Californians were singing “British Columbia here I come” on April 4, 1858. A Pacific mail steamer had arrived at San Francisco the day before, bringing the news that people in the Seattle area were rushing for the Thompson River where gold had been found. Mills were closing down and soldiers and sailors were deserting.
Thousands who had taken part in the California gold rush packed their bags and headed north. Some sailed for ports in Puget Sound and tried to get to British Columbia by trekking through the State of Washington. This was dangerous because the Indians in the interior were on the warpath.
Most of the Californians took ships to Victoria. The first to arrive was a wooden paddle-wheeler. Victorians wondered what was going to happen as the Commodore unloaded hordes of men, wearing red flannel shirts and carrying spades and firearms. Instead of being the “dregs of society,” as expected, they turned out to be well-behaved, with money to spend.
Although most of the newcomers crossed to the mainland, many others stayed in Victoria to set up businesses. Six weeks after their arrival, Victoria had 225 new buildings, of which 200 were stores. Building sites along the harbour front rose in value from $50 to as much as $3,000.
By the first of June, 10,000 miners had gone up the Fraser River, the total reaching 25,000 by the end of the year. The first gold was found on a sandbar near Hope; the river was productive from that viewpoint to Yale. The best return was about $50 a day.
The great problem was to keep order. If the miners began fighting among themselves, or if the Indians attacked them, Governor Douglas knew that the States would send in troops “to protect our nationals,” and would almost certainly absorb British Columbia. Douglas did keep order and was helped by a remarkable man, Judge Begbie. (see my post on November 19 at https://tkmorin.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/a-government-on-horseback/)
- And The Lion – See It Cowers (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Barkerville: History and New Gold (BRKRVL Prt 6) (habitualrunaway.wordpress.com)