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behalf of himself and many others, as “natives of Rupert's Land," and their "fellow-countrymen, Indians and half-breeds.” The complaint was, that, acting under a charter which many high legal authorities believed had lost its force, the company had set up a harsh administration and pursued a ruinous policy. By its exclusive trade with the Indians, greatly to their own injury, the company secured a princely revenue, believed to be annually a quarter of a million sterling, and perpetuated, without any improvement, the wandering, precarious, and barbarous life of the natives. It had not established church or school in its settlement, but had left all effort in this direction to charitable, missionary, and Wesleyan societies. It had neglected all measures on its own part, and opposed those of others, for opening up the country, and had done so in order to keep the land in its wilderness condition, though game was rapidly decreasing and the Indians were dying out under the curse of the liquor traffic. The company employed many ignorant and loose, demoralized characters as its agents. Though the company has an exclusive right of purchase, this does not impair the right of the natives to sell to whatever parties they please. Yet when for a higher price they try to sell their furs to others, the company seizes and confiscates the goods.
This complaining memorial was supported by another in French, signed by nine hundred and seventy-seven residents of the Red River Settlement. The Earl of Elgin, governor-general of Canada, was instructed by the secretary to investigate the grievances. Distance, formalities, and other difficulties caused great delay in the correspondence. To such reports and documents as Governor Pelly, in behalf of the company, offered to meet the allegations, Mr. Isbister replied, sentence by sentence, presenting new evidence. It appeared that eleven different partnerships in the fur trade had been pressing their operations in the region of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific. They had all been crushed by or absorbed in the giant monopoly.
In following up the issue, five retired servants of the company, who had been in its employ from six to fifteen years, were put under question as to its conduct of its affairs. Their testimony was in the main unfavorable to the company, tending to show the oppressive, unjust, and mischievous results of its policy, which was alike wrongful to the natives, the mother country, and to unprivileged British subjects. If the company's grasp over the "Indian Territory” could be released, many great advantages would follow. It would induce settlements, occupy the sea-coasts, and revive the rich fisheries of salmon, porpoise, and seal. It would lead to the working of mines of copper, silver, and lead. Plantations and cultivated lands would flourish with agriculture. The natives would be helped, and there would be a good export trade. All these prospective advantages were withstood by the truculent course of the company.
Mr. Isbister, learning that the committee had applied for information to the governor of Canada, thought that the government intended to send
VOL. VIII. — 4
commissioners to inquire and investigate on the ground. Being put on his guard, he wrote to Earl Grey that this would be wholly unsatisfactory, as the commissioners would be prejudiced by their necessary dependence upon the company for conveyance and support. Nor would the Indians be satisfied, as they would have to communicate their grievances only through the company's interpreters. The company will avail itself of all its devices and arbitrary means to shelter itself. Mr. Isbister proposes that at least there should attend the commissioners one person in the interest of the petitioners; the company being allowed the like privilege, if desired. Earl Grey applied to two British military officers, who successively for several months had resided at Fort Garry, in 1847 and 1848. Their answers were full, hearty, and earnest in defence of the company, and even laudatory of it. The inference, of course, was that they were under its spell. Earl Grey warmly espoused the side of the company, not seeing fit to open the question of the validity of its charter, and declining to bring the petition of the aggrieved Red River settlers before Parliament. He signified to Mr. Isbister that he must assume the expense of a judicial process if he chose to have one.
In 1846 a body of five hundred British troops had been sent to the settlement as if to preserve order, and had been withdrawn after two years, when a squad of pensioners followed. Mr. Alexander Ross, who was in the settlement at the time, says there was no other apparent reason for these military precautions than “the unmeaning fuss and gasconade of the Americans about the Oregon question.”i Frequent references are found, in the occasions when the Bay Company was under the assaults of its opponents, to the valuable service it claimed to render to the British government in “resisting the encroachments of the Americans." The company was constantly alarmed by actual and threatened competition in the fur trade, first by parties of half-breeds and natives in its own settlements, and then by bold trespassers across the boundary line. Naturally enough, the jealousy of the company extended to trade and traffic in any articles within its own territories in which it was not itself a party. In the antagonism between it and the resident colonists represented by Mr. Isbister, we find the latter party fretting under the restrictions and impositions which prevented all expansion of the thrift and prosperity of the settlement. They complained that they really had no market for any surplus produce, and so had no motive to enterprise. The company had refused to export in its own ships
and no other ships were allowed in the bay — a quantity of tallow brought to its depot by a settler. A half-breed and an Indian were forbidden to buy and sell furs in the colony. Vexations and annoyances of the most exasperating character were made to burden and depress the restive members of an isolated community at a time when, south of the boundary line, especially in Minnesota, American enterprise was advancing with giant strides. There had come into use in the settlement vast numbers of
1 Red River Settlement, p. 364.
vehicles of a peculiar construction, known as “Red River carts,” rough, strong, and easily repaired, made wholly of wood, without a particle of metal. Long processions of these went out over the plains, in the great buffalo hunts, to bring home the hides and meat from the thousands of
What more natural than that these should pass the border at Pembina, and open a profitable international commerce? But then the bugbear of free competition with the “ Yankees” in peltry presented itself as a warning. The intelligent Mr. Ross, while admitting that an allowance of free trade in furs would have been disastrous, as introducing strife, bloodshed, and ruin, however insists that buying and bartering ought to have been allowed between the Indians and the half-breeds. It was not strange that the Canadians in the settlement should have been in strong sympathy with their brethren in Canada during the so-called “Papineau Rebellion,” and have hoped for its success. The half-breeds raised the Papineau standard on the plains, where it hung for many years.
Mr. Isbister persevered in his efforts with government officials in England, especially with the Colonial Secretary, in order to bring the grievances of his fellow-colonists before the public, and to secure a redress. Of course, this involved a repetition of charges and complaints against the Bay Company, beginning with a denial of the validity of its charter, and covering all its policy as to trade, its utter neglect of all measures for educating and civilizing and converting the natives, and its actual reduction of many of them to abject destitution. He always came to this work of antagonism well fortified with facts and documents. Particularly did he controvert the pleas advanced on the side of the company: that the territories under its jurisdiction were wholly unsuitable for agricultural settlements; were barren, destitute of wood for building and fuel, and locked in ice and snow during so large a part of the year that grains and garden crops would not ripen. The company was too strong under its patronage to be worsted by all his appeals and exposures. The authorities would not through legal advisers open the question of the validity of the company's charter, and any complaint of mal-administration under it must be brought by complainants, at their own charges, before the proper tribunal. shall see, the solution of the problem came in due season from a proper source in Canada.
The colonists whom Lord Selkirk had led to his settlement, and their descendants, were Scotch Presbyterians. As such, they had what they felt to be a serious and an embittered grievance in their relations with the Bay Company. Selkirk had pledged to them that he would secure, to accompany them in their exile, a minister of their own kirk, and who should officiate in the Gaelic tongue. The promise was not fulfilled. In the buffetings and disasters which the exiles encountered during many years, shut in by a cordon of ice and savagery, with fighting and famine and wandering, they sorely missed the cheer and solace of their familiar ministrations. After Selkirk's death they thought the company had assumed his promises
and obligations. But when an appeal, with attested documents, was addressed to the office in London, the reply was that the company knew nothing of such an obligation, but would give a passage to a minister, if those who wished him would procure and support him. In the mean while these Presbyterians, with what grace they could, attended the services of the English Church at the settlement, greatly disliking its method and ritual. In vain did they appeal to each successive local governor, as he assumed office, to carry out the pledge made to them. Not till after the lapse of nearly forty years from their coming did the Presbyterians receive a minister of their own faith, and he was procured through friendly help from Canada. Three hundred of these colonists — sheep following their own shepherd — at once left the services of the English Church, thus provoking a new feud. 1
The progress of the controversy over the Oregon boundary reveals many traces of the secret agency of the Hudson Bay Company in setting up claims and influencing public opinion. These traces are obvious in many articles in leading reviews and other publications, and in hints acted upon by British diplomats. Looking shrewdly to developments in the future, — which, however, were hurried in their advance by the vigorous pushing forward of settlers from the United States in still disputed territory, - the Bay Company in 1841 sent a party from the Red River to establish a colony on Vancouver's Island. The island was then supposed to be British territory. But when, by the treaty of 1846, Oregon fell to the United States, provision was made that the company should retain its territorial rights there. Dr. McLaughlin, who, as an agent of the North West Company, had been a strong opponent of the Bay Company, after the coalition in 1821 became a factor of the latter, and was made local governor west of the Rocky Mountains. He was regarded as indifferent to the company's interests, and as favoring settlers from the United States near the Columbia, so as effectually to weaken the claims of Great Britain to Oregon. When the colony from the Red River arrived it received but a cold welcome from him. The British grant to the company for a colony in Vancouver's Island was dated January 13, 1849. The draft of the charter, as originally favored by Earl Grey, a strong champion of the company, was greatly modified before it passed the seals, the powers conferred by it on the company being reduced and qualified. Still the provisions of the charter were very objectionable, and were found to be quite unfavorable to those disposed to settle in the territory. Their grievances were plainly spoken when they discovered on the ground the restrictions and limitations attached to residence and trade. An object of the company in securing a footing on the island had in view the expiration in 1859 of its renewed twenty years' license in the Indian territories. The modifications introduced into the
2 It is given by Martin. See Critical Essay.
1 Mr. Ross, who was the most efficient agent in this work, gives a full account of it in his Red River Settlement.
draft of the charter fortunately provided some safeguards. The crown retained the right to recall the grant at the end of five years; and when the renewed term of the license for the Indian territories should expire in 1859, the crown might purchase the island by remunerating the company for its outlays. It is observable that by these cautious reservations of crown rights, both in the renewal of the license in the Indian Territory and in the Vancouver charter, no such limitless liberality for a monopoly as was indulged in the Bay charter was to be again ventured.
Now as the Hudson Bay Company, having warded off all challengers on its original fields, had intrenched itself on a new one, looking forward to security and perpetuity, we are to follow the course of inquiry and negotiation which led it to the release of its grasp.
The whole contents of a substantial folio volume of British documents 1 are devoted to a “Report from the Select Committee on the Hudson's Bay Company ; together with the Proceedings of the Committee and Minutes of Evidence." The committee consisted of nineteen members, including Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone. Among the members was the Right Hon. Edward Ellice. As previously mentioned, he, as a most active member of the North West Company, had been a vigorous opponent of the Bay Company. After the coalition, he was a most strenuous champion of the latter. In this investigation he appears in two rôles : first, as a questioner, endeavoring to draw out or to suppress testimony agreeable or objectionable to him ; second, as a witness, positive in his statements and skilled in reticence and reserve. The committee held some twenty sessions, from February to July inclusive, and examined twenty-five witnesses. The commission was held in view of the near approach of the period when the renewed license for exclusive trade, in 1838, for twenty-one years, granted to the company in the Indian Territory, would expire. This alone would make it necessary that the condition of the whole of those vast regions administered by the company should be carefully considered. But other circumstances made such a course the duty of Parliament. Three reasons are mentioned : the desire of Canadian fellow-subjects of extension and settlement over a portion of the territory; the provision of suitable administration over the affairs of Vancouver's Island ; and the condition of the settlement on the Red River. Chief Justice Draper was commissioned by the government of Canada to watch the inquiry, and he offered testimony. There was put in evidence taken before a committee of the legislative assembly. The committee also had the opinion of the law officers of the crown on points connected with the charter of the Bay Company. The inquiry covered three descriptions of territory, — the chartered or Rupert's Land, the Indian Territory, and Vancouver's Island. The committee came to the conclusion that, as one object of imperial policy, it was essential to meet the just and reasonable wishes of Canada to annex some portion of the neighbor
1 Reports from Committees, vol. xv. 1857.