1858 engraving of Victoria

Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Excerpts - A Most Unusual Colony

Memories of the Fort School

Student Picnic

The fictional Kate Murray describes life at the school in Fort Victoria, and a picnic for the students arranged by Amelia Douglas, wife of the Chief Factor and later Governor.

Horses were brought in and hitched to all the wagons and dump carts available, and off we went to the farm known as the North Dairy. Of course there were no roads, so we bumped over trails made by Indians and ox carts, through swamps and forest, in this unfenced silent land. Well, course it wasn't silent that day, with cartloads of young children let out of school. It was such a treat, almost like a picnic at Home, with Mrs. Douglas' jam tarts and cakes, fresh bread and butter, milk and even cream from the dairy. I think it was the first time Angus, Horace and I felt we belonged, for we were all happy children on holiday together. When a gentle rain came down on our way back to the Fort, a perfect Scotch mist, we felt we really might have been back Home.

Excursion on the Beaver

Other 'field trips,' based on the memoirs of one of the schoolboys, saw the pupils taken on rare excursions aboard the HBC steamship, the Beaver.

One of the most memorable outings in our earliest school days was aboard the steamer Beaver. This was at that time a well-kept craft, a side-wheeler, which could serve as a freighter, cattle boat, headquarters for the Chief Factor, floating trading post, police boat, or tug boat to tow sailing ships into harbour - and on occasion a temporary troop ship on punishment expeditions against troublesome Indians.

The steamer was only a little smaller than the ship we had sailed in from England, and was kept painted and polished like a gentlemen's yacht, for all she was very much a work horse of a ship. A prodigious amount of wood or coal was needed to keep her going at a slow but steady pace. She was quite a sight with piles of cordwood on one part of her deck, sometimes sheep, cattle or horses being transported from a Company farm in the Oregon Territory. The officers' cabin below the open deck was remarkably civilized.

When we first came to the fort the steamer was out of commission waiting for her old boilers to be replaced. After she was repaired we school children were taken out on her, compliments of Captain Dodd and his officers. We were rowed out to the ship, which was anchored off the Company landing below he Fort, in the Beaver's boats. The girls managed to climb up the ship's ladder, the boys loved climbing the boarding nets. Then we were allowed to examine everything about this marine marvel, steam hissing, the whistle of the boatswain, the heaving of the anchor.

Once when the Beaver was doing trials after her refit Captain Dodd took a party of us to Sooke where she put in at Captain Grant's farm with provisions. We were allowed to land and explore the countryside around his very isolated estate. Captain Grant was trying to make is as much a country manor house as possible in a forest clearing 20 miles from the Fort, and called it "Mullachard" after his family home in Strathspey.

We had a picnic there and met his guests, five shipwrecked Englishmen who had been found drifting around in a rowboat by some Indians. The Indians paddled off at great speed to Captain Grant who promptly sent them back with warm clothes, blankets and food. Three days later Captain Grant and his party of rescuers found them in the foggy Strait, exhausted and ready to give in. They stayed at Mullachard and recovered from their ordeal.

This story-book adventure so appealed to the schoolboys that Mr. Staines set them to writing a composition on the miraculous rescue.

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