It is rare indeed to have a
journal of one of the enlisted men of the Detachment. This document,
though written in 1885 (25 years after the events), and dealing
entirely with the 1870's, does have a few tidbits about Rylatt before
and during his time in the Columbia Detachment. We allow the good
Serjeant to have the floor and describe his life.
|My father was a
laboring man: a boatman, or freshwater sailor, if the term
applies. My birthplace Lincoln, Lincolnshire (born 2nd
November year unknown).
At the age of 7 years, my parents were
fortunate enough to have me entered as a Blue Coat School boy. So until I became 14 years of age, I was entirely off their
hands: our family was a large one. I being the oldest of
11. I believe I was but a dull scholar: for I remember
well the headmaster remarking to me on the night previous to my
leaving the school, that he should miss me for nothing but my
I was then apprenticed to the trade of
Stone and Marble Cutting, for another 7 years or until I became
21. My master was cruel and unjust. There were two other
apprentices, whose parents were in easy circumstances, and they
were the favoured ones. I, a poor boy, was made the drudge of
and had more cursings and blows than I deserved.
So unbearable did my life become, I ran
away a year before my time expired, and after working at several
places for limited periods, I finally enlisted in the Royal
Engineers. And the Crimean war shortly afterwards claimed
me. I became attached to the Turkish Army under Omar
Pasha, on the Danube and elsewhere, then to Crimea in time for
the battle of Inkerman (November 5th, 1854).
Having served through the whole of this
bloody war from beginning to end, a matter of 2 years, I
returned to England, was promoted to Serjeant, and wore on my
breast 3 medals and a clasp.
While stationed in Kent I married my first
wife. Came out to British Columbia, still a soldier,
served 5 years and was discharged after 11 years service, with
an Exemplary Character.
--From opening pages of Rylatt's Journal, 1855
On his wife, whom he married in Kent
when he returned from the Crimean Campaigns:
"First then, with your Mother. One of several children -
the parents in very moderate circumstances. The father a
clerk in the employ of a large ship owner. Her maiden name
- "Fanny Morrison" - birthplace, Hull, Yorkshire. Having
the misfortune to loose her mother at a very early age, she was
destined to come under the control of a harsh stepmother, who,
having a son from a former husband, had no love for the helpless
ones she had adopted. The consequence was, your mother was
placed in service at the tender age of eleven years: and after
service with several families, at length aspired to the position
of cook, and as cook in respectable families she remained until
married to me at the age of 34 years. "
opening pages of Rylatt's Journal, 1885.
of the stores and provisions for the detachment was sent out in the
barque Briseis, which sailed from the Downs on 27th October,
1858. It had been intended to send on her four married men of
the detachment under Corporal William Hall, but when the vessel was
loaded it as found that there was not sufficient accommodations for
them. This was fortunate, as the Briseis was burned at
sea, and the passengers and crew suffered many hardships before
reaching safety. The remainder of the stores and provisions
was sent out on the ship Euphrates, which sailed from London
Docks on the 3rd of January, 1859, and arrived at Victoria on the
27th June, 1859.
Left England for British
Columbia, January 1859 - on barque Euphrates - Captain Scorgie of Aberdeen, Scotland - Length of voyage via Cape
Horn was 6 months and 3 days - calling in at no place until
Victoria, Vancouver Island was reached.
Corporal Wm Bowden, RA, Wife
Corporal Wm Hall, RE, Wife and Children
Private James Hall, RE, Wife and children
Private Daniel Deasy, RE, Wife and Children
The wife of Private James Keary
and child (son), being under my charge during the passage.
One child was born to
Mrs. Wm. Hall during the voyage."
-- In flyleaf of notebook.
Written 16th May 1885, Montesano, Washington Territory, Robert
Rylatt arrives with
his small party and is made Commissariat. He tells a tale of the
early days soon after the detachment arrives at New Westminster.
8 September 1872 - I remember
well, when we (The Sappers) first came out from England, we
were all anxious to see Bruin in his wild state and by our
camp fires we were a brave set. This was in 1859, and so it
happened, that I, together with four or five of my comrades
were out in the woods, along a trail that had been made, and
were probably a mile or so from camp, when somehow I got
ahead of the others, and knowing none of them had firearms,
something put it into my head to try and scare them. Getting
off the trail therefore, I crouched down behind some
underbrush, and as they came abreast of me, I growled as
deep as I could, and then gave a short whining grunt, then
another deep growl. It is likely they had not noted my
absence, however that might be, they took alarm, and let out
towards camp at a terrific rate. I stood and laughed after
they were gone, enjoying the joke immensely, and seating
myself on a log by the side of the trail, I commenced
filling my pipe. Suddenly a cracking in the timber behind me
caused me to turn and through the thick undergrowth I could
see his bearship nosing his way directly towards me,
unconscious of my presence I make no doubt. Just about that
time I had no curiosity to see Bruin in his native wilds,
although I had repeatedly expressed such a wish. I was off
that log and dancing along that trail at a lively rate, more
frightened I dare venture than those other fellows. Just as
I panted into camp I met a dozen coming out armed for a bear
hunt and instead of letting them go on a wild goose chase
and laughing in my sleeve, I joined them, but we did not get
him. He heard or scented us and made off.
--From Rylatt's Journal
Rylatt uses his acting skills in
other ways and when the RE complete their first Season in the
Colony, they take false beard and wig in hand and open the Theatre
At this institution on Friday evening the 8th
Inst., the Dramatic club of the Royal Engineers gave one
of their theatrical entertainments. The house was filled
both with civilians and soldiers . The performances
commenced by the presentation of the romantic drama in
two acts entitled "Ben Bolt". The principal characters
in this piece were Ben Bolt, Ivan Ironlink and Reuben
Rags, sustained respectively by Messrs. Osment, Rylatt and Woodcock. The latter gentleman as Reuben
Rags was highly amusing , and received from the audience
his due need of applause. He adds to his other
accomplishments that of comic singer, and is quite a
favorite with the audience generally, frequently setting
them in a broad grin by his ludicrous representations. The former gentlemen played their roles very
successfully, showing that considerable attention and
study had been bestowed on the parts. Between the pieces
a number of songs and glees were sung by several of the
members of the Glee club, followed by a dance, by Mr.
Colston. The evening's amusements closed with the
laughable farce of "Box and Cox". Captain Luard in the
character of Box and lt. palmer in that of Cox, were
decidedly entertaining and played with a good deal of
spirit throughout the piece, giving the impression on
the minds of the audience of their possessing a very
fair conception of the play. Doctor Seddall as Mrs.
Bouncer was rather in the background, having very little
room for displaying himself to advantage. He however,
acquitted himself in the character assigned to him very
well. It is hoped he will have something more prominent
where he will in fact have more room to spread himself. We cannot close these remarks without expressing our
thanks to the club for not having forgotten us in
issuing the invitations.
--13th February, 1861
The British Columbian
In March 1861 Lady Franklin
and her niece Miss Cracroft visited the Royal Engineer's camp at New
Westminster. During their visit the acting contingent of the Royal
Engineers put on two plays, "Ben Bolt and "Sent to the Tower".
Royal Engineer's Dramatic Club
This popular Club gave a special entertainment on
Saturday night in honor of lady Franklin. The Theatre was
crowded, and the performance went off well. We have not room
to criticise the different parts, but would mention the names
of Woodcock, Turnbull, Colston, Rylatt and Franklin, as
having aquitted themselves with great credit.
-21st March, 1861 - The British Columbian
British Columbia - 13th Dec 1862
Dramatic - The second Dramatic entertainment of the season was
given last evening by the Royal Engineers' Club. The
beautiful drama entitled "Don Caesar De Bazan" was most
successfully played to a very good house. The leading
characters were very well sustained.
As Don Caesar, Corporal Howse was most successful,
carrying the audience with him all through. Serjeant Osmet
made a capital Charles II of Spain, and was exceedingly well
dressed. J. Turnbull took the character of the old Marquis de
Rotondo for which he was splendidly dressed, and which he
delineated in the most happy manner.
The more prominent character of Don Jose (the King's
Minister) was very well rendered throughout by W. Deas, and C.
Sinnett made a most charming Lazarillo. The ladies - perhaps
we ought to have mentioned them first - Serjeant Rylatt,
as Maritana, and J. Meade as Countess de Rotondo, performed
their parts very creditably.
A number of songs and a farce entitled "Cool as a
cucumber" closed the evening's entertainment.
Royal Engineers Theatre
On Wednesday evening the members of the Royal Engineers'
Club gave a dramatic performance for the benefit of the Royal
Columbian Hospital Fund, on which occasion the pieces
performed were Douglas Jerrold's Domestic Drama of "The Rent
Day" and Poole's amusing farce "Deaf as a Post".
The Rent Day is too well known to need much description. It may suffice to recall its features to those not present if
we say that the interest centres in the endeavours of Martin Reywood (W. Deas) to keep the farm of his forefathers from the
grip of the unjust steward, Old Crumbs ( W. Harvey) of his
absentee landlord. There are various complications introduced,
owing to the discovery made by two highwaymen that the steward
is an "ex-minion of the moon" for whose apprehension there is
a reward of 50 Pounds. Owing to the power they consequently
possess over Crumbs, they obtain permission to enter the
Squire's house, where they propose to rob a guest. The guest
is saved from their attempt on his property by the courage and
devotion of Rachel Heywood, Martin's wife (R.M. Rylatt)
and proves to be the absentee landlord himself, Squire
Grantley. Of course, with so powerful a Deus ex machina,
everything is easy. Martin keeps his farm, the unjust steward
is dismissed, the highwaymen punished, and, as the old fairy
tales conclude, everybody lives happy ever afterwards. We
would particularly notice the acting of R.M. Rylatt as
Rachel, W. Deas, W. Harvey, and H. Dransfield, whose
drolleries in the character of Bullfrog, an appraiser and
creature of Old Crumbs, were very amusing and well rendered.
The plot of the farce is very simple. Tristram Sappy (J.
Woodcock) is engaged to be married to Miss Sophy Walton. This
young lady, as is not uncommon to young ladies, we believe,
prefers a lover of her own choosing. Captain Templeton (J.
Turnbull) to the husband of her father's selection. Thus favored the captain introduces himself at the inn where Sappy
is entertaining at supper his future wife and her father, and
by pretending to be "deaf as a post" induces an amusing series
of mistakes, the ill consequences of which fall on the head of
the ill-fated Sappy. He effects a compromise with the author
of the mischief, and resigns his fiancee to the fortunate
Captain. Sally Mags (R.M. Rylatt) chambermaid at the
inn, delivered her sneers at Sappy and his meanness in the
matter of fees to chambermaids, with great relish and effect. The appearance of R. Colston in the interlude, dressed as a
ballet girl, created perhaps more laughter than anything else
in the evening. There is so much caricature in the mere fact
of a man being dressed in the short gauzy skirts of a fille be
ballet, that the real excellencies of his dancing may not have
been quite appreciated.
--21st March, 1863
From The British Colonist.
Royal Engineers' Theatre
The Dramatic Company of the Royal Engineers Club gave
their last entertainment on Wednesday evening, forming the
ninth of the series with which we have been amused during the
On this occasion were presented "The Sergeant's Wife"
and "The Artful Dodge". The former is of the style which Mr. Wilkie Collins delights to terrify us with. An old house in
the centre of France is the scene of operations, where Dennis
(W. Deas) and his confederate rob and murder any unsuspecting
travelers who may fall in their way. The particular attempt at
murder with which the audience is concerned of course fails,
owing to a rescue at the last moment. Lisette (R.M.Rylatt)
played her part with great care and skill, but it must have
been difficult to struggle with the natural weakness of the
The farce of The Artful Dodge was more successful, as it
deserved to be. The Hon. Frederick Fitz-Fudge (R.M.Rylatt)
was so well played that it gives cause for regret that so good
an actor should be forced by the exigencies of the Company to
assume women's parts, the difficulties of which are
necessarily great. J. Woodcock, as Demosthenes Dodge was as
funny as usual, reasoning so ably and clearly on the social
advantages of dodging, ie., swindling, that we feared for a
moment the moral perceptions of the audience might be blunted. The author, Mr. E.L. Blanchard, is a well known burlesque and
pantomime writer, accordingly the dialogue bristles with puns,
which were generally well delivered. We would, however,
venture to suggest to Mr. Hughes for his next appearance that
he should eat his breakfast, and not send it away un-tasted as
he did. By doing so he certainly destroyed the vraisemblance
of the part, and failed to give complete effect to some of the
turns in the dialogue.
In dismissing this notice we must tender one word of
thanks to the RE Club for the amusement they have afforded us
and our fellow citizens during the winter; amusement that
would be acceptable anywhere, and is particularly so in a town
like ours - at present too small to encourage the continued
presence of any professional caterers for the public.
-- 2nd May, 1863
From The British Columbian
In 1863, Rylatt
elects to remain in the Colony.
mid-1800s, a serjeant's Regimental Pay per Diem was 2s. 10 1/2d.
plus Working Pay per Diem 3s. to 5s.
Rylatt and Alfred Hawkins RE, become
partners as masons and bricklayers.
In 1868, Rylatt is elected to managing
committee of the New Westminster Library (created out of the 200
books left behind by the Columbia Detachment Library).
According to Frances Woodward, Rylatt
receives military grant Lot 253, Group 1, New Westminster District,
Barnston Island, 150 acres.
Rylatt embarked on a new career as an agent of the Canadian Pacific
Railroad Survey, searching for a route that would join British
Columbia to the rest of Canada. He kept notes of his two years
of expeditionary work, which he later revised and expanded, adding
numerous colour sketches and line drawings. His memoirs were
compiled in a leather-bound journal, which remained in the family for
over a century before being discovered and then published by the
University of Utah Press in 1991.
under Walter Moberly as part of 'S' party leaving civilization in
1871 returning 1873, Rylatt left 'S' party when he received word that his
wife had died.
following are taken from Rylatt's Journal from 1871 to 1873. We
have focused on the entries which mention his time in the Columbia
Detachment or other RE comrades.
29 Aug 1871 - Jack Cox
reminded me that 6 years ago to day he was married, and it
brought to me the fact that my poor wife and I were at the
wedding. Jack was also a Sapper and Miner.
14 September 1871 - At
Wild-Horse creek I came upon an old friend, "James
Normansell" and we spent a few happy hours together.
Dear "old Jim", he was then constable at Wild-Horse. We
had gone through many ups and downs together, were
together through the Crimean War, belonged to the same
company of Sappers at Shorncliffe in England, came to
British Columbia together, and spent our five years in the
Royal Engineers, and taking our discharge together,
finally went our separate ways. The last I heard of my old
Chum, he was in the far North attached to the Hudson's Bay
Company. Jim was a Birmingham man.
2nd October 1871 - Day before
yesterday we started down the Columbia river (no longer a
stream) on rafts and in canoes. It is astonishing how soon
this stream assumes proportions, fed by tributaries from
the mountains on either side: it was at our starting point
a respectable river. The raft I was on contained Jack
Cox, Jas. Malloy, myself and two Douglas Indians. All
went well for some time, but coming to some rather
dangerous rapids, which took a somewhat sudden turn in
their course, we were forced too near shore on our
unwieldy craft, and being in danger from projecting snags,
and while straining to our utmost, we broke an oar: this
caused some confusion, lessening our chances of getting
into midstream again, onward we were borne, and before we
could avoid the danger, came full tilt against a fallen
tree, half submerged, and projecting out into the current. All leaped for dear life when close upon it, and clung
desperately to the slimy log. Jas. Malloy leapt short
however, and he and the raft were both sucked under. We
never saw him again: in all probability he was held down
beneath the surface by snags and sunken underbrush.
17 November 1871 - ... I had
a nice improved Winchester Rifle in the tent, which I
prized, as it was a gift from my old friend Jim
25 February 1872 - ...There
are 7 or 8 roughs in our midst who are bully's of the
first water, and would as leif cut a throat as a purse I
take it, as however, is very frequently the case with
bully's, they are, I am certain, cowards at heart, for so
I proved them to be...Finding I bore their taunts, and
that they could not incite me to retaliate, they waxed
bolder, and as I always take my meals after they have left
the table, today they collected in a body around the cook
house door: Roberts, the ringleader, big Reilly, Jackman,
Reynolds, Rainier (a Greek), Keating and Joe Reuff (a
Bavarian). They were evidently waiting for me, and I knew
things had about come to open rupture...They told me I had
best look out for myself, as they had a heavy score to
settle with me. I told them I didn't care for their
threats, I'd do my duty, did the devil himself stand in
the way. I passed into the cookhouse, when Jack Cox,
the cook, an old Sapper like myself, told me big Reilly
had snatched the fry pan off the fire and thrown my steak
out of doors. I asked the great ruffian what he did it
for? He answered, damned if you shall eat unless you let
us go through the Store (room), and see for ourselves
(what is there). I told him I'd see about that, and told
Cox to dish me up some Beans and bread: he went to comply, when Reilly tried to stop him; I snatched up a hatchet,
and told him if he didn't stand back, I'd brain him: he
glared at me, but thought it safer to keep off. Cox placed
my plate on the table, when Roberts said, there are 7 of
us and we will see you damned but you shall not have it,
and he thrust his hand for ward to take the plate. I was
thoroughly roused now -- down came the hatchet, and he left
portions of his fingers on the table: I guess I aimed for
the whole hand, but he was too quick, yet not quick
enough, the hatchet passed through them clean, and buried
its edge in the pine board, such was the blow I dealt. I
now rushed for Reilly, hatchet raised but the whole
cowardly crew escaped to the door. Roberts they led away
crying like a big boy, while they threatened me with some
choice oaths. I ate my breakfast, and taking the Hatchet
with me, left for my hut: after an hour or so they came
down in a body and told me Roberts had lost much blood,
was very weak, and asked me for medicine and bandages. I
gave them what they wanted, when they asked me to go and
dress his hands, I told them they should leave that to
them, he was one of their gang, I wasn't! Reilly had an
axe in his hand, and as it appeared their object was to
get me out of the way, he said, come boys, let's smash the
store door in! if he won't open it. I jumped back, got
hold of my Henry Rifle, and as Reilly was then at the
store door (not 15 yards away) I leveled the piece,
covered him, and told him to throw down the axe instantly,
or I would shoot him dead, and God help me, I would have
done it. He took in his chances at once and threw down the
axe. I told them I had stood it as long as I could and
that the next of their number who insulted me, or used
threats to me, I'd have his blood on my hands. They knew I
was a sure shot, having seen me shoot Duck in the river
with this same rifle and they concluded I meant it. They
left slowly taking their hang-dog countenances out of my
sight...I subsequently found out that the man Reilly had
served a term in the chain gang at Victoria, BC and that
Roberts had been a convict in Australia.
May 2nd 1872 - My chum
Jack Cox had some bad news - his house being burned
down; his wife, it would appear, was enjoying herself at a
Ball, leaving her children with a neighbour...The house
being isolated, he lost everything. Cold comfort Jack.
May 2nd 1872 - My time
honoured friend, Jim Normansell, writes me from
Wild Horse Creek, stating he has noticed I have had no
letters from my wife (Jim is Post Master among his other
June 29 1872 - The goods
being now all brought forward from the last camp, the same
was vacated, save by four of the worst of the malcontents,
to wit, Reilly, Roberts, Reynolds and Jackman. Moberly told them he would take them no further. That
sufficient food would be left them to suffice until the
trail was cut through the bottom, and the mule trains were
in and ready to return. They would then be sent on to Wild
Horse Creek and turned adrift, that the pay of Roberts and
Reilly would cease from the date of their breaking out
into Mutiny; that of Reynolds and Jackman from the
present date. In the case of the first named, I felt only
that it served them right. For the other two, I felt sorry
- sorry they should have been so foolish. Reynolds was
quite useless anyway, but he was getting on in years, and Jackman had been an old Sapper and had a wife and
30 June 1872 - On the 10th
June a Mail arrived, but brought no letter for me. Jim Normansell sent me a couple of papers from Wild Horse, and
a few lines telling me not to be downhearted. He is now in
the service of the Provisional Government and is Collector
of Customs at Joseph's Prairie and for which place and
duties he was just setting out.
19 October 1872 - ...I was
informed that there were (no letters) for me. I brooded
over this for some time while preparing to leave and
finally asked Rheume again, "Are you quite sure there was
not a letter for me?". He said he was quite sure, he heard
all the names called. Presently I said, "Rheume, this is
becoming unbearable. If I had left a healthy wife I should
have felt bad enough, but I must do something. He then
said, Jane has joined us, he knows you, and gave me
a message for you. Jane was an old Sapper, and a fine
straightforward man - John Jane being his full name. He
was a surveyor, an officer in Mohons Party and in that
capacity had joined us. Asking Rheume for his message, he
handed me a slip of paper upon which were written the
following words, "Dear Rylatt, the papers state your wife
has passed the stream of time. Don't be too cut up, dear
30 October 1872 - I came
across a Victoria Colonist paper containing the
announcement of my wife's death; it bore the date of 31st
July 1872 and ran as follows: "Mrs. Rylatt, wife of Mr. R.
M. Rylatt, formerly of the Royal Engineers, and now engaged
on the Canadian Pacific Survey, died at new Westminster,
on Wednesday morning last, after a lingering illness. The
funeral took place on Thursday, Rev. Russ officiating."
13 May 1873 - The task was a
difficult one but I was ably seconded by my packers, who
were men well up to their duties and as I turned into the
Blankets between Jane and Rheume, who would have me sleep
with them last night, we were like schoolboys I felt. I
felt regret at having to turn my back upon such comrades.
To order Surveying
the Canadian Pacific: Memoir of a
Railroad Pioneer by R. M. Rylatt, please click >here<
Rylatt "Leaves from my diary"
two years with the Canadian Pacific
Railroad Survey, Rocky Mountain
Division" Typescript, Provincial
Archives 258 pp.; July 25, 1871-1873.
Sunday, December 15, 1872, p. 147 (WGE):
"Last night while we three sat smoking in the cabin, quite a
severe shock of earth-quake was felt. The oscillation made
us quite dizzy and at first each man looked at the other, thinking
a feeling of dizzyness had come over himself, but a low mumbling
sound, not very distinct, nor very near apparently, and the sight
of the several pairs of new boots hanging from the walls overhead,
and gently swinging to and fro convinced us of the fact. The
shock was quite long, probably more than two minutes and was from
East to West. Half an hour another shock was felt, but not
so heavy, and accompanied by little or no rumbling. I fancy
it gave us all a scare..."
was written while Rylatt was on a survey from Fort Edmonton and his
locality at the time is given as the Henry House. The
coordinates for Henry House are given in text as 53 degrees 19"
latitude and 113 degrees 48'-10" longitude. The location
of the Henry House according to the map of J. Aimesworth which has
been reprinted by the Surveys and Map --Branch, Department of
Energy, Mines and Resources, MCR2304-- indicates that the correct
latitude or the correct location of Henry House is 118 degrees
6'. In the typescript, the longitude in degrees is 113 degrees
and 113 is written in pencil there but that appears to be an
erroneous entry by some later proof- reader or someone who put that
in there because the correct locality that Rylatt probably wanted to
write down there was probably 117 degrees 48' 10". Henry
House is located about 10 miles due north of Jasper The Henry House
is an old trading post of the Great Northwestern Trading Company
located in the vicinity of Athabasca and Leatherhead Passes, WGE).
gripping, and the most vivid pure adventure, is the last fifth of
the diary describing the trip homeward in May of 1873 when, with
three horses and a companion, he travels from Jasper across the
Continental Divide and down the Thompson River to Kamloops.
To learn more about the
December 14, 1872, earthquake please see:
North Cascades Aftershock Fore- and Aftershock Sources\