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Sir James Douglas









John Innes' paintinJohn Innes' painting of the inauguration of the Crown Colony of British Columbia. The event took place in the Big House at Fort Langley on November 19, 1858, when Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, the newly appointed Chief Justice, swore in James Douglas as the first Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia.

Lieutenant Governor, Vancouver Island: 1 Sep 1851 - 25 Mar 1864
Governor, British Columbia: 22 Mar 1838 - Oct 1839 and Nov 1845 - 11 Mar 1850 
Lieutenant Governor, British Columbia: 19 Nov 1858 - 20 Apr 1864

Sir James Douglas 1803–77, Canadian fur trader and colonial governor, b. British Guiana (now Guyana). As a young man, he went to Canada in the service of the North West Company; soon after its merger (1821) with the Hudson's Bay Company, he accompanied the noted John McLoughlin to the Columbia River country. Rising eventually to chief factor, he succeeded (1846) McLoughlin in command of the Hudson's Bay Company territory W of the Rockies. On Vancouver Island, on the site of the present Victoria, he built (1843) Fort Camosun (later Fort Victoria), which became (1849) the western headquarters for the company. In 1851 he was appointed governor of Vancouver Island, and in 1858 he also became governor of the new colony of British Columbia on the mainland. At this time Douglas severed his long association with the Hudson's Bay Company. His governorship, which extended until 1864, was marked by a firm control of the colonies' affairs, made particularly turbulent by the gold rushes to the Fraser River and to the Cariboo region. Shortly before his retirement he was knighted (1863).


It was in 1857 that the British and American governments decided to do the actual survey to establish the boundary between the United States and British Columbia. Survey gangs working east had no problems other than mosquito plagues. Problems did arise with those working west. According to the Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846 the line was to follow the 49th parallel to the middle of the channel separating Vancouver Island from the mainland. From there it was to follow the middle of the channel southward about Vancouver Island to the Pacific Ocean. The initial treaty totally ignored the many islands between the two which were naturally claimed by both sides. This blunder almost brought the United States and Britain into a war. Governor Douglas was in favour of going to war against the Americans and went so far as to have Moody's engineers taken away from their many projects and placed on standby in case of an attack. The British government discouraged any hostilities because Britain was involved in wars in other parts of the world.
It took Governor Douglas until February 4, 1859 to issue the first Pre-emption Act whereby land could be purchased at the upset price of ten shillings per acre, half cash and the balance in two years.  A second one passed on January 4, 1860, provided for pre-emption of rectangular blocks, of which the shorter should be at least two-thirds the length of the longer side.  The settler had to stake out the four corners of his property and pay a registration fee of eight shillings to the nearest magistrate.  These acts were amended from time to time over the next couple of years. The first man to pre-empt land in Langley was Kenneth Morrison. He pre-empted 160 acres just upriver from the fort. He called his home Barvis, in honour of his birthplace, and operated it as a stopping house for the miners. His friend John McIver also pre-empted on the south side of the river. He took up land west of the fort opposite the Katzie Indian Reserve.

Both Morrison and McIver were present at the Crown Colony of British Columbia's birth. As the boats came up the river with the dignitaries the pair posted themselves in the fort's bastions and (44) fired salutes of welcome. Later McIver, like so many others, left to prospect in the Kamloops area. He mined at Cherry Creek, just outside Kamloops, where he lived with an Indian girl and fathered her child. When the 'Chilcotin War' broke out in 1864 he joined a punitive party headed by Donald McLean, ex-Chief Trader at Kamloops, to go after the Indians accused of murdering the Alfred Waddington road building party. McLean, upon leaving the company had built the Hat Creek Stopping House on the Cariboo Road out of Ashcroft. McLean, upon going into battle, always wore a bullet-proof steel-plated breastplate for protection. Unfortunately for him he bragged to one too many Indians about it. A Chilcotin Indian killed him with a bullet in the back. McIver was closest to him at the time of the shooting. Upon returning to Langley, McIver learned that his original pre-emption had previously been a potato patch belonging to Chief Michel of Katzie. The Royal Engineers had investigated the dispute and issued McIver a piece of land on the opposite side of the river while he was away.
James Douglas is a legendary figure in British Columbia, from his fur trade days at Fort St. James to his dual governorship of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
In his official capacities as a Chief Factor with the Hudson’s Bay Company and as governor, Douglas earned a reputation for discipline and sternness. Old Square Toes was a most appropriate nickname if the dour, haughty expression we see in his photographs was how he appeared in everyday life.
As important as his public contributions were, Douglas is also of great interest to historians for his personal life. He was born in 1803, the illegitimate son of a Scottish sugar planter and a “free coloured woman”, in British Guiana. His mother was probably a descendant of a black, slave woman and a European man stationed in the West Indies. James Douglas lived in the planter and slave society in British Guiana until the age of nine. In 1812, his father sent him to Scotland to attend school. There he met many of his father’s extended family, members of the well-to-do planter and merchant class in Glasgow. But it was the fur trade that attracted young James and so he headed for Canada at age sixteen not to return to Scotland for 45 years.
After several years in the fur trade, Douglas was posted to Fort St James, B.C. This northern outpost became his centre of activities during his first years in British Columbia. At Fort St James, he met Amelia Connolly, the daughter of Irish-born Chief Factor William Connolly and Suzanne, a Cree woman of the Fort Churchill area of Hudson Bay. In the absence of clergy they were married “in the custom of the country” and together had 13 children, of whom only 6 lived to adulthood.
Through the 1830s and ’40s the Douglas family resided at Fort Vancouver, then they moved to Fort Victoria. In Victoria they built a large home at James Bay where domestic life was kept quite separate from the routine of the fort. The marriages of their daughters and the arrival of many grandchildren occupied the home life of Sir James and Lady Amelia through the 1860s. Douglas experienced grave disappointment over his son James, who was a sickly lad and did not do well in school. Each of the children’s families add fascinating new stories to the Douglas family history. For example, Cecilia Douglas married Dr J.S. Helmcken through whose reminiscences and descendants we have learned a great deal about the Douglas family and days in early British Columbia.
Upon his retirement in 1864 Sir James took a year-long holiday to Britain and continental Europe where he visited relatives and saw the grand sights. When death came in 1877, Douglas was buried in the large family vault at Ross Bay Cemetery where his bones still lie surrounded by those of other family members.r>Copyright 1999 Royal British Columbia Museum



Scholars who have sScholars who have studied his life do not agree on the exact date of his birth. Two different dates are the most likely: June 5th and August 15th. So, we know that he was born in the summer of 1805. The second point of contention is the place of his birth. It is known, from one of his daughters, that he was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, but no one believed an old lady named Agnes Douglas Bushby when she related that fact. Agnes died in 1928, after giving that information to Professor Walter Sage, one of Douglas' many biographers. From the papers of old friends and colleagues of Douglas during his days in the Hudson Bay Company's fur trade, it is quite definite that he was born in the tropical colonies of the British West Indies, in either Jamaica or British Guyana. From what remains of his father's mention in history, most scholars agree today that James Douglas was horn in Demerara, Guyana, where his father ran a sugar plantation and other family business interests. It is positive that James Douglas had a brother and sister who were born there also.

His father left Guyana in 1809, with the children, and settled in Glasgow. There he married a Scotswoman, Miss Jessie Hamilton. Therefore, James and his brother and sister were probably illegitimate. This led to the last item of discussion about his origins: the identity of his mother. No one knows who she was. A friend and colleague of Douglas wrote that she was a Creole. More than that is not known. Any reader familiar with the history of the West Indies at the time of James Douglas' birth will, however, feel an urge to conclude that she was a Black slave.conclusion woulThe conclusion would not be farfetched. James Douglas was "remarkably dark of complexion, a matter often commented on", says one of his biographers, M. Derek Pethick. And he goes on to point out that in a letter written by Letitia Hargrave, "someone familiar with much personal detail about important officials of the Hudson's Bay Company" while Douglas "was still in the early years of his career" referred to him as a "mulatto".

On May 7th, 1819, James Douglas, not yet 16, embarked at Liverpool to enter the service of the North West Company.une, 1858, almoIn June, 1858, almost 40 years later, he was Governor of the Colony of vancouver Island, and without ever having to reach for it, he was well on his way to immortality. Indeed, Douglas started in lower Canada with the North West Company, moving westward gradually, following orders. The North West Company was eventually absorbed by the Hudson's Hay Company, but nothing changed in Douglas' life; he remained a loyal officer of the fur trade. In 1842, the company felt that new headquarters were needed on the Pacific Coast; it was clear then that what are now the territories of the states of Oregon and Washington would in time fall under American jurisdiction. Douglas was asked to find a site in the south of Vancouver Island. The headquarters were effectively moved there in 1849, the year Vancouver Island became officially a Crown Colony. In 1851, Douglas, while remaining the Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, became Governor, He would have remained an obscure autocrat leading a forgotten and remote land, had not gold been Found in 1857. The California goldfields had not lived up to the dreams of thousands who rushed there a few years before. Those disenchanted miners were more than ready to try their luck again, up north. In the Spring of 1858, the small community of Fort Victoria numbered some 500 souls, but their village was the gateway to the gold of the Fraser River. During that Spring, the small community of Fort Victoria was overrun by the arrival of a few thousand goldseekers in transit.

Among them were a fear Black families, who were bona fide settlers, raking refuge in the British colony from years of persecution in California. The goldseekers were of all nationalities, but most of them were Americans and ready to ask the annexation of these territories. some of them were rowdy, and soon there was a public outcry calling for a policing force.

In June of 1858, James Douglas, Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, appointed the colony's first policemen. "In a striking move" he chose all Black men. Jamaican. British subjects! "strikingThis "striking move" marks for the historian, the beinning of a series of decisions, reversals, hesitations and silences that cloud any possible assessment of Douglas' attitude and personal feelings towards the Black community. It is clear, however, that the Black pioneers were welcome and that the settlement helped Douglas and the interests of the British Empire. The Blacks, persecuted in San Francisco, were unable to identify with the American expansionism; they just enlarged the population on which the Governor could count to maintain the legitimacy of the British rule on the lands lying north of the Juan de Fuca passage.

Douglas' life has been studied at length; he has been viewed as the "sealant of two empires", an autocrat, a "coureur des bois" who got lucky in big-time politics, and again as an efficient public accountant who also took care to have his daughters marry "well" – considering the times, the place and the breadth of the territory under his jurisdiction, it is peculiar that he never emerged as the first modern master-statesman in British Columbia's history.

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Frederick James Douglas was born on either June 5 or August 15, 1803 in British Guiana. A "Scotch West Indian," as he was known in the fur trade, James Douglas was the son of John Douglas. John Douglas and his three brothers, merchants in Glasgow, held interests in sugar plantations in British Guiana. Placed at an early age in a preparatory school in Scotland, James Douglas learned "to fight [his] own way with all sorts of boys, and to get on by dint of whip and spur." He received a good education at Lanark, and probably further training from a French Huguenot tutor at Chester, England. During his early years in the fur trade he was singled out for having a sound knowledge of the French language and "possessing a clear and distinct pronunciation."At the age of sixteen James Douglas and his brother Alexander were apprenticed to the North West Company. After sailing on May 7,1819 on the brig Matthews from Liverpool, bound for Quebec, James Douglas proceeded to Fort William, arriving on August 6. That winter he applied himself to accounting, learning business methods, and studying the Indian character. It is not unlikely that he already displayed those characteristics for which he became noted: industry, punctuality, observance of the smallest detail, and a determination amidst the most pressing business to acquire knowledge of literature and history, politics and public affairs.
Lady Amelia Douglas
Lady Amelia Douglas














Of their 13 children, only 6 survived childhood:

name born married
Cecilia 1834 Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken7 in December 1852. Cecelia's life was cut short. She died at the age of 31, leaving behind young children for her husband to raise by himself. They had seven children altogether, though only four of them survived.
Jane 1839 A.G. Dallas in March 1858, who succeeded Douglas as head of the Western Department of the Hudson's Bay Company. After the death of her first child in 1860, Jane and her husband left Victoria for Rupert's Land, where A.G. Dallas had been appointed Governor.
Agnes 1841 Arthur Thomas BushbArthur Thomas Bushby May 1862. She was engaged for three years to Arthur Bushby, an Englishmen serving as private secretary and clerk of the court to Judge Begbie. In 1862 her husband was promoted to Registrar General of British Columbia. The couple lived in New Westminster.
Alice 1844 Charles Good in Canada August 31, 1861, and in the US just prior to August 31, 1861.  They later divorced and remarried. 

Alice caused a scandal in Victoria when at the age of seventeen she eloped with Douglas' private secretary Charles Good. Douglas sent a government agent after them, but it was too late. The couple had been married by an American Justice of the Peace at Port Townsend.

When they returned the next day, Douglas insisted they go through a second marriage ceremony, as he was uncertain about the validity of it, so on August 31, 1861, they re-exchanged their vows in Victoria. The marriage was not a happy one, however, and eventually obtained a divorce, and later remarried.

"Had she trusted her Father more, and put less faith in God, how different, and how much more happy would her lot in life have been"
-James Douglas

James William 1851 Mary Elliott in 187Mary Elliott in 1877. He was sent to school in England. It had been Douglas' aspirations that he graduate from a respected university and pursue law, but his health was never good enough to fulfil his fathers aspirations for him. His father felt that he lacked application, and moved him from one school to the next. In 1870, James came home for a holiday and never came back, though his health somewhat improved. James studied law for a time with the first premier of BC, J.F. McCreight. He was eventually elected to the Provincial Legislature, serving as a junior member for Victoria from 1876 to 1878. The year of his fathers death, James wed Mary Elliott, the daughter of BC's Attorney General A.C. Elliot. James died at the age of thirty two.
Marthe 1854 Dennis Harris in 1878. 

Between 1872 and 1874, Martha was sent to school in England to, as her father says ". . . get rid of the cobwebs of colonial training and give you a proper finish." He would write he a few lines to her almost daily, and send them in a letter once composed. These "Letters to Martha" are available in the British Columbia Archives (BCARS EB 124A 1866-1869), and provide fascinating insight into the Victorian era and the Colonies early civic and provincial development.

Martha married Mr. Dennis Harris in 1878, a grand affair in high Victorian style.



James Douglas

When Hudson’s Bay Company Chief Factor James Douglas landed on Clover Point (Victoria, British Columbia) in 1842, he named it for the acres of tall red clover growing “most luxuriantly.” Douglas reported to John McLoughlin on July 12, 1842:
"In two places particularly, we saw several acres of clover growing with a luxuriance and compactness more resembling the close sward of a well-managed lea than the produce of an uncultivated waste." (“The Founding of Victoria,” The Beaver, Outfit 273, March, 1943, p. 6)
Douglas wrote to his friend James Hargrave: “I was...delighted in ranging over fields knee deep in clover, tall grasses and ferns reaching above our heads, at these unequivocal proofs of fertility.” (James Douglas to James Hargrave, February 5, 1843, G. P. de T. Glazebrook, ed. The Hargrave Correspondence, p. 421)

The most likely clover species referred to by Douglas is Springbank Clover (Trifolium wormskjoldii), according to botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw. Local First Nations people cared for and managed the land for centuries in order to harvest edible plants such as camas and clover.

Historical accounts describe James Douglas, Capt. Grant and other Hudson’s Bay Company employees landing at Clover Point and walking through Beacon Hill Park to reach Fort Victoria. Their canoe crews took an alternate river route inland from Ross Bay, following a stream which emerged where the Empress Hotel now stands. "Lost Streams of Victoria,” a map with commentary by Jennifer Sutherst, describes that route:

The stream that the Empress hotel was built upon was unnamed and flowed from a wetland in the vicinity of Cook and Moss streets. This wetland was connected to another creek which ran into Ross Bay thus linking the bay with Victoria's inner harbour. Oral history indicates that the First Nations would use this waterway as an alternate route during heavy winter storms. During wet winter periods when the tides were high they would be able to paddle from Ross Bay to the inner harbour thereby avoiding the heavy weather on the outer coast. (Jennifer Sutherst, "Lost Streams of Victoria," May, 2003. South Islands Aquatic Stewardship Society, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.)


  A statue of James Douglas sits outside Fort Langley, where he was proclaimed the first Governor of the Colony of British Columbia in 1858. (Christian Amundson/CBC News)

  Location: Mahaica District, East Coast Demerara

Built: 2008

Sir James Douglas was born in British Guiana on August 15, 1803. He was the son of Scottish man, Mr. John Douglas and Barbadian mulatto woman, Ms. Martha Ann Telfer. During his early years, he lived on his father’s plantation named Belmont in the Mahaica District along with his two other siblings; his parents were never formally married. In 1812, he and his father travelled to Scotland where he continued his education. In 1819, he moved to Canada where he started his apprenticeship at the North West Company. In 1821, after the company was merged with Hudson Bay Company, he was hired as an employee. Sir James Douglas would go on to become the chief trader for the organisation.

Douglas is hailed as the ‘The Father of British Colombia’ which is now a part of Canada’s sovereignty for his many contributions made to the then British colony. He held a number of titles such as the first Governor of British Colombia from 1858 and Governor of the colony of Vancouver Island from 1851. Douglas was married to Amelia Connolly and together they produced ten children. He remained Governor for both Vancouver Island and British Columbia until 1864, when he retired. He died on August 2, 1877.

The Guyanese-Canadian Association of British Columbia, in close collaboration with the National Trust of Guyana, erected a statue of Sir James Douglas in honour of his contributions to Canada and to pay homage to his place of birth. It was unveiled on August 27, 2008, by Prime Minister Samuel Hinds in the presence of numerous patrons including Canadian High Commissioner Mr. Charles Court and President of the Guyanese-Canadian Association of British Columbia, Mr. Clyde Duncan.





See also:
•   Douglas family of Druimfin, Isle of Mull
•   Chief Douglas' Daughter (poem)


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