Reminiscent of Pioneers
From the Daily Columbian of Wednesday, October 13th, 1909

     Colonel Wolfenden, in his address, was reminiscent of the incidents of the voyage of the old ship Thames City, which brought to British Columbia from England the main body of Royal Engineers, who were selected for service on the Mainland, or what was then termed the Crown Colony of New Caledonia.  The speaker, to give effectiveness to his narrative, threw it into the form of a supposed dialogue, overheard between two, now comparatively old, gentlemen, sons of the "Sappers," who accompanied their parents on the ship to this new land, a land then thought by some to be a vast wilderness, and it would, probably, remarked Colonel Wolfenden, never have been heard of had it not been for the accidental discovery of gold in the Fraser River in 1858, and but for which discovery the detachment of Royal Engineers would not have been sent out to this country.  It was on the request of Governor Douglas, he points out, that Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, decide to send out a detachment of Royal Engineers to assist the Governor in maintaining law and order, to construct roads and trails, to erect bridges, to make surveys, to conduct explorations, and generally to assist in colonizing the country.

"You all know," the speaker said, "that that vast, and then unknown, wilderness is now the richest, the brightest and fairest Province of the whole Dominion.  It is not for me to say what share the Royal Engineers had in furthering the marvelous development that has taken place since their arrival in the then new colony of British Columbia.  You will, however, I think, agree with me that but for their presence in the country this magnificent Province might have been lost to the British Crown."


The speakers, as I said before, were sons of Sappers, and having heard that it was the intention to hold a Jubilee celebration of the arrival of the Royal Engineers in the country, happened to meet in the Guichon Hotel last night, and after partaking of one or to whiskies-and-sodas and several cigars, naturally commenced to relate their reminiscences of the long voyage of six months that it took to bring them to this fair land.

"I say, Hughie," said Johnny, "do you remember when we came out with our fathers and mothers in the Thames City?  We were only little chaps then."

"Yes I do, Johnny, and wasn't she a regular old tub?"

"Well, perhaps she was an old tub, Hughie, but didn't she bring us safely there, and didn't she behave like a thoroughly good ship when she came round the Horn?"

"Oh, yes, she was a safe old boat Johnny.  I say, do you remember that night when the hatches were battened down, when we all though we were going to the bottom of the sea?"

"Yes, Hughie, and didn't the women and children scream, and weren't the men all huddled together in their hammocks, perhaps some of them preying 'God save us'?  They were all as silent as the dead."

"Yes, Johnny, and weren't all of us youngsters afraid to sleep that night, and weren't our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers, and all the men, thankful when morning came and the wind had somewhat calmed down, and the hatches had been uncovered, the men sang and whistled for pure joy?"

"Hughie, do you remember Captain Luard, the commanding officer, always with his monocle in his right eye- 'Old Scrooge' the men called him- how he had the men paraded every morning in bare feet, so that the pudgy little Docter Seddall could inspect them?  What for I don't know, unless it was to see that they had not got the foot-rot."

"Oh, yes, I remember that, Johnny, and although the men did call the Captain 'Old Scrooge,' I think they all liked him, for didn't he often read to them out of Dickens's and other works, and didn't he furnish them with all kinds of games to amuse them during the long voyage, and wasn't he a good-hearted, considerate man?"

"Oh, yes, Johnny, and didn't they all like to hear him read the 'Emigrant Soldiers' Gazette' every Saturday night, that was edited by a fellow named Charlie Sinnett?  Wasn't he a funny little fellow, a sandy-haired chap, who used to wear a dirty smock?"

"Yes Hughie, but he was a clever fellow for all that, and wasn't it great fun to listen to his scraps of poetry on 'Matilda,' the fellow who was the Doctor's assistant, and who used to lead a little black cat around the ship with a blue ribbon round its neck?"

"Yes, but my! Johnny, didn't Matilda give it him back hot and strong, and weren't we all sorry when the two fellows couldn't accept each other's banter without quarrelling, so that the Captain had to stop them, and we lost a lot of fun?"

"By the way, Hughie, why did they call that fellow 'Matilda'?"

"Oh, it as because he was more like a woman than a man, with his finicky ways."

"Yes, Johnny, and wasn't there a young chap- Lieutenant Palmer, I think his name was- he was a regular swell.  They said he was the Assistant Editor of the 'Gazette,' and I think he must have been, for there were many interesting scientific articles in the paper which I think mist have been written by him, for he was a clever fellow.  I have heard it said that he was a wonderful man at figures, could add up pounds shilling and pence all at once- just run his fingers up the three columns of figures and tell you the total in a jiffy."

"Some of the fellows used to think that Docter Seddall -- the men called him 'Bouncer'-- was a frequent contributor to the paper; perhaps he might have been the author of those articles on the Natural History of the voyage."

"Yes, Hughie, perhaps he was, but if he did not write them, either Captain Luard, Lieutenant Palmer, or the Parson did.  Anyway, whoever wrote them, don't you think they were cleverly written?"

"Yes, indeed, Johnny.  Do you remember the great fun we had on board when the men got up private theatricals; and don't you remember that chap -- Howse I think his name was -- who called himself the manager of the Theatre Royal?  And didn't he think himself smart?"

"Yes, Hughie, I remember how he rigged his company out, making us really believe he was the manager of a real 'City Theatrical Troupe.'  But he was a clever chap, for didn't he and his fellow actors help to make us laugh, and thus amuse us?"

"Oh, I say, Johnny, do you remember the names of the fellows who assisted him, thought they could act a bit?  I think some of the names were Sinnett, Turnbull, Benney, Franklin, Derham, Eaton, Alliott, Hazel (Matilda), Launders, Mead, and Dick Wolfenden.  Dick sometimes used to take a lady's part.

"Oh, yes, Hughie, fancy white-haired old Colonel Wolfenden, as we know him now, acting the par of 'Lydia' in 'Done on Both Sides.'  But they say he was then a nice, slim, modest young fellow, and that he was always a 'ladies' man.  Oh, but weren't they funny, and didn't they make our mothers and us kids laugh?"

"And, Johnny, didn't they have lots of concerts on board, and balls, and all kinds of fun, and didn't the women like to dress themselves up in their very best for the occasion, and didn't we kids enjoy the run, too?"

"Yes, Hughie, wasn't Franklin funny when he sang 'My Pretty Maid,' when one side of him was the maid and the other the man, and didn't Woodcock, Derham, Sinnett, Argyle (from Brum), and others bring down the house with their humourous songs, and didn't 'Professor' Haynes and his splendid band add greatly to our amusement?"

"I say, Johnny, I was reading the other day a printed copy of the 'Emigrant Soldiers' Gazette,' and I see that they had streets and squares and alleys, and all other things like they have in a town."

"How was that?" said Hughie.

"Oh, don't you know that the ship we sailed in was called the Thames City, so the silly Editor tried to make us believe that we were living in a real city?  Do you remember, Hughie, the horrible murder that he said took place one day, when an old gentleman named 'Jimmy' was found dead, and his body horribly mutilated?"

"Yes, the fool Editor tried to make us all believe it was a real murder, when it was only Cooper (our butcher) who had cut the throat of an old sheep, to save its life.  Wasn't it silly on the part of the Editor?  But it made our fathers and mothers and all the men laugh, and I think we youngsters laughed, too."

"Hughie, do you remember the old ship putting into the Falkland Islands?  Wasn't it a treat to get on shore once again after about three months at sea?  And didn't we youngsters enjoy going shopping with our fathers and mothers, and buying lollypops, etc.? although we could scarcely keep our feet, still feeling the rolling of the ship."

"Yes, Johnny, and I think the men must have had a jolly time on shore, too, for I sometimes think that the unsteady gait of some of them when they came on board was not altogether due to the bad behavior of the ship."

"Well, Hughie, don't you think that the officers and men tried to amuse the women and children and all on board, and make the voyage as enjoyable as could be under the circumstances?"

"Yes, Johnny, and wasn't it nice to hear that editor chap, Sinnett, sing his 'farewell ditty' when we were nearing the end of our voyage; and oh! can we ever forget the day when our good old ship safely entered Esquimalt Harbour on the 12th of April, 1859?"

"Oh, those were happy days, Hughie.  And weren't they fine, jolly lot of men, and didn't they look smart on Sunday Parade, in their splendid scarlet uniforms?"

"Yes, Johnny they were fine-looking lot of men.  There were tall men and short men, round, plump men, and thin men; men with black beards, men with red beards, and others with no beards at all; young fellows, some of them, not then out of their teens.  And there was one man with a grey beard, a man who had been in many wars and had over six medals.  You know who I mean, Johnny?  Oh, but he was a grand old man."

"Oh, yes (tearfully), I know who you mean, Hughie.  And do you know this man -- a man in the full prime of his manhood, a man with red, curly hair, wearing a splendid red beard -- such a well-set-up man and so strong and healthy; such a handy man, too, a man who could do almost anything-- make you a pair of boots, build you a boat, or print you a map, and I don't know what he couldn't do.  Do you know who that man was, Hughie?"

"Yes, yes, I know, Johnny (almost sobbing)."

"And there was a fat, chubby little chap- quite a boy- who used to blow the bugle for the men to parade, and to call them to dinner; and of!  Couldn't he make it sound, and wasn't he proud of his bugle?"

"Yes, he was a dandy player, and wasn't he the pet of all the women?  Do you think you could recognize him now if you were to meet him?  He must be quite an old chap now.  And, oh, do you remember one day when the ship was rolling and pitching, the poor fellow fell down the hatch and broke his arm?"

"Yes, I remember that, but the Doctor and 'Matilda' (who nursed him in the hospital) soon put him to rights."

"I say, Hughie, I used to hear the men talking about 'Splicing the Main Brace.'  What did they mean?"

"Oh, don't you know that every day when the sun passed over the year-arm, at 12 o'clock noon, the Quarter-Master (Davy Osment) used to serve the men with grog and limejuice?  They called that 'Splicing the Main Brace.'"

"And do you remember, Johnny, our leaving Esquimalt Harbour on board the steamer Eliza Anderson on our way to our future home 'The Camp,' New Westminster, and that we got stuck on the sandheads at the mouth of the Fraser River?"

"Yes, quite well, and I saw in the papers the other day that another ship got stuck on the same sandheads."

"Well, Hughie, we have had a good yarn about our experiences on board ship.  What do you think of the doings of the detachment after their arrival in the colony?"

"I think, Johnny, that, on the whole, our men and our women, and we boys and girls who came out with them, have reason to believe that they and we played no small part in assisting to colonise this wonderful country."

"Yes, Hughie, but isn't it sad to think that at the Jubilee of our arrival to-morrow there now only remain, out of the one hundred and fifty men, fourteen who have been spared to take part in the celebration, and that nearly all the mothers have passed away, too?"

"Yes, Johnny, it is truly sad that so many have gone to their long home, yet we have the consolation of knowing that they strove to do their duty, and that thy have left hundreds of descendents to help in upbuilding this splendid Province."