Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809

By Barry M. Gough | Go to book overview

10
The Surveyor-Diplomats

May Peace and Plenty on our Nation smile, And Trade & Commerce bless the British Isle.

"SUCCESS TO SHIP TRADE," ON A LATE
EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY JUG AT THE BRIGHTON PAVILION

On top of the parliament buildings in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, stands the solitary and gilded figure of Captain George Vancouver, R.N. Holding the British flag and dressed in naval attire, he embodies the British presence on the Northwest Coast of North America in the late eighteenth century. He is perhaps second in importance to James Cook in defining the littoral of the North Pacific. There is no doubt that he ranks among the principal and founding figures in the modern history of Canada's west coast, for his surveys and, to a lesser degree, his diplomacy laid the basis for British dominion there. As his biographer, Admiral Bern Anderson, U.S.N., put it: "Without the solid foundation of Vancouver's monumental work as a basis for the British position, however, it is conceivable that the northern boundary of Oregon might have been fixed at latitude 54° 40' North, and Canada today would have no Pacific shores."1

Vancouver's voyage, according to one of his contemporaries, was "the last important voyage of discovery, that will probably ever need to be undertaken in the Pacific ocean." 2 Commencing in 1791 and ending four years later, it was an arduous passage in small vessels to one of the most desolate and hazardous coasts in the world. Its achievements were of a high order: the non-existence of a North‐ west Passage through the North American continent had been proved conclusively, the Northwest Coast had been more accurately defined than ever before, and the claims of the British crown to the region had been confirmed. Vancouver's voyage foreshadowed a permanent British presence on the coast.

Vancouver was to have sailed in H.M.S. Discovery towards the end of April 1790 as second officer to Captain Henry Roberts. This expedition was to expand British enterprises in the Pacific, in particular by encouraging whaling, building a settlement on the Northwest Coast, and fostering the maritime fur trade. 3 However, the government abruptly halted the expedition when John Meares arrived fresh from Nootka Sound with the alarming news that confirmed the rumour then afoot in London that the Spanish captain Martinez had seized British ships and shore establishments at Nootka Sound. Once the war clouds cleared away after

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Distant Dominion: Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Distant Dominion - Britain and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1579-1809 *
  • Contents *
  • Photographic Credits *
  • Illustrations *
  • Preface *
  • 1: Tyranny of Distance *
  • 2: Pacific Probes *
  • 3: Cook's Reconnaissance *
  • 4: Spanning the Pacific *
  • 5: The Fortune Seekers *
  • 6: Beachhead of Empire *
  • 7: Imperial Dreams and False Starts *
  • 8: Conflicts of Ambition *
  • 9: Dealing with the Dons *
  • 10: The Surveyor-Diplomats *
  • 11: The Overlanders *
  • Epilogue *
  • Abbreviations *
  • Notes *
  • Note on Sources *
  • Select Bibliography *
  • Index *
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