« AnteriorContinuar »
statements, presented as they appear on the record, are offered merely to offset the plea that the natives of this continent have fared better by the hands of Englishmen than of Americans. The facts here reviewed are suggestive of a more instructive lesson. An intelligent observer might well have been led to imagine that, in view of that perplexing and always disheartening question, - What ought to have been the relations into which Europeans should have placed themselves with the natives, with any hopefulness of justice and humanity toward them ? — the opportunities of the Hudson Bay Company would have been especially favorable. Amity, cordiality, strict equity, and mutual advantage, were objects of primary importance to both parties. Beyond those the more favored of the parties might have regarded itself as under obligations imposed by humanity and generosity. Of these the company was not considerate. In the game of profit and loss, the company was the only winner.1
In all the more searching inquisitions into the affairs of the company there were, of course, repeated efforts made to ascertain the profits accruing from its trade and operations. It is possible that, as these were known to have been very large, popular fancy and rumor may have foolishly exaggerated them. Only an expert who had full and free powers to examine its ledgers and accounts through its whole charter existence would have the means of reaching the exact facts of the matter. Such information as at different times was drawn from rather unwilling and reticent witnesses was incomplete and fragmentary. Perhaps as its operations were so extended and scattered in place and time, with so many open and progressive enterprises in action, the company found the accounts of several years running in together, so that outlay, income, balance of interest, and indebtedness were with difficulty separated. There was so much "watering of stock," as the phrase now is, that a rate of interest on original capital became merged in its own premium. The company was always increasing its plant without assessment on its shareholders, but from its undivided profits. After its coalition with the North West Company, its field of operations and its force of agents and employés were vastly extended and increased. always planting new posts, and rarely abandoning old ones. The cost of
1 A committee of the Aborigines Protection surrounding communities have acted upon them Society, in a communication under date of May with evil and pernicious influences, no opposing 18, 1857, addressed to Mr. Labouchere, chairman interests have interfered with the most compreof the parliamentary committee, make the fol- hensive and benevolent plans for their amelioralowing statement: "The monopoly of the fur tion; they have been cut off from the intercourse, trade, if not a compact for the benefit of the the contentions, and the contagion of the world. Indian, is an injustice, as it deprives him of the And yet what has been the result? The system fair value of his toil, debars him from inter- which has made the company prosperous and course with civilized man and the ameliorating powerful has made the Indian a slave, and his influences without which he can never rise in country a desert. He is at this day wandering the scale of humanity. For the last two cen- about his native land without home or covering, turies has the right of exclusion been rigidly as much a stranger to the blessings of civilizaenforced from the shores of the Hudson's Bay, tion as when the white man first landed on his and never, perhaps, in the whole world and in shores.” British Documents, Reports of Com. all time has a fairer opportunity been offered mittees, vol. xv. p. 444. for the regeneration of the Indian race. No
communicating with and manning the most distant ones, the sending supplies and the gathering in the furs, would postpone immediate returns. Indeed, it was asserted in behalf of the company that a period of five, and in some cases of even seven years might elapse before actual returns from a specific invoice of goods sent from the company's warehouse in London would reach it by the homeward-bound ship. It was known that the goods of all kinds purchased by the company for the Indian traffic were largely of an inferior sort. Some were manufactured for the purpose ; some were damaged, some out of fashion. But they all were turned to good account. A quart of English spirits at sixpence, with one third water, reducing its cost to fourpence, was the equivalent of a beaver-skin, which brought at an average, in London, nine shillings. “A couple of cotton kerchiefs (the delight of a squaw), which my lady's maid would disdain to be the owner of, and a couple of ten-pound bank-notes from my lady's purse, mark the two extremes between which lies the history of a marten-skin or sable." 1
The governor of the company in London, J. H. Pelly, under examination by the lords of committee of privy council, February 7, 1838, communicated these statements. From the date of the charter in 1670 for twenty years, to 1690, the returns of the company had been £118,014, and this notwithstanding the losses to their establishments by the French, between 1682 and 1688. There had been a dividend to shareholders in 1684 of fifty per cent. The like dividend was paid in 1688. In 1689 the dividend was twenty-five per cent. In 1690 the stock was trebled (watered) without any call being made on the shareholders. So the twenty-five per cent. dividend of that year was really seventy-five per cent. From 1692 to 1697 the damage done by the French in the capture of its establishments subjected the company to a loss of £97,500. This compelled the company to borrow money temporarily at six per cent. Yet, notwithstanding this, in 1720 it again trebled its capital stock, with a call on its shareholders of only ten per cent. Again the company suffered a severe loss from the French, in 1782, by the destruction of its posts by La Perouse. Then it paid for a while dividends of from five to twelve per cent., averaging nine per cent. Mr. Pelly testified that “the state of the books is defective.” The original capital of the company of adventurers was £10,500. The returns of profit were so large that in 1690 it was agreed to set it down as treble, and to estimate it at £31,500. It was trebled again in 1720, and declared to be £94,500. In a new subscription it was agreed that £100 on each share should be counted as £300. In the coalition between the companies, each contributed £200,000 to a joint capital of £400,000. The reasons given for the first trebling of the capital were five: 1. The company had goods in its warehouses exceeding in value its original stock. 2. It had also as much more in its ships and cargoes. 3. It had rich deposits in its posts or factories. 4. It had provided many new posts. 5. It might expect remuneration for damages from the French.
i Butler's Wild North Land, p. 199.
In 1836 the company had paid the heirs of Lord Selkirk for the return of the Red River territory a sum which stood on its books as a balance between the cost, the interest added, and the profits deducted, at £84,11 1. In the region covered by the company's trade there were 136 posts, besides hunting and fishing stations : these were held by 25 chief factors, 27 chief traders, 152 clerks, and 1,200 regular, besides other temporary, servants, many of them natives. There were twenty-two principal trading and distributing centres. In the list of the company printed in November, 1847, there were 239 proprietors of stock of the capital of £400,000. Each member to be eligible to the committee of seven must hold at least £1,800 in stock. The sales of the furs were made several times a year, at auction, at the company's office in London. There were great variations in the prices. Thus, in 1839, 55,486 beaver skins brought £76,312. But in 1846, 45,389 brought only £7,856. Of an average revenue of £200,000, the profits beyond expenses were £110,000. In its most active trade, the annual export of the Bay was valued at £25,000.1
The annual profits were apportioned into one hundred shares. Of these the proprietors of stock received sixty; the other forty were divided between the chief factors and the chief traders, the former having two parts to the latter's one. This was instead of salary to such officials. On retiring from service the full payment was rendered for one year, and half the amount for the following five years, free from any risk through the company's losses. Thrifty apprentices would leave a large portion of their annual pay at interest in the hands of the company. Many who had been long in service retired on a fair competency. One such left a legacy of £10,000 to promote the interests of education and religion in the Red River Settlement. The company, by its method of dividing profits among its officials, secured their best coöperation more effectually than if it had paid a scale of salaries. When two chief traders retired, one clerk could be promoted. When two chief factors retired, a chief trader could be promoted. When the limited pensions of retired partners fell in, there was another chance for the promotion of a clerk.
In the inquiry before the parliamentary committee in 1857, it appeared, from the return of the secretary of the company, that it had voted to add £100,000 to the estimate of capital, and to have it stand at £500,000. The assets were then estimated, beyond liabilities, at £1,265,067 195. 4d. During the ten years between 1847 and 1856, the annual dividends were ten per cent., besides more than twenty-three per cent. during the period paid as new stock. Of the 268 proprietors in July, 1856, 196 had pur
1 There were sold at the company's premises cat; 2,889 deer; 2,090 raccoon, etc., etc. The in London in the year 1848: 21,348 beaver sales in London, apart from those in Canada, skins, 54 pounds of coat beaver and pieces; the United States, China, etc., exceed £200,000. 6,588 otter; 1,102 fishers; 900 silver foxes; (Ryerson's Hudson's Bay, 121.) The writer says 19,449 cross, white, and red foxes; 31,115 lynxes; the cargo of the vessel in which he sailed from 11,292 wolf; 908 wolverine; 150,785 marten or the Bay to London, in 1854, was valued at sable; 38,103 mink; 195 sea-otter ; 150 fur seal; £120,000. 2,997 bear; 18,553 muskrats; 1,651 swan ; 632
chased their stock from 220 to 240 per cent. Governor Pelly admitted that from 1690 to 1800 the annual profits on the capital stock actually paid in were from sixty to seventy per cent.
In view of facts which are brought under our notice, this passing year, of the enterprise, prosperity, and rich prospects of the province of Manitoba, the present representative of the Red River Settlement, it is amusingly, even ludicrously suggestive of the blind with which ends of selfish policy will cover even the sharpest eyes, to read the testimony which the Bay Company offered to the parliamentary committee as to the fitness of any portions of its territories for colonies and agricultural settlements. One single plain question, straightly put and frankly answered, would have saved the space of many pages of examination, cross-examination, ingenious dodging, and equivocal-assertions on the present record. That question as addressed to the company might have been this : Will the use to which you put your vast territories consist with any other use that would accrue to the advantage of any party besides the Hudson's Bay Company? The frank answer would have been No. The only suggestion which will save the credit of the company from just reflections upon the obstructive and misleading results to which it appeared to wish to lead the inquiry as to the qualities of soil and climate in its territories, is found in allowance for its long-indulged prejudices and prepossessions. Many hints are dropped, in the large class of books written by the employés of the Bay Company, that it discouraged any enterprises of tillage and even of garden culture about its posts. Where occasionally such oases appeared they are ascribed to the thrift or good taste of a factor, trader, or other officer.
Among those who took the stand before the committee, and who were sharply questioned on this point, were John Ross, Esq., Dr. J. Rae, Col. J. H. Lefroy, Sir George Simpson, Hon. Edward Ellice, and Sir John Richardson. They had each and all the best means of knowledge of the character and qualities of large sections of the expanded territories under the control of the company, while of course there were larger portions which were most imperfectly known ; and each and all of them gave the most discouraging testimony concerning the inhospitality of the country, its uninviting character, its wide stretches of barrenness, its treacherous frosts, its dismal reaches of swamp and marsh, its treeless plains, and of the limitation of fertility to the near banks of rivers. Sir George Simpson, who in his long service of local governor had floated or tramped most widely over the country, pronounced its soil to be poor, its climate treacherous, and all its produce at the mercy of devastating inundations. This was said of the Red River Settlement and its surroundings. Richardson, the Arctic explorer, testified that the land was worthless for settlement, and he marvelled that it had ever been entered upon except for furs. Mr. Ellice affirmed that it was no place for agricultural settlers, and he volunteered to say the same of the border territory of Minnesota, now so luxuriant.
Strange enough is it to turn from these doleful judgments to the facts verified and illustrated twenty-five years after the date of their utterance. The Red River Settlement, represented now by the province of Manitoba, is known as perhaps the richest wheat-growing country of the whole globe. Annual crops have been reaped in succession from its fields for sixty years, without the use of any fertilizers. The farmers have no use for the stable manure. Indeed, it was found necessary to pass an ordinance imposing a penalty of twenty-five dollars on any one who should pollute the river, as actually had been done by dumping into it the heaps of the barnyard. We read of sixty and seventy bushels of wheat grown to the acre; of single potatoes that weigh two pounds, and turnips twenty pounds; of squashes one hundred and thirty-eight pounds, and of cabbages five feet in girth. The region is in fact the bed of an old fresh-water sea that has gathered the loam and muck of ages. The extent of this fertile region is four hundred miles in length by seventy in breadth.
Happily Mr. Gladstone was not convinced by the testimony offered that the vast territories held by the Bay Company were designed and adapted by Providence solely for a preserve for fur-bearing animals. He had satisfied himself that while the lands below the boundary line were being so rapidly and prosperously turned to account by the enterprise of settlers in the United States, it could not be that the blight of desolation and barrenness was visited on Rupert's Land. The result of the parliamentary inquiry was expressed in the acceptance of two resolutions, proposed by Mr. Gladstone: first, that the territory capable of colonization and settlement should be withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the company; second, that the territory unsuited to such uses should remain under its jurisdiction. These resolutions were accompanied by a suggestion from the committee to the Bay Company that an amicable arrangement should be made for bringing the question of Canadian boundary lines before the judicial committee of the privy council. Governor Pelly, in behalf of the company, consented to the proposal, suggesting that due regard be had to keeping good faith with shareholders and with parties who had purchased lands of the company, and recognizing the just claims of factors, traders, and servants at its posts.
More than ten years were yet to pass before the final disposal of the controverted interests. New and very pressing elements came rapidly into the issue to compel decisive action. The claims of Canada for the extension of its bounds and the amazing vigor exhibited hy the United States in the construction of transcontinental railroads brought out in strong contrast the strange arrest and prohibition of all like enterprise north of the boundary line. Emigration and colonization companies under British patronage stood ready to turn to account opportunities which seemed to invite and even
1 [Fort Garry, for instance, is on the summer part to embrace the valleys of the Assiniboin line of Vermont and New Hampshire. Cf. map and Saskatchewan rivers and reaching to the of the Dominion of Canada, in A. T. Russell's Rocky Mountains, is shown in the map in the Red River Country (Ottawa, 1869, and Montreal, 2d vol. of H. Y. Hind's Canadian Red River 1870). The fertile belt, extending from the Lake Exploring Expedition of 1857 (London, 1860). of the Woods with a northerly sweep so as in Ed.]