Tag Archives: 1850

Labour of Love

English: Photograph of Robert Campbell

Photograph of Robert Campbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the little-known but amazing characters of Canadian history was Robert Campbell, a Hudson’s Bay Company factor.  Among many exploits, he travelled 15,610 km (9,700 miles) to get married, although he didn’t know who the girl would be.  4,828 km (3,000 miles) of the journey were on snowshoes!

Robert Campbell came from Perthshire, Scotland, and arrived at Red River in September 1830.  One of his first jobs was to try to get some sheep from Kentucky.  His party travelled more than 2,414 km (1,500 miles) before they were able to buy 1,370 sheep and lambs.  Then they had to drive them overland to the Red River.  It took four months to reach Red River and only 251 sheep survived the journey.

By 1850, Robert Campbell had become Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and had been in the Yukon for twenty-seven years.  There is a bit of confusion about who decided that he should get married.  One version is that the head office in London made the suggestion and offered to send him a bride.  The other is that Campbell said he wanted to come out to get married, and rejected the mail-order offer.

He set out from White River in the Yukon on September 6, 1852, ascended the Pelly River, crossed the mountains to the Liard, and arrived at Fort Simpson on October 21.  A typical entry from his diary says:

“Breakfasted on Little River.  Left our Indians far in the rear and came up to party that had preceded us.  Camped on a small river with a few willows to make a fire.  They had killed a deer of which we had the head for supper.”

Actually Campbell ate anything he could get, even squirrels and skunks.

From Fort Simpson he travelled on snowshoes over frozen Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabaska, and Ile à la Crosse to Carlton House.   Then he went on to Fort Pelly, Fort Garry, Pembina, Crow Wing, Minnesota, and Chicago.  When he arrived in Scotland he had travelled continuously for 15,610 km(9,700 miles).

After all this labour for love, the girl he chose as his bride was too young, and they had to wait for six years until she journeyed 9,656 km (6,000 miles) to meet him in Canada!

Update:  For those who have expressed curiosity, here are the details.  Elleonara C. Stirling was born on December 3, 1837.  On August 5, 1859, Stirling and Campbell married, at the Norway House in Manitoba.  She was 22 years young, and he was 51 years old!  They remained together until her death on February 22, 1899, at age 62, from chronic bronchitis.

There is an article about Robert Campbell at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.


Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Longer Entries, October, On This Day, postaday, September


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Lady Franklin’s Rock

English: Graves of the dead crewman from the 1...

English: Graves of the dead crewman from the 1845 Franklin Northwest Passage expedition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are few more dramatic stories in Canadian history than the account of Sir John Franklin‘s death in the Arctic on June 11, 1847.  His expedition to discover the Northwest Passage sailed from Britain in May, 1845.  His ships, the Terror and Erebus, were last seen at the entrance to Lancaster Sound in July.  It took fourteen years of searching by many expeditions before it was learned what had happened.  A record was found in a cairn at Point Victory giving the history of the expedition until April 25, 1848.

After spending the winter of 1845-1846 at Beechey Island, North Devon, the expedition reached the west side of Cornwallis Island and followed a route that had been especially assigned before Franklin had left Britain.  He navigated Peel and Franklin Straits southward, but had been stopped by ice coming down McClintock Channel.  The ships were ice-bound on September 12, 1846.  Franklin died the following June.  By that time, the death toll of the expedition was 9 officers and 15 men of the total of 129 who had sailed from Britain.

The survivors stayed in the Erebus and Terror until April 22, 1848, when it was decided to trek overland to Back’s Fish River.  Not a single man survived.  Eskimos saw them trying to make their way over the ice, but said they died as they walked.

At one stage of Franklin’s career, he had been Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania, where British convicts were sent.  When he was lost, the colony gave Lady Franklin £7,000 to finance a search.  She not only sent out expeditions but went on one herself.  It tried to get to the Arctic by going up the Fraser River from the Pacific, but was stopped at what is now known as “Lady Franklin’s Rock.”

The record found at Point Victory included the information that Franklin had discovered a channel leading south along the west of North Somerset, discovered by Parry in 1819.  Franklin knew he could reach the Bering Sea through it, the long-sought Northwest Passage. Discovery of the Passage, however, was officially credited to Captain McClure who charted it when searching for Franklin in 1850.  His was only one of forty expeditions sent during the fourteen-year search.

Some of you will certainly want to learn more than what’s in this post, so I can suggest a few sites. You can begin with Sir John Franklin Was Here – it’s a real treat! Then, there’s The Canadian Encyclopedia  for a complete look at Franklin’s life and legacy. Another very interesting site, I suggest visiting Elisha Kent Kane Historical Society written by Russell A. Potter, Ph.D.. I found another good article at Canadian Geographic. Of course, another source that you can always depend on is CBC!


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Panama Canal

A schematic of the Panama Canal, illustrating ...

A schematic of the Panama Canal, illustrating the sequence of locks and passages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was on April 19, 1850, that Britain and the United States signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to build the Panama Canal as a joint venture.  Later the States decided to go it alone.  Great Britain withdrew, accepting the promise that the canal would be open to the ships of all nations, at equal rates.

You might ask what the building of the Panama Canal had to do with Canada, but there are some interesting sidelights.

In the first place, Panama might easily have been called Nova Scotia.  After Scotland and England united in 1707 (after this date it is correct to use the term Britain rather than England), the people of Scotland had better opportunities to migrate.  One group decided to go to Panama and develop a colony called New Scotland (Nova Scotia).  It was a failure for the same reasons that caused Napoleon to abandon his plan to recapture Canada for France years later.  The natives and the mosquitoes were too fierce, even for Scotsmen! Samuel Vetch, a Scotsman who went to live in Boston, interested the British government in a plan to capture Acadia from France. Eventually he became Governor of Nova Scotia as we know it, with its capital at Annapolis Royal, formerly Port Royal.

Britain’s agreeing to withdraw from ownership of the Panama Canal also had a bearing on the unfortunate agreement made in 1905, establishing the Alaska boundary.  The British government thought that as it had given way to the United States on the Panama Canal question, the Americans would be willing to compromise on the boundary between Canada and Alaska, then in dispute. This was not the case (See my March 25 post –Boundary Established), and the Panama Canal Museum.

In fairness, it must be said that the building of the Panama Canal was a great help to the development of British Columbia. Ships sailing to and from British Columbian ports carrying the trade of western Canada have never been prevented from using the Panama Canal, thus saving themselves the long journey around South America.

So, as you can see, there are many aspects of the Panama Canal. One site that has info about this is US History (but just a warning: there are annoying ads there, but worth visiting nonetheless); there’s also the Encyclopedia Britannica ; if you are interested in trivia, I suggest Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Museum.


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Blanshard Arrives to Govern Vancouver Island

Richard Blanshard, Governor of Vancouver Islan...

Richard Blanshard, Governor of Vancouver Island, 1849-1851 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Blanshard is the name of an important street in Victoria.  It commemorates Richard Blanshard, the first Governor of Vancouver Island which was made a British colony in 1849.  Previously it had been governed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Richard Blanshard must have been one of the most disappointed  men who ever came to Canada.  He was a London merchant who had spent some time in the West Indies and India, and became ambitious to make a name for himself in the British diplomatic service.  When Vancouver Island became a colony, he applied for the job of governor, even though it meant serving without pay.  There was some talk in London, though, that he would be given a beautiful mansion and an estate of 1,000 acres with beautiful lawns and gardens.

His chagrin can be imagined when he stepped on shore from H.M.S. Driver on March 11, 1850, and read the proclamation establishing the new colony with himself as  governor.  It was a dreary day, mixed with rain and snow.  The only estate available for Blanshard was 1,000 acres of unclear land  which he was expected to develop at this own expense.  There wasn’t a place for him to live on shore, let alone a mansion and he had to go back to the ship.

In one of his first letters to the Colonial Office, he complained that there were only three other settlers on the island.  One of them, Captain Colquhon Grant, had arrived the previous year with coaches and carriages, only to learn that there were no roads.  He also brought equipment  for playing cricket, which requires a smoother surface than a baseball diamond!

Blanshard only lasted until November when he resigned.  James Douglas, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s  Bay Company, was appointed governor in his place.  It was a good thing, because Douglas had seen the United States take over Oregon and knew the steps that had to be taken to keep British Columbia from annexation.

Did I whet your appetite?  To read more about this, there are a few good sites to visit.  The first I’d recommend is Birds of a Feather – Victoria B & B’s History of Victoria and Vancouver Island; then you can head on to Google Docto read Bob Reid’s extensive article about The Colony of Vancouver Island 1849-1855; there’s a bit about Fort Victoria at The Canadian Encyclopedia; Richard Blanshard at Wikipedia, also at Wikipedia, there’s more information about the Colony at Vancouver Island.

Happy hunting, everyone — there’s a lot more out there!



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