In 1850, James Robert Anderson, and his older sister, Eliza Charlotte, traveled over the brigade trail from Fort Colvile with their father, Alexander Caulfield Anderson, to attend the school in Fort Victoria. He was there for about two years. In is memoirs, James leaves a lively story of life inside the school, under Clergyman and Schoolmaster, Reverend Robert J. Staines.
The school was presided over by the Reverend R. J. Staines and Mrs. Staines who had with them their nephew Horace Foster Tahoudin. The school was attended by the following boys and girls, two Andersons, four Rosses, three McNeills, one Pambrun, one Kitson [Kittson], two Dodds, one Tod, one Forrest, two Frasers, two Yales, and three Kennedys. Mr. Staines, of rather uncertain temper, and disposed at times to be unduly severe in administering corporal punishment, was nevertheless a good student and teacher in Natural History and, personally, I can conscientiously say I was never cruelly or even severely chastised, as in all truthfulness, I must admit some of the boys were…
So, the children were daughters, likely, of Charles Ross who had died in 1844 (the boys worked the farm at Ross Bay); sons and/or daughters of William Henry McNeill of Fort Simpson; Jean-Baptiste Pambrun, son of deceased Pierre Chrysologue Pambrun of Fort Nez Perces; a child of now-deceased William Kittson; two of the older children of Charles Dodd, sea-captain; one of now-retired John Tod’s children; one of Charles Forrest’s children (he was in the Columbia district); a son and daughter of Paul Fraser of Kamloops; two of James Murray Yale’s daughters, and one child belonging to Dr. John Frederick Kennedy, who was at Fort Simpson, on the northwest coast. The boys, especially, endured corporal punishment while they were at his school. That they were thrashed, young James admits in another section in his memoirs.
“Sunday at the Staines school is to this day a day of terror to me,” James wrote:
After morning prayers we had breakfast such as it was, bread and treacle and tea without milk. Church at 11 in the mess hall to which we were summoned by the ringing of the Fort bell, then dinner, potatoes and meat, sometimes fish, then a dreary afternoon learning the Collects; how I hated them. Frequently in spite of the hard wooden benches, I used to fall asleep and woe betide me if I were caught… The only redeeming feature of Sunday was the evening spent by invitation in the Staines’ private apartment when we would be regaled with one sweet each after prayer and then after singing “Lord, dismiss us,” we were dismissed to bed. And what beds! The hard boards, an Indian mat, a Hudson’s Bay blanket and over ourselves another blanket. We were hardy young beggars and did not mind it. The garret we occupied was not lined, simply the bare logs; the interstices, where the roof joined the wall, was a veritable runway for the numerous rats which infested the building and through which the fresh air had unimpeded access even in the coldest weather; perhaps it was better for us, but the trouble was that in cold weather our scanty supply of water would freeze and then we did not trouble to wash and there being no one to superintend, we simply continued so until the weather abated. We did not bathe because we had no facilities for doing so… The sole means of heating the school was a box stove in the room wherein we had our meals and lessons and devilish cold it was for those, who on account of their youth, were jostled to one side by the bigger ones. One of our greatest joys was feasting our eyes on the sumptuous suppers enjoyed by the bachelors who had quarters immediately under our dormitory. By dint of raising up a board in the flooring and which formed the ceiling of the room below, we were enabled to view the mild orgies of the bachelors; oysters, sherry, port and brandy in abundance. J. W. Mackay, J. D. Pemberton, B.W. Pearse, R. Golledge, Dr. Helmcken and W. J. Macdonald are some I remember. How they ever missed seeing the row of hungry little faces above beats me.
So: Joseph William McKay; Richard Golledge, Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken, and William John Macdonald. Surveyor Joseph Despard Pemberton is here; and so too is another surveyor named Benjamin William Pearse. Here is James’s description of Mrs. Staines:
Mrs. Staines was a much more energetic person, she it was who really kept the school going and in spite of many undoubtedly adverse circumstances managed comparatively most creditably. I can see her now in my mind’s eye, with a row of curls down each side of her angular face; by no means unprepossessing however, spare figure, clad in black, a lady undoubtedly, and when walking out holding up her skirts on each side and ordering the girls to follow her example.
“What funny looking guys we must have been in our odd make-shift of costumes,” James remembered. “When my sister appeared on the scene [at Fort Victoria], she was costumed in a print gown which, as nearly as I can remember, was made like a bag with hole for the head and arms and tied round the waist; moccasins and a poke bonnet. These were all pronounced by the Douglas girls as being quite out of fashion, and a gown, or as we were told to call it, a dress, was made with a point in front and small straw bonnet obtained from the Sale Shop. My suit of leather shirt and trousers, cloth cap with a peak and moccasins were not considered so unfashionable, but the shirt was exchanged for a moleskin blouse belted below the waist and decorated with enormous white buttons like saucers. This was the costume which was considered de rigueur for the boys.” James wrote about his first encounter with Mrs. Staines:
Mrs. Staines’ first action on the arrival of a new pupil was a close inspection of the person and wardrobe and a general examination as to proficiency in the three R’s and other accomplishments. To my great chagrin I was ordered to sing a hymn which I had never seen or heard. What kind of a noise I made I can’t say, but the result was great hilarity on the part of the other scholars; this little episode showed the little side of Mrs. Staines’ character. On the other hand, I never forgot her kindness once when I was lying ill in my hard little bunk, she brought me a cup of beef tea, chaffingly telling me it was black draught.
James also had a little more to say of the Reverend Staines:
Commenting on his character, I now realize that whilst he was of uncertain temper, he was endowed with qualities calculated to win the respect and even love of those who were en rapport with him… On account of his peculiar temperament and disposition to run in opposition to the only constituted authority authority, his relations with the Company were not of the pleasantest; eventually culminating… in his appointment by the discontented party headed by Mr. [James] Yates as their emissary to England to lay their grievances before Parliament. He took passage for San Francisco in an American sailing vessel which foundered at sea and thus ended his life.
As far as the HBC men were concerned, it was good riddance. On his arrival at the fort in late 1849, Eden Colvile said of Staines: “Mr. & Mrs. Staines are located for the present in the fort. He is rather a prig, & does not get on very well with the occupants of Bachelor’s Hall, but is I believe a very good schoolmaster.” A year later, James Douglas said, “The school here is going on better than it did, though Staines is still more indolent and remiss than he ought to be. Mrs. Staines is, on the contrary, able, active, and talented.” John Work wrote that he had six children in the school, but the schooling “had not gone on so favorably as could be wished, the teachers have too high ideas, and with some cause complain of the want of proper accommodations.. The teachers are a little indolent but eminently qualified for their task and very anxious for the morals of those pupils, which is a grand thing.”
The gentlemen began to remove their children from the school. James and Eliza joined their father on the Columbia River, where he was taking over Thomas Lowe’s house in Cathlamet. I am not too certain when Staines left Fort Victoria, but after his death the school did not continue. Mrs. Staines returned to London with her nephew, where she died. James grew up and went to England in the early 1900’s, I believe, and met Horace Tahoudin in London (likely by accident). Horace gave James a small book that was transcribed to the Reverend R. J. Staines, “from his affectionate friend Edward Cridge, August 1848.” Anderson returned the book to the Reverend Cridge in 1912. If a Cridge descendant has this book in his possession, you now know how it reached him.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2018. All rights reserved.
- Two Canoes: Governor Simpson reaches the Fraser River
- The New Caledonia Brigades travel north from Fort Alexandria