Sheepshanks! “A Bishop in the Rough”


A 1909 biography of John Sheepshanks, Bishop of Norwich, who spent time in early British Columbia. “A Bishop in the Rough

It quotes liberally from his diaries, so the information contained in it is solid compared to a lot of other sources.

Sheepshanks is a frontier character who I had very little acquaintance with until I read this book. I’m glad I did. The guy had a sense of humor about his sometimes trying experiences, and that makes his views more fun to partake of.

I get a sense, also, that his racial views were a bit less myopic than the usual for his time. As a missionary, he naturally views Indigenous people mainly as potential Christians, but he doesn’t seem to expend much ink on putting them down.

I want to feature a few excerpts from “A Bishop in the Rough” that show Chinook Jargon’s lively presence in British Columbia when Sheepshanks was on the scene, already early in the gold-rush period (about 1860-1862). There’s not a lot of Jargon being flat-out quoted, but a number of passages show that it was an important factor in local events…

Here, at Musqueam near the mouth of the Fraser River — basically modern Vancouver, BC — Sheepshanks is enlisted by a British forerunner of modern anthropologists to rob a Native grave. You’ll notice < Siwash latete > (s(h)áwásh latét) ‘an Indian head’:

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pages 39-40

Here Chinuk Wawa use among St’át’imc (Lillooet) people is overtly discussed. Evidently Sheepshanks wrote some of the language down, so the next task is to locate his papers in a modern archive…

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pages 43-45

Here’s a fun anecdote of a spontaneous outbreak of hockey at New Westminster:

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pages 56-57

Here Sheepshanks’ hired houseboy gloats at the great hunting accomplishments of Indigenous people:

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In the vicinity of Fountain, BC (St’at’imc country), word of the missionaries’ approach is spread by Jargon:

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In the same place, Chinuk Wawa is a crucial link in the “chain of translation” for the missionaries’ efforts. Watch for < klosh, klosh, klosh! > (łúsh, łúsh, łúsh) ‘good, good, good’):

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Those of us in 2019 who have friends skeptical about vaccinations might benefit from the following testimonial about smallpox prevention coming from the St’at’imc folks of the 1860’s in Chinook Jargon:

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The BC portion of Sheepshanks’ adventures takes up just the first fifth of the book, so it won’t take up terribly much of your time to go and read through the whole thing. His is a fairly refreshing voice to hear, standing out among his more prejudiced contemporaries.

What do you think?
Kahta mika tumtum?