Considering Gum Shan

Document 1: Douglas to the Duke of Newcastle

Source: Further Papers Relative to the Affairs of British Columbia, Part IV, (London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 1862), 4-6.
Copy of DESPATCH from Governor Douglas, C.B., to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle.
Victoria, Vancouver Island, April 23, 1860.
(Received July 11, 1860.)
(Answered, No. 36, June 26, 1860, page 67.)

My Lord Duke,

I have the honour to inform your Grace that the winter has passed away without the occurrence of any extraordinary event in British Columbia.

2. The season has been comparatively mild, and the miners residing in the various inland districts have been abundantly provided with food and with home-grown vegetables in small quantities, which have had the effect of checking the ravages of scurvy, by which the health of many of those laborious men was seriously impaired in the winter of 1858.

3. Very satisfactory reports have been lately received from all the mining districts of the country; on these, however, strict reliance cannot always be placed, though in the present instance they are corroborated by heavy arrivals of gold dust, both in the hands of miners and of the exporting companies.

4. The roads leading into the country from Hope and Yale have, in consequence of the great depth of snow in the mountain passes, been impassable since the beginning of winter to any other mode of transport than by Indian packers, who, with singular force and power of endurance, toil through the mountain trails at that trying season with loads of 100 lbs. each; but that mode of transport is not even attempted in winter by the Hope trail, which is hermetically sealed to travel from the interior, between the months of October and June; yet these two trails may, I believe, be made available for winter [travel], by evading the precipitous hills over which they pass, and carrying the line of road by easy grades through the deep valleys. The transport might then be carried on during the winter by means of sleighs drawn by horses, as it is evident that the depth of snow would not form in itself an insuperable obstacle, provided the precipitous ascents, which constitute the real difficulty of the road, could be avoided.

5. Much attention has been directed to the exploration of those difficult routes, and we have ascertained the feasibility of running an easy graded line of road from Yale to Lytton; and I am daily expecting a report from a surveying party employed at Hope, in examining, with a similar object in view, the passes leading from that place to the “Shimilkomeen” Valley. These routes may, without exaggeration, be severally compared to the passage of the Alps. It is, however, a great satisfaction to know that the country beyond the mountains is generally level and of easy access.

6. The great outlet of British Columbia continues to be by the Harrison River trail, and that fortunately has been uninterruptedly open during the whole winter, and large stocks of food have been accumulated at its further terminus near Cayoosh, in anticipation of the influx of miners for the Upper Fraser. The price of food is in consequence of that abundance comparatively low, the last quotations being 8d. per lb. for flour and beans at Lytton, and 11d. at Cayoosh, and at both places bacon is quoted at 14d. per lb. The improvement in the condition of the miner is very great, as he can live substantially for 1 1/2 dollars per diem, instead of 3 or 4 dollars; and many claims are now workable at a profit which could not afford the miner any support last year.

7. A detachment of 80 Royal Engineer’s, under the command of Captain Grant, has been employed since the beginning of March embanking the shoals near the mouth of the Harrison River, for the purpose of deepening the channel, which is now impassable in winter for the lightest steamer, and there is every reason to believe that the work will be brought to a successful termination.

8. The same detachment of Royal Engineers will shortly proceed to resume work on the waggon [sic.] road from Douglas, which it is expected they will complete in a few weeks as far as the 10-mile house; from that point a party of civilian labourers have undertaken a section of six miles of the road, for which they are to receive the sum of 550l.per mile. This will carry the road to the l6-mile house, where the Royal Engineers will recommence operations, and probably complete the next 12 miles, that is, to the 28-mile house, situated on the smaller Lilloett Lake, before the end of summer.

9. We propose to use that and the larger Lilloett Lake as a water communication, connecting them by means of a good waggon [sic.] road 1 1/4 miles in length, which is already made and in use. The application of some enterprising settlers to run a steamer, without any special privilege, on the larger Lilloett Lake has been granted, which will greatly facilitate transport. An excellent mule trail, 30 miles in length, with substantial bridges over all the rivers, connects the larger Lilloett Lake with Lake Anderson, beyond which the route to Cayoosh offers no very serious difficulties to engineering enterprise.

10. Two stern-wheel steamers, intended to ply on Lakes Anderson and Seaton, are nearly completed by an association of settlers, who at much labour and expense packed the engines and boilers from Douglas over the Harrison road. To give an idea of the difficulty of the undertaking, I may mention that the boilers, being too heavy to carry on mules were rolled over the trail, as far as the 28-mile house, in five sections. Serious difficulties of that kind will not be felt when the waggon [sic.] road is made, and the facility of communication will, I have no doubt, give a prodigious impulse to industry and to the rapid development of the resources of the country, as all kinds of machinery required to assist the operations of the gold miner may then be imported.

11. I have received advices from Lytton up to the 6th of this month (April). Commissioner Ball reports that the mining season had commenced, and that the miners who had migrated to the lower country for the winter were fast returning to their old claims on the benches of Fraser River, but the great majority of those hardy wanderers were making their way towards Quesnel River, where it is confidently expected rich hill diggings will be found.

12. A great number of Chinese miners were also arriving and taking up mining claims on the River Bars, in the Lytton district, who are reputed to be remarkably suquiet and orderly. Mr. Ball’s report refers to no other subject of general interest.

13. The prevailing impression respecting the great auriferous wealth of the district about Alexandria and the Quesnel River will have the effect of attracting a large population to that distant quarter, and I shall consequently be under the necessity of appointing a magistrate and a small body of police to remain there for the purpose of maintaining the peace of the country, and preventing conflicts among the miners and with the Indian tribes.

14. The last intelligence from the Shimilkomeen River is not so favourable as before reported. I perceive by the Oregon papers that many persons who had gone there for the purpose of mining had been unsuccessful. It is stated in those papers that 20 or 30 miners only were making from 8 to 10 dollars per day, while the others engaged in the same occupation were not paying expenses. That is, I conceive, but the usual and silly outcry of the idler and the visionary, and does not in the least shake my opinion in regard to the auriferous nature of the country, founded on its geological character, and further strengthened by the report of Lieut. Park, a highly scientific member of the American Boundary Conunission, who entertains a similar belief in the auriferous character of that district, and in the existence of extensive placer diggings. Should a large population assemble there, the attention of Government will have to be directed towards it, and a police force employed to maintain the peace. I shall use every exertion to connect the Shimilkomeen with Fort Hope by means of a convenient road, with the important object in view of making Fraser River, instead of the Columbia, the outlet of its trade.

15. British Columbia is becoming highly attractive to the Chinese, who are arriving in great numbers, about 2,000 having entered Fraser River since the beginning of the year, and many more are expected from California and China. They are certainly not a desirable class of people, as a permanent population, but are for the present useful as labourers, and, as consumers, of a revenue-paying character. I have therefore protected them from the payment of differential duties not equally borne by other classes of the population.

16. I have received advices from Commissioner Sanders of Yale district up to the 14th instant (April). He describes the migration of miners for the upper country as being very general, and expresses a fear that the feeling in Favour of Quesnel River may lead to the depopulation of the Yale district.

17. In a previous passage of this report I stated that we had ascertained the feasibility of running a line of road by easy grades the whole way from Yale to Lytton, which would avoid the lofty passes, and be accessible in winter for pack mules, and not like the present trail, rendered valueless for five months in the year by an impassable depth of snow.

With reference to that enterprise which I proposed to undertake, Mr. Sanders complains of the character of the population. His remarks on the subject are as follows: “There is very little probability of any person in Yale or its neighbourhood tendering for the construction of the projected mule trail ; the proposed part payment in land is very far from being an inducement; in fact, it is generally objected to; an arrangement of that nature might possibly be acceptable to British subjects, but would naturally be objectionable to aliens, and unfortunately the population of this Colony is almost “without exception foreign.”

We shall, nevertheless, commence that undertaking as soon as a small body of the
Royal Engineers can be spared without detriment to other important work.

I have, &c.
(Signed) JAMES DOUGLAS.