[1859 Victoria]: How I Got into the Government “Blue Book”

Wesleyan Methodist minister Arthur Browning (born 1830) tells a reminiscence of 1859.

Browning was being canoed from Nanaimo to Victoria by Native paddlers.

It seems there was a lot of hostility at that time between visiting northerners and the local Vancouver Island tribes, so the preacher’s vessel traveled under cover of darkness. 

Browning knew Chinuk Wawa, and he relays some dialogue that we can back-translate from English. 

Nanaimo, BC, circa 1862. The church at center rear next to the forest is Reverend Browning’s (image credit: VIURRSpace)

On pages 360-361 of the article I’m reading, Browning tells of crossing Cadboro Bay (site of my local beach while living at the University of Victoria) when some Haidas (“Hydahs”) intercept his canoe. 

We were, I say, crossing this bay when a canoe full of Hydah pirates ran across our bow and stopped our way. They had on their war paint, and their bodies were naked with the exception of a blanket around their legs. Muskets and knives were, of course, much in evidence. In Chinook they demanded,

“What tribe do you Indians belong to? Who is your passenger? And what is his business in Victoria?”

The questions were answered, but they refused to let us go on. It was a strange parley on the high seas, and I felt that all of life, and perhaps all of death, was centred in those few minutes on that bay. At length they appealed to me personally. Was I really a man of God? and was I truly on my way to Victoria to preach about Jesus? Another question, and one painfully suggestive, was this. Were they expecting me tomorrow in Victoria? and would I be missed and searched for if I failed to arrive on time? This question was a truly Indian one, and was a specimen of native cunning easily through by me, but none the less to be feared.

I answered these questions most emphatically in the affirmative, and reminded them that God could see in the dark, and that deeds done the night would surely be brought to light. I confess that my heart beat very wildly, for the scene was a weird one, and I was the only white man in a dark night on the wide sea, and my companions I knew would gladly kill each other there and then if fear did not prevent them. At length the Hydahs drew off to consult themselves, bidding us to stay still until they came back.

They returned to say that they were convinced that I was a minister and that we might proceed, but that they would verify our statements in Victoria.  

— from “How I Got into the Government ‘Blue Book’ ” by the Rev. Arthur Browning, Methodist Magazine, April 1898, pages 360-362

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