Friday, April 6, 2012

A Ship for All Seasons

In 1835 a ship was launched from the Blackwall shipyards on the Thames near London. The SS Beaver was to become an important part of British Columbia, and Vancouver, history.

The Beaver was rigged as a sailing vessel since it was going to sail around the sometimes treacherous Cape Horn to Astoria which was at the mouth of the Columbia River. There were paddlewheels in the hold that were to be mounted when the Beaver arrived at its destination - a trip that took 163 days.

The Beaver went on an exploratory mission in 1843 and on that journey Fort Victoria was founded and that fort eventually became the capital of BC. Ten years later the Beaver was on a mission of justice as it took Governor James Douglas and 20 Royal Marines to Nanaimo to demand two men who had murdered a shepherd in Saanich. They were to stand trial. The band of Cowichans and Nanaimos were hostile and Douglas gave them an ultimatum of either giver up the murderers and live in peace of he was going to burn the lodges and destroy the villages. During this discussion the murderers escaped into the woods and were tracked down by Metis woodsman and brought back to the ship. The two men were tried and found guilty and were hanged in 1854.

On November 18, 1858 the Beaver transported an official part to Fort Langley for the founding of a new colony on the mainland. It was this ship that fired the 18-gun salute the next day to mark the birth of British Columbia.

In 1859 the Beaver played a role in starting a 12-year standoff between the Americans and the British. On June 15 this ship had taken some dignitaries from Fort Victoria to San Juan Island for a picnic. While there a senior HBC (Hudson's Bay Company) official A.G. Dallas had learned that an American settler had shot a company pig that had been rooting in his garden. Dallas demanded compensation for the pig and the Americans refused. The Americans landed a company of troops from Oregon so the British reacted with two warships and 800 men. Each side claimed the San Juan Islands for themselves and both sides dug in. It wasn't until 1872 when the German emperor who was asked to arbitrate and he award the islands to the US.

All this over a pig. Wouldn't it have been easier for HBC to take a loss or the US to just pay? People can sure be ridiculous.

An amusing tale of the SS Beaver tells of its transport of a bear. Gastown's first butcher, George Black, had a pet bear. Unfortunately that bear grew up and became difficult to handle so Black chained it and shipped it to Victoria aboard the SS Beaver. Sometime during the voyage the bear got loose and the crew took to the rigging. It took about an hour or two before the bear was returned to his chains.

On July 26, 1888 the SS Beaver pulled out of Vancouver Harbour, headed for Thurlow Island. The paddlewheels which were driven by a pair of 35-horsepower steam engines chugged as the old ship struggled against the high winds and strong current. Capt. George Marchant tried to swing inside of a huge tidal eddy and wound up hugging the southern shore. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The most historic ship in Western Canada hit the rocks hard by Prospect Point and she was doomed. The steamer, SS Muriel tried to dislodge the ship but weren't able to. Fortunately the crew were able to get over the bow and get to shore.

The Beaver didn't sink immediately. It lay in the shallows and souvenir hunters stripped the hulk bare.  A group of businessmen in Victoria were going to retrieve the ship, dismantle it and ship it to Chicago where it would be reassembled for an exhibit for the 1893 World's Fair. Unfortunately in June of 1892 the wake from a passing steamer, Yosemite, dislodged the wreck and it slipped into deep water and sank. (This happened almost 100 years to the day since Captain George Vancouver had sailed by the same point)

I want to thank The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver book for the above information.

From Tuesday April 10 through Thursday April 12, 2012 I am offering my ebook Let Us Play, A Rock 'n Roll Love Story free on Kindle. Just go to the link and download the book onto your Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle you can get a Kindle Cloud reader but it doesn't work on Internet Explorer. (I use Google Chrome for that) Just download the browser then do a search for Kindle Cloud.

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