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This webpage reproduces part of
Esquimalt Naval Base

Frederick V. Longstaff

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

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 1

 p5  Preface

The naval harbour and the dockyard of Esquimalt can be said to have been a port of call for naval vessels since 1848, though the Station was established in 1837 by the appointment of a Commander-in‑chief Pacific in October of that year in the person of Rear-Admiral of the White C. B. H. Ross. The list of entries or visits could be expanded to almost any extent by writing up the records of the commission of each ship, the same of each officer, which subjects would give some surprising results, in particular, that some of our leading Admirals had served on the Station as Midshipmen or Lieutenants. Then come the Lords of the Pacific Coast, the Commanders-in‑Chief, who generally held the rank of Rear-Admiral, and of whom there were twenty-eight in all, but there were only twenty different flagships, as six ships each served two Admirals and one, the Triumph, served three. The records of these Admirals, their flagships and their staffs would form another collection of histories large enough to make a separate book.

The pioneer work on this subject of local Naval History was built up by means of notes on the names of Officers, Officials and ships, made by the late John Thomas Walbran, Master Mariner, who came to the British Columbia Coast in 1888 and died on March 31st, 1913. He served in the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company and afterwards under the Dominion Government in command of that pioneer Marine and Fishery steamer Quadra. In 1909 the Department published his book "B. C. Coast Names" which is still the standard book of reference on this subject. The writer had many talks with Captain Walbran during the last two years of his life.

The other authority is Captain John Franklin Parry, R. N. who on February 19th, 1906, gave a lecture on the History of the Naval Establishment at Esquimalt up till 1905. He was then commanding H. M. Survey vessel Egeria, based on Esquimalt.

Another part of the records would consist of the official orders and instructions to each Captain which authorized him to proceed to Esquimalt and there carry out certain duties. These orders by the Commanders-in‑Chief would change in character as the settlement grew  p6 from being the main fur trading post on the coast to a Colony and then to a Province of the Dominion.

After some years the movements of the ships each year developed into more or less of a regular routine. During the period of sail and auxiliary steam, which ended about 1895, the ships would start from Coquimbo or Valparaiso and sailing northwards call at Arica, Iquique, Payta, Callao, Panama, Acapulco, Mazatlan to Esquimalt. Sometimes a call was made at San Francisco in the early days, but U. S. A. ports were avoided in those days, and the ships aimed to reach Esquimalt by the 24th of May, for the birthday of Queen Victoria. This was followed by a summer patrol to Alaska or to Bering Sea. In the autumn the programme was to Honolulu, then Tahiti, the Marquesas, Easter Island and so back to Coquimbo, where the usual large accumulation of mail from Home was in waiting.

The removal of sails from all ships owing to the increased coal economy in boilers and engines, made the ships independent of the wind and able to travel faster and in any direction. It is probable that sails remained in use on the Pacific Station longer than on any other station. This change caused the ships to neglect the Islands in the centre of the Pacific and to set their courses nearer to the continental coast, except that the Galapagos Islands became much visited. Finally in 1887 the All Red Route between Great Britain and India, via Hong Kong, was inaugurated by the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway to tidewater at Port Moody, and extended to the young town of Vancouver on Burrard Inlet.

A large book of over 20 chapters should some day be written about Esquimalt harbour, the Royal Naval Dockyard, Naval Barracks, Drydocks and Defences, as well as visiting ships and their officers. In the meantime this little work is offered to teachers and others interested in the sea side of British Columbia history, in the hope that it will fill a long felt want.

The author has received much assistance from the Public Record Office in London, the Admiralty Library, the Provincial Archives of B. C. and the Historical Section of the Department of National Defence at Ottawa. Special thanks are due to the late Lieutenant General Sir P. N. H. Lake, K. C. B., K. C. M. G., and the late Captain T. L.  p7 Thorpe-Doubble, R. N., of Victoria, Mr. Aston H. Long, of Crede House, Portsmouth, and Professor Sir Geoffrey Callender, Director of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The complete manuscript has been read over by Dr. W. E. Ireland, the Archivist of the Province of B. C., to whom thanks are due.

Frederick V. Longstaff

December, 1941.
Victoria, B. C.

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Page updated: 23 Jun 17