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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

The "Grand Monarque" humbled—Caught napping—The Company in peril—Glorious Utrecht—Forts restored—Damages to be considered—Commission useless.

Louis XIV. of France, by his ambition and greed in 1690, united against himself the four nations immediately surrounding him—Germany, Spain, Holland, and England, in what they called "The Grand Alliance." Battles, by land and sea for six years, brought Louis into straits, unrelieved by such brilliant episodes as the naval prodigies wrought by D'Iberville on Hudson Bay. In 1696, "Le Grand Monarque" was sufficiently humbled to make overtures for peace. The opposing nations accepted these, and on May 9th, 1697, the representatives of the nations met at William III.'s Chateau of Neuberg Hansen, near the village of Ryswick, which is in Belgium, a short distance from the Hague.

Louis had encouraged the Jacobite cause, James III. being indeed a resident of the Castle of St. Germain, near Paris. This had greatly irritated William, and one of the first things settled at the Treaty was the recognition of William as rightful King of England.

Article VII. of the Treaty compelled the restoration to the King of France and the King of Great Britain respectively of "all countries, islands, forts, and colonies," which cither had possessed before the declaration of war in 1690. However satisfactory this may have been in Acadia and Newfoundland, we find that it did not meet the case of the Hudson Bay, inasmuch as the ownership of this region was, as we have seen, claimed by both parties before the war. In the documents of the Company there is evidence of the great anxiety caused to the adventurers when the news reached London, as to what was likely to be the basis of settlement of the Treaty. The adventurers at once set themselves to work to bring influence to bear against the threatened result. The impression seemed to prevail that they had been "caught napping," and possibly they could not accomplish anything. Their most influential deputation came to the Hague, and, though late in the day, did avail somewhat.

No doubt Article VII. of the Treaty embodies the results of their influence. It is so important for our purpose that we give it in full:—"Commissioners should be appointed on both sides to examine and determine the rights and pretensions which either of the said Kings have to the places situated in Hudson Bay ; but the possession of those places which were taken by the French during the peace that preceded this war, and were retaken by the English during this war, shall be left to the French, by virtue of the foregoing articles. The capitulation made by the English on September 5th, 1695, shall be observed according to the form and tenor ; the merchandises therein mentioned shall be restored ; the Governor at the fort taken there shall be set at liberty, if it be not already done; the differences which have arisen concerning the execution of the said capitulation and the value of the goods there lost, shall be adjudicated and determined by the said commissioners; who immediately after the ratification of the present Treaty, shall be invested with sufficient authority for the setting of the limits and confines of the lands to be restored on either side by virtue of the foregoing article, and likewise for exchanging of lands, as may conduce to the mutual interest and advantage of both Kings."

This agreement presents a few salient points :—

1. The concession to France of rights (undefined, it is true), but of rights not hitherto acknowledged by the English.

2. The case of the Company, which would have been seriously prejudiced by Article VII., is kept open, and commissioners are appointed to examine and decide boundaries.

3. The claim for damages so urgently pressed by the Hudson's Bay Company receives some recognition in the restoration of merchandize and the investigation into the "value of the goods lost."

4, On the whole, the interests of the Hudson's Bay Company would seem to have been decidedly prejudiced by the Treaty.

The affairs of the Company were in a very unfortunate condition for fifteen years after the Treaty of Ryswick. The Treaty took place in the very year of D'Iberville's remarkable victories in the Bay. That each nation should hold that of which it was in actual possession meant that of the seven Hudson's Bay Company forts, only Fort Albany was left to the Company. The Company began to petition at once for the appointment of the Commissioners provided by the Treaty, to settle the matter in dispute. The desperate condition of their affairs accounts for the memorials presented to the British Government by the Company in 1700 and in the succeeding year, by which they expressed themselves as satisfied to give the French the southern portion of the Bay from Rupert's River on the east and Albany Fort on the west. About the time of the second of these proposals the Hudson's Bay Company sent to the British Government another petition of a very different tone, stating their perilous condition, arising from their not receiving one-fifth of the usual quantity of furs, even from Fort Albany, which made their year's trade an absolute loss ; they propose that an expedition of "three men-of-war, one bomb-vessel, and 250 soldiers" should be sent to dislodge the French and to regain the whole Bay for them, as being the original owners. No steps on the part of the Ryswick Commissioners seem to have been taken toward settling the question of boundaries in Hudson Bay.

The great Marlborough victories, however, crushed the power of France, and when Louis XIV. next negotiated with the allies at Utrecht—"The Ferry of the Rhine"—in 1713, the English case was in a very different form from what it had been at the Treaty of Ryswick. Two years before the Treaty, when it was evident that the war would be brought to an end, the Hudson's Bay Company plucked up courage and petitioned strongly to be allowed the use of the whole of Hudson Bay, and to have their losses on the Bay repaid by France. Several times during the war had France sued for peace at the hands of the allies, but the request had been refused. To humble France seemed to be the fixed policy of all her neighbours. At the end of the war, in which France was simply able to hold what she could defend by her fortresses, the great kingdom of Louis XIV. found itself "miserably exhausted, her revenue greatly fallen off, her currency depreciated thirty per cent., the choicest of her nobles drafted into the army, and her merchants and industrious artisans weighed down to the ground by heavy imposts." This was England's opportunity, and she profited by it. Besides "the balance of power" in Europe being preserved, Great Britain received Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, certain West India Islands, and the undisturbed control of the Iroquois.

Sections X. and XI. of the Treaty are of special value to us in our recital. By the former of these the entire west coast of Hudson Bay became British; the French were to evacuate all posts on the Bay and surrender all war material within six months; Commissioners were to be appointed to determine within a year the boundary between Canada and the British possessions on Hudson Bay. Section XI. provided "that the French King should take care that satisfaction be given, according to the rule of justice and equity, to the English Company trading to the Bay of Hudson, for all damages and spoil done to their colonies, ships, persons, and goods, by the hostile incursions and depredations of the French in time of peace." This was to be arrived at by Commissioners to be appointed.

If the Hudson's Bay Company, to quote their own language in regard to the Treaty of Ryswick, had been left "the only mourners by the peace," they were to be congratulated on the results of the Treaty of Utrecht. As in so many other cases, however, disputed points left to be settled by Commissioners lingered long before results were reached. Six years after the Treaty of Utrecht, the Memorial of the Hudson's Bay Company shows that while they had received back their forts, yet the line of delimitation between Canada had not been drawn and their losses had not been paid.

In the preceding chapter we have a list of the claims against the French as computed in 1694, amounting to upwards of 200,000l.; now, however, the amount demanded is not much above 100,000l., though the Memorial explains that in making up the above modest sum, they had not counted up the loss of their forts, nor the damage done to their trade, as had been done in the former case. Immediately after the time of this Memorial of the Company, the Commissioners were named by Great Britain and France, and several meetings took place. Statements were then given in, chiefly as to the boundaries between the British and French possessions in the neighbourhood of Hudson Bay and Canada. The Commissioners for several years practised all the arts of diplomacy, and were farther and farther apart as the discussions went on. No result seems to have been reached, and the claims of the Hudson's Bay Company, so far as recorded, were never met. Peace, however, prevailed in Hudson Bay for many years; the Indians from the interior, even to the Rocky Mountains, made their visits to the Bay for the first forty years of the eighteenth century, and the fur trade, undisturbed, became again remunerative.

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