The HBC ship Cadboro

Early 1900's sailing ship in a bottle

A Sailing ship in a bottle, from early 1900’s. This is a far bigger ship than the Cadboro ever was, by the way.

It is November 1844, and we are continuing Thomas Lowe’s stories of the happenings at Fort Vancouver, the HBC headquarters near the mouth of the Columbia River — one hundred miles or so upriver, in fact, where Vancouver, WA, stands today. The botanist, Charles Geyer, is the only cabin passenger on the London Ship Columbia, as we know from the last blogpost in this series. She sailed for London on November 13, and on November 15 the schooner, Cadboro, arrived at Fort Vancouver. She “arrived here in the forenoon,” Lowe says, “from Fort Victoria and Nisqually, where she had been all Summer. Salmon and butter from Fort Langley is all she has now in board, having delivered her Furs to the Columbia yesterday. Began unloading her.”

It sounds as if the Cadboro also visited Fort Langley, up the Fraser River, but I wonder if the steamer Beaver brought the butter from Fort Langley to Fort Victoria, where the Cadboro picked it up and delivered it to Fort Vancouver. I think that for the most part, the Beaver was trading on the northwest coast.

So let’s answer that question: I know from my Timeline (a very useful thing), the Cadboro was in the Columbia River in May 1844, when she sailed out from Fort Vancouver on the 17th of the month. She left Baker’s Bay (the bay inside the mouth of the river) on June 10th, probably after a weather delay, and arrived at Fort Victoria on June 18: this according to James Douglas, who wrote an actual list of her sailings that summer.

Chief Trader Charles Ross, the man in charge of Fort Victoria, fell sick on June 22, 1844, and died on June 27. But by that time the Cadboro had already left Fort Victoria for Fort Langley, having sailed on June 20. By July 4, John McLoughlin, who was in charge at Fort Vancouver, heard of the death of Charles Ross via the Fort Nisqually Express — which may mean that the Cadboro brought the news to Fort Nisqually after a visit at Fort Victoria. But no! On July 10, the Cadboro arrives at Fort Langley. And so I suspect that Roderick Finlayson, who took over at Fort Victoria after Ross’s death, sent an Express canoe to Fort Nisqually, and the Fort Nisqually men forwarded the letter to Fort Vancouver by their own Express. — An Express, by the way, is a light canoe or canoes, (or boats, but in this case probably one canoe), which travels quickly because it is not carrying a heavy load. Brigades are heavily laden and slow: Expresses are lightly laden (with passengers and mail) and they go as fast as they can manage!

On July 16, the Cadboro leaves Fort Langley and arrives at Fort Victoria, where the captain will hear the sad news of Ross’s death. She leaves Fort Victoria again on July 25, 1844, again travelling to Fort Langley where she arrives on August 1. So James Douglas has answered my question, above, and it is the Cadboro that has brought the butter from Fort Langley to Fort Nisqually. She is a busy little ship, I must say!

So what do we know about the Cadboro?

  1. The Cadboro was tiny: a schooner of seventy-one tons, one deck and two masts, six guns, schooner-rigged (if I remember correctly, that means the taller mast was near the stern of the boat, and the smaller mast closer to the front).
  2. There were First Nations canoes that were longer than this ship.
  3. She was purchased in London by the HBC in 1826, and she sailed for Fort Vancouver as soon as she was ready. John Pearson Swan was the man who captained the ship on her journey to the Columbia River, and Aemilus Simpson (who is one of the journal-keepers in my book, The York Factory Express), captained her on the Northwest Coast, 1827-1830. She carried the crew that built Fort Langley to the place where the first Fort Langley was built, and later brought the men who built the first Fort Simpson, on the Nass River, to that place. Aemilius Simpson died at Fort Simpson in 1830, and was buried there until his body was brought down to the new Fort Simpson and reburied outside its gates. 
  4. Because of her small size, she usually worked on the coast in tandem with other ships: at least when she was in a support position as the HBC men were building their posts. In the coastal triangle between Forts Langley, Victoria, and Nisqually, she sailed on her own.
  5. She worked on the coast for 23 years! In her latter years she needed much work done and was sold, and finally wrecked when she developed a leak in the middle of one of our Pacific coast gales.  
  6. Her captain during the time I am writing off in this blogpost was Captain James Allan Scarborough — a very efficient sailor, I would say. But he was not someone who got along with everyone, and when he was captain of the Beaver in 1838, there was a mutiny aboard the ship. 

My great uncle James Robert Anderson (son of A.C. Anderson), described the Cadboro as it sailed up the Fraser River to Fort Langley in 1850, carrying James Douglas to the post to meet the Brigades. He was 12 years old: 

The next was a red letter day in our lives, seeing that it was our first experience of a ship. This vessel, enormous beyond all belief, with her sails all set, was the Hudson’s Bay Company brigantine ‘Cadboro,‘ Captain James Sangster, conveying as passenger Mr. James Douglas; she sailed majestically up the river and anchored in front of the Fort. Now the Cadboro was not on the same plane in the social maritime scale as the more pretentious and modern vessels of even greater tonnage which today and latterly have been engaged in mercantile pursuits, sealing, fishing, and so on. The Cadboro of those days was much nearer the Man-o-War type than the ordinary trader of these days. Besides the Captain she had first and second mates and a large crew. She was of 72 tons register and mounted a couple of guns. Soon after anchoring a boat was lowered and Mr. Douglas, afterwards Sir James Douglas, came ashore and was ceremoniously received, as became his position, being then the Chief Factor in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s affairs in the North West, with headquarters at Fort Victoria… 

So let us continue with the Cadboro‘s journeys over the summer of 1844: On August 6, she is en route once more, leaving Fort Langley, and on the 14th she arrived at Fort Victoria. She departs Fort Victoria on August 19, and arrives at Fort Nisqually on the 27th of the same month. On September 1 she reaches Fort Victoria once more, and departs once more on September 12, heading to Fort Langley, on the Fraser River. She arrives there on September 22: the journey up the Fraser River can be slow, as this is a sailing ship and the river current is strong, even in the Fraser valley. On September 24 she departs Fort Langley, and it seems she does not reach Fort Victoria until October 7, according to Douglas. What would have slowed her down, perhaps, is the Easterly winds that were blowing at this time: they fuelled the Fort Vancouver fires, and they also delayed the London ship, Columbia, in the Columbia River for up to a month!

So I am placing this post in the Thomas Lowe series, and so even though it is going under its own name, Cadboro, it will follow the Thomas Lowe at Fort Vancouver series, which begins here: 

And yes, I know I have a few links to complete. I will do my best to catch up to them (but there are no promises). The next post, when it is published, will appear here: As you see, the posts are reverting to earlier numbers, by accident, but it will work out in the end.  

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “The HBC ship Cadboro

  1. Tom Holloway

    A question and a comment.
    Question: What would Fort Simpson have been named, if Aemilius Simpson had not unexpectedly died, after which the new post was named in his honor? (Not a quiz—I don’t know the answer, but would like to, out of curiosity.)
    Comment: As I understand it, a schooner has two or more masts, but the defining characteristic is fore-and-aft rigging, that is, all sails are triangular or a variant. That makes them more maneuverable that square rigged ships.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      It was called Fort Nass, as it was at the mouth of the Nass River, far up the estuary of the Nass. Bruce Watson says that its name was changed to Fort Simpson when Aemilius Simpson died, so you are right about that.
      And yes, I think schooners do have triangular sails rather than square. Did you notice that James Anderson called the Cadboro a brigantine? I don’t know the difference between a brigantine and a schooner either.

  2. Joanne Plourde

    Hi Nancy! Great post. I was always wondering about the Cadboro.

    Question: How many horses did they carry when they arrived the first day to built Fort Langley?

    Comment: I wonder why Charles Ross died so suddently. I think that he was in charge the post when Fort Victoria was being built. My grand father was also named Charles Ross. Thank you!!

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, it was a tiny little ship, the Cadboro! But it worked well on the Pacific coast.
      The post journals and letters never ever tell us how many horses they delivered — they just say horses. If I find out, I will let you know. They were probably delivered in small batches, maybe????
      Charles Ross had appendicitis — but he had also been sick for a while. I wonder how long you can have an infected appendix and not have it kill you? Yes, he was in charge of Fort Victoria from its beginning in 1843. He took sick on June 22,1844, and died on June 27th, of “an affection of the heart.” There are plenty of letters between him and Dr. Tolmie that indicate he was sick for a while.