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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Sir George Simpson


THE desire to extend the business of the Hudson's Bay Company, and also to see a region, that of Siberia, that resembled his own empire of Rupert's Land, led Sir George Simpson, in the second year after he was knighted, to undertake a journey round the world. This was a very different thing from the Drake or Cook voyages, "ploughing a furrow " round the world by sea. It was really a journey over three continents in addition to crossing the two greatest oceans of the earth.

Two portly volumes containing an account of his voyage, filling nine hundred pages, appeared some five years after this journey was completed. This work is given in the first person as a recital by Sir George of what he saw and passed through. Internal evidence as well as local report on the Red River show another hand to have been concerned in giving it a literary form. It is reported that the facile assistant to the busy governor was Judge Thom, the industrious and strong-minded recorder of the Red River Settlement, who, as we have seen, was a protege of the governor.

The work is dedicated to the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company. These were nine in number, and their names are nearly all well known in connection with the trade of this period : Sir John Pelly, long famous for his leadership, Andrew Colville, deputy-governor, who by family connection with Lord Selkirk long held an important place, Benjamin Harrison, John Halkett, another kinsman of Lord Selkirk, H. H. Berens, A. Chapman, M.P., Edward Ellice, M.P., the Earl of Selkirk, the son of the founder, and R. Weynton. Most of these names will be found commemorated in forts and trading-posts throughout Rupert's Land.

Having made preparations for being absent from his important duties for a long period, Sir George Simpson started on his great tour, leaving London on March 3rd, 1841. The ship called at Halifax, but discharged its cargo at Boston, from which port Sir George went by land to Montreal, and started up the fur traders' route via the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers on May 4th. Soon Ste. Anne was reached by the canoe brigade. The editor of the work, who knew Montreal and its vicinity as well as the customs of the voyageurs, shows his sense of humour in referring to Moore's "Canadian Boat Song" by saying, "At Ste. Anne's rapid on the Ottawa we neither sang our evening hymn nor bribed the Lady Patroness with shirts, caps, etc., for a propitious journey, but proceeded."

Following the old canoe route, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior were soon passed over, though on the latter lake the expedition was delayed about a week by the ice, and here too Sir George received the sad news of the unfortunate death of his kinsman, Thomas Simpson, who is well known for his Arctic explorations. Taking the route from Fort William by the Kaministiquia River, the travellers hastened through Rainy Lake and river arid Lake of the Woods. In referring to Rainy River, Sir George speaks, in the somewhat inflated style of the editor, without the caution which every fur trader was directed to cultivate in making known the resources of the fur country. A decade afterwards, as we shall see, Mr. Roebuck, before the committee of the House of Commons, when Sir George was speaking of Rupert's Land as a barren land, quoted the somewhat fulsome passage.

Following the usual route by Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, and Red River, Fort Garry was soon reached, and here the governor somewhat changed his plans. He determined to cross the prairies by light conveyances, and accordingly on July 3rd, at five in the morning, with his fellow-travellers, with only six men, three horses, and one light cart, the "Emperor of the Plains" left Fort Garry under a salute, and with the shouting of the spectators started on his journey to follow the winding Assiniboine River.

A thousand miles over the prairie in July is one of the most cheery and delightsome journeys that can be made. The prairie flowers abound, their colours have not yet taken on the full blaze of yellow to be seen a month later, and the mosquitoes are not very troublesome. The weather, though somewhat warm, is very rarely oppressive on the plains, where a breeze may always be felt. This long journey the party made with reckless speed in three weeks; and arrived at Edmonton House to be received with the firing of guns by nine native chiefs of the Blackfoot, Piegan, Sarcee, and Blood Indians, dressed in their finest clothes and decorated with scalp-locks. "They implored me," says the governor, II to grant their horses might always be swift, that the buffalo might instantly abound., and that their wives might live long and look young."

Four days sufficed at Edmonton to provide the travellers with forty-five fresh horses. They speedily passed up the Saskatchewan River, meeting bands of hostile Sareees, using supplies of pemmican, and soon caught their first view of the white peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Deep muskegs and dense jungles were often encountered, but all were overcome by the skill and energy of the expert fur trader Rowand, their guide. They advanced until surrounded by the sublime mountain scenery, which was sometimes obscured by the smoke from fires prevailing throughout this region, which was suffering from a great drouth. At length Colville, on the Columbia River, was reached, nearly one thousand miles from Edmonton, and this journey, much of it mountain travelling, had averaged forty miles a day. The party from Fort Garry had been travelling constantly for six weeks and five days, and they had averaged eleven and a half hours a day in the saddle. The weather had been charming, with a cloudless sky, the winds were light, the nights cool, and the only thing to be lamented was the appearance of the travellers, who, with tattered garments and crownless hats, entered the fort.

Embarking below the Chaudiere Falls of the Columbia, the company took boats worked by six oars each, and the water being high they were able to make one hundred, and even more, miles a day, in due course reaching Fort Vancouver. At Fort Vancouver Governor Simpson met Trader Douglas—afterwards Sir James Douglas. He accompanied the party, which now took horses and crossed country by a four days' journey to Fort Nisqually. Here, on the shore of Puget Sound, lay the ship Beaver, and embarking on her the party went on their journey to Sitka, the chief place in Alaska, where the governor exchanged dignified courtesies with the Russian governor Etholine, and enjoyed the hospitality of his "pretty and lady-like wife." In addition, Governor Simpson examined into the company's operations (the Hudson's Bay Company had obtained exclusive license of this sleepy Alaska for twenty years longer), and found the trade to be 10,000 fur seals, 1,000 sea otters, 12,000 beavers, 2,500 land otters—foxes and martens—and 20,000 sea-horse teeth.

The return journey was speedily made, the Beaver calling, as she came down the coast, at Forts Stikine, Simpson, and McLaughlin. In due course Fort Vancouver was reached again.

November was now drawing to a close, when two barques dropped down the Columbia River, the one bound for England, and the other, the Cozclitz, destined to convey Sir George Simpson to California, the Sandwich Islands, and then to Sitka again. On the third of December the party embarked on the Cowlitz at Fort George. The boat was detained for three whole weeks ere the bar at the mouth of the Columbia could be passed, so fierce was the storm which prevailed. The gale abated, the bar was crossed, and Christmas was spent on board with the usual festivities, and with many a toast for absent friends. Down the coast the journey became pleasant, Drake's Bay, supposed to have been reached by that old navigator, was passed. After this the ship was becalmed, but in a few days more Yerba Buena, a small coast town of California, was reached, where there was a Hudson's Bay Company fort, which the governor desired to visit. This point was on the Bay of San Francisco, and the future great metropolis was soon visited. San Francisco numbered at the time two thousand five hundred people, and it seemed a most quiet and unattractive spot. Not being able to land any cargo without government authority, the Cowlitz was compelled to pass down the coast to Monterey, the seat of government, in order to make a customs entry and to visit the Spanish governor, Alvarado.

At Monterey the governor met Francis Ermatinger, who, in the disguise of a Spanish caballero, had come overland to spy out the country and give Sir George a report upon it. On January 19th the party succeeded in leaving Monterey, whence after a stormy passage the vessel reached Santa Barbara. Having been received with the highest honours and having been entertained with every gaiety, Sir George and his party left Santa Barbara regretfully and sailed for the Sandwich Islands on January 26th, 1842. The voyage of two thousand three hundred miles from the Californian coast to Honolulu, the capital of the Sandwich Islands, was a new experience. The air was close and sultry; the albatross and other tropical birds accompanied the vessel, and the time was wiled away with books. On February 10th the tall summit of Mauna Kea, the great volcanic peak of Hawaii, was to be seen; and sailing past the islands, anchor was cast at the entrance of the harbour of Honolulu, where the Cowlitz was soon boarded by Mr. Pelly, the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, and Mr. Allan, a Hudson's Bay Company's officer. They were now among homelike surroundings, for there was a considerable English colony in Honolulu.

Sir George Simpson found in Honolulu a town of nine thousand souls, and was comfortably housed in a former royal palace obtained for the occasion. Sir George had his love of pomp gratified by the attentions of royalty, and was honoured by King Kanlehamelia II, who dined with him on board the Cowlitz. He was also introduced to the pretty Queen Kaluina, whose name, meaning "the rum," the greatest object of a Sandwich Islander's admiration, amused him. Meeting the premier and others the traveller gained a full knowledge of the state of matters in the Sandwich Islands.

Leaving the islands regretfully, Sir George and his party sailed directly for Sitka, and on the twenty-third day out, April 16th, saw New Archangel. Sir George had now spent more than a year on his travels—three-fourths of the time on the land and one-fourth on the ocean.

At Sitka the party was heartily welcomed by Governor Etholine. Leaving New Archangel Sir. George passed down the coast to Stikine, where he found a dreadful tragedy had just been enacted in the death by shooting of John McLaughlin, jr., the young gentleman lately in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company's fort at that point. As this crime had been committed by drunken Indians the governor at once introduced strict regulations prohibiting the use of strong drink in the fur trade. Sir George then returned to Sitka. At this time, on account of the Russians retaining the old style in their time reckoning, the Cowlitz changed the date in her log from April 30th to April 18th. Impressed with the fact that Sitka was the dirtiest place he ever was in Sir George Simpson, having made a treaty with Governor Etholine entirely abolishing the use of spirituous liquors, left the New World to sail westward on May 9th, new style.

The good vessel Alexander, Captain Kadnikoff, was now to convey Sir George and his party; and with the very kindest attentions of the "manly and generous" captain, the journey was made from Sitka, around the south coast of the peninsula of Kamchatka in Asia to Okhotsk, on the coast of Siberia, in forty-four (lays, though in former titres the journey had taken three months.

At Okhotsk the company maintained a post. This was situated on a low point, so near the level of the sea that it was inundated when a southerly wind blew. Okhotsk is a village of eight hundred souls; not a tree and hardly a blade of grass is to be seen within miles of the town. The climate is intensely disagreeable. The governor, after accomplishing his errand at Okhotsk, made a bargain, in which lie, of course, got the worst, with a local usurer named Jacob to take his party, in eighteen days' time, to Yakutsk, on the Lena, which river they were to ascend. After meeting many caravans and innumerable travellers, and passing through strange experiences the party arrived at Yakutsk to be received with distinction by the local governor Roodikoff, who entertained the travellers with every delicacy, Including the strange beverage kumiss. Yakutsk proved to be a town of five thousand inhabitants, more than half of them whites. It is the great centre of Eastern Siberia for the fur trade, and for ivory obtained from the tusks of the many extinct mammoths embedded in the river mud.

On July 18th Governor Simpson's party left Yakutsk by overland journey, to avoid the difficult navigation of the Lena, taking a britzska with five horses, and two telegras with three each. Arrived at Bestach the party embarked in a tolerably cornfortable boat for the officers and a smaller one for the Cossacks and servants. These boats were towed by horses, and progress was very slow. The travellers suffered from mosquitoes, weariness, and loss of sleep, but the food was good.

On August 8th the tedious journey was ended, and at the landing-place carriages, sent by the governor of Irkutsk, met the party. The record states, "that at one stopping-place they breakfasted on eggs, cream, and strawberries, adding to these delicacies of the season in the centre of Asia a little of our pemmican, from the heart of North America —such a picnic between the two continents as neither of them had ever seen before."

At Irkutsk a most hospitable reception met Sir George Simpson. The local governor, M. Patneffsky, provided him with a handsome carriage and four grays, and General Rupert, governor-general of Eastern Siberia, who lived at this point, gave him messages from the Czar. He also met the archbishop of Eastern Siberia, whose hand Sir George cordially shook, when the prelate presented it to be kissed, the hearty governor not being aware of the gaucherie he had committed.

Sir George's stay at Irkutsk was the occasion of overflowing hospitality. "Though everything was magnificent," Sir George says, "Siberian entertainments, however, are not without their little drawbacks. Before dinner all the guests drink schnaps out of the same glass, eat caviare and herring with the same fork, and help themselves to preserves with the same spoon; and during dinner changes of knives and forks are unknown." Though Irkutsk had about twenty thousand people it seemed to be in a state of dilapidation and decay.

Leaving Irkutsk on August 15th the overland journey to Tobolsk, the famous stronghold of the Cossacks, was made in twenty days, and the fine old city, famous as the seat of the chivalrous invader Yermac, was entered just as the sun was rising. So rapid had been the governor's journey that they outstripped the courier who had gone ahead of them. Tobolsk is the centre to which the convicts from Russia are sent. The stay of the party at the city was short, and a rush was made to Tiumen, the most ancient settlement of Siberia. At this place of ten thousand souls the travellers were entertained in a thoroughly royal manner by the mayor of the town.

The overland journey through the province of Perm was uneventful. On September 17th Novgorod was reached. Here two or three hundred thousand people from all parts of Europe and Asia congregate at the most important fair in the world.

Toping soon to reach the western limit of Russia the travellers pushed with great speed through Moscow and on to St. Petersburg. The distance from Okhotsk to St. Petersburg, including stoppages, had occupied ninety-one days, during which time the party had traversed about seven thousand miles.

Thirteen days after leaving St. Petersburg Sir George reached London, "having," as he says in his narrative, "with the exception of the proposed trip to Kiachta, accomplished my journey round the world as originally contemplated, the whole being completed within the space of nineteen months and twenty-six days."

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