong, who minutes them with those prominent points which his experience and constant reference to the general correspondence suggest, and proposes, in ordinary cases, the form of the answer, or the practical course of dealing with the subject; and when the correspondence, having been prolonged or complicated, requires an examination or analysis, he forwards with the papers such a statement of facts, prepared either by himself, or under his supervision, as may assist the practical consideration of the question. The papers are then sent either to the Assistant Under Secretary, or to the permanent Under Secretary, according to the nature of the subject, each of whom passes them to the parliamentary Under Secretary with his observations upon them, and from them they reach the Secretary of State, who records his decision upon them, after he has considered all that has been submitted to him, and called for such further information as he may require. After that, the papers are returned through the same channel to the Senior Clerk, and then it becomes his duty to examine carefully the minutes and drafts, in order to see whether any point in the instructions is at variance with facts, regulations or precedents not known to the Secretary of State or Under Secretaries; and to execute all the final instructions he may receive, by preparing the drafts, or causing them to be prepared by his assistants, and superintending the copying and despatch of the letters to be written from them. The usual practice is for the senior to pass on to his assistants those papers which require ordinary drafts, or drafts closely following the minutes, reserving to himself such as involve any question of doubt, or on which no very precise instructions have been given. Drafts are also frequently prepared by the permanent Under Secretary and Assistant Under Secretary, in cases which they consider to require it. All drafts finally receive the sanction of the permanent Under Secretary and of the Secretary of State.7
The secretary of state was formally responsible for all decisions of his department, and his signature was required on all formal communications. Although often referred to as the colonial secretary, that title is misleading and should be avoided because technically the colonial secretary was the official in a colony who served as the secretary to the governor.
As a practical matter, the secretary’s tenure reflected the political fortunes of party politics, which were especially volatile in the years following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. By contrast, each of the clerks in charge of the four geographic departments had served for more than thirty years. Moreover, the complexity of issues arising from some fifty disparate colonies was so great that the secretary was compelled to depend upon his senior staff for advice. On occasion, if a secretary was comfortable having a staffer handle issues on his behalf, a document might be marked “Immediate,” which signified that an action was being taken by staff without reference to the secretary.
The year that British Columbia was founded, no fewer than three men served as secretary. Henry Labouchere, who had served since 1855 as a part of Lord Derby’s first administration, was followed in February by the able Lord Stanley, who served in Lord Palmerston’s administration. Stanley, in turn, was succeeded in July by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who received the appointment for Lord Derby’s second administration. Thus it fell primarily to Lytton to preside over the establishment of a separate colony on the North American mainland.
Undistinguished as a statesman, Lytton was a popular author of florid prose, whose literary proclivities tended toward the theatrical and melodramatic. He is perhaps best remembered today for a popular fiction contest bearing his name (sometimes referred to as the “Dark and Stormy Night Contest” from the opening line of his novel Paul Clifford) for the worst opening sentence for an imaginary novel.8 Lytton’s career as a statesman has been similarly deprecated. “It was not that secretaries of state were generally incompetent,” observed historian John W. Cell, “Only Sir Edward Lytton really deserves that description.”9
The Colonial Office at this time was blessed with a staff of considerable seniority and ability. Appointed assistant under-secretary in 1847, Herman Merivale succeeded Stephen as permanent under-secretary the following year. A devotee of free trade, he was appointed by Earl Grey on the recommendation of Stephen. A precocious child who began reading Latin at age four, he was educated at Harrow and Oxford, where he earned a first in classics, before taking up law for a time and then serving as Dummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford. A frequent contributor to literary and historical journals, he achieved a considerable reputation as a commentator on imperial affairs with the publication of his Lectures on Colonization and the Colonies in 1841.
T.F. Elliot, assistant under-secretary, had been first appointed to the Colonial Office in 1825, at the age of seventeen, based largely family connections. Two years later he was promoted to précis writer, then clerk to the Emigration Commission, and in 1833 to senior clerk of the North American department. His ability was noticed most dramatically when, as secretary to a commission of inquiry in Canada, 1835-37, he wrote a letter that provided the imperial cabinet with the best description of politics in Lower Canada they had ever received. Then when the government decided to replace an unpaid committee of philanthropic gentlemen overseeing land and emigration policy in Australia (where land revenues were used to assist emigration) with a paid agent general, he accepted that appointment. These duties expanded in 1840, when the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission was established and given responsibility for the entire empire. Elliot returned to the Colonial Office in 1847 as assistant under-secretary.10
As senior clerk in charge of the North American department, Arthur Blackwood was the man who monitored affairs in British North America the most closely. The son of an admiral, he was appointed junior clerk in the Colonial Office in 1824 and promoted to assistant clerk five years later. In 1840 he became senior clerk of the North American Department and, as such, was normally the first person to read incoming despatches from British Columbia, and decided how they should best be handled.
Henry Howard Molyneux, the fourth Earl of Carnarvon, became parliamentary under-secretary in April 1858. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he was a relative newcomer to politics and took his seat in the House of Lords in 1854 as a supporter of the Aberdeen ministry. An able administrator, he took a genuine interest in colonial affairs and became a strong advocate for allowing colonies to become self-reliant and self-governing.
Below these men were the registrar, librarian, private secretaries, and junior and assistant clerks, mostly faceless people who did the tedious and unrewarding manual work of copying, filing, and running office errands. Clerkships were part of the patronage system, and were usually filled by well-connected young gentlemen just out of school. After a year of perfunctory probation, they enjoyed a virtual sinecure for life, regardless of their ability, but their prospects for advancement were dismal. Instead, they might spend ten or fifteen years in mind-numbing chores that anyone could do.
The senior staff generally worked long hours, doing much of their work at home with little assistance from the junior clerks. For the latter, the routine of office life proceeded at a leisurely Victorian pace, in an atmosphere more appropriate to a social club than a working office. Working hours were normally 11:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, with breaks in between for lunch and afternoon tea. This routine was interrupted somewhat during the sitting of parliament, and always by the arrival of the mails, which invariably occasioned a flurry of activity, often until late at night.
The quarters the Colonial Office occupied were in appalling shape, two ancient houses at 13 and 14 Downing Street that dated back to the seventeenth century. As business had increased, the building at 14 had been annexed in 1827 and joined at the hip with its neighbour by cutting passageways between them on what the British refer to as the first and second floors. The ground floors remained with separate entrances. The buildings had long outlived their usefulness and had in fact been condemned in 1837 as unsafe and unworthy of repair.
Every year the Office of Works sent routine requests to the various departments for any unusual needs or repairs they might require for the coming year. In 1858, the dispirited staff pondered whether or not it was even worth replying.
I suppose that it will be most convenient if we return the normal accommodating answer that nothing particular is required; but if we were to inform the First Commissioner of the real state of the h[ou]se I imagine that we s[houl]d say that we needed almost everything. We really are in a destitute and deplorable condition.
We have no maps that are fit to be consulted, none of the mechanical apparatus for carrying on the gov[ernmen]t of fifty Colonies in various stages of civilization and in different parts of the world.
We have no furniture—carpets, chairs, tables are all decrepit.
We have no room I believe for the storing of papers and official records.
And lastly the ceilings, passages, and even the walls appear to be in the last stage of existence. Occasionally a sudden sound and vibration is heard and on enquiry it turns out that some internal dislocation of beams or masonry has taken place and that the office is threatened with entire demolition.
This is however perfectly well known and I suppose that nothing will be done untill some great downfall has occurred. At present the only remedy wh[ich] I can perceive has been an application of ladders against the wall & on the roof, but the advantage is not very obvious.
The matter is really a serious one, but I suppose that there is nothing to be done or said about it?
Lytton, then new to the office, was inclined to reply “in a voice of thunder” but decided instead to request that the building be inspected by a “competent architect” and pointing out “that a room or rooms have, for a long time past, been urgently wanted for the deposit of papers and records," and expressing regret that additional shelves and bookcases at least could not be immediately provided.11
To rub salt into wounds, Works requested a description of the shelving needed, protesting they “had never had their attention called to this before,” causing an exasperated chief clerk to declare that he had notified them in writing on March 29 last that they were “in urgent want of additional Book Cases and Shelves for the preservation of numbers of Books and of Papers which are lying on the Floors.” And he had appealed to them again on August 6, all without even receiving a reply.12 In the end, the office received some additional shelving, but not until 1876 was a new building constructed and the staff were finally able to move into new quarters.

Mail Service

Although mail service between Victoria and London in 1858 was still measured in months, it had in fact improved by quantum leaps during the preceding decade. When Richard Blanshard had resigned as governor of Vancouver Island in November 1850, for example, it took almost nine months before he received notification that his resignation had been accepted and he was authorized to quit the Island. By 1858 the turn-around time had been reduced almost by half, thanks to improvements in transportation, not the least of which was the application of steam power to ocean transport.
Before the colonization of Vancouver Island, the only mail service available to fur traders west of the Rockies had been provided by their annual supply vessels, six months around Cape Horn, or via their canoe brigades to and from Montreal. The only other possibility was the unlikely visit by a ship of the Royal Navy being sent into the North Pacific.
The practice of the British Post Office conveying packets of mail by sea dates back to the reign of Charles I, when private ship owners were contracted to deliver the “King’s Post” to the continent and elsewhere. Following the Napoleonic wars, the Royal Navy became responsible for this practice, but service was sporadic, subject always to the vagaries of weather and the Admiralty’s priorities throughout the empire. major reason the Admiralty was interested in subsidizing mail service was its long tradition of co-opting merchant vessels to augment the fleet during times of war.
The advent of steam propulsion offered considerable advantages over sail, both terms of speed and regularity. In 1840 Samuel Cunard, a shipping magnate from Halifax, Nova Scotia, won the first contract from the Admiralty to irregularly scheduled service between Britain and North America, conveying the mail by steamship between Liverpool and Halifax.
About the same time, a former a manager of a sugar plantation in the West Indies persuaded the Admiralty to allow a private company to construct a fleet of ships especially designed for mail service. The ensuing contact called for the formation of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company (chartered in 1839) and a fleet of seventeen vessels (fourteen of them steamships) to transport mail from Britain to Barbados and other West Indies ports twice a month, leaving at the beginning and mid-point of each month, with extension stops at New York and Halifax. The inaugural service began in 1842 (the year Britain issued the first postage stamps) with sailings from Falmouth and Southampton to Barbados, with extension stops in New York and Halifax.13
Four years later agreement was reached with the Admiralty to extend the line to the isthmus to Panama, and from there by canoe and mule train via the Chagres River to steamers of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company for conveyance of mail as far south as Valparaiso. This service was first put into effect in 1846, the year the United States declared war on Mexico.
These British initiatives, in turn, prompted the US Congress to pass a naval construction bill in 1848, authorizing the US Navy to subsidize companies to build steamships built to naval specifications so they could be converted to wartime service. Supporters argued that such vessels would also expand opportunities for training naval officers in the use of steam at a time when the Navy itself was still in the process of converting from sail. During consideration of the bill, a provision was added to subsidize such steamers to carry mail.
The US established uniform postal rates and issued its first stamps in 1845. Following the acquisition of Oregon in 1846, Congress sought to establish communication with Oregon and pressured the postmaster general to offer subsidies for conveying mail by steamer to ports in the Columbia and Puget Sound communities. This proved to be a significant challenge, given the relative lack of population and port facilities—to say nothing of the complete absence of coal in the North Pacific.
A year later the US Navy awarded a ten-year contact to the United States Mail Steamship Company to convey mail between New York and Liverpool, in direct competition with the Cunard Line, and another contract for it to provide fortnightly service between New York and New Orleans, with a branch line to Chagres on the Isthmus of Panama. The company was chartered in March 1848, and its first steamer departed New York for Chagres on December 1. At a stop in New Orleans, the passengers learned for the first time that gold had been discovered in California.14
The contract to supply service from Panama to Oregon was secured by William Henry Aspinwall, a New Yorker with extensive shipping interests, in November 1847. If his prospects for returns beyond government subsidies meagre, his timing could not have been better. On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered in California, although the news would take months to reach the US; on February 2, by the Treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo, Mexico ceded more than half of its territory to the United States, including all of Alta (upper) California; and on April 12 Aspinwall received a charter for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.
In keeping with his contract, Aspinwall built three steamships, the California, Oregon, and Panama, and sent them around the Horn to inaugurate the service. The California left New York on October 6, 1848 and arrived at San Francisco Bay on February 28, 1849. Within a week the entire crew, save for the captain and one engine boy, had deserted for the gold fields.
So great was the demand for passage between Panama and San Francisco that within three years the Pacific Mail added fifteen more vessels to their fleet. Although the original contract called for monthly service, the company voluntarily inaugurated bi-monthly service to San Francisco in July 1850. This practice was regularized by executive order in December, calling for mails to be dispatched on the 1st and 15th of each month. Thereafter these days became known locally in San Francisco as “steamer days.”
For those who could afford it, steamer service immediately made Panama the easiest and quickest route to California, as well as the major means of exporting bullion. The fifty-mile crossing from Chagres to Panama City on the Pacific was initially carried out using mules and canoes. Aspinwall formed a syndicate with John L. Stephens and Henry Chauncey and in May 1850 began construction of a railway from the Atlantic terminus of Colon to Panama City. In 1852 Colon was re-named Aspinwall and the Panama Rail Road began carrying the mail on a per pound basis. After major construction challenges and delays, and the rail line was finally completed in January 1855.
Meanwhile, the Panama-San Francisco run proved so lucrative that it quickly attracted competitors, the most prominent of whom was another New Yorker, Cornelius Vanderbuilt, who offered a shorter route via the San Juan River and across Lake Nicaragua to within a dozen miles of the Pacific, promising to cut some 600 miles and 2 days off the Panama route. After purchasing a charter from the Nicaraguan government and test-running a small steamboat up the San Juan River, he placed a steamboat on Lake Nicaragua, built a carriage road from the west shore of the lake, some twelve miles to a terminus he named San Juan del Sur (i.e., San Juan of the Pacific). The sudden prominence of California quickly took precedence over mail service to Oregon. In 1849 the company obtained permission to send the mail north by schooner, but the following year it was required to provide monthly steamer service to Fort Nisqually on Puget Sound. This arrangement was suspended after a few months in favour of Portland. Mail for Puget Sound ports was then conveyed by canoe up the Cowlitz River and from there by stage to Olympia, where the US government established a customs office in 1851.
Two years later, when Washington Territory was formally separated from Oregon Territory, Olympia designated the capital. From there the mails were transported to other ports along the Sound by canoe until steamship service began in 1853. In April 1855 Congress finally authorized semi-monthly service from San Francisco to the head of Puget Sound, with the stipulation that the mail must be conveyed at least as far as Port Townsend.15
As these events were unfolding, Victoria quickly became dependent on the American postal service, using the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Otter or messengers traveling by Indian canoes to connect with the American authorities. By February 1854, James Douglas felt compelled to advise the Colonial Office, “The transmission of intelligence by the Panama Mail route is so much more expeditious and certain that I trust your Grace will excuse me for recommending that mode of conveyance in preference to any other for the communication of Her Majestys Government.”16
At this time British postal regulations still required that mail for the North Pacific be dispatched only via West India Mail Packets. By 1856, the Postmaster General bowed to the fact that the American mails were proving to be more expeditious and directed that henceforth “all Letters and Newspapers for California, Oregon and the Sandwich Islands to be forwarded, in future, as a rule, via the United States, and only those Letters &c to be sent by the West India Packets, which bear a special direction that they are to be so forwarded.”17
The Fraser gold rush in the spring of 1858 drew steamships and mail service directly to Victoria for the first time. In London, the Colonial Office raised with Treasury the possibility of improving postal service to British Columbia, and Treasury responded by suggesting the present service to Halifax and Nassau be extended to Colon, and that the Pacific Mail be requested to adjust their departure times to suit the Royal Mail packets, or else a line of British postal steamers be established from Panama to Victoria.
Asked for his views, Douglas replied expressing general satisfaction with the present service, responding that people were “not being aware probably that the mails are already conveyed to Pugets Sound and this place by the United States Mail Steamers.” He went on to summarize the current state of affairs and suggest areas where they might be improved:
4. By existing arrangements we receive our mails once a fortnight and have not much reason to complain. From England to Colon two routes are open, vizt New York, and by the Royal Mail line. The former is the more certain of the two for letters, and the one generally adopted by business men, as it connects with the line between Panama and San Francisco. The last named could hardly alter their periods of departure without confusion on the Atlantic side.
If Her Majesty’s Government carry out their views and establish a line from Nassau, we should thus have three lines arriving at Colon. As there will probably, be a weekly line soon from Panama northwards, there would appear to be little gain by interfering with present arrangements between San Francisco and New York, Canada and England.
5. A detention of sometimes a week occurs at San Francisco, not necessarily but from want of arrangement on the part of the American Authorities. The Steamer conveying the mail northward frequently calls at the Columbia River, where she is liable to detention, and also frequently does not deliver our Mail till her return voyage from Olympia at the head of Puget’s Sound, occasioning a loss of two days, and giving us no time to reply to letters received by the same mail.
6. The only detention and irregularity therefore which we would wish to see remedied lie between San Francisco and this place, and this could easily be effected by an arrangement with the Pacific Mail Company, or perhaps by the preferable mode of inviting tenders for the service.
7. It would be advisable to stipulate, in any such arrangement that the Steamer leave San Francisco for Victoria direct within 12 hours after departure of the Atlantic Mail at San Francisco, and leave Victoria on her return trip to San Francisco, in time to overtake the next succeeding mail. The voyage either way ought to be performed in about four days, thus allowing six days to reply to letters from Europe.
8. When the resources of the Colony are more fully developed, a line of British Postal Steamers from Panama to Victoria would be the most satisfactory and advantageous to British interests in this part of the world...18

Oregon Boundary Settlement

The discovery of gold on British territory north of the forty-ninth parallel lent urgency to marking the precise boundary between British and United States territory west of the Rocky Mountains.
For more than a century, no fewer than four European nations, Russia, Spain, Britain, and the United States, had sought to lay claims to the continental lands facing the North Pacific. Although the Russians were the first to sight the northwest coast, the Spaniards were the first actually to land and execute formal rites of taking possession.
Spain’s reach was exceeded by its effective grasp, and it was soon check-mated by the British at Nootka Sound in 1790. Meanwhile, both the British and American adventurers and fur traders penetrated the area and mounted overland expeditions to the Pacific. And between 1818 and 1825 a flurry of diplomatic activity addressed the welter of conflicting claims to the area, which included James Monroe, the American president, throwing down the gauntlet and issuing the Monroe Doctrine, warning European powers against further attempts at colonization in North America.
In 1818, in an attempt to settle some of the debris from the War of 1812, Britain and the United States signed a convention that established the northern boundary of the Louisiana Territory, which the United States had acquired from France in 1803, at the forty-ninth parallel from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. At this time the Americans sought to extend the line through to the Pacific, but the British countered with the forty-ninth parallel to the Columbia River and then to its mouth. When the Americans insisted their instructions precluded such an option, an agreement was negotiated instead that allowed nationals of both countries to occupy the region for a period of ten years.
One of the reasons the United States did not at that time push her claims to all of Oregon, as the territory beyond the mountains was called,19 was that they were also then negotiating with Spain to settle the south and western boundaries of Louisiana. This was accomplished in 1819 when the Adams-Onis (Transcontinental) Treaty was signed, by which Spain agreed to sell Florida to the United States as well as to transfer all her claims to territory beyond latitude 42º (the present boundary between California and Oregon), thereby vacating the field to the Russians, Americans, and British.
The Russians had established the headquarters of their fur trade at Sitka in 1799, and in 1812, with Spanish permission, built Fort Ross on the Russian River, some eighty miles north of present-day San Francisco. In 1824 Russia signed a treaty with the United States, restricting Russian claims to latitude 54º 40’, just north of Dixon Entrance and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and American claims to the south of the line.
The following year the Russians and British concluded a similar treaty that separated their respective claims to the same line but limited Russian claims inland to today’s Alaska Panhandle. This action left only the American and British as contenders for the Oregon territory. In 1826 the Americans again offered to divide the territory at the forty-ninth parallel and pledged free navigation of the Columbia River. The British countered with the forty-ninth parallel and the Columbia River.
At this time the only occupants of the area were British fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had merged with their rivals, the North West Company, in 1821 and received from the British government an exclusive license to trade with the natives. With the convention providing for joint occupation soon due to expire, it was renewed indefinitely in 1827 with the proviso that either country could terminate it by giving the other one year’s notice.
The status quo might have continued for some time had it not been for the sudden appearance of American missionaries in the Columbia basin to establish missions among the aboriginal population. Although their efforts at proselytization met with little success, their glowing accounts of the agricultural potential of the region in letters home to New England caught the attention of the nation and touched off a major migration westward over the Oregon Trail, beginning with the first wagon train in 1842. By the end of 1845, more than five thousand Americans had arrived, virtually all of them settling south of the Columbia in the Willamette Valley.
The columns of wagons moving westward over the Oregon Trail became potent symbols of a country fulfilling its “manifest destiny” to occupy the remainder of the continent. Meanwhile, the newcomers quickly raised questions about obtaining title to land, which led to the establishment of a provisional government and call for Congress to extend its jurisdiction over Oregon. During the presidential elections in 1844, the Democratic platform proclaimed that their title to the whole of Oregon was “clear and unquestionable,” and that no portion of it “ought to be surrendered to England or any other power.”20
The winning Democratic candidate was James K. Polk, the first “dark horse” candidate in American history, whose jingoistic rivals raised the slogan of “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight.” Polk, an expansionist, was determined to add Texas and Alta (upper) California to the Union. Because both of these were viewed as potential slave territories, he decided to appease his anti-slavery critics by adding Oregon to the equation; there the provisional government had prohibited entry to blacks.
By this time the British Foreign Office realized that joint occupation was no longer viable and offered to submit the issue to arbitration, which the Americans promptly declined.
In his inaugural address, Polk reiterated that US claims to all of Oregon were “clear and unquestionable” and vowed his government would protect those “preparing to perfect that title by occupying it with their wives and children.” He then offered again to divide the territory at the forty-ninth parallel, but Richard Pakenham, the British ambassador, hastily rejected the offer without referring it back to London. This allowed an indignant Polk to withdraw the offer, telling a doubting Congressman, “the only way to treat John Bull is to look him straight in the eye.” The debate that followed, longer than any Senate debate until the Civil Rights bill of 1964, foreshadowed the growing sectional crisis over the expansion of slavery that was threatening even then to tear the nation apart. The Senate finally agreed to terminate the joint occupation agreement.21
Lord Aberdeen, the British Foreign Secretary, alarmed by Polk’s strident bellicosity, decided Oregon was not worth a war, and immediately agreed to accept a boundary at the forty-ninth parallel and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, plus free navigation of the Columbia River. Polk pretended to be reluctant and referred the treaty to the Senate without recommendation. After a short debate, the Senate ratified the treaty on April 23, 1846, by a vote of 41-14.
So Polk won. That he had been bluffing became clear on May 11 when Polk delivered a war message against Mexico, which Congress passed the next day, high-handedly declaring war on Polk’s real target; and the last thing Polk wanted was to fight was a war on two fronts with two different enemies at the same time.
Article I of the Treaty of Washington was worded as follows:
From the point of the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, where the boundary laid down in existing treaties and conventions between the United States and Great Britain terminates, the line of boundary between the territories of the United States and those of her Britannic Majesty shall be continued westward along the said forty-ninth parallel of north latitude to the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island, and thence southerly through the middle of the said channel, and of Fuca’s Straits, to the Pacific Ocean: Provided, however, That the navigation of the whole of the said channel and straits, south of the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, remain free and open to both parties.
Drawing astronomical lines on a map without knowledge of, or regard to, topography is poor way to establish boundaries—as the absurdity of Point Roberts effectively demonstrates.
A decade after the treaty was signed, the Foreign Office persuaded the United States it was time to take steps to survey and mark the boundary. On 11 August 1856, Congress authorized the appointment of representatives to a joint boundary commission. Archibald Campbell was named chief commissioner and Lieutenant John G. Park the principal surveyor.
The British named separate commissioners for the land and sea portions. To determine what the treaty ambiguously referred to as “the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island,” Captain James C. Prevost of HMS Satellite was appointed first commissioner, and Captain George H. Richards of the survey vessel Plumper second commissioner.22 W.A.G. Young served as secretary—until Douglas co-opted him to be his colonial secretary. Prevost arrived in Victoria in June 1857 to begin work on the Vancouver Island boundary, with Richards following in early November.
Campbell arrived for his first meeting with Prevost aboard the Satellite in Esquimalt Harbour on June 22, when it was discovered that there had been some miscommunication because while Campbell was authorized to determine both the land and maritime line, Prevost’s commission applied only to the latter. And because Richards had not yet arrived, Campbell crossed over to the mainland and proceeded to set up camp at Semiahmoo and begin work there, including establishing an initial boundary location on Point Roberts.
Surveying the land portion was the more challenging assignment, and news of increasing gold strikes left the British authorities scrambling. In December 1857, the War Office, acting on a request of the Foreign Office, decided to deploy a contingent of regular troops under the command of a Royal Engineer and requested that Douglas take steps to provide accommodations at Victoria for not less than seven officers and thirty non-commissioned men. He was also asked to advise them as to logistics for transport and assist in obtaining local labour.23
Douglas received this news in March 1858, just as the gold rush was beginning in earnest. In reply, he promised to give immediate attention to these instructions but warned that gold fever was then at such a pitch, “the whole floating white population” of the island appeared headed for the mines. To avoid making a critical labour shortage even worse, he recommended doubling the number of men to be sent out and supplementing their efforts with native labour.24
The command of the British commission was entrusted to Captain John S. Hawkins, RE. Although the War Office had hoped to arrange for departure of the men by February 1, they did not get away until April 2. The contingent of fifty-six non-commissioned officers and men finally reached Esquimalt on July 12, where Douglas had erected a single building to accommodate the officers, leaving the men to be housed in tents.
A month later, Prevost escorted Hawkins via the Satellite to Semiahmoo for a meeting with Campbell. Thus began a relationship between the two men that remained cordial but not overly friendly. Hawkins, who was under orders to avoid friction with Campbell, soon found it necessary to develop what he later referred to as his “untiring patience” to maintain a proper working relationship with his counterpart.25
At this meeting, the two men worked out a modus operandi for the work at hand. Hawkins wanted to establish iron markers at frequent intervals, and every mile on open ground, and clear-cut a line for a considerable distance on each side of the markers, Campbell insisted the cost would be prohibitive. In the end the two men agreed to carry on independently rather than jointly, and rather than clearing the entire boundary, they would instead determine astronomical points at convenient locations on or near the line, and cut a track twenty feet wide for a minimum of one-half mile on either side of each marker.26
Hawkins then proceeded to establish camp near Sumas Prairie, working east and west from a point where the Americans had made an astronomical fix for the forty-ninth parallel the previous summer, leaving the Americans to work the lower end. That fall the British established a second camp near Cultus Lake. Confronted by trees that often “exceeded 30 feet in circumference and measured from 200 to 250 feet,” Hawkin’s men set to work with good grace. Only when the winter rains set in did they beat a welcome retreat to Victoria for the winter.
The size of the trees was child’s play compared to the mosquitoes. So thick were the swarms at times that a simple chores became “perfect agony,” wrote one of the men the following July. “We sit wrapped up in leather with gloves on and bags round our heads & even that cannot keep them off; none of us have had any sleep for the last two nights & we can scarcely eat . . . .”27
Three weeks later, the situation had little changed:
My hands, during the last few days, have been so swollen & stiff that I could hardly bend my joints & have had to wrap them in wet towels to be ready for the next day’s work; one’s hands are literally covered with them when writing & even when wearing kid gloves the bites through the needle holes in the seams were sufficient to produce this. Each mule, as it is packed, is obliged to be led into a circle of fires continually kept up, as they are quite intractable when worried by mosquitoes; two of [them] have been blinded & 6 of our horses were so reduced that we had to turn them out on the prairie and let them take their chance of living. I never saw anything like the state of their skins, one mass of sores. Our tents used frequently to be so covered with mosquitoes inside & out, that it was difficult to see the canvas . . . . We are all of us, as you may imagine, a good deal pulled down by want of sleep & continual irritation; Lord & Lyall especially look some years older than before, their faces drawn in as if they had been short of food, it has brought several grey hairs on the Doctor though he wont acknowledge them; however we shall all get fat again at Victoria during the winter.28
Despite the fact their two countries nearly came to blows in 1859 over the location of the maritime boundary and the ownership of San Juan Island, the work on British Columbia’s boundary went on without interruption. The British crew spent the entire season marking the line from Chilliwack to the crest of the Cascade Mountains. When the mosquitoes got too bad, the men moved up to the higher elevations of the western slope of the Cascades until the snow forced their return to Victoria. That winter Hawkins returned to England to report on the San Juan Crisis as well as progress with the survey.
It took two more years of hard work to complete the line from the crest of the Cascades to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. To transport necessary provisions and stores, pack animals purchased in California were driven north to the Dalles on the Columbia, the head of navigation, and used to transport supplies overland to Fort Colvile, which then became the new British base of operations.
During the winter of 1860-61, the British passed their time at Fort Colvile and the Americans in a camp some fifteen miles distant, which provided a chance for the two groups to exchange mutual civilities, although Campbell himself returned to Washington.29
The survey of the boundary line was finally finished in late 1861. In all, 28 astronomical stations marked the 409.4 miles to the crest of the Rockies. The first 45 miles were marked at 42 points with iron markers; the next 108 miles to the Similkameen River with 19 stone cairns; the next 95 miles to the Columbia River with 69 stone cairns and a single earth mound, and from the Columbia to the crest of the Rockies, another 27 cairns.30
With the US Civil War then raging, the Americans were immediately deployed elsewhere. It was too late in the season for the British to return to Victoria, so they spent a final winter at Fort Colvile except for a dozen men who were sent back to England for health reasons. So great was the wear and tear on their bodies that it was feared they might not survive the winter on their own.31
Hawkins stopped at Washington on the way home in 1862, hoping to collaborate with Campbell on a final report. When nothing came of that, he returned to England and produced one of his own for the Foreign Office. The two men finally met in Washington in May 1869, after the Civil War was over, and jointly produced a final report. At this time they resolved discrepancies between the work of the two commissions, agreeing to select a mean line down the middle. They also agreed that the boundary between markers should be understood to follow a straight line between the two points rather than lines following the earth’s curvature.
By a quirk of fate, when settlers moved into boundary areas with conflicting border cuts and the authorities sought to verify the line from the official maps, they were unable to locate the final report—in either country. Only in 1898 did the British report turn up when it was spotted by a visiting Canadian astronomer, Otto Klotz, during a visit to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Two years later, parts of the American report were discovered by a cartographer of the US Geological Survey. The publication of these reports led both governments to resurvey the line in 1901-07 to eliminate any further misunderstandings.32

Discovery of gold

Unlike California, where the discovery of gold can be dated from James Marshall’s spying gold in Jacob Sutter’s millrace on the American River on January 24, 1848, there is no comparable event that led miners suddenly to emerge along the banks of the Fraser River a decade later. Instead the series of strikes in what shortly became British Columbia was part of the larger search for minerals following the rush to California in 1849.
It took months for news of the California strike to spread, but when it did it triggered the greatest gold rush in history in 1849, giving California an instant population of 100,000 by the end of the year. The era of placer mining, when miners could capture the precious metal with a pan and a shovel, was short-lived, and during the next decade miners relentlessly fanned out throughout the entire mountain West, pushing also north into British territory.
In 1850 gold was discovered on the Spokane River near Fort Colvile, the last remaining Hudson’s Bay post in Oregon Territory. Late in 1851, a small rush to the Queen Charlotte Islands developed after natives there produced specimens of gold, and the following year much more substantial discoveries along the Rogue River in southern Oregon Territory. In 1855 a major strike occurred between the Spokane and Pend d’Oreille Rivers, near Fort Colvile in newly fashioned Washington Territory. Neither the relative remoteness of the area nor the threat of hostile natives was enough to discourage companies of miners from banding together and packing supplies into the region.
That fall, a full-scale Indian War broke out in Washington Territory in which the natives took on the US Army with such fierceness and skill that settlers in most open areas were forced to abandon their farms and flee to coastal towns for refuge. The ferocity of the conflict, and the emboldenment of the natives with each victory, left James Douglas appalled. “I hope they will receive a timely check,” he wrote, “or the evil spirit may spread among the aboriginal population of British Territory, which is far more ignorant and barbarous, and in point of numbers is, as five to one, compared with the Native population of American Oregon.”33 Although the American authorities immediately rushed in large troop reinforcements from California, the wars continued off and on, along with the search for gold, for the next three years.
Despite the hostility of the natives, in the spring of 1856 Angus McDonald, in charge of Fort Colvile, informed James Douglas that miners had moved up the Columbia River into British territory and were finding pay dirt there, averaging from £2 to £8 ($10 to $40) per man. In relaying this intelligence to the Colonial Office, Douglas wondered if these miners should be taxed for the privilege, although he admitted that would be impossible without the presence of some kind of military assistance.34
About the same time, natives brought gold dust to Fort Kamloops at the junction of the North and South Thompson, where Chief Trader Donald McLean presided. McLean was reluctant to accept it because he had no way of measuring it, but Douglas instructed him to give every encouragement to the natives and obtain all the gold he could get. McLean also uncovered small samples of the metal along the Nicomen River, a small stream flowing into the Thompson, about ten miles above its junction with the Fraser; some time later, he extracted three dollars worth of gold with the aid of his knife from a rocky ledge along another tributary of the Fraser.
Douglas himself attributed the initial strikes along the Thompson as the precursor to the Fraser River gold rush the following year. The man who was probably in the best position to monitor events was unequivocal as to its origins: “Gold was first found on Thompson River by an Indian 1/4 of a mile below Niconim [sic],” he wrote. “He is since dead. The Indian was taking a drink out of the river. Having no vessel, he was quaffing from the stream when he perceived a shining pebble which he picked up and it proved to be gold.”35
Despite the fact that the natives were destitute of mining tools and on the verge of starvation that summer, they continued searching for gold, digging it out with knives and their bare hands. In this they were joined by former HBC employees, which caused Douglas little concern, as long as “the heterogeneous population of American Oregon” were excluded. Indeed, the few Americans who chose to enter the area found it politic to pass themselves off as British subjects.36
By the end of October 1856, Douglas informed the Colonial Office he had received reports that considerable amounts of gold had been found, and several men had apparently accumulated large quantities. Although he could not vouch for the accuracy of these reports, he thought them credible because he had already received 220 ounces of gold dust direct from the Upper Columbia region. Gold was also being found on tributaries of the Fraser. Judging from the success of these operations, he believed the gold region was proving to be very extensive, “and I entertain sanguine hopes that future researches will develop stores of wealth, perhaps equal to the gold fields of California.”37
So optimistic was Douglas about the prospect that he also raised the possibility that the mines could become a source of revenue. “I do not know if Her Majesty’s Government will consider it expedient to raise a revenue in that quarter, by taxing all persons engaged in gold digging,” he wrote, “but I may remark that it will be impossible to levy such a tax, without the aid of a military force, and the expense in that case would probably exceed the income derived from the Mines.” As it happened, those strikes along the Columbia did not continue to produce in paying quantities, and the miners moved on.
Activity increased during the summer of 1857, as some Canadians from Fort Colvile prospected around the Thompson and Bonaparte area, and other adventurers arrived via the Columbia or Okanagan into the area the fur traders called the Couteau country between the lower Thompson and Shuswap Lake. Reports reaching Douglas were that men were finding gold at various sites between the Columbia and the Fraser, although not yet in great quantities. Although couteau is the French word for “knife,” the area was actually named after the local Nicoutameen Indians.
To reach the Couteau country required a major effort on the part of the gold seekers. Supplies and provisions to last for several weeks had to be packed in from Portland on the lower Columbia through regions where the US Army was conducting running battles against a variety of Indian tribes. The miners were invariably well-armed and often sought safety in numbers by banding together to ward off hostile encounters with the natives. Crossing the border into British territory did little to change either their tactics or mentality, making clashes with the natives almost inevitable.
That the natives resisted this invasion of gold seekers into their territory speaks volumes about their shrewdness and sophistication. Although they had almost universally welcomed fur traders to their midst—because access to trade goods gave them the advantage of becoming middle-men to their neighbours—the First Nations people had learned quickly to distinguish between the “King George” men and “Boston” men.
By mid-July 1857, a vanguard of miners had reached the Thompson River, where the earlier strikes had been recorded and the most serious clash occurred. Here, in an action Douglas branded as “high handed, though probably not unwise,” the Indians promptly drove the miners off, not simply to preserve the gold for themselves, but almost certainly also because they feared disturbance to their salmon fisheries. News of this incident caused Douglas immediately to caution the men at Fort Kamloops to be careful to respect the feelings of the natives and not to engage in any activity without their “full approbation and consent.”38
Although he was confident his own traders would avoid provocations, he warned there was “much reason to fear that serious affrays may take place” between the natives and “motley adventurers” from Oregon, should the latter attempt to overpower the natives by force of arms. In that case, he continued, “it may not become a question whether the Natives are entitled to the protection of Her Majesty’s Government; and if an officer invested with the requisite authority should not, without delay, be appointed for that purpose.”39
By October 1857, some 300 ounces of gold had been relayed to HBC headquarters at Fort Victoria, most of it traded by natives. There is no way of knowing how much the more expert white miners took home with them, but the more experienced among them became convinced that the whole area was auriferous, and reports began circulating among the Puget Sound and lower Columbia communities of the reputed wealth awaiting north of the border.
John Sebastian Helmcken recalled how Douglas had entered the mess hall in Fort Victoria, and displayed for all present a few grains of gold dust he had received, likely from Chief Trader McLean at Fort Kamloops. The moment made a lasting impression on Helmcken because it was the first raw gold he had seen, but of all those assembled, he said, only Douglas grasped its true significance as the harbinger of great changes and busy times. “He spoke of Victoria rising to be a great city—and of its value,” wrote Helmcken, “but curiously enough this conversation did not make much impression and some of them thought it was a sort of advertisement to sell ‘town lots.’" A few weeks later, Douglas brought in another display, this time “a soda-water bottle half full of scaly gold,” which the Indians had collected, presumably also from the Thompson River.40
Some critics at the time, and many writers since, have suggested that the HBC had long known about the presence of gold but had carefully concealed this knowledge to protect its fur trade monopoly. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that far from being party to such a conspiracy, Douglas genuinely welcomed the discoveries, which offered the prospects for incentive and growth that would provide the needed foundation for a viable English presence along the northern Pacific coast.41
As Douglas already realized, the gold discoveries on the mainland could become the kind of powerful economic engine that Vancouver Island had long lacked but desperately needed to become a thriving community. Should the gold fields offer an auriferous hinterland, supplementing the trade in furs and fish, Victoria could become a commercial entrepot, second only to San Francisco.
The real danger, of course, was what would happen if hordes of “forty-niners,” long accustomed to taking law into their own hands, suddenly invaded the territories of determined natives on the mainland. An even greater worry, from Douglas’ point of view, was the inexorable pressure such a population would present upon arrival for annexation of the territory by the United States.
Thus far the Colonial Office had seemed almost indifferent to Douglas’ efforts to keep it informed of events occurring on the mainland. To his initial report of miners crossing the border to work the Columbia in April 1856, in which he also raised the possibility of taxing the miners, he was informed that Whitehall was not looking for any revenue from such a “distant quarter” and was not prepared to incur any expense to obtain it. Instead, it was left to his discretion to determine the best means of preserving order should large numbers of miners flock to the region.42
In his July 1857 despatch, Douglas had detailed the clash between miners and Indians on the Thompson, questioning if Her Majesty’s Government did not owe the natives protection and requesting that an officer be appointed for that purpose. To this he received no reply, not even an acknowledgement. This does not mean the Colonial Office was indifferent to the possibility of a major rush to the mainland, only that it was pondering the larger question as to the future status of this territory. But of these considerations, of course, Douglas remained ignorant.
As 1857 drew to a close, Douglas had decided a full-scale influx of miners from the United States was imminent, once the winter rains subsided. Although he was aware his jurisdiction was limited to Vancouver Island, in the absence of any other available authority, he decided the time had come to act.
Drawing on his prior experience with the gold discoveries on the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1851-52, on the 28th of December he issued a proclamation “on behalf of Her Majesty,” declaring that all minerals were the property of the crown and that anyone taking or searching for gold without authorization would “be prosecuted both criminally and civilly as the law allows.” The next day he issued regulations stipulating that, effective February 1, 1858, anyone searching for gold would be permitted to do so only under license.43
The licensing requirement, which had been used during the gold rushes in California, Australia, and elsewhere, was designed both to force an acknowledgment of British authority over the area to provide a source of revenue. Whether it would succeed or not would depend upon how events would unfold in the spring.
  1. John Robert Seeley, The Expansion of England (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1884), p. 8 .
  2. Helen Taft Manning, “Who Ran the British Empire—1830-1850?” Journal of British Studies, 5 (1965): 88-121.
  3. Sir Charles Jeffries, The Colonial Office (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1956), p. 27.
  4. Brian L. Blakeley, The Colonial Office, 1868-1892 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1972), p. 6.
  5. John W. Cell, British Colonial Administration in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: the Policy Making Process (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 24. Indeed, much of the information in this section is based on Blakeley and Cell.
  6. Cell, British Colonial Administration, 10.
  7. Report of the Commissioners on Public Offices, 1854, cited in John W. Cell, "The Colonial Office in the 1850’s," Historical Studies: Australia and New Zealand, 12 (October 1865, April 1867): p. 50.
  8. See http://www.​bulwer-lytton​.com, and Toronto Globe and Mail for 14 August 2008, http://www​.theglobe​andmail​.com/servlet/story/RTGAM​.20080814​.wbulwer0814/BNStory/Entertainment/home​?cid=al_gam_​mostemail.
  9. Cell, British Colonial Administration, p. 6.
  10. Entry for Elliot, Thomas Frederick, Australian Dictionary of Biography,; Cell, “Colonial Office,” p. 47.
  11. Minutes by Carnarvon and Lytton, 10956, CO 323/252, p. 418.
  12. Minute on 12235, ibid., p 427, 29 Nov.
  14. John H. Kemble, The Panama Route, 1848-1869 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), pp. 14-17, 32-33. Kemble remains the best authority on the operations of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.
  15. Oscar Osburn Winther, The Old Oregon Country: A History of Frontier Trade, Transportation, and Travel (Bloomington, Indiana: Indian University, 1939), pp. 141-44.
  16. 4064/54, Douglas to Newcastle, Feb 28, 1854.
  17. 1765/56, F. Hill to Herman Merivale, Feb. 22, 1856.
  18. 535/59, Douglas to Lytton, #16, 5 November 1858.
  19. Writers sometimes claim that the Americans referred to this territory as Oregon but the British called it Columbia or New Caledonia. The HBC designated their operations west of the Rockies as the Columbia Department (and the area around Fort St. James as New Caledonia), but Colonial Office officials often referred to the territory also north of the forty-ninth parallel as Oregon, at least until the Americans formally established Oregon Territory in 1848. Even James Douglas as late as 1850 referred to Vancouver Island as part of Oregon. In fact the earliest known reference to the name is credited to a British army officer, Major Robert Rogers, who in 1765 proposed an expedition “from the Great Lakes towards the Head of the Mississippi, and from thence to the River called by the Indians Ouragon . . . .” Oregon, Oregon Blue Book, http://​bluebook​.state​.or​.us​/misc​/about​/faq.htm​#oregon.
  20. Cited in H. George Classen, Thrust and Counterthrust: The Genesis of the Canada-United States Boundary (Don Mills, Ont.: Longmans Canada Limited, 1965), p. 179. See also Frederick Merk, The Oregon Question: Essays in Anglo-American Diplomacy and Politics (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1967).
  21. Classen, Thrust and Counterthrust, pp. 179, 189.
  22. Labouchere to Douglas, #1, 2 January 1857, Despatches from London.
  23. Hawes to Merivale, 11734, 30 December 1857.
  24. Douglas to Labouchere, 4567, 5 March 1858.
  25. Cited by George F.G. Stanley, ed., Mapping the Frontier: Charles Wilson’s Diary of the Survey of the forty-ninth Parallel, 1858-1862, While Secretary of the British Boundary Commission (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1970, p. 11.
  26. Ibid., pp. 10-11.
  27. Stanley, ed., Charles Wilson’s Diary, entry for July 2, 1859.
  28. Ibid., entry for July 27, 1859. John Keast Lord was a naturalist and veterinary surgeon with the commission, and Dr. David Lyall, was a Royal Navy surgeon from the survey vessel Plumper.
  29. Charles Wilson’s Diary, entry for 17 November 1860, p. 133.
  30. Classen, Thrust and Counterthrust, p. 214-15.
  31. Ibid, entry for 18 November 1861.
  32. Stanley, Marking the Frontier, pp. 17-18.
  33. Douglas to Molesworth, 8 November 1855, No. 24, 380, CO 305/6, p. 152.
  34. Douglas to Labouchere, 16 April 1856, No. 10, 5815, CO 305/7, p. 35.
  35. Douglas, Diary entry, 14 September 1860. BCA B/20/1858.
  36. Douglas to Labouchere, 29 October 1856, No. 28, 347, CO 305/7, p. 117.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Douglas to Labouchere, 15 July 1857, No. 22, 8657, CO 305/8, p. 108.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Dorothy Blakey Smith, ed., The Reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1975), p. 154.
  41. See also A.C. Anderson, Anderson’s Northwest Coast, MS 116, Bancroft Library: “No suspicion of the fact ever existed, as I can personally aver.”
  42. Labouchere to Douglas, 4 August 1856, No. 14, NAC, RG7, G8C/1, p. 480.
  43. Douglas to Labouchere, 29 December 1857, No. 35, 2084, CO 305/8, p. 271.
Vessels in this document



Otter, 1852-1861


HMS Plumper, 1848-1865

HMS Satellite, 1855-1879