Christopher

Findlay

 

march 5th 2016

The following is a plausible history of our many times great grandfather.

 

Foot notes

(blue numbers are included)

My father found a trace of Christopher by writing to the Hudson's Bay Company. They gave him the following information: A Christopher Findlay worked for the Company in the capacity of Middleman (middle position in a canoe) at Fort Rupert, Vancouver Island between the years 1851 and 1853. His wages were seventeen pounds per annum.(1)

Christopher was born in the Parish of Orphir, Mainland Island, Orkney, Scotland, December 30, 1832. His mother and father were Christopher Finlay and Margaret Sinclair. His parents later had two sisters for Christopher, Mary, June 8 1834, and Margaret, April 22 1835.(2)

Not much is known of the family but we do know that he went to school, learned how to read and write and was good at mathematics. (3) The Hudson's Bay Company chose the Orkney Islanders for gathering employees to help with the many chores of running its trading empire in Canada. As Christopher grew from a child to a man he would hear tales of many who would join the Company, some to return, many to stay in Canada. His dreams were full of this adventure to come. He said, "I want to follow the company." He would listen to the recruitment talks given by the Company's men. He would sit and listen to the stories of the ocean voyages, the wilderness, trees, (the Orkney's were very barren) Indians, the French, and riches to be obtained through the fur trade. As he grew into his teens the recruitment talks were changing from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Stories were told of the explorers, Captain Cook, Captain Vancouver, and Captain Bligh. Christopher realized that he could become part of this new land.

In the spring of 1850, tragedy struck the Finlay family. The fishing boat that father Finlay was crewing left the harbour of Houton and failed to return. All hands were lost. Mother, Margaret, and her two daughters, Mary and Margaret were soon working as farm workers on a nearby farm. Christopher, still had his dream of going to the new world. He presented his plan to his mother. "Let me go with the Hudson Bay Company to this Canada. When I am able, I will send you the money so you will be able to follow me." His mother reluctantly agreed.

He heard that the Company was now in the nearby town of Stromness. Christopher walked over to the village. While there he again listened with eagerness to the Company's man, Edward Clouston (4) tell of the new colony of Vancouver's Island. This land was covered with a huge forest. Trees ten feet in diameter covered the land. The rivers and seas were filled with fish. Gold and coal had just been discovered. This was the land of opportunity. That night Christopher returned to the small family farm house. We can imagine the tears when mother was told that Christopher had signed with the Company. "Aw, mother, it is just two years... Then I will send for you... This is my chance to see the world!" Reluctantly Mother released her only son, knowing in her heart that she would never see him again.

That fall, October 15, 1850 the family walked over to Kirkwall (5) to see their son off on the ship, "Queen". Good byes were said as 74 men, 9 women and 4 children left the Orkneys for the last time.(6)

Finally the adventure had begun. Many of the recruits knew each other and home was soon forgotten. The Queen sailed south through the Baltic and on to London which was at this time a huge modern city and Christopher had never been away from the Orkney's. The stay in London was approximately a month as the ship that was going to take them to the Pacific Ocean was being made ready.(7) All told over 140 passengers and crew were to make the trip. The Barque, Tory, a privately owned vessel under charter to the Company was old but solidly built. The ship's Master, James Row had hired a good experienced Captain Duncan to take her to Vancouver's Island.(8) The journey was to sail to the bottom of the Atlantic, around the southern tip of South America, Cape Horn, into the Pacific Ocean and northward to their destination.

The ship's length was 105 feet, breadth 26 feet, she had two full decks, a poop deck, three masts, a great old fashioned square stern, square rig sails and a wonderful girl figurehead! (9)

She was a wonderful ship to dream on. The company was to provide all provisions for the voyage. Much of Christopher's time was spent reading and listening to tales of others who had returned from such a trip. We can imagine that another Scotsman, Robert Louis Stevenson, would later use such ideas to kindle in his mind the story of "Treasure Island".

Our voyage begins. Christopher soon realized that when everything was aboard twould be a tight fit and he was one of the "labourers". He was not even called a passenger! (10) The captain took his wife aboard and she would not go unless her piano came too. She was rather plain looking and squinted. Robert Williams was first mate, Herbert Lewis, second mate, and Jay was third mate. An extra Captain, one James Cooper was along as well. This extra captain was called the supercargo. He too brought his wife. Fortunately the company saw fit to provision the barque "Tory" with a surgeon, a George Johnston.

The ship was towed down to Gravesend where the more important passengers were loaded. Much to Christopher's delight Captain Langford and family came aboard. The captain had 5 daughters. Langford also brought a goat and a very large Mastiff dog. The crew, passengers and labourers were even given a farewell speech from the secretary of the Hudson's Bay House. All in all there were 51 passengers and crew and 90 labouring men and their families.(11) It is hard to believe so many would be sent on such a small vessel.

At last! Christopher was free of land. The sails were spread and the journey had begun. Two days out a major storm hit. Most everyone was ill. The Tory had most sails close reefed for days. Large green waves washed over the boat. This delay of a month caused some worry over the food and water supply. The Captain put in to the port of Saint Iago in the Cape de Verdes Islands off Portugal.(12) Christopher and others were allowed ashore and borrowed saddle horses and rode through the lush semi tropical country. Here they were able to pick grapes and oranges for the first time.

Upon leaving Cape de Verdes the tropics were soon reached. Steady warm winds and calms, rain occasionally and burning sun. Along side the boat were many porpoises and flying fish. Most nights the sounds of Mrs. Duncan's piano could be heard. The passengers had dances on the quarter deck.

All was not to last. As the ship neared its next landfall, the Falklands Islands, the air became cooler with gales, thunder and lightning. The old year passes from 1850 to 1851. Christopher had his 18th birthday. The Tory headed south and south again with strong head winds and snow. Tacking back and forth the ship finally reached 63 degrees latitude. The turn was made around Cape Horn in a raging blizzard. The winds calmed. As the boat sailed north into the Pacific the air warmed.

The food by this time, three months out of England, was not good. All became bad and not there was no much of it. Cheese and biscuits were full of weevils. Little fresh water was available unless it rained. The ship settled down to the monotony of travel north into the warm tropics. As the northward journey continued the air became cooler. The Tory changed to a more easterly course and was soon approaching the coast of Vancouver Island.

Much fish and whales could be seen. The first sign of land was a huge white mountain on the horizon. The boat was sailing East with land on both sides. This was the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Later that week the weather worn Tory anchored in the harbor at Fort Victoria. The journey had taken almost 6 months. The date was May 14, 1851.

The next day a large canoe manned by Indians and captained by Mr. George Simpson arrived and welcomed them to the Hudson's Bay Post of Fort Victoria. During the next two days the passengers and labourers left the ship.

It must be remembered at this time that there were only two white settlements on Vancouver Island, Victoria on the southern tip and Fort Rupert on the extreme north end. Fort Rupert had been established in 1849 to protect the interests of the Company. Fort Rupert's factor was Captain MacNeil. Coal had been discovered there earlier and the Company had sent to the site a ship, the Harpooner, with miners to begin the working of a coal deposit. These miners lead by the Muir family had been hired to run the mine and went on strike They refused to work after April 1850.(13) Of course this was not known when the Tory had set sail in November of 1850.

The labourers assigned to Fort Rupert including Christopher were sent from Fort Victoria on the Tory and were taken to this northern fort.

Fort Rupert was a small palisaded fort. Hastily erected log houses were waiting for the "Orcadians" More work was done in preparing better living accommodations. Christopher had time to explore. The forest would have been filled with bear, wolves, deer and cougar. The water were filled with the mighty salmon, halibut, shark, cod, sea urchins, and of course the killer whales and grey whales.

The Indians in the area were rather a poor group. They were not well treated by the whites. The Fort found much difficulty in impressing on the natives the rules of a white civilization. Some coal mining was attempted. The coal deposits were shown to be of poor quality. And so past the year 1851.

In the next year, 1852, coal was discovered further south in larger quantities. Most of the Orcadians were sent for and were reestablished in the Nanaimo area. As Christopher was not hired as a miner, but as an account, he remained behind at the Fort.(14)

We now leave Christopher and go further north to the Queen Charlotte Islands. This area was better known to the natives as Haida Gwai. The warlike Haida had contact with the fur traders, mostly American. The traders came to their villages and exchanged trinkets and whiskey for the much desired otter pelts and fur seals. Reports came south of Captain Reid, who was forced to burn his ship rather than let it fall into the hands of the fierce warriors. These reports must have set the inhabitants of Fort Rupert to worry considerably. During this year two more ships arrived from England, the London and the Norman Morrison. (15)

 

Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)

The Haida in their big central village of Skidegate heard many tales of the new forts. Because of their warlike nature they were shunned by the English boats. "Maybe if we weren't so mean the English would like us. Lets go show them how wonderful we are!"

In the summer of 1853 the Haida began a trek down their islands to see for themselves the wonders of "civilization". As they went by the various villages of Kumshewa, Skedans and Tanu they were joined by more canoes. They arrived at the most southerly village of Ninstints.(16) Now they had over 50 large sea going canoes. More than 500 Haidas made this trip. From the southern tip of the Charlottes twas only a days sea voyage to the northern end of Vancouver Island. The war canoes arrived en mass at the small settlement of Fort Rupert.

This was the most exciting event of Christopher's young life. The Haida were dressed in all their finery. They wore fine furs, cedar bark hats and capes. Each canoe represented a different family and village. The Haida themselves were an awe inspiring race, very tall, with magnificent physiques. The inhabitants of the Fort felt more of a bond to these haughty proud people than with the local natives. Over the course of the days when the Haida were present some friendships were made. At this time a lasting bond was made between Christopher and an Indian girl.

Christopher may have joined this flotilla on their southern journey to see the English. All that is known is that he had to return to Nanaimo and report for work. With him came the Haida girl. (17) This girl and he were soon married by the captain of an english ship and became "Mr. and Mrs. Finlay".

The large group of war canoes continued down the coast to Victoria. Here the Haida, and their seagoing war canoes scared the residents of the Fort so badly that James Douglas, the Fort's governor, had to forcefully tell them to return and not to come back. He did this by showing them the cannon power of the Fort.

Later that summer 5 large "peaceful" canoes returned to establish trading. This they did for many years. Skidegate became quite wealthy during these excursions. They also brought the white men's disease back to their islands.(18)

In 1854 Christopher and the Haida girl had a child, They called her Mary. She would have been named after his Orkney sister.

Christopher became a well known figure in the new town of Nanaimo. He worked on accounts with the Company, took part in the building of the new town and even though of a young age was appointed the colony's teacher for a short time. In 1856 one of his friends, John Work, from the Orkneys, was killed in a mine explosion and cave in. John had a wife, Margaret and family. Two letters survive from this time.. These were sent to Christopher from John's wife. (19)

It is known from his daughter's diary that letters were were received from the Orkneys. Christopher still intended to send for his sisters. His mother, unfortunately, took sick and died.

He would have known Robert Dunsmuir, later to become the richest man in British Columbia. Robert was his superior at Fort Rupert. Dunsmuir arrived on Vancouver Island a few months after the Tory. Christopher worked beside Mark Bate, who was employed by the Hudson Bay Company. Mark eventually became the long lasting Mayor of Nanaimo. They were neighbors in the early town. There were only 10 houses at this time.

Later Mark has this to say of Christopher: "Christopher Finlay and Jean Baptiste Fortier, occupied the building beyond the Cook House, which building, the property of Mr. James M. Brown is still standing. (This was written in 1907) It was built in 1853. Mr. Finlay was well up in his mathematics, and among his other duties, as assistant in the store and office, was that of village pedagogue, after the resignation of Mr Charles A Bailey, and until the appointment of the late Rev. C. Bryant."

"Finlay was a somewhat stern master A few now among us who have grown grey and who were his scholars can doubtless recollect from the sharp slashes they received how free he was in the use of the strap."

"In the language of the immortal Goldsmith:"

A man severe he was, and stern to view

I knew him well, and every truant knew

We had the boding tremblers learning to trace

the Day's disasters in his morning face

Full well the busy whispers circling round

Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned

The village all declared how much he knew;

Twas certain he could write and cipher, too

"He was withal an upright man- would never wrong anyone." (20)

A tragedy struck the Haida people. For years every summer they had come down and lived in their encampment in Victoria harbour. In the year 1862 small pox arrived on a ship from the south. This raised havoc with the Indians who were extremely vulnerable to white men's diseases. The encampment in Victoria was infested. Sir James Douglas gave the order to set fire to the Indian Village . The Haida were told to take their belongings and go back to their islands. This they did. They took the sick and dying with them. Each night on the way north the dead were left ashore. They took all their southern possessions with them hoping to make it back to the islands. The next year at the last point on the mainland before going to the Queen Charlottes were found the remains of the Haida that had left Victoria. Unfortunately some small pox carrying Indians made the trek back to their villages. Within the year the majority of the Haida were dead. (21)

Sometime about now Christopher's wife was asked to come back and help manage the affairs of her village. Uncle Tom Cartwright told us that his grandmother returned to Rose City. Nothing was ever heard from her again.

Christopher was able to keep his daughter Mary.

In the year 1862 the Princess Royal, a Hudson's Bay Company ship, arrives with more settlers. One of which is a William Cartwright from Worcestershire, West Midlands. He came out from England at twenty years of age. His sister Sara had arrived 5 years before and became the wife of Mark Bate. William began working in the coal mines with the eventual goal of saving money to purchase land. After some uneventful years in this new country he met a wonderful beautiful Indian girl by the name of Mary Finlay. A Victoria marriage took place in the year 1869. William was 28. Mary was 15. William continued to work as a miner in Nanaimo. Their first of eleven children, Matilda, was born in 1871. The next year a farm was purchased with the help of Mark and Sara. This farm was a few miles to the north of Victoria in Sooke Harbour. And so starts another story.

Christopher continued to enjoy life. He soon moved out of the company house and built another a short distance away. His daughter and husband William and Mary also bought adjoining property. Christopher dies suddenly in the year 1879 at the age of 46.(22)

The above is a short history of our many times grandfather. Much has been left out.

Still many questions are there to be answered. A few puzzles left are: What is Christopher's wife's name? When exactly did she leave? Did she make it back to the Northern Islands? Did she remarry? Daughter Mary (Cartwright) wrote letters to Mary and Margaret and called them aunt. Were they Christopher's sisters? Did they emigrate as well? A Mary Martin lived in Sooke with the same family number as William and Mary Cartwright. (1891 census) Was this Mary Findlay, Christopher's sister?

I hope to add more to this story from time to time. Monte Engelson, August 12, 1999

Hello again, I have updated this story of Christopher after a voyage to the Orkney Islands. 2015, From the Island's archives was found what had happened to Christopher's father. The original farm is now a "Bed and Breakfast". We stayed on this farmer in an old stone house, "The Finlay Cottage".

From our British Columbia Archives was found the baptismal records of Christopher's daughter and mother.