Palmer, Lieutenant Henry Spencer
b. 1838-04-30
d. 1893-02-10
Lieutenant Henry Spencer Palmer was an engineer who undertook multiple surveys in the province under the auspices of the Royal Engineers as part of the British Columbia Expedition from its beginning in 1858 until it was disbanded in 1863.1 James Douglas described Palmer favourably to the Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Newcastle: Lieutenant Palmer has been the Subaltern of the Detachment, but upon one or two occasions has conducted exploring trips though the Colony with great credit to himself, and has done good service in fixing points and distances in the Upper Country.2
Born 30 April 1838 in Bangalore, India, Palmer attended private schools at Bath and was educated by private tutors in Woolwich and Plumstead before being admitted to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and, later, the School of Military Engineering at Chatham.3
Palmer received his colonial appointment 10 September 1858 and sailed from Gravesend, England, aboard the Thames City, landing in Esquimalt 12 April 1859. Palmer worked under the command of Captain Robert Mann Parsons of the Royal Engineers.4 His work in the province included reconnaissance of the Harrison and Lillooet route to the Upper Fraser River in 1859, the creation of a sketch map of the province in 1860 that was heavily distributed to the colonial establishment, a topographical report on the Bentinck Arm and Caribou Districts in 1863, and a survey from Victoria to Fort Alexander the same year.5 Arthur Johnstone Blackwood, senior clerk of the Colonial Office, called Palmer an exceedingly clever young Officer, who, being on the spot & faute de mieux, might make a good successor to Colonel Moody, in the Office of Chief Commr. of Lands.6
The detachment of engineers was disbanded in 1863. Palmer returned to England and joined the Ordnance Survey, analyzing areas throughout England.7 In 1869, Palmer, with the financial backing of the Royal Society, undertook a survey of the Sinai Peninsula. His work as a surveyor took him around the world to New Zealand, Barbados, Hong Kong, and eventually Japan. He retired from the Royal Engineers in 1887 and established a civil practice in Yokohama, where he designed the harbour and waterworks for the city. The emperor awarded Palmer with the third class of the order of the Rising Sun for his service to the country.8 He died suddenly on 10 February 1893 while working on a project in Tokyo.9
In 1862, while surveying the Cariboo gold fields, Palmer came into conflict with the Bella Coola Indians at North Bentinck Arm. According to an anecdote from his wife that was reported in the Daily Colonist, Palmer was cooking salmon over a fire when a party of armed Indians arrived. They took issue with him for cutting the backbone of the salmon and were ready to put him to death for the offence. Palmer managed to cleverly talk his way out of it and save his men's lives.10
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Palmer, Lieutenant Henry Spencer. The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia 1846-1871, Edition 2.2, ed. The Colonial Despatches Team. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria.

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