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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Esquimalt Naval Base

Frederick V. Longstaff

The Victoria Book & Stationery Company, Ltd.
Victoria, B. C. 1941

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2

 p9  Chapter I


Let us go back a hundred years to the period when white winged line-of‑battle ships, frigates, corvettes and sloops-of‑war made Valparaiso their base during their duty of protecting the British trade on the Pacific Coast of South and Central America. So long as the Spanish Crown, represented by its Viceroys and Naval Squadrons continued officially to keep the door shut to all foreign trade, the non‑Spanish traders could not establish themselves ashore in Chili, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia or New Spain, hence had recourse to smuggling goods.

The casting off of the centuries of Spanish yoke was only achieved through many years of rebellions, which were begun under the Chilian flag by Admiral Lord Cochrane in 1818, who had to resign in 1823, owing to intrigue, during which time he led the infant Chilian Navy in revolt against the Spanish Squadron. There followed a succession of periods of revolts, first against the Spanish power and later in the form of local wars and civil wars.

In 1822, H. M. frigate Conway under Captain Basil Hall anchored at San Blas on March 28th. Captain Hall tells of the state of transition in New Spain from under the Crown of Spain to that of a new republic, for the Mexican Federal Republic was proclaimed on October 4th, 1823. At once a horde of small ocean trading vessels appeared on the coast from many countries with the long awaited trade goods. The coming into being of the Mexican Republic caused the coast blockade to be lifted from the south to as far north as the Presidio on the Bay of San Francisco, and along this coast the main exports were gold, silver, and raw hides. The Crown of Spain did not, however, recognize the independence of the Republic of Mexico until 1835. The Mexican Government later endeavoured to control trade by restricting it to ships under the flag of Mexico, with little success.

The official name of Yerba Buena on the Bay of San Francisco was on January 30th, 1847, changed to that of San Francisco; the flag of Royal Spain had been  p10 succeeded by that of the Republic of Mexico in 1835, which in turn was replaced by the Stars and Stripes on July 9th, 1846 in Portsmouth Square. The news of the discovery of gold in the mountains of California reached the town in January, 1848, and the huge influx of adventurers began in June of the same year.

The earliest permanent fur trade depot and ocean port on the Northwest was on the Columbia River, where Fort Vancouver was established by Dr. John McLoughlin for the Hudson's Bay Company one year after his arrival in 1824.​a Much of the goods and effects were moved from Fort George at Astoria. About 1830 a new Fort Vancouver was erected about a mile west from the original site. The first organized body of United States settlers, from St. Louis, to cross and open the Oregon Trail and reach the Oregon country via the lower Columbia, arrived in 1842, and these mostly located on the south bank of the River, later along both banks of the Willamette River. The retired servants of the Hudson's Bay Company settled along banks of the Willamette River. In 1849 a United States transport arrived via Cape Horn with a company of U. S. Artillery, under Captain Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.J. S. Hatheway,º who hired houses from the Hudson's Bay Company and hoisted the Stars and Stripes and established a station at Fort Vancouver, but called Columbia Barracks. Later it was changed to Vancouver Barracks.

The earliest British military reconnaissance of the Oregon Territory and the lower Columbia River was made in the summer of 1845, by Lieuts. M. Vavaseur of the Royal Engineers and H. J. Warre of 14th (Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot, (died as General Sir H. J. Warre, K. C. B., in April, 1898) who were sent from Lower Canada by order of Lieut. General Sir R. D. Jackson at Montreal. While Army Officers were approaching overland, the Navy, represented by Commander Hon. Thomas Baillie on H. M. corvette Modeste was sent north by Rear Admiral Thomas to maintain peace and for the protection of the Hudson's Bay Company property along the Columbia River. At that time the Commander-in‑Chief flew his flag in the frigate Dublin, in South American waters. The Modeste anchored off Fort Vancouver in July, 1844, and proceeded to the Straits of Fuca early in the following August, to make contact with the Hudson's Bay Company officers. She returned to the Columbia River in 1845 and from November 30th, all  p11 through 1846 and until May 3rd, 1847, she was moored off Fort Vancouver as guardship. On May 10th, she moved down to Baker's Bay and on June 28th she arrived at the Sandwich Islands.

In the autumn of 1844 Rear Admiral G. F. Seymour relieved Rear Admiral R. Thomas, and the new flagship was the 80‑gun Collingwood, under Captain R. Smart. In 1845 Captain Hon. J. Gordon took H. M. frigate America from Mexico to Puget Sound and sent two officers overland via Nisqually to Fort Vancouver to report further on the Oregon problem and to see to the security of the British settlers. In 1846 Captain J. A. Duntze​b in the frigate Fisguard was sent by Rear Admiral Seymour, then at Callao, to carry on the work of the America in affording protection to the British settlers. The Fisguard used Port Discovery, as Esquimalt and Victoria harbours had not then been surveyed, but her boats took her officers to visit the fur company's officers at Victoria. In this year a hydrographic survey vessel, H. M. brig Pandora, Lieutenant James Wood, came north and started charting Esquimalt and Victoria harbours during the summer. It should be remembered that when Captain Vancouver in 1792 entered the Straits of Fuca he only made a running survey of the mainland according to Admiralty orders, and ignored the south and east coast of Vancouver's Island. The charts of Lieutenant Wood were dated 1848 and were published in London the same year, but the first sheets were probably not received by ships on the Station until 1849.

The third annual frigate to go north to Vancouver's Island was H. M. S. Constance under Captain G. W. C. Courtenay, sent by Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby to investigate any cases of aggression reported by the Hudson's Bay Company officers. Captain Courtenay was the first Captain to take his ship into Esquimalt harbour and drop anchor in the forest-clad basin, with nothing to mark the entrance from seaward. Owing to the strong tides inside Cape Flattery and up Puget Sound, H. M. steam vessel Cormorant, Commander George Thomas Gordon, was in these waters as a special service vessel, for towing and tender duties, during the summers of 1846, 1847, and 1848.

Following on the establishment of Fort Vancouver in 1825, the route of fur trade annual supplies was moved to the ocean trade route round Cape Horn instead of overland.  p12 The annual company ship in each direction was maintained by three ocean going ships until 1845, when the annual ship made Fort Victoria its first port of call, on 18th February and afterwards proceeded to Fort Vancouver. On the outward passage from London the ship brought supplies, mail and trade goods, while on the return trip it took furs, etc.

When Government officials, officers, artists, clergy, scientists and others came by the overland route they had to be lodged and fed by the fur company, and this held good when returning by sea, hence a fixed set of charges was officially laid down for all the requirements of such strangers. There were a few free traders from Boston, U. S. A., but otherwise naval ships were the only change to those of the Hudson's Bay Company both the coasting and the ocean ships and vessels. For many years the port of Victoria could only be entered at high tide owing to a reef at the entrance which required a high tide to float over, there being ample water once inside the entrance and off the Fort.

The year 1850 was important for Vancouver's Island, as Governor Richard Blanshard read himself in as the first Governor at Fort Victoria, and later Rear Admiral Fairfax Moresby came up to Esquimalt to consult with the Governor at Victoria, just before he handed over to the second, Governor J. Douglas in November. Both Governor Blanshard and Admiral Moresby were the first of their rank to enter what is now known as British Columbia waters, and they came to develop and protect British trade interests.

During the years of the Colony and the years of the Dominion, Esquimalt was mainly used by Commanders-in‑Chief to send ships for the refreshment of their officers and ratings, from the dried up and brown countries of the south, and to mix with English men and women and enter English homes. The question of hospital accommodation, stores and provisions, and later repairs, all came along in later years. In Colonial days a ship of 500 tons was considered large, and many vessels were under 100 tons.

Thayer's Notes:

a Dr. McLoughlin has been called "the Father of Oregon"; his life there is detailed in Iowa Journal of History & Politics Vol. 14, pp247‑253 and 260‑264.

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b John Alexander Duntze, (born Aug. 26, 1806, died May 15 or 19, 1882), grandson of Sir John Duntze, 1st Baronet Duntze of Tiverton. Entered the Royal Navy Aug. 6, 1818, made Captain Dec. 24, 1829 (at 23!), Admiral Dec. 2, 1865. He served at the blockade of Callao in 1831, during which he captured the Peruvian corvette Libertad. Duntze Head is named for him.

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Page updated: 16 Jun 17