Lt. Lempriere writes to his Uncle


In the Forest
British Columbia
12th June 1859

My Dear Uncle,

I think a few lines  from this part of the world may please you but you must not be particular if the writing etc., is rather illegible as I am squatting on the ground and scribbling this on my knee.

For the last four weeks nearly have I been living almost entirely in the bush, having nothing with me buy a small Tent, my blankets, and one change of clothes, which are now in rags.  My occupation in this locality is cutting a trail between Fort Hope on the Fraser river, and Lightning or Boston Bar on the same river between the two places being unnavigable and the distance between them about 50 miles. It is exceedingly rough work, but as long as the weather is fine, I must say, I should like it, if I only had a companion to talk to, and make the evenings pass away more pleasantly; I generally however roll myself up in my blankets (clothes on) and go to roost soon after 8 and am up generally at 5 sometimes much earlier, and breakfast at 5:3. One must keep early hours at this sort of work, and I think one is all the better fort it. My dinner hour is 11:30 and I supper at 5:30 or 6 pm. I get little else to eat and drink but bacon, dough, tea or coffee except when an Indian is lucky enough to kill a bird, or my Muleteer, brings out a few potatoes when he is obliged to return to Fort Hope, or Barley for the Mules. At first it made me quite sick having nothing but bacon every day but I soon got accustomed to it, and after a hard days work could make as hearty a meal as if I had one of your good Saddles of Mutton before me, in truth, although if I saw the two together I should not be long in making my choice.

I had got through about 20 or 30 miles of my Trail path sufficiently large for one mule to get along, when I found the snow in front quite impassible, and was obliged to retreat, and am now improving the first section, all of which was very rough with large trunks of trees lying across, and many places where one had to wade through streams, up to ones middle.  A felling axe, the principle description of tool is used and I am sure it would quite astonish you, if you were to see in what a short time a large tree, 140 or 160 feet high, is cut down with one of these, by a single man if he is a good axeman.  When we come to a stream which is not fordable, we fell a tree on the bank so that it falls across, and then chip the rounded part off the top, and ride our mules over.  If this is well done it forms an excellent Bridge.

There is a great quantity of Cedar, Pine, Alder, and some Cypress along the rout.  The latter is very valuable for furniture.  The Cedars and Alders make the best fire wood.  We think nothing of cutting down 2 or 3 trees for our Evening fire, which is certainly a great luxury.  Fancy cutting down those Cedars on our lawn at home for firewood!  I frequently amuse myself with an axe and am getting quite expert at it.  I find it is not such an easy thing as one would imagine by merely seeing it used.

I am enormously glad to get my Camp clear of that Snow, which a few days ago was about two feet thick all round and melting so rapidly that the Interior of one's tent was always wet and damp.  When the Snow gets rotten it is very dangerous to travel over a country like this.  It may be quite hollow underneath, and you unexpectedly go down some 8 or 10 feet.

I went into Fort Hope the other day, and coming out again we could not reach our Camp the same day, and so we had to sleep in the open air.  I started about 5:30 the following morning and had not gone more than a hundred yards or so when the Indian that was with us pointed to a large Black Bear about 30 yards off, he stopped an instant and looked at us, and then made off for the mountains.  I had no rifle with me at the time, so was not sorry to see him take his departure.

All the country of British Columbia that I have seen, is one vast forest over mountains and everywhere.  They say however, that there is open country above Boston Bar which will be valuable for grazing and farming purposes.  At present there is no easy access to that part of the country and that is the reason I am cutting this trail through - which, if it turns out well, is likely to be, one of these days, the most important trail in the colony.

I daresay you have heard that Queenborough is to be the name of the capital.  It is situated on the Fraser River about 19 miles below Langley and its site is one of the thickest timbered parts of the country - it seemed almost ridiculous to walk over it and imagine that there could ever be a Town there.  It consequently got the nickname the "Phantom City".  Contrary to all expectations the sale of 2/3 of the lots there on the 1st of the month realized the sum of 17,800 dollar, so you see people must place some faith in the future prosperity of the colony.  The remaining 1/3 of the lots is being reserved for people coming out from England, or elsewhere.  The plan of the town is admirable, and the site being healthy, but the clearing of the lots will be very expensive, of course that falls on the purchasers.

Our head camp, is about a mile from there, and very prettily situated with a ravine separating it from the Marines.  There are about 150 of the latter, and I must say they are a most useful set of men - they are generally employed in clearing the land, and form an excellent body of axemen.

A most important discovery was made only a few days ago by the captain of the Survey Steamer "Plumper" viz: that there was an excellent Harbour for all sorts of vessels, in any weather, only some 4 or 5 miles from Queenborough.  It was not known before that Queenborough was anywhere near the coast.  This discovery will save the dangerous navigation of the Fraser River.  A trail to is already in course of construction - it is quite extraordinary how little is really known of this country.  Those maps you get in England of it, are not worth a Song.  It is also a most difficult country to survey, as you cannot see a yard ahead of you on account of the timber.

Colonel Moody RE who is now Lieutenant Governor and Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works, is I think on the whole very popular - I like him very much myself.  (Private) Governor Douglas from Victoria one sees in the papers does not appear at all popular: he wished Langley to be capital, and sold the lots there before Colonel Moody arrived.  Langley was situated on the American side of the river, and I fancy that was the reason why Col. Moody objected, and finally settled upon Queenborough.

A great many of the Miners are leaving just now.  I attribute it, to the high price of provisions and the river having risen very high from the melting of the snow, and this preventing their working for the next 6 weeks or 2 months.  I asked one of them, a few days ago, what he lived upon and he said Bacon, Beans and Tea for breakfast, beans, tea and Bacon for dinner and tea, bacon and beans for supper, so you see I have little variety.  I daresay you would think the Miners as a general class are a horrid set of ruffians, particularly when you see them with their great beards, rough clothes, high boots over their trowsers, and always carrying firearms: it certainly struck me so at first, but after being in the habit of meeting and talking to them frequently, I must say I think there are as good honest hearts under it all, as you will meet anywhere, of course there are exceptions, and one is likely to meet with men of every character.

There was a bit of a disturbance the night when I was at Fort Hope when a man stabbed the constable, and I was roused up to assist the Magistrate.

The Indians about here are a finer race, than those further down the river; I had 4 of them with me, when I first started out on this expedition.  3 soon deserted, but the fourth is still with me, and seems quite attached.  I go many distances sometimes with no one but him and am never afraid of trusting any of my property to his charge.  I sent him out with my Gun occasionally and he sometimes returns with a grouse or a Duck which is a great treat.  He never fires without he is certain of hitting, and will crawl along on his belly like a snake until he is quite sure of his mark.  I can generally manage by signs and a few Indians words, I have picked up, to make him understand.

All the Indians wear their hair streaming down their necks and a great many paint their faces and breasts.

 In the Winter they return into their "rancheries".  They are large holes in the ground covered over with the bark of trees, a hole being left in the centre for them to get in and out by and to answer the purpose of a Chimney they have an upright pole with dents passing through this hole something like those in the Zoological Gardens for the Bears to climb up.

It is a wet, chilly, miserable, Evening.  Drops of rain coming through my tent and the Mosquitoes biting like fun; so I think I will smoke a cigar to keep out the damp and annoy the Mosquitoes, and wish you Good Night before turning in.

Monday June 13th
Now I should like to walk in, and see you all comfortably seated under the shade of one of those trees on the Lawn.  I have got so accustomed to being without a table or a chair, that I find I can now get on very well without them.  I should like to know, how you, Aunt, Lowey and the boys are getting on.  Be sure and give them my best love, and a hearty kiss to Aunt, and Lowey.  What has become of our Harry.  I have not had a line from him since I left England.  Tell him to write and to let me know whether he has still got the chestnut as well as all the news that he can give me.

I don't suppose there are any people from our part of the country thinking of coming out here.  If there are I should not recommend them to do so at present.  The country is too rough, and the provisions too high for them to get on well unless they are single men and well up to hard work - even then it is very doubtful whether they could get on.  I was paying at Fort Hope about 4 weeks ago $6 per diem for the board and lodging of 3 men I had with me.  I believe that prices are still the same, though it does not cost so much when living in the Bush, where you take out your supply of Bacon etc.  There are a great many Yankees in the Colony who spit, drink, and smoke pretty much all day.

Tell them once they write always to address to me at Queenborough British Columbia and to put on the envelope via New York and Panama.

No more time and with very best love to all.
Believe me my dear Uncle.
Ever your affectionate Nephew
Arthur R Lempriere.

June 16th
I am on my way to Queenborough having received an order to return late last night.  I have received a letter from my mother and Isabella Reid.  You cannot tell what an immense treat a letter is at this distance from home.  I am now on board the Steamer and it is shaking so I cannot write.

Again Goodbye

Note: Lempriere's Uncle is Bishop George Hills, Bishop of the Colony of British Columbia.

Lempriere's Aunt is Florence Nightingale.