Oh dreadful war! It is not only in
the deadly horror of battle, and in the pain and anguish of men strong
and hearty, done to death by human hands. It is not only in the rotting
heap of horses and men, torn to pieces by bullets and shell, and thrust
together within huge pits in one red burial blent. It is not only in the
helpless widow and her brood of dazed and desolate children weeping over
the news that comes from the battlefield, that war become so hideous. It
is always, as it was in the time of the Europe-shadowing Napoleon when
for twenty years the wheels of industry in Britain were stopped. It is
always the derangement of business, the increased price of food for the
poor, the decay of trade, the cutting off of supplies, and the stopping
of works of improvement that brings conditions which make poverty so
terrible. Rags! A bed of straw; a crust of bread; the shattered roof;
the naked floor; a deal table; a broken chair! A writer whose boyhood
saw the terror, and want, and
despair of the last decade of the Napoleonic War, puts into the mouth of
the victim of poverty this terrible wail:
"But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grizzly bone;
I hardly fear his terrible shape
It seems so like my own;
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh God, that bread should be so dear
And flesh and blood so cheap!"
To the philanthropist or the
benevolent sympathiser like Lord Selkirk, who aims at benefiting
suffering humanity, it is not the trouble, the self-sacrifice, or the
spending of money in relief that is the worry, but it is the bitterness,
the suspicion, the unworkableness, and the selfishness of the
poverty-stricken themselves that disturbs and distresses the
benefactor's heart. It is often too the heartlessness and prejudice of
those who oppose the benefactor's plans that causes the generous man
anxiety and even at times despair. Poverty in its worst form is a gaunt
and ravenous beast, that bites the hand of friend or foe that is
stretched out toward it. So Lord Selkirk found it, when he undertook to
help the poverty-stricken Celts of the Scottish Highlands and of the
West of Ireland. He had the sympathising heart; he had
the true vision; and he had as few others of his time had, the power to
plan, the invention to suggest, and the skill and pluck to overcome
difficulties, but the carrying out of his intent brought him infinite
trouble and sorrow. His prospectus, offering the means to the
poverty-stricken people of reaching what he believed to be a home of
ultimate plenty on the banks of the Red River, was an entirely worthy
document. His first point is, that his Colonists will be freemen. No
religious tenet will be considered in their selection. This was even
freer that was that of Lord Baltimore's much-vaunted Colony, on the
Atlantic Coast, for Baltimore required that every Colonist should
believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Then, the offer was to the
landless and the penniless men. Employment was to be supplied; work in
the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, or free grants of land to actual
settlers, or even a sale in fee simple of land for a mere nominal sum;
free passages for the poor, reduced passages for those who had small
means, food provided on the voyage, and the prospect of new world
advantages to all.
But the poor are timid, and they
love even their straw-thatched cottages, and it needs active and decided
men to press upon them the advantages which are offered them. The
Emigration Agent is a necessity.
The fur traders' country was at this time
well known to many of the partners. It was by employing or consulting
with some of these fur traders that Lord Selkirk obtained a knowledge of
the Western land which he was to acquire. Years before the Colony began
Lord Selkirk had been in correspondence with an officer who belonged to
a well known Catholic family of Highlanders, the Macdonells, who had
gone to the Mohawk district in the United States before the American
Revolution, and had afterwards come to Canada as U.E. Loyalists. One of
these, a man of standing and of executive ability was Miles Macdonell.
He had been an officer of the King's Royal Regiment of New York, and
held the rank of Captain of the Canadian Militia. This officer had a
brother in the North-West Fur Company, John Macdonell, who, more than
ten years before, had been in the service of his Company on Red River
and whose Journal had no doubt fallen into the hands of his brother
Miles. He had written: "From the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers
the plains are quite near the banks, and so extensive that a man may
travel to the Rocky Mountains without passing a wood, a mile long. The
soil on the Red River and the Assiniboine is generally a good soil,
susceptible of culture, and capable of bearing rich crops."
He goes on to state, "that the
buffalo comes to
the fords of the Assinboil, besides in these rivers are plenty of
sturgeon, catfish, goldeyes, pike and whitefish—the latter so common
that men have been seen to catch thirty or forty a piece while they
smoked their pipes." To reach this land of plenty, which his brother
knew so well, Miles Macdonell became the leader of Lord Selkirk's
Colonists. He arrived in Great Britain in the year for the starting of
the Colony, and immediately as being a Roman Catholic in religion went
to the West of Ireland to recommend the Emigration scheme, obtain
subscriptions of stock, and to engage workmen as Colonists. Glasgow was
then, as now, the centre of Scottish industry, and it is to Glasgow that
the penniless Highlanders flock in large numbers for work and residence.
Here was a suitable field for the Emigration Agent, and accordingly one
of their countrymen, Captain Roderick McDonald, was sent thither. The
way to Canada was long, the country unknown, and it required all his
persuasion and the power of the Gaelic tongue—an open Sesame to an
Highlander's heart—to persuade many to join the Colonists' bank. It
required more. The Highlander is a bargainer, as the Tourist in the
Scottish Highlands knows to this day. Captain Roderick McDonald was
compelled to promise larger wages to clerks and laborers to induce them
to join. He secured less than half an
hundred men at Stornoway—the trysting place—and the promises he had made
of higher wages were a bone of contention through the whole voyage.
Perhaps the most effective agent obtained
by Lord Selkirk was a returned trader of the Montreal merchants named
Colin Robertson. He had seen the whole western fur country, and the fact
that he had a grievance made him very willing to join Lord Selkirk in
One of the Nor'-Westers in Saskatchewan a
few years before the beginning of Lord Selkirk's Colony, was "Bras
Croche," or crooked-arm McDonald. He was of gentle Scottish birth, but
his own acquaintances declared that he was of a "quarrelsome and
pugnacious disposition." In his district Colin Robertson was a
"Bourgeois" in charge of a station. A quarrel between the two men
resulted in Colin Robertson losing his position, and as we shall see he
became one of the most active and serviceable men in the history of the
Colony. Colin Robertson went among his countrymen in the Island of Lewis
And now as the time draws nigh for
gathering together at a common port, the Stromness (Orkney), the
Glasgow, the Sligo and the Lewis contingents to face the stormy sea and
seek a new untried home, a fierce storm breaks out upon the land.
Evidence accumulates that the heat
and opposition of the "Nor'-West" partners—Sir Alexander Mackenzie,
Inglis and Ellice—shown at the general meeting of the Company, were to
break out in numberless hidden and irritating efforts to stop and
perhaps render impossible the whole Colonizing project.
Just as the active agents, Miles Macdonell,
Capt. McDonald and Colin Robertson, had set the heather on fire on
behalf of Lord Selkirk's project, so the aid of the press was used to
throw doubt upon the enterprise. Inverness is the Capital of the
Highlanders, and so the "Inverness Journal," containing an effusion
signed by "Highlander," was spread broadcast through the Highlands, the
Islands, and the Orkneys, picturing the dangers of their journey, the
hardships of the country, the deceitfulness of the agents, and the
mercenary aims of the noble promoter.
Before Miles Macdonell had cleared the
coast of England, he wrote to Lord Selkirk: "Sir A. (Mackenzie) has
pledged himself as so decidedly opposed to this project that he will try
every means in his power to thwart it. Besides, I am convinced he was no
friend to your Lordship before this came upon the carpet."
No doubt Miles Macdonell was
correct, and the two Scottish antagonists were face to face in the
conflict. We shall see the means supplied by which the expedition will
be harassed. And
now the enterprise is to be set on foot.
For nearly a century and a half the
Hudson's Bay Company ships have sailed yearly from the Thames, and taken
the goods of the London merchants to the posts and forts of Hudson Bay,
carrying back rich returns of furs. Sometimes more than one a year has
gone. In 1811 there was the Commodore's ship the "Prince of Wales," with
cabin accommodation and such comforts as ships of that period supplied.
A second ship, the "Eddystone," chartered for special service,
accompanied her. These two were intended to carry out employees and men
for the fur trade, as well as the goods.
It must not be forgotten that there
was some want of confidence between the trading side of the Hudson's Bay
Company and that which Lord Selkirk represented, in the Colonizing
enterprise. Also at this time the laws in regard to the safety of
vessels, the comfort of passengers, or precautions for health were very
lax. While the records of emigration experiences of British settlers to
Canada and the United States are being recited by men and women yet
living in Canada, the want of resource and the neglect of life and
property by Governments and officials up until half a century ago are
heart-sickening. So the third ship of the fleet that was to carry the
first human freight of Manitoba pioneers was the "Edward and Ann." She was
a sorry craft, with old sails, ropes, etc., and very badly manned. She
had as a crew only sixteen, including the captain, mates and three small
boys. It was a surprise to Miles Macdonell that the Company would
charter and send her out in such a state. The officers came down to
Gravesend from London and joined their ships, and somewhere about the
25th of June, 1811, they set sail from Sheerness on their mission, which
was to become historic—not so historic, perhaps, as the Mayflower—but
still sufficiently important to deserve a centennial celebration.
The fleet was, however, to take up its
passengers after it had passed Duncansby Head, on the north of Scotland.
But the elements on the North Sea were unpropitious. Sheerness left
behind, the trio of vessels had not passed the coast of Norfolk before
they were driven into Yarmouth Harbor, and there for days they lay held
in by adverse winds. On July 2nd they again started northward, when they
were compelled to return to Yarmouth.
In company they succeeded in reaching
Stromness, in the Orkney Isles, in about ten days. Here the "Prince of
Wales" remained and her two companions sailed down to Stornoway on the
And now, with the storms of the
German Ocean left behind, began the opposition of the "Nor'-Westers."
The "Prince of Wales" brought her contingent from the Orkneys, and on
July 25th Miles Macdonell writes that after all the efforts put forth at
all the points he had 125 Colonists and employees, and these were in a
most unsettled state of mind.
Some dispute the wages offered them. One
party from Galway had not arrived. Some are irritated at not being in
the quarter of the ship which they desired, and some anxiety is evident
on the part of Miles Macdonell because large advances of money have been
given to a number and he fears that they may desert. The expenses of
assembling the settlers have been very heavy, and now opposition
appears. Sir Alexander's party are doing their work. Mr. Reed, Collector
of Customs at Stornoway, was married to a niece of Sir Alexander
Mackenzie, and as collector he throws every obstacle in the way of
Macdonell. He has also taken pains to stir up discontent in the minds of
the Colonists and to advise them not to embark.
Further trouble was caused by a
Captain Mackenzie—called "a mean fellow"—who proved to be a son-in-law
of the Collector of Customs Reed, and who went on board the "Edward and
Ann," recruited as soldiers some of the settlers, himself handing them
the enlisting money and then seeking to compel them to leave the ship
with him. Afterwards, Captain
Mackenzie came on board the "Edward and Ann" and claimed the new
recruits, as deserters from the army. The Customs officials also boarded
the emigrant ship and most officiously proclaimed that if any emigrants
were not satisfied, or were not going of their own free will then they
might go ashore, and the scene as described by Miles Macdonell may be
imagined. "Several said they were not willing, and many went over the
ship's side into Captain Mackenzie's boat. One party ran away with the
ship's boat, but were brought back. One man jumped into the sea, and
swam for it until he was picked up by the recruiting boat." The Revenue
Cutter's boat was likewise very active in taking men away, and the
collector took some ashore in his boat with himself. A prominent
employee of the promoters of the expedition, Mr. Moncrieff Blair, who
posed as a gentleman, deserted on July 25th, the day before the sailing
of the vessel.
No wonder that Miles Macdonell should
write: "My Lord, this is a most unfortunate business * * * I condole
with your Lordship on all these cross accidents."
Thus amid annoyance, opposition, and
discouragement did the little fleet set sail, on July 26th, 1811.
But this time of Napoleonism in
Europe affected even the high seas. French cruisers might
seize the valuable cargoes being sent out to York Factory. Accordingly a
man-of-war had been detailed to lead the way. This had caused a part of
the delay on the East Coast of England, and when fairly away from the
British Isles and some four hundred miles northwest of Ireland, the
protecting ship turned back, but the sea was so wild that not even a
letter could be handed to the Captain to carry in a message to the
The journey continued to be boisterous,
but once within Hudson straits the weather turned mild, and the great
walls of rock reminded the Highlanders of their Sutherlandshire West
They saw no living being as they went
through the Strait. Their studies of human nature were among themselves.
Miles Macdonell reports that exclusive of the officers and crews who
embarked at Gravesend, there were of laborers and writers one hundred
and five persons.
Of these there were fifty-three on the
"Edward and Ann." Two men of especial note, representing the clerical
and medical professions were on board the Emigrant Ship. Father Burke, a
Roman Catholic priest, who had come away without the permission of his
Bishop was one.
Miles Macdonell did not like him,
but he seems
to have been a hearty supporter of the Emigration Scheme and promised to
do great things in Ireland on his return.
When he reached York Factory, Burke did
not leave the shore to follow the Colonists to their homes on the banks
of Red River. He married two Scotch Presbyterians, and while somewhat
merry at times had amused the passengers on their dreary ocean journey.
More useful, however, to the passengers was Mr. Edwards, the ship's
He had much opportunity for practising his
art, both among the Colonists and the employees.
At times Miles Macdonell endeavored
on shipboard to drill his future servants and settlers, but he found
them a very awkward squad—not one had ever handled a gun or musket. The
sea seemed generally too tempestuous in mood for their evolutions. As
the ships approached York Factory the interest increased. The "Eddystone"
was detailed to sail to "Fort Churchill," but was unable to reach it and
found her way in the wake of the other vessels to York Factory. It
seemed as if the sea-divinities all combined to fight against the
Colonists, for they did not reach York Factory, the winter destination,
until the 24th of September, having taken sixty-one days on the voyage
from Stornoway, which was declared by the Hudson's
Bay Company officers to be the longest and latest passage ever known on
Hudson Bay. Then settlers and employees were all landed on the point,
near York Factory, and were sheltered meantime in tents, and as they
stood on the shore they saw on October 5th, the ships that had brought
them safely across the stormy sea pass through a considerable amount of
floating ice on their homeward journey to London.
For one season at least the settlers will
face the rigor of this Northern Clime.