July 1958



Sappers 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 cartridges.


Captain G.R. 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 K. Thomas.

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 Yukon.

Celebrations 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' pioneering work.

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 at Chatham.

Six 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 workshops.

During 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.

--K. Hanford


British Columbia, 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.
When 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 made."

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 New Westminster.

In 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 New Westminster.