1859-1864: Macfie on Vancouver Island

In the middle of BC frontier times, Matthew Macfie wrote “Vancouver Island and British Columbia: Their History, Resources, and Prospects” (London: published by the delightful and Oxford-becommaed Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1865).


堅尼地 (image credit: Wikipedia)

Most of this book is a pretty exact compendium of facts and figures quoted from other sources, intended to encourage the resource exploitation of BC.

The author is rather a snob, too;

  • He’s scandalized, for instance, that the Jews of Victoria have the only stone house of worship, while the Christians are making do with wooden buildings.
  • He doesn’t miss a chance to grind his axes; there’s a section headed “Nepotism of Mr. [Sir James] Douglas” (page 314), the HBC official who was named Governor of the Colony of Vancouver’s Island.
  • Pages 379-380 reproduce one then-respected scholar’s detailed typology of various racial mixtures, which helps explain one slur against Black folks that I heard in Slovenia, but is otherwise worth less than the paper it’s printed on. 

Another blogger has beaten me to the punch by describing Macfie as “Vancouver Island’s First Professional Snob“!

So don’t expect too incredibly much of direct Chinuk Wawa interest from this book. Macfie surely wasn’t the kind of “in the streets” person that had many opportunities to speak this language. 

Macfie first set foot in Victoria in September of 1859 (page 73), in the early days of the big BC gold rushes, a moment when Jargon was constantly in the air and that town was the major port of entry. 

He mentions < hoolakans > on page page 164, the candlefish (CW úɬx̣ən).

Page 225 has a fairly early mention (1863) of “< Tenass > (Little) Lake” on the route to the Cariboo gold fields.

Pages 375ff, among others, show you how important the Red River Settlement or “Assiniboia” (the major Métis homeland, founded the same year as Astoria) was to the formation of BC. Its people, who already had many kin connections with this “New Caledonia” region, took an active interest in developing a route connecting the two regions.

Around page 380 (!) Macfie finally starts to tell some personal experiences of British Columbia. Pages 386ff present a remarkable literal translation of Chinese immigrants’ address to Governor Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy GCMG CB (who had a Chinese name, 堅尼地, so perhaps he translated it himself) in 1864; it may be of some value for West Coast Chinese Pidgin English studies. As I’m not sure of that, I’ll let you go read it for yourself if moved to do so. (It was originally published in the Victoria British Colonist newspaper of April 5, 1864.)

Page 416 gives us some background on the BC English slang term, which became common in BC Chinuk Wawa, < jawbone >, i.e. ‘credit’:


Passing mention is made on pages 428-429 of < siwash > and < clootchman > as what Macfie apparently considers appropriate terms of address to Indigenous folks (he also has an Anglicized plural < clootchmen > on page 471) :

siwash and clootchman

< Tyhees > (táyí ‘chief’) and < sitkum tyhees > (sítkum-táyí ‘half-chief’) are noted as the leaders of Aboriginal communities on page 429:

tyhee sitkum tyhee

< Tenass tyhees > (tənəs-táyí ‘little-chief’) and < potlatches > (pátɬach ‘give[away]’) among the “Songhish” (Songish Salish) of the Victoria area are noted on page 430:

tenass tyhees potlatch

On pages 441-442 Macfie defines < tenass tyhees >, snidely I think, as “gentleman commoners”.

In the same locale, Macfie reports being taken for a priest by Songish people exclaiming < Le prêtre! > (liplét ‘priest’) (page 432)…

le pretre

Macfie refers on page 449 to people “sacrificing” their own < itkas > (i.e. íktas ‘belongings’) when a relative dies.

We should be aware that Macfie, because his experience of Indians was mostly in the multiethnic Victoria waterfront area, seems to indiscriminately blend elements of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw, Nuuchahnulth, and Coast Salish cultures. 

Page 460 tells of some Vancouver Island Native people delivering a “culprit…to be flogged in the presence of his < tillicums > (friends)” — that’s CW tílixam-s ‘friend-s’. 

Macfie notes on page 468 that the Indians of Vancouver Island call “white men” < King George men > (kinchóch-mán), probably true at the time because Britishers still predominated among the newcomers at that date. 

On the same page he prints “an address (translated), delivered by the Nanaimo Indians to the present Governor…” Most of this same speech appears later, in the 1887 book “The Story of Metlakahtla“; it would seem to have been delivered in Chinuk Wawa:



On pages 472-473 we get some quoted Chinuk Wawa conversation in South Saanich (next door to Victoria on Vancouver Island) among people who have varying levels of fluency in it:



When near the village, one day, I met
some of the people, and by the assistance of what limited
stock of Chinook* I could command, endeavoured to
ascertain whether they had any distinct idea of moral
obligation. I began by saying: < Nika pretre pe wawa copa
King George men Sockally Tyhee. Mika Kumtux okook ? > [1]
I am a minister, and teach white men about God; do you
understand this? ‘ A woman who was present, thinking I

* The jargon which forms the chief medium of intercourse between the
colonists and the natives.


was a priest, at once made the sign of the cross on her
breast, and replied < Nowitka ; Sockally Tyhee Siya > [2] : point-
ing above with her hand. < La pretre yawa nika wawa
Klosh >. [3] ‘Yes, God is in Heaven. The priest tells me what
is good.’ An old man volunteered the remark, < Klôsh tum
tum nika. Wake Klôsh Kapswalla — wake Klôsh Mamalush
— wake Klôsh Pire Chuck. > [4] ‘ I have a good heart. It is
wrong to steal, or fight, or drink whisky.’

Comments on that CW: 

[1] Macfie: < Nika pretre pe wawa copa King George men Sockally Tyhee. Mika Kumtux okook ? >
nayka (li)plét pi wáwa kʰupa kinchóch-man sáx̣ali-táyí. mayka kə́mtəks úkuk?
I priest and talk to English-man above-chief. you understand this?
Macfie: I am a minister, and teach white men about God; do you understand this?’
DDR: ‘I am a priest and talk to White people’s God. Do you understand this?’
(Macfie sounds like he was trying to use elegant English-language diction here, resisting a repetition of the subject pronoun for ‘I’. He seems at a loss as to how to express ‘about’, which is a subject I’ve recently written on here; he uses no preposition at all for it, which is slightly better than the average Settler’s use of kʰupa but not as good as fluent-CW qáta.)

[2] woman: < Nowitka ; Sockally Tyhee Siya >: pointing above with her hand.
nawítká sáx̣ali-táyí sayá. 
indeed above-chief far.
Macfie: ‘Yes, God is in Heaven.’
DDR: ‘Yes, God is far away.’
(The woman is, as was customary in frontier-era CW, accompanying the word saya ‘far away’ with a hand gesture. Macfie is over-interpreting her words to his own preference. It’s interesting that this Vancouver Island First Nations woman does seem to be using saya with an overtone of ‘high’; perhaps either Macfie misremembered her CW sax̣ali ‘above’, or she had an acquaintance with the Nuuchahnulth language that this word originally comes from, where it sometimes means ‘high’, as in the personal name Sayaach’apis ‘high up on the beach’.)

[3] same woman: < La pretre yawa nika wawa Klosh >.
liplét yawá nayka wáwa ɬúsh. 
priest there I say good.
Macfie: ‘The priest tells me what
is good.’
DDR: ‘The priest there, I say is good.’
(Again Macfie is likely to have been misremembering and/or misunderstanding just what was said; I think it unlikely that the woman said something as ungrammatical and/or nonsensical as this CW sentence.)

[4] old man: < Klôsh tum tum nika. Wake Klôsh Kapswalla — wake Klôsh Mamalush — wake Klôsh Pire Chuck. >  
ɬúsh tə́mtəm nayka. wík-ɬúsh kapshwála — wík-ɬúsh míməlus(h) — wík-ɬúsh páya-chə́qw. 
good heart I. not-good steal — not-good die — not-good fire-water.
Macfie: ‘I have a good heart. It is wrong to steal, or fight, or drink whisky.’
DDR: ‘I am good-hearted. Stealing is bad — dying is bad — alcohol is bad.’ 
(Macfie seems to have made the typical Settler mistake of thinking that míməlus, here noted in a First Nations-style pronunciation ending in -sh, means both ‘die’ and ‘kill’; in fluent CW it needs to be inflected with the causative prefix, thus mamuk-míməlus, to mean ‘kill’ as the old man obviously intended. I wonder whether Macfie also forgot that the man used the subjunctive marker pus after each wík-ɬúsh, which is what we’d expect in good CW.)

Our old friend and supremely important documentor of Chinuk Wawa a la Fort Vancouver, Bishop Modeste Demers, appears on page 475, showing Macfie the long paper sáx̣ali-stík a.k.a. Catholic Ladder, which snobby Mac calls a “rude symbolic Bible”. On page 476 he quotes Captain Richard Mayne as having told him of a Kamloops Secwépemc chief’s reaction to another Catholic Ladder. 

Some really interesting anecdotes come to us on page 476:

blanket heart

I suspect there are two separate Chinuk Wawa connections there. One is the visual connection made between blankets and a heart, as if to use the normal CW metaphor for describing people’s temperaments, ‘X-heart’. That X can be a noun, and Demers may well have been silently telling these folks they were *pásisi-tə́mtəm* ‘blanket-hearted’, with blankets being a valuable item of currency at that place and time. That’s not a phrase we’ve seen before, but it would perfectly match the structure of known expressions in the language. 

The second CW nugget here is < Nowitka, konsick mika potlatch. > (nawítka, qʰə́ntsix̣ mayka pátɬach? ‘indeed, how much are you giving?’). Which I think is a really okay answer to someone who wants you to send your damn kids to their school. Oh, plus it’s total Indian humor 🙂

Here I might mention that Macfie’s book praises (on page 80) the booksellers Hibben & Carswell of Victoria, whom we Chinookers know mainly because they published many editions of George Gibbs’s 1863 Chinook Jargon dictionary as if it were their own work. (See page 103 of Samuel V. Johnson’s 1975 dissertation.) Their first edition, however, only came out in 1871. So Macfie’s suspiciously standardized-looking CW (for such an early date) is probably due to his using a copy of Gibbs, which was the latest greatest thing as he was writing this book, and he shows over and over again that he owned an extensive library of Western Americana and Canadiana. 

All in all, there’s scant original material in Macfie’s book, and it has little charm for the leisure reader. But we have dug up a small amount of valuable Chinuk Wawa that hasn’t been noted by many previous researchers. 

What do you think?