THE desire to extend
the business of the Hudson's Bay Company, and also to see a region,
that of Siberia, that resembled his own empire of Rupert's Land, led
Sir George Simpson, in the second year after he was knighted, to
undertake a journey round the world. This was a very different thing
from the Drake or Cook voyages, "ploughing a furrow " round the
world by sea. It was really a journey over three continents in
addition to crossing the two greatest oceans of the earth.
Two portly volumes
containing an account of his voyage, filling nine hundred pages,
appeared some five years after this journey was completed. This work
is given in the first person as a recital by Sir George of what he
saw and passed through. Internal evidence as well as local report on
the Red River show another hand to have been concerned in giving it
a literary form. It is reported that the facile assistant to the
busy governor was Judge Thom, the industrious and strong-minded
recorder of the Red River Settlement, who, as we have seen, was a
protege of the governor.
The work is dedicated
to the directors of the Hudson's Bay Company. These were nine in
number, and their names are nearly all well known in connection with
the trade of this period : Sir John Pelly, long famous for his
leadership, Andrew Colville, deputy-governor, who by family
connection with Lord Selkirk long held an important place, Benjamin
Harrison, John Halkett, another kinsman of Lord Selkirk, H. H.
Berens, A. Chapman, M.P., Edward Ellice, M.P., the Earl of Selkirk,
the son of the founder, and R. Weynton. Most of these names will be
found commemorated in forts and trading-posts throughout Rupert's
preparations for being absent from his important duties for a long
period, Sir George Simpson started on his great tour, leaving London
on March 3rd, 1841. The ship called at Halifax, but discharged its
cargo at Boston, from which port Sir George went by land to
Montreal, and started up the fur traders' route via the St. Lawrence
and Ottawa rivers on May 4th. Soon Ste. Anne was reached by the
canoe brigade. The editor of the work, who knew Montreal and its
vicinity as well as the customs of the voyageurs, shows his sense of
humour in referring to Moore's "Canadian Boat Song" by saying, "At
Ste. Anne's rapid on the Ottawa we neither sang our evening hymn nor
bribed the Lady Patroness with shirts, caps, etc., for a propitious
journey, but proceeded."
Following the old
canoe route, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior were soon passed over,
though on the latter lake the expedition was delayed about a week by
the ice, and here too Sir George received the sad news of the
unfortunate death of his kinsman, Thomas Simpson, who is well known
for his Arctic explorations. Taking the route from Fort William by
the Kaministiquia River, the travellers hastened through Rainy Lake
and river arid Lake of the Woods. In referring to Rainy River, Sir
George speaks, in the somewhat inflated style of the editor, without
the caution which every fur trader was directed to cultivate in
making known the resources of the fur country. A decade afterwards,
as we shall see, Mr. Roebuck, before the committee of the House of
Commons, when Sir George was speaking of Rupert's Land as a barren
land, quoted the somewhat fulsome passage.
Following the usual
route by Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, and Red River, Fort Garry
was soon reached, and here the governor somewhat changed his plans.
He determined to cross the prairies by light conveyances, and
accordingly on July 3rd, at five in the morning, with his
fellow-travellers, with only six men, three horses, and one light
cart, the "Emperor of the Plains" left Fort Garry under a salute,
and with the shouting of the spectators started on his journey to
follow the winding Assiniboine River.
A thousand miles over
the prairie in July is one of the most cheery and delightsome
journeys that can be made. The prairie flowers abound, their colours
have not yet taken on the full blaze of yellow to be seen a month
later, and the mosquitoes are not very troublesome. The weather,
though somewhat warm, is very rarely oppressive on the plains, where
a breeze may always be felt. This long journey the party made with
reckless speed in three weeks; and arrived at Edmonton House to be
received with the firing of guns by nine native chiefs of the
Blackfoot, Piegan, Sarcee, and Blood Indians, dressed in their
finest clothes and decorated with scalp-locks. "They implored me,"
says the governor, II to grant their horses might always be swift,
that the buffalo might instantly abound., and that their wives might
live long and look young."
Four days sufficed at
Edmonton to provide the travellers with forty-five fresh horses.
They speedily passed up the Saskatchewan River, meeting bands of
hostile Sareees, using supplies of pemmican, and soon caught their
first view of the white peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Deep muskegs
and dense jungles were often encountered, but all were overcome by
the skill and energy of the expert fur trader Rowand, their guide.
They advanced until surrounded by the sublime mountain scenery,
which was sometimes obscured by the smoke from fires prevailing
throughout this region, which was suffering from a great drouth. At
length Colville, on the Columbia River, was reached, nearly one
thousand miles from Edmonton, and this journey, much of it mountain
travelling, had averaged forty miles a day. The party from Fort
Garry had been travelling constantly for six weeks and five days,
and they had averaged eleven and a half hours a day in the saddle.
The weather had been charming, with a cloudless sky, the winds were
light, the nights cool, and the only thing to be lamented was the
appearance of the travellers, who, with tattered garments and
crownless hats, entered the fort.
Embarking below the
Chaudiere Falls of the Columbia, the company took boats worked by
six oars each, and the water being high they were able to make one
hundred, and even more, miles a day, in due course reaching Fort
Vancouver. At Fort Vancouver Governor Simpson met Trader
Douglas—afterwards Sir James Douglas. He accompanied the party,
which now took horses and crossed country by a four days' journey to
Fort Nisqually. Here, on the shore of Puget Sound, lay the ship
Beaver, and embarking on her the party went on their journey to
Sitka, the chief place in Alaska, where the governor exchanged
dignified courtesies with the Russian governor Etholine, and enjoyed
the hospitality of his "pretty and lady-like wife." In addition,
Governor Simpson examined into the company's operations (the
Hudson's Bay Company had obtained exclusive license of this sleepy
Alaska for twenty years longer), and found the trade to be 10,000
fur seals, 1,000 sea otters, 12,000 beavers, 2,500 land otters—foxes
and martens—and 20,000 sea-horse teeth.
The return journey
was speedily made, the Beaver calling, as she came down the coast,
at Forts Stikine, Simpson, and McLaughlin. In due course Fort
Vancouver was reached again.
November was now
drawing to a close, when two barques dropped down the Columbia
River, the one bound for England, and the other, the Cozclitz,
destined to convey Sir George Simpson to California, the Sandwich
Islands, and then to Sitka again. On the third of December the party
embarked on the Cowlitz at Fort George. The boat was detained for
three whole weeks ere the bar at the mouth of the Columbia could be
passed, so fierce was the storm which prevailed. The gale abated,
the bar was crossed, and Christmas was spent on board with the usual
festivities, and with many a toast for absent friends. Down the
coast the journey became pleasant, Drake's Bay, supposed to have
been reached by that old navigator, was passed. After this the ship
was becalmed, but in a few days more Yerba Buena, a small coast town
of California, was reached, where there was a Hudson's Bay Company
fort, which the governor desired to visit. This point was on the Bay
of San Francisco, and the future great metropolis was soon visited.
San Francisco numbered at the time two thousand five hundred people,
and it seemed a most quiet and unattractive spot. Not being able to
land any cargo without government authority, the Cowlitz was
compelled to pass down the coast to Monterey, the seat of
government, in order to make a customs entry and to visit the
Spanish governor, Alvarado.
At Monterey the
governor met Francis Ermatinger, who, in the disguise of a Spanish
caballero, had come overland to spy out the country and give Sir
George a report upon it. On January 19th the party succeeded in
leaving Monterey, whence after a stormy passage the vessel reached
Santa Barbara. Having been received with the highest honours and
having been entertained with every gaiety, Sir George and his party
left Santa Barbara regretfully and sailed for the Sandwich Islands
on January 26th, 1842. The voyage of two thousand three hundred
miles from the Californian coast to Honolulu, the capital of the
Sandwich Islands, was a new experience. The air was close and
sultry; the albatross and other tropical birds accompanied the
vessel, and the time was wiled away with books. On February 10th the
tall summit of Mauna Kea, the great volcanic peak of Hawaii, was to
be seen; and sailing past the islands, anchor was cast at the
entrance of the harbour of Honolulu, where the Cowlitz was soon
boarded by Mr. Pelly, the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, and Mr.
Allan, a Hudson's Bay Company's officer. They were now among
homelike surroundings, for there was a considerable English colony
Sir George Simpson
found in Honolulu a town of nine thousand souls, and was comfortably
housed in a former royal palace obtained for the occasion. Sir
George had his love of pomp gratified by the attentions of royalty,
and was honoured by King Kanlehamelia II, who dined with him on
board the Cowlitz. He was also introduced to the pretty Queen
Kaluina, whose name, meaning "the rum," the greatest object of a
Sandwich Islander's admiration, amused him. Meeting the premier and
others the traveller gained a full knowledge of the state of matters
in the Sandwich Islands.
Leaving the islands
regretfully, Sir George and his party sailed directly for Sitka, and
on the twenty-third day out, April 16th, saw New Archangel. Sir
George had now spent more than a year on his travels—three-fourths
of the time on the land and one-fourth on the ocean.
At Sitka the party
was heartily welcomed by Governor Etholine. Leaving New Archangel
Sir. George passed down the coast to Stikine, where he found a
dreadful tragedy had just been enacted in the death by shooting of
John McLaughlin, jr., the young gentleman lately in charge of the
Hudson's Bay Company's fort at that point. As this crime had been
committed by drunken Indians the governor at once introduced strict
regulations prohibiting the use of strong drink in the fur trade.
Sir George then returned to Sitka. At this time, on account of the
Russians retaining the old style in their time reckoning, the
Cowlitz changed the date in her log from April 30th to April 18th.
Impressed with the fact that Sitka was the dirtiest place he ever
was in Sir George Simpson, having made a treaty with Governor
Etholine entirely abolishing the use of spirituous liquors, left the
New World to sail westward on May 9th, new style.
The good vessel
Alexander, Captain Kadnikoff, was now to convey Sir George and his
party; and with the very kindest attentions of the "manly and
generous" captain, the journey was made from Sitka, around the south
coast of the peninsula of Kamchatka in Asia to Okhotsk, on the coast
of Siberia, in forty-four (lays, though in former titres the journey
had taken three months.
At Okhotsk the
company maintained a post. This was situated on a low point, so near
the level of the sea that it was inundated when a southerly wind
blew. Okhotsk is a village of eight hundred souls; not a tree and
hardly a blade of grass is to be seen within miles of the town. The
climate is intensely disagreeable. The governor, after accomplishing
his errand at Okhotsk, made a bargain, in which lie, of course, got
the worst, with a local usurer named Jacob to take his party, in
eighteen days' time, to Yakutsk, on the Lena, which river they were
to ascend. After meeting many caravans and innumerable travellers,
and passing through strange experiences the party arrived at Yakutsk
to be received with distinction by the local governor Roodikoff, who
entertained the travellers with every delicacy, Including the
strange beverage kumiss. Yakutsk proved to be a town of five
thousand inhabitants, more than half of them whites. It is the great
centre of Eastern Siberia for the fur trade, and for ivory obtained
from the tusks of the many extinct mammoths embedded in the river
On July 18th Governor
Simpson's party left Yakutsk by overland journey, to avoid the
difficult navigation of the Lena, taking a britzska with five
horses, and two telegras with three each. Arrived at Bestach the
party embarked in a tolerably cornfortable boat for the officers and
a smaller one for the Cossacks and servants. These boats were towed
by horses, and progress was very slow. The travellers suffered from
mosquitoes, weariness, and loss of sleep, but the food was good.
On August 8th the
tedious journey was ended, and at the landing-place carriages, sent
by the governor of Irkutsk, met the party. The record states, "that
at one stopping-place they breakfasted on eggs, cream, and
strawberries, adding to these delicacies of the season in the centre
of Asia a little of our pemmican, from the heart of North America
—such a picnic between the two continents as neither of them had
ever seen before."
At Irkutsk a most
hospitable reception met Sir George Simpson. The local governor, M.
Patneffsky, provided him with a handsome carriage and four grays,
and General Rupert, governor-general of Eastern Siberia, who lived
at this point, gave him messages from the Czar. He also met the
archbishop of Eastern Siberia, whose hand Sir George cordially
shook, when the prelate presented it to be kissed, the hearty
governor not being aware of the gaucherie he had committed.
Sir George's stay at
Irkutsk was the occasion of overflowing hospitality. "Though
everything was magnificent," Sir George says, "Siberian
entertainments, however, are not without their little drawbacks.
Before dinner all the guests drink schnaps out of the same glass,
eat caviare and herring with the same fork, and help themselves to
preserves with the same spoon; and during dinner changes of knives
and forks are unknown." Though Irkutsk had about twenty thousand
people it seemed to be in a state of dilapidation and decay.
Leaving Irkutsk on
August 15th the overland journey to Tobolsk, the famous stronghold
of the Cossacks, was made in twenty days, and the fine old city,
famous as the seat of the chivalrous invader Yermac, was entered
just as the sun was rising. So rapid had been the governor's journey
that they outstripped the courier who had gone ahead of them.
Tobolsk is the centre to which the convicts from Russia are sent.
The stay of the party at the city was short, and a rush was made to
Tiumen, the most ancient settlement of Siberia. At this place of ten
thousand souls the travellers were entertained in a thoroughly royal
manner by the mayor of the town.
The overland journey
through the province of Perm was uneventful. On September 17th
Novgorod was reached. Here two or three hundred thousand people from
all parts of Europe and Asia congregate at the most important fair
in the world.
Toping soon to reach
the western limit of Russia the travellers pushed with great speed
through Moscow and on to St. Petersburg. The distance from Okhotsk
to St. Petersburg, including stoppages, had occupied ninety-one
days, during which time the party had traversed about seven thousand
Thirteen days after
leaving St. Petersburg Sir George reached London, "having," as he
says in his narrative, "with the exception of the proposed trip to
Kiachta, accomplished my journey round the world as originally
contemplated, the whole being completed within the space of nineteen
months and twenty-six days."
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