Chapter 2: Birth of British Columbia

Photo courtesy of Native Sons of British Columbia Post #2
John Innes, James Douglas Taking The Oath As First Governor of B.C., A.D., 1858, oil on canvas. Simon Fraser University Art Collection.
(pages 42 and 43)
Source: Christina Hedlund,
Collections Manager, Simon Fraser University Galleries
Simon Fraser University Gallery
AQ 3004, Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive, Burnaby BC V5A 1S6

Correction added 2 July 2013

In "the Langley Story Illustrated" this image was credited as: "John Innes' painting of the inauguration of the Crown Colony of British Columbia.  The event took place in the Big House at Fort Langley on November 19, 1858, when Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, the newly appointed Chief Justice, swore in James Douglas as the first Governor of the Crown Colony of British Columbia.
(pages 42 and 43)"



     On November 25, 1858, there appeared in the Victoria Gazette the following news letter:

--"New Fort Langley, 20th November 1858.  Editors Gazette: Yesterday, the birthday of British Columbia, was ushered in by a steady rain which continued perseveringly throughout the whole day, and in a great measure marred the solemnity of the proclamation of the Colony.  His Excellency, Governor Douglas, with a suite comprising Rear-Admiral Baynes, Commanding the naval forces on the Pacific Station; Mr. Cameron, the respected Chief Justice of Vancouver Island; Mr. Begbie, the newly appointed Chief Justice of British (39) Columbia; Mr. Lira and others, proceeded on board H.M. Ship "Satellite," Captain Prevost, on Wednesday morning by the Canal de Haro to Point Roberts, where his excellency and suite were conveyed by the Hudson Bay Company's screw steamer "Otter" to the Company's steamship "Beaver" which was lying moored within the mouth of the Fraser.  Both vessels then proceeded in company as far as Old Fort Langley, where the "Otter" disembarked a party of 18 Sappers under the command of Captain Parsons who immediately embarked in the "Recovery" revenue cutter, joining the command of Captain Grant, R.E., who had previously reached the point with a party of the same corps.  Both these gallant officers have recently arrived from England with small parties of men under their command.  The "Beaver" then proceeded with His Excellency aboard to New Fort Langley, where preparations were made for the ceremonial of the following day.

"On Friday morning, the 19th instant, His Excellency, accompanied by the Captain Grant disembarked on the wet loamy bank of the Fort and the procession proceeded up the steep bank which leads to the palisade.  Arrived there, a salute of 18 guns commenced pealing from the "Beaver" awakening all the echoes of the opposite mountains.  In another moment the flag of Britain was floating, or to speak the truth, dripped over the principal entrance.  Owing to the unpropitious state of the weather, the meeting which was intended to have been held in the open air was convened in the large room at the principal building.  About 100 persons were present.

"The ceremonies were commenced by His Excellency addressing Mr. Begbie and delivering to him Her Majesty's Commission as Judge in the Colony of British Columbia.  Mr. Begbie then took the oath of Allegiance and the usual oaths on taking office and then addressing His Excellency took up her Majesty's Commission appointing him the Governor and proceeding to read it at length.  Mr. Begbie then administered to Governor Douglas the usual oaths of office, viz.: Allegiance, Abjuration, etc.  His Excellency being then duly appointed and sworn in, proceeded to issue the Proclamation of the same day, 19th instant, vis.: one (40) proclaiming the act; a second, indemnifying all the officers of the Government from any irregularities which may have been committed in the interval before this proclamation of the act; and a third, proclaiming English Law to be the Law of the Colony.  The reading of these was preceded by His Excellency's Proclamation of the 3rd instant setting forth the Revocation of Her Majesty of all the exclusive privileges of the Hudson Bay Company.

"The proceedings then terminated.  On leaving the Fort, which His Excellency did not do until today, another salute of 17 guns was fired from the battlements, with even grander effect than the salute in the previous day.  On leaving the riverside in front of the town a number of the inhabitants were assembled with whom His Excellency entered into conversation previous to embarking on board the "Beaver," and by whom he was loudly cheered in very good style as he was on his way to the steamer."

     Thus was inaugurated, in the very heart of the Fraser Valley, the first Government of British Columbia.

     In the early part of 1858 Victoria speculators decided to create a town on the site of the original Fort Langley.  Named the Derby Townsite, in honour of Lord Derby, the speculators, at their own expense, had the town laid out into lots.  In September, Douglas, without authority, issued a proclamation warning the public that no crown lands had been sold and followed this up by confiscating the work done by the speculators.  By October 1 Douglas had a change of heart and announced the intended sale of town lots by the government at Derby.

     It took Colonel Richard Clement Moody, the man in charge of the Royal Engineers, until the early part of 1859, to reach the temporary camp established by the advance engineers at Derby.  Apparently Moody was not impressed with the site chosen by Douglas for the proposed capital of the new colony.  He condemned the Derby Townsite since it was situated on the south side of the Fraser, and therefore vulnerable from attack by the Americans, and because it was subject to flooding.  He did agree; however, that Derby should be used by his engineers for a temporary headquarters and as a result he gave the go ahead for the building of a courthouse, church, and gaol.


     It was in 1857 that the British and American governments decided to do the actual survey to establish the boundary between the United States and British Columbia.  Survey gangs working east had no problems other than mosquito plagues.  Problems did arise with those working west.  According to the Oregon Boundary Treaty of 1846 the line was to follow the 49th parallel to the middle of the channel separating Vancouver Island from the mainland.  From there it was to follow the middle of the channel southward about Vancouver Island to the Pacific Ocean.  The initial treaty totally ignored the many islands between the two which were naturally claimed by both sides.  This blunder almost brought the United States and Britain into a war.  Governor Douglas was in favour of going to war against the Americans and went so far as to have Moody's engineers taken away from their many projects and placed on standby in case of an attack.  The British government discouraged any hostilities because Britain was involved in wars in other parts of the world.

If you see something that is incorrect or can provide addition information, please, drop us a line or contact Donald Waite.
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Copyright Donald E. Waite / Lisa M. Peppan