« AnteriorContinuar »
discovery, and Samuel Hearne, an officer of the company, was sent forth under its auspices. He left Churchill, the most northern post, in November, 1769. Midway on his errand he returned twice, being deserted by some of his Indians, and some of his instruments having become unserviceable. Starting a third time, in December, 1770, he traced the Coppermine River to its mouth, and was the first of Europeans to look into the Arctic
circle. His own scientific skill, as well as his instruments, were insufficient for making trustworthy observations, and his enterprise was hardly satisfactory.
The rival North West Company, not to be outdone in this exacting service, sent Alexander Mackenzie in 1789. He followed the river, which received his name, in an unimpeded course for eight hundred miles. He too saw the Arctic Sea, and was the first Englishman to pass the Rocky
[After Sir Thomas Lawrence's picture as engraved by P. Condé in Sir Alexander Mackenzie's Voyages from Montreal to the Frozen and Pacific oceans, 1789 and 1793 (Philad., 1802). There is another portrait and a map of his route in the Allg. Geog. Ephemeriden (1802), vol. ix. — Ed.]
Mountains, being followed by Findlay, Fraser, and Thompson. The third expedition, the first that was undertaken by the British government, was that of Sir John Franklin in 1820. He advanced the exploration, but met with terrible disaster and suffering on his return, making a second expe
dition in 1825.
The British government commissioned Sir John Ross on an expedition in 1829, and in 1832, aided by a private subscription, it sent Captain Sir George Back to search for him. The Hudson Bay Company now again takes up the work at its own charges. It sent one of its officers, Thomas Simpson, and Peter W. Dease, in 1836; and in 1838-9 it was supposed that the longed-for water-opening had been seen. Government thought itself generous in its rewards. It conferred a baronetcy on the London governor of the company, J. H. Pelly, and knighthood on the local resident governor, George Simpson. A pension of £100 was settled upon Messrs. Dease and T. Simpson. The mysterious death of the latter, by murder or suicide,
1 The biographer accepted the alternative that Red River Settlement, candidly reviewing the his brother was vengefully murdered through facts of the case, leaves it probable that Mr. the cherished malice of the half-breeds who Simpson fell by his own hand, he having previwere attending him, and with a view to purloin- ously given signs of an unsettled mind (pp. 225ing his papers. But Mr. Alexander Ross, in his 233).
(Copied from J. Cook's engraving of S. P. Green's portrait of Simpson in Alexander Simpson's Life and Travels of Thomas Simpson (London, 1845). — Ed.]
when on his way through the prairies, on his return to England in 1840, closed his account. His brother, in a Life of him, tells us how he sought in vain to secure the pension for needy heirs. No advantage in the special object to which the company restricted its aims accrued to it from any successes gained by itself or others in these explorations.
Returning to the subject of the collisions of the Hudson Bay Company with rivals in its special enterprise, we have to note a different method of business pursued by British fur traders from that which had been followed by the French before the cession of Canada. The French had traded under "licenses” granted by the authorities, accompanied by attempted prohibitions of the brandy traffic with the natives. But the British merchants in Canada demanded the liberty of free trade, and they exercised it. Single individuals, sometimes two or three in partnership, would furnish an outfit for employés, or go themselves on an expedition for furs. As might have been expected, sharp practices, jealousies, feuds, and sad demoralization among the Indians at once ensued. The latter were enlisted in groups or parties on the sides of the rivals, who would set themselves at watch to waylay, entrap, and barter with those who were in the service of their opponents. Many a dark and tragic scene was veiled in the depths of the wilderness, of which there are only legends, as culprits would keep their own secrets, and all legal proceedings were out of the possibility of enforcement. The effect was disastrous on the interests of traffic. The game was wasted, and in some places exhausted. Only in the winter season were the furs in good keeping, but the animals were slaughtered through the whole year, the cubs with their parents, with no respite for the breeding interval. Many merchants were brought to ruin, and if matters had continued in this course, only quarrels would have survived the occasion of them.
Under these circumstances, policy and self-interest dictated to some shrewd and sagacious men a course which, while it yielded a vast reward in profits to themselves, proved as destructive to the interests of the Hudson Bay Company. That monopoly might rest upon its charter, and make the most of it. Receiving its orders from the warehouse in Fenchurch Street, and clinging close to its dismal posts on the two inner bays, it waited for the natives to bring them the spoils of the hunt and trap. The rivals of the company had learned to adopt from it the strong power of combined capital, but for the rest knew of wiser methods of their own. They would have trained agents, partners in fact, who would go out and live in the wilderness on common terms with the natives, and do a turn of work for themselves. Some Boston and Albany traders had found the way to Montreal and Quebec free to them for business, after the cession of Canada. A strong organization was formed in 1805 of leading merchants in Canada who could furnish capital and the talent for enterprise. Under the name
i See Critical Essay.
of the North West Company, though without incorporation, this organization soon became a mighty power, most able and efficient in its working. Its chief managers, resident in Montreal and Quebec, were men of the highest consideration and influence. They felt their dignity, and inaugurated operations which inspirited social life around them with vivacious and romantic incidents well set off by scenes and actors.
In the parliamentary committee of inquiry into the affairs of the Hudson Bay Company, in 1857, — to be subsequently referred to, – the Right Hon. Edward Ellice, who was a member of the committee, also took the stand as a witness. He testified that he first went to Canada in 1803, and that then everybody of consequence was engaged in the fur trade, which, he said, was all the trade there was. As we shall see, he was the son of a great capitalist in Canada, and became a member of the North West Company, as he was also of a company which divided off from it, and finally of the Hudson Bay Company, when all rivalries had been conciliated. This witness had a rich experience in various animosities and rivalries, and showed his acuteness in his reserve as well as in his testimony. The North West Company having a vast warehouse at Montreal from which it sent out goods by the Ottawa and the northern route, had also a great depot at Fort William, northwest of Lake Superior. It had a class of its partners “on shares,” who, under the name of “winterers,” went off by the streams and lakes to reside deep in the interior among the natives, to instigate business, and to gather in the results of hunting and trapping. These were adventurous men, and soon became skilled in all woodcraft. A class of youths, chiefly Scotch, robust and hardy, were articled as apprentice-clerks for seven years, receiving their subsistence and one hundred pounds. The prospective reward of their toil and fidelity was to become partners and shareholders, men of consequence among peers. So they worked with a will. There was a high zest of life for them in adventure, self-reliance, converse with novel scenes and picturesque companionship. Indian maidens cast in their lot with these "winterers" and the clerks, and the situation with its influences very naturally in most cases resulted in attaching them permanently to a mode of life ventured upon only as an incident. It was of the offspring of these and others, principally Canadians, French fathers and Indian mothers, that there came into the wilderness such a numerous progeny of half-breeds and persons of variously mixed blood, — the stock of these two classes, -- the coureurs de bois and the voyageurs. For reasons which will suggest themselves, these half-breeds of French parentage far outnumbered those of English and Scotch parentage, and from their mixed inherited and transmitted qualities, their abandon, vivacity, recklessness, and ready affiliation with Indian ways, they were held to be superior for the service required. The North West Company had at one time nearly two thousand of this unique class of employés, going and coming, toiling after a rollicking fashion in its service, paddling and rowing the canoe or the boat, threading the reedy marshes, running the cascades, crossing the portage with their burdens, trailing along the cataracts, bearing all the stern severities of winter in the woods, guiding the dog-sledges, camping in snowdrifts, ready on their return for wild carousals and dances, parting with the year's gains for finery and frolic, and then getting an easy shrift from their priests. The sagacity and pluck, the wide field-roving, and the gainful enterprise of the North West Company, though it was only tolerated in its existence and operations, threatened at one time wholly to crush the comparatively stagnant operations of the chartered Bay Company. Indeed, so profitable, for one period at least, was the field of this free associated enterprise that another volunteer company, which took the name of the “X Y Company," appeared on the
This was not in all respects in hostile rivalry to the North West Company, as some partners belonged to both of them, though each was complemented by those who were determined to share the spoils either as individuals or in partnership.
It was easy to see, however, what would very soon be the inevitable consequences of this method of action in the fierce rivalry and the exhaustive activity of vigorous parties in the fur trade, enforced by all the resources of combined capital. The buffalo, which was the main dependence for food at the posts and on the tramp, was wholly driven from vast expanses on the plains. The fur-bearing animals were threatened with extermination, and the natives were dangerously demoralized. The North West Com- . pany and the X Y Company found it wise for them to form a coalition, peaceable for themselves, but ominous for the Bay Company.
It was at an interval in this long warfare when the strife was fiercest that there came in an episode of historical interest which must briefly engage attention.
* [From a drawing in Alex. J. Russell's Red River Country (Montreal, 1870). The fort is at the extreme right. Cf. drawing in Chas. Marshall's Canadian Dominion (London, 1871). — Ed.]