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Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island
Chapter I

In February, 1857, I received my appointment as Lieutenant to H.M.S. ‘Plumper,’ then at Portsmouth, fitting out for service at Vancouver Island.

This distant possession, and tlie adjacent mainland of British North America, were then little known and still less heeded. What little was known of them, from the chance visits of explorers, and their more recent occupation by the Hudson Bay Company for the purposes of then- great fur-trade, may be very briefly stated.

The Spaniards were the first Europeans who set eyes upon the coasts of the Pacific. During the earlier half of the sixteenth century they busied themselves at intervals in exploring it. At that time Spain and Portugal were the two great maritime powers of Europe, and there had been concluded between them a treaty, which the Pope was expected to confirm; by which, while the latter nation was to enjoy all rights of discovery and possession eastward of a meridian line passing 370 leagues west of the Cape Verd Islands, to Spain were to pertain all seas and lands west of that line.

There was another maritime power in Europe, however, which, although of little importance then, was destined one day to eclipse theirs totally. The rising navy of England was little disposed to consider itself bound by an arrangement that closed so many seas and shores against it. Nor was the English people, flushed with its recent repudiation of the Papal power, inclined to submit without a struggle to the partition of the unknown world by the Court of Pome. Elizabeth did not understand, it was explained to the Spanish ambassador, “why her subjects should be debarred from traffic in the Indies. As she did not acknowledge the Spaniards to have any title by donation of the Bishop of Home, so she knew no right they had to any places other than those they were in actual possession of. As to their having touched here and there upon a coast, and given names to a few rivers and capes, these were such insignificant acts as could in no way entitle them to a proprietary farther than in the parts where they settled and continued to inhabit.”

The adventurous mariners of that time were ready enough to act in the spirit of Elizabeth’s protest, and entered upon the career of discovery in the West energetically. It must be confessed that they sometimes went beyond it, and the Gulf of Mexico—and later the southern shores of the Pacific —were haunted by free-traders and freebooters, who, carrying their defiance of Papal authority and Spanish prohibitions to an extent somewhat unjustifiable, plundered the Spanish settlements of the coast, and took and sacked their trading vessels. For a time it seems that their dread of the passage of the Straits of Magellan kept them from the Pacific; but at length the reports -which reached England of the wealth that lay there mastered them fears, and Drake in his first voyage round the world came there in 1578. A year later, when he started to return, gorged with the spoil of the coast, being anxious to avoid the passage of the Straits of Magellan, where he might be intercepted by the Spaniards, he sailed west and north-west, thinking to reach home by that way. He is supposed to have got as far north as the 42nd—by some it is asserted the 48th—parallel of latitude, when, meeting adverse winds, and the wintry, foggy -weather telling seriously upon his crew enervated by their stay in the sunny south, he was forced to return.

In his wake came, among others, Cavendish, to the same shores upon the same errand. In the year 1587, he captured a galleon near Cape St. Lucas, the southern extremity of California. Setting fire to the vessel he landed the Spanish crew upon the friendless, desolate shore, where they were like to perish of exposure and starvation. Fortunately, however, a storm blew their deserted vessel ashore in their immediate vicinity; and repairing it as well as they could, they set sail and in time reached Europe. Among them there happened to be a Greek sailor, named properly Apostolos Valerianos, but more commonly known by the designation used by his fellows —Juan de Euca, of whom we shall have to say more hereafter.

About this time that search began, which our own days have seen concluded, for a northern passage of communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The English and the Dutch had already prosecuted it eagerly, and vague reports were rife in the maritime world of its having been at one time or other really made.

Among them the following narrative was current. It will be found related at full length in an historical and geographical collection called ‘The Pilgrim,’ published by Samuel Purclias, in 1625, under the title of ‘ A Note made by Michael Lock the elder, touching the Strait of Sea commonly called Eretum Arrianum, in the South Sea, through the North-west Passage of Meta Incognita.’ The following is a summary of Mr. Lock’s narrative.

That being at Venice in the year 1596, upon business connected with the Levant trade in which he (Mr. Lock) was concerned, he came across an old man, aged 60, called Juan de Fuca, but named properly Apostolos Valerianos, a Greek mariner, an ancient pilot of ships. The account which he gave of himself was that he had come from Spain to Florence, whence', finding one John Douglas, an Englishman, a famous mariner, ready coming to Venice, he had accompanied him thither. This John Douglas, to whom the Greek seems to have been communicative, being acquainted with Mr. Lock, gave him knowledge of the old pilot, and brought them together that his brother Englishman might in his turn listen to his passenger’s yarns ; and so we are informed that, in many long talks and conferences, the following story came out.

Apostolos Valerianos, by his then name of Juan de Fuca, professed to have been in the West Indies of Spain for forty years, and had sailed to and fro many places in the service of that power. He happened to be in the Spanish ship which, in returning from the Philippine Islands, was taken off Cape California by Captain Cavendish; upon the occasion of that capture, losing 60,000 ducats of his own goods.

Subsequently to this event he had been in the service of the Viceroy of Mexico, and on one occasion had been sent with a small caravel and a pinnace up the shores of California, now called North America. He reached the latitude of 47°; and there finding that the land trended north and north-east, with a broad inlet of sea between the 47th and 48th parallels, he entered the same, sailing therein more than twenty days,—still finding land, trending sometimes north-west, and north-east, and north, and also east and southeastward, with much broader sea, islands, Ac. So he sailed until he came to the North Sea, finding it wide enough everywhere, and then, being unarmed, and the native people being savage, he returned, and was not rewarded for his services. Having thus a grievance with Spain, he was willing to serve England, by whom he hoped to be recompensed for his loss by Captain Cavendish, who by this time was dead. And if His Majesty would but give him a ship of 40 tons’ burden, he undertook on his part to perform the North West passage in thirty days.

Upon this Mr. Lock wrote to Lord Treasurer Cecil, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Master Richard Hakluyt, the famous cosmographer, and prayed them to disburse him 100l., to bring the pilot to England, his purse not stretching so wide. To his request came an answer, that the action was well liked and greatly desired by his correspondents hi England, but no money; and the Greek pilot sailed for Cephalonia, his native place. Mr. Lock, it further appears, at a later period corresponded with him there, and he wrote in reply, stating that he was ready to come with twenty companions and fulfil his promise, but that money was indispensable, for he had been utterly undone in the ship: ‘ Santa Anna,’ taken by Captain Cavendish. No money, however, was forthcoming until much later, when Apostolos Valerianos, being then an old man, at the point of death, could not take advantage of it.

This story of the old Greek pilot’s was long current in England, and, although it was considered legendary by some, it generally met with credit. There were not many, however, who had the courage or the fortune to test its accuracy. As late as the year 1719,—although we know that long before that time the shores of the Atlantic as high as the 74th parallel of latitude, had, in the search for the long-desired North West Passage, been explored and taken possession of by the Hudson Bay Company, — little, if anything, of the Pacific above the 43rd parallel north was known. About that time, however, the Spaniards sailing north came upon the mouth of the Columbia River, while the Russians began to push down from then* far-away settlements at Kamschatka. But it was not until the year 1776 that the British Government, having thirty years before offered a reward of 20,000l. to whoever should make the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific from either sea, commissioned Captain James Cook to examine the shores of the latter ocean. His instructions were to sail for the 45th degree of latitude north. Having reached it ho was to make his way northward to the 65th, searching in his course for rivers or inlets pointing towards Hudson or Baffin Bays; taking possession, by the way, of the new lands he might discover, in the name of his master, King George.

In March of the year 1778, Cook sighted the coast at 44°, sailing thence up to 48°, where he named the projecting point of the shore Cape Flattery. Southward of Cape Flattery, Cook examined the coast with minute care, having it in his mind to decide for ever upon the truth or falsity of the story of Juan de Fuca’s discovery, which had so long been current. The old pilot, in his account, had put it between the 47th and 48th parallels of latitude. Examining this extent of the shore carefully, and with no success, Cook authoritatively pronounced the Greek’s story a fiction, and sailed on past the wide strait that now bears Fuca’s name, stopping at Friendly Cove and Nootka Sound, which he took to be part of the main shore. It was not, indeed, until ten years later that Captain Berkeley, an English seaman in charge of a merchant-vessel, found that a passage of some sort existed, immediately north of Cape Flattery. He did not explore it, but a year later an English naval officer on halfpay, Captain Meares, coming upon it, named it the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and sailed up it in a boat some thirty leagues, until, attacked by the natives on the northern shore, he was forced to return.

A few years later there were matters of difference between the Governments of Spain and Great Britain relative to the north-west coast of America and the navigation of the Pacific; and in the year 1792, Captain Vancouver, an officer in the English navy—and not, as has been often erroneously supposed, a Dutchman—was despatched to Nootka, to settle, with the Spanish Commission, named for the like purpose, what lands, buildings, and vessels seized there by Spain should be restored to England, and the amount of indemnification that should be paid her.

In addition to the official business upon which he was despatched, Vancouver was directed to explore the coast of the Pacific, from the 35th to the 60th parallels of north latitude, and to look out for any water passage, which it was still thought might be found connecting the two oceans; particularly the Strait of Juan de Fuca, reported as recently rediscovered. On Vancouver’s reaching Nootka, he found the Spanish Commissioner had not arrived, and proceeded to survey the Strait of Fuca, Admiralty Inlet, and thence northward. On the 22nd June, 1792, as he was returning to his ship from Jervis Inlet, he met the ‘Sutil’ and ‘Mexicana,’ two men-of-war, commanded by Signors D. Galiano and C. Valdes, and forming part of the Spanish exploring expedition. These officers exchanged information in the most friendly way. Then separating, Vancouver, after long and difficult navigation, forced his way between the islands of the Gulf of Georgia and through the strait named by him Johnstone, coming at length into the Pacific at Queen Charlotte Sound, 100 miles north of Nootka. The island thus discovered it was decided should bear both their names, and will be found designated in all but quite recent maps, Quadra and Vancouver Island.

Let us now inquire what was known of these regions from the eastern side of the great American continent. The first to reach them, crossing the Pocky Mountains from Canada— the first at least who left the impress of his name there—was Mr. Simon Fraser, an employe of the North-West Company, an association formed in Canada to rival the Hudson Bay fur-trade. Mr. Fraser, penetrating the range of mountains from Fort Chipewyan, in 1806, formed a trading establishment upon a lake bearing his name, situate on the 54th parallel of latitude. Later, rival American fur companies were formed, and in 1810 the most important of them, the Pacific Fur Company, having at its head Mr. Astor, a German merchant of New York, founded the well-known, unsuccessful settlement bearing his name at the entrance of the Columbia River.

Before this time, the shores of the Pacific, the theatre of these comparatively unimportant events, attracted little if any attention from the Governments, who were yet prepared to lay claim to their exclusive possession, whenever their occupation should appear valuable. About this period, however, the attention of the American Congress was directed to the districts through which the Columbia flowed; aud the subject being referred to a Committee of the Senate, a report was made, that all the territory in question, from the 41st to the 53rd, if not to the 60th degree, belonged to the United States. Their claim to its possession was grounded upon the purchase of Louisiana from France in the year 1808, and the acquisition of what titles of discovery and occupation might be possessed by Spain, by the Florida Treaty of 1818; together with the rights conferred by the settlement of American citizens there. No active steps, however, to enforce these pretensions were taken until 1823, when President Monroe, in his Address to Congress, asserted that the American continent was henceforth not to be considered as subject for colonisation by any European Powers.

There were but two Powers with any pretensions to oppose the claim of the United States to the exclusive possession of the shore of the Pacific, viz., Russia and Great Britain. The former had for many years been settled in some force at Sitka and the neighbourhood. Both by Great Britain and the States of America, the right of Russia to the districts which she had in some measure colonised was readily conceded. In 1824 a convention was entered into between that Power and America, by which Russia bound herself not to encroach south of a line drawn at 54° 40', and in the following year Great Britain entered into a similar treaty; both nations thus confirming the claims of Kussia, but careful in no way to compromise their own, to the country south of the line of boundary thus laid down.

It can serve no purpose to rake up the yet live embers of the irritating and difficult boundary dispute between this country and the United States, relative to the possession of that portion of the shore of the Pacific which has since proved so valuable. It is sufficient to say, that by conventions renewed at intervals, the territories and waters claimed by either Power west of the Rocky Mountains were declared to be free and open to the vessels, citizens, and subjects of both; until, urged by their growing importance, and the impatience of settlers east of the Rocky Mountains to colonise them, the boundary question assumed the importance of a great political crisis, more than once threatening to result in war. Happily this was averted, and in 1844, by a treaty, the details of which were settled at Washington by Mr. Richard Pakenham on behalf of the British Government, the line of boundary from the Rocky Mountains to the sea was declared to be the 49 th parallel of north latitude. The course which the line should take upon reaching the sea—fertile as it has been and may still be in difficulties and misunderstandings— was thus declared to continue to “the centre of the Gulf of Georgia, and thence southward, through the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver Island, to the Straits of Juan de Fuca.” It was subsequently found that there were three separate channels existing between the island and the main shore, and contention arose as to the construction of the treaty in respect to them.

In the year 1856 the American Government appointed a commission to settle this disputed line of boundary after it reached the sea-coast, as well as to determine the course which the parallel of 49° took across the continent.

The English Government in their turn appointed Commissioners for the like purpose. Captain Prevost was the first selected, and in the autumn of 1856 was ordered to commission H.M.S. 'Satellite’ and proceed to Vancouver Island. It was then discovered that no accurate chart of the channels in dispute betireen the island and the mainshore existed; that the position and extent of the group of islands among them were very imperfectly known; while the relative value of the channels themselves could only be arrived at from such meagre information as the masters of two or three Hudson Bay Company’s trading vessels were able to give. It was therefore determined that a surveying vessel should also be despatched—in the first place to make a complete survey of the disputed waters, and afterwards to continue it along the coasts of Vancouver Island and the mainland of the British territory. For this purpose Captain George Henry Richards was selected, and commissioned H.M.S. ‘Plumper.’

The ‘Plumper’ is what is called in the navy an auxiliary steam-sloop, barque rigged, of 60-horse power, and armed with two long 32-pounders and ten short ones, of a pattern which has now nearly gone out of date. She had been paid off from a long cruise on the West Coast of Africa the day before Captain Richards commissioned her, and it was not to be wondered at that when she came to be “overhauled” in the dock she was found very rotten in some parts. It was discovered also that she would be very inefficient for the surveying work unless a chart-room were built on deck, and accordingly this had to be done. Owing to these causes her preparation for sea was greatly prolonged, and we were not ready for a start till the middle of March.

Captain Richards was well known both as a surveyor and an Arctic explorer, he having been the Commander of Sir E. Belcher’s ship the 'Assistance,’ in the search for the remains of the Franklin expedition, and having while there made one of the longest and most harassing sledge-journeys upon record.

He had previously assisted in the surveys of the Falkland Islands, New Zealand, Australia, &c. Besides the command of this survey, Captain Richards received an appointment as Second Commissioner for the settlement of the boundary, in conjunction with Captain Prevost. Of the other officers, Mr. Bull, the master, was the principal surveyor, and with him were Messrs. Pender and Bedwell, then second masters, now masters. These three, with the captain, made the whole of the surveying staff at starting. Of course in five years several changes have taken place. On Mr. Bull’s death Mr. Pender became the senior assistant-surveyor, and other junior officers have learnt the work and have been added to the strength of the survey. The surgeon, at that time Dr. Forbes, undertook the Natural History and Botanical departments; hut he was likewise changed. He was invalided when the ship arrived at Valparaiso, and relieved by Dr. Lyall. Subsequently when the Land Boundary Commission, under Colonel Hawkins, arrived at Vancouver Island, Dr. Lyall was detached from the ship to them, and his place taken on board by Dr. Wood.

The repairs which wore found necessary before the ‘Plumper’ could start for so long a voyage, kept us in Portsmouth Harbour till the 11th of March, on which day we made our trial trip on the measured mile in Stokes Bay. The average speed obtained was six knots (nautical miles of 2000 yards each) per hour, which, although as much as we expected from the horse-power of the vessel, we afterwards found by no means adequate to the rushing currents in the inner waters between Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

Recurring to my description of our destination, I may remark that the manner in which the northern shores of the Pacific are parcelled out is simply thus. From the Mexican boundary, as far north as the 49th degree of latitude, the Americans hold possession; a few colonists at long intervals being thinly scattered over the states of Oregon and Washington. Vancouver Island had in the year 1843 first been occupied by the Hudson Bay Company, a party of whose employes, landing at Victoria, had settled there, building a fort and laying the foundation of what became an important trading station. In 1849 a grant of the island to the same Company was made by the Home Government, upon condition that within five years steps should be taken by the lessees for its perfect colonisation. What steps were taken, however, proved unsuccessful; and at this time, beyond a somewhat prosperous station and farm at Victoria, a fort at Rupert, in the north of the island, and a small settlement at Nanaimo, no use of Vancouver Island was made by the English. Of the mainland, secured to Great Britain by the boundary treaty of 1844, and known then as New Caledonia, the same Company also held possession under a similar grant. It was used by them exclusively for the purposes of their fur-trade, a few forts at distant intervals sheltering them from the Indians and serving as trading stations.

North of the British possessions the Russians were busy, too, in the pursuit of furs, which they exported to China and their own country. The mainland of their possessions was utterly valueless for any other purpose, the islands only being available for agriculture. They, too, possessed their forts and factories, but in greater number and strength than the English, having taken further trouble to colonise the country. The aboriginal inhabitants pay formal allegiance to the Russian-American Trading Company, in the sendee of which they are bound to enter, if required; while from the more distant tribes tribute of furs is enforced. Moreover the Company possess twenty-eight establishments south of Behring Straits; and on Baranof Island, at Sitka, or New Archangel, the capital of Russian-America, a fortified town will be found, with arsenals, shipyard, foundry, hospital, a church, splendidly adorned shops, schools, library, museum, and laboratory.

Such, briefly, was the condition of the neglected and unknown land for which the ‘Plumper’ was bound. This much was known of it: and that its area, exclusive of Vancouver Island, itself half the size of Ireland, was about three times as large as Great Britain, with a coast-line of 500 miles, made up of lake and mountain, forest, marsh, and prairie.

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