Nanaimo Historical Society Fonds

Series 2 Sound Recordings

Tape 3b Side A

Interview with Don Sale, Recorded April 23 1981

Transcribed by Glenys Wall, September 2003

Don Sale:

I have gathered together a little sort of a preamble ahead of the coming of the Princess Royal Settlers as follows. Brierley Hill, Staffordshire, in early 1854 was a typical coal-mining village in Britain. The Industrial Revolution was well advanced and the need for coal and iron was rapidly increasing. It was found to be more economical to take the heavy iron ore to the coal producing areas. The age of steam was beginning. The Prince William had crossed the Atlantic under the power of steam some twenty years before in 1832. The British Empire was expanding and there would soon be a need for coaling stations in strategic places about the globe. The population explosion had already begun in Industrial England and jobs were only available that required long hours, low wages and almost unbearable working conditions. The squalid little miner's cottage, which was the home for the miner and his family, had little to offer in the way of comfort other than being a roof over their heads. Their fathers had been miners and therefore they were miners and their sons would be miners. They were a link in a chain and were caught in a web. The women of a mining village had to be almost completely self-sufficient and were responsible to make clothes, food and raise families and, of course, keep house. Living conditions caused people to age rapidly. A person was old at forty. Infant mortality was high. The accident rate in the mines was high due to gas, fire, explosion and other catastrophes. People suffered from ailments such as asthma, emphysema, silicosis and allied respiratory problems connected with coal dust. Miners tolerated such conditions because they were not trained to do anything else. The pubs, of course, played an important part in the life of the miner. The pubs of those days had three requirements. In order to get a licence they had to have rooms upstairs, obviously for people who became too intoxicated. They had to have food on the premises, hence the old pubs who still have the "ploughman's lunch". If you are over in England you can get a good lunch in a pub. And they had to have various gaming facilities such as darts. Those were basic requirements to get a pub licence in the days of the Staffordshire miners. Big companies began developing colonies overseas. Town Criers began to announce various opportunities from time to time. Now in Staffordshire, Brierley Hill, there was an inn called the Swan Inn that was actually a pub in the town of Brierley Hill. In a number of these areas, they used to have more or less a little bit of wildlife. Now near the Swan Inn, there was a body of water and in this body of water lived in swans in those days. And it is wonderful what they can do with these swans; they are able to string a string across at a certain height and the swans will go up when they are hungry and tinkle the bell. And, of course, the innkeeper or the patrons will come out and they will throw bread or any waste to the swans and hence the name Swan Inn. Allied to this I was riding with a cousin of mine in England through areas such as we're describing here and he had three of his young children in the back seat of the car and they were getting fussy and so he turned to them and he said "Play legs" and I thought what in the world was that. And we drove by a number of pubs and each child took turn and they had a look at the big sign. If for example it was we'll say Horses' Inn, the one whose turn it was had four points so they kept check. If it was Coach and Horses they counted the legs of the horses and the legs of the coachmen and that person had maybe twenty points and so on. Each inn that we went by they counted and they were kept quiet while we were enjoying our drive around the country. I don't know what he did to reward the winner but it worked.

Now as far as the Swan Inn went, the Hudson Bay authorities with the help of posters and personal contact began visiting the inn and talking to these miners who later on were the twenty four families who came out to Nanaimo. You can imagine perhaps on a Saturday night the Hudson Bay official would be visiting and perhaps he would buy a round of bitters and the idea was that they were going to wash out the weeks' gathering of dust from their system and they got to know quite a bit about this brave new world we had out here. And England of course was at war with Russia, the Crimean War was in progress but this didn't appeal to many miners. A miner in those days didn't make a very good soldier. The East India Company was looking for employees but this attracted very few miners, as it would mean leaving their families and friends behind. The Hudson Bay Company seemed to have the best offer away in the remote colony of Vancouver Island. Talk increased amongst the younger miners especially who had the spirit of adventure and hope for a better life in the brave new world. One wonders at what the wife and family were brought into the decision making, In time the miners would have a chance to escape from the class system, the sweatshops and the ever present threat of imprisonment. The Hudson's Bay Company officials were able to sign up miners as "indentured servants" for a stated period of time. This same plan was used to obtain the services of the Brierley Hill miners.

Early in the spring of 1854, the Hudson Bay then signed up twenty-three young miners and their families plus one of the managerial class, which makes the twenty-four families that came out to Vancouver's Island as it was called in those days. Now, they were offered the opportunity of traveling out to this new world, this part of the world of ours now that we're so familiar with, in a special new ship; this was another inducement. The people signed on, of course, would have to pay a portion of the fare and they would have to work out the remainder of their fare by serving as a deck-hand on board ship. These Hudson Bay ships carried what they called a "skeleton crew" in those days, in other words, they supplied the officers and the various other personnel that were necessary but the deckhands and so forth were obtained by the passengers. In other words, they reduced the fare by working the men who were traveling across the ocean. Now these miners, the twenty three of them, had to travel steerage. Now steerage is a term that meant that the miners and their families would be quartered below decks where it was very dark and there was very little fresh air for ventilation. The term "steerage" is still used today and people can travel from one place to another below decks as steerage passengers.

Now the contract that these mines were asked to sign before they left home was a binding contract for a period of five years. So a binding, indentured contract was signed and sealed by each accepted miner and, as I said before, was to last for five years so they had committed their lives from 1854 to 1859. Some of the promises you might be interested to know. The miner promised to work ten hours each working day. The sum of 15 pounds sterling was to be advanced to assist in traveling expenses from England and to assist in the passage fare but was to be repaid within twelve months from the date of embarkation. During the voyage, a miner was allowed 2 shillings and sixpence with vittles or rations. On arrival, 1 shilling sterling in lieu of rations was allowed by the Company. His wages were 78 pounds sterling per annum. So multiply 78 by two which is the rate of a pound roughly today and you'll see that it is less than $160. A miner could earn an additional 2 shillings and sixpence for each ton of 2100 weight produced in excess of 45 tons. A man was supposed to produce 45 tons and anything above that he got a little extra pay. Notice 2100, they weren't going to have any short tons there (laughter). They had an extra 100 pounds to dig. The miner was entitled to one acre of land at the end of five years in return for the payment of one-pound sterling per annum. The penalty for breaking the contract was 50 pounds. Under such a rigid contract, there was no turning back for the Brierley Hill miners and nothing remained but to serve under the terms until their contract expired in 1859.

Then, having mortgaged the next five years of their lives, the gallant group of miners and their families left their homes in Brierley Hill in Staffordshire, England and journeyed to London to board the Princess Royal, which was to be their floating home for the next six months. The new and sturdy barque, the Princess Royal, had been built in 1853 by Messrs. Money, Wigram and Sons. It was constructed of solid oak and was 145 feet in length, just over 18 feet in depth and had a beam of just under 30 feet. The ship weighed 583 tons and cost 10,200 pounds sterling to build, that is about $21,000 today. The Princess Royal had been especially designed to carry spars and a large cargo of furs. The Hudson's Bay Company records show that on June 2nd 1854 at 6.45 p.m " twenty three men and twenty three women and a quantity of children were received on board as emigrants". This is copied right out of the log. In addition to the miners and their families ten Norwegians were added to the steerage passengers. The cabin passengers included the intended manager and superintendent of the coalmine, George Robinson, together with his wife and their two children. That made the twenty-fourth member of the Nanaimo contingent. And the schoolmaster, Mr. Clark, together with his wife and their baby. Apparently he didn't count; schoolmasters didn't count in those days. (laughter). It's quite interesting reading that sort of thing. Schoolmasters, insane and prisoners had no vote those days.

After being amply provisioned and watered, the Princess Royal under the command of Captain David Wishart and First Mate Charles Gale left the East Indies Dock in London at 4 a.m. on June 3rd and was towed down the River Thames to below Gravesend where it was turned loose in the English Channel to make use of the currents and the winds. The stout, little ship set out for Nanaimo via Cape Horn reaching Honolulu on October 20th, which was 140 days after leaving the London dockside. In those days, of course, the ship did not go from point A to point B, they had to make use of the currents and the winds, hence they made their way almost diagonally from the English Channel across the Atlantic and down, there was no Panama Canal in those days, down to the southern tip, Cape Horn, southern tip of South America, and then the currents took it almost directly to Hawaii or to Honolulu, and then of course they had to turn and make use of the Westerlies and so on and make their way back to Vancouver Island. So that is the reason for the long roundabout trip.

A quick look at life on board as a steerage passenger. The passengers, of course, were not allowed above decks. The only exceptions were the men, who were allowed to carry out their duties as deck hands on board in order to earn part of their passage. The beams were less than five feet above the decking, people were a lot shorter in those days, and if you did have anybody who was over five feet in height, you can imagine there was no way a passenger could stand erect in their living quarters. The ventilation was extremely poor and inadequate. Water was scarce and washing facilities were practically non-existent. It was dark twenty-four hours of the day. The danger of scurvy was always present since their diets on board lacked vitamin C. The boat pitched and tossed as it wallowed across the ocean. Day and night could be heard the straining and creaking of the ships timbers. There was little chance of proper meals; they were limited to dried or salted foods since there were no canned foods in those days. Following 140 days in such cramped quarters, how the miners and their families must have enjoyed their ten-day stay in Honolulu. With the help of the Westerly Winds the last days of the journey was made in just over three weeks. While in Honolulu, of course, the passengers enjoyed the sunshine, the fresh water, the chance to bathe, the fresh vegetables and fresh fruits and of a more somber nature, the burial of their loved ones who had passed away on route and those who had just passed away while they were in Hawaii.

The original of the Princess Royal log has recently been located in a museum in England. A copy of this log is soon to be made available to the Nanaimo Historical Society and no doubt the museum as well. The ship's log recorded five deaths and two births; three more deaths occurred while the ship was being provisioned and watered in Honolulu. On October 31st ,the Princess Royal set sail for Esquimalt. Two further deaths occurred prior to the ship arriving at anchor on November 23rd. At 4.30 p.m. on November 25th, the Beaver and the Recovery were brought along side the Princess Royal so that the passengers bound for the coalmines could be transferred. The Princess Royal was slightly too large to enter the harbour of Nanaimo as it was in those days and, therefore, in order not to risk a grounding they got the two smaller ships to off-load the miners and their families and baggage and so on and bring them up to Nanaimo. The next day with a good supply of potatoes and fresh meat they departed for Colville Town, which is the old name for Nanaimo. The next morning the travel-weary group arrived in the harbour and came ashore at Pioneer Rock. The time and the date was 11.00 a.m. November 27th 1854. The sun broke through the clouds just at the moment the first miner set foot on land. The party was greeted by Hudson's Bay Company clerk Joseph William McKay and twenty-one Scottish miners, employees of the Hudson Bay Company who had arrived earlier. Each year we celebrate this particular occurrence and I will make mention of that in just a moment again. As far as we can trace all the miners who arrived in Nanaimo on the Princess Royal served out their terms of their contracts so by 1859 they had a decision to make. Should they stay in Nanaimo? Should they remain as miners? Should they try their hand at some other occupation? In those five formative years the miners and their families had a good source of food from wild game of all sorts and fish. Even their winter supply was good as they learned from the natives how to prepare pemmican and jerky. Pemmican was particularly nutritious. Six pounds of meat was pounded, mixed with fat and the mealy kinnikinnick(?) berry. Jerky was long strips meat that had been dried in the sun. This is still sold in the stores. I took a look last Saturday when I was returning from Victoria, in Ladysmith in Coronation Square, in the Safeway store, take a look they have these packets of jerky hanging up and you can purchase them. That's beef, by the way, so try that out if you want to see what the miners existed on in their winter season.

In 1862, the Hudson's Bay Company sold its mines on Vancouver Island to the Vancouver Mining and Land Company. In 1871, British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada. Taking a few extracts from the census of 1881, 100 years ago, the Indian population was equal to the white population of British Columbia, that is each had 25,000. Nanaimo and District had 2,800 population. What of our original 24 miners from Staffordshire? 8 had left Nanaimo, 9 were still miners, 2 were working in mine-related jobs, 3 were in the hotel business, 1 had gone into the transport business and 1 was a farmer. Young boys of 11 years of age and sometimes younger, continued to leave school and work in the mines. The women's place was in the home. Most married miners lived in a cottage while the single miners lived in a hotel for $6.00 a week, that is for room and board. Saloons appeared and were increasingly frequented. The brass rail in front of the bar was to enable the patrons to stand at the bar longer by shifting their weight of their body to different angles. In other words, so they didn't get so tired; so that's the reason for the brass bar. Salt was always available to replace the body salt lost in perspiring while working their shifts in the mines. Crackers and cheese enabled the patrons to drink more. Of course, by 1881 the ever-present spittoon was in the bars and mustn't escape mention since that was quite a competition amongst the miners just to see how many could hit at a greater distance.

A pattern was well established for the miners in Nanaimo, which was to endure with some improvements for approximately the next half-century. Nanaimo had begun supplying coal on a regular basis by ship to San Francisco. Governor Douglas had left the Hudson's Bay Company and in addition to being Governor of Vancouver Island he became Governor of British Columbia, November 19th 1858. In 1863 Governor Arthur Kennedy became Governor of Vancouver Island, while Governor Frederick Seymour became Governor of British Columbia. In 1866, the two colonies united. 1867 was confederation and the formation of Canada and the beginning of all our hassle with the government officials now with bringing home the constitution began in 1867. In 1871, on July 20th, British Columbia joined the Dominion on the promise of a railroad across Canada. In 1874, of course, Nanaimo became a city with Mark Bate as its first mayor. In 1876, the diamond drill was first used in the Nanaimo mines. In 1877, we have the coalminers Safety Act coming into force and in 1881, which is the year we were talking about, it is noticeable that we should remark on the death of Coal Tyee in February of 1881 at a very, very advanced age. Remember when he reported coal way back in the early 1850's he was an old man then and he lived another thirty years beyond that. Of course, natives have another way of calculating their age so it's likely that he wasn't quite as old as he was made out to be.

Now then with the miners, we have a two-community pattern of family life having started in Nanaimo.  As for the Princess Royal, just to bring it into focus for you, after twenty-four successful voyages, the Princess Royal set out on her final voyage to Moose Factory and as she commenced her return trip from Hudson Bay with a full cargo of furs, she encountered a terrific snow-storm (this was October 3rd 1885) and at that time she broke her keel on a sandbar near Moose Factory. Very fortunately, Captain William Barfield and all of his crew survived to relate their experiences in London some months later. Lloyd's of London has erected a bell retrieved from the Luteen (?), a ship which sank in 1799 in the Zuider See while transporting one million pounds sterling, that's over $2,000,000. This bell was and still is rung to signify an overdue or lost vessel. It rang the knell of the Princess Royal after thirty-one years of faithful service to the Hudson Bay Company.

Just to complete then, each year on November 27th under the auspices of Nanaimo Historical Society a simple, commemorative ceremony commencing with the ringing of the Bastion bell at 11 o'clock in the morning and it includes the roll call of the descendants of the Princess Royal passengers. This past year, was the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the Princess Royal settlers. In 1954, a metal cairn was filled with historical items and sealed to be opened in the year 2054 AD. So we have been blessed in Nanaimo with a strong, vibrant list of descendants from the Princess Royal arrival miners 125 years ago.


Does any one have any questions?

Tape Ends