William Driscoll Gosset

Photograph courtesy of BC Archives Call Number  A-02094


Throughout his career in British Columbia, Gosset was praised and reviled.  Did he deserve either or both reputations?   Please read on and judge for yourself the enigma of William D. Gosset.



The parents and siblings of  William Driscoll Gosset*
and other Vital Statistics

Father: John Noah Gossett OR Gosset
1793, London, London, England
died 30 Aug 1870, London, London, England
    son of
Matthew Gossett and Margaret Durell
Mother: Maria Margaret Driscoll
born 26 SEP 1805, London, London, England
died 03 OCT 1883, London, London, England
    daughter of Thomas Driscoll and Unknown
1. William Henry Gossett
born About 1819, London, London, England,
2. William Driscoll Gossett*
born 13 APR 1822,  London, London, England,
3. Caroline Anna Gossett
About 1824, London, London, England, Pedigree
4. Louisa Henrietta Gossett
About 1826, London, London, England
1838,<London, London, England>Pedigree
5. Louisa Henrietta Gossett
18 JUN 1828, London, London, England, Pedigree
6. Elizabeth Marie Gossett
18 JUN 1828, London, London, England
21 FEB 1868, <London, London, England>, Pedigree

Gosset, like all Royal Engineer officers, was a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, where he learned his trade as an engineer, obtaining his commission upon completion

"From June to September 1843, about 8 men under Lt. Gosset, RE., assisted in the undertaking for determining the longitude of Valentia by transition of chronometers.  Thirty chronometers were conveyed in every transition; and to privates Robert Penton  and John M'Fadden was entrusted the service of bearing the chronometers, and winding them up at stated times and places.  On receiving the chronometers from Liverpool the reciprocations took place repeatedly between Kingston and Valentia Island.  Professor Sheepshanks and Lieutenant Gosset carried out the scientific purposes of the service, while the sappers not engaged with the chronometers attended to the main duties of the camp and observatory at Feagh Main, under the subordinate superintendence of Corporal B. Keen Spencer."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners : from the formation of the corps in March 1772 to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856. Pgs. 425-425 Volume 1

"A party of 16 non-commissioned officers and men, afterwards increased to nineteen of all ranks, under Serjeant James Steel, was detached on the 1st May 1849 with sufficient camp-houses, equipage, and stores, to carry out the re-measurement of the base line on Salisbury Plain, last done in 1794, by means of the compensation bars invented by General Colby.  No man of officer on the survey had ever seen the apparatus in position before; and Serjeant Steel, therefore, has the credit of acquiring a full knowledge of the adaptation and the uses of the various instruments belonging  to the apparatus, unassisted by the teaching of any practitioner.  This he achieved by more than three months unwearied study of some manuscript records on the subject, and by closely observing the results of a series of experiments which he conducted.

On the completion of the service corporal Jenkins was entrusted with one of the great theodolites, and removed with a camp party from the base detachment to a mountain station.  The remainder were soon dispersed on the general duties of the survey, and Serjeant Steel, after again comparing the bars and microscopes with the standard measures, returned with the compensation apparatus, etc, to Southampton.

While on Salisbury Plain Serjeant Steel was visited by the Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Pasley, frequently by Colonel Hall and Captain Yolland, and by about fifty other officers of the royal engineers; also by Professors Airy, Sheepshanks, and Cape.  The last gentleman was very free with his inquiries.  The mode of aligning the instrument did not, at first, satisfy him, but eventually the process having been minutely explained by the Serjeant, he went away convinced and gratified.  Captain Gosset was present at the laying of the first bar and Captain Hawkins at the last."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners : from the formation of the corps in March 1772 to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856. Pg.40

On the personal side, Captain Gosset married his cousin, Helen Dorothea Gosset in June 1852, at Eton.

"The principle survey of Cobham Camp of 1853, comprising of four large sheets, was compiled, lithographed and colored under the direction of Captain W. D. Gosset, RE.   Corporal Sinnett drew the 12-inch plan of the encampment furnished for the use of Colonel Vicars."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners : from the formation of the corps in March 1772 to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856. pgs.130-131.

"Serjeant Donald Geddes possessed varied ability both as a surveyor and a mechanic.  He was also a clear-headed and suggestive clerk of works.  When discharged in the summer of 1853, he was in subordinate charge of the electrotype apparatus and copper-plate printers at the ordnance map office at Southampton, under Captain W. D. Gosset."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners : from the formation of the corps in March 1772 to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856. Page 514

"Three non-commissioned officers with Serjeant Winner in charge, sailed for Ceylon on the 8th October 1856 in the "Sumatra": from London.  This little party of observers, surveyors and draftsmen, were asked for by captain W. D. Gosset, the surveyor-general, who having for many years been the executive under the superintendent of the national surveys, knew the varied qualifications of the sappers and the value of military organization in conducting the duty 'in a country chiefly wooded and excessively rough in many districts".  While he sought to obtain subordinates with the amplest qualifications for colonial survey duty, Captain Gosset took care to secure, as an equivalent for their employment in a hot climate, an income which has far exceeded any remuneration ever offered to a soldier.  According to their merits and exertions, he has the power to reward each with a daily pay ranging from 5 shillings to 15 shillings, exclusive of imperial pay and other colonial allowances."

-- History of the Royal Sappers and Miners : from the formation of the corps in March 1772 to the date when its designation was changed to that of Royal Engineers in October 1856.Pg. 491

Captain Gosset, upon completing his surveys in Ceylon returns to England and is immediately posted to British Columbia as the Colonial Treasurer.  He brings with him his wife, who is quite pregnant, on the ocean voyage that they share with Colonel Moody and his family.

On the sailing, Gosset met Robert Burnaby (who would soon become Col. Moody's secretary). It appears that Burnaby recognized Gosset as an enemy of his brother, Richard Burnaby.


"Gosset is an old Marplot of Dick's, and promises to keep up his character.  I think there will be a row between him and Moody before they have been in Columbia very long: but he may get better, tho' at present he is queer.  I soon levelled him, he was rather high and mighty at starting, but we came to an understanding very shortly and no doubt shall pull along."

 -- Robert Burnaby, 12th November 1858


"Captain Gossett, who is to my mind an odious man, full of self conceit and irritability, and who, in my opinion has got "a tile off".  His first greeting to me was queer.  He said something to somebody about Ceylon, so I knew my man and introduced myself. "Ah", he said, "I know your brother.  He and I are not very good friends".  "Sorry to hear that," I answered, "But that's no reason you and I should not be", and so we gradually got on, he reserved and bearish, I quiet and civil.  When he swaggered and talked as tho ' he would patronize me in the new country I made a point of showing that Gov't business was bad and we didn't care for it: but if I could do anything to give him a lift in the way of getting stores over for him I would.  So, bye and bye we got to understand each other and are now very fair friends.  He is a very clever man, but he was queer when Dick knew him and Ceylon has finished him off.

-- 15th November 1858, Letters of Robert Burnaby

Mrs. Moody, who, with her children and husband Colonel  Moody, also traveled in the same vessel.

Mrs. Gosset, and Mrs. Crickmer (the clergyman's wife) are wretched sailors, they have been ill the whole time.

- 10th November, 1858 - Letters of Mary S. Moody

Burnaby had this to say about Mrs. Gosset.


"Mrs. Gossett is a very tall woman, coarse as a cook maid, tolerably pleasant now she is not sick, which she was from Holyhead to Sandy Hook.  They have as fine a boy as was ever seen, who has been in the four quarters of the globe before he is a year old.  If he doesn't turn out to be a traveller, who should?"

-- 15th November 1858, Letters of Robert Burnaby


"We are not on very intimate terms with the Gosset's, I am sorry to say."

-15th November, 1858, The Letters of Mary S. Moody


"I do not know what the Gosset's mean to do, we are not very thick with them. He is very trying and she is rather uppish a fine lady, not fit for roughing it. However she has not been well and she may "shine in the bush".

- 6th December, 1858, The Letters of Mary S. Moody

In the first days of the new year of 1859, the "Ned McGowan War" breaks out. Moody is dispatched out to see what is afoot and soon sends a letter to Derby for reinforcements.


HMS "Plumper"
Langley, Fraser River
17th January 1859


I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th Instant from Fort Yale, desiring that the force may be immediately dispatched to you

I therefore send by steamer "Enterprise", a party of 80 Officers, seaman, and Royal Marines, with one Field Piece 12 Pon. the party supplied with 10 days provisions, ammunition etc. 50 men of the "Satellite" are under Lieut. Gooch RN, Mr. Hall, Midshipman, and Lieut. Jones, RM - and 30 men from the "Plumper" under Lieutenant Moriarty, and Mr. Pender of this ship.

Captain Gossett RE doing duty as Commissary Officer to the Force, and Captain Parsons RE accompanying the expedition as Volunteer.

I have much pleasure in placing Lieut. Mayne's services at your personal disposal, according to your desire.

I have the honor to be,
Your Most obedient Servant,

George Henry Richards

This appears to be his second temporary position as Commissary as he has been also working as Commissary to the Boundary Commission Royal Engineers.

After completing surveying trips to British Columbia, Moody returns to Victoria to draw up plans for the new Capital.


"The Site of the new Town of B.C. is settled, the Capital and Port of Entry, the name is Queenborough, proposed by Captain Gosset and we think a very appropriate one..."

- 18th February, 1859, The Letters of Mary S. Moody


New Westminster Times
24 Sept 1859


Tenders are invited for supplying the following articles, in such quantities as may be required during the next three months at each of the places named.

The prices to be stated in English currency.

All duties and carriage to be paid by the trader. Address, with samples, duly numbered to correspond with the Tender to me at this Office. British weights and measures.

At Commissariat Store, New Westminster:

Tea - black per 1000 lbs.
Sugar - brown per 1000 lbs.
Coffee - ground per 1000 lbs.
Soap - English yellow per 1000 lbs.
Pepper - black, ground per 100 lbs.
Mustard - ground per 100 lbs.
Candles - Palmer's English per 100 lbs.
Matches - box per 1 gross
Oil - lamp per 100 gallons

Acting Commissary


Lt. Anderson, who had arrived in the Colonies in December of 1859, met Gosset upon arriving at Esquimalt.

"...I have seen Captain Gosset and Mr. Dundas and they have both been very kind."

- 4th December, 1859, Letters of Lt. Anderson

Based on his time with Gosset at Esquimalt, this is what Anderson had to relate to his family.


None of them (The Officers of the Boundary Commission) seem to like the Colonel [Hawkins] as he is said to have rather a petty and mean disposition. One bad trait in his character and particularly Gosset's is running down that unfortunate man Col. Moody. The latter (Gosset) calls Moody a drivelling idiot. He told me so the very first time I saw him, and that is rather a strong term for one officer to use towards another so much older. I could not help taking a dislike to Gosset from that very fact.

Gosset had rather an eye towards this Commissionship in the event of Hawkins not returning but I am delighted to say that that is not to be. He has also an eye on Moody's appointment, if he gets it, I pity the officers under him.

- 6th January, 1860, The Letters of Lt. Anderson



Gosset has been ordered up the country to New Westminster, and as he had made himself snug in an iron house in Victoria, he is rather disgusted and Mrs. Gosset talks of going home.  Gosset's pay is not even so good as mine.  He gets only 500 pounds a year and has to provide himself and family with house and food, so his is not a very lucrative post." 

-- 7 Feb 1860, Lt. Anderson RE

According to Woodward, Gosset received, in Regimental Pay,  202 Pounds per Annum plus Colonial Allowance, though the amount of the Colonial allowance is unknown.  He was treasurer and postmaster for the Colony of British Columbia.  Treasurer for the Colony of Vancouver's  Island.


CAPTAIN GOSSET, R.E., Treasurer of British Columbia is, we regret to learn, suffering from an attack of nervous debility, induced, we believe, by t too close application to official duty. He is at present on a visit to Victoria, testing the vaine of change of air and temporary relaxation from the harassing cares of official life. We heartily wish our Treasurer a speedy convalescence and return amongst us.

-7th November, 1861 - The British Columbian




  He left on sick leave Sept 1862.

Captain William Driscoll Gosset (standing) and other members of the boundary commission, circa 1860.

Photos courtesy of BC Archives;
top image call number A-02095
bottom image call number A-02096

Died June 1879 Helen Dorothea Gosset, age 49, Kensington
Died June 1899 William Driscoll Gosset, age 77, Fulham
Died June 1933 Ernest A. G. Gosset, age 75, Ploughley
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