Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crown colonies and bloody Bostons

On Nov. 19, 1858, the Crown Colony of British Columbia was created. Happy 150th birthday BC! I fell in love with BC, the place felt like home, albeit the other side of the coin; so many similarities mixed in with the obvious differences.

Having lived for many years around Australia’s Bass Strait the presence of Boston sailors was one of the curious similarities. On the edges of the Great Southern Ocean it was wailing and sealing drawing these intrepid adventurers.

"Vessels of the American fleet, the first representative of which had already been on our coast as far back as 1797, were a common site in colonial Van Diemen's Land."

In fact some would credit the surviving remnant of the ancient Tasmanian aboriginals to the lusty attentions of the Boston sealers. These people, mainly females and children surviving, were located on various Bass Strait islands, handy for the attentions of the itinerant seamen.

By 1858 BC was still an isolated British holding, with most white activity revolving around the fur trade. Obviously, at that time, communication with the rest of the ‘Empire’ was a slow and tedious business. The governor of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, was stranded at the ends of the Earth with few resources for the ensuing gold rush.

Within months an estimated 30,000 ‘Bostons’, mainly from the US, were making their way along Fraser River system, to the bloody consternation of the Stó:lô and nations further up the Fraser Canyon. On the way they created settlements such as Boston Bar.

Of course the 30,000 didn’t hail from Boston as such, but from ships bearing the name as their home port. I’m not sure how the native populace so quickly managed to adopt this label for the voracious species of invaders to their ancestral lands.

"The Bostons [Americans] and Indians have been fighting for the last ten days and has been a great many killed on both sides. The Indians have stopped the miners from going up through the Canyon," George Wesley Beam reported in a letter dated Aug. 20.

Douglas, as mentioned, had few resources to contend with the flood of prospectors and the savagery and bloodshed. A number of armed groups went north to avenge the butchered Bostons and clear a path with force.

On Aug. 17, a San Francisco reporter, H.M. Snyder, leads a company of 52 men up the Fraser River to make peace with the Indians "by peaceable means if we could, and by force if we must."

Poking around the issue I found another link with my own past, Douglas’ successor Frederick Seymour, who came to the colony with twenty years of colonial experience in Van Diemen's Land. Then of course there are Matthew Flinders, James Cook, Joseph Banks – I think Vancouver himself, and many more.

There is an excellent article in the Globe and Mail.


D.K. Raed said...

That is an excellent article you linked. Wow, headless corpses floating in the Fraser! The pursuit of gold has always brought out ruthless cruelty in men.

Did you really mean "wailing and sealing", or is that a typo? Just wondering. You Aussies have such an odd sense of humor, maybe you meant to imply an emotional lament that "whaling" might not convey.

Cart said...

I was playing with words, but hadn’t intended posting it that way. Oh well…
That Fraser River and the gold trail were gruesome places.