Sleigh, Burrows William Arthur
b. 1821(?)
d. 1869-03-22
In this despatch, Sleigh, speaking on behalf of his company, the British Columbia Overland Transit Company, proposes opening a postal service from Canada to British Columbia. His plan suggests establishing a pony express from the Red River settlement to Lytton, British Columbia, and then continuing delivery to Vancouver Island by steamer. The minutes of the despatch reveal, however, that the government was not prepared to entertain his proposal. Newcastle writes that it would be worse than useless to give it any encouragement.1
In another despatch, Murdoch inquires about advertisements that had been appearing in the newspapers for Sleigh's company, which intended to forward emigrants from England to British Columbia. According to Murdoch, Sleigh asserted that his company was prepared for any potential hardship that might be encountered on the journey, as it would have First Nations guides and the emigrant passengers would consist solely of healthy men who could be safely trusted to take care of themselves.2 Murdoch ends the letter with a brief mention that Sleigh is the same man involved in a scheme for a military colony in New Brunswick in 1857.3
The minutes of this despatch reveal much contention around Sleigh's proposal. Blackwood sees it as an obvious benefit to British Columbia and Vancouver Island; Elliot, on the other hand, criticizes it. He suspects that Sleigh will cheat the emigrants of their money, and convey them to Canada only for some problem to appear that prevents them from proceeding. Elliot feels that this precious scheme is but one of Sleigh's many projects, and considers him to be reckless and unreliable.4
Elliot's suspicions would turn out to be true. On 22 August 1862 Finnis wrote to the Secretary of State notifying that a charge of fraud had been laid against Sleigh as the secretary of British Columbia Overland Transit Company. According to Finnis, thirty-three people each paid Sleigh £42 and sailed from Glasgow to St. Paul's in the United States. Upon their arrival, it became known that no arrangements had been made to forward them to their final destination, despite the Company's assurances that there were. Eight of the thirty-three men returned to England; twenty-five, however, were stranded at St. Paul's as they lacked the means to either return to their homeland or proceed onwards. Finnis adds that those persons are now in the greatest distress and should no assistance be afforded them before the Winter season their state must necessarily be most deplorable.5 Sleigh, meanwhile, fled to Spain where he was out of the jurisdiction of criminal courts.6
Sleigh’s life before these incidents was marked by various other schemes. He was involved in the Halifax and Quebec railroad, which was never accomplished; he also formed a company called the Prince of Wales Colony, New Brunswick, which likewise failed. In 1850 he declared bankruptcy, but was soon on the rebound, purchasing a large estate on Prince Edward Island for £17,000 the following year. Upon his arrival in Charlottetown, he announced that he was the owner of a new steamboat line that would be servicing the island. Shortly after, rumours circulated that a Bank of Charlottetown had been established with Sleigh as president. These projects lead to his appointment as Justice of the Peace and Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Kings County Regiment of Militia.7 However, his successes would not last long; within two months, creditors seized Sleigh's steamboat line and he sold the remaining interest of his estate. A notice appeared in the Royal Gazette indicating the cancellation of his appointment as Lieutenant Colonel.8
Sleigh returned to England in 1852. The following year, he published Pine Forests and Hacmatack Clearings […], an account of his travels and experiences in British North America and the United States. In 1855, he obtained enough capital to launch the Daily Telegraph, but a year later was forced to sell his share in the business. Sleigh had failed attempts at election to the House of Commons in 1856 and 1857, and by the end of 1857 he was bankrupt again.9
Although Sleigh is often referred to as Colonel or Captain, the highest rank he attained during his six-year career in the British Army was Lieutenant.10
Sleigh’s illustrious, but ill-fated, endeavours would come to an end on 22 March 1869 with his death in Chelsea, England.11
Mentions of this person in the documents
The Colonial Despatches Team. Sleigh, Burrows William Arthur. 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. https://bcgenesis.uvic.ca/sleigh.html.

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