Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm
b. 1834-04-19
d. 1913-06-04
Gilbert Malcolm Sproat was born in 1834 in Kircudbright, Scotland.1 Sproat immigrated to Alberni, Vancouver Island in 1860 where he established a local business dealing with imports, commissions, and insurance.2 In 1865, Sproat moved back to England with his wife and daughter, remaining closely linked to the colony of Vancouver Island through an organization he established, called the London Committee for Watching the Affairs of British Columbia.3
Sproat returned to Vancouver Island numerous times over the following decade, eventually becoming an Indian Reserve Commissioner in 1876.4 In Sproat’s unsuccessful application to become Seymour’s successor as Governor of British Columbia, Sproat claimed to have special knowledge of the Indian population. He became known for his ethnographic book entitled, The Nootka: Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (1868).
Sproat aimed to always act with such justice, humanity, and moderation, yet understood that colonization on a large scale, by English colonists, practically means the displacing and extinction of the savage native population.5 Sproat believed that Indigenous participation in, or even leadership of the ‘civilizing’ process was the only way to reach the goal [of colonization].6 Ultimately, Sproat found justifiable the colonization of what is now called North America, under the assumption that the natives did not, in any civilized sense, occupy the land.7 Arguably, Sproat's views of racial superiority inflected his understanding of Indigenous Peoples, who have occupied and maintained strong connections to their lands since time-immemorial, with long established means for cultivating, hunting, and fishing.
Scholars such as Cole Harris and Robin Fisher consider Sproat to have been fair in his land allotments to Indigenous nations, yet Sarah Pike argues Sproat's beliefs about ‘humanitarian civilizing’ continued to exert the dominant influence on his decisions.8 Sproat believed that Indigenous peoples were an inferior group of people, stating that they were decaying, and had been decaying, in their isolated state before settlers even arrived.9
After working as an Indian Reserve Commissioner from 1876-1880, Sproat spent the following years travelling across British Columbia, retiring from government work in 1898.10 Sproat spent his retirement researching and writing; he died in 1913.11
  • 1. Charles Lillard, Introduction, in Gilbert M. Sproat, Nootka: Scenes and Studies of the Savage Life (Victoria: Son Nis Press), xviii-xix.
  • 2. Ibid. xix.
  • 3. Ibid. xx.
  • 4. Sarah Pike, Abstract, Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, British Columbia Indian Reserve Commissioner (1876-1880), and the “Humanitarian Civilizing” of Indigenous Peoples, (Vancouver: Sarah P. Pike), ii.
  • 5. Gilbert M. Sproat, Chapter II: Rights of Savages to the Soil, Nootka: Scenes and Studies of the Savage Life (Victoria: Son Nis Press), 8; Gilbert M. Sproat, Chapter XXVII: Effects Upon Savages of Intercourse with Civilized Men, Nootka: Scenes and Studies of the Savage Life (Victoria: Son Nis Press), 183.
  • 6. Sarah Pike, Sproat and the "Humanitarian Civilizing" of Indigenous Peoples After 1877, Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, British Columbia Indian Reserve Commissioner (1876-1880), and the “Humanitarian Civilizing” of Indigenous Peoples, (Vancouver: Sarah P. Pike), 260.
  • 7. Gilbert M. Sproat, Chapter II: Rights of Savages to the Soil, Nootka: Scenes and Studies of the Savage Life (Victoria: Son Nis Press), 8.
  • 8. Cole Harris, Making Native Space: Colonialism, Resistance, and Reserves in British Columbia, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002); Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890, 2nd ed. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1992); Sarah Pike, Sproat and the ‘Humanitarian Civilizing’ of Indigenous Peoples, Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, British Columbia Indian Reserve Commissioner (1876-1880), 88.
  • 9. Gilbert M. Sproat, Chapter XXVII: Effects Upon Savages of Intercourse with Civilized Men, Nootka: Scenes and Studies of the Savage Life, (Victoria: Son Nis Press), 184.
  • 10. Hamar Foster, Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
  • 11. Ibid.
Mentions of this person in the documents
People in this document

Seymour, Frederick

Places in this document

British Columbia

Port Alberni

Vancouver Island

The Colonial Despatches Team. Sproat, Gilbert Malcolm. 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/sproat_gm.html.

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