A CENTURY AGO THE ROYAL
ENGINEERS WENT TO BRITISH COLUMBIA TO HELP FOUND A NEW COLONY AND TO KEEP
LAW AND ORDER. NOW, THEY HAVE RETURNED, DRESSED IN THE UNIFORM OF
THE PERIOD, TO TAKE PART IN THE CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS OF THE LAND THEY
SAPPERS HELPED TO BUILD A
crossing the square of the 150-year-old Brompton Barracks rubbed their
eyes in disbelief. There, drilling in a style Brompton has not seen
for nearly a century, was a party of Sappers resplendent in scarlet tunics
and black busbies with their plumes, and armed with Lancaster percussion
rifles. As the men passed their officer, who was wearing a cocked
hat, the sergeant saluted with his left hand!
But this was no dream and the figures were
not ghosts. They were Sappers completing a three-week course with
10 trades Training Regiment at Chatham, learning how to drill in the
style of the 1850s, how to clean percussion rifles and to make their own
Gathercole inspects his men at Brompton barracks before the detachment
flew to Canada.
Below: Drill, 1858 style.
Left to right: Captain Gathercole, Warrant Officer W. Foster, Sergeant
D. Tucker, Lance-Cororal N. Miller, Lance-Corporal M. King, and Sapper
This apparently retrogressive
step by the Royal Engineers was the result of an invitation from British
Columbia to send a detachment of Sappers to celebrate the centenary of
Canada's most western province which stretches north along the Pacific
coast and astride the Rockies to the snowbound vastness of Alaska and the
are taking place throughout the year in British Columbia and the
Royal Engineers' detachment, which flew to Montreal and from there to
Vancouver in a Royal Canadian Air Force place are staying there until
August. Arrangements were made with the Centennial Committee by
General Sir Ouvry L. Roberts, Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers,
who is at present living in Canada.
The Royal Engineers were asked to take part in
the celebrations because the Sappers were there at the beginning of
British Columbia's history.
It was they who assisted in bringing law and
order to the infant colony when hordes of adventurers flocked to it from
as far away as Hawaii and Central and South America after gold had been
discovered along the Fraser River. It was the Royal Engineers who
surveyed and laid out many of the cities and towns of today. And
it was they who prepared the first maps , designed churches, the first
postage stamps and established the first observatory. The
centenary Committee's invitation was made to mark the Royal Engineers'
From 1858 until 1863 the Royal Engineers' detachment in British
Columbia, about 150 strong, was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel R. C.
Moody, who became British Columbia's first Lieutenant Governor, its
first Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works and a member of the
Governor's Executive Council. Colonel Moody selected the site of
the colony's capital, named New Westminster by Queen Victoria.
Their camp near the capital was called Sapperton, the name still
surviving as a suburb of modern New Westminster.
A four-foot square carved and painted
wooden plaque--an enlarged replica of the Royal Engineers' badge of
1858--is to be presented by the Corps to the City hall and will serve as
a reminder of the long-standing association between the "Royal City" and
the Royal Engineers.
Led by Captain G. R. Gathercole, the Royal
Engineers' party consists of Warrant Officer W. A. Foster of 25 Corps
Engineers Regiments, Sergeant D. G. Tucker and Sapper K. G. Thomas of 12
School of Military Engineering Regiment, Lance-Corporal N. E. Miller of
17 Port Training Regiment, and Lance-Corporal M. G. King, School of
Military Survey. They were selected by Captain Gathercole on the
recommendation of the commanding officers of the various units, the aim
being to have as wide a representation of the Corps as possible ( the
detachment in 1858 was also a carefully chosen body of men representing
every trade and calling that might be useful in setting up the framework
of the Colony).
For the centenary visit, some uniforms of the period were modified from
other old uniforms in the Royal Engineer's Museum and two completely new
sets were made to the 1858 pattern. Some clothing, including the
busbies and belts, was borrowed from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
The regimental tailor at Brompton has a busy time producing these
uniforms for which the belt badges were cast in the Sapper's workshops
Lancaster percussion rifles, bayonets and a scabbard of the exact
pattern used by Sappers 100 years ago, were loaned by the Royal
Artillery Institution from their Rotunda collection at Woolwich.
Other bayonet scabbards were made in 25 Field Engineer Regiment
their visit to Canada the Sappers are stationed at the Royal Canadian
School of Military Engineering, in the same Chilliwack country surveyed
by Captain R. M. Parsons, one of Colonel Moody's officers, and his small
party of 100 years ago.
. . . AND GOLD DID
NOT TEMPT THEM
Canada's most westerly province, commemorates in place names
some of the Sappers and Miners on 1858. Port Moody is
named after the detachment's commander; Lynn Valley and
Leechtown after two Sappers who settled in the province.
the Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, decided in 1858 to
send to British Columbia "an officer of the Royal Engineers and a
Company of Sappers and Miners made up of 150 NCOs and men," he
expected a great deal of them.
Not only were they to assist the Governor,
James Douglas, head of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Pacific
coast, in keeping order in a country infested with gold-seeking,
lawless adventurers, but they were "to survey those parts of the
country which may be considered most suitable for settlement, to
mark out allotments of land for public purposes, to suggest a site
for the seat of government and to point out where roads should be
In fact, they achieved in five years
far more than even the Colonial Secretary dared to hope.
Describing the quality of the
men he was sending out, the Colonial Secretary wrote to Douglas: "The
superior discipline and intelligence of the Force, which affords ground
for expecting that they will be far less likely than ordinary soldiers of
the line to yield to the temptations of the desertion offered by the
goldfields, and their capacity at once to provide for themselves in a
country without habitation, appear to me to render them especially suited
for this duty. Whilst by their services as pioneers in the work of
civilisation, in opening up the resources of the country, by the
construction of roads and bridges, in laying the foundation of a future
city or seaport, and in carrying out the numerous engineering works
which in the earlier stages of colonisation are so essential tot he
progress and welfare of the community, they will probably not only be
preserved from the idleness which may corrupt the discipline of ordinary
soldiers, but establish themselves in the popular goodwill of the
emigrants by the civil benefits it will be in the regular nature of their
occupation to bestow.
The Royal Engineers' detachment, all carefully
chosen volunteers, set off for British Columbia in three parties, under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel R. C. Moody. The first section
of 20 men, led by Captain Parsons, were mostly surveyors; the second
group of 12 under Captain J. M. Grant, mostly carpenters. The main
body consisted of two subalterns (Lieutenant Lempriere and Palmer) Staff
Assistant Surgeon J. V. Seddall, 118 NCOs and men, 31 women and 34
children under the command of Captain H. R. Luard.
The first two groups left England in
September 1858 and, travelling via Panama, arrived in time to take part
in the formal launching of the Colony in November. The main body
left Gravesend in the clipper ship Thames City in October and,
travelling via Cape Horn, did not arrive at New Westminster until the
following April. An account of the voyage , in the form of a weekly news
sheet called "The Emigrant Soldier's Gazette and Cape Horn Chronicle,"
is still in the Royal Engineers' Library at Chatham.
As well as keeping law and order the
Sappers surveyed practically all the towns and large areas of the
country; they located and superintended all the trails and built many
roads, including portions of the famous Cariboo Road.
They drew, lithographed and printed all the
Colony's maps. They formed the Lands and Works Department;
established the Government Printing Office and printed the first British
Columbia Gazette. They inaugurated on the mainland the first
building society, social club, theatre and schoolhouse.
|This wooden church, hewn out
of the forest near New Westminster, was one of the many buildings
designed and erected by the Royal Engineers nearly 100s years ago.
It was destroyed by fire in 1865. The log cabin in the
foreground was the parson's home.
The Sappers also designed and
built the first Protestant church on the mainland and designed many other
including the original Holy Trinity in New Westminster. They
designed the Colony's first coat-of-arms, the first postage stamp and
established the first permanent observatory where they kept continuous
meteorological observations. They also had the first private
hospital and library, both of which were later to benefit the citizens of
1863 the Sappers detachment was disbanded and the officers and men were
given the choice of remaining as settlers or returning to England.
Colonel (later Major-General) Moody and all the other officers with 20
men returned, but the rest, numbering 130, settled down in British
Columbia as Civilians. The last survivor, Sapper Philip Jackman,
died in 1927.
Today, the memory of may of the Sappers who helped to found British
Columbia, lives on in place names. Port Moody is named after
Colonel Moody; Lynn Valley after Sapper John Lynn who settled there
after the detachment was disbanded; Seddall, a station on the Canadian
National Railway, honours the detachment's surgeon and on Vancouver
Island is Leechtown, named after Sapper Peter Leech.
|Lieutenant-Colonel R. C.
Moody who commanded the original detachment later became British
Columbia's firs Lieutenant-Governor. He selected the site of