“Colonial Despatches” (Part 1: Seymour to Cardwell, 1865)

The University of Victoria has created a quite a neat online research tool called “Colonial Despatches: The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, 1846-1871″.


Circa 1864: Seymour (right) hard at work? (Image credit: parl(dot)gc(1867))

From their “Introduction” —

It is difficult to imagine a collection of documents more significant in the history of a Canadian province than the collection represented here. This digital archive contains transcriptions of virtually the complete correspondence between the British colonial authorities and the successive governors of the nascent Vancouver Island and British Columbia colonies, along with a great deal of associated writing, generated within the colonial office, and between public offices, which relates to the colonies. The entire history of Vancouver Island and B.C., from 1846 to 1871, is represented here, in the words of those most intimately concerned with the governance and development of the land, its resources, and its population. But these documents are not only historically important; they are also enthralling and absorbing. Here are adventures and exploration, financial windfalls and disasters, conflicts, smuggling, and even murder. Look into this collection for fifteen minutes, and you will surely find yourself drawn into the stories of the early settlers and the First Nations people of 19th-century B.C.

I’d like to feature a few items of Chinook Jargon interest from this frontier-era archive.

Here’s one that shows how the Catholic missionaries adapted their custom of singing a welcoming song in the Jargon to a visiting bishop, to impress a colonial official.


This document also notes that on the early-settled lower Fraser River, these priests were already moving past educating Native kids in Chinuk Wawa and acclimating them to English at the first residential school in BC — a classic instance of CW functioning as a bridge language to fuller acculturation.

Reverend Father Leon Fouquet, mentioned in this letter, remained a fluent speaker of the Jargon and is known to have assisted Indigenous leaders in making their wishes known to the government via that medium.

This letter was written by Frederick Seymour, governor of the colony of British Columbia. The doubled words represent old-fashioned page breaks, where the writer ended a page with a preview of the first word on the next page.

Seymour, Frederick to Cardwell, Edward 22 May 1865, CO 60:21, no. 8226, 547.
No. 61

22nd May 1865               Sir,
I went on the 10th Instant in company with the Roman Catholic Bishop of British Columbia and the Reverend Father Fouquet, of the Order of Mary Immaculate, to visit the Indian School established by the Mission at St. Mary’s on the the Fraser, 30 miles above New Westminster.

2. As soon as the vessel which conveyed us hove in sight a feu de joie was fired by some Indians who had come to the Mission to see the first inspection of the Native Schools made by the Governor of the Colony. On our landing a salute was fired likewise with all the muskets available. We were then escorted through an Arch erected by the boys boys and extremely well decorated under the direction of the priests. A Song of welcome to me was then sung by the boys in Chinook and Addresses read to me by them in English and French. Immediately afterwards they sang “God save the Queen” in English extremely well and then we followed them to the School room.

3. There were forty-eight boys present, of whom, I believe upwards upwards of forty were of pure native race. The remainder had some intermixture of White blood. Their ages ranged from eight to fourteen years. Their fine healthy appearance and good clothing at once satisfied me, that in this institution at least the native race was not weakening and dwindling by contact with Europeans. Indeed the pupils appeared more robust and active than the boys of their age whom I had seen in the forests, and their their cheerful faces presented an agreeable contrast to the worn and anxious countenances of the Seniors who came to be present at the Inspection.

4. The School room was large, clean and well ventilated. It had been decorated with flags, boughs and ribbons by the boys. I found them on examination to have made very considerable progress in arithmetic, geography, and spelling. Some of the handwriting was was extremely good. The priests have almost entirely thrown aside the inconvenient Chinook Medium and teach the boys in English. Even better than the writing was the singing. I have not heard in any school with which I have officially come into contact, here or elsewhere, any piece of music so well delivered as was one Catholic hymn by these Indian boys.

5. We visited the dormitories and and found them thoroughly ventilated, and supplied with double rows of small beds as neat and clean as any children of the lower classes could desire.

6. About an Acre has been already laid out in flower gardens and orchard by the pupils, and additional land is now being fenced in and cleared for the planting of potatoes.

7. The regular inspection over over, the boys competed for trifling prizes in archery, canoe racing and athletic games. It was gratifying to observe the spirit of order and discipline which restrained the manifestations of the great animal spirits evidently enjoyed by all.

8. On our departure the whole school stood bareheaded on the bank while they sang again their Chinook song of welcome, and at my request the the Catholic hymn once more. They closed with “God save the Queen,” and three as hearty cheers as any English schoolboys could have given.

9. Though the Establishment at St. Mary’s is not yet on a large scale, it is sufficient to show that the native race can thrive and improve under civilized habits. Mind and body seemed to have expanded together, and the cultivation ofthe the brain, if one could judge by the demeanor of the students towards their preceptors, to have improved the impulses of the heart.

I have the honor to be,
Your most obedient
humble Servant
Frederick Seymour

What do you think? qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm?