London Ship to York Factory

Early 1900's sailing ship in a bottle

A Sailing ship in a bottle, from early 1900’s

I thought I would have nothing more to say of the London ships, but I was wrong. I found, in the B.C. Archives, a delicious journal written by Augustus Richard Peers (brother of Henry Newsham Peers) who also joined the fur trade and sailed for Hudson Bay.

If you think this journal has nothing to do with the fur trade West of the Rocky Mountains, you would be wrong. Many of the men who worked in New Caledonia or the Columbia district made their way across the continent from York Factory, via the returning Columbia express. So, travelling by ship from London to Hudson Bay (or Lachine, as Anderson did) would be a common experience for all.

Augustus Richard Peers’ journal is found in the B.C. Archives under E/B/P34. It is a transcript, and the original journal was in the hands of some people who lived in California in 1933. No one knows how this transcript made it into the Archives but we are glad it is there.

“It is the lot and duty of every man to seek a profession,” Augustus begins. “Some there are who wield the sword in defense of their country’s cause. Others there are who choose to seek their fortune on the mighty deep, but of all the ways and by-ways open to us, I find they are but as one or two in the multitude who ever think of visiting this remote corner of the earth in which it has been the lot of fortune to cast me.” He wrote this journal at Peel’s River post, later Fort McPherson, McKenzie district. He died there, but is buried at Fort Simpson, NWT.

“In the year 1842, having arrived at that age when most youngsters leave the parent roof to embark upon the world and do for themselves, and having received an appointment in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, I journeyed to the Mighty City where I passed the still remaining week which I could call my own, in seeing the sights and furnishing my kit with a goodly store of warm clothing and other creature comforts…. On the fifth of May in that year, in company with my father, I stepped on board one of those crank river craft and after a few hours steaming on the bosom of Old Father Thames we arrived off Gravesend. Transferring ourselves to a wherry we soon ranged alongside the Company’s good ship Prince Rupert, which with the consort Prince Albert had the day before dropped down from dock and now floated side by side with colors flying, and braces “all a’ taut O.”

“On gaining the deck we learnt that the Governor and Gentlemen of the Committee had already arrived and were then in the cabin with the captain, who, hearing of our arrival, invited us to descend which we accordingly did and were introduced to Sir John Henry Pelly and other gentlemen present.

“On the departure of the ships for Hudson’s Bay it is customary for the committee to give a public dinner on shore to which the Captains with the Surgeons and any passengers who may be going out are invited; and we were accordingly honoured with an invitation. A small steamer having brought up alongside, the Governor with his train embarked and put off for the shore under a rattling salute from the ships…”

Augustus enjoyed the banquet in a hotel onshore, and returned to the ship where he and his companion “were challenged by the mate, who being satisfied that it was not the Captain and consequently neither the new hand ropes nor the sweet pipings of old Everett the Boatswain being required, for us, he continued his beat on the quarter deck while the doctor and I clambered up the side. The lights in the cabin being extinguished we had some difficulty in finding our respective dormitories; however, by dint of feeling and groping and after tumbling over sundry chairs we at length effected our object…

“On awakening to a state of consciousness the next morning my first impulse was to stare and wonder where I was; however, I was soon apprised of my whereabouts by hearing a stentorian command overhead to “Haul taut the main brace.” I immediately turned out and having donned my clothes and hauled taut my braces, I proceeded across the cabin …

“Leaving our rooms simultaneously” he and his friend “ascended to the deck and on looking aloft we had convincing proofs that we were under way. The snow white sails bellied out under the influence of a gentle breeze, the sun shone genially from a cloudless sky and we enjoyed a promenade on deck, stopping ever and anon to gaze at some light craft, which by reason of their lightness shot past us. Presently eight bells sounded from either ship and the steward warned us that breakfast was ready…

“We had scarcely left the river and got well out into elbow room when the wind chopped round and set in dead ahead of our course, causing the ships to be continually on the tack, thereby rendering our onward progress slow. The sea became rather rough. The waves began to jump and toss and as a natural consequence the ship followed suit, causing unpleasant thoughts and certain unmistakable sensations to those on board unaccustomed to a seafaring life…

“The winds continued provoking adverse, so that ere we arrived off Yarmouth a full week had passed, and as, when we entered the roads we had no better luck we were obliged to cast anchor… In this disagreeable fix we passed another week; the monotony of our existence being only enlivened when the wind permitted us to receive and pay visits to the consort ship which had anchored about a mile astern of us. When our patience had been fairly tried and well nigh exhausted, a fair wind at length sprung up and the mysterious pilot having left us, we one more spread our canvas to the breeze and the good ships, as if joyous at their release sped merrily over the sea.

“In the course of a few days the black land of Orkney hove in sight and as it was necessary to touch there for the purpose of taking on board servants required in the Company’s distant territories and also to take in stores, the Prince Rupert bore up for the land while the Prince Albert continued her course to the Hebrides for a similar purpose.

“The approach to the harbor of Stromness is an intricate one through a number of rocky islands; the channel narrowing in some places to a few hundred yards, causing it necessary to keep the lead continually on the heave on either side of the ship. To me who had so recently left one of the most picturesque shires of Old England the bleak sterility of these islands found no favor in my eyes. Not a tree, and scarcely a shrub graced the scene, thereby rendering the view disagreeably dull and monotonous and I was at a loss to conceive how a people could be content to pass their lives in a land that seemed only a fit habitation for seals and seabirds…

“During our stay at the Orkneys an ample supply of fresh beef, mutton, potatoes, eggs, etc., had been got on board; also some live stock consisting of half a dozen pigs and a whole flock of geese, ducks and hens so that our long passage over the dreary waste of waters we were not likely to want for the good things of this life.

“The pilot having again boarded us we tripped our anchor and in a few minutes were standing for the outer passage, through which having effected a safe and speedy exit, Mr. Clouston [agent in Stromness] having accompanied us so far descended to the pilot boat. As their tiny craft dropped astern, a salute was fired and three hearty cheers were given and responded to. The breeze freshening as we receded from the land, the good ship felt its influence and sped gallantly on her way. The Skerris Rocks were speedily passed and ere the gathering clouds of night obscured the sky, the land of former giants and dwarfs appeared as a mere speck on the distant horizon far, far astern.

“Next day, having got fairly out to sea, the ship was made snug and the superfluous guns were lowered into the after hold, only four being kept on deck for the purpose of signals, and mayhap to salute some grim monster of the deep whose domains we were now entering… As Dr. N was quite au fait on the flute, we derived much pleasure and amusement in listening on a calm evening to some well remembered airs, which failed not to bring to our minds the recollection of many, many, happy days spent amid the scenes of our youth, never more to return.

“In a few days the Butt of Lewis hove in sight and a sharp lookout was kept for the Prince Albert. She was soon descried on our starboard bow and we bore up to speak [to] her. The next day being fine and favourable, the ships were hove to a short distance asunder and by means of boats an exchange of passengers was effected. Those engaged in Stornoway for the north coming onto our skiff and those brought by us from Orkney for the south joined the Albert…

“At length the time arrived when we should see the long last land, consequently a sharp look out was kept. Ere long, and as we sat at breakfast one fine morning towards the close of July, the welcome sound of “Land Ahoy!” came from the lookout at the foretop; and as though we had never seen Old Mother Earth before, a simultaneous rush was made on deck and there appeared to our anxious gaze the icebound coast of Labrador, looming like a fog bank on the distant horizon.

“At about this time, too, we fell in with the ice. At first straggling and in small pieces; but as we progressed, it became both thicker and heavier, requiring all the skill and experience of the officers to steer the ship through it. Notwithstanding their utmost care, the ship would occasionally strike a mass, causing her actually to recoil and stagger from the shock, making the bells ring and knocking us almost off our legs….”

The ship sailed north and through Hudson Strait, then South down the Bay toward York Factory. “Once we passed very close to a shoal of white whales which were sporting and sunning themselves on the surface of the water. This species of whale are small but very numerous along the coast of Hudson’s Bay.

“About the tenth of August the sight of land once more greeted our longing eyes and we entertained agreeable expectations of a speedy termination to our voyage. Soon after we arrived in “Ten Fathom Hole”, and as the water grew rapidly shallow and the weather looking lowering, giving palpable indications of a coming storm, the Captain deemed it advisable to cast anchor. Scarcely had the sails been furled and all made snug when down came the rain in torrents, pattering on the skylights. The lightning gleamed, followed instantly by rattling peals of thunder and the wind whistled dismally through the rigging of the ship. The storm was short and violent, and soon blew over leaving us however enshrouded in a fog so thick that it was deemed unsafe to move so we commenced firing signals to advertise our arrival to the Factory schooners should they be cruising in the neighbourhood. As night fell a light was hung at the foremast head, blue lights burnt and sky-rockets fired at intervals. No visitor however appearing, I turned in…

“The morning was fine and the sun shone bright and when the tide was at its full height, the ship was once more put under weigh. We soon passed over the bar, touching the bottom here and there, and brought up in the anchorage in “Five Fathom Hole” under a salute announcing our safe entry to the folk at the Factory.

“The York schooners of about sixty or seventy tons burden now ranged alongside. The powder kegs were got out and quickly transferred to the schooners, all fires and smoking being prohibited pro tem. Dr. N and I gathered up our traps and betook ourselves on board one of the small craft which steered out and set sail for shore but ere we got far, the tide having turned, we speedily stuck in the mud. As we were doomed to remain a fixture till the evening tide, we made the best of our lot by leaning over the side, like horses in a pound, and surveyed the scene before us — a scene, by the way, which partook but in a very slight degree of the picturesque.

“Before us lay the land in bleak sterility, terminating below the Factory in a long low point whose limits were marked by a wooden beacon. Behind us lay the bay bounded by the distant horizon. The steersman of the schooner, who was an old hand in the country derived great pleasure in displaying to the wondering gaze of the greenhorns a lump of pemmican, a kind of food much used in the country and which, by the way, has rather a forbidding appearance at first sight. It was rather laughable to see the wry faces and shuddering of the poor Orkney lads when they eyed the article with suspicion, and enquired, “an’ what an’ a stuff war that?”

“Towards evening, the tide having risen we hoisted sail and the wind being favourable and fresh, we rapidly approached the Fort. On nearing it we discovered a group of people standing on the wharf and as we steered up alongside we jumped ashore and in a few minutes had introduced ourselves to Mr. and Mrs. Hargrave and the other gentlemen of the Factory who stood amidst a motley group of gaping savages, which latter gentry I looked upon as queer looking characters…

“The ceremony of introduction being over, Mr. Wilson the Post Master — considerate man — judging that the afternoon’s trip up the river had given us an appetite, conducted us to the mess room, where, the rest of the gentlemen having already supped, we sat down to supper. Having been, for the last two months, living on ship’s brisket, it may be supposed Dr. N. and I did ample justice to the new baked bread and butter and other good things set before us.”

All of the gentlemen who travelled in the York Factory Express came by the London ships, so this is a common experience to many of the men. If you wish to purchase my book, “The York Factory Express,” you can do so through my publisher, Ronsdale Press of Vancouver, B.C., using the link provided in my pinned post on my Home Page. Thank you!

There is a great deal more to this journal, some of which I have copied out but will not post here. Augustus Peers eventually served at the Peel’s River post, where he died suddenly on March 13th, 1853. He left a widow and two children. James Anderson, Alexander Caulfield Anderson’s brother, reported to Governor Simpson on Peers’ death: “I regret to announce to you the death of Mr. A. R. Peers at Peels River on the 15 March last from (I believe) a decline, he was much respected, and I sympathize sincerely with his Widow and Relatives — he has left a family of 2 children.”

Copyright Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2014. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “London Ship to York Factory

  1. Anderson lineage. Frim york factory

    I am tracing my own anderson lineage which we know stems from an Anderson in York Factory
    So far, the last evidence is a Thomas Merrieman Anderson born in 1842 at York factory. He and his father each worked fkr HBC at York Factory. I am wondering if you have any thing in your family tree which might assist us with Anderson births at York factory? I am currently exploring the tree of James Taylor Anderson had his off spring hoping to discover a link from the top down either directly or via his siblings. Other common given names in our lineage are James and Alexander. My Anderson family, including my grand father and father, settled in Portsge la Prarie manitoba.

    Any thoughts?

    Rick Anderson

  2. Mary J. Tresierra

    Is the Mrs. Hargrave mentioned Letitia Hargrave (sp.?) who taught a great uncle, Dr. John Rae, to make bread for his crews on his many northern journeys? They were great friends.