Club Law

Fort Nisqually and Puget Sound

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

In 1841, while he was in charge of Fort Nisqually, Alexander Caulfield Anderson got into a little trouble with Chief Factor John McLoughlin.

Anderson had quarreled with a French-Canadian employee, Andre St. Martin, because the man had not carried out his orders promptly and cheerfully; now St. Martin refused to remain at Fort Nisqually. James Douglas, John McLoughlin and Captain McNeill all felt that Anderson’s “recent conduct in reference to St. Martin has been exceedingly improper.” It is possible that Anderson struck the man — a punishment common in New Caledonia but one of which Chief Factor McLoughlin strongly disapproved. [The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West, p. 75].

Any striking, beating, or flogging of an employee was labelled “Club Law” by Governor George Simpson, and he strongly disapproved of it. However, I discovered that James Douglas did not. In fact he practiced it himself. James Robert Anderson, A.C. Anderson’s son, attended school in Fort Victoria in 1851-52. In his later memoirs, he wrote:

One other occasion in which we suffered similar punishment, one of many, was when one of the men attached to the Fort was flogged, for what reason, I do not know. It took place on the Company’s jetty. The man was stripped, bound to a post and the cat o’nine tails applied to his back. Being a novel sight and not for a moment thinking it cruel, accustomed as we were to the cruel castigation inflicted by [school-teacher] Mr. Staines on some of the boys, we viewed the performance with equanimity. Rather to our astonishment the account of the affair had preceded us and on our return to the school we were all marshaled before Mr. Staines and given a homily on cruelty….  [Notes and Comments on Early Days and Events in British Columbia, by James Robert Anderson, My copy, but also in B.C. Archives].

So James Douglas, who was in charge at Fort Victoria, was guilty of practicing Club Law. From Honolulu, George Beardmore weighed in with this information in August 1851. He had worked under James Douglas at Fort Victoria, but his words must be taken with a grain of salt, as you will see below. He said: “There is no stated punishment in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service. I knew a case of a Blacksmith who violated a gentlemen’s daughter — his punishment was a small flogging and a fine of $10.00. Knocking down and giving a man what is called a “pounding,” and jumping upon him is very common. [James] Douglas was a great hand at flogging. The discipline is something like that on board a Man of War, but all depends upon the master — whether a man of spirit — a small weak man could do nothing.” [Notes of a conversation with George Beardmore aboard H.M. ship “Portland” at Honolulu, 23rd July 1851, to The Secretary of the Admiralty, B.226/c/1, fo. 194, HBCA]. Beardmore was said to have “left the Company’s service a discontented man,” and it was suggested that Admiral Moresby might have “therefore been on his guard against his opinions and statements as correct representations of the real state of things.” [Hudsons Bay House to Rt. Hon Earl Grey, January 14 1852, B.226/c/1, fo. 200, HBCA]

Donald Manson, especially, is blamed by modern-day historians for the club law that existed in New Caledonia. Time and again, Donald Manson was refused promotions that he should have received. He was a disappointed man who lost his temper on occasion, as you can see in my book The Pathfinder: A.C. Anderson’s Journeys in the West.

The extreme shortage of horses in the territory meant that there were not enough pack animals to carry the supplies away from Fort Hope [in 1849], and both the New Caledonia and Fort Colvile brigades were forced to leave a portion of their trade goods behind. It was a worrisome and stressful time for all the men at Fort Hope, especially for the New Caledonia men who had to travel all the way north to Fort St. James before winter set in. After a heated argument with Donald Manson, Anderson packed up his brigades and traveled over the trail without waiting for the New Caledonia men. When news that Manson and Anderson had exchanged “high words” reached Fort Vancouver, Chief Factor Ogden worried about the divided brigades among the numerous Natives he envisioned on this high plateau. However, the Fort Colvile men rode over the mountains with little difficulty and, bypassing the long diversion north to Kamloops, arrived at Fort Colvile 18 days after leaving Fort Hope. In his letter to Governor Simpson, Anderson reported, “I subsequently to our separation, received a note from Mr. Manson, stating that he had safely passed the Mountains with his Brigade.”

The quarrel between Manson and Anderson worried the Board of Management for many months afterwards, but as neither gentleman made any reference to the disagreement in their various reports, Douglas was unable to discover the cause. However, Manson reported on the argument in a letter to Governor Simpson the following spring. When Manson left Kamloops on his outgoing brigade, he arranged for a number of Okanagan and Secwepemc men to travel over the new mountain trail to Fort Hope, opening it up on their way. Manson also planned that Anderson would remain behind at Fort Hope to work with a party of French Canadians, opening up the new trail from the west end. Anderson refused to do the work unless Manson assigned him clerk Henry Peers as his assistant, and even then he would only do it after he’s had a chance to visit Fort Langley [where he had arranged to meet his children, who were in the Fort Victoria school]. Manson complained that “by this arrangement much time was lost.”

But as early as July 1847, Governor Simpson had written a letter on that subject to Donald Manson, which he would have received in the late fall. This is what that letter said:

The desertion of the people [from the brigades], from whatever cause it may have arisen, has been productive of serious consequence & may be attended in future very injurious consequences… Had they been well managed, I don’t think so many would have left you. There is an impression on the minds of myself & others, that you are not sufficiently kind & conciliatory in your manner, but indulge in a high imperious tone, keeping them all at a great distance, & giving away to gusts of passion on very trivial grounds of offence. During the days of Mr. [Peter Skene] Ogden, I understand, he did much towards improving the condition of the people by attention to agriculture & the rearing of cattle & pegs, whereby they were well fed & made as comfortable as in some of the most favoured posts of the country. I do not mean to say that you do not follow up those improvements, but it is said that the people are not so well off in the way of [food] during your administration, & in that case it is not to be wondered at that they are dissatisfied.. I am quite sure you will find things go much smoother with all about you than if they are reduced to hand and mouth living…

Simpson’s next letter, written in June 1853, said this:

With reference to your remark on the subject of promotion, it is always with much reluctance that I write or speak to any gentleman in reference to his prospects; & from experience I know I cannot be too guarded; why, if I even look a reply, meaning neither “yes” nor “no,” but a middle course, it is afterwards, perhaps years afterwards — quoted in letters as a promise or an extinguisher to all hopes. I can truly say that I should be very happy to see you come forward, I have known you for many years, during which you have rendered valuable & zealous services; latterly, however, there is an impression on the minds of the Gentlemen in the Country that the value of your services has been a good deal neutralized by an unfortunate irritability of temper; this is very much to be regretted & appears to have grown upon you of late, as in former days, no such drawback existed to your efficiency. Your claims & merits, however, are as well known to almost all the gentlemen of the Council as to myself, & will be duly considered when the opportunity may offer. [Gov. Simpson to Donald Manson, June 14 1850, D.4/42, fo. 17, HBCA]

The so-called opportunity was never considered. In June 1853, Governor George Simpson addressed another letter to Donald Manson, in which he wrote: “By desire of the Board of Management of the Western department there are now sent across the Mountains via Tete Jaune’s Cache 16 servants to supply necessaries in the New Caledonia and Thompson’s River districts, respecting which you have no doubt received instructions. While on this subject I am sorry to have to state that the service in New Caledonia is very unpopular among the people in consequence of the reports spread of the rough treatment experienced at the hands of the Company’s officers. There is at present here a retiring Winterer from our district, one Francois Lacourse who states that he was very severely beaten by Mr. P[eter] Ogden, who knocked him down, kicked him and injured him so seriously that the man has since then been subject to epileptic fits. He states that on another occasion when angry with him, you aimed a blow at him with an axe, but fortunately missed him & only cut open his coat, which he exhibited here, & he further adds that you afterwards presented him with a suit of clothes as reparation for this injury. These are the exparte statement of Lacourse & may be in part false, but taken in connexion with other cases of late years, they afford ample evidence of the existence of a system of “club law” which must not be allowed to prevail. We duly appreciate the necessity for maintaining discipline & reinforcing obedience, but that end is not to be attained by the display of violent passion and the infliction of severe & arbitrary punishment in hot blood; when a servant is refractory or disobeys orders, he should be allowed a full hearing, his case examined fairly & deliberately, & if he be guilty either taken out to the depot, put on short rations, or under arrest — in fact almost any punishment rather than knocking about or flogging. I have to beg that you will make the foregoing remarks known to Mr. P. Ogden, Mr. [Donald] McLean and other officers in the district, and I trust we may hear of no more of these disagreeable affairs.” [B.188/c/1, fo. 1-2, HBCA]

But in 1854, Donald Manson received a letter from James Douglas [written Nov. 1853], that seems to encourage him to punish his employees by beating them.

The first date I will reply to under private cover; that of the 5th referring to the desertion of three of your men on the morning you went to leave Fort Langley with the Brigade, is really a most annoying circumstance, calling for very stringent measures of prevention: but there appears to be a great reluctance on the part of all my colleagues to resort to the only measure which will ever put a stop to such proceedings. I am of course, [word] and should be the last person in the country to advocate violent measures, but every one must be convinced that a deep rooted evil requires a severe operation before it can be vindicated, and Gentlemen, the remedy is in your own hands, and can be used when necessity requires it. I am quite convinced that none of your men had any just cause of complaint, and that their conduct in deserting your Brigade is altogether inexcusable. I have not seen the parties, who will remain at Fort Langley until your arrival next year. [B.226/b/10, fo.55, HBCA]

Donald Manson would have received these letters at the same time. What was a man to do, when his instructions varied so wildly. I can understand much of Donald Manson’s frustration, and his anger. The fur trade did not treat him well.

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

4 thoughts on “Club Law

  1. Tom Holloway

    This is good info on a topic it would be interesting to know more about. Flogging aboard ship was understandable–there was no place to hide. But on land desertion was more of a possibility. If harsh physical punishment were commonplace it would be hard to get men to stay on.
    One detail: It seems the P. Ogden mentioned here was Peter Ogden Jr. By 1853 Peter Skene Ogden Sr. was in ill health and serving out his last days at Ft. Vancouver. On this beating accusation Bruce Watson cites Fr. Morice, “The True History of the Interior of British Columbia,” p. 181.

    1. Nancy Marguerite Anderson Post author

      Yes, it is Peter Ogden Junior. Governor Simpson complained to his father, who was at Fort Vancouver. Paul Fraser was bad, although he is not mentioned here. I think it was just part of the fur trade in New Caledonia, and yes, there was a whole batch of deserters in about 1847 or so. They all ended up at Fort Alexandria because they refused to return to Fort St. James, as Manson would beat them. There is even a suggestion (or more than a suggestion) that there was a plot to murder Donald Manson. No wonder he was stressed. (And look, someone did murder John McLoughlin Jr., so that was quite possible!)
      Rev. Morice got all his information from Peter Ogden Jr., and also from the Fort St. James journals. Sometime I will get back to those journals and see what I can find about these deaths I sometimes write about.