Settlement Followed

September 20, 2009

It was a number of years before the Europeans actually took steps to formally settle the land on behalf of their respective country. Political posturing carried on between the Spanish and the British, with the Americans and Russians looking for an opportunity to inch their way into a foothold as well.

The first European to take up any form of residency, {albeit for only a short time,} was John MacKay, the assistant surgeon aboard Captain Henry Guise’s ship the Experiment.

Falling ill while anchored in Nootka in 1786, with what was referred to as “purple fever”, he volunteered to stay with Chief Maquinna at his winter camp in Tahsis, on the understanding that he would be picked up the following year as Guise returned.

John was Irish by birth and it may have been that factor alone that gave his the grist he needed to withstand the harsh winter and unfamiliar setting. Then again having curred Maquinna’s daughter Apenas of a “scabby disease,” also helped to gain the native’s respect.

Initially MacKay was well treated by Macquinna as he gradually regained his health. Supplied by Captain Guise with two goats, some seeds, a gun, plus ink and paper, he was instructed to record “every occurrence, however trivial, which might serve to throw any light on our hitherto confined knowledge of the manners, customs, religion and government of these people.

For some unexplained reason, another elderly Chief who resided in the camp, tore up his writing materials, leaving MacKay unable to complete his task. Nonetheless he entrenched himself in their way of life and was promised a wife by Maquinna. Fact is he was so well settled, that when Captain Hanna paid the area a visit in 1786, he declined an invitation to leave with them ahead of schedule.

In hindsight, MacKay should have taken that offer a wee bit more seriously.

MacKay allowed the natives to dismantle his musket, then he was unable to retrieve all the pieces. “Deprived of this powerful weapon of respect, I became less formidable, and less secure.” The goats left with him died during the inclement season for want of food.

More trouble arose when MacKay unwittingly stepped over the cradle of Maquinna’s child, thereby breaking a local taboo. MacKay was stripped of his clothes and beaten, obliging him to adopt the native mode of dress and filthiness of manners. When Maquinna’s infant died, MacKay was exiled from Maquinna’s lodge and banished from the camp for weeks to survive on his own. “It was impossible after this to recover the confidence and esteem of Mokquilla.”

When the village moved with the new season, MacKay was barely able to feed himself. He ate the seeds in his possession and came down with the “bloody flux which continued for near three weeks. After I regained my strength I was attacked with a putrid fever, which I cannot with any degree of certainty tell how long it lasted, being deprived of my senses, nor do I know in what manner the natives had treated me.” In the spring, still ostracized, he mainly had dealings with the women and children.

“My skill in medicine stood me in little stead. This profession too was in the hands of their women, whose knowledge of simples and herbs, was extensive.”

As MacKay was in residence, he witnessed a horrible massacre of about twelve captive men on the beach. “They did not actually devour their captives and slain enemies. They only washed their hands in their blood and tasted it. The dried hands (of the slain) were preserved as trophies and charms.”

The diseases in general which the natives died from arose from indigestion. The women were especially subject to complaints in the bowels, more so than the men and children and MacKay felt this may have been due to their lack of exercise.

“The animals they commonly took on their hunting parties were the bear, mousedeer, raccoon, and martin. The skin of which is next in estimation to that of the sea otter; the bear is harpooned and some times entrapped, which is done by placing a double row of stones about two feet high in a semicircular form with a cross bar in the centre, which falls on his neck when he pulls the bait that is made fast to it by a string, at which time they take the advantage to rush out in a body and soon dispatch him. The sea otter is exceedingly shy and confined to the water. It’s food is on fish; when it is wounded by an arrow his utmost endeavours are to free himself from it, while in the mean time the natives strike him with a harpoon before he goes down under the water.”

MacKay noted that “modesty of their women proceeds rather from a principal of the mind, than a fear of their husbands. It is an uncommon circumstance for girls to be naked before marriage.”

In time MacKay mastered the local language and became well acquainted with their temper and disposition. He made frequent incursions into the interior of the country and came to the conclusion that no part of it was the continent of America, but a chain of detached islands.

When the Imperial Eagle under Captain Charles Barkley’s command arrived in June of 1787, MacKay gladly agreed to serve as the Captain’s guide, translator and sales agent to help him acquire sea otter furs, in exchange for passage away from so uncomfortable a place.

On behalf of Barkley, he procured 700 prime skins and many more of inferior quality, worth a great fortune in the Orient.

As Barkley sailed south, he named Barkley Sound, Hornby Peak, Frances Island, Trevor Channel, Loudoun Channel, Cape Beale and Imperial Eagle Channel. In honour of the local chief, he also named Wickinninish Sound, now referred to as Clayoquot Sound. As his ship settled due to lack of wind, off the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on July 24, 1787, six of his party were killed by Indians who forced their way aboard his ship.

Depressed by this encounter, the Barkleys set sail for Canton and reached Macao in December. Formal trading proved successful with L10,000 for his backers. From their portion of the proceeds, the Barkleys bought an ornate bamboo chair that survived their journeys and can be seen in the Vancouver Centennial Museum today.

The first European woman to visit BC was eighteen-year-old Frances Barkley. She was also the first to sail openly as a woman, for beforehand it was considered bad luck and crews would refuse to sign on under such events.

As part of her circumnavigation of the globe, with her new twenty-six year old husband, Captain Charles William Barkley, she made a lasting impression on the Nootka natives, with her extraordinarily long, red-gold hair during their month long stay in June of 1787.

Legend has it that Frances hair saved the day when the Barkleys were captured by hostile South Sea natives. Curious women among their captors supposedly loosed her hair “which fell like a shower of gold,” whereupon the astonished onlookers presumed she must be divine and Frances successfully ordered their release.

She was the daughter of a Protestant Church Rector and the sister of Captain James Cook wife, so she probably came by the unusual spirit of adventure by marriage if for no other reason.

Barkley captained the Imperial Eagle so not much could be said about her partaking of the expedition. Either you wanted to sail with the ship or you didn’t. The choice was theirs.

As they stopped at the Sandwich Islands, Frances took aboard a maid-servant, Winee, who be came the first Hawaiian or “Kanaka” to reach what was to become British Columbia. She said with the Barkleys to Nootka Sound, then onto China, but in Macao she wanted to return to her native home. She was given passage aboard John Meares ship in the spring of 1788. Meares described her as being “in a deep decline.” Winee died en route on February 5, 1788 and her body was committed to the deep.

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