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The Special Force for Revenue Service & the Defence of the Frontier, 1858-1859

August 22, 2010

The gold rush to the Fraser River in the spring and summer of 1858 attracted tens of thousands of miners from California.   Most passed through Victoria, on Vancouver Island, but boom towns sprang up at Whatcom on Bellingham Bay, and at Point Roberts, an American appendage to British Territory that extended below the 49th Parallel, near the entrance to Fraser’s River.

Semiahmoo Bay also bustled with activity.   The American Boundary Commission had established a Camp there the previous summer when only a small tribe of Indians inhabited the bay.  John Parke, Chief Astronomer, May 5, 1858:

“The Plumper is here. The Sea Bird came on Sunday with our mail and left forthwith. The San Fco steamers are bringing up crowds of miners, the excitement there is running high.”

The settled pace of Victoria, the seat of government for the Colony of Vancouver Island, and hitherto a settlement of perhaps 400 people, was soon overwhelmed by the rush to the gold region. Upwards of 1500 miners at time would arrive by steamer from San Francisco.  Merchants came with them, setting up shop. Land prices skyrocketed.

Lieutenant Charles Wilson, a member of the British land Boundary Commission, arrived there in July:

“Vancouver Island itself is most beautiful, but turned quite upside down by the gold discovery, a regular San Francisco in ’49 . . . the whiz of revolver bullets round you goes on all day. . .All the worst characters of the coast are crowding here in thousands. . .”

In aid of the sorely stressed Police Constabulary, a contingent of Marines from naval ships based at Esquimalt served to keep matters under control.

The British Frontier is now violated — First officers of the Revenue Service

In the Fraser River district, destination of gold-seekers, there was no authority save the commercial interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which had enjoyed an exclusive charter of trade in the region.

To assert British sovereignty, and to protect the interests of the HBC on the mainland, Governor James Douglas of Vancouver’s Island decreed that all miners must pay a fee for a license, and that no traders should be allowed to go up the River without first obtaining a sufferance in Victoria.  He denied the newcomers any right of occupation of land.

Douglas was following guidelines issued to him by the British government some years earlier during the short lived gold excitement at the Queen Charlotte Islands.

To enforce his edict, Douglas was fortunate to have the assistance the HMS Satellite.  The Satellite came to the Strait of Georgia in June 1857, her Commander, Captain James C Prevost, being the joint British Commissioner for the Survey of the Water Boundary with the United States.

On May 21, 1858 the Satellite sailed over to Point Roberts, where she met up with the HBC steamer Otter with Governor Douglas on board. Douglas and Prevost exchanged official notes.
The Governor to Captain Prevost:

“It is my intention to appoint Augustin Willing, now resident at Fort Langley, to the management and collection of the Customs for the District of Fraser’s River, and the performance of all duties connected with that office.”

Customs regulations and a customs officer would be powerless without some means of enforcement, a fact acknowledged by Capt Prevost in his reply dated the next day.

“your intention to appoint a Collector of Customs for the District of Fraser’s River and requesting that a detachment sufficiently strong, to maintain, if requested, by force of arms, the authority of the laws, may be furnished from HM ship Satellite to support the Collector in the exercise of his office, as the British Frontier is now violated by foreign vessels in the most open manner.”

Launched in 1856, the Satellite was a screw corvette, steam assisted. She could deploy 21 8-inch guns and one 11-inch gun. Her partner ship on the Boundary Survey, under the command of Captain George Henry Richards, was HMS Plumper, a steam assisted sloop, launched in 1848, bearing 12 guns.

The Satellite remained off Point Roberts at the mouth of the Fraser, while her launch, under the command of Lieutenant TS  Gooch, and her gig, bearing Capt Prevost, were towed up river to Fort Langley by the steamer Otter, arriving there May 22nd.  The Otter could proceed no further, owing to the shallow water.


Thomas Sherlock Gooch had joined the Royal Navy at a young age, saw action in Asia,  and was promoted Lieutenant in 1854,  at 23.   He came out with the Satellite in 1857 and in November of that year had joined surveyor Augustus Pemberton in a rugged exploring expedition to the west coast of Vancouver Island.  A mountain there called after him has since been forgotten, but a small island in Haro Strait still bears his name. He was promoted Commander in 1864, retired Captain in 1873, and died in England in 1897.


Designated customs collector Augustin Willing was an HBC employee at Fort Langley, an Indian Trader married to the daughter of the Chief of the Whonnock tribe.   There is no record of him in the Customs service.


In lieu of a Collector, another HBC employee, Phineas Manson, 27, was appointed an officer of the Revenue Service by Governor Douglas on the Otter as she moved up the river. Manson was a servant of the HBC and had come out from Wick, Scotland, arriving at Fort Langley in January 1853, and had since been employed there as a cooper.  He later claimed credit for “the first barrels ever made in British Columbia” for the fish run.

The Chief Trader at Fort Langley at this time was James Murray Yale, and although no official mention is made of his being a Customs officer,  Commissary JN King records reporting to him to gain clearance for the United States Boundary Commission scow which would take supplies upriver the their Depot at Chilliwack.  Yale assured him the Commission vessels could navigate unfettered by regulation whilst on official service.

Douglas sought to find civilian officers, but there were few British around in the early days of the gold rush who were not HBC men.  Not until late in the year would the British begin to arrive in numbers.   In the meantime any here had come direct from San Francisco.

Leaving the launch at Ft Langley under the command of Lieutenant Gooch to assist the Revenue Officers,  Captain Prevost, in the Satellite‘s gig, and Governor Douglas, in a canoe manned by Indians, journeyed to the gold-bearing sand bars above Fort Yale to establish order in the mining district.

While at the gold region Governor Douglas met a “respectable miner” named Richard Hicks who provided him with much information as to the extent and quality of the gold to be found. Before departing, Douglas appointed Hicks Revenue Officer for the district.

Preserving the Territorial rights of the Crown—  The blockade of Fraser River

The Satellite could not remain permanently stationed on the river. On his return from above on June 4th, Capt Prevost took the launch on board and proceeded to Vancouver Island where they were expecting the arrival of the British Commission officers for the land boundary. She soon after returned to her station at the mouth of the river.  Seemingly unaware of the other duties of the British commissioners, Joseph Harris, Assistant Astronomer, wrote June 11, 1858 from Camp Semiahmoo:

“We do not see much of the Satellite and Plumper now.  As our Commissioner is not here, Capt Prevost has no especial call to visit us, and as Capt Richards has finished his surveys immediately in this neighborhood we probably shall not see much more of him.”

The miner’s licenses were a much needed revenue source for the Governor.  Up to the end of June, 2221 licenses were sold at Victoria.   The officers of the Satellite issued another 304 mining licences at the River, as well as 54 passes for open boats and canoes.

Two steamers, the Enterprise and the Seabird, soon to be joined by the Surprise, were permitted under special arrangement to carry miners and supplies upriver and each miner would have to purchase a mining license.

Capt Prevost, on leaving the river June 26, reported on his last ten days stationed at the mouth of the Fraser River, “for the purpose of preserving the territorial rights of the Crown, and of issuing Licences to the miners who were daily flocking to the mines.”

“The launch and gig proceeded to Point Colville, which commands the middle and south channels of the River, and effectually prevented the entrance of craft that might have escaped the Ship. I stationed this force at Point Colville in preference to detaching them such distance up the River as Fort Langley, as I perceived that the temptations to desert would be less, and the service could be more effectually performed, as Fort Langley not being situated upon the main stream of the River, does not entirely command its passage.”

Point Colville (Colvile) was opposite Westham Island, near present day Ladner. It commanded the two channels of the south arm of the River at its egress into the Strait of Georgia.  At Langley, Macmillan Island lies between the Fort and the main channel.

Most people, Americans in particular, saw the trade control measures as an effort to maintain the monopoly of the HBC.  At Victoria the Customs fees were collected at the Company establishment by Company personnel. Diplomatic correspondence between the Governor of Washington Territory, the State Department in Washington, and the British Foreign office, addressed the legality of what the US Secretary of State called “the blockade of the mouth of the Fraser River by order of the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

Captain Prevost himself saw a problem with allowing only the trade of the HBC, which was unable to keep up with the demand for supplies at places like Fort Hope and Yale. He foresaw that this interdiction of independent trade could only lead to increased smuggling.

There was a steady stream of boats, from large paddle-wheelers to small canoes, making their way across the Gulf to Fraser River.   A typical report in the Victoria Gazette:

“The Fraser Flotilla—Our bay presented a fine sight on the occasion of the departure of about fifty skiffs, canoes and boats for Fraser River.  Not less than 400 miners left our town yesterday in this manner.”

For those travelling in small open boats, the journey across the Gulf of Georgia was often hazardous, and there were numerous reports of floating wreckage, mishaps and drownings.  The victims of these personal disasters would often be unknown: separated from relations in this farthest corner of the world, they would disappear without a trace.

Many miners were reluctant to pay the license fee.  A newspaper report noted the efficacy of Captain Prevost’s blockade.

“Mr Purser Welch, of the steamer Surprise, informs us that on his last trip up, some fifty of the passengers—mostly Irishmen—refused to buy licenses, and expressed their determination to disregard the law in this respect.  When off Point Roberts, just at the mouth of the Fraser River,  the Surprise was ordered alongside of H. B. M.’s war steamer, Satellite,  boarded by her officers, and . . . each passenger obliged to show his license, under penalty of being put ashore.  These prompt measures brought the rebellious to terms, and they were very glad to be allowed to purchase their licenses and proceed on their way.”

In June, sixteen canoes which had successfully evaded the Satellite were stopped at Fort Langley and obliged to pay the $5 fee.  Any boats carrying trade goods had them seized.

Prevost’s contingent of men deployed from the Satellite consisted of a launch commanded by 2 officers and manned by a crew of 23 sailors; a cutter, with 2 officers and 11 men; and 2 gigs with 2 officers and 11 men between them.

The officers kept records of the name of each miner and each identifiable vessel.  Boats such as the Grasshopper and the skiff  Cleopatra paid the same fee as the canoe  Last Chance. No distinction was made as to nationality.

Notwithstanding the effectiveness of the Royal Navy, Captain Prevost recommended Governor Douglas strengthen the guard on the river.

“To ensure the carrying out of the Proclamation, and to maintain the Revenue Laws, it is necessary that a much larger and better qualified Revenue Force be established than that at present employed.
I would respectfully suggest that a small vessel should be stationed at about the point where the North Channel enters the main stream of Fraser’s River. She should be in charge of experienced and intelligent Revenue Officers, and should be supplied with two or more good whale boats.
This point effectually commands the passage of the River, and all boats ascending could be easily boarded. If a display of greater force should be considered requisite, a mud battery with two small guns could be placed in a most commanding position on the right bank of the river.”

The site of the battery Prevost envisioned was the site of the future city of New Westminster, while the enforcement station would be situated opposite. Prevost’s recommendation would remain in abeyance for the time being, as Douglas took other measures.

Force of Arms — Opposition was useless

At the beginning of July 1858, Douglas announced the appointment of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, a distinguished Hudson Bay Company employee, Collector of Customs for the port of Victoria.  For all practical purposes his purview extended into the Fraser River district, as all vessels venturing there had first to clear customs at Victoria.

At the same time, Douglas appointed William Henry Bevis as Revenue Officer at Fort Langley.  Bevis was born in Cowes, Isle of Wight, and before leaving England for a career at sea he had lived at Birkenhead, in Cheshire, where resided his father Captain Thomas Bevis, Royal Navy, who had charge of the Commissary for the Crimean War. WH Bevis had spent some time at San Francisco, and prior to coming to Langley was a purser on steamers running between Panama, Lima, and Callao.  He was 26 years old and was accompanied by his wife Amelia.

About 32 miles up the Fraser River, Fort Langley was the first non-native settlement, a Hudson Bay Company outpost established in 1827 to trade for furs.  In 1858 the number of employees at the Fort numbered about 20.  They were engaged in agriculture and fishing, packing salmon, cranberries and beef for overseas markets.  Among them were Augustin Willing,  Indian Trader, who was first mooted by Douglas for the job of Customs Collector, and Phineas Manson, Assistant Cooper, who would be employed in the Revenue Service.

Langley was also the head of navigation for ocean-going vessels on the river until enterprising Americans brought up the shallow draft paddle-wheelers.   The Company store did a profitable trade in supplying provisions and equipment to the miners heading upcountry.

The Fraser was a busy boulevard for watercraft. Upwards of a hundred canoes would be passed by the Surprise as she beat her way upriver from Langley to Hope.

In later years Phineas Manson claimed credit for piloting the first steamers to make it to the gold district.

“With regard to the steamer Surprise, an Indian is mentioned to have piloted her to Fort Hope. That is a mistake as I piloted the steamer to Hope myself … I piloted the steamer Seabird up to Hope twice, the only two trips she ever made to that port. I was at that time customs house officer at Fort Langley.”

By all accounts the Indian is given credit for guiding the Surprise, but press reports confirm that an Indian pilot and an interpreter were taken on board at Langley. There is clear record of Manson in the Revenue Service, he was knowledgeable of the river, and he was a skilled and practised interpreter.   With regard to the Seabird, Manson’s boast of piloting her is of dubious value, as the Seabird was run aground on her second trip downriver and remained out of service during the height of the rush in the summer of ’58.

Outside the walls of the Fort, a flourishing town sprung up in the spring of 1858.  Hotels, some of which were nothing more than tents, and some shacks selling supplies and refreshments were put up along a sandbar about a quarter mile below the Fort.  The transient population was a rough and ready crowd of all nations, with a large proportion of Irish and Americans.  They did not like to defer to British authority.   A considerable amount of liquor was consumed and it was difficult to maintain order.

William Bevis collected the miner’s license fee, but also fees for liquor retailing, trading, and timber cutting.  He could not collect Customs duties, as they were only payable at Victoria, but he could seize vessels which did not have the necessary permit.

One returning miner presented the “Form of Sufferance” to be published in the Whatcom Light, the newspaper at Bellingham Bay.

“This is to certify to all whom it may concern, that sufferance for the present voyage, is granted on the conditions annexed, to AJ Ward, and two others, to proceed with their boat, their mining tools, provisions and baggage; and the said Ward hath here entered and cleared his said boat according to law. Given under my hand at Fort Langley, the 28th July, 1858. Wm H Bevis, Revenue Officer.

Following reports from Bevis that he was having trouble with miners refusing to recognize his authority, the Satellite again proceeded to Fraser River, July 12 1858.

“The launch and second gig, under the charge of Lieutenant R Roche of this ship, and having on board Mr Hicks, Revenue Officer, were detached up Fraser’s River as far as Point Colville, where they remained until I was necessitated to recall them upon the departure of the Ship. During the period they were stationed there all boats and canoes passing were overhauled and required to take out the necessary Licences and Passes. . .”

Described by Governor Douglas as a “respectable Englishman,” Richard Hicks was operating the Howard House in San Francisco before the Fraser River excitement in the spring of 1858.  He came up to Bellingham Bay with the first wave of gold seekers on the Commodore, departing San Francisco April 21, and from there had proceeded by canoe to the Fraser. His trip up to Fort Yale took eight days. After about a month in the gold region he left Fort Yale on June 8th for Victoria. His appointment as Revenue Officer at Yale pending, Hicks left Victoria for San Francisco on a return trip of the Commodore to fetch his family, arriving there June 21. Before taking up his duties in the Fraser Canyon, Hicks was assigned to render assistance on the lower Fraser.

Captain Prevost, with the benefit of Marines and arms, confirmed Bevis’s experience with the recalcitrant miners.

“It was apparent that opposition was useless, and consequently none was made, but had the force detached been smaller, or had it been unsupported, I very much doubt if matters could have proceeded so smoothly, as it was evident that the desire to evade the law, if it was possible, was not wanting in numerous cases.”

At the height of the rush in August, the second Boundary Commission vessel, HMS Plumper, assisted the Satellite on the river. But both of these had obligations to the survey, and were sometimes absent from the mouth of the river.  Governor Douglas found a substitute for the majestic naval vessels in the shape of the brigantine Recovery which he arranged to lease from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Brig Recovery

The Recovery was originally called the Orbit, and had been on the west coast since 1849, bringing out a party of fortune seekers from the eastern seaboard to the California goldfields.

Launched in 1846, the Orbit was described as an “American Baltimore clipper-built brig,” 90 feet in length, with a 22 foot beam. She was registered at 154 tons, and at 200 tons fully laden drew just 6 1/2 feet of water, adaptable to ocean and river alike.

The Orbit was engaged in trade along the coast—California, Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, and out to Hawaii—until being purchased by the HBC in 1852 and renamed the Recovery.

The Recovery participated in the first gold excitement at the Queen Charlotte Islands, took out the first export shipment of coal from Nanaimo, and assisted in naval service when called upon.  As a trading vessel she called at HBC establishments on the north coast, to Fort Langley in the Fraser River, and across the Pacific to Hawaii.

Prevost acknowledged Governor Douglas’s orders of July 23rd, 1858, issued to Captain William Mitchell of the Recovery,

“directing him to place himself under my orders and sanction—with the object of having that vessel fitted without delay for service as a Revenue Vessel in Fraser’s River, and requesting that I provide from Her Majesty’s Ship Satellite a sufficient force of officers and men to protect the Revenue Officers in the discharge of their duty, and strictly to enforce the Revenue Laws in Fraser’s River.”

A native of Aberdeen, Scotland,  Captain “Willie” Mitchell was 57 and had been employed on the Northwest coast 21 years as Captain and Trader in HBC ships, including the barque Vancouver, the brigantine Una, and the schooner Cadboro, sailing between the Columbia River, Puget’s Sound, Fraser River and as far north as Sitka and out to Honolulu. He had been a Master Mariner seven years.

Captain Prevost suggested to the Governor that Captain Mitchell, a civilian, ought to be assigned elsewhere to save him from the uncomfortable position of having to take orders, on his own vessel, from Naval Officers his junior in rank.

With astute discretion Governor Douglas appointed Captain William Mitchell of the Recovery a Revenue Officer for the lower Fraser.

A contingent of 30 men from the Satellite was assigned to the Recovery, under Lieutenant Richard Roche, Assistant Surgeon Peter William Wallace, MD and Midshipman Henry St Vincent Jenkings.

Also assigned to the Recovery was the gold district Revenue Officer Richard Hicks, delaying his departure for Yale by some four weeks.

The Recovery sailed up to the point where the Fraser River becomes one stream and there set anchor.

At times when the naval ships Satellite and Plumper returned to their assignment with the Boundary Commission, the Recovery was the only vessel on duty between the mouth of the Fraser and the gold diggings.

“No Boat or Canoe will hereafter be allowed to pass the Revenue Vessel, stationed in Fraser’s River, without producing a Sufferance from the Collector of this Port, with its accompanying manifest.
Alexander C Anderson,
Collector of H M’s Customs
Victoria, VI, 30th August, 1858”

In one of many reports from the region sent to newspapers around the world, a gold-seeker wrote that he left Victoria on August 3 and

“About 10 miles up, we passed the revenue brig Recovery lying at anchor, with the license collector and custom house officers aboard.”

A writer in the London Times would later pay homage to the role of the Recovery at this critical time.

“The Recovery is not a man-of-war, but a private vessel, belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company.  She has a revenue officer (a civilian) on board, and a complement of 30 sailors and marines from the Satellite, in charge of the second-lieutenant of the latter ship, Mr Roach, and two midshipmen. . .
Without the little Recovery we should not have been allowed, I believe, to call the Fraser River our own.”

The Recovery was not a welcome sight to those travelling upstream, whether “warping” their way slowly along the river bank, or steaming along in larger flat-bottom boats.  The Northern Light, the newspaper of Bellingham Bay, took umbrage at the measures taken to collect the tax.

“Fired At: A gentleman just returned from Fort Langley informs us that a few days ago, as Mr Samuel McCullough, formerly of Sacramento, was ascending Fraser River with his side-wheel skiff, he was hailed from a British brig lying in those waters, and ordered to lie to.  Mr McCullough paid no attention to the command.  He was hailed a second time, and kept on his course, when a shot was fired across his bows—of course to frighten him.  This decided Mr McCullough to submit to the process of being fleeced out of the amount necessary to secure a ‘sufferance.’
Should the Hudson’s Bay Company shed one drop of American blood, during the prevalence of this gold excitement, we rather think the country will become too hot to hold it.”

Some miners, having spent all their ready cash on supplies, had nothing left to pay to the Revenue Service. An American report dated November 1858 observed—

“The brig Recovery, stationed in Fraser River as a gun boat, for collection of licences and duty, would not be inappropriately named Pawn Brokers’ Shop.  They have in instances where parties have had no money to pay the charge, taken guns, pistols, flour, bags of bean, &c.”

Richard Hicks’ statement to the Treasurer attests to the success of his duties while based on the Recovery. During the three weeks of August 1st to August 18th he collected $2850.00 on the sale of Mining Licences at 5$ per.  Sufferances issued amounted to another $660.00 and a further $15.00 came from the sale of Trading Licences.

Before proceeding to Yale to take up his duties there, Revenue Officer Richard Hicks was promoted by the Governor to Assistant Commissioner for revenue collection and land sales.
Governor Douglas knew that the measures he was able to put in place so far were temporary and stop-gap.  He wrote to London:

“I . . . much regret that I have not a permanent force under my control, for the protection of the Revenue laws of the country, as they would in that case produce a return far exceeding the expense of maintaining such a force, besides upholding the moral influence of Her Majesty’s Government.”

The Colonial Office had taken heed, and was preparing to send out a military force and a core group of Civil Administrators, Judiciary, and Police.

Also by land — The Semiahmoo & Fort Langley Trail

Fort Langley was 15 miles north by trail from the American frontier where, in July 1857, the American Boundary Commission had set up camp near the mouth of the Tah-ta-loo creek in British territory. Commissioner Archibald Campbell headquartered there.  The Commission employees were a small number of astronomers, surveyors, and supply managers. Packers and axe men were hired but worked only in the field.

The larger part of the establishment on the Bay was a military escort, from Company F of the United States 9th Infantry. They were brought along for protection from Indians.  Nevertheless, the Commission set up camp right next to an Indian village of about 50 people, with others coming and going, and relations were cordial, with many natives hired as guides, packers and canoeists.

Camp Semiahmoo was a settlement to be reckoned with for commercial and social interest.  Prior to the gold rush its non-native population of up to 200 souls rivaled that of Victoria at only 400, with Fort Langley far behind at about 50.

It soon began to be served by a mail steamer from Puget Sound. The sizeable payroll of Commission employees and military escort, and the purchasing power of the camp Quartermasters were a magnet for businessmen and others who located at Semiahmoo Bay on the American side.

This boundary settlement received a tremendous boost with the gold rush.  Two rival “towns”  sprung up, one on Semiahmoo(Tongue) Spit, a long low finger of land jutting north into the Bay,  and one on the heights at the east end of the bay, in Drayton Harbor.  This place, shown on British maps as “Willow Point,” and called by the boundary personnel “Shaw’s Bluff” after a whiskey seller who set up shop there soon after the arrival of the soldiers, was auctioned off in lots the first of September 1858.

John Shaw, commonly known as Jack, who was the first landowner in present day Blaine WA, was savvy enough to partner with some San Francisco men who would promote development.

From a visitor in 1858, comes this description of dealings on Semiahmoo Bay.

“Picture to yourself a room in a rag shanty, a long table and half a dozen rather seedy looking men, a little mellow, sitting around it, and a jug of whiskey and a tin cup on the top, and you have a pretty correct idea of one of the meeting of these land proprietors.  Outside the rain is coming down slowly, but unceasingly, and falls on the roof with a dull, heavy sound.”

A correspondent writing on July 15th 1858, with the eye of a real estate man for the “advantages of location,” observed:

“The most striking features of Simiahmoo are its easy access to Fort Langley, which is only 16 miles distant by an Indian trail.  The Bellingham Bay trail to Fraser River can be intersected by one from Simiahmoo at a distance of 25 miles.”

Surveyors for the townsite of Semiahmoo were the Whatcom firm of AM Poe, EC Gillette and GW Gift.  Poe had earlier in the year laid out Whatcom on the claims of Henry Roeder and RV Peabody at Bellingham Bay. Gillette was employed on the Whatcom trail to the mining district via Sumas and Fort Hope.

Gift undertook to survey a road to connect with, and upgrade to a pack road, the Indian route to Fort Langley.  This made a direct trade route from American territory to the center of the lower Fraser at Langley, thus circumventing Victoria and the revenue boats on the river.


A native of Tennessee, 25 year old George Washington Gift had come up from California where his father Colonel William W Gift was the Registrar of Lands.  George W. had first arrived at San Francisco in 1848 as a 15-year old midshipman in the United States Navy and returned to California in 1852 after leaving the service. In California he was involved with land development and wrote a settlers handbook, published in January of 1858.

In April of ’58 the Gifts, father and son, were fined by the Courts of California following a fracas in the dining room of the International Hotel at San Francisco.  Gift the elder had been insulted by Dr White, after taking objection to White’s boast to “beat the kraut” out of a California legislator.  On hearing of the insults, George administered a public beating to Dr White using his cane, with his father joining in. The son even flourished a revolver, but did not aim it. They both pleaded guilty, but produced witnesses to the provocation. The court allowed some traditional lenience, seeing as the son had taken the part of his father, and fined George W half the amount of his father.

George W. Gift took his leave of San Francisco. He came up to Bellingham Bay and entered into partnership with Poe and Gillette before being engaged in developments at Semiahmoo Bay.


The Boundary Commission regularly used the Semiahmoo-Fort Langley trail.    On July 22, 1858 at 7 a.m., a party of commission employees, including JN King and Dr CBR Kennerly, with their native families, and a train of packers, started along the trail en route to the Depot at Chilliwack, where they would provide support for the surveying parties.   Having been one year in reconnoitering the lower valley and awaiting the arrival of the British land party, the American surveyors were advancing into the Cascade Mountains.

Another party had set sail from the Camp for the mouth of Fraser River on a scow laden with the supplies.  The scow hoped to catch a tow upriver with a passing steamer.

Accompanying the Commission on this trip was a party of visitors from California, including Messrs Collins and Van Winkle, Frederick Franck, the Consul for Würtemburg in San Francisco,  and San Francisco  newspaper correspondent Willard B Farwell, of the Alta California,  from whom comes the following account of the Trail  (with notes added).

From Camp Simiahmoo at the mouth of the Tah-ta-loo River/Campbell Creek on Semiahmoo Bay, following the north side of the river bank.

“The trail for the first five miles leads through a level forest country, and is at present good enough for that distance for pack animals to pass over without the smallest difficulty.  I was struck with the luxuriant vegetation on either hand, and so rank was it, that I can compare it only to a tropical scene, such, in fact, as a large majority of Californians have witnessed in crossing the Isthmus of Panama.”

Hels-pel-alto (native name) or Hal’ts (Hall’s) Prairie

“Passing across a small prairie  of about three quarters of a mile in extent, we came to an old deserted Indian encampment, near which was an Indian potato field, in which, the vines were fairly purple with blossoms, and the air redolent with their sweet perfumes.”

Through the woods from Hall’s Prairie to the Nicomekl River

“Entering the timber again, and passing on about half a mile, our troubles commenced. From this point for five miles, there is no trail except that marked by broken twigs and slight foot prints here and there, made by Indians and the few white men who have passed over it.  We walked on fallen trees, and we jumped fallen trees, and, in fact, it was little else but fallen trees and brush until we emerged from the timber out upon a beautiful prairie, some six or seven miles in width, which lay between us and that now famous stream, Fraser’s river.”

Langley Prairie

“The same degree of luxuriant vegetation was displayed upon this prairie that had been observable in the forest.  The trail, now a well defined one, led across it toward the river, lined on either hand with wild grass and brakes up to one’s ears, until we came to a strong and substantial fence that encloses an immense farm belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

On arrival at the head of the Prairie at 7 p.m., after a journey of 12 hours, the Commission pack train set up camp, while the visitors, Farwell and Franck, paused only to take supper.

HBC farm

“Clambering over this fence, we entered a field of herds grass, taller and heavier than I have ever seen before, and our Indians with a reckless disregard for the feelings, and the scythes of the mowers whose duty it will be to cut it down, left the trail and led us straight through it for a mile or more, availing themselves of a short cut to arrive at the farm house, a rude and comfortless establishment, occupied by the mayor dome, an old Frenchman, [this would be Etienne Pepin, the HBC farm overseer] who has resided there for thirty long years, his Indian wife and half breed children, and the farm employees, English, Scotch and Indian.”

Fort Langley

“Making a short stay here, we passed on two miles farther, and arriving at Fort Langley late in the evening, having stopped some hours upon the road to lunch and rest.  After diligent search, we succeeded in finding the hotel of the place, that rejoices in the renowned title of the ‘What Cheer House'[hotel and laundry operated by Samuel Roberts and James Rodgers].”

While King and his party boarded at a hotel at Langley, waiting for the arrival of the scow, a major excitement erupted the evening of July 26th.

“A rumour reached Fort Langley that some Indians 9 miles below had attacked 2 boats and had a woman (white) among them as prisoner, she being shot through the arm.”

Mr Yale of the Fort quickly handed out Hudson Bay Company muskets to the assembled miners and, under the command of Augustin Willing of the Company, five boats with 46 men set off downriver.  Before reports could reach the Fort again, the Surprise came up towing the Commission scow.  She stopped at 2 a.m. and by 7 a.m. was off again, with the Commission party on board.  The story of the Indians came to nothing, and was put down to some local excitement with whisky traders.

George W Gift, tasked with improving the road to Langley, would leave the firm of “Poe, Gillette & Gift / Surveyors, Civil Engineers and Draughtsmen” in August and return to California. In 1861 he left Los Angeles for Texas with some other volunteers to the Confederate cause, including Arthur Shaaf, who had served in the 4th Infantry in Washington Territory and at Semiahmoo. Gift featured prominently in the Navy of the Confederate States in the American Civil War.

Semiahmoo Bay was a major port of call, attracting the mail steamers, the Navy of course, and numerous sloops and small craft.  On July 26, the diminutive steamer Leviathan, Captain Bulger, made its first call.

The Leviathan would remain a fixture on the coast for many years, returning to Semiahmoo Bay in 1865 to lay the first telegraph wire, and across the Fraser as well, while serving as Governor Seymour’s private launch, and later doing service as a fishery supply vessel.

Ingenious means — smuggler’s guile

Alfred Waddington, reporting on a trip up the Fraser in early September, 1858:

“Great complaints exist everywhere on the river of the quantity of goods imported from Whatcom, Semiahmoo, and Point Roberts, under cover of miner’s licenses, which documents are sent back to those places to serve double duty, thus ruining the business of legitimate traders.  The ten percent duty imposed at Victoria seems to be making the fortune of these places, to say nothing of liquors concealed in pork barrels, potato bags, etc., and fraudulently smuggled in.”

Waddington was in business in Victoria where the greatest complaints against smuggling were voiced in the press. The merchants there had the most to gain by limiting independent trade to the mining district. Miners who were barely making do had no complaint about anything that would reduce the exorbitant prices they were paying for provisions up the river.

A report from Fort Yale noted the difficulty in preventing smuggled goods coming into the Fraser district,

“liquors being brought up here in boxes labelled ‘soap;’ 10 gallon kegs being nicely surrounded with ‘navy bread’ in flour barrels,  and the requisite amount of weight in the shape of lead lies introduced with the whisky into a cask entitling it to the stencil label of ‘pure molasses.'”

On November 2 a petition from licenced retailers on the lower Fraser was handed to Revenue Officer William Bevis, addressed to the “Governor of Vancouver Island.”  They requested “some officer or officers to look into the shamefull proceedings of people in this town of Fort Langley” who were “selling spiritous liquors without any licence.”   Mr Bolton complained that, for following the law, a cannister of gunpowder had been put in his store “with the intention of damage.”  In his remarks, Bevis added that “he has not force sufficient to contend against the people neither is he sufficiently acquainted with the laws without some Book in which he can work from.”

A finer vibration

A second settlement had sprung up in Langley, at the site of the original fort, two and a half miles downriver, and three miles by trail.  Sometimes called “Lower Langley,” sometimes “Old Langley” (site of the original fort), sometimes “New Langley” (distinct from the existing fort), and latterly “Derby,” it had an expanse of cleared land, and fine moorage at the river bank.

James H Ray,  an American, and Henry N Peers,  a former HBC employee and son-in-law to James Murray Yale, in partnership with some Kanakas (Hawaiians and Hawaiian-Indians) who lived there, had laid out their own town, and were about to offer lots for sale.  Douglas moved quickly to quash this initiative.

Ray had arrived in Victoria early June and presented credentials recommending him as “a gentleman of great enterprise and good judgment, as well as firmness of purpose and integrity of character.” Notwithstanding the high praise, Douglas took a dim view of Ray, whom he said “bears a very bad character at San Francisco.”

“This attempt at squatting must be put down by the strong hand, being a flagrant violation of the rights of the Crown and if overlooked would lead to the pre-occupation of the whole country, and a system of discrediting violence and confusion.”

Nevertheless, Douglas recognized the commercial potential of the old Fort grounds and had the site surveyed for sale on the Government’s behalf.  Surveyor Robert Homfray began his survey October 27 and took 22 days to complete the work, apparently adopting the layout the earlier survey modelled on the American plat system.   In a nod to those who would be shut out of the development, Homfray mapped one of the few streets to be given a name as “Kanaka Street.”

While Homfray’s survey was proceeding, in the first week of November an advance guard of a detachment of Royal Engineers arrived from England via Vancouver Island to construct Barracks to house the contingent and their families.  For the time being they stayed in the Recovery, which was anchored along the riverbank at Derby.

New Langley was promised to be the Port of Entry on the lower Fraser, and the Governor authorized the sale of lots and the erection of government buildings and a church.  When the lots finally went to auction, in the last week of November, they were snapped up, with bids surpassing the expectations of the Government.  A total of 343 lots were sold in three days, with prices ranging from 100 to 725 dollars.  Most buyers were Americans.  The ex-California merchants of Victoria paid a premium for corner lots with river frontage.

Lot purchasers wasted no time in setting up shop. On December 2nd

“The Otter left for Langley . . . with about fifty passengers most of whom are believed to have become real estate owners in that town at the recent sale. She also carried up considerable lumber for improvements which are to be made forthwith.”

WH Bevis had responsibility for this area, but he was not well situated, living outside the Fort upriver, in temporary accommodation which doubled as a government office.   Bevis was paid out of the revenue collected and he received a commission based on the value of goods seized and licences issued.   As seizer of undeclared goods, he was entitled to 1/3 of the proceeds of the sale by auction.  The Collector of Customs received a third and the Governor a third. He brought in a good income for the treasury, but rumors circulated in Langley and Victoria, mainly by merchants, that too much contraband was getting into the region.

Without Coal, Food or Candle —  The Formalization of Authority

Towards the end of 1858 the civilian and military support promised to the Fraser District began to arrive from Britain.

First to arrive at Derby, November 10, was an advance party of Engineers under Capt Grant, construction specialists.  They were joined a couple of weeks later by a party under Capt Parsons, surveyors.  They stayed on board the Recovery and began to build a Barracks to house the main party of soldiers expected in the coming months.

The Recovery, once again a temporary troop ship riding at anchor, was in the same week adapted to another purpose.  Mathias Neil, charged with the death of William Hartwell in a shoot-out at the forks of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers, was sent down to Langley by Richard Hicks. On the way, the boat stopped for refreshments at a bar near Sumas and a fire was made.   The prisoner was not wearing leg-irons, and while the deputized officer, Captain Charles Emerson, was distracted, Neil took off.  It caused a bit of fuss, and there was some explaining to do, but Neil was safely recaptured, and was incarcerated on board the Recovery.

Neil was held in jail until early March when he was tried in the new Barracks at Derby by Judge Begbie and a Jury that was loath to convict.  Begbie locked down the Barracks and boasted of keeping the Jury without “coal, food or candle” until they came to a verdict.  Neil was sentenced to four years in prison in Victoria, but his advanced years and the circumstances of his crime—Hartwell had fired first—evoked public sympathy, with a subscription being raised and a petition circulated for his release.  He was pardoned in July 1860.

On November 19, 1858 a ceremony was held at Fort Langley establishing a Colony of British Columbia, and Douglas was sworn in as its first Governor.  On hand to administer the oath was Matthew Begbie, newly arrived Chief Justice.

A Collector of Customs had been selected, but he would not arrive in British Columbia until May 1859.  Collector Anderson in Victoria was given additional responsibility as Postmaster General, and William H Bevis appointed Postmaster at Langley.

On December 3, 1858, a Customs Act was proclaimed, the first under Douglas’ official authority as Governor of British Columbia, its justification being stated thus:

“It is expedient to provide ways and means to enable Her Majesty to defray the Public Expenses of the Colony of British Columbia, to in aid thereof to authorize the levying of Duties of Customs on Goods imported into the said Colony”

The role of the Revenue Service would not be affected for the time being.

“whereas there is at present no officer in British Columbia empowered to levy the Duties aforesaid, nor any station in the said Colony at which the said Duties can conveniently be levied, or at which any such officer can conveniently be posted . . . for the present, and until further provision be made for the collection of the same Duties, the said Port of Victoria, Vancouver’s Island, shall be the Port of Entry for all goods imported into British Columbia.”

While waiting for steamers — much vexed

Colonel RC Moody, officer commanding the Royal Engineers, arrived in Esquimalt, Vancouver Island, on Christmas Day 1858.  Moody had a particular responsibility for the defence of the Colony, and also held the position of Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works.   He was in no uncertain terms subservient to Governor Douglas.  However, in the case of the location of a capital city on the Fraser, it was his prerogative.

Moody had first heard, en route to BC, that a townsite was being laid out at Lower Langley, and to this he formed an immediate opposition.  Robert Burnaby, travelling with Moody, commented:

“We first hear of it at San Francisco, and Col. Moody was very much vexed.”

San Francisco in late 1858 continued to be a font of rumor and speculation about the gold region to the north and the talk reached a fever pitch in the first week in December with the arrival of parties from Great Britain via Panama, and from Vancouver Island.

It was on the eighth of December, 1858, at about 1 o’clock, that the steamer Pacific arrived from Victoria.  Among the passengers were Captain Edward Stamp, marauding capitalist and entrepreneur, on his way from Vancouver Island to Britain to raise money from investors, and one HN Peers, the former HBC man and erstwhile land speculator at Langley.

While passengers bound for the east waited for the Panama steamer, the San Francisco papers carried a report that Governor Mason had addressed the Legislature of Washington Territory urging a new Port of Entry near the boundary line.

“Fort Langley, near the mouth of the Fraser River, has been selected as the seat of Government for British Columbia, and is to be made a port of entry . . . it is expedient that there should be some point near the British possessions where vessels could effect a clearance without being necessarily compelled to go out of their way to the present Customs House at Port Townsend.”

On the 15th the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Sonora arrived San Francisco from Panama bearing, among 1014 passengers, Capt Richard Clement Moody and suite, including Messrs Bedford, Burnaby, Bushby, Cochrane and Crickmer, men who would play important roles in the early days of the new Colony.

Far to the north their destination was experiencing severe cold. The Fraser River was frozen up and impassable to steamers.  The Maria and the Enterprise were both stranded on the Fraser above Harrison River. Some parties took to the shores and attempted the walk to Fort Langley. Arriving at their destination they received great hospitality from Mr Yale of the HBC Fort and from Catherine Lawless, formerly of San Francisco, who kept a Hotel on the spit at Langley and was one of the first land purchasers at Derby. A correspondent expressed his gratitude.

“To Mrs Lawless . . . especial praise is due. She gave all the bread, beef and boiled hams she had on hand, to be sent forward to those who were suffering, and then she commenced to cook for those who came in.”

Moody and party would remain in San Francisco until the 21st of December, awaiting the arrival of the steamer Panama to take them north, reading press reports of developments in British Columbia and soaking in rumors.

Heading south on the steamer John L Stephens, Capt Stamp penned a hurried letter to Moody requesting to be allowed to purchase land on the trail from Semiahmoo to Fort Langley, located on the Hal’ts (Hall’s) Prairie.

The prairie was a rare patch of open ground, of good size, partly cultivated by the Indians, and well-served by river access via the Tah-ta-loo Creek to the Bay, and by the road to Fort Langley.

Ever with an eye to the main chance, Stamp knew that if Langley was to be the Capital and Port of Entry for the Colony, and Semiahmoo to be a US Port of Entry, Hall’s Prairie was midpoint on the road between two centres of commerce.

It is perhaps with some annoyance that Moody encountered events taking shape beyond his control.  Everyone from Governors to entrepreneurs to land speculators had designs for the territory he was to oversee as Chief Commissioner of Lands and defend as senior military officer.

The selection of Lower Langley as the main city was particularly worrisome to Moody. The site was on the frontier side of the river and was deemed indefensible from a military point of view.  From a commercial viewpoint, he saw it as being an extension of a growing settlement at Semiahmoo, an American town. This view was reflected in American press reports.

“Langley, the capital of British Columbia, and destined to be its metropolis, is just 18 miles from Semiahmoo. The country is level and no formidable obstructions are to be encountered in the construction of a Railroad between the two points. . .”

Semiahmoo had in fact received new impetus by its proximity to developments on the lower Fraser.

“Parties at Langley have been looking forward to this place as THE point on the American side, and have sent out people to locate a permanent and good wagon road. Capt Kirk, a gentleman of experience, and the person who, as I understand, engineered the Lillooet road, has been here making examinations over the route with this view.  He seemed to be satisfied with the feasibility of the route. The distance is so short that I have known an Indian, even before the trail was cut out, to make the trip to and from Langley in a single day. We call from 16 to 18 miles.”

The present state of the town of Langley

Early in January 1859, Customs Collector Anderson in Victoria wrote to Douglas on behalf of Revenue Officer William Bevis, asking that “a more convenient location than that he at present occupies should be appropriated.”  In the same month, Bevis again wrote to Douglas regarding “the present state of the town of Langley.”  He described muggings, “constant firing of pistols and guns,” gambling, and river piracy—theft of boats.

In the gold fields of California, it was the miners themselves who made the rules and enforced them.

To the correspondent of The Times of London this was an affront.

“The solitude of Langley has been invaded and the [HBC] company’s business engagements disturbed by the intrusion of the gold hunters, who at first were very saucy.  The gentleman in charge complained of the Yankees having been very intrusive, impertinent and lawless when they first came up the river in force, and they fancied they were beyond the control of the authorities.”

A correspondent of the British Colonist wrote in December 1858:

“Substitute a number of canvass tents for clapboard houses, and in the Sacramento of ’49, behold the Langley of ’58. The same flag flies, the same scenes are rife, and the same description of men congregate . . .  No banner of St. George frowns down upon the dark lantern deed.”

William Bevis applied in vain for a British flag to fly at his government agency in Langley as a visible symbol of authority.

Chartres Brew, sent from Britain to organize a Constabulary, wrote to Douglas,

“A number of the well disposed inhabitants at the little village of Langley complained to Captain Richards and myself today of the riot and outrage that almost nightly occur and requested that some measure would be adopted for their protection . . . The place is in a most disorderly state and requires a Magistrate and peace officers.”

The Victoria Gazette reported that

“Several outrages had been perpetrated at Fort Langley upon residents of the town, and the newly appointed magistrate for that district was anxiously expected, in order to regulate affairs.”

Mint-fresh magistrate Charles Joseph Ryland Bedford was not yet ready for the field.

“Mr Bedford is in training for the proper discharge of his duties as Magistrate and will be sent to Langley by the first safe conveyance.”

Chief Inspector of Police Brew was requested by Colonel Moody to make haste for Yale and could not wait for the Magistrate. Brew swore in Thomas Ronaldson and “also a Mr Moore” as Constables to remain behind in Langley.

“. . . and I shall instruct them to exercise their duties as discreetly as they can until Mr Bedford arrives.”

It was not long before the Peace Officers were at each other’s throats, with William Moore arresting Ronaldson for being drunk and riotous. In the aftermath, Ronaldson was forced to resign and Moore was suspended.

Finding only that Moore “exceeded his duty and acted otherwise very indiscreetly,” Bedford, now on the scene, and with the Governor’s approval, shipped Moore off to Brew for service in the mining district. Moore left Langley owing money, cadged his passage and arrived at Yale “without one farthing in his pocket” Brew was reluctant to hire him again.

“The only duty I could put Mr Moore to would be to collect duties on the River, but until I know something more of him I do not wish to trust him on a duty of this nature.”

Moore was one of the English colonial hopefuls.

“Recommended as he believes he was when he arrived from England he hopes to occupy a more respectable position than that of Constable,”

observed Arthur Bushby.

Some reported disturbances

The Royal Engineer carpenters had scarcely begun their work erecting a Barracks at Derby when, in the first week of 1859, they were called upon to quell unrest at the gold diggings upriver.

Capt Parsons, RE, wrote to Gov Douglas to inform him that Col Moody, Judge Begbie, Capt Grant,  Dr Mitchell, and 24 Royal Engineers had left on the steamer Enterprise “to investigate some reported disturbances near Fort Yale.”

“I remain on board the ‘Recovery’ with 2 soldiers and 5 sick men to take charge of the ship, together with the stores and buildings on shore.”

Moody’s force would be augmented by Marines, seconded from the Satellite and Plumper.


John Frederick Mitchell, the medical officer on the expedition, was the Assistant Surgeon of the HMS Ganges, the flag ship of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Baynes, which reached Esquimalt on October 17th.   He was sent up to Derby in early December 1858 at the request of Governor Douglas for a medical officer to minister to the first parties of Engineers.  Later in the spring, when the wives and children of the Royal Engineers arrived in British Columbia, they were housed at the Barracks at Derby, under charge of Dr Mitchell, prior to the completion of their accommodation at Queenborough.

Mitchell was 28 years old and with barely two years of service. He joined the Royal Navy upon receiving his medical diploma in 1856 and was assigned to the Ganges.

When the families of the Engineers moved to new houses at Queenborough, Dr Mitchell took medical charge of the Royal Marines in their Camp adjacent to the Engineers. Later in the year he accompanied Engineers and Marines to Camp Lillooet for work on the Harrison-Lillooet Road.   In 1860 Mitchell was the medical officer stationed at the Royal Marine camp on San Juan Island. John F Mitchell bought three lots in Hope, BC  at the first sale there  in June 1859, and was one of the first owners of Surveyed Country Land in New Westminster District, British Columbia, purchasing 245 acres at auction (Trutch’s survey) in 1861. After leaving the Colony Dr Mitchell was promoted Surgeon in 1865, Staff Surgeon, 1875, and Fleet Surgeon, 1878. He died in London in 1915, aged 84.


Three English businessmen, Bushby, Burnaby and Cochrane, had accompanied Moody’s party on the Beaver as far as Fort Langley,  to explore for a site to establish a sawmill. The Recovery being vacated by the Engineers who had gone upriver, Capt Parsons accommodated them on board.

On Jan 11, the cook shop on the Recovery caught fire, but no major damage occurred. The Plumper came up the river firing guns along the way. She anchored just below the Fort and sent a party under Lieutenant Mayne to meet with Moody’s contingent at Hope. The river was frozen up there and steamers could not proceed.

In the Canyon the hostilities ended with Moody and Ned McGowan sharing a drink of champagne.

Cheating the government

Some of the regulations and fees were not well thought out and proved unworkable in the highly tenuous circumstances of catering to the mining trade.

Nevertheless, complaints continued to surface in Victoria that

“Large amounts of merchandise are being daily smuggled in British Columbia from different American towns adjacent to that Colony . . . The respectable merchants of both British Columbia and Victoria justly complain of this system of competition, which permits dishonest traders to undersell them by cheating the government out of its dues . . . certainly the government must take prompt and effectual measures to stop smuggling and to collect dues which rightfully belong to it . . .”

Accusations of dishonesty were not confined to American traders.

A report from Fort Yale, February 24, 1859 appeared in the Victoria press:

“[Commissioner Richard] Hicks, in common with Travalie, (the Commissioner at Thompson river,) has been guilty of many acts of wholesale corruption since his appointment by Governor Douglas”

Douglas himself was feeling the heat from so many complaints.  The above report continued with the admonition:

“Can there be a more striking illustration of the unfitness of Governor Douglas for the high and responsible position he at present hold, than the appointment of two such men as Hicks and Travalie.”

In January, shortly after he arrived in BC, Colonel Moody had made a sortie to the gold region to quell a disturbance by miners. He found much of the trouble originated with a dispute between two officials, Whannel and Perrier.

“The whole affair is a squabble between two men unfit for the offices they hold.”

Accusations against Assistant Commissioner Richard Hicks prompted Colonel Moody to order an inquiry by Judge Begbie into his affairs.

Begbie summarized his findings of fault.

“Mr Hicks appears wholly to have neglected his duties as far as keeping any records: the imperfect entries wch he has kept being such as to invite doubt and investigation only, and being apparently incapable of proper explanation even by himself. . . “

With many charges levelled against Hicks, Begbie concluded:

“I am therefore of opinion that Mr Hicks is totally unworthy of serving Her Majesty in any capacity whatsoever, and that it would be extremely proper that criminal proceedings sho’d be instituted against him.”

In the first week of February 1859, the Governor ordered Hicks dismissed. Chief Inspector Brew handled the matter quietly and reported to Governor Douglas.

“[On February 19th] I handed Mr Hicks his supersedeas which accompanied your letter to me, and I took over from him all the gold, cash, public documents, and public property which I could ascertain were in his possession. And I must say that Mr Hicks was most prompt to afford me every facility in settling with him. I went over Mr Hicks’s accounts as carefully as time would permit and it appeared to me they were correct. I found vouchers for every charge, with a few trifling exceptions, in which the defect was satisfactorily accounted for.”

Your kind and generous heart

Among those civilians who came out with the Engineers was Charles Joseph Ryland Bedford.  He was one of the first appointees, sent up to Langley, as Justice of the Peace.  As Charles Wilson would say of the few who quickly obtained employment, he had “drawn a prize in the lottery of this colony.”

Soon after his arrival Bedford wrote to Judge Begbie, the new Chief Justice of the Colony, suggesting that a lot of the smuggling could be curtailed if only the regulations were not so onerous.  Saloon-keepers were reluctant to shell out a licence fee for a whole year.  He suggested

“that an order be given to Mr Bevis to grant licenses by the quarter just now, subject to alteration when the working of it is seen.  I feel confident then we could prevent unlicensed retailing of liquor and also a good deal of the smuggling which is going on, as it is carried on mostly by the unlicensed houses.”

Judge Matthew Begbie concurred, noting that the fee was 2 1/2 times greater than for a whole year in England.  Begbie spent some time at Langley presiding over criminal matters, in the Barracks lately vacated by the Engineers, and was given a valuable introduction to the realities of commerce on the Fraser.  Complaints of a similar nature from Bevis and others had fallen on deaf ears, but Begbie had the Governor’s respect.

He sized up the predicament of the Revenue Officer:

“I conceive that it is of primary importance to accustom people to obey the law:  and for the present, therefore, to modify the laws if necessary so as to induce a ready obedience:  since compulsory means are scarcely in all instances available, even if they were in any instance advisable.”

Begbie was sympathetic to travellers who were unaware of the regulations.  Regarding a boat that was seized for not having a licence, he wrote to Douglas:

“It seems hard that the country should lose the industry of 5 men and the men themselves $150 of property in a case where no fraud is clearly shown to have been intended.”

In another case, of a man had two trunks seized from a freight boat, he wrote:

“The poor wretch, if innocent has already suffered mental anxiety and been mulcted in the sum necessary to pay his expenses from Fort Hope and back.  If he did knowingly wrong, I don’t think he will try it again.  If he was innocent, he has suffered enough.”

To the man later known as “The Hanging Judge,” Douglas responded:

“I observe that those smuggling vagabonds have again touched your kind and generous heart, but Bevis appears to have been secured in his rights, so I am satisfied.”

Dissension in the force

As had Collector Anderson, Judge Begbie put in a word with Governor Douglas for the personal situation of William Bevis:

“Bevis suggested to me he has only one room in all, for office, sleeping, cooking, and he is a married man.”

Bevis was also facing turmoil within his own force. On February 11, 1859, Bevis wrote a hurried letter to the Governor, in anticipation of complaints against him by Phineas Manson, the part-time Customs Officer now under Bevis’ command in the Revenue Department at Langley.

Manson was not getting along with Bevis and was now on his way to Victoria on the steamer Beaver.  Bevis wanted to get his side on the record, citing much bad feeling between the two, and a reluctance of Manson to follow his orders. Douglas quickly settled the matter by transferring Manson out of Langley to a new force of Revenue Officers being set up further downriver under the command of Captain James Kirk.

Investment in Langley had been left in limbo during the ongoing tug of war between Governor Douglas and Colonel Moody regarding the site of the commercial center and capital city, and there were attendant social problems.

In February the Governor was presented with “The Petition of the Merchants and Inhabitants of the Town of Langley,” with 41 signatures attached, including such as William Winnard, John Deighton and W H Woodcock.

“That your Petitioners, amongst other and grave inconveniences arising to the Trade of this Town through the want of a Port of Entry for this Colony of British Columbia, have to complain of the daily increasing arrivals of parties, who, from circumstances or from ignorance, are unprovided with a Certificate of their having Cleared at the Town of Victoria, the Port of Entry for the Colony of Vancouver’s Island.
That, whereas, such Parties, by forfeiting their means of proceeding to their destination, are frequently thrown penniless upon the inhabitants of this Town, to the great increase of vice and immorality, and to the peril of public order,
Your Petitioners, for this and sundry reasons, do earnestly crave of Your Excellency to forthwith declare the Town of Langley a Provisional Port of Entry for this Colony of British Columbia, at least until such time as some more convenient and suitable Port of Entry shall have been proclaimed.”

The coming proclamation would not go in Langley’s favour.  John Deighton, latterly known as “Gassy Jack,” and William H Woodcock would soon move on down the river, and latterly give their names to makeshift settlements, while Winnard, blacksmith and hotelkeeper, would remain a stalwart at Langley,  later opening the first business at Barkerville.

A passage defined by ferocity

Colonel Moody had decided the capital and location of a Port of Entry for British Columbia should be on the north side of the Fraser River, and he selected the hillside fifteen miles downstream from Derby, just above where the river divided into two arms, around a bend designated by Captain Richards as “Queens Reach.   It was the commanding position that controlled the passage of the river, earlier identified by Captain Prevost.   Nearby, Moody landed with the Royal Engineers under his command and they set about clearing a site for the detachment.

The native name for the Camp site had been reported as “Skai-metl,” but also, “Chastless.” The map of the Boundary Commission appears to confirm the latter designation, identifying the creek there by the name “Che-teh-lus.”

The ancestor of the people who live here was the Badger, and such was the resemblance of the hillside site of the city viewed on approach, even more so in ancient times when the sea ran up to the chin of the slope. It was a large, rounded snout of dark evergreen, jutting out from the low floodplain meadows, scared down the face by two ravines lined with visibly contrasting trees and bushes of maple, crabapple, and hawthorn.

At the time of the coming of the Engineers, the Camp site appears to have been long abandoned. It does not appear even on Simpson’s map of 1827.  There was an occupied Indian village directly across the Fraser called “Keh-kait.”  Here the explorer Simon Fraser had paused on his way to the sea in 1808.  Later HBC parties would have to run the gauntlet of hostile tribesmen on their way up the river.  It was a formidable passage.

The Royal Engineers called their Camp, and the prospective city nearby, “Queenborough.”

A town of indifferent fame — Colonel Moody’s crotchet

The name Queenborough was not without controversy as a choice for the Capital of British Columbia.  Residents of Vancouver Island thought it too similar to their own capital “Victoria,” named after the ruling Monarch.  Still, even Governor Douglas favoured a reference to some member of the Royal family, if not Her Royal Majesty.  Indeed some maps of the period show a city called Albertville on the lower Fraser, a reference to the Prince Consort.

The most damning reactions to the suggestion of the name “Queenborough” came from the Colonial officials in London.  Herman Merivale said Queenborough “sounds prosaic, and reminds one also of an English borough of indifferent fame.”  Sir George Bulwer Lytton’s response was that “Queensboro is not only prosaic—it is the quintessence of vulgarity.”

The English town of Queenborough is situated on a bend in the Thames River, between the sea and London. It was renowned for having had bestowed upon it important privileges by King Edward the Third, in honour of whose wife it was named. From Hasted’s History of Kent:

“The town of Queenborough consists of one principal wide street, containing about one hundred and twenty houses; it is but a poor fishing village, consisting chiefly of alehouse keepers, fishermen and dredgers of oysters; the principal source of wealth to it being the election for members of Parliament, which secures to some of the chief inhabitants many lucrative places in the ordnance and other branches of Government.”

It is hard to believe Moody would have chosen the name knowing its connotations, and perhaps it had been suggested to him, rather slyly, by someone observing its prospects and its situation between the sea and the rising commercial centre and favoured Capital city, Derby, further upstream.  The best guess is that Captain Richards named the site, as he did the reaches and other points along the Fraser River.

Moody’s decision to move the site of the Capital city was controversial.  There were many who considered Lower Langley the better location for a city.  It was on level ground, much of it clear of trees, whereas the site chosen by Moody was heavily timbered and costly to clear and build upon. But Moody insisted that military considerations must be the deciding factor.

“Immediately in front is the broad navigable river; on the opposite bank is a line of rising ground covering the whole front.  This rising ground falls towards the frontier, and all along that base is swampy land, easily inundated. Upon this rising ground could be placed a great entrenched camp, with a series of open earthen works entirely protecting the city at a distance, ensuring perfect safety from any injury whatever to the city itself.”

Joseph Despard Pemberton, Colonial Surveyor, and in favour of Langley, addressed the military question thus:

“The argument in favour of separating the capital from the people you want to trade with by a broad and rapid river, lest they should at a future time become hostile, is at least questionable, since, assuming war, and that Government measures are such that we may at the same time assume a British population, your position on the foreign frontier is quite as menacing to the supposed enemy as theirs to you.”

Moody was, as later events were to suggest, overwhelmingly defensive-minded.  Governor Douglas, on the other hand, at a later time of increased tension would propose to the War Office that he send an invading force to take Oregon from the Americans.

It is Pemberton’s arguments for the commercial superiority of Langley that proved most prescient:

“the qualifications, such as accessibility, easy gradients to approach it by, etc., requisite to constitute a town site eligible for commercial purposes, are the opposite to those required for defence.  Is a commercial community to carry fuel and water perpetually up hill, to be pestered with ferries and mulcted in clearances and gradients, and to undergo a thousand daily inconveniences, from a morbid apprehension of future attack that may never occur?  Better far, one would suppose, from mercantile considerations only to choose the site, and if in time property should accumulate there, to call upon science to fortify it.”

Captain Richards’s opinion was far more scathing and only given public vent many years later:

“If the capital had been on the Fraser it should have been at Hope, or even as low down as Langley would have been better than New Westminster.
The latter was a crotchet of Colonel Moody’s, on some, to me, unintelligible grounds of military defence.
. . . .
I never could understand building the wooden hovels dignified by the name of capital fifteen miles within the entrance of an intricate river where only the smallest war ships can enter.”

Richards’  view was no doubt coloured by the mariner’s instinctive apprehension of the peril of  passages along hostile riverbanks,  as Simon Fraser, and countless Indian canoeists had experienced, and as George Gift was also to find out later in the Civil War.

After some weeks, during which Moody fretted, Douglas formally announced the change of venue.  The townsite of Lower Langley was rendered obsolete and all the construction thereon was for naught.  The purchasers of town lots at Langley were offered a credit on land in the new town downstream.

In his first important clash with the will of Governor Douglas, Moody prevailed, but the Colonel would soon find himself frozen out of important decisions and have to lower his vice-regal cap before the Colonial chief.


Douglas may have been swayed in his decision not entirely by Moody’s arguments, but by reasons of his own. A town lower down the river, as yet undeveloped and more distant from the American frontier and the port of Semiahmoo, would tend to favour the commercial interests of Victoria.

Such was the consideration he gave while outlining his opposition to an export duty, which had been proposed as an additional revenue source.

“The imposition of a duty at present on the export of Gold in British Columbia, would it is feared be comparatively unproductive of revenue, besides having the effect of diverting the course of trade, which it has been the hitherto successful object of all our legislation to retain within our own possessions, to Semiamoo and other American frontier Towns.
The miners returning with their gains to California would naturally seek to evade the payment of the duty, cross over the frontier, and take the road to those places; instead of coming direct to Victoria which is now enriched by their visits.”

“Special Force for the Revenue Service”

Captain James Kirk was taken on to command the new branch of the Revenue Service, effectively operational on January 19, 1859.

Kirk’s background was not revealed, but he is likely the James Kirk who had been for some years a master mariner on the coast, including service on the British brigantine William. The William, 204 tons, was acquired by the San Francisco firm of McKenzie, Thompson & Co. in 1851 and employed as a trading vessel at ports northward to Victoria, typically returning with a shipment of piles to San Francisco.

The brig William was wrecked January 2, 1854 off the coast of Vancouver Island at Nitinat.  Captain Kirk was initially reported to have perished,   but the vessel was on this trip in command of his first officer, John McIntosh.  All hands and passengers were saved but McIntosh, who went down with his ship, was blamed for the loss.  Reluctance of the shipping Agent to indemnify the owners of the cargo inspired Governor Douglas to exceed his authority and institute an Admiralty inquiry, in which he found that McIntosh had been “unconscious from intoxication” when the vessel ran ashore.

Captain Kirk, having sat out this cruise, was found “rusticating” at the home of his brother in the Napa Valley.

Customs Collector AC Anderson of Vancouver Island also announced in January 1859 that William Jeffray of his department was appointed to Queenborough as “Inspector of Her Majesty’s Customs and Gauger of Imports into British Columbia.” Jeffray was a Scot, 43 years of age, with considerable experience in the mining districts of California.

Phineas Manson, unable to get along under WH Bevis in Langley, was transferred by Governor Douglas to Kirk’s charge at the Revenue Station, completing a complement of officers.

Across the broad expanse of Queen’s Reach on the south side of the Fraser River, Captain James Kirk and his men set up camp above the river bank on a patch of cleared land surrounded by cranberry bog, grasslands and bush interspersed with sloughs, their water level rising and falling with fluctuations in the tide and the flow of the river.

The location was an Indian settlement identified on maps of the American Boundary Commission surveyors, whose reconnaissance of the area predated the gold rush, as Keh-kait.  The Americans, without exception, adopted the native nomenclature for geographic features.

An early map drawn in 1824, by Aemilius Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company vessel Cadboro, also indicates Indian houses on the south side of the river, but none on the north.   Wilkes’ Exploring Expedition of 1841 showed the same.

Official British maps ignored most Indian villages, and they are noticeably absent from the township surveys conducted by Joseph Trutch in 1859. The first notice of the existing native settlement is on Moody’s allotment map of 1860.

Resident at Keh-kait was a Musqueam Tyee, or Chief, named Tsimlana, and his family.  They occupied a large cedar plank house, but their numbers at the time are unknown.  Tsimlana’s family would figure in much of the early history of New Westminster. He was sometimes referred to as a Squa-mish Indian, and the village of Keh-kait is so identified on the Boundary Survey map.

The site, immediately across from the Engineers Camp, positioned the British flag on both sides of the river, creating a visible gateway, and enforceable checkpoint to the gold mining region of the Fraser River.  It is intimated in the correspondence that the purpose and location of the camp was partly due to Moody’s military concerns.

The Engineers own camp is sometimes indentified as “North Camp” in correspondence, and on a later Plumper survey map a nearby location on the south bank is denoted “Parson’s Green,”  probably a reference to the old country and a nod to Captain Parsons, the Royal Engineer Astronomer.  It is likely Parsons established a triangulation benchmark here when delimiting the site of the city of Queenborough.

The position of the Revenue Station forestalled the settlement of squatters and saloons and hotels which would have naturally grown up on the cleared land alongside the Indian village, thus resembling the Langley spit, or Point Roberts and Semiahmoo.  Moody would be a jealous defender of the prominence of his proposed Capital, as typified in this communication to Governor Douglas.

“Your Excellency is aware of the political importance of establishing thoroughly and as early as possible the Capital so chosen, of inducing commercial interests to centre there, and of doing all that may legitimately lay in your power to dissuade them from rooting on the opposite or frontier side of the River.”       [from Scott]

Housing the “Special Force for the Revenue Service,” under Captain Kirk, the Revenue Station, officially established February 15, 1859, embodied a formalization of Moody’s aspirations for Queenborough being the “seaport town” or Port of Entry for the new colony.

The British flag was raised on a flagstaff put up by Phineas Manson, which was, according to one later commentator, “the first ever erected on the mainland.”

Rocks, tones and empty sacks

Colonel Moody took steps to establish Queenborough as a Port of Entry and, in response to his suggestion, Collector Anderson announced in February from Victoria that

“He will give a clearance to vessels to proceed to British Columbia by the way of Port Townsend, and the Port of Loading in Puget Sound, thus obviating the necessity of coming to this port.  The owner must undertake that no dutiable goods shall be imported.”

Even so, many traders also sought entry without clearing first in Victoria. The Revenue Service had many successes.  The Gazette reported in February that

“revenue officers had seized five or six canoes and their cargoes, bound up the river, without either a sufferance to navigate the river, or paying duty upon the goods they were carrying into British Columbia.  The guilty parties were taken to Langley.  They came from Whatcom.”

In March 1859, as merchant WJ Armstrong was building the first store in the new town,  a new customs act defined the Port of Queenborough,  extending from the mouth of the Fraser River to a line drawn through the east end of Tree Island, at the mouth of the Coquitlam River.

At Colonel Moody’s prompting, the Governor

“issued a proclamation permitting small undecked boats entering Fraser River with miners and their stores, to pay duty on the goods at Queenborough, to the revenue officer stationed at that point … The object is to facilitate the miners in reaching the mines, and to save the risk of crossing the Gulf in open boats.”

During the past year, there had been many reports of small craft foundering in the passage from Victoria, and the losses were untold.

On March 12, 1859 the brig Recovery was towed by a passing steamer downriver to Queenborough.  Judge Begbie and Arthur Bushby, who had been staying aboard the Recovery while holding Court at Derby, came down with her to pay a visit to Colonel Moody.  (Begbie wrote that the Recovery was towed by the Maria; his clerk, Bushby, wrote that it was the Enterprise.)

Arriving at Queenborough Begbie met James Kirk and formed at once a good opinion of him.

“I saw Mr Kirk today.  He seems an extremely proper man for his post and is well spoken of by all here.”

Sensing that there might not be room enough for two Revenue departments on the lower Fraser, Begbie went on:

“I rather suspect Bevis and he do not agree very well.  I should think he is at least as good a man as Bevis; but I should be sorry to see the latter displaced, as I rather like him notwithstanding several stories here about him: which I always put to the fault of the empty sack that could not stand upright.  He is always against his own interest; fair and liberal in his statements relative to revenue matters, so far as they come before me; and I never go to the beach at Langley without some request or another relative to boats seized, which I cannot always attend to.”

Douglas, always more circumspect in praise, to a fault, acknowledged in reply:

“Kirk also appears to have won your favor and I trust he will continue to deserve it.”

Notwithstanding the experience of Begbie,  who had a chance to witness the zeal of Bevis at first hand,  the new “Chief Inspector of Police” for the Colony, Chartres Brew, relying on hearsay in Victoria,  and as yet inexperienced in the realties of enforcement in this colony, found Bevis did not measure up.

“I understand that the examination of wares and the granting of permits are very loosely done at Fort Langley.  I believe it would be an immense advantage to the public service if, without removing Mr Bevis, an active officer of higher position of tone were placed over him.”

This was a premature assessment on the part of Brew.  In fact, officers of the government in every part of the Colony encountered a lack of cooperation that challenged even the most esteemed figures of Colonial authority.  Brew was to find this out first hand in the Fraser Canyon, when he assigned two officers to collect license fees from working miners.  They met with open hostility and refusal to pay.  Historian Hester White comments:

“This failure did not shake Brew’s confidence in his officers, and in reporting the matter to Victoria he was careful to state that he was ‘satisfied that the want of success’ could not be ‘attributed to any want of sufficient exertions on the part of Mr Cox and Mr Haynes.’  Viewed in retrospect, indeed, the fault seems to have been his rather than theirs, for he had sent them forth to collect a highly unpopular tax armed with little more than their powers of persuasion.”

Peter O’Reilly, whose “resolute nature and authoritative demeanour,” according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, “impressed both those who appeared in his court and the governor,” met with the same kind of opposition in the Rock Creek district.  The story is told by WW Walkem:

“Mr O’Reilly came up to the creek, sent there by Governor Douglas, to act as Gold Commissioner, recorder and government agent.  He had orders to enforce British law.  Mr O’Reilly told the miners they would have to obey the law, and take out miners’ licenses, for which they would have to pay $5, and $2.50 for recording each claim.  They refused, and on one occasion threw rocks at him.  They were always abusive when he spoke to them.  Mr O’Reilly had no means of enforcing the law, so as he saw he was of no use there, he mounted his horse and returned to the coast and reported to the Governor.  He said that he could do nothing; he was helpless without force to command respect.”

Nor were difficulties with law enforcement confined to British officials.  While stationed on San Juan Island with a military force at his disposal, US infantry Captain George Pickett described a scene of “perfect bedlam day and night.” The Island was “a depot for murderers, robbers, whiskey sellers—in a word for all refugees from justice.” Begging help from civil authorities he complained  “My hands, my hands are tied.”  [from Gordon]

This plea came from a gallant soldier who faced down the guns of the British Navy on San Juan Island and who would later go on to glory in the Confederate Army.

Line of view

Captain James Kirk was getting along famously with Colonel Moody, the Engineers and the other gentlemen administrators down at Queenborough.

It did not take long to erect a building, about 44 by 66 feet, for the accommodation of the men of the Revenue Service, on the point opposite the Camp.  The cost of the building was L 43.10.10 (about $200).

The Satellite had by this time reverted to her duties with the Boundary Commission, and with the Revenue Station on the south side of the river, and the Camp on the north side,   Queenborough could challenge any craft passing upstream.

Moody had quickly sized up the military advantages of his position at Queenborough and liked what he saw.  A defensive establishment on the far side of the river suited his purposes.

On March 22nd, 1859 Kirk reported to Moody.

“According to your instructions I have located and have now nearly finished the Revenue Station at its present site opposite Queenborough.  And from its line of view, and other reasons best known to yourself, it is well adapted for the Department.”

The Station stood on the river bank, just above the high water mark.  The land was low lying and subject to flooding, and the building was constructed about five feet up on posts. Kirk obtained approval to build a wharf, about four feet wide, across the flats to the deep water for the convenience of launching the boats at low tide.

The proportions of a City

On the north side of the river a start was being made at establishing a town.   Thomas W Seward, a miner of ’58, recalled that in the beginnings of Queenborough

“a few energetic citizens erected some frame buildings on the ground cleared, among others Henry Holbrook and Sam Herring, both very well known men in Victoria.”

The first to arrive at the town site came to the only clear spot, a beach at the foot of a ravine. At this place, which would become Lytton Square, they set up tents and soon the first crude shacks were erected.

In the first week of April a correspondent of the Victoria Gazette wrote a lengthy report on the state of “Queenborough, the future capital of British Columbia.” With Richard King, “the contractor for the building of the Custom House,” as guide, he explored the townsite, went up to the Camp of the Engineers, and even crossed over to the opposite side of the Fraser River.

At Queenborough he observed a steep hillside covered with a dense forest of “fir, cedar, hemlock and spruce, and less regularly beautiful though scarcely less useful ash, elm, birch, apple, cherry, maple and elder, with which the site abounds.”  There was a good water supply with springs bubbling from the hillside and good anchorage along the banks of the broad river frontage. As for development he found:

“The town is as yet but little improved; two grocery stores, and a few houses and tents occupied by those employed on the public buildings and works being the only structures at present erected. The Custom House and Treasurer’s Office are in progress and will, it is thought, be completed within two weeks. A pier will be commenced this week in front of the Custom House site, to extend 20 feet beyond low water mark, affording wharfage for vessels drawing from fifteen to twenty feet of water at low tide.”

Up at the Engineers Camp, across a stream crossed on a fallen tree trunk, were to be found just a couple of buildings up “for the accommodation of Lieut Gov Moody and suite.”

“The Topographical Engineers mess on board the Recovery, an American built brig formerly used as a revenue vessel in the river, but which is now anchored a few feet off shore in front of His Excellency’s quarters.”

Captain Richards of the Plumper reserved:

“Queenboro is beginning to assume the proportions of a City—I use the term in the American sense.”

The Captain was one among those who had misgivings about rationality of Moody’s choice of location for the Capital. He was referring the type of settlement described by his Lieutenant Mayne, who noted that the Americans ascribed the name “City” to any collection of a few huts, a liquour store and a Post Office.

Moody’s overriding concern, even before his arrival in the northwest, was defence of the new Colony.  He had a good knowledge of the lay of the land and took a trip in the vicinity of the boundary line soon after establishing his Camp at Queenborough.

“I studied the Military features of the country very carefully while at Semiahmoo,” he wrote. Point Roberts he considered “a serious thorn in our side—A smuggling town is being built on the American portion and by and bye there will be a Citadel of the 1st Class.”       [ from First Impressions]

Moody directed Captain James Kirk to perform a reconnaissance of the land between the Revenue Station and the Frontier.   Kirk reported to Moody:

“In conformity with your instructions I have taken a partial survey of the land immediately behind this station, in the direction of Simiamoo, and I find a large belt underbrush, waterlogged in most places to the extent of one foot,  but by cutting a small drain some six hundred feet to the bank of the river, the water could be run off,  a trail on to the rising ground from thence to Simiamoo within the English lines could easily be blazed,  and the salt water reached within one month.  The military advantages of such a trail must be too evident to you.  At the same time a Coast Guard station might be of considerable importance to the Revenue Department.”

Kirk allowed that he had not had sufficient time fully to explore the route, but he estimated six axemen and one officer could make a trail six feet wide at a rate of about a mile a day.

Langley Upper and Langley Lower

While Moody and the force of Engineers and Marines at Queenborough proceeded apace to cut down trees and erect buildings, men of business had not given up on New Langley. Many considered it a superior shipping port, with deep water and a steep bank that facilitated loading.  At Queenborough, owing to extensive flats, wharves were necessary.  The Eliza Anderson, a side-wheel steamer expressly built for the purpose, began regular trips between Victoria and Langley, carrying passengers and freight. Methodist clergyman Ebenezer Robson wrote on April 1, 1859 that “Langley contains about 400 people.” The correspondent of the Gazette found:

“The present business part of Upper Langley is built upon a large, deep bar, made by a slough between the island and main land on the south . . . The resident population of the town is not numerous, but the transient custom from the mines gives it a decided business air, and the canoes that line the shore are undergoing continuous changes, as the laden ones depart, their places to be filled by those of more recent comers.”

At Lower Langley, or Derby, “the land rises to a pleasant altitude.”

“Upon this eminence are the Court House, Jail, Church and Parsonage, on the Government Reserve, which is, perhaps, the best piece of land in the entire domain.”

“Near the lower steamboat landing . . . are five substantial stores, one of which, the property of Messrs Curtin & Pettibones, has been recently removed from Whatcom, three restaurants, the HB Co’s old building on Kanaka ranch, and several small or “shake” houses. There is little doubt but that during the coming summer, more business will be done at Langley than at any other point on the river.”

Following the transfer of Phineas Manson downriver to Kirk’s station, WH Bevis grew concerned with increased smuggling over the Semiahmoo Trail and in late March 1859 hired Robert Lipsett as “a Special Detective Revenue Officer.”

Although just 21 years of age, the genial Irishman Bob Lipsett would be a lucky find for Bevis at this time.  He was described in later years as “whole-souled,” “energetic and honorable,” “a warm heart and generous spirit . . . and many a struggling man he helped along the stony paths of life.”

Bevis, who had been paying rent for an apartment which doubled as the government office, saw an opportunity in the recently vacated barracks at Lower Langley—the first contingent of Engineers having since moved down to Queenborough.  This building was described by Begbie as containing

“nearly twice the accommodation of the new proposed parsonage, Court-house, and church all put together . . . They are among the best-built wooden buildings and neatest-looking I have seen either here or in V.I.”

In early April Bevis moved into the barracks.  A notice appeared in the newspaper:

“The Post Office which has hitherto been located at Fort Langley, was removed on April 13, to New Langley.”

This was the place also known as Old Langley, being the site of the original Fort, and latterly known as Derby.

Bevis had another reason for wanting to move to Lower Langley.  Governor Douglas had accepted papers from the well-connected officer Charles Sydenham Wylde, and secured for him an appointment in the Revenue Department at Langley.

Wylde was a native of Somersetshire, England, thirty-four years of age. Nominally under Bevis’ command, Wylde also reported directly to the Colonial Secretary, WAG Young, whom he addressed as a friend.

Leaving Wylde in charge of four men at Langley, Bevis visited Queenborough for the purpose of collecting liquor licence fees and trading fees from the merchants only now setting up shop in the new town.

The Colonial Secretary, upon receiving this information from Bevis, replied asking for a complete accounting of the number of men he employs, and the costs of his department.

Wylde entrance

CS Wylde arrived in Langley with a splash.  In his own histrionic account of his first night on duty, after presenting letters to Mr Bevis, he spotted a canoe making its way past the Fort in the darkness and ordered the paddler to come to shore.

“He refused.  Having no pistol to fire a blank shot, after I threatened to fire into him, I ran in the water above my knees and seized the canoe—found 3 kegs of rum in her that had just come from the steamer marked Eliza Anderson.”

Last night, Wylde continues:

“I got 2 men from Mr Bevis and made them stand watch, being somewhat tired myself . . . about 11 pm one of them woke me up . . . I went out and succeeded in seizing another keg—the man was packing it in from the bushes.”

“Mr Bevis,” Wylde informs Young, “has moved to New Langley to watch the steamers and the passage around the Island between the two Langleys and left me to watch this place and the trails.”

On the job only two days, Wylde saw an opportunity for himself and informed Young:

“You could enable me to do my duty here a great deal more satisfactory to both the Government and myself by appointing me Revenue Officer for Old Langley and the Trails—independent of Mr Bevis—for I am confident had I my own way, I could prevent this smuggling.

“I should want a light-Boat and 8 men—4 of the men I would use for the Semiahmoo Trail day and night (a regular watch). The other 4 for the boat and along the Beach, vessels discharging, etc.  I could also once or twice a week take the Boat up where the Sumas Trail [from Whatcom] comes out, and by that means I think this nefarious traffic would be abated.

“The men that Mr Bevis has now get 75 dollars a month and find themselves.  The consequence is that if they are wanted of a night I should have to run to different houses to look for them.  I think if I had a house, that good men could be had here for $50 and food—which would cost about 18 to 25 dollars a month for the men—and I should always have them where wanted—there is a house here that could be rented for very little or $150 would build a place.

“I hope you will consider this as private correspondence.
“To give you a better idea the reason why Mr Bevis, at my suggestion stops at New Langley, I will draw it after. . .

[a rude sketch map shows trail in direction of Semiahmoo, island opposite Fort Langley, and the creek back of Langley]

“Hoping you will take no offence at this letter.

“PS  Since writing the above, I have seen Mr Bevis and he has hired me a house for 18 dollars a month. . .as I am certain without keeping the men together nothing can be affected.  I have seen Capt Bedford and he has the same idea on the subject as I have—I wish you could get him to write to you about it, for I think his opinions are good. There is one thing certain:  without sufficient men nothing can be done.  They have been doing a wholesale business here in the smuggling way.”

Choice stuff

At Queenborough Revenue Station, Kirk in April now had his men housed and was sending over to Capt Grant a tent no longer needed.  In return, he requested a bolt of navy duck to make sails for the Revenue boats.  James Kirk closed off his note to Grant with a glimpse into the perks of the job.

“I will be most happy to see you on this side whenever it is convenient and will have a glass of choice stuff for you taken recently.”

(British Columbia although rife with the worst kind of adulterated whiskey, had also on hand the finest of  imported wines and spirits.  At Yale, Col Moody drank champagne with Ned McGowan that he found the best he ever tasted.)

Bevis, having removed from the Fort to Lower Langley, now was ordered out of the barracks by Col Moody, who required the space for the temporary accommodation of the families of newly arriving officers.

Bevis found himself back at Fort Langley without a place to live and without an office.  While Kirk and Wylde had only to worry about smuggling, Bevis had many other collection responsibilities.  His Postal duties began to suffer for want of a place of business.

On his own initiative Bevis ordered a small house to be built “to serve for the Revenue purposes and Post Office,” and then applied to Victoria for approval.  He did not receive an encouraging reply, and was told not to incur any expenses without authorization.

Bevis begged more time to bring his accounts up to date, as this was difficult without an office, and with his duties taking him as far down river as Queenborough to check for licenses.  His first liquor license issued there was to America-born saloon keeper JT Scott.

James Kirk, for his part well established at his Revenue Station on the point opposite the North Camp, nevertheless recommended to Moody

“the advantage of having another station for this department on the north side of the river.  As you already understand this is the best position for the principle Revenue Station for many reasons, still it is much handier to have one somewhere else.  Considerable liquors are still being smuggled in, and our boats cannot be always at both sides.”

The Establishment in Question

The location of Revenue Stations, for the purposes of Revenue or other reasons best known to him, was passing out of Moody’s hands, though it would not be an easy transition.  On April 12, 1859, the British ship Thames City arrived at Victoria, bringing out the remaining contingent of the Royal Engineers and their families from England.  On board was the colonial appointee as Collector of Customs for British Columbia, Wymond Thomas Ogilvy Hamley.

Hamley was born December 30, 1818 in Cornwall and served in the Royal Navy and the British Civil Service at Somerset House prior to securing the appointment as Collector for British Columbia.  Hamley would take immediate charge of the Revenue Service.   Moody forwarded to him Kirk’s suggestion for a Station on the north side.

Hamley, not yet familiar with the locale and identity of his officers, thought the idea came from Wylde and replied:

“Mr Wylde’s proposal had better, I think, for the present, stand over.  With the men and boats at his disposal and with ordinary vigilance he ought to be able constantly to watch the approaches to Queenborough.  The inducements for smuggling spirits will no doubt be great, and as the town begins to increase a separate revenue station on the Queenborough side may be indispensable, but before that time I hope to be on the spot and better able to judge what changes, if any, the service may require.”

The arrival in British Columbia of the Collector of Customs would ring great changes in the operation of the Revenue Service and bring an end to the easy and generous cooperation between Kirk’s men and the military.

On April 22nd 1859, Peter O’Reilly, another of those who had come to BC seeking government employment, arrived in Langley on fresh appointment.  He reported to Victoria that he had,

“as Resident Magistrate, taken charge of the district over which Mr Bedford presides.  I have also taken charge of the Post Office from Mr Bevis, who has likewise furnished me with a list of all spirit and trading licences issued to the several Traders of Upper and Lower Langley.”

Bedford had lasted just three months as JP before resigning.  He would next take up the role of gentleman farmer, leasing the HBC estate at Langley Prairie.

Being relieved of his licensing duties by the institution of a Resident Magistrate at Langley, Bevis was now solely under the orders of the Collector of Customs.   Hamley ordered Bevis down to Queenborough, leaving Wylde in charge at Langley.

Bevis found himself in a difficult position and addressed the Colonial Secretary a note of explanation:

“I have been for the last three days endeavouring to remove to Queenborough, but being detained with arranging matters in regard to the Post Office, and giving Mr O’Reilly so much information concerning the licenses, also making the parties understand the dates etc when due.  I am likewise detained in settling some a/cs with Capt Bedford during his time, and now he refuses to arrange them,  which will cause me to alter all that has transpired to that date for this reason.  I am perfectly troubled, being ordered by Collector Hamley to remove down there, and being detained here, I have to work night and day, and then cannot arrange matters.
I have the honor to be, in great haste, your obdt servt, WH Bevis.”

Bevis would not be the last to be shortchanged by Bedford.  After some months in Langley amassing debts, it was reported Bedford had lit out for Semiahmoo and never returned.

On May 2, Collector Anderson was still tying up loose ends and he issued a Warrant to procure from Treasury “for the use of this department  . . .  Seven hundred and fifty dollars, to meet the current expenses of the Force for Special Revenue Service Station at Queenborough.”

Hamley was still in Victoria, but was beginning to exercise control over his department.  He obtained a list of expenses of the station under Capt Kirk and on May 4 he wrote the Colonial Secretary that he would notify the Governor “as soon as I have reason to believe that the establishment in question may be dispensed with. . .”

Positions in calculation

The rapid expansion of the Revenue Department in the last two months had caught the attention of the Governor, and now faced with the expense of setting up the Collector of Customs in new quarters in Queenborough, a series of steps were being taken at reorganization and retrenchment.

William Bevis did not understand what was happening, and took his change in circumstances personally.  Changes were also in the works for Kirk and Wylde.

Even the brig Recovery was now deemed superfluous at Langley, now that all the Engineers and their families were in barracks or houses. Moody wrote to Douglas to inform Mr Dallas of the HBC that there was “no longer any necessity for the Brig Recovery being retained here.”  Moody had a suggestion that the old brig might be put to use as a Light Ship at the mouth of the Fraser and suggested

“that she may be dropped down the river to this place, where I could make her of service, and there she could be fitted up with reference to her future destination at the sandheads.”

In May, the Recovery, which was formerly leased from the HBC, was purchased by the Government and put at Moody’s disposal. Douglas noted that she could be moved to Queenborough without delay.

In apportioning his Expenditures Colonel Moody officially recorded the Recovery as wholly a Military expense:

“Rent of Brigantine Recovery > Used as a Temporary Barracks for the R.E. at Langley and Queenborough, hired by the Civil Authorities but occupied by R.E. on Navy ceasing to do the Revenue duty upon which she had been employed.”

Governor Douglas commissioned Captain Richards of the Plumper to assess the suitability of the Recovery as a Light Ship. He reported in the negative.

“It would in my opinion be worse than useless to put the Recovery there now with her own ground tackle for she would constantly come to destruction,” wrote Richards.  He noted that any ship in the river, especially with the flood current, is constantly subjected to battering from large trees floating downstream, to the extent that, in the Plumper, such bumps in the night, and the consequent call for all hands on deck to free the ship from trees, were “keeping me awake.”   He suggested a more suitable well-built and firmly anchored vessel could be obtained cheaply in San Francisco.

WH Bevis had been originally appointed by Governor Douglas, and so addressed a letter to him explaining his present circumstances.

“Revenue Station
May 6th 1859
I trust that your Excellency may be pleased to listen to a few words from your most obedient servant in relation to the way in which I am at present situated by being without any place to live at this station, where I have removed by your orders.  Your Excellency is well aware that I am a married man and the way in which we are at present living is I regret to be compelled to say very uncomfortable, not so much for my own a/c but my wife’s, who I am compelled to keep in such an uncomfortable manner, and I regret to say that I am under the impression that your Excellency is displeased with me, as I have this morning been informed that it has been stated in Victoria that I was not calculated for the position I lately held. . .”

Bevis goes on to request “that a small house be erected for me at this station.”  Revenue Officers were accommodated where practicable, military style, in barracks, and this was the function of the main building at this spot on the south side of the river. It was not set up to accommodate an officer’s wife, as Charles Wylde was also to find out later.

Douglas’ curtly noted on William Bevis’s letter:

“Reply to this letter—all addresses of this nature should be forwarded through the Head of the Department, and desire Mr Bevis to do so.”

There is no evidence in the correspondence that Bevis was anything other than an unusually diligent, dutiful, but seriously overworked public servant.  There were many complaints, both official and in the press about other of Douglas’ early appointments, but none mention Bevis.

Maintaining order in Langley could be frustrating.  Constable Robert Wilson, writing to Queenborough from the Mansion House hotel at Fort Langley grimaced:

“Some time ago, four of your men came to Lower Langley looking for some missing Government stores. . . They were obliged to stay all night . . . During the night their boat was stolen. . . “


Surface tensions

Down at Queenborough a reminder of the hazards of travel appeared in the shape of a dead man seen floating on the Fraser River past the town.  This was not an uncommon site, from the Canyon on down, but it was a first for the people of Queenborough to deal with.  Without any officials as yet resident there, the citizens of the new town hastily assembled to view the body and consider what had happened.

“Proceedings of a Coroner’s Inquest held at Queenborough on the 14th May 1859 on the body of a white man, name and identity unknown, found by Revenue Officer Captain Kirk floating down the river opposite the Custom House, Queenborough.
In the absence of a Magistrate or Justice of the peace, Doctor J V Seddall, Assistant Surgeon to Her Majesty’s Forces is empowered by Captain Grant RE commanding the troops at Queenborough to act as coroner on the inquest and to impannel a Jury of twelve proper persons for the purpose of holding the inquest.”

The list of jurors comprises some familiar names. There were James Kirk and Phineas Manson of the Revenue Station; Duncan G MacDonald, Walter Moberly and John J Cochrane, surveyors of the town; Richard King, builder; the Reverend Edward White, Methodist preacher who, when newly arrived, stayed in the tent of King on Lytton Square; Joseph McKeon, the new town Constable; and John S Brooking, John Powell, Benjamin Held and Carl Yorke.

The Jury found the man had been dead a few days, but with no marks to indicate injury, they could only conclude he met his death by drowning.  As there was yet no cemetery in the town of Queenborough,  Dr Seddall turned to Captain Kirk:

“I do depute James Kirk foreman of the Jury to make arrangements that the body be placed in a coffin and properly interred in a suitable locality on Anasis Island, tomorrow morning.”

Methodist preacher Edward White records performing a funeral service, sharp at 8 am.

There was considerable rancour in the civil service at New Westminster, as everyone worked under trying conditions with tight money restrictions.  There were few houses and until the land was cleared, no place to build a house.  There were many disputes over accommodation. Two of the Town Surveyors,  Cochrane and MacDonald, got involved in a nasty dispute over who had the right to temporary occupation of the Survey Office—one of the few substantial buildings yet to be erected.  Cochrane was not without means and later would purchase many lots in the City, but for the time being it was a struggle to accommodate a wife with child, unused to camping in a tent amidst falling trees and muddy pathways. MacDonald wrote a sneering letter about Cochrane to his superiors, claiming prior occupancy rights of the Survey Office.

MacDonald had worked for a short time with the British surveyors of the 49th Parallel.  His work had to be redone.  A similar situation would arise with the resurvey of New Westminster in future years when it was determined some blocks along Columbia Street were incorrectly measured.

Contagious Anxieties

Up the river, Charles Wylde’s energy was consumed over criticism from the Colonial Secretary, Mr Young, and addressed a reply to him as follows:

“Fort Langley
May 8th 1859

Dear Sir
I was much grieved by your letter to think I had laid myself open to censure.  I should feel truly grateful to you, Sir, if you would drop me a line and point out my deficiencies—for I can assure you that no man evr labored more to give satisfaction than I have.  I seldom or ever think of leaving the beach before one or two oclock in the morning for I watch the steamers and Beach that close that I am determined smuggling shall be stopped.
There is one thing I am confident of, that is, the Pack Train from Semiahmoo has broken up.  Two of the principal men belonging to them have left and the other one (an American) has been here the last 14 days, trying to sell the mules.  Last week they offered them for sale to Mr Bedford, and if, Sir, I have overstretched my power or responsibility it has been done by my labouring under a mistake, thinking I was meeting the wishes of his Excellency the Governor— as for guidance or instructions, Mr Bevis left me none, nor gave me advice.
Since I received your letter I wrote to Mr Hamley stating what men I had and where placed . . . and if at any time you could give me any information in regard to my duty, I shall ever feel grateful—for I am ever anxious to do that which is right—“

Wylde’s letter to Mr Young continues with a glowing report on the success of his station:

“in regard to the Government ever drawing any revenue from this place, I hardly think it is likely from the sale of contraband goods—as I flatter myself I have stopped the game they have been playing here so long.  And also in regard to the employees I have—In a short time I shall be able to dispense with some, for the river is rising fast and this town will be washed away.  At present all the goods that go up the river are sent from here—and I have to watch them very close, as I do not allow anything to leave but what they can prove has been duty paid.   It was only an hour or so last Friday before I received your letter, I was enjoying the highest feelings of satisfaction, as a Mr Woodcock here—a wholesale liquor seller—told a party that if last winter every man had done his duty as well as I had, he would have several hundred dollars in pocket, for they would [have] had to buy off him when they could not smuggle.
I sincerely hope and trust as a Friend you will not allow me to get into any difficulty through want of information.  I had a very satisfactory letter from Mr Hamley the other day approving of what I had done up the river.”

Wylde is indeed satisfied with his performance, notwithstanding any criticism.  He goes on:

“Now Sir, pardon me for drawing your attention once more about the pay.  My men here are getting $75 per month, and they say it does no more than keep them.  I also want to remind you that when Mr Bevis was here he had a handsome commission on all License fees and monies collected, which made his pay ample for his wants.  And myself with $80 per month I am afraid will not be able to keep myself from debt, with a wife and family to support. If you think I should better petition His Excellency the Governor for an increase of salary—-say $100 per month—I should feel thankful for your guidance in this matter.
Sincerely hoping I have not exhausted you patience with my troubles. . .
I am Sir, Your obdt s’ Charles S Wylde”

Despite some little difficulty, Wylde remained optimistic about his future. He could count on Young as a friend, and he was in now in charge at Langley, while an exhausted William Bevis rowed back and forth daily from Langley to Queenborough, neither a part of one nor the other.

In desperation, Bevis also wrote to Young.

“Langley, 16th May 1859
Sir – Absolute necessity compells me to ask you to be pleased to inform me if it is not possible for me to be placed on the same footing with the other officers of the station at Queenborough, as when there I have no accommodation whatever, and keeping watch and watch at night, and having no place to sleep comes very hard upon me,  besides having to be employed likewise variously during the day, so that I have no time to myself; not but that I am able to stand it, but when in this present instance I consider tht I am now placed under a junior officer in at least appointment in this service, and also that a very lately appointed officer sent up to render assistance at this station, and shortly afterwards receives charge of the same,  which I can look upon as nothing else that placing me in disgrace;  all these matters are I fear created through some reason or other,  which I would most respectfully beg you would be kind enough to inform me,  if there is any that you are aware of,  for in the present state of affairs I am truly uneasy at the idea that the confidence which was, I had every reason to believe, once placed in me, and which is now I believe entirely removed,  for what reason I am totally ignorant of,  therefore may I beg the favor of you being kind enough to confer upon me the favour of informing me if there is really anything against me.  I have also heard since that there have been reports mentioned against me, but no direct charge; but as yet I have placed no confidence in them and again my information coming from reliable authority at Queenborough, I cannot but believe that there is some person or persons endeavouring to work against me.

And I would also beg leave to ask that there be some accommodation provided for me at the station, as it is not only more expense than I am able to bear, but very inconvenient,  having under present circumstances to keep my wife at Langley, and myself at the station.  I trust therefore that you will be pleased to confer upon me the favor of giving me the information desired.
I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedt servt,
WH Bevis”

The commute by rowboat or canoe between Fort Langley and Queenborough Revenue Station was 16 miles and took a minimum 2 1/2 hours, depending on the tide and the current.

Arthur Bushby made one such trip:

“In the afternoon we got Kirk’s boat, 4 men, and had a long and cold pull of some 5 hours back to Langley Fort.”

Greatly troubled by his tenuous work situation, his exhausting schedule, working day and night, the daunting commute up and down the river, his lack of sleeping accommodation, concern for the welfare of his wife, and his apparent disfavour with the Government, Bevis was at a loss to find out the reason.

He wrote yet again to Young the very next day expressing his concern and requesting some amelioration of his plight. His sense, from asking around, was that he had fallen into disfavour, but all the local merchants assured him of their support.  Most of all, he wanted some accommodation for himself and his wife at the station at Queenborough, putting him on equal footing with the other officers employed there.

The Station itself was a fairly large building about 40 feet by 66 feet, and there were a couple of smaller out buildings.  During the time Bevis was without accommodation, a boat house was under construction.

“Revenue Station
1st June 1859
To His Excellency The Lieut Governor, Colonel RC Moody RE
I beg to inform you that I have completed the building of the shed, which you directed me to make large enough to suit for a boat shed, for the station, it being 33 X 12 1/2 feet. It is now ready for the use of your cows when you think fit to send them across and I will be happy to see that they are taken care of.  I enclose you the Bill of the lumber and trust you will have the kindness to cause the same to be paid.
I have the honor to be your Excellency’s most obdt servt—James Kirk, Revenue Department”

At the back of the outpost lay some fine natural grassland.  Moody had purchased some cows at Langley to obtain a ready supply of milk for his wife and children. There was no pasture on the Camp side.  Perhaps as one of the reasons best known to him, Moody had arranged to have a “boat-house” erected at the Revenue Station that doubled as a barn.

Bevis, at his own expense, put up a small house nearby.

Upriver, Wylde was lobbying for accommodation at the Barracks in Lower Langley.  Securing approval from Hamley, as a way of saving the government the expense of about $220 a month, Wylde wrote to Moody.  Moody sought approval from Governor Douglas in the middle of June, but Douglas’ approval was not sent until the last day of July.

Many unforeseen contingencies

Customs Collector Hamley was making arrangements to move to the mainland, and to that end, a Custom House was being erected at the townsite of Queenborough, about a mile and a half below the Camp, on the north side of the river.

On June 1st, 1859 the first Queenborough lots were sold by auction at Victoria.  Purchasers of lots at Langley were allowed to transfer their payments to the purchase of lots in Queenborough.

The Custom House was built on the upper side of Columbia Street, on Lot 1 in Block 13. It would be the administrative center of the Customs Department, housing the Collector and his clerk.

By the Customs Act dated June 15, 1859,

“the Port of Queenborough shall comprise all the waters, mouths and channels of Fraser River between the deep water of the Gulf of Georgia and a line drawn due North and South through the Eastern extremity of Tree Island.”

Even with buildings erected on both sides of the river, and a Revenue staff in place, there was still no arrangement for collecting duties in British Columbia. According to regulations governing the Port of Queenborough, all goods must still be cleared in Victoria.

A misunderstanding of this led to the seizure of the skiff JP Evans by Revenue Officer Kirk.  The shipper of the goods had been misled by the Captain of the JP Evans that he could clear at Queenborough.

Kirk afterwards explained that he “had no authority to receive duties,” and his duty was to seize the goods and the vessel.  The matter ended up in court before Judge Begbie, who decided “to let the liquors go clear, but that the craft JP Evans should be sold.”

Collector Hamley was running into some difficulty of his own.  The building and furnishing of the Custom House was more costly than planned, but by the second week of June, Hamley was finally in New Westminster to take possession of the premises. His arrival was marred by a dispute over gaining admission to the Treasury Building which led to a disagreement with Col Moody.

Within days of his arrival, a nasty confrontation erupted on the steamer Governor Douglas.  On June 15, Douglas had imposed a one dollar surcharge on every passenger to and from British Columbia.  It was an unpopular move and on June 17, Capt Murray of the Governor Douglas, leaving for Victoria, refused to pay, claiming insufficient notice.

The story is told by Norman Hacking:

“The vessel returned on June 21, and Captain Murray again refused to pay.  He offered a bond, which the Collector refused, ordering a revenue officer with an armed guard of soldiers to board the steamer.  The next day Thomas Skinner, a shareholder in the steamer, offered to pay the money under protest, but Hamley refused to accept payment from any one but Captain Murray.  The valiant Captain then lost his temper, and threatened to sail with the occupying troops and land them at Port Douglas, at the head of Harrison Lake.

The Governor Douglas slipped her lines and headed out into the river, while the Collector followed in a small boat, calling on the master to stop, and at his peril to proceed.  It must have been a ludicrous situation for Mr Hamley, for in his official report to the Acting Colonial Secretary, he remarks plaintively,

‘I am sorry to say that, by Mr Murrays’s order, personal violence was offered to Mr. Kirk when, in the execution of his duty, he attempted to bring the vessel back to the wharf—and it was only, as I understand, after an intimation of interference from Colonel Moody that the master returned—he sent his purser on shore to pay the fees, and then proceeded on his voyage.’

On his return down the river, Murray was bound over to appear before the magistrate on a charge of resisting an officer, but the matter was never pressed.  Captain Murray, backed by public opinion, won the battle, for on June 25 the Governor rescinded his previous proclamation and ordered return of all fees collected.”

The altercation on the steamboat prompted the next major change for the Revenue Service.  Hamley had been fortunate to have the ready support of Col Moody to assist him, but he realized it would be better to have his own men stationed close by in the City.  He immediately requested of Governor Douglas that the vessel Recovery be once more pressed into service, and be moved to Queenborough with his men on board.  This was readily approved, although it would be some weeks before the Recovery came down.

There was much griping over customs regulations in both British Columbia and Vancouver Island.  While ostensibly two separate colonies, the affairs of Customs were still very much entangled.  Hamley, upon arrival in Victoria had to investigate some alleged irregularities in the Customs office, called “defalcations,” involving Collector Anderson’s Assistant, Charles Aubrey Angelo.  The inquiry took some time, and it was suggested in the press that it would be swept under the carpet.  But Angelo was put on trial and sentenced to a year in jail for falsifying the accounts.

Hamley, from the first of June 1859 imposed strict new rules for the expenses of the Revenue Station, and requested from Kirk the accounts, from his engagement January 19th, to the establishment of the Station at Queenborough on February 15, and so on to the end of May.

At the conclusion of a full review, the methods of spending were not what Hamley would have liked. In fact he reported that he “found a great deal of confusion,” in the accounts.  Kirk, by way of explanation, offered that,

“as I have been establishing a branch of the government service in a new place with many unforseen contingencies, which I need not enumerate here, the station as it now stands will speak for itself.”

Hamley accepted no responsibility for the arrangements made during the first three and a half months of the Service, as they were undertaken before his arrival in the Colony.   He informed Kirk that from now on, he must keep to a strict budget.  He would be paid his salary, wages for the crew of boatmen, a subsistence amount, and nothing more.

Wylde was to operate under the same rules at Langley.  His expense statement for June 1859 listed Robert Lipsett, now identified as “Boatman,” and Charles Smith, another boatman. Among seven part-time boatmen employed there was one J. Deighton, later to gain notoriety as saloon keeper “Gassy Jack” at Burrard Inlet.

Look aloft

Colonel Moody’s choice of location for British Columbia’s capital was brought into sharp relief with an event at the frontier which raised concerns of sovereignty.

The US military escort to the Boundary Commission, which was ostensibly to protect the surveyors from Indians, seemed all out of proportion to British eyes. It did not help that they were encamped on British soil, nor did it help that the United States Boundary survey had spent many months reconnoitering the territory between the Fraser River and the 49th Parallel.  The head of the British section of the Boundary Survey, Captain Hawkins, harboured similar suspicions.

John “Jack” Shaw was the first white settler on Semiahmoo Bay, having come up on a schooner with the main contingent of the soldiers of the Escort the first week of August, 1857. He was favourably known to Camp Semiahmoo commandant Captain Woodruff from service on the Columbia River. Relations with the soldiery soon turned sour, however, as Joseph Harris wrote, “it soon became evident that he had come up with an eye to his own benefit” when he established himself at “the point a couple of miles to the eastward with a barrel of whiskey and there put it on tap.”

Shaw obtained a territorial licence to set up a saloon on the promontory that became known as “Shaw’s Bluff, which is present day Blaine WA. Thereafter he carried on business for the most part unmolested for the next two years.

On June 12, 1859 the Hospital Steward from the soldier’s camp had been drinking at Shaw’s and when he left, Shaw noticed his pistol was missing and suspected the steward of having stolen it. Shaw took another loaded gun and went off to the Camp. What followed next would become an international incident.  From the report of Magistrate Peter O’Reilly:

“on approaching the Camp the Guard challenged, and [Shaw] not returning a satisfactory answer, was fired at. Sergt Leonard was then ordered to arrest [Shaw] and was pursued by Leonard who called upon him to stop. They both exchanged shots, [Shaw] receiving Leonard’s shot in the groin, from the effects of which he died on the 14th of June, two days after the occurence, and was intered without an inquest being held.  Sergt Leonard was shot through the hand, and has since been in hospital but is recovering.”

Twenty-seven year old Leonard was a career soldier. Born in Ireland he had enlisted in 1855 and worked his way up from Private to Sergeant of Company F, 9th US Infantry.

Shaw’s death from his wounds was an incident of international importance because he had been shot in British Columbia.

O’Reilly issued an arrest warrant dated June 29th, but his Constable sent to Camp Simiahmoo was rebuffed by Captain Woodruff, who, in the words of Judge Mathew Begbie, bade him

“look aloft to the Stars and Stripes, for there waved his answer.”

Stated Woodruff:

“I do not admit that the officials of British Columbia have any right to enter my Camp, solely under the jurisdiction of the Laws of the United States, for the service of any civil warrant.”

The case was referred to the Attorney General of British Columbia and he remarked as follows:

“The American Camp situate in British territory cannot afford any protection to a person accused of crime”…”if such orders really amounted to a directive to shoot Shaw their only effect would be to inculpate Capt Woodruffe himself.”

The “case should be fully put before Captain Woodruffe . . .” If ineffective, “the matter should be referred home, in the meanwhile Captain Woodruffe should be required to remove his Camp within the American Boundary Line”

As the British authorities were considering their next move, the first US Independence Day was celebrated in New Westminster. July 4th was the occasion for a great party in British Columbia, and would remain so for many years after the gold rush brought so many American miners into the Fraser District.

A newspaper griped:

“On the day of American Independence the English soldiers did not work.  101 guns were fired by the citizens from Scott’s Pier, and had a grand ball in a tent adjoining; the festivities were kept up to a late hour.  . . This is about the first time English soldiers have celebrated their country’s defeat. “

Nothing would come of the Shaw shooting, the Governor having reached the conclusion that the Camp, under the auspices of an International Commission, was best considered to have some measure of diplomatic immunity, with matters to be settled internally, by the Commissioner or the US military command.

Anxiety over American influence in British Columbia coloured all of Col Moody’s early policy, from the locating of the capital at Queenborough, to the obliteration of roads, the construction of roads, and the refusal to allow settlement.

Moody was leery of allowing Americans to take up land.  A Queenborough correspondent of the Colonist reported:

“We have had another emigration from Queenborough. Many of the men lately employed as axemen were paid off; all these men wished to remain in the Colony, but their money would not last out until land can be given out; they therefore have left to take farms in the American Territory. Before leaving their boats were drawn up in front of H. Holbrook’s store, three cheers were given for Mr Mowberly, and three for Queenborough, when they left us to help build up the neighboring republic.”

The reception for Canadians from the east was hardly more accommodating.

John V Woolsey, who migrated from Quebec and was fortunate, as a non-British, to gain a position as a clerk in the Treasury under Capt WD Gosset,  and then in the Customs Department, wrote of Moody’s policies in June 1859:

“Col Moody called a meeting of Canadians in Queenboro the other day and made the following very liberal offer (if Canadians got up a petition praying for a grant of land, which was done and presented at the meeting: they might select lands in different parts of the country and when the English Capitalists should come out, & choose the land they wished, then, if the lands picked out by the Canadians were not taken by them, they (the Canadians) would then be given a grant of such lands which very liberal  offer, was (as a matter of course) refused.”

“The Government here have killed one of the finest chances for starting a Colony that has ever occurred . . . since the world was made. Had lands been given out last year or even sold at the Government high prices, it is the general opinion here that country would have contained nearly 50,000 inhabitants at present with an increasing population, instead of about 4,000 and those leaving the Country by every opportunity.”

Later in the summer, following the occupation of San Juan by American forces, Moody penned a lengthy missive to Governor Douglas outlining his concerns over the American presence.

“Protection against the Indians is not the sole reason for the nature of the arrangements on the Line of Frontier and for the late seizure of San Juan”

Moody outlined his strategy for Military Defence, which appears to invest mightily in roads  into the mountains.

1. Send a spy to the US territory.
2. Build a Military road to Burrard Inlet
3. Build a trail on the right bank (north side) of the Fraser River to Harrison Lake.
4. No trail should be allowed on the left bank, south of the river, toward the frontier.
5. Build trail from head of Pitt-Harrison to Howe Sound
6. Build trail from Hope to Similkameen
7. Obliterate the Whatcom and Semiahmoo trails.
8. Place a military vessel at the mouth of the Fraser.
9. Construct a brick powder magazine at New Westminster.

Business matters

Midway through the year 1859 and following on the heady spring months of the establishment of the new Camp, the Revenue Station and the new town, there was a slowdown in the mining trade and Queenborough struggled.  Douglas took measures to reign in the rival apparatus of Col Moody, requiring that he restrain costs, limiting expenses to military and surveying matters, and to cease employing civilians.

Upriver, Derby was almost deserted but for the government buildings.  Mathew Begbie, writing on June 30, advised the Governor that there remained there only two stores and a restaurant.  It was apparent the town had been abandoned of support from the Governor in favor of Moody’s new town.

“Considerable complaints, I may say indignation, appears here to have been incited by the refusal to allow a saw mill to be erected on the left bank of the river here, or on the right bank for a mile up and down the river.  If it be intended not to allow a town to be formed here, why keep the gaol, etc, standing?”

The saw-mill was a proposed business venture by three newcomers from England.  JJ Cochrane, Robert Burnaby and Arthur Bushby had all come out together with Col Moody and they formed a partnership to buy a mill from Thomas Donahue with a view to operating on the river near Derby.

Thomas Donahue was the youngest and least known member of the four Donahue brothers who would make a lasting impression on San Francisco.  Born in Glasgow, Scotland of Irish parents, the brothers Donahue came out to San Francisco in ’49 and opened an iron-working shop on Montgomery Street. The Union Iron Works and Brass Foundry built the first steam engine in that city.

Thomas Donahue brought an engine up to Vancouver Island in 1858 and established a steam saw-mill near Victoria.  By early 1859 he was ready to sell out, advertising the mill for sale.  When the deal with the Brits to set up near Langley fell through, Donahue brought over his machinery and set up the mill just below Queenborough.  He had an agreement for a steady supply of trees on the banks on the River, but soon found settlers encroaching on his timber reserves. He operated the mill there just a year before selling out to JAR Homer.

The Queenborough correspondent for the Colonist reported July 9, “All the civilians are discharged, and it is not intended to grade the streets or improve the town at present.”

WJ Armstrong, who had opened the first store in Queenborough,  advertised plans to move to a new building on Columbia Street near the Custom House.

The two most prominent merchants on the mainland advertised in the Victoria press each week.

“W. J. Armstrong & Bro.-Groceries and Provisions-Queenborough, B.C.”

“Henry Holbrook-Commission Merchant-Queenborough BC-Forwarding and Land Agent”

Henry Holbrook was native of Liverpool and had recently been in business at Odessa, after the Crimean War.

Other prominent figures included WH Woodcock, late of Langley, who owned a store and partnered in ownership of a wharf with Thomas Harris, butcher proprietor of the Queens Market, and supplier of meat to the military, and both of whom set up shop at Lytton Square on the river bank.

While the reduction in government spending was necessary to protect the feasibility of the new colony, many took it personally.  Robert Burnaby was one the proper class of Englishmen who had come out with Moody on the voyage from England via Panama.  He formed friendships that he hoped would serve him well in the new colony and enjoyed with the others the exhilaration of being in a new land.  He found an early appointment as Moody’s secretary.

On July 21, 1859 he wrote home to his brother:

“Orders have been given for a great retrenchment in the Military Department.  Colonel Moody is to work without any Civilian aid at all, and I do not think he will remain here very long, for he has been baffled and worsted. . .”

“First came expenditure; Moody building up houses, and laying out towns, employing Civilians to chop and clear etc. but in spite of all entreaties, never doing the least thing to organize his materials and to work with method. Consequence! great outlay of money and not much to show for it.  All the difficulties of accounts etc. thrown on my shoulders, with no manner of assistance or regulation to get them into shape.  Next he made an excellent and extensive contract with one Mr Trutch, who left England with us in the ‘Asia’—for the survey of the rural lands of B.Columbia—This with the Governor’s sanction verbally given, subsequent investigations into the pecuniary state of the Colony, and letters from home about Finance induce old Douglas to back out of his word, and to condemn the whole affair as a gross indiscretion; result, Moody induces Trutch to waive his rights and forego the Contract for the sake of getting him out of the mess, this after declaring n the most indignant way that he would hold to the matter through thick and thin.”

Burnaby, though bitter, at least had perspective.

“Then my case, of course, I was included in the suck of Civilians, and instead of making a fight for me, as being an insult to remove a man’s confidential Secretary;  he ‘caves in’ as before and lets them snub him as they please.”

Robert Burnaby would remain friends with Moody, and he was already looking ahead to new opportunities.

Off on the wrong foot —  Joseph William Trutch

Mr Trutch had indeed become a source of irritation between Douglas and Moody.   Joseph William Trutch was an Englishman, well connected in the old country, who had recently been employed under the Surveyor General of Washington Territory. His desire for work in the new Colony coincided with a desire by Moody to prepare for the sale of land.

A contract was signed in June 1859 and Trutch and his mostly American crews began work, using as their model the US plat system.  Trutch began at the 49th Parallel and ran a Meridian due north 12 miles, where he established a second parallel (now 96th Avenue), and from this point northward marked off the sections.   The survey was confined to the south of the Fraser, except for a section at the mouth of the Pitt River, and extended westward to the Strait of Georgia.  Their survey was limited to running the lines and marking corners on the half-mile.

Douglas had good reason to object that the survey contained “too large a quantity of land not being immediately required for settlement.” He rightly noted that “the dividing lines [were] subject to be destroyed by fire and other causes.”

In beginning his survey at Semiahmoo Trutch had roused the ire of US Boundary Commissioner, Archibald Campbell in waking him early one morning and demanding to be shown the Initial Point where the 49th Parallel entered Semiahmoo Bay—starting point for the Coast Meridian that even to this day anchors the road system of the Lower Mainland.

Campbell was especially chagrined to find that Trutch, a civilian not connected with the Boundary Survey, had managed to obtain a copy of a confidential map produced by the American surveyors during their period of exploration in 1857 and 1858.  This would lead to increased tension and a testy correspondence between Campbell and his British counterpart Major John Hawkins.

The Trutch contract hardened the uneasiness and distrust Douglas felt for Moody into a resolve to issue Moody precise guidelines for expenditures and require his obtaining the consent of the Governor on all but the most trivial matters. As quoted by Scott:

“I have in fact found it necessary to exercise the utmost vigilance over his public acts, and after having narrowly escaped being involved in ruinous contracts for the survey of the public land, which he had entered into with Mr Joseph Trutch, a civilian surveyor, and from the utter complication of the land system by a deviation from the spirit, if not from the letter of the ‘Pre-emption Act,’ I found it necessary to issue the most precise instructions for his guidance in matters of finance as well as of general administration, though previously induced by his position in the public service, to allow him a wide discretion.”

Jeffray Expresses

William Jeffray, employed at Queenborough as “Inspector of Customs” was one of the first to chafe under the new arrangements in the Customs Department under Hamley.  August 2, he wrote to Hamley requesting an increase in pay, or he would quit.  Hamley coolly informed him to acquaint Mr Kirk, Mr Manson and Mr Bevis, with his “gauging apparatus.”  (This was a device for measuring the size of shipments and assessing the rate of duty.)  Jeffray took his leave of government service.

In March 1860, Jeffray presented the only tender on Moody’s proposed trail from New Westminster to Semiahmoo.  His terms included an exclusive right to operate a ferry across the Fraser, but the project was vetoed by Douglas as too expensive for the treasury at the time. It would be another dozen years before the Semiahmoo Road was built, and it was 1884 before a ferry began regular operation across the Fraser.

In April of 1860 William Jeffray advertised the “Jeffray and Co Fraser River Express Service” from Victoria to the upper Fraser, with agents at New Westminster (WJ Armstrong), Port Douglas, Fort Hope and Fort Yale.

By the end of 1861 Jeffray had sold his Express business to Frank J Barnard, and removed to San Francisco, setting up on Wharf Street as a Broker, Commission and Forwarding Agent. He retained close ties with Victoria. A Mason, he was honored in 1863 in being presented with a jewel for his service in getting a Charter from Scotland for the Vancouver Lodge. William Jeffray died in San Francisco at the age of 77 on September 7, 1893. Described as a “well known capitalist” he left a sizeable estate to his brothers.

A delicate and difficult matter

While the military force was only a mile and a half away, the men of the Revenue Service proved to be a great assistance to the civil authorities in the new city.

On August 5th, 1859 word reached New Westminster that “the body of a white man was lying at Donahue’s Saw-Mill.”  Constable McKeon proceeded down to the Mill and discovered the dead man “lying on the Platform of the Mill on his back with a mattress over his body.”

McKeon brought the body up to the City and hastily assembled Jurors for an Inquest, among them Ebenezer Brown, John T Scott, William H Woodcock, Phineas Manson and Edward White.

The man was identified as Peter Smith, a German who had been working as a watchman at the Mill.  In the absence of a doctor, the Jury concluded

“the deceased came by his death by gunshot wounds as five were found on his body, delivered by some party or parties unknown.”

Indians were suspected of the murder and tensions rose amongst the populace of New Westminster. There were reports in the press that Smith had also been repeatedly stabbed.

On August 7, some Indians broke into some houses. They were arrested “with the assistance of a boats crew belonging to the Revenue Station.”

A week later, a prospecting party, including businessman Robert Burnaby, and surveyor Walter Moberly, went around to Burrard’s Inlet to explore for coal.  They believed themselves detained by hundreds of Indians in the neighborhood, who had it in mind to hold them hostage against the release of the Indians held at Queenborough.   Moberly dispatched a messenger back there for help.  Moberly thought he had garnered some information regarding the recent murder.

“From what I have been able to make out, I believe the Indian who killed the man is a Musquiam, and is generally known as “Musquiam Jim.”  He is a bad Indian, and was up at my house the evening before the murder. He went to the Indian House at Kirk’s, and left after dark to go down the river, but returned the same night, most likely after having shot the man.”

On August 19th, the British Colonist reported in Victoria that Captain Kirk had arrived from New Westminster with urgent dispatches.  Taking no chances, the Plumper was hastily sent over to Burrard’s Inlet, but when it got there the affair had blown over.

The murder was not forgotten and continued to reverberate among the small white population. On August 29th Phineas Manson, who had close connection with the Indian community, wrote to Governor Douglas that he had obtained information from a Squamish Chief, Kuapelanoch, on board the HMS Plumper, that the murder of the watchman and that of another man in the summer of ’58 at the mouth of the Misqueam (Coquitlam) River, near Tree Island, had been committed by Misqueams of the household of Chief Chimelanoch.  Douglas wrote to WR Spalding, the Magistrate at New Westminster, with a note of advice:

“You are to act with the utmost caution in the affair and attend strictly to such advice as Mr Manson may offer, as his long experience of Indian character renders him fully competent to deal with a delicate and difficult matter of this description.”

No further use

Up the river at Langley, high water in June had inundated the businesses on the spit near the Fort.  At the end of July a fire started in the store of William Winnard, consuming his business and the Hotel run by Mrs Catherine Lawless, and many vacant buildings.  In all, 22 houses were destroyed by the fire, but only five were inhabited, due to the earlier flood.    The trail connecting Fort Langley and Derby had fallen into disrepair and was now impassible, and responding to a wish of Governor Douglas, Mr O’Reilly undertook to reopen the trail employing Indian prisoners from the jail.

At Sumas the plague of mosquitoes was so bad that men and animals of the British Boundary Surveying party were driven to distraction and could not work.

Queenborough had a new name, New Westminster, bestowed by Queen Victoria.   As the site of the designated Capital and Port of Entry was being cleared—its population small, but steadily increasing, and more merchants setting up shop—, a proposal came forward from Henry Holbrook to establish a Bonded Warehouse in connection with his store and wharf facility.   Hamley put the proposal forward to Governor Douglas, with a suggestion that the Revenue Station across the river might be a better location.

“His Excellency is aware of the position of the Revenue Station here and of the accommodation it affords.  A large space beneath the building is set apart for storage and hitherto very little used. [The building was built about 5 feet above the Fraser flood water.] It is provided with strong locks and I should think it would be free from any objection for use as a Queen’s warehouse except on account of its distance across the river.  Goods must be taken to the further side for entry and back again to the town at the time of delivery . . . I should be very pleased to see the Station made in some degree self-supporting.  If a profit was extracted from it, another building (temporary at first and better afterwards) could be erected on this side. . .on this side must unquestionably be in process of time the main Station for the Revenue Service.”

Governor Douglas replied that he approved of Hamley “entering into the necessary arrangement with Mr Holbrook for establishing a Bonded Warehouse at New Westminster.”  He further thought “it is not advisable at the present moment to establish a government bonded warehouse.”

Douglas was most concerned at this time with costs, and in fact had requested that Hamley reduce expenses where possible.

In August, the Recovery became available and once again entered the Customs service. William Henry Bevis was ordered to bring her downriver. It would be his last official act with the Revenue Service. Hamley ordered the Recovery to be moored at the Custom House wharf, with Kirk’s men on board.  This would save money and enable the Revenue Service to better watch the comings and goings from the town.  The Service was consolidated, with changes in the offing for both Bevis and Wylde.

“For the time, as Mr Wylde has a wife and two children I have desired him to occupy the house at the Station. Mr Wylde continues to go up the river in the boats and so far I am quite satisfied with him.

For Mr Bevis there is now no further use, and I shall be able to dispense with his services at the beginning of the month.”

Hamley went on to outline the success of his cost-cutting measures.

“The amount saved yearly to the revenue by these changes will thus stand as follows:

Mr Manson   —  discharged L 180
Mr Bevis        —  ditto              L 200
Mr Jeffray     —  resigned      L 200
Mr Kirk          —  reduced       L 110
4 boatmen (New Westminster) — discharged L 288
Reduction in consequence on allowance of provisions L 252
3 boatmen (Langley) discharged (incl other exp)  L 348
Total L  1570″

Hamley noted with some satisfaction his total savings and added:

“I hope to get the Service better performed.  The scale of the Establishment before was out of proportion and altogether preposterous.”

He said he would rely on the magistrate to keep him informed if any smuggling should occur at Langley.

What your wishes were

The disposal of Bevis and the removal of the Revenue Service from that district marked the end of an era, and a pattern of Colonial administrators retreating to their citadel on the hill at New Westminster was set for many years to come.

Bevis and his wife moved to Victoria in search of employment, but finding none, wrote in October to Young, the Colonial Secretary, noting the absence of any officer at Langley and hoping for a re-appointment to the district he served during the glorious summer of 1858.

Phineas Manson had been a cooper at Fort Langley and following his stint with the Revenue Service he went back to this occupation. He was also a skilled interpreter and was called upon to translate in court proceedings.

Peter O’Reilly moved on from Langley to the busier district of Fort Hope and also in October wrote to Young concerning smuggling of cattle over the Whatcom Trail.  He undertook to collect duties and fines and forward same to the Collector of Customs at New Westminster.

The genial Robert Lipsett, after being let go as “Special Detective for the Revenue Service” in Langley, was appointed “Special Constable” in charge of the prisoners at the Gaol at Derby. His duties included police work at Derby, and latterly on the Spit at Langley, where had been a persistent clamoring for stiffer enforcement, including this from Bedford, now lord of Langley Farm:

“I beg call your attention to the great necessity there is for the appointment of a Constable at the sand spit at Langley.  Not only are there a considerable number of inhabitants but from the fact of there being no constable there liquor is constantly sold to Indians and every night the place is a disgraceful scene of debauchery.”

Captain James Kirk settled rather uncomfortably into his new role under the authority of Hamley at New Westminster, and was reluctant to surrender his former independence.  Not unlike Bevis, having been appointed by the Governor, he could not fathom what his role was to be in the restructured department and puzzled over his orders.  At the end of October he wrote to Governor Douglas directly:

“New Westminster 26 Oct 1859
To His Excellency James Douglas CB
Governor British Columbia
Vancouver Island
Having been instructed by Mr Hamley to stop the American Boundary Commission boats for the purpose of entering and clearing, and not being able to do so without calling in the aid of the Military Force, I considered it best to act as I have done hitherto, and not interfere, but show them any little attention I could.”

The American officers of the Boundary Commission were carrying out a joint mandate of the British and United States governments.  Their Camp at Semiahmoo was established in 1857, predating the gold rush and the advent of British Columbia.  They moved about freely carrying out surveys throughout the Fraser Valley before moving into the Cascades.  Their provisions were supplied from Stateside, and they were accompanied on their survey reconnaissances by an army escort, ostensibly for protection from the Indians. They were comprised of officers similar in rank and qualifications to those of the Royal Engineers, and as such, and for reasons of diplomacy, were treated with courtesy, professional respect and cooperation both official and unofficial.  Nevertheless, a degree of uneasiness existed, as evidenced by Moody’s concern for military security.  There was a marked level of apprehension concerning the movements of the American commission and its army escort.

The Americans had early on established a second Camp at Chilliwack which served as a supply Depot for their excursions into the Cascade Mountains.

On September 10th, 1859, a vessel was observed making its way upriver under cover of darkness. Captain Parsons, in command at New Westminster in the temporary absence of Colonel Moody, hurried messages to his commander and to Governor Douglas.

“RE Camp, New Westminster
11 September 1859

Sir, I have the honor to inform you that the United States steamer ‘Shubrick’ passed this camp at 11 o’clock last night, proceeding up the Fraser.
Mr Boundary Commissioner Campbell is reported to have been on board.
The ‘Shubrick’ passed the Head Quarters Camp without making any communication.
I have sent a report of the circumstance to Col Moody, Commander of the Forces, but as it may pass him returning to British Columbia, I think it right also to communicate with your Excellency.”

The Shubrick was a United States lighthouse tender put at the service of Commissioner Campbell, and its role with the Commissioner on board during the San Juan Island invasion of July 1859 was the object of much official suspicion.

Such were the circumstances under which James Kirk penned his complaint to the Governor. It is evident he felt hamstrung in his new position, unable to act as he saw fit.

“I now beg to report the matter to you and await your instructions.  I apply to Your Excellency having received my commission of Commander Revenue Department direct from you, and as it is not customary in England for officers holding a similar appointment to be under other orders than the Treasury Board, having complete charge of the outside Dept of Gaugers, Landing Waitors, Etc, and believing I have represented Your Excellency’s wishes here,  and was only responsible to you,  I wrote some time back complaining of many petty annoyances which may have arisen from my not knowing what your wishes were.  But if I have the honor to secure them, and could know how I am to conduct myself, I would endeavor to do my duty as I have always done to the best of my ability when not interfered with.
I have the honor to remain, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient servant, James Kirk, Revenue Department.”

The Governor noted curtly that

“Mr Kirk must be made to understand that he is attached to the Collector of Customs Department, he must therefore report to Mr Hamley and obey the orders he receives from him.”

Encroaching parties

The settlement on the hill at Queenborough was yet to become the grandiose capital of Colonel Moody’s romantic vision and was very much a wild frontier settlement of shanties and a very rough life.

On October 27, 1859 two men were canoeing down South Arm of the Fraser, approaching the Cowitchen fishing camp, when they came upon a most dramatic sight in the shape of a burning sloop, with a man clinging to the mast and crying out for help.  He told of an attack by Indians and his Italian partner being killed.   He was brought up to Queenborough where he soon passed away. Magistrate Spalding was reluctant to act and an armed posse was hastily assembled under JT Scott,   soon rounding up five Indians, whom they intended to make pay with their lives.  The Magistrate and some of Col Moody’s men took the Indians into custody, for their own protection, pending a proper investigation.

Serving as jurors on the inquest on the dead man were some of the characters who figure largely in the history of the lower Fraser, including Ebenezer Brown, Sam Herring, Edgar Dewdney, and Henry Holbrook and WJ Armstrong.

Hearing that the Indian suspected of the killings, Taitach, had fled to Sechelt,  Phineas Manson was sworn in as Peace Officer by Magistrate Spalding, and assigned with Julius Voight, a German living near the Musqueam village on the North Arm at the mouth of the Fraser, to capture the murderer.  Manson soon after had to return to his barrel-making and the Indian was captured dead by Voight. He had been shot in a tree by the Chief of the Sechelts.

In November of 1859 citizens of New Westminster expressed their concerns over the lack of regulation of land in the settlement.

“Parties [were] encroaching upon property belonging to the City and erecting buildings & committing nuisances therein which much endangers the health of the inhabitants. . .”

Among the chief nuisances noted was a slaughter house on public land and “a pig stye in front of house occupied by Mrs Lawless.”

Mrs Lawless had relocated to the City following the loss of her Langley hotel by fire.  At New Westminster she established her Mansion House hotel, situated on the wharf street four doors above Thomas Harris’s Queen’s Market.

Sam Herring, removed from Whatcom, where he had been among those complaining of squatters, found he was this time on the wrong side of civic decorum.  There is

“a piggery erected in the public square by Mr Herring & it is requisite to remove the other shanties from such square.”
The government was requested to “remove all buildings from the public squares, streets & wharfs.”

Lytton Square, where a ravine ran up from a broad beach on the Fraser River, was the site of the original foothold of settlement at New Westminster.

Notwithstanding the beauty of Col Moody’s drawings and plans for the City, the practical matter was most of the land was a steep hillside occupied by large trees.

Disposable assets

In November 1859 another link to the recent past was severed with the sale of the Recovery into private hands.

Purchased by the Portland firm of Leonard & Green, the Recovery was given back her old name, Orbit. She was first noticed again in marine reports February 29, 1860. “Brig Orbit, Leonard, 5 das from Columbia River, lumber, to master.”  She resumed her occupation crossing the Pacific between the Northwest ports, Hawaii and the China coast, until in 1862, she foundered.  The Daily Colonist reported at Victoria:

“The brig ‘Orbit,’ lately lost in the China Sea, was formerly the Hudson Bay Company’s trading vessel, ‘Recovery.’ She was stationed at the mouth of the Fraser as a kind of portable custom house, in 1858, and her officers used to overhaul miner’s canoes and make them shell out the $5 license before they permitted them to enter the country.”

On November 7, 1859, Young wrote to Moody that as a consequence of the sale of the Recovery,

“Mr Hamley has been instructed to carry out a suggestion made by him for the erection…of a building for the accommodation of the Revenue Department hitherto lodged in the Recovery.”

This was to be the long awaited Revenue Station on the north side, first recommended by Kirk and later endorsed by Hamley as the most practical location for the department.  The buildings were put up without delay, occupying Lot 4, Block 5. It had frontage on Columbia Street and extended to the river bank.  The Customs House was on the other side of Columbia and a few lots west, at Lot 1, Block 13.

The original Revenue Station on the south side of the river had been built for just more than 43 Pounds.  The premises in New Westminster would cost 194 pounds and change.

Henry Holbrook, whose business affairs were closely tied to the Customs service, announced he would be moving his store to the lot adjacent to the Revenue Station.

The British Colonist reported:

“Mr Holbrook is erecting a large wharf 90 feet front on the river, near the Custom House, so that two vessels can lay alongside. It is called the Liverpool Wharf.  The Government are building a Revenue Station on the lot adjoining.”

Liverpool Wharf would become a landmark on the river, and Henry Holbrook one of the city’s most respected citizens.

With the decision to consolidate the Revenue Department in town, the Revenue Station at the other side of the river became superfluous.

Charles Wylde was allowed to lease the property, and he informed Bevis he would have to remove his small house or start paying ground rent for the property beginning in January 1860.

The correct calculations of William Henry Bevis and a higher position, of stone

William Henry Bevis was without the means to take care of the removal of his house at the old Revenue Station.  He was living in Victoria and as yet unemployed since being terminated in Customs Collector Hamley’s purge of the Revenue Department.  Bevis wrote to Governor Douglas, asking for an appointment, and at the same time requesting a settlement due to him for work at Langley.

“I was under the impression when I was appointed to Langley in July 1858 that I was to receive a commission of 5% on the amount of licence fees that were collected by me, whereas I have only been allowed a commission on the 31 mining licences that were issued by me.”

Within days of sending this letter, Bevis got a job with the Police Department in Victoria, initially in charge of the convicts at the City jail, then promoted to Constable. At the jail Bevis found himself working alongside the former short-term Constable at Langley, William Moore. Neither man would stay long on the prison payroll.

At the same time, it appears Mrs Bevis had interceded on his behalf with the Governor, who had agreed that Bevis was to receive a commission on all license fees collected by him at Langley. Bevis directed his next letter, January 1st, 1860, to Mr Young, requesting his account be settled.

Bevis was still troubled, not knowing the reason for his losing his job, and he again broached the subject with the Colonial Secretary.  He had heard rumours that Hamley had complained against him, yet he had a “document from him stating that to the contrary.”  He was concerned that “any imputation should be placed upon my character,” and he “would be thankful at any time to have my previous conduct investigated.”

The answer left no room for further argument:

“Acquaint him in reply that there is no further sum due and also inform him that it stands officially recorded that he was discharged from the Customs Dept on account of his services not being longer required.”

As a postscript to Bevis’ career in enforcement, in January 1860 appeared the following newspaper report:

“Police Court, before Justice Pemberton—
George Hunter Cary, Esq., Attorney-General, was charged by Mr WH Bevis with an infringement of the law of the Colony, by riding on the sidewalk.”

Mr Cary admitted the offence, but disputed the law and its application.  Cary contended there was no such law on the books of this colony and the use of an English law was invalid. This was a strange argument from one who had been sent out to bring English values and justice to the hinterlands.  He averred that “it was not the first time that the law had been strained when he was the party charged.”

Mr Pemberton rejected Mr Cary’s legal arguments and fined the accused forty shillings—“the highest penalty he could inflict.”

Mr Pemberton did not state, but it could be noted here, that a strong warning had been issued in the Victoria Gazette a year before.  A batch of summonses was issued to persons accused of riding their horses over the sidewalks.  This was a popular action and while small fines were expected to be imposed at first, the Gazette cautioned that

“Should other similar infringements upon the rights of foot-passengers be committed, the guilty persons will not be apt to get off so lightly.”

It was Cary himself who had been arrested for “furious riding” on the James Bay Bridge.  That time the case was dismissed.

Cary was convicted as charged by Bevis for the later infraction and was forced to sell his gun to pay the fine. Bevis was just doing his job, but it must have given him, and many others, some considerable satisfaction in this instance.

Writing in March 1860, Charles Wilson, an Englishman in the Boundary Commission, with no permanent stake in the colony, observed the new social order:

“The place is much changed since last year and I do not find it nearly as pleasant;  many English people, most of a rather questionable standing at home,  have come out here and pretend to look down upon the old settlers,  which has split the people up into sets in a great measure,  so that there is no longer the happy family there used to be;  however I stick to my old friends who, though they may never have been in England, have in every respect the advantage of the most of the newcomers with their pride.”

After a short time in the Police, WH Bevis, at age 30, became Keeper of the Fisgard Lighthouse, finally realizing some security for his long-suffering wife, Amelia.   Bevis was the second appointed Keeper at Fisgard, following the departure of George Davies for Race Rocks.  Bevis arrived there March 16, 1861.  The Light had been in operation only since November 1860.

Mrs Bevis was formally appointed Assistant Keeper on Jan 10, 1862 and received a salary from March 1.  She suffered periods of ill health during 1867 and 1874.

Early in 1869, the father of William Henry Bevis passed away, the announcement appearing in Victoria papers.

“At Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, March 11th, 1869, Capt Thomas Bevis, R. N., of paralysis and partial apoplexy, aged 80 years.”

Captain Bevis had been Chief Officer with the Coast Guard on the Isle of Wight at the time of William’s birth, later having charge of the Commissary for the Royal Navy during the Crimean War while living in Birkenhead. William’s brother Restal Ratsey Bevis was also well-known as the holder of a valuable patent for a variable-pitch screw propeller in use on steamboats.

An 1872 report of inspection of the Lighthouses noted with approval the management of Fisgard Light.

“A keeper (Mr Bevis) and his wife reside here; this keeper was appointed in March, 1861; he is intelligent and industrious. He should be provided with a good self-indicating thermometer to continue the tables which he keeps with great care.”

William Bevis, aged 41 is listed as Light Keeper and “Mrs Bevis” aged 48, is “1st Assistant.”

Mrs Bevis also raised their own food and at the 1st Provincial Agricultural Exhibition in October 1872, she was awarded first prize for the “Heaviest Dozen Eggs (single yolk).”

After the colony entered Confederation, Bevis worked for the Meteorological Office of the Dominion of Canada recording temperatures, barometer levels, prevailing winds, and rainfall at a “Special Station” at Esquimalt. He received a yearly salary as Superintendent.

Mrs Bevis took Bevis’ place when he became ill in June of 1879. Amelia was assisted by her teenaged niece Mary.

William Henry Bevis died in August 5, 1879. Bevis was the Revenue Officer in charge at Langley in 1858, and first Postmaster there.  Bevis had built the first private house at the Queenborough Revenue Station on the south side of the river, to accommodate his wife Amelia.    He was 48 and still keeper at Fisgard Lighthouse where they had lived for 18 years.  His funeral took place from the Lighthouse. He was buried at the Royal Naval Cemetery, where his marker still stands.

William Bevis was survived by Amelia, 59 who had served as Assistant Lightkeeper and a niece, Mary, 17.  Amelia and Mary carried on as keepers for the time being, but within six months were forced to give up their positions.

Captain Revely, the Marine Agent, recommended to the federal Minister that Amelia Bevis be appointed Keeper,  and her 19 year-old niece Mary Bevis, “a strong and active woman,” be appointed Assistant at Fisgard Lighthouse. He noted that after the death of Mr Bevis, they were “in very poor circumstances.”  The Minister replied that it was “against the rules of the Department to place Lighthouses in charge of women.”

Amelia and Mary continued at the lighthouse but, allowing they had proven competence, they were compelled to leave at the end of January 1880.  There is a certain irony in that, as the Bevis’s had only acquired the appointment as keepers in the beginning because after the departure of Davies, his recommended replacement, John Watson, had no wife, which also made him ineligible.  There had to be a woman there, just not one in charge.

As the widow of the deceased Light-keeper, Mrs Bevis was granted a “gratuity” of two months salary.

In July of 1881, Mrs Bevis and Mary Bevis arrived in San Francisco by steamer from Victoria, taking leave of British Columbia.

Kirk’s new place

James Kirk never accepted the change in his position at Queenborough.  He had been master of the Revenue Station in charge of his own men, and responsible only to the Governor and Colonel Moody. He could not be comfortable living in a barracks in downtown New Westminster carrying out the orders of the late-comer Mr Hamley, Collector of Customs.  He soon resigned and, like Bevis, moved to the Island.  Thereafter he addressed a letter to the Colonial Secretary.

“Victoria 14th August 1860
Sir I beg to hand you enclosed accounts of Revenue Station, British Columbia, in case they may be required for reference in future.
I remain your most obedient James Kirk”

In reply, this small act of rebellion was brushed aside, with the notation that “the documents have been transmitted to the Collector of Customs.”

Kirk lived for some years in Victoria, described in the city directories as “Master Mariner.” He is described in one history as one of the “Fathers of Confederation” for BC, being active in the Confederation League which lobbied support for joining Canada.

In 1869 Kirk went with some others from Vancouver Island to the silver mining district of Nevada, operating a smelter at White Pine.  A Notice in the British Columbia Gazette dated June 9, 1873 advises that James Kirk was admitted as Pilot for British Columbia. He spent some time as a 1st Officer, shipping out on the bark Halcon in 1874.

Phineas Manson also spent the latter years of his life in Victoria, where he died on Feb 27, 1895.

Dark lantern deeds; Dewdney to Derby

Towards the end of 1859 rumours and complaints of conditions at Langley continued to noise their way to Victoria, rather pointedly directed at Customs Chief WO Hamley and other officials.
The press complained—

“in the Sacramento of ’49 behold the Langley of ’59. The same flag flies, the same scenes are rife, and the same description of men congregate . . . No banner of St George frowns down upon the dark lantern deeds…”

Having dispensed with his former Revenue Officers, Hamley called upon Edgar Dewdney to investigate reports of smuggling at Derby.

“According to your instructions I proceeded to Derby in the Steamer ‘Otter.’ From the inquiries that I was able to make during the short time I was there, I believe no smuggling is at present going on between Semiamoo and Derby. The parties from whom I made the inquiries were officers of the Boundary Commission, who being constantly on the Semiamo Trail would certainly know should any occur. Edwards, the party who was packing with horses from Derby to Semiamo, has been stopped for some time by the last frost and now he has sold his restaurant and will leave for the upper country shortly. . . Edgar Dewdney, Revenue Officer.”

Hamley attached a note of reassurance to Dewdney’s report.

“Dear Young,
From time to time as I told you Wylde or Dewdney shall drop off at Langley to see what is going on. I have never given much credence to the reports about smuggling. In the Spring if there is a large population something may be attempted, but we will try to break the neck of if early without I hope any necessity for stationing an officer there.

There continued to be a temptation for smuggling on the Fraser River, and as always, complaints found their way to Victoria.

Writing in February 1860, the New Westminster correspondent of the Victoria Gazette:

“I have been told of one case of smuggling of over 200 gallons of spirits, and one trader here was offered L 10 if he would make out a bill as if bought here.  He refused, but some one else must have done it, as they are safely passed.  One of the dodges is, I believe, to attach the kegs to a snag just below the Island, near this place and enter New Westminster, keeping watch at the ‘snag,’ as it goes up with the flow, then enter in the custom house, and clear as miners, and so the goods go on.   It is calculated from the amount of spirits that reaches Douglas [the town at the head of Harrison Lake] and other towns, that not above one fifth pay duty.  This is an item that needs looking into.”

Langley was losing the presence of traders and government officials as mining activity slowed down and commercial activity concentrated at New Westminster.  On Feb 13 1860 Spalding wrote to the Colonial Secretary advising him:

“the prisoners confined in the Gaol at Derby were discharged on the 10th instant, and having been informed by the small traders and others, at present residing on the Spit at Upper Derby, that it is their intention, with one or two exceptions, to remove to New Westminster at the end of the present month, I shall deem it my duty, unless otherwise instructed, to discharge the Constable employed there at that period.  This person, Robert Lipsett, is a most respectable and trustworthy man, and as it would be a boon to him to be continued in Government employ, I hope his case may be taken into favorable consideration.”

Robert Lipsett found employment at Port Douglas and was at Barkerville until the fire. He afterward took up service on the steamboats and was Purser on the Beaver, and Purser and part owner in the stern-wheel steamer Gertrude which ran on the Fraser and the Stickeen, as well as a “prominent shareholder in the CPN Co.”  He went into politics, running for the Legislature and was a Victoria city councilor. In September of 1887 Robert Lipsett fell dead at the age of 49.  The newspaper reporting his death noted that his “burly form” would be sorely missed.  “In the death of genial Bob Lipsett Victoria loses a whole-souled, energetic and honorable citizen.”

Obliged to remove

Charles Wylde had a growing family.  Life in the new barracks at the Revenue Station, even in downtown New Westminster, was no place for a woman and children.  Wylde explains in a letter dated September 30th, 1861, which he addresses directly to the Colonial Secretary.  He was, he says, “compelled myself to live on the Station.”

“I could not put my wife and family, with justice to them, in so small a place 14 ft x 18, and on the same floor with the Sailors belonging to the Station—as every word spoken in one end of the building could be distinctly heard at the other—consequently I built a small house adjoining the Government building . . . which I now beg the Government to recompense me for. . .I also fenced in the Revenue Station. . .which I beg also the Government to recompense me for.”

Hamley rejected Wylde’s claim outright, reporting back to Victoria that:

“There was never any undertaking to provide Mr Wylde with a residence.  When his family first came up I was able to arrange for them to occupy the building at the old Revenue Station, as the men belonging to the Revenue Service were at that time stationed aboard the brig Recovery . . .when the vessel was sold a new station was built [in the City] and rooms for Mr Wylde were added—he bought also a small wooden house, at a trifling cost, and placed it at the back of his rooms.  He did so, as he knows very well, of his own accord, and for his own extra accommodation.  If he leaves, as I believe he proposes to do in the spring, it can be sold again, but I cannot think that he has any claim whatsoever on the Government for remuneration.”

Wylde did not leave the Customs Department that year, nor for some time. Early in 1866 Charles Wylde again addressed a letter to the government:

“Revenue Station New Westminster Feb 9 1866
Sir . . .I have not availed myself of the annual vacation which the Colonial Regulations allow during the long period of seven years, which I have served in the Colonial Service,  and finding some relaxation from constant application to my duties is necessary for my health—I have the honor to request that His Honor will be kind enough to grant me three months leave of absence from duty—which leave I would wish to commence on the fifteenth day of March proximo.”

To the forgoing plea, Customs Chief Hamley noted:

“I am inclined to think that Mr Wylde is making a fool of himself.  He has had as much leave as is good for him, and if he goes away as he proposes on the 15 of March—for the three busiest months of the year—I think that it should be on the understanding that he does not come back again.”

The Colonial Secretary wished that Wylde had applied at a more convenient time and concluded that “I cannot put the Colony to extra expense by Mr Wylde’s absence.”

The greatest change to the civil service of British Columbia came with the movement of the Capital from New Westminster  in 1868,  entailing the departure of government departments to Victoria.  With them went the economic benefits of a large payroll and much government spending on infrastructure, buildings, etc. The Revenue Station, this time the one on the north side in the city, was abandoned.

CS Wylde, among many others, was forced to leave New Westminster and take up residence in Victoria.  He wrote to the Colonial Secretary, at the end of 1868—on the day after Christmas— complaining of the expenses of the move and cost of living on the Island.

“I find it almost impossible to support myself and large family with the reduction of fifty cents per day.  While on the Mainland I had a house and of course water free of cost–besides the help of the Boatmen living on the premises saved me the expense of a Servant.  I have been nearly ten years in the Revenue Service of this Colony—I therefore hope that His Excellency will take these circumstances into his favorable consideration and be pleased to grant me something equivalent to the Salary I had on the Mainland.”

Asked for his remarks, Customs Head Hamley reacted with impatience to Wylde’s request.

“Mr Wylde has suffered no doubt like the rest of us.  He had quarters at New Westminster, so had the boatmen, so had I, and we have all now to pay rent for houses.  Mr McCrea [Chief Clerk] lived in a house of his own—so did Mr Freye [Landing Waiter].  Their houses are now empty and they have to pay for the rent of houses here.  There is nothing peculiar in Mr Wylde’s case–it is the same with all of us and with all others . . . who [with] the change of the Capital have been obliged to remove from New Westminster and live here.”

Hamley bought a house on Burdette Avenue at Victoria Crescent.

Charles Wylde again wrote to the Colonial Secretary in January 1870, noting that in April he would be eleven years in the service.  Understanding that a pay rise was unlikely, he suggested he might have better opportunities elsewhere.  He asked if he might be allowed “to retire on the same conditions granted to Capt Cooper, late Harbor Master–viz the receipt of one and a half years salary.”   He added, that if this request was denied “I have no desire to leave the Service.”

Wylde remained and in June 1870 finally received permission for three months paid leave. In July 1879 a card appeared in the Victoria Gazette advertising a career change.

“C.S. Wylde (late Revenue Officer, BC) Shipping Master and Custom House Broker. . .adjoining Police Barracks, Victoria”

Wylde was the last of the original Revenue Officers to leave the Customs Service. He died in 1892 at the age of 67.

After Confederation with Canada, and now under Federal purview, Hamley was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny endured by his officers in times past. In the first full inspection in 1876, the auditor found, at all stations, distressing lapses in procedure, an  “informality of books kept and absence of information, or entries on file” and a “want of system”— faults he attributed to Collector Wymond O. Hamley.
“Even the out-port of New Westminster has not been furnished with any official form of books, and Mr Sub-Collector Lowe states that he has never received any instructions as to what books should be kept.”
An on-site audit revealed shortages of goods still on the books as in bond.
“In Mr Holbrook’s warehouse, four cases ale (three dozen each) and six cases of brandy. In Mr Brown’s warehouse, three chests of tea, three cases of old tom gin, six cases brandy. No explanation could be offered as to how or when these goods had been removed from the warehouse without any entry having been made; but it is, no doubt, due to the latitude allowed (not alone at New Westminster) to merchants. The owners expressed their readiness to make entries and pay duty.”

The report concluded that the officers in all branches of the service were honorable and ultimately cast no suspicion on them, but recommended that Chief Collector Hamley ought to institute a practise of more exact record-keeping and stringent reporting requirements.

Hamley retired in 1889 and died in 1907.


Northwest Boundary Commission officers’ quotes, American, from Letters from the 49th Parallel, and British, from CW Wilson, Mapping the Frontier.
Much early British correspondence can now be found online at Colonial Despatches
Some correspondence of Bevis, Begbie and Brew is in FW Howay, The Early History of the Fraser River Mines, now online at
Other colonial correspondence is from letters held by the BC Archives

The British Columbia Historical Quarterly (BCHQ) is the best source for early BC history. Search all articles for various personalities and subjects at  Quotes from Arthur Bushby are from “The journal of Arthur Thomas Bushby, 1858-1859,” ed. Dorothy Blakey Smith, BCHQ 1957-1958  Anything by DB Smith is a treat.  See also “First Capital” on the choice of Queenborough vs Derby and also “First Impressions” a letter of Col Moody.  On revenue officers experiences see Hester E. White, “John Carmichael Haynes,” BCHQ 1940.
The long quote about Capt Murray is from Norman R Hacking, see “Steamboating on the Fraser in the ‘sixties,” BCHQ 1946 amd “Steamboat Round the Bend – American Steamers on the Fraser River in 1858” BCHQ 1944
Quotes from Robert Burnaby are from the book Land of promise – Robert Burnaby’s letters from colonial British Columbia, 1858-1863.
Colonel Moody and Queenborough quotes see Laura Elaine Scott “The imposition of British culture as portrayed in the New Westminster capital plan of 1859 to 1862”
Quote about Rock Creek is from WW Walkem, Stories of early British Columbia.
Quote from JV Woolsey is in WED Halliday, “Posts in Vancouver Island and British Columbia Before Confederation,” BNA Topics, Oct/1958.
A description (only) of early British Columbia newspapers is found at
The British Colonist newspaper is now online at
For Washington State digital newspapers search at
For California digital newspapers search at
For a select number of books which have been chosen by librarians as pertinent to British Columbia or New Westminster history see the library catalogues of the New Westminster Public Library and Douglas College
For the later career of WH Bevis see Sessional Papers of the Parliament of Canada; A history of Fisgard Lighthouse and the West Coast Lighthouse System to 1920, by Susan M. Lambeth and Susanne L. Jeune; and Keepers of the Light: A History of British Columbia’s Lighthouses and Their Keepers, by Donald Graham.


Brigantine RECOVERY — Revenue Vessel of the Fraser River

August 24, 2010

Without the little Recovery we should not have been allowed, I believe, to call the Fraser River our own.” —Correspondent of The Times,  London, 1858

The brig Recovery was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading ship leased by Governor Douglas in the gold rush summer of ’58 for service as a Revenue vessel in Fraser River.

She played a strategic role in concert with vessels under the command of Captain Prevost of the British Navy,  and as she was leased by the civil authority here, and later owned by the government of British Columbia, and with her Captain Mitchell appointed by the Governor in command of British sailors, she could rightly be seen as constituting a specifically British Columbian Navy.

The Recovery augmented the deployment of the HMS Satellite and her launches, and the HMS Plumper, whose presence in the Fraser River, as acknowledged by Captain Prevost, RN, was

“for the purpose of preserving the territorial rights of the Crown, and of issuing Licences to the miners who were daily flocking to the mines.”

The Recovery was originally called the Orbit, and had been on the west coast since 1849, bringing out a party of fortune seekers from the eastern seaboard to the California goldfields.

Launched in 1846, the Orbit was described as an “American Baltimore clipper-built brig,” 90 feet in length, with a 22 foot beam. She was registered at 154 tons, and at 200 tons fully laden drew just 6 1/2 feet of water, adaptable to river and ocean alike.

On her arrival at Sutter on the Sacramento River, in July 1849, her partners dispersed to the mines, and her contents were sold off under the agency of California pioneer George McKinstry Jr.

She was acquired by a party of four founding settlers of Washington Territory—IN Ebey, BF Shaw, ET Sylvester and S Jackson—who departed California in November for Budd Inlet at the head of Puget’s Sound, making her the first American vessel to journey there.

On arrival at Olympia, her new owners again had no further use for her and she was sold on to MT Simmons who sent her back to San Francisco with a load of spars, opening up the lumber trade from Puget Sound.

Her voyages were extended to British territory in February 1851, when Dr Tolmie of Nisqually arranged with Capt Simmons to employ the Orbit in carrying sheep to Victoria.

The Orbit was wrecked once on the Columbia Bar and claimed for salvage. Fixed up, she was engaged in transporting lumber and shingles to Hawaii when, in January of 1852, she was partially wrecked by a gale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, driven on to the rocks at Esquimalt, with loss of her rudder and otherwise damaged, and all but written off.

It was an opportune moment for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which had just lost the brig Una returning from gold explorations in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Broken up in the same storm that wrecked the Orbit, the Una had been plundered and burnt to the water by the Cape Flattery Indians. Captain William Mitchell had barely escaped with his life; the native wife of HBC Trader Dr JF Kennedy was stabbed.

The HBC bought the Orbit, refitted her, and renamed her Recovery. She was immediately taken by Captain Mitchell up to the west coast of Moresby Island, where she anchored at Gold Harbour (Mitchell Inlet) in March 1852.  The Fort Simpson journal noted her presence there with optimism.

“We were most pleased to hear that all our friends to the south were well, and that the Recovery, one of our vessels, had gone to Queen Charlotte Island to hunt for and obtain gold. Captains Mitchell and [CE] Stuart and Dr Kennedy were the superior officers of the party, in all forty souls.”

The Recovery was soon joined by two American vessels, the Tepic and the Susan Sturgis, with six more expected. Finding there was no more gold to be found, the Americans soon departed.

The Recovery remained at Moresby Island until May, afterward serving as a trading vessel for the HBC.

[Informative accounts of the Queen Charlotte gold expeditions are given by RJ Staines and by Capt Kuper at

In the first week of October 1852 she was loaded with 130 tons of coal, in barrels, from the new mine at Nanaimo, her departure for California opening up the export market.

In December, under tow of the steamship Beaver, the Recovery took up miners and mine machinery.

In January of 1853, under the command of Governor James Douglas, she was towed up Vancouver Island with a force of marines on board from the warship Thetis, to capture the murderers of a HBC shepherd, and in March she was once again taken up by the steamship Beaver to serve as a guard-ship at the coal mines.

Marine notices in newspapers around the Pacific recorded her trading missions on a regular route that included stops in San Francisco, Victoria and Honolulu. She carried barrels of salted salmon and cranberries from Fort Langley to the Sandwich Islands.

San Francisco November 16, 1853—“Br[itish] brig Recovery, [Capt] Mitchell, 26 days from Vancouver’s Island.”

On November 27th, 1854 the Recovery arrived with the steamer Beaver at Nanaimo, carrying Staffordshire coal miners and their families, ex Princess Royal. She also the same year took over the outfit from Victoria to Fort Langley, supplies which included 3,610 pounds of brown sugar.

Honolulu, Sept 30, 1856—“Br brig Recovery, Mitchell, 154 tns, 30 days from Vancouver’s Island.”

On May 3rd, 1858 she made what would be her last stop in Honolulu—“Br brig Recovery, Mitchell, fm Vancouver’s Island with ass’td cargo to HBCo.”

She departed May 13 for Victoria and on August 7th, 1858 Honolulu reported the “Brit brig Recovery, Mitchell, is now due from Victoria, VI.”

The Recovery never turned up, having been pressed into the Revenue Service on the Fraser River, in the gold rush summer of 1858.

Captain JC Prevost of the 21-gun HMS Satellite, in the service of the Boundary Commission, had recognized the prevailing state of emergency in Fraser River with the influx of miners and foreign vessels, and he positioned his own ship at the entrance to Fraser River to protect British sovereignty and police marine traffic into the gold district.

The launch and gig of the Satellite were deployed to Point Colvile, opposite Westham Island, where they could watch both channels of the south arm of the river.

Neither position observed the North Arm of the river.

Captain Prevost reported to the Governor the necessity for a more permanent force to regulate trade on the river.

“To ensure the carrying out of the [Customs] Proclamation, and to maintain the Revenue Laws, it is necessary that a much larger and better qualified Revenue Force be established than that at present employed.
I would respectfully suggest that a small vessel should be stationed at about the point where the north Channel enters the main stream of Fraser’s River.
She should be in charge of experienced and intelligent Revenue Officers, and should be supplied with two or more good whale boats.
This point effectually commands the passage of the River, and all boats ascending could be easily boarded.
If a display of greater force should be considered requisite, a mud battery with two small guns could be placed in a most commanding position on the right bank of the river.”

The point where the channels of the river become one stream is the site of the present city of New Westminster.

It would take some months to put this strategy fully into effect, and in the meantime the Governor commandeered the services of the HBC brig Recovery.

Prevost acknowledged Governor Douglas’s orders of July 23rd, 1858, issued to Captain William Mitchell of the Recovery:

“directing him to place himself under my orders and sanction—with the object of having that vessel fitted without delay for service as a Revenue Vessel in Fraser’s River, and requesting that I provide from Her Majesty’s Ship Satellite a sufficient force of officers and men to protect the Revenue Officers in the discharge of their duty, and strictly to enforce the Revenue Laws in Fraser’s River.”

Captain Prevost suggested to the Governor that Captain Mitchell, a civilian, ought to be assigned elsewhere to save him from the uncomfortable position of having to take orders, on his own vessel, from Naval Officers his junior in rank.

With astute discretion Governor Douglas appointed Captain William Mitchell of the Recovery a Revenue Officer for the lower Fraser.

A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, “Willie” Mitchell was 57 and had been employed on the Northwest coast 21 years as Captain and Trader in HBC ships, including the barque Vancouver, the brigantine Una, and the schooner Cadboro, sailing between the Columbia River, Puget’s Sound, Fraser River and as far north as Sitka and out to Honolulu. He had been a Master Mariner seven years.

A contingent of 30 men from the Satellite were assigned to the Recovery, under Lieutenant Richard Roche, Assistant Surgeon Peter William Wallace, MD and Midshipman Henry St Vincent Jenkings.

Also assigned to the Recovery was the gold district Revenue Officer Richard Hicks, delaying his departure for Yale by some four weeks.

The Recovery sailed up to the point where the Fraser River becomes one stream and there set anchor.

At times when the naval ships Satellite and Plumper returned to their assignment with the Boundary Commission, the Recovery was the only vessel on duty between the mouth of the Fraser and the gold diggings.

In one of many reports from the region sent to newspapers around the world, a gold-seeker wrote that he left Victoria on August 3 and

“About 10 miles up, we passed the revenue brig Recovery lying at anchor, with the license collector and custom house officers aboard.”

A writer in the London Times would later pay homage to the role of the Recovery at this critical time.

“The Recovery is not a man-of-war, but a private vessel, belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company.  She has a revenue officer (a civilian) on board, and a complement of 30 sailors and marines from the Satellite, in charge of the second-lieutenant of the latter ship, Mr Roach, and two midshipmen. . .Without the little Recovery we should not have been allowed, I believe, to call the Fraser River our own.”

The Recovery was not a welcome sight to those travelling upstream, either “warping” their way slowly along the river bank, or steaming along in larger flat-bottom boats.  The Northern Light, the newspaper of Bellingham Bay, took umbrage at the measures taken to collect the tax.

“Fired At:  A gentleman just returned from Fort Langley informs us that a few days ago, as Mr Samuel McCullough, formerly of Sacramento, was ascending Fraser River with his side-wheel skiff, he was hailed from a British brig lying in those waters, and ordered to lie to.  Mr McCullough paid no attention to the command.  He was hailed a second time, and kept on his course, when a shot was fired across his bows—of course to frighten him.  This decided Mr McCullough to submit to the process of being fleeced out of the amount necessary to secure a ‘sufferance.’
Should the Hudson’s Bay Company shed one drop of American blood, during the prevalence of this gold excitement, we rather think the country will become too hot to hold it.”

Some miners, having spent all their ready cash on supplies, had nothing left to pay to the Revenue Service. An American report dated November 1858 observed—

“The brig Recovery, stationed in Fraser river as a gun boat, for collection of licences and duty, would not be inappropriately named Pawn Brokers’ Shop.  They have in instances where parties have had no money to pay the charge, taken guns, pistols, flour, bags of bean, &c.”

Richard Hicks’ statement to the Treasurer attests to the success of his duties while based on the Recovery. During the three weeks of August 1st to August 18th he collected $2850.00 on the sale of Mining Licenses at $5.00 per.  Sufferances issued amounted to another $660.00 and a further $15.00 came from the sale of Trading Licenses.

At times the demands of Governor Douglas upon the ship Satellite were stretching her Captain and crew to the limits.  Following the Governor’s request of August 20th for assistance in the Fraser Canyon following an “alarming collision between white miners and the native Indian tribes,” Prevost had to explain the limitations of his Naval Surveying crew as a land-based army.

“I conceive it my duty to represent to you, how utterly incapable any force I could supply from Her Majesty’s ship under my command, would be found, if required to act on the offensive.”

Even with “30 of the Crew being already on detached service protecting the Revenue Laws in Fraser’s River,” Prevost was willing to assist the Governor with an escort, including the services of the Assistant Surgeon of the Satellite, Dr P W Wallace, who was then stationed aboard the Recovery.

Governor Douglas departed Victoria late in the evening on August 30, 1858 accompanied by 22 Royal Marines under Lieut HS Jones of the Satellite, and 14 Royal Engineers, all under the command of newly arrived Major John S Hawkins, the British Boundary Commissioner in charge of the land survey of the 49th Parallel.

After stopping briefly at Point Roberts the next morning, the party proceeded up the Fraser until they came to the Recovery at her anchorage in mid-stream, watching the channels of the river, and drew alongside her.

The accompanying correspondent notes:

“We deliver to the Recovery something ‘for the comfort of the inner man;’ and we pick up Dr Wallace, the assistant surgeon of the Satellite, to accompany Major Hawkins’ military party—a happy exchange for us. The Governor transacts some business. Our party get three cheers that ‘make the welkin ring’ from the Recovery’s men, which we, of course, politely return and we start in the dusk, which soon changes to darkness.”

After spending the night at Fort Langley, Hawkins’ expedition continued up to the gold region, where Governor Douglas met with miners and found that the Indian war was an exaggeration.

In the first week of November 1858, the Recovery passed into the hands of the Royal Engineers and was anchored at Derby, where an advance contingent were sent to build barracks and prepare for the arrival of the Sappers and their families in the coming months.

Revenue enforcement was left in the hands of William Bevis at Fort Langley, who soon received assistance from an additional officer, Charles Wylde.

The brig was adapted to a brighouse with the arrival in early November of the prisoner Mathias Neil, charged with the death of William Hartwell in a shoot-out in a saloon at the forks of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. Neil was held until March, when he was tried in the new Barracks by Judge Begbie and a Jury.

The Royal Engineer carpenters had scarcely begun their work at Derby when, in the first week of 1859, they were called upon to quell an unrest at the gold diggings upriver.

Capt Parsons wrote to Gov Douglas to inform him that Colonel Moody, Judge Begbie, Capt Grant, Dr Mitchell, and 24 Royal Engineers had left

“to investigate some reported disturbances near Fort Yale.  I remain on board the ‘Recovery’ with 2 soldiers and 5 sick men to take charge of the ship, together with the stores and buildings on shore.”

Moody’s force would be augmented by Marines, seconded from the Satellite and Plumper.

John Frederick Mitchell, who accompanied this expedition, was the Assistant Surgeon of the HMS Ganges, the British flag ship which had arrived in Esquimalt on October 17th. Later in the spring, when the wives and children of the Royal Engineers arrived in British Columbia, they were housed at the barracks at Derby, under charge of Dr Mitchell, prior to the completion of their accommodation at Queenborough.

Three English businessmen—Bushby, Burnaby and Cochrane—had accompanied Moody’s party on the Beaver as far as Fort Langley, on the lookout for a site to establish a sawmill.   The Recovery being vacated by the Engineers who had gone upriver, Capt Parsons accommodated them on board. During their stay, on Jan 11, the cook shop on the Recovery caught fire, but no major damage occurred.

The Plumper came up the river in dramatic style, firing guns along the way.  She anchored just below the Fort and sent a party under Lieut Mayne to meet with Moody’s contingent at Hope.  The river was frozen up and steamers could not proceed.

In the Canyon the hostilities ended with Moody and the miner’s agitator Ned McGowan sharing a drink of champagne.

The Engineers completed their building at Derby and the Recovery was no longer needed there. By this time Col Moody had decided another site further downriver, called Queenborough, would better suit for a Military establishment and capital city for British Columbia. It was the place where Capt Prevost had proposed installing a mud battery and a couple of small guns—gateway to the main stream of the Fraser River.

Opposite the Camp, where once the Recovery was anchored to police passage upriver, a Revenue Station was built and occupied by a “Special Force for Revenue Service” under the command of Captain James Kirk.

On March 12, 1859 the Recovery was towed by a passing steamer downriver to Queenborough.  Judge Begbie and his clerk Arthur Bushby, who had been staying aboard the Recovery while holding Court at Derby, came down with her to pay a visit to Colonel Moody.

The Camp of the Royal Engineers was taking shape and a newspaper correspondent from Victoria observed—

“The Topographical Engineers mess on board the Recovery, an American built brig formerly used as a revenue vessel in the river, but which is now anchored a few feet off shore in front of His Excellency’s quarters.”

The Recovery was deemed superfluous once all the Engineers and their families were in barracks or houses.  She returned upriver to Langley.

Under the rules of apportionment, the value of fines and goods seized by Revenue Service  was divided equally, with HM Customs, the Governor, and the Seizer each getting a third, shown thus.

“1859 March 18 – Net Proceeds of a Boat Seized at Langley . . . $118.75
Her Majesty’s Customs . . . . . . $39.59
His Excellency Governor Douglas. . 39.58
Captain Mitchell ‘Recovery’. . . . 39.58”

Moody wrote to Douglas to inform Mr Dallas of the HBC that there was “no longer any necessity for the Brig Recovery, being retained here.”  Moody had a suggestion that the old brig might be put to use as a Light Ship at the mouth of the Fraser and suggested

“that she may be dropped down the river to this place, where I could make her of service, and there she could be fitted up with reference to her future destination at the sandheads.”

In May the Recovery, which was formerly leased from the HBC, was purchased by the Government and put at Moody’s disposal. Douglas noted that she could be moved to Queenborough without delay.

In apportioning his Expenditures, Colonel Moody officially recorded the Recovery as wholly a Military Expense:

“Rent of Brigantine Recovery > Used as a Temporary Barracks for the R.E. at Langley and Queenborough, hired by the Civil Authorities but occupied by R.E. on Navy ceasing to do the Revenue duty upon which she had been employed.”

Governor Douglas commissioned Captain Richards of the Plumper to assess the suitability of the Recovery as a Light Ship.  The Captain reported in the negative.

“It would in my opinion be worse than useless to put the Recovery there now with her own ground tackle for she would constantly come to destruction,” wrote Richards. He noted that any ship in the river, especially with the flood current, is constantly subjected to battering from large trees floating downstream, to the extent that, in the Plumper, such bumps in the night, and the consequent call for all hands on deck to free the ship from trees, were “keeping me awake.”   He suggested a more suitable firmly-anchored and well-built, bathtub-shaped vessel could be obtained cheaply in San Francisco.

In August the Recovery once again entered the Customs service. William Henry Bevis was ordered to bring her downriver from Langley. It would be his last official act with the Revenue Service. New Collector of Customs Wymond Hamley ordered the Recovery to be moored at the Custom House wharf at New Westminster, with Capt Kirk’s men on board. The Revenue Station on the opposite side of the river was shut down.  This would save money and enable the Revenue Service to better watch the comings and goings from the town.

On November 7, 1859, the Colonial Secretary wrote to Col Moody that

“Mr Hamley has been instructed to carry out a suggestion made by him for the erection…of a building for the accommodation of the Revenue Department hitherto lodged in the Recovery.”

In November the Recovery was sold into private hands.  Purchased by the Portland firm of Leonard & Green, the Recovery was given back her old name, Orbit.  She was first noticed again in marine reports February 29, 1860.

“Brig Orbit, Leonard, 5 das from Columbia River, lumber, to master.”

She resumed her trading career crisscrossing the Pacific between San Francisco, Northwest ports, Hawaii and the China coast, making regular stops at Hong Kong, the Siberian port of  Nicholaesfsky, Amoor, Kamchatka, and Hakodadi, Japan and Vancouver Island until,  in 1862, she was sold on  in Shanghai to the agent of an American firm newly established in Yokohama. Her Captain Obed Sherman remained on with the vessel.

EC Leonard recounted his last look at her as he passed out of Shanghai.

“Immediately after I sold her she left for her new home port and was with a number of other vessels lying at Woosung at the mouth of the river at anchor waiting for the weather to clear before starting out to run over to her new home port in Japan. Our steamer on her way out passed close by her. Her captain and crew (so long with me) were on deck to give a parting salute which passed between us. A few days after reaching Hong Kong, an American bark came in, partially dismasted, that was also lying at Woosung as I passed out, her captain told me that the following day he and the Orbit went out in company and when both were fairly out in the Yellow Sea a typhoon struck them, with which they had a hard battle; his ship was partially dismasted, but he reached Hong Kong. He said the brig, which he watched from time to time as they were near together, and as far as he could see she also rode out all right, making ‘better weather’ than he did, but alas, this was the last authentic news that ever came back to me or to any one of the fate of her. Captain Sherman, his wife who went with him on his last voyage, the crew of six men, cook and boy, all went down. About a month after I reached Portland a bark arrived from Japan bringing me the sad news that she never reached her destination.”

The Daily Colonist reported at Victoria:

“The brig ‘Orbit,’ lately lost in the China Sea, was formerly the Hudson Bay Company’s trading vessel, ‘Recovery.’ She was stationed at the mouth of the Fraser as a kind of portable custom house, in 1858, and her officers used to overhaul miner’s canoes and make them shell out the $5 license before they permitted them to enter the country.”

On January 14, 1876 Captain William Mitchell, one time master of the Recovery and Revenue Officer  of ’58, died aged 74. He was eulogized for his popularity, his cheerfulness and his kindness. Walbran called him “a generous good-hearted sailor who utterly despised anything small or mean.” In 1877, there was installed “a handsome monument over the old navigator’s tomb.”


The Orbit was launched October, 1846.
The Orbit sailed from New York on Jan 13, 1849 with 35 passengers and a crew of 10, rounded Cape Horn and arrived at San Francisco July 23, 1849 after a voyage of 190 days, with 26 passengers declared.

A list of the 35 adventurers from Hudson, NY, who in 1848 subscribed $500 each to purchase and outfit the Orbit and journey to California in January 1849.

Captain Francis (Frank) Best
John N Best
John Ward Penoyer
Derrick H Plass
Abner P Norton
Frederick Reynolds
George W Garretson
Peter L Traver
Henry Van Dyck
John G Chapman
John D Jessup
M D Curtis
Walter Dorchester
Frederick E Stowe
Jesse Squire
Edmund Waldorph
Charles Pierson
George Parton
Edmund Hatfield
Charles C Massey
Jeremiah Race
Edward C Coffin
Ira Buckman Jr
Thomas Newell
Benjamin F Harder
F Hogeboom
George Jerome
Marshall Coventry
Hiram L Loop
Norman Jacobie
John R Chapman
Charles C Penfield
Robert H McClellan
Ardent J Van Dyke
Morris Ten Eyck