Fort McLoughlin’s End

Fort Nisqually and Puget Sound

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

The end of Fort McLoughlin’s reign on the northwest Coast has an interesting twist to it, which includes a sad story about a man I have written about in two other books (one not yet published). Nevertheless, let’s continue the story of Fort McLoughlin, on the northwest coast, after the attack upon the fort made by the Heiltsuk First Nations men in 1833. The last post in this series is at and if you want to go all the way back to the beginning you will find the first post here:

 Of course, as we know, this is nowhere near the end of Fort McLoughlin’s life on the coast — but it is the end of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s time at Fort McLoughlin. To continue Dr. William Fraser Tolmie’s story of his arrival at Fort McLoughlin, in December 1833. The ship on which he travelled, Cadboro, “reached the Fort by 11 p.m. and [William] Ryan and I have since been on shore and seen Messrs. [Donald] Manson and Anderson.”

Tolmie returned to the Cadboro, where he turned in at 3 am., December 24. He arrived back at the fort for breakfast. Donald Manson showed him around Fort McLoughlin, and Tolmie said it was 150 feet in one direction, and 140 feet in the other. “The houses are built of strong and massive materials and make those at [Fort] Nisqually seem flimsy, in my view.” (Tolmie had spent some time at Fort Nisqually — as you know he will return at a later date to take charge of that place). Later in the day he 

Had some rifle shooting with Mr. Anderson. I made some good shots out of his rifle and winged a crow at about 100 yards. A[nderson] fires very well — he has received instructions to proceed to [Fort] Vancouver in the Cadboro

According to Tolmie:

Watch is regularly kept at night by four men, two on each gallery and an officer sits up with each watch to see that they sing out all’s well, at short intervals. Mr. Manson looks after the men on duty from 6 to 10 p.m., and the other two watches from 10 til 2 and 2 to 6 a.m. fall to the lot of Mr. Anderson, Mr. [John] Dunn, and [?] Faigneau, the captain of the workmen and carpenter — these three are on guard by turns, consequently every third keeps watch, one keeps watch in bed. Yesterday the weather was wet and rainy and the snow had completely disappeared, but during the night a keen frost set in and this has been a charming day. Anderson is making meteorological observations, which I must immediately resume.

On December 30, Tolmie took a walk with Anderson, visiting the two lakes mentioned in the last post in this series. On the 31st they skated on the same lake. “I had better skates,” Tolmie said, “and consequently excelled A in racing and at shinty.” Shinty is an outdoors game with sticks and a small hard ball, in which two opposing teams try to hit the ball through their opponent’s goal. It is similar to field hockey, but I suggest these two men played a game that was closer to ice hockey. On January 2, Tolmie wrote:

Last night was spent with great conviviality and the song and glass circulated till 11 p.m. when the skipper, pretty considerably corned, was handed by Anderson and myself on board the Cadboro. All letters and despatches closed up today and delivered to the Captain tonight. Anderson has embarked. Although our acquaintance has only been of ten days duration, feel considerable regret in parting with Anderson though rather hasty t’is said I have found him a frank open-hearted young man, well educated and of good abilities. We have unbosomed a good deal to each other — I more so to him than to any person since leaving home. Generally we have passed two or three hours in chatting after getting into bed, a pleasure I have not before enjoyed for a long time. A intends to espouse the daughter of Mr. [James] Birnie’s at Nass [Fort Simpson] (with a half-breed woman) as soon as she is marriageable and in his case I think it the most prudent plan which can be adopted…

Anderson did, indeed, marry James Birnie’s daughter, Betsy Birnie, when she was old enough to be wed.

Thursday, January 9. Having on Monday missed the turnscrew of percussion gun, went today to the lake where Anderson and self skated and made diligent search along the bank but without effect. Since his departure A had daily occupied a share in the cogitations of my breast or, to speak more sensibly, I have been daily thinking about him. I have certainly taken a liking to him and wish we had been longer together to have known each other better, our communications can now only take place by letter and as he will probably have the first opportunity I will see on what footing he places himself — whether that of a friend or mere acquaintance — if he that of the former I will not hesitate to respond in the same tone. 

I wonder if they carried on a correspondence? I do not know, and no letters have survived to reach the archives. I don’t believe they met again until Anderson was semi-retired and travelled to Fort Nisqually in about 1854. Nor do we know if the Cadboro that carried Anderson away from Fort McLoughlin stopped at Fort Langley, but we do know that Captain Joseph M. Langtry, of the HBC ship Nereide, reported that the Cadboro lay off Fort George, Columbia River, on April 13, 1834. That would mean that the Cadboro had a three-month-long voyage from the Northern post of Fort McLoughlin, and so it is highly likely that Anderson visited a few posts on this coast on his way south to Fort Vancouver. At Fort Simpson, he would have once again visited the Birnie family. And if Anderson was aboard that ship at Fort George, he and the other passengers would reach Fort Vancouver by canoe or small boat, rather than remain in the ship for the slow journey upriver to the fort. 

So that is the end of Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s stay at Fort McLoughlin, and he would go on to further adventures on the coast. Fort McLoughlin would be closed down in 1843, and that’s a story in itself that will be told in the Fort Victoria thread.

Interestingly, however, this is not the end of Fort McLoughlin. It would reopen. When? I have to find the story, but here is part of it. In his book, Lives Lived West of the Divide, Bruce Watson says it was opened in 1873, but “this time only with a smaller trading post but surrounded by a stockade. This post was finally rented out to John Clayton of Bella Coola, for $5.00 a month.”

There was also about this time a Bella Coola Post, operated by William Sinclair, Jr., a man who I have written about in various places. I will have to say that until I found this biography, I had not connected all the William Sinclairs that I had written about. This is part of his biography (the last part of his life), in The Letters of John McLoughlin, from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, Third Series, 1844-46. 

Sinclair was apparently in Victoria, Vancouver Island, in 1878, and in June of that year he once again entered the Company’s services. He was classed as a postmaster and appointed to the charge of Bella Coola in British Columbia. He remained here until about November, 1882, when arrangements were made for the post to be closed. During the succeeding six months Sinclair apparently served as purser on board the Company’s steamer, Otter, and in July 1883, he was instructed to go to Kamloops, where he was stationed until the end of March, 1884. During the remaining years of his service Sinclair had charge in turn of Hazelton, Yale, Langley, and Fraser Lake. He committed suicide by shooting himself on October 30, 1899 and he was buried at Fraser Lake on November 3, 1899. All the reports on his character speak of him as being a good and trustworthy servant. 

But William Sinclair Jr. was what the Company men called a half-breed, and so could only be a postmaster in the Company. This meant that although he worked for the Company for many years, and he was in the Columbia District as early as 1843, he could never aspire to be a Chief Trader, nor even a clerk. When I write a blogpost about him, you will see what a trusted employee he was. I do find, however, that in spite of his low status, he did earn 100 pounds per annum by the time he retired for the first time in 1865, which is good pay for a postmaster. Born in 1827, he had worked for the Company for about 23 years at that time. When he committed suicide, he was 72: probably still poor and relatively poorly-paid, and in declining health with a future that would only get worse as time passed. These stories make me sad. He should have been treated better. 

When I write his story, it will appear here:

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved.