Governor Blanshard

Fort Nisqually and Puget Sound

This drawing of Fort Nisqually was done by Steve A. Anderson and is used with his kind permission

Young James Anderson, A.C. Anderson’s son, was about ten years old when he attended the school inside the walls of Fort Victoria [Victoria, B.C.]. In his memoirs, he wrote about Richard Blanshard, the new Governor of the Colony of Vancouver’s Island, who arrived at the fort in March 1850.

Governor Blanshard arrived previously to my sojourn at school; his was rather an anomalous and certainly unenviable position during his short stay as first Governor. My recollection of Governor Blanshard is that he was a fair-complexioned man, slightly built and under six feet in height; he used to ride in solitary state about the country and did not seem to make any friends, indeed there were but few with whom he could associate on an equal footing and they seemed to hold aloof. His reign was short-lived and I fancy he was glad to shake off the shackles of an uncongenial office…

Looking back upon events that occurred during my early life in Victoria and judging from the various incidents that occurred during my stay …the impression is left on my mind that the magnanimity which characterized Mr. Douglas’ administration in the affairs of the Hudson’s Bay Company… seemed to me to be sadly wanting in his treatment of Governor Blanshard during his short stay in this country. The lack of consideration shown by Mr. Douglas by neglecting or refusing to give Mr. Blanshard proper accommodation within the Fort are a sad commentary upon his otherwise justness to all who came under his administration.

But James didn’t hear the whole story. There was good reason for Chief Factor James Douglas to be very angry at Richard Blanshard, first Governor of the Colony of Vancouver’s Island. I do on occasion have discussions with people who insist our British Columbia history is separate from what happened in Oregon Territory or other places. It isn’t, and it never was. This story illustrates that.

An August 1849 letter to James Douglas informed him that Mr. Richard Blanshard was on his way to the colony, to become the new Governor — a position that James Douglas already had been told was his. “Mr. Richard Blanshard, a gentleman of great intelligence and respectability, has.. been appointed by the crown to the Office of Governor of Vancouver’s Island, he has also been appointed Commander in Chief. His duties will be confined to the administration of the civil government of the Colony and to military matters, but will not interfere with the duties which will devolve upon you as the Representative of the company, and which are quite distinct from those you will have to perform as Chief Factor… the Governor is to have a grant of land to the extent of 1,000 acres, as he may require it… A house will be provided for him, but a very temporary one will answer the purpose for the present.”

In early 1850, James Douglas responded to the above letter, which he must have received in November, 1849.

I was lately informed in a letter from Mr. Secretary Barclay that I had been superseded in the office of Governor of Vancouver’s Island and a Mr. Blanshard  appointed as my successor. This I am aware is not the act of the Company and therefore I do not complain of the slight, despite the [word] reflections on the “Governor pro tempore.” I will not fail to do every thing in my power to promote the general interest, as Agent for the Company on this Island, my only regret being that we have not a better field for our operations.

Governor Blanshard arrived at Fort Victoria on March 9, 1850, and was given an apartment in the fort. James Douglas wrote that he was “pleased with Mr. Blanshard the Governor, his quiet gentlemanly manner is prepossessing. We received him on landing with a salute of 17 guns; he is rather startled by the wild aspect of the country but will get used to it in time. His house is not yet finished, we expect to have it done in the course of a month, and he will occupy in the mean time an apartment in the big house. He is now absent, having gone to [Fort] Nisqually in Her Majesty sloop “Driver,” to bring a load of cattle for the Colony…”

If he was to occupy one of the apartments in the Big House, then someone was going to have to remove himself from that apartment — and that someone was either James Douglas, or his second-in-command! But for the nonce, Governor Blanshard stayed aboard the ship and was at Fort Nisqually, where he almost immediately caused some trouble. William Fraser Tolmie, who was in charge of the Puget Sound post, informed HBC Governor George Simpson, on what had happened, on March 25, 1850:

Mr. Blanshard the Governor of Vancouver’s Island came passenger in the Driver, and spent three days here. He is a tall, thin person, with a pale, intellectual looking countenance — is a great smoker, a great sportsman — protectionist in politics and a latitudinarian in religious matters. His manner is quiet and rather abstracted, and tho’ free from hauteur, or pomposity, he does not converse much..

I have hitherto been on excellent terms with the Officers of the U.S. Troops stationed at Steilacoom, and hope still to continue so, although a disagreeable circumstance has lately occurred in the escape by the Cadboro to Victoria of two privates, one of them a Scotchman. Captain Hill[s], the commanding officer at Steilacoom, enquired of Governor Blanshard whether the deserters would be given up in the event of his [word] after them to Victoria, and was politely answered in the negative.

The Cadboro was searched and the deserters not discovered, but Captain Sangster found them on board the next morning. The Company learned later the men had paddled ahead in a canoe, and boarded the ship during the night — apparently with Sangster’s connivance. The incident threatened trouble between the U.S. Army and the HBC at Fort Nisqually. Governor George Simpson wrote in June 1850: “We lament very much to find that a misunderstanding has arisen with the United States authorities from the circumstances of two deserters from the U.S. Army having made their escape from Nisqually to Vancouver’s Island on board the Company’s schooner “Cadboro,” whom Governor Blanshard, when applied to, afterwards refused to deliver up.” And Peter Skene Ogden wrote to Tolmie from Fort Vancouver, on April 2:

Captain Hill has officially reported here that two of his soldiers had deserted and were [hidden] and conveyed on board the Hudson’s Bay Company’s schooner to Victoria and those in command refused to deliver them to the American government. This has caused a considerable excitement here and without any information from you on the subject I could [only] deny that the HBC would commit such a disgraceful act and have only to express my regret you had not communicated with me on the subject.

Ogden’s next letter warned that he had received word from a friend, that it was probable the Cadboro would be arrested on its next voyage to Nisqually — “all this has been caused by the unfortunate [hiding] of the two Soldiers on board the Cadboro, a most unfortunate circumstance for [us].” Everyone was annoyed at Governor Blanshard’s interference in the Company’s business, and the ship was seized on its next visit to Nisqually. In December 1851 two more ships (the Steamer Beaver and the Mary Dare) were seized and held for months, and it cost the Company a fortune in time and money. And both Tolmie, at Fort Nisqually, and James Douglas at Fort Victoria, blamed these seizures on Governor Blanshard’s refusal to give up  the American deserters, should they be found!

No wonder Blanshard had difficulties at Fort Victoria! His difficulties continued, and were mostly of his own construction. In 1850 Blanshard reported to Earl Grey “under date 18 August, …that a report had reached him from the Doctor at the coal mine [on northern Vancouver Island] that 3 men had been killed by the Indians and that the rumour was prevalent among the people that the Hudson’s Bay Company officers had promised rewards to the Indians to bring in deserters dead or alive, according to their usual practice.” Blanshard did not check on the truth of this report, and Governor Simpson wrote that: “Giving currency in an official shape to such an idle charge as that the Company are in the habit of offering rewards to the Indians to bring in deserters from their service dead or alive, appears exceedingly unguarded and injudicious, as Governor Blanshard, through Mr. Douglas or any other respectable source on the spot, ought easily have ascertained its correctness.” Naturally this report caused trouble between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Colonial Office in London, and the rumours reached the miners in England, who had planned to come to the new Colony and who withdrew their offer of services.

In July 1850, W.F. Tolmie reported that he had “not yet been able to obtain horses suitable for Gov. Blanshard, but hoped in the course of a month to procure two good riding nags, such as he desires.” I am not sure he was trying hard to find horses for Blanshard. In August, Tolmie wrote that “the present express from Cowlitz” to Fort Vancouver “is forwarded to convey some despatches from Gov Blanshard, Vancouver’s Island, to Earl Grey of the British Colonial Office.” The fur traders were finding the new Governor of the Colony a bit of a nuisance.

In October 1850, James Douglas reported to Governor George Simpson of the HBC, that Blanshard “is now installed in his own house; it is a small but well finished building and rather neatly finished.” Additional information on its location is provided by young James Anderson, who was a student at the school during this time: “Outside the fort yard, to the northward of the eastern gate along the line of Government Street, stood the bakeshop and and residence, during his short stay, of Governor Blanshard.”

But, according to James Douglas, the building of the Governor’s residence was demanding:

It has been a dreadful drag on us all summer, and kept our best men employed to the exclusion of every thing else. As our progress was not equal to his wishes, His Excellency was rather impatient and addressed me several notes on the subject, to which I replied very temperately. He does not conceal that he was mislead by the Company’s statements to him of the strength and resources of this establishment here; and I think he wished for some object unknown to me, but certainly not with the view of befriending the Company, to make that fact publick through his correspondence with me; but he has failed, if that was his object…

Governor Blanshard left the colony in a huff in early September 1851. His departure was not mentioned in any of the records that I saved, and no one seemed to miss him. His name remains though, on a street in Victoria just off the main drag. James Douglas was made the second Governor of the Colony, and he later became the Governor of the colony of British Columbia as well.

Richard Blanshard’s biography can be found here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.