1858 engraving of Victoria

Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Excerpts - Beyond the Blue Bridge

The Fleet Musicians

The Royal Navy played a major role in 19th century Esquimalt, economically and culturally.
An excerpt from Beyond the Blue Bridge tells of the contributions of The Fleet Musicians:

Most Royal Navy ships of the line had a band or an orchestra keeping up a high level of cultural pursuits on long voyages or in isolated stations. Diaries of the 1850s mention musical and theatrical events on the Royal Navy ships, including "Splendid Theatre on board the Frigate Trincomalee" in June, 1853, attended by the Governor and his family, gentlemen from Fort Victoria and other notables like Mr. And Mrs. Skinner from Constance Cove Farm.

The Colonist noted on December 30, 1862 that "The Splendid Brass Band of HMS Topaze discoursed sweet music through the town last evening to the great delight of the masses parading the streets. The jolly tars occupied a wagon drawn by four horses."

The 1860s saw several ships with competent musicians on station, including the Tribune, Ganges and Sutlej providing many concerts. A letter to the editor of the Colonist in September, 1865, suggests the Sutlej band was the star turn:

"Sir, - I presume you are aware that the Sutlej Band performed on Foster's wharf at Esquimalt on Saturday Night ... for the benefit of the public ... It is but seldom we have the opportunity of hearing such a band as the Sutlej band ... It is a pity that so much breath should be wasted in discoursing classical music to the fishes and frogs in the bays and bogs of Esquimalt ..." The letter requesting that the Admiral allow the band to perform in Victoria, was signed C. Sharp

When the band did appear in Victoria the program included selections from Verdi, Rossini and Donizetti operas "rendered by HMS Sutlej Band, it is almost superfluous to say, ... in truly artistic style."

Lucky Esquimalt with its free concerts on Foster's Pier, also known as Isbister's Wharf. The Royal Canadian Navy continued the tradition with the HMCS Naden Band, formed in 1940. Band members played key roles in the development of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra from its inception in 1941.

(Condensed from "Wasted on the Fishes and Frogs" by Maureen Duffus, with notes from Professor Dale McIntosh, for Beyond the Blue Bridge)

Naval canteen grounds
Cricket at the naval canteen grounds, near Foster's Pier,
where HMS Sutlej band played. Clubhouse in background.

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