Roderick Finlayson

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Roderick Finlayson (1818-1891) - Born 16 Mar 1818, Lock Alsh, Scotland. Died 20 Jun 1892, Victoria, BC.

Roderick Finlayson


I, Roderick Finlayson, now (1891) of Victoria, Vancouver Island, was born in the year 1818, in Ross-shire, North Britain, and educated there, the son of a sheep and other stock farmer in the same county.

Sailed from Glasgow for New York in a passenger sailing ship, in July 1837, reached New York after a tedious passage of forty days, early in September. New York was then not much larger than Victoria is now, business depressed, money scarce, the principal currency being small paper notes from a quarter of a dollar upwards, which could not be exchanged for coin except at a heavy discount.

At New York I accidentally met a kind relative, by whose influence I received an appointment in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in Canada, took passage in a steamer up the Hudson River to Albany, thence by stage to Whiteshall, thence by boat on a canal, drawn by horses to Lake Champlain, where I took passage by steamer to St. John, and thence by the first Railway then in the Dominion to Laprairie, where I crossed the St. Lawrence by ferry to Montreal, from Montreal I took a caleche to Lachine on the St. Lawrence, the head office of the company, my destination.


Fort Coulonge

I was there employed at the desk for some time, when a vacancy took place at a station on the Ottawa River named Fort Coulonge and was directed to proceed thither in a birch bark canoe, with three men, passed the town of by-town on my way, now the City of Ottawa, which was then but a small place consisting of a saw mill with several small log cabins around occupied by the men employed, Both banks of the Ottawa River were then thickly wooded with clearances in some places formed by the early settlers thus hewing farms for themselves out of the thick forest. Reached my destination safely after hard work paddling our canoe up stream, I was placed in a store to trade with the natives and lumbermen there on the river, and thus initiated into the mode of trade carried on by the company. I remained at this station (Fort Coulonge) during the winter of 1837-1838 and the country being then in a state of rebellion with lawless people roaming about the country.

Fort William

I was appointed in the summer of 1838 to the charge of Fort William, another station belonging to the company, farther up the Ottawa with twelve men. There I was one day attached by one of these brigands, when defending myself against him attempting to break into the store. I got badly hurt in the encounter but managed to keep him and others who joined him at bay until my men came to the rescue when the robbers escaped into the woods. After this until the end of the rebellion, the men at the company's station had to be drilled into the use of fire-arms, and kept on watch regularly night and day.

In the spring of 1839 I was directed by the Governor to hold myself in readiness at four hours notice to join a brigade of four large bark canoes on the way up from the Lachine, the head office with officers and men appointed to proceed to the Columbia district on the west of the Rocky Mountains, in order to take possession of part of the Russian territory on the North Pacific for trade purposes, that was leased from the Russian American Fur company, by the Hudson Bay company in London. I then had to leave Fort William with much regret, to a successor appointed, and joined the part for the West. We proceeded up the Ottawa with four large Birch bark canoes, the party consisting of forty men and officers to Lake Nipising, thence down the French River to Lake Huron, up Lake Huron to Lake Superior, along the north shore of which we paddled our way to what is now Port Arthur, changed our canoes here for smaller ones and pursued our way up the Kaministiquia River to the height of land, where the canoes and luggage had to be carried by the men until we reached the water leading into the Lake of the Woods, paddled our canoes through the lake to the River (Rainy River ) that falls into Lake Winnipeg, paddled along the North shore of Lake Winnipeg to Norway House, another station of the company's, on the north of the lake where we remained about a week. There we met a large number of officers and men from the Interior, with their annual collection of furs, bound for York Factory, there to deliver their furs and receive their annual outfits for the next year. From Norway House we continued our way down the river (Nelson) which leads to York Factory on Hudson's Bay, the head depot there, which we reached in due time, and where we remained about a fortnight, replenishing our stock of provisions etc, for the westward journey. Here I had a first view of the sea since leaving New York.

Having received our equipment for the western journey at this place, we parted with our friends at the Factory and left under the command of Dr. John McLoughlin then the Chief Factor in charge of the Columbia District, with many hearty cheers from our friends at the Factory, and proceeded up the river to Norway House again, here we exchanged our canoes for Bateaux, for navigating Lake Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan River, from Norway House we coasted along the north-west end of the Lake to the mouth of the Saskatchewan River, up which we proceeded, calling at the stations of Fort Carleton, Fort Pitt (1) and Edmonton on the river. At the last place the chief station of the Saskatchewan district, we left our Batteaux and took horses across the plains to the Athabasca River, to Fort Assiniboine (1), where we again took birch bark canoes and paddled up the Athabasca River to Jasper's House, in the rocky mountains. From this place we again took horses and crossed the Rocky Mountains to the head waters of the Columbia River where we found Batteaux again waiting for us, and passed down the Columbia river calling at Fort Colville, Okanagan, Walla Walla, stations belonging to the company, and reached Fort Vancouver on the Columbia, the head station of the company in the Columbia district, which we reached about the middle of November, being six months since I left Fort William on the Ottawa.

Fort Vancouver

Shortly after my arrival here I was placed in charge of a saw and grist mill, about five miles above the Fort, on the river, where I had a gang of twenty four men to look after at both mills and shipping lumber and spars in ships to the Sandwich Islands, Fort Vancouver being situated at the head of navigation for large ships coming up the river from sea. In the spring of 1840 the party to which I belonged left again in boats down the Columbia to the Cowlitz River, up which we ascended to a farm on the Cowlitz plain where we took horses to Nisqually, a fort at the head of Puget Sound kept there for the fur trade and sheep farming. At this place we found the steamer "Beaver" waiting for us, on board of which we took our passage along the coast, passing Vancouver Island on our left, the mountains of which appeared plain to the Westward. I little thought then when looking at the island that it would ultimately be my home. On the way north in the "Beaver" we called at Fort Langley, Fort McLoughlin, Fort Simpson, stations belonging to the company, the last of 54 degrees, the boundary between British and Russian territory. From Fort Simpson, we proceeded to Fort Stikeen, on e of the Russian Forts on the coast, which was manned by thirty two men and a gun brig for defence. According to agreement we took possession of Fort Stikeen, which the Russians evacuated and left us, an officer with eighteen men in charge, to carry on the trade, and defend themselves against the wold natives then on the coast. It was not my lot to remain here the, after settling matters at Fort Stikeen, the rest of the party under command of Chief Factor Douglas, proceeded in the "Beaver" to Sitka the head station of the Russian American company on the coast. Here matters were settled between Mr. Douglas and the Russian Governor at Sitka, we were received most cordially by the Russian officers, had a salute of nine guns fired in our honour by the ships of war in the harbour, which was returned from the "Beaver" Guns in grand style.

Fort Durham

After remaining about ten days at Sitka, settling various matters relative to our future trade with the Russian Company, the party left in the "Beaver" (having been saluted as before, and returned from the "Beaver") to the gulf of Taco and River, for the purpose of establishing a fort there for trading purposes, we ascended the river in boats for about thirty miles looking for a place to build, but found none on the river and selected a place about fifty miles, in a land locked harbour, where we built a fort on the usual plan, called it Fort Durham in honour of the Governor General of Canada. It took some time to build this fort and make it defensible against the War-like Indians in the vicinity. When it was considered a proper state for defence, with bastions erected at the angles of the stockade, a party was left to take possession consisting of eighteen men and two officers, of whom I was one, second in command. Mr. Douglas then left for the south in the "Beaver" when we were left to our own resources to make the best of our circumstances. It was now late in October and the Fort built on Taco Harbour, surrounded with high mountains as dismal a place as could possibly be imagined, the rain pouring down in torrents, adding to our other discomforts. The journal kept at this place showed rain and snow for nine months out of the twelve. We opened trade with the natives, a wild turbulent race, so that we only allowed a few of them to enter the fort gate for trade.

A few years before this an American vessel from Boston came to trade in the neighbourhood and had a quarrel with the natives in which a large number of them were killed, and supposing we were Americans they tried to take revenge for this by attempting to take the fort and murder us all. With this view a warrior attempted to force his way in at the gate, where a number of others were watching, the gate keeper, a sandwich islander did all he could to keep the man out, but failed, when I went to the rescue, having pistols in my belt and forced the fellow out, in doing so I was struck by a bludgeon and in the heat of passion I went outside the gate where I was laid hold of by a part of the wild savages and forced away to a distance from the gate, when I called out to pen blank cartridges from the cannonades in the bastion to frighten them. In the meantime I managed to get my back to a tree, drew my pistols from my belt and threatened to kill the first man that attempted to lay hold of me, my face was covered with blood and otherwise badly hurt. The firing from the bastion frightened the fellows off, so I was enabled to return to the Fort. After this we were besieged for several days, preparing ourselves for action, and the natives finding trade suspended, came to a parley, when it was arranged that on payment of the insult to me, who was not a Boston, as the Americans were called, explained to them, they agreed to pay in furs, a large bundle of which were brought as payment and accepted, peace declared and trade resumed. I then passed a dismal winter at Fort Durham.

Fort Stikeen

In the autumn of 1841 a young gentleman from England arrived in the ship taking our supplies, who took my place at Taco, when I was directed to proceed to Fort Stikeen (now Wrangle) and much pleased to be relieved of my duty at Taco. On reaching Fort Stikeen I was placed in the trade shop there which I found a much more pleasant place than Taco. From Fort Stikeen, in the spring of 1842 I was directed to go to Fort Simpson to relieve a clerk there who left on sick leave and placed in the trade shop there.

Fort Victoria

About this time it was found that the steamer "Beaver" with a trader on board could do all the trade carried on at Fort Durham and Stikeen, with that at Fort McLoughlin on Millbank Sound, so that it was decided at Headquarters to abandon this place, concentrate the forces there with the supplies and remove them to the South end of Vancouver Island, where a new fort was ordered to be built. I was in consequence removed from Fort Simpson, which I found a comfortable pleasant place, embarked on board the "Beaver" which with a schooner called the "Cadboro" had the Stikeen and Taco parties on board on the way south. In passing Millbank Sound, Fort McLoughlin was dismantled and its inhabitants taken on board. Mr. Douglas, (Late Sir James) had command of the whole party, we proceeded South and reached Victoria Harbour (selected in the spring as the Fort site) landed there on the 1st June 1843 and commenced building the fort with the forces from the abandoned stations, named, consisting of about 50 men and three officers, one of whom, a Mr. C. Ross, a trader, was appointed to the charge with myself as second in command, the "Beaver" and "Cadboro" remaining as guard vessels until the fort was built. The weather being fine and pleasant the operations of building went on rapidly with 50 men employed. At this time there was a dense forest along the water on the harbour and Camosun Inlet as the "Arm" was then called. Where the fort was built there was an open glade with oak trees of large size, where a space of 150 yards was measured off, each way when the Fort was built. The natives for some time after our arrival kept aloof and would not come near. Afterwards some of them came round gradually, and, finding them inclined to steal anything that could get a watch was kept night and day, while we lived in tents before houses could be built. The natives however, soon got rid of their shyness began to move from the village on Cadboro Bay and erect homes for themselves along the bank of the harbour as far as the present site of Johnson Street. Their houses consisted of wide cedar boards placed on poles stuck in the ground, with cross beams over which the boards were placed.

In the Autumn Mr. Goudlad left us taking the "Beaver and the "Cadboro" away, when he considered the place defensible. As second in command it became my duty to look after the men in building and thus became the pioneer builder of houses on the Island of Vancouver on civilised plans. After the fort was built, consisting of Cedar Pickets 18 feet high, round a space of 150 years square, with houses and stores within, and two large block houses, bastion at two angles armed with 9 pounder connonade blunderbusses, cutlasses & c, taken from the dismantled forts named, with ammunition, some of the men were employed clearing the land around to raise vegetables and cereals for the use of the place, in these operations we gradually got some of the young natives to assist paying them in goods and found them very useful as ox drivers in plowing the land. Horses and cattle were imported from the station at Nisqually, on Puget Sound, to enable us to open a farm here.

In the spring of 1844 poor Mr. Ross who was left in charge by Mr. Douglas was in poor health when he arrived here, and died much regretted, in March, and was buried in the old burying ground near the gully, on Johnson Street now. On the death of Mr. Ross being advised to Headquarters at Vancouver on the Colombia River, I was appointed to the charge of Victoria, with his son John Ross as my assistant. In 1844 matters went on for some time smoothly enough after Mr. Ross died, when it was found that the natives killed some of our oxen, feeding in open spaces. I then questioned the Songhees chief about this a demanded payment, as we could not allow our cattle to be killed in this way with impunity. He went away in a rage, assembled some Cowichan Indians to his village and the next move I found on their part was a shower of bullets fired at the fort, with a great noise and demonstration on the party of the crowd assembled, threatening death and devastation to all the whites. I had then to gather up our forces and man the bastions, and did not allow any of our men outside the fort until I could settle the matter with the Indians. Noticing the chiefs lodge the largest among the others I directed the interpreter, a half breed, to go outside, to pretend he had deserted from us, and to tell them as from himself that I was going to fire on the chiefs lodge and to see that all the inmates had left in order to prevent bloodshed, and to make a sign to me, at the same time watching matters from the bastion, by twisting his handkerchief round, that all was vacant which he did. I then fired a nine pounder with grape in, and pointed the gun to the lodge, which flew into the air in splinters like a bombshell, after which there was such a howling that I thought a number were killed, and was quite relieved when the interpreter came round and told me none were killed but much frightened, now knowing wed had such destructive arms. The Chief with some of his men, shortly after this, came to the gate and asked to see me, I went and assumed a war like attitude and mentioned that unless the cattle killed were paid for I would demolish all their huts and drive them from the place. The reply was that he would pay and asked the price, which was named and the next day payment in full in furs was made, when peace was restored and hand shaking took place. I mentioned to them through the interpreter that we came here to trade peaceably with them, and did not want war unless we were forced to, so ended this disagreeable affair. At this time I knew our gun would bring them to their senses, as they had no idea of their power. Had I permitted our men to fire on them the result would have been unfortunate. Some time after this the best of thick wood between the fort and Johnson Street in front of which the lodes were placed took fire and we had some difficulty in extinguishing it as it was gaining towards the fort, and this fire having been caused by the Indians I wanted them to remove to the other side of the harbour which they at first declined to do, saying the land was theirs, and after a great deal of angry parleying on both sides, it was agreed that if I allowed our men to assist them to remove they would go, to which I consented. This was the origin of the present Indian Reserve.

In the spring of 1845, a party of natives came from Bellingham Bay to trade with us, and traded a large quantity of furs, for which we game them the goods they wanted in exchange. On leaving the fort in their canoes, they were waylaid about Clover Point by a party of Songhees and robbed of their goods, after which they came back to the Fort and complained of their treatment and asked to be allowed to pass the night within the fort as they were afraid of their lives. This was a clear case in which I was bound to interfere to protect friendly Indians coming to trade with us. I then sent the interpreter to get them to restore the goods they took from these friendly Indians, as otherwise I would have to take action of their behalf, as they came to trade with us. After considering the matter for a time these robbers came to the fort and delivered up the goods, the Bellingham Bay Indians then left with their property, contented, and to prevent further trouble, sent a part of our men, armed to Trial Island, to see them safely homewards. Thus these wild savages were taught to respect British Justice. The Chief asked me one day what those iron balls were for, that he noticed at the Bastion. I told him if he would place an old canoe he did not want in the harbour, opposite the basin, he would see the use of them. He did so and I loaded one of our guns with one, pointed the gun at the old canoe in the harbour and fired, the ball going through and bounded to the opposite side. Now, said I, you can see what we can do with our guns, and iron balls, when we are attached, as you did before. In the spring of 1845 the barque Vancouver, on e of the company's ships, sailed into the harbour direct from England, with our goods, being the first of the company's vessels which came direct here, having been ordered here, as it was the company's intention gradually to make this the head depot and remove from the Columbia river, as the Americans claimed that country. In the summer of this year H.M. Frigate America, Captain. Hon. John Gordon, arrived off the harbour and sent one of his boats for me to go on board, which I did, and asked where he could anchor. I mentioned Esquimalt Harbour, to which he objected as it was not on the chart as a harbour. He then proceeded to Port Discovery, on the other side of the Straits taking me along with him, after I had make arrangements with my second in command to take charge of the fort until my return. At Port Discovery we sent two of his officers with a boat crew to the head of Puget Sound with directions for them to proceed to the Columbia River, and to give a full report of the country on their return. After this he ordered his long boat manned, in which he crossed the straits with some of his officers, taking me along with him to Victoria, where he remained for about two weeks, until the party from Columbia returned. Here we made several excursions in the district on horseback, and in the vicinity of Cedar Hill fell in with a band of Deer, which we pursued until they got into a thicket and were thus disappointed in the hunt. Captain. Gordon, being a noted deer stalker in the Scottish Highlands, got much disappointed at not getting the deer, and our return riding through an open fine country, with the native grass up to the horses knees, I happened to make the remark, "What a fine country this is" to which he replied that he "would not give one of the barren hills of Scotland for all he saw round him. Another day he was preparing his fishing rod to fish for salmon with a fly, when I told him the Salmon would not take the fly, but were fished here with a bait. I then prepared fishing tackle with bait for him, after which we went in a boat to the mouth of the harbour and fished several fine salmon with the bait. His exclamation on his return was: "What a country, where the salmon will not take the fly.: I may here mention that Captain Gordon was the brother of the Earl of Aberdeen, then Prime Minister of England, and that his mission here was to examine and give a report of the country both here and on the other side of the straits.

In consequence of an agreement entered into several years before by the Hudson Bay Company and the Russian Fur company on the coast to supply them with goods from England, with cereals, beef, butter, and other farm produce from Puget Sound, the Columbia and this part of the country, farms were directed to be opened at the company's stations. With this in view, a force of men and Indians were employed here to clear land and cultivate it, and a large number of horned cattle were imported here from Puget Sound from the farm there, and three large dairies were formed here, one at a place below Church Hill, one at Gonzales, now Pemberton's, and the other at North Dairy Farm, each with seventy milch cows, in charge of dairymen, which produced seventy kegs of butter each in the season, while oats, barley, peas, potatoes, etc were raised on the different farms and exported to settlers. The large wooden building now to be seen on the Hudson Bay Wharf was used as a granary, where the grain was stored for shipment from the Columbia, Puget Sound, Langley and other places. This produce was shipped to Sitka both in Russian vessels, sent here for the purpose ant the company's vessels. Our farms here consisted of the Fort Farm on the flat where the City is now, Beckly Farm, at the South of James Bay, and the North Dairy Farm, as high as forty bushels of wheat to the acre was raised here, each bushel weighing sixty three lbs, and sold to the Russians at 4s. 2 d per bushel, paid by bills on St. Petersburg. Labour was cheap in those days, hence the facility with which those operations were carried on. In the spring of 1846 I was directed to go to the Island of San Juan and plant stakes therein from south to north, marked "British Possessions" at certain points. A sheep farm and salmon fishery were established there shortly afterward and continued until the difficulty arose with the United States authority.

The barque Columbia, one of the company's vessels, arrived in the spring with goods and grain from the Columbia River. The goods were landed and grain and other produce shipped, with which the vessel proceeded to Sitka. This summer, also H.M. Ship Constance, Captain Courtney arrived and anchored in Esquimalt, a frigate with 500 men and officers. Captain Courtney landed and asked if he could be of service to me, to which I replied that I was situated here surrounded by treacherous Indians, and that if he would be kind enough to land some of his men for exercise in the use of arms, to show the Indians what a man of War was, to which he consented, and landed a large force of marines and blue jackets next day, with an armed long boat, who performed various evolutions, such as in customary on parade ground, and at the close of the day, the Captain asked the chief, through an interpreter, what they thought of the men of war. The reply was "Is that the way the whites fight, killing each other in the open? We fight behind trees and rocks, and kill our enemies in this way". The Captain was not at all pleased at the savages reply. The chief not losing a chance to beg, asked the Captain for a present, when he was told to go on board for one. The next day he appeared among his people, quiet proud, with a large white jacket on, with "thief" marked in large letters in front, and "liar" on the back, which his people much admired, - its meaning they were of-course quiet ignorant of. This display of arms from the Constance had a good effect on the natives, as they were evidently afraid to pick any quarrels with us for some time afterward.

In this year the frigate Fisgard, Captain Duntze, also arrived, and remained some time here, and afterward went up Puget Sound, and anchored in Nisqually Roads, where she remained the most of the summer. Captain Duntze, also, while here, exercised his men on shore, and showed natives that we always had men of war to protect us here. In the spring of 1847 two surveying ships arrived - the Herald and Pandora, the former under command of Captain Kelleott, and the latter under Commander Wood. Both vessels were employed surveying the straits of De Fuca, Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, and the Canal de Haro, and other places, taking notes etc, and correcting the charts. While these vessels were here, several other ships of war arrived from the south and anchored in Esquimalt, awaiting orders as to whether the country north of the Columbia River were taken possession of or not, as British territory. When the question was settled with the American Government that the 49th parallel was to be the boundary, they left for the south.

At this time our farming operations were carried on extensively, so that we ere able to supply these vessels with all the beef and vegetables they wanted. The beef was sold to them at 8¢ per lb, which paid us well in those days, with vegetables and flour equally cheap. At this time a grist and saw mill were in working order at Esquimalt, where the flour was manufactured and the lumber required for building, also, prepared, both run by water power. A chartered ship arrived from England this year with goods, by which a chaplain and his wife arrived - a Mr. R.J. Stains, - performed service on Sundays at the Fort. Mr. & Mrs Stains kept a school for the children of the officers of the Hudson Bay Company then in the country. Owing to the contract with the Russian American Co., three barques, The Columbia, Vancouver and Cowlitz - belonging to the company, with occasional chartered ships, were kept on the line between this and England and Sitka, carrying goods from England to Sitka, and transporting grain, beef etc from the Columbia River and this place to Sitka.

49th Degree Boundary

As the 49th degree was fixed up as the boundary line, the company were preparing now, gradually to abandon their stations south of the 49th degree in Oregon, and Washington territories and remove north, this place being the objective point, where the head depot was to be established, and the required buildings were being erected here for the purpose. Instead of the annual ships, with the fur returns of the country leaving the head depot at Vancouver on the Columbia River they were, since last year, clearing from this place direct for England with the returns, and coming direct here with supplies. In 1848, the farming and other operations with this trade, started here in 1843, continued to assume large proportions and became the centre of the company's trade west of the Rocky Mountains. The cattle increased so that it became difficult to herd them all, as they wandered into the woods. In this was we lost a large number, which were found afterwards by hunters in the interior of the island. This year the brigades of horses, with the fur returns from the interior, instead of going to the Columbia by was of Kamloops and Okanagan, came across the Cascade Mountains from Kamloops to Fort Hope, on the Fraser River, through which a trail was cut out for the purpose, thus avoiding American territory. The furs were boated down from Hope to Langley and then to this place.

About this time I may mention that the lease which the company held of the country west of the Rocky Mountains from the Crown was becoming of little or no use to them by reason of American and other vessels coming to the coast to trade, and interfering with their exclusive rights, and in case of any of them being seized, which the company could easily do, as their vessels were then armed and manned like men of war, they, the company, applied to the British Government for protection. The Minister of the day's answer was, that they could not send men of war round the horn for the purpose and said that the company might protect themselves. The company's answer was that in case of seizing any vessel, there was no legal court of justice to try such cases short of Montreal, 3,000 miles away, when it was arranged to turn Vancouver Island into a Crown colony, and that a Governor would be sent out, and that the company would bind themselves to colonise it by granting them the island in fee simple for the purpose, which was carried into effect the following year. This was the first step and cause of Vancouver Island being made a crown colony on the western coast. In the spring of 1849 a vessel appeared in the harbour: the crew of which wore red flannel shirts, and when they landed we took them to the pirates. I ordered the men to the guns, manned the bastions and made ready for defence. I then interviewed the men from the gate, who told me they were preachable traders, come from San Francisco, with gold to trade for goods, as this was the only station on the Northern coast where they could get the goods they wanted. Having satisfied myself that they were what they represented themselves to be, I let them in, and they then told me that gold had been discovered in California in large quantities the previous fall, and they had gold nuggets which they would gladly exchange for goods. The produced several nuggets the value of which I at first sight felt doubtful of, but brought one of the nuggets to the blacksmith shop and told him and his assistant to hammer it on the anvil, which they did, and flattened it out satisfactorily. I then referred to my book on minerals, and found that the specimen appeared to be the genuine. I offered them $11 per ounce for the gold, which they accepted without a murmur, and having thus mentioned my price and received no objections, I felt doubtful but concluded to accept it, and the trade went on. They then took in exchange such goods as were not required for our own trade, such as old pots of iron, sea boots, blankets, baize etc, for which I got satisfactory prices. I thus traded a considerable sum in gold nuggets, the amount of which I cannot now call to mind, but being doubtful as to the value I put on the gold, I dispatched a canoe with eight hands to Puget Sound and thence to the head depot at Vancouver, with specimens of my trade, and asking whether I was right or wrong. The answer was that I was right and goods would be sent to me to carry on the trade.

Afterward another vessel came to trade in the same way, when on of the traders offered me $1,000 per month, if I would go and take charge of his store in San Francisco, as clerks were scarce there then. My reply was that I declined with thanks, when he mentioned, "I guess you much be well paid here." I at the same time had a salary of £100 per annum from the company, which, of-course I did not tell him. I was however, under an engagement with the company to give twelve months notice before quitting the services, so I remained at my post. This, and several other vessels came from California to trade, from which considerable quantities of gold was received in trade. After this our operations here got considerable disarranged, by numbers of our men leaving for the California diggings, including the sailors from our ships, when pay had to be considerably increased to induce them to remain. We had to employ Indians as sailors to replace our seamen in the ships and labourers on land.

This year, 1849, the late Sir James Douglas, then Mr. C.F. Douglas, removed with his family from the depot on the Columbia River to this place, as by this time the principal business of the department was carried on here. I was thus relieved of the onerous duties I had to perform here, since I built the fort and carried on business here since June 1843. Mr. Douglas having taken the superintendent of the business in had, I was placed in the office as head accountant, which I held until the year 1862. The company now, this year, 1849 having taken in had the colonisation of the island, having received it in fee simple from the British Government on certain conditions, a governor, a Mr. Blanshard was appointed in England to come out as Governor, and arrived here in a frigate from Panama in 1850, the summer of the following year. On his arrival the inmates of the Fort were assembled in our old mess room to hear the proclamation read, as well as the Governor's commission. The employees of the company were then the only settlers, and after having heard the Governor's commission read, which was done by Captain Gordon, of H.M. Ship Cormorant, therein the harbour, we gave three British cheers for the Governor and then dispersed. There being, then, no Government House, the Governor took up his abode in the Fort, in a room provided for him. The Governor; according to his instructions, formed a legislative council of three members, old, retired servants of the company, induced to settle on the island. One of the conditions of settling the island was that the company would import settlers from England, sell them land there in England at £1 per acre and take out labourers with them pay their expenses out, and a map having been prepared for the purpose and exhibited in the Hudson Bay House in London, on which they were to select their locations. Only one settler, a Captain Grant, took up land in this way, selected a location on Sooke Harbour, took out eight men with him and paid their expenses. On his arrival he found the country different from what he expected, being thickly wooded and very expensive to clear, and before he could establish himself properly, paying all preliminary expenses, he found his funds gone, and gave up the attempt as impracticable. At this time the Company had reserved all the land within ten miles of the fort for themselves, so that incoming settlers had to go beyond this area for locations. As a matter of course, no one knowing the circumstances, with wild savages to contend with would take up land for settlement. The agents of the company on the spot, seeing this and knowing the company would forfeit the grant of the island unless the would form settlements on it satisfactory to the Government, within five years, represented the state of affairs to the Company in London. An order was then sent to sell land in Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich and Metchosin Districts, only reserving certain farms then in cultivation, in Victoria and Esquimalt Districts, and no settlers with the former reservation taken off, could be found to take up land when it was offered on the American side for one dollar per acre. The company in order to preserve the grant of the island from the Crown, induced their officers to purchase land and establish farms by getting labourers to work them on half shares. In this way, Mr. Douglas, myself, and the late Mr. Work, and several others bought land at $5. per acre as near the fort was reservations would permit, and in this way settlements were formed, and the conditions of the grant of the island from the crown complied with.

In 1851 the company sent out two ships with labourers to work farms they had established in Victoria and Esquimalt Districts, with bailiffs to carry them on. The most of these labourers on arrival, having taken the California gold fever as it was called, deserted thither, and the consequence was that farming dragged it slow length along for years. Governor Blanshard this year finding but few people to govern except the company's people, who looked more to the company's officers, with whom they had to deal, than to the Governor, the latter got disgusted with the state of affairs and left for England, leaving Mr. Douglas, then senior member of the Legislative Council to act as Governor. Mr. Douglas was then appointed Governor of the Island by the Queen this year. In 1850 I received my commission as Chief Trader, after thirteen years of hard service, which added considerably to my income, and in 1859 received my commission as Chief Factor.

In 1849 I got married here by Re. Mr. Stains, our chaplain.

Now that I have brought the principal occurrences here formed for the establishment of the fort to this date, the rest can be gleaned from the public records of the Government offices. The company, about this time, got a portion of the farm round the fort surveyed by Mr. Pemberton, the surveyor, into town lots, which were sold from time to time to various purchases at $50 per lot, until the Fraser River Gold excitement took place in 1858 when the price was raised considerable according to location, and thus commenced the building of the City of Victoria in earnest, previous to this, people felt doubtful about its permanency. Since 1852, I have added to my land purchases, and having, cleared, fenced, drained and improved it, I have been enabled to lease it to various parties, and received some returns from my outlay on it. In 1860 I got leave of absence from the company to visit my parents, and found them alive and well, after an absence of twenty-five years from them, and the succeeding year I was informed of their death. On my return here, I was appointed at my own request, in 1862 to superintend the company's affairs in the interior of the country and remained in this position until 1872, when I retired from the service and, since then remained at home, looking after my private affairs. Such is a brief history of my career since I began to work out of my own way in life. I visited my native country, Scotland, four different times, and took some members of my family with me to see the old country, and made several trips to Eastern Canada since y retirement from active service with the Hudson Bay Company.

In the Year 1811 Fort Astoria was built by the party sent out from New York by John Jacob Astoria to carry on the fur trade on the coast. In the year 1814 or 1813 Fort Astoria was given up to the North West Company of Montreal, which was sold by Astoria's agent to the agents of that company. In the year 1821, a coalition was formed between the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay company which went under the name of the Hudson Bay Company, whose agents reside at Astoria. In the year 1823 The Depot of the company on the coast was removed from Astoria to Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Astoria then became an outpost. Then a large farm was commenced at Fort Vancouver. In the year 1824 Fort Langley was built on the Fraser River for trading purposes, where a farm was also opened. In the year 1832 old Fort Simpson was built on the Naas River on the Coast, afterwards removed to its present site on the Chimsean Peninsula in 1834. In the year 1834 Fort McLoughlin was built for trading purposes on Millbank Sound. In 1829 or 1830 Fort Nisqually was built at the head of Puget Sound, where a large farm was also opened. The foregoing were the places occupied and settled upon for trading and farming purposes, in British Territory, before Vancouver Island was made a colony in 1849.

Father: Alexander Finlayson (-)

Mother: Mary Morrison (-)


  • Sarah Work (1829-) born 2 Nov 1829 daughter of John Work and Josette Legace, married 14 Dec 1849.


  • Sarah S. Finlayson (1860-????) born 1 Sep 1860, BC
  • Duncan M. Finlayson (1862-????) born 6 Oct 1862, BC
  • Roderick M. Finlayson (1867-????) born 15 Jun 1867, BC


  • (1837-1838) Clerk at Fort Coulonge
  • (1838-1839) Charge of Fort William
  • (1839-1841) ????
  • (1841-1842) Trade Shop Fort Skikeen
  • (1842-1843) Trade Shop Fort Simpson
  • (1843-1844) 2nd in command, Fort Victoria
  • (1844-1849) Charge of Fort Victoria
  • (1849-1850) Chief Accountant at Fort Victoria
  • (1850-1859) Chief Trader at Fort Victoria
  • (1859-1862) Chief Factor at Fort Victoria
  • (1862-1872) Superintendent of the company’s affairs in the interior of British Columbia
  • (1872) Retired from HBC

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