Sources for the below include Mrs. Belinda Digby
Spear, daughter of Charles Digby.
Charles Digby, like all the Royal
Engineers who arrived in British Columbia in 1859, has a place in B.C.'s
history. He arrived in New Westminster in April 1859 and remained
with the Royal Engineers until they disbanded in 1863. His
activities were many and varied.
Born in Braintree, Essex, in
was a Crimean war veteran and one of the thirty who scaled the
Redan and one of nine who returned, from whence came his nickname,
"Redan Charlie". He had an unusual experience in the
Crimea where there were not medications to return to health those who
were sick or badly wounded. The medical men did the best they
could easing pain and administering medicines to make the way
"across the bar' easier and quicker. Such was the experience
of Charles Digby when he became ill and was taken to the hospital tent
where he was given medicine which Corporal
John McMurphy seized and
poured out. Next morning the doctor making rounds looked startled
on seeing Sapper Digby and blurted, "Digby, you not dead
yet?" He regained his health and was one of the survivors of
the Crimea and of the shipwreck on their return to England where they
were met by their beloved Queen Victoria. This great lady met them
at the docks and shook the hand of every veteran as he came ashore,
making each one a more devoted servant than before.
Charles Digby was a bricklayer
and when the call came for men to come to BC to protect and open up the
Crown Colony, he and his brother Corporal James
Digby volunteered, and with the Royal Engineers, made the
journey on the "Thames City".
Sapper Digby was a quiet, good
natured man about 5 feet 8 inches tall, fair complexion, with a beard
and moustache so fashionable in his day. His word was his bond and
fairness and justness were his code; anyone interfering with either had
to answer to him. He was quietly rigid in attitude when convinced
he was right. He went out on the building of the Cariboo Road up
the Fraser Canyon and was with the group who surveyed the towns of Hope,
Yale and Douglas.
When the Royal Columbian
Hospital was built in 1861 on its present site in Sapperton, he went as
hospital Steward and did everything but "mix medicines"; he
assisted the doctors with the operations, gave anaesthetics, tended
patients and generally administered the six-ward, 48 bed hospital.
The operating room was heated by an open fireplace and the instruments
were boiled in an enamel bowl on the kitchen range. Hospital help
consisted of one cook and one male assistant. He also dug and
planted the garden, filled the root cellar which supplied the hospital
with the year's fruit and vegetables, and kept hogs and chickens for
meat, poultry, and eggs for the hospital larder.
By 1863 the Detachment was
disbanded and the men given land grants. Charles Digby has acreage in
Pitt Meadows which he farmed.
the 24th August, 1871, Digby married Elizabeth Ann McMurphy,
daughter of the Serjeant who saved his life in the Crimea and who had
also come out to BC. The married at Pitt River Weslyan Methodist
Church. They were married the day before she was
sixteen and he was then thirty-six years old. They lived in Pitt
Meadows, later with a growing family moved to New Westminster, where he
became steward of the Royal Inland Hospital, then situated at Fourth and
Agnes streets. As steward he was in full charge and with one
assistant, Mr. Devoy, another Sapper, he ran the hospital, tended the
sick and assisted the three doctors, Dr. Edan Walker, Dr. Fagan, and Dr.
The Digby family lived in a
house beside the hospital (this recently burned when it was being used
as an intern's home at the present Royal Columbian Hospital) and when
the youngest of the nine children was born prematurely in 1897,
little hope was held for her survival. Weighing two and one half
pounds, she was rubbed with cod liver oil, wrapped in cotton batting and
placed on a pillow in the oven of the hospital stove for two
weeks. This ingenious incubator tended by her father kept the baby
About 1900 when the Royal
Columbian Hospital became a general hospital taking men and women
patients, Charles Digby left as doctors and nurses took over. He
retired and took his place among the aging Royal Engineers in New
Charles Digby died in 1907 at
the age of 72 (47 years after brother James) and was buried in the New Westminster cemetery which
overlooks the hospital.