1869: Capt. Christensen interprets, Victoria, BC

Captain James Christensen (1840-1927), an 1864 Danish immigrant to Victoria, played a pivotal part in a grisly frontier-era episode on Vancouver Island, which I present to you today.


Capt. James Christensen (image credit: Sooke News Mirror)

We can also note the occurrences of “potlatch” and “man-of-war” below, both being common Vancouver Island CW words.

The Grand Jury returned with indictment against 3 West Coast Indians for the murder of the officers, crew and passengers of the ill-fated bark John Bright. The Hon. Attorney General appeared for the prosecution. The prisoners, through Captain Christensen, pleaded not guilty, and the trial of one of the number, Anayitzaschist, or John, was proceeded with.

The Hon. Attorney General opened the case for the Crown, stating that the prosecution expected to prove that the prisoner had murdered a woman while she was escaping from the wreck of the bark John Bright, and had placed herself under his protection.

Captain Christensen was sworn to act as Chinook interpreter, and an Indian who understands the West Coast native language [Nuučaan’uɬ] was instructed to translate the evidence from Chinook into the language of the prisoner.

Nee-ta-kim (an Indian) was placed on the stand and testified that he saw John shoot the man and woman. The woman had come ashore from the wreck and asked John to assist her; he complied and helped her over the rocks for a short distance, when he threw her down, drew a pistol from beneath his blanket and shot her through the right side; she died soon after. The man who was killed was very weak and was crawling along on his hands and knees, when he was shot through the left shoulder and died almost immediately. The bodies were stripped of clothing and jewelry. A woman’s brooch and two or three rings were produced in Court. They were recovered from the Indians; witness only saw the woman and man come ashore alive. Saw John near the ship before the man and woman came ashore.

Another Indian witness saw the ship before she struck. She had one mast gone and the other broken. He saw John and another Indian on the beach. He did not see John fire the shot. Two Indians were with him when he went to the ship; John and Katkina were the first at the ship; did not see any white people on board the vessel. When he went to see the white man that was shot, John told him that Katkina shot him. He saw the holes where the shot went apparently through the man, who was naked when he saw him; he was a white man, and was inshore of the woman from the wreck. He saw the man about midday, but did not see him the day of the wreck, it was the day after. Did not notice whether the woman was white or not, John told him Katkina sot the man, but said nothing about the woman. John is not a slave, but a chief, and is a pure Hesquiat; he was formerly a slave to the [Qʷidiččaʔatx̣ = Makah] tribe at Cape Flattery. Saw Nee-ta-kim (the first witness) at the wreck. The shots were fired the same day as the wreck.

Hysietta (another Indian) was at the potlatch at the Indian house after the wreck. John was there, and said that a man-of-war had come to take him to Victoria.

Dr. Comrie, surgeon of Her Majesty’s Ship Sparrowhawk, subpoenaed as a witness in the case, was called, but it transpired that in defiance of the subpoena he had gone to Metlakatlah [BC] in the ship. The Chief Justice remarked the case could not be completed until after the return of Dr. Comrie, and intimated that proceedings would be taken against the absent gentleman for contempt of Court.

[Victoria (BC) Colonist, 1869-05-28]

What do you think?