Origins of Printing in British Columbia
June 05th, 2012
The Pioneer Press of British Columbia
By John Forsyth
Reprinted from: British Columbia Historical Association: Reports and Proceedings for the year ended
October 11, side effects 1923.
An address by John Forsyth to a joint meeting of the BC Historical Association and the Vancouver Island Branch of the Canadian Authors Association, store June 5th, 1923.
The year 1843 marked the founding of Victoria, and many interesting records have been preserved in the form of individual diaries and official correspondence of those who guided affairs of the infant colony of Vancouver Island. To these we must look for information concerning the early history of this country from 1843 to 1858, as we had no local newspaper until the latter year. True, we are fortunate in still having with us pioneers who can recall many interesting events, but just such happenings as may have been impressed on their memory. The other day I had a good example of this in conversation with one of the oldest residents, Mr. J.R. Anderson. A large-scale map of Victoria was produced, and on this map my friend pointed out in a few minutes what constituted Victoria in 1851. First of all, the Fort with its buildings. On the site of the present Arcade Block there were two buildings 25 feet long; the northern one was a bakery and the southern one Governor Blanshard’s residence. Then between View and Yates a small fort was erected in 1851, and Mr. Douglas occupied it as an official residence and office. The stockade was about 50 yards square. At the junction of Douglas and Johnson Streets at the ravine there was a little cemetery.
Between the present post-office and Bastion Street were two log houses about 20 feet long, used by employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
On the left of Fort Street, just above Douglas, were the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stables and barns, consisting of two buildings, one about 60 by 40 feet, the other 40 by 25 feet.
The area contained within the present Fort, Vancouver, Courtney, and Broad Streets was cultivated area.
/p. 6/ There was a house in the vicinity of Burdette and Douglas, where a man named Gullion and his wife lived.
Dr. Kennedy lived in a house on Burnside Road, where it crosses the Colquitz.
Also on Burdette, near Vancouver Street, there was a dairy and cow-stables.
It will be noted that there were very few houses, most of the ground being occupied as farm lands. Among these was Beckley Farm in James Bay, within the area hounded by Government, Superior, Oswego Streets, and Dallas Road.
North Dairy Farm was on Quadra, at the Cedar Hill cross-roads. Staines’s Farm was on some flat ground facing Shelbourne Street.
John Tod had a farm at the Willows.
This concluded Mr. Anderson’s description of Victoria in 1851, and I feel much indebted to him for these particulars, as we purpose having a plan made showing the location of these places in relation to present-day sites.
There was not much progress made in colonization until 1858, which is probably the most eventful year in the history of this country. Many things happened, all as the result of the discovery of gold in [the sic] Fraser River. Victoria, hitherto but a sleepy hamlet with a population of two or three hundred, suddenly sprang into a city of thousands.
The Hudson’s Bay Company had been given a grant of Vancouver Island in 1849, and this was revoked in 1858. At the same time the Hudson’s Bay Company’s charter of exclusive trade on the Mainland was revoked and the Crown Colony of British Columbia proclaimed.
In the official correspondence and journals is carefully recorded the progress and development of these British colonies in the Pacific, but it is to early journalistic enterprise that we turn for enlightenment concerning scenes and events that are fast fading from memory, as the newspapers of these colonial days furnish many interesting’ particulars of the careers of men who were destined to achieve success.
To the Victoria Gazette belongs the honour of being the first newspaper printed on Vancouver Island. It was published within the Fort grounds by James W. Towne & Co., of California, the editors being H.C. Williston and C. Bartlett. Among those who witnessed the printing of the first issue on June 25th, 1858, were Governor Douglas and officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The first nine numbers, from June 25th to July 24th, 1858, two issues weekly, were printed on a large sheet, and from thence to the end of June 23rd, 1859, on a smaller sheet; each issue consisted of four pages and cost 25 cents, but latterly the price was reduced to 12 ½ cents.
Having no telegraphs or international news service, and mails but once a fortnight, this pioneer news-sheet forms a striking contrast to our present-day papers. Perhaps it is well that these limitations did exist, as otherwise we could not now enjoy those little paragraphs, apparently trivial, but nevertheless having such human interest, throwing fascinating side-lights on the character of the people and enabling us to appreciate the conditions existing in a new country.
In our present generation a casual visitor to the editorial department wonders how it is possible to get a readable sheet from an apparently confused mass of clippings, paste, hieroglyphic notes, and the every-day rush of a newspaper office, and few expect that the editor would have drawing-room comfort, but that the publishers of the Victoria Gazette did not lack humour is evidenced in the description of their editorial sanctum when they inform the public that the room is more remarkable for extent than convenience. Its walls abound in crevices through which the wind bears with an impartial equality the seeds of catarrh and bronchial afflictions to the editors, proprietors, and typographers. “Its [sic] floor is of a shaky character, and where each passer imparts a tremulousness [sic] to its surface which occasions the present writing to assume a character that Champolion, were he one of our compositors, would find it difficult to decipher.” The “editor’s desk” is a bundle of printing-paper skilfully poised upon a leather trunk, vibrating with each movement of the writer’s hand, and compelling him to double up his person in /p. 7/ the act of preparing “copy” in a manner more curious than graceful.
The editor’s easy chair is a Chinese trunk, whose height would be on the level with the desk but for the brilliant idea of increasing the height of the latter by’ the paper expedient alluded to. Two huge fireplaces adorn our sanctum, these ornaments having been built with a view to convey all the heat as well as the smoke up the chimney. We had designed supplying these fuel-eaters with a pile of lumber belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company stored in the premises, but the printers having occupied it in lieu of a table, we have been compelled to postpone indulgence in that (to us) economical expedient. The pleasant sounds of wood-sawing, nail-hammering, etc., add to the facilities of editorial labour and an occasional procession of Indians cheers and invigorates the writer by stopping and surrounding his locality of labour, and gazing upon his deeds with the expression of intelligence common to the physiognomy of the intellectual race of which they are the representatives.
“Under such circumstances our reader will see that making up an interesting sheet is but a trifling task.”
The same issue, June 30th, 1838, makes mention of a pioneer Chinaman in Victoria, though a small number of citizens of the Flowery Kingdom are known to have left California in the Fraser River exodus. “From a sign which appears in our streets, however, it may be presumed that John is among us, as it hears the euphonious and suggestive legend, ‘Chang Tsoo.’ Doubtless ere long the familiar interrogation of ‘Wantee Washee’ will be added to our every-day conversational vocabulary.”
(To this announcement the following foot-note appears) :—
NB—Since the above was penned a batch of Celestials have landed from Oregon and are camped in the vicinity of the sign in question. Whether their efforts will be devoted to the washing of gold or of clothing is a point yet to be ascertained, but we shall lay it before our readers at a moment as early as the grave importance of the subject demands.”
At this time the gold fever was at its height, and Victoria, hitherto but a sleepy hamlet, suddenly sprang into a town of between six and seven thousand inhabitants. It was during this excitement that the Victoria Gazette came into existence. It was to all intents and purposes a daily paper, being printed five days of each week. Its pages are full of glowing accounts of the rich discoveries in the Fraser River region. Boats could not he [sic] built quick enough to transport the miners to this Eldorado, and we find that in “French Ravine,” at the back of Johnson Street, more than a hundred boats were in course of construction. A boat to carry six or eight persons cost about $100, but many of these adventurous gold-seekers risked their lives in frail craft, with the result that a large number were drowned.
This paper underwent several changes in form of name and date of issue. As already stated, the first nine numbers, between June 25th and July 24th, 1858, were printed on a large sheet issued twice a week, and titled the Victoria Gazette. From Vol. I., Nos. 10 to 74, July 28th to October 26th, 1858 it was known as the Daily Victoria Gazette (being issued five days a week), and from Vol. I., No. 75, to Vol. II., No. 75, it reverted to its old name Victoria Gazette and was issued three times a week between October 28th and June 23rd, 1859.
There was also a Weekly Victoria Gazette issued between February and November, 1859. The original publishers dropped out and Captain King started another Victoria Gazette, which was issued three times a week between December 5th, 1859, and July 30th, 1860, and from thence to September 29th, 1860, it became a weekly under the title of the Victoria Weekly Gazette.
For using the same name for his paper, Captain King, a British Army officer, was sued by the former publishers of the Victoria Gazette, and it is interesting to note that pending a settlement of the case three issues of the paper, December 12th, 14th, and 16th, appeared without a name. It is said that Attorney-General Carey put King in gaol and that Carey wrote a paper on the Victoria Gazette. However, another party continued the paper under its original name for a time.
On July 28th, 1858, Frederick Marriott started the Vancouver Island Gazette, and published about eight numbers. It was evidently a paying concern for Marriott, but /p. 8/ the people ushered him out of town, as he had acquired $7,000 or $8,000 by doubtful methods.
Marriott also published Government notices in a Gazette apart from the above paper. He also printed a French paper called Le Courier de la Nouvelle Caledonie, a political and literary journal to serve the French population in this territory. The paper was edited by W. Thornton, with Count Paul de Garro as proprietor, and several numbers were issued between September 11th and October 8th, 1858.It was printed with old-fashioned French type on a hand-press given to Bishop Demers by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of Paris. This hand-press, as shown in the photograph, is reported to have been about one hundred years old at the time, and the first in British Columbia.
This press was brought here from France in 1856 by Bishop Demers and used by Count Paul de Garro while printing Le Courier at Victoria in 1858. It was subsequently used in The Sentinel office at Kamloops. The above photo was taken by kind permission of the Sisters of St. Ann’s Academy, Victoria, to whom the press was presented about 1908 by Dr. M.S. Wade of Kamloops.
Editor’s note: The press was subsequently transferred to the Royal BC Museum with other items from the St. Ann’s Academy Museum; it has formed part of Royal BC Museum collection for over 25 years. For additional information see Jesuit Mission Presses in the Pacific Northwest by Wilfred P. Schoenberg, 1994 and the Canadian Book of Printing by the Toronto Public Libraries, 1940. Also BC Archives and the Sisters of St. Ann Archives.
After doing service for Le Courier it was transferred to the Island Sentinel, to the “Sisters” at St. Ann’s Convent, Victoria, where it now forms one of a series of interesting exhibits in their museum, and where we had it photographed recently.
One interesting figure connected with the publication of Le Courier was Paul de Garro, a French count who had left France during the political troubles of 1851, in the reign of Napoleon III. When Bishop Demers gave up Le Courier the Count was at a loose end. He took a position as a waiter in a restaurant, where we are told many Victorians would go merely for having it to say that they had been waited on by a real live count. In 1861 the Count, like many others, had caught the gold fever and took passage in the steamer Cariboo Fly bound for the Cariboo mines. As the vessel was leaving the harbour it was blown up and among the bodies recovered was that of the Count. It may also be noted that de Garro printed and published in 1858 a pamphlet of forty-nine pages by Alfred Waddington, entitled The Fraser Mines Vindicated, or the History of Four Months. This was supposed to be the first book published on Vancouver Island, but the editor of the Victoria Gazette gives priority to David Cameron’s Rules of Practice, and they also state that a group of proclamations regarding government of British Columbia preceded Waddington’s pamphlet, so that this would third in order of publication. It will he [sic] seen that many of the early newspapers had a short and checkered [sic] career until Amor de Cosmos started publishing the British Colonist, a small, four-page sheet issued three days a week. The first number appeared on December 11th, 1858, and it continued until the autumn of 1863. The subscription was $5 per annum, or 25 cents per copy.
A Weekly British Colonist was first issued on December 3rd, 1859. The first issue consisted chiefly of a review of Waddington’s /p. 9/ pamphlet on the Fraser mines, criticism of the Government of the Island, and discussed the question of an intercolonial [sic] railway.
Photographic reproductions of this first issue of the British Colonist have been circulated at various times, and one of these being of the same size as the original and having no souvenir mark, it bears a striking resemblance to the original. I have seen several of these copies, the owners of which can hardly be convinced that they are not original issues. While the British Colonist was still being published another paper called The Press appeared. It was published daily with the exception of Saturday and Sunday, although a morning edition was issued on Sundays. The first number was issued on March 9th, 1861, and as far as we know continued until October 3rd, 1862. A semi-weekly Press was issued at the same time, as an advertisement to this effect appears in the daily paper.
The Press was published by Leonard McClure, the same person who made the longest speech on record in the legislature of British Columbia. As the identity of the person who performed this remarkable feat is sometimes questioned, some having attributed it to De Cosmos, it may be well to set down a few details as given by Mr. R.E. Gosnell, who from his long association with journalism and the Government service may he [sic] accepted as a reliable authority on the subject. He says:
About 1865 times were very hard, and the previous year a great many tax sales took place. The Legislature was in session, and the twelve months in which to redeem the land was just about expiring. Strong pressure was brought to bear on the Government, and at the last moment a Bill was brought down by message from the Governor extending the time for twelve months to give the owners a chance to pay up their delinquent taxes and get back their land. It happened that De Cosmos, among others, had been a large purchaser at tax sales, and as the Bill had to pass through all its stages by 12 o’clock noon the next day, he and a fellow-journalist, Leonard McClure, also in the House, determined to talk it out. McClure took the floor at 2 p.m. and spoke continuously for sixteen hours, when De Cosmos took up the discourse and had spoken for six hours when the hour of noon struck and the Bill was lost. It was true that when he finished he was almost inarticulate and all but exhausted, but the great strain was endured by McClure, who, as a result, contracted an illness from which he died later in California. So far from De Cosmos speaking twenty-six hours, he spoke six, and the entire time consumed between the two was twenty-two hours.
O April 27th, 1863, The Daily Evening Express appeared, and as far as our library files go it was published up to February 12th, 1865. The first eight numbers bore the title Daily Evening Press, and on subsequent copies, although the title Daily Evening Press is retained in the body of the paper, the front title is Evening Press, and has the royal coat-of-arms. The volumes look odd, as there was no uniformity in the size of paper. It was published by Wallace & Allen at first on Langley Street, off Yates, and later at Moore’s Hall, Yates Street. Another paper circulating at this time was the Victoria Daily Chronicle, published by Higgins & McMillan upstairs in Smith’s fire-proof building on Government near Yates Street. The Evening Telegraph was issued in July, 1866. It was printed on Langley Street, and issued every morning except Saturday and Sunday, but had a Sunday morning edition. Another paper first published in Victoria in 1859 by E.H. King was the New Westminster Times, edited by Leonard McClure.
So far I have dealt only with the Colony of Vancouver Island. I now turn to New Westminster, as the publishing centre for the Colony of British Columbia. Here the British Columbian was first published as a weekly in February, 1861. Then there was a scurrilous little paper called The Scorpion, to be published whenever it was convenient by “Josiah Slumgullion,” on St. Patrick’s Square, New Westminster, and containing political skits of the time. The first issue appeared on March 11th, 1864, but The Scorpion’s wit had little appreciation from the public, as only a few numbers were issued. To quote an “Important Notice”: “The Scorpion will hereafter be /p. 10/ furnished to the public at the greatly reduced rate of one bit (12 ½ cents) per number. This is just one-fourth the price of the London Punch, and no person would for a moment hint that this sheet is not superior in every respect to that miserable rag.”
Here and there a little joke at the expense of the Island Colony, such as “Why is the City of Victoria like an undutiful son? Ans.: Because it won’t afford house room for its Governor.”
On November 2nd, 1864, G.F. Parsons published a semi-weekly called the North Pacific Times and British Columbia Advertiser.
Of the early papers published on the mainland there is one which stands out preeminent. This was the Cariboo Sentinel, first published by George Wallace, at Barkerville, in June, 1865. The subscription was $1 per week. It was evidently intended to issue twice a week, but early issues only appeared once a week. The paper changed hands several times. Wallace was succeeded by Allan & Lambert, later Allan & Co., and in 1868 Robert Holloway was proprietor. Another New Westminster paper was The Examiner, a semi-weekly, first published on November 9th, by Alex Rose and Henry Havelock, at Columbia Street. Later it was called the British Columbia Examiner. But the unique specimen of journalistic enterprise extant in the province is a complete file of the Emigrant Soldiers’ Gazette, which was published in 1858 and 1859 on board the troopship Thames City, when this vessel was voyaging from England to the newly-organized Colony of British Columbia with a detachment of the Royal Engineers under the command of Captain Luard. The paper was written by hand, and was read every Saturday night to all on board by the commanding officer. This interesting memento was presented to the Provincial Library some years ago by the late Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Wolfenden, King’s Printer, who was a member of the corps.
Transcribed from: British Columbia History, Spring 2012, Vol. 45 No. 1 p. 5
Essay Date: 1923