What is it about gold that has fascinated man throughout time?
Mark Twain once said, “Genius, like gold and precious stones, is chiefly prized because of its rarity.” He might well have been right.
But the lure of gold is as contagious as any other fever, even though only a few have ever struck it rich. Most have only experienced hardship and heartbreak.
Around the world, the largest gold strikes have been in Australia, Canada, China, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Russia, and the United States. The one in Australia in New South Wales began in 1851 and continued for the next 50 years.
Hard to believe but gold rushes were happening as far back as the days of the Roman Empire and Ancient Egypt. By the 18th and 19th century, they helped spur immigration, leading to permanent settlement of new regions.
On the North American continent, gold fever ran rampant after James W. Marshall, a carpenter and sawmill operator, found gold on Sutter’s Creek on January 24, 1848. This discovery set off the California Gold Rush. But invariably any gold rush has a relatively short life span, and when it begins to draw to a close, prospectors seek more adventure and gold prospects elsewhere.
Once the California Gold Rush petered out and an economic depression set in, many people began to head north, having heard of gold strikes in what was then New Caledonia (now British Canada) in Canada. In 1858, steamers full of miners eager to “strike it rich” headed north to Victoria, a small English village of less than 500 people. Overnight, the “village” transformed into a tent city of over 30,000 people, among them 4,000 Chinese.
The miners headed to the Fraser River where the first major gold find was at Hill’s Bar, south of Fort Yale. Some made small fortunes while others merely suffered from mosquito bites! The Fraser Valley was notorious for them.
The next major gold rush in British Columbia was in the Cariboo in 1861, which lasted until 1867. Between 1859 and 1869 there were also many minor gold rushes in places such as Similkameen, Peace River, Shuswap and Omineca, but the next major gold rush happened between 1896 and 1899 in the Klondike, labelled one of the last “great gold rushes” in Canada.
Here are some fun facts about gold mining and the eternal lure of the yellow metal:
Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he also said, “If everyone else is looking for gold, it’s a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.”
The hero in my forthcoming historical saga Providence soon finds this to be true. The ones who made a fortune in gold rushes were usually the ones, like him, who let others chase the golden rainbow while they were simply content to sell them the tools, supplies and transport to get to the goldfields!
If you had lived in those times, would you have ventured to the goldfields? Were those who did incredibly brave or incredibly foolish?
Let me know what you think in a comment below.
On January 5, 1907, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey in London, England.
At the time, King Edward VII was reported to have said, “After my mother [Queen Victoria], she was the most remarkable woman in the kingdom.”
The baroness was born Angela Georgina Burdett, daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, who was the daughter of wealthy banker Thomas Coutts, founder of Coutts & Company.
In 1837, at the age of 23, Angela inherited her grandfather’s fortune of nearly two million pounds. She could easily have spent the rest of her life living in luxury, enjoying the pleasures and extravagances of the very rich. Instead, she chose to devote her life to helping others and spreading her fortune where it was needed the most.
Having befriended many notable people, such as Louisa Twining, Florence Nightingale, and Charles Dickens, and learning of the plight of orphans and the very poor in London, Angela used much of her wealth to help those causes.
She also became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building and endowing churches and church schools around the word—in Africa, in Australia and in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Her contributions to Victoria included donating money to help build Angela College on Burdett Street, a prestigious Anglican school for young women. Both the building and the street honor this woman today, even though, like Queen Victoria, she never visited the city.
In addition she donated money for the church bells in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, for cotton gins in Nigeria, and for drinking fountains for dogs in large cities. She assisted Turkish peasants and refugees of the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, organized housing schemes for the working class as well as giving money for the Ragged Schools Union, soup kitchens, and the Temperance Society in London. She also helped place hundreds of destitute boys on training ships for the navy and merchant service.
Speaking of ships, at Angela's instigation, vessels were sent out to British Columbia (the most notable in 1862 being the Tynemouth, known as the Bride Ship), which carried 60 women to the colony, where there was a great shortage of women at that time.
In 1871, Queen Victoria bestowed a peerage on Angela with the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate, and the following year, she became the first woman to be presented with the Freedom of the City of London. She also received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh in 1874.
Although she had many suitors throughout her life, she refused all offers of marriage until she was 67 years old, when she shocked society by marrying her secretary, a young man of 30, William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett, who was also a member of Parliament. In an unprecedented move, he changed his name to Burdett-Coutts after the marriage.
By the time Angela Burdett-Coutts died in December 1906 at the age of 92, she had given well over three million pounds to needy causes around the world.
The benevolent baroness makes a brief appearance in my forthcoming novel, Providence, as a motivator for my main character to set out from England for the new world on the SS Tynemouth.
Due to a shortage of females in British Columbia, Canada, in the 1860s four ships were sent out from England to Victoria carrying, among other things, a cargo of young women.
The four ships (the Tynemouth, Robert Lowe, Marcella, and Alpha) became known as “the bride ships” and arrived as a result of the Columbia's Emigration Society’s initiative to send women to help populate the colonies with British citizens.
The most well-known of these ships was the S.S. Tynemouth, which arrived in September of 1862, a year of great change in Victoria. Included in her cargo were 60 women aged between 14 and 20 who traveled to the new world in unimaginable, horrific conditions in steerage.
Throughout the mining camps, there was a surplus of men anxious for female companionship! The hope was that these women would marry and settle north of the 49th parallel. But their journey to the west coast was horrendous.
Only half of the 60 young women aboard the Tynemouth have been officially traced. After all, these were the frontier days of British Columbia and few records of their whereabouts were kept.
However, Frederick Whymper, an artist, wood engraver and travel writer, traveled aboard the S.S. Tynemouth and kept a journal of the events that took place. Today a mountain on Vancouver Island is named for Whymper.
Many of the women aboard the Tynemouth did eventually marry and have families, and we have learned their names and future whereabouts from the passenger list.
For instance, Mary Macdonald, a musician, later married Peter Leech, a one-time gold miner and then Victoria’s city engineer; Jane Saunders married extremely well and helped turn her late husband James Nesbitt’s biscuit company into something of an empire; and Isabel Curtis married at fifteen and went to live in what is today the town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island.
On the other hand, some of the women ended up in the mining camps along the Fraser River and made a living as prostitutes. But some did work at other things and became midwives, governesses, and teachers, thereby bettering themselves and the lives they had left behind them in the old country.
The emigration of young women was taken over by the Salvation Army in the late 1800s and after that by the YWCA. The sponsoring of British women to the west coast of Canada did not, in fact, end until just before World War II.
Although many of the so-called “brides” did well for themselves, there remained something of a stigma attached to the women sent out aboard these ships. This may have been simply because their origins were often unknown, ranging from orphans and the working poor to prostitutes.
Peter Johnson’s book Voyages of Hope, tells the story of these bride ships. It is well worth a read.
In my soon-to-be-released novel Providence, I have placed my heroine among these women. I think you will enjoy her fictitious story as she journeyed to the new world in search of a better life.
During the Victorian era, England saw many technological and economic changes and improvements that caused a separate group of people, the middle class, to evolve alongside wealthy aristocrats.
Sadly, there were many who slipped through the cracks—particularly the children without a family. These orphans were often abandoned in society by mothers who could no longer care for them. Most ended up in orphanages.
Many authors at that time, such as Charles Dickens, portrayed these orphanages as overcrowded and unsanitary, and most orphans were dirty and malnourished. Corporeal punishment was excessive. Often the people overseeing these facilities took a major part of the stipends themselves and spent very little on the children.
The mortality rate was atrocious. According to Dickens in Oliver Twist,
But some of the orphans placed in orphanages considered themselves lucky compared to other abandoned children. They were at least provided with food, clothing, and shelter and some minimal education. On the other hand, children sent to workhouses, were not so lucky. Life there consisted mostly of hard grind and no educational opportunities.
The ultimate goal for orphans was to be adopted or for a parent to return for them, but this did not occur very often unless a close relative came forward to take them on. Any adoption that did happen was usually on a very informal basis.
After the age of 15, orphans were expected to earn their own living in the world. As their education had been minimal, the only work available to girls was usually “in service” to the gentry as scullery maids. Boys from country orphanages might alternatively be hired on as farm laborers or gardeners.
Many orphans ended up as criminals living on the streets after the age of 15, doing menial work or begging for money in order to survive. Girls turned to prostitution.
Fortunately, some orphanages at that time actually helped children.
Two particularly philanthropic souls, the Reverend Edward Cridge and his wife, Mary, set sail from England in 1854 aboard the Marquis of Bute to take up tenure at Fort Victoria on the west coast of British Columbia.
Among their many contributions in the new world, including the betterment of education in Victoria, was the Protestant Orphans' Home, founded in 1873 to help the growing number of orphans who previously had depended solely upon the kindness of strangers to take them into their own homes. The Protestant Orphans' Home was officially opened in November of 1873.
Today, the Cridge Centre in Victoria still stands and continues the original work of hope and support for all vulnerable people, offering a women's transition house as well as children and seniors' services and a young parent outreach program.
The protagonist in my upcoming novel, Providence, begins life in a country orphanage in England in the 1840s, where I have depicted, with some poetic license, what life must have been like for those children abandoned in such places.
In my book, I have painted a more optimistic picture of life for those abandoned children who did survive, and when you read it, I hope you'll admire my heroine as she strives to overcome her miserable fate—at all costs.
In today’s world, she would have been a “Me Too” woman, encouraging other women to believe they were capable of anything— if they put their minds to it.
Let me know what YOU think.
Through the years, many famous visitors have come to Victoria on Canada’s west coast. The history books and newspapers of the day describe their visits in detail.
For instance, although Queen Victoria herself never visited her namesake city, her daughter Princess Louise, came to the city in 1882. She apparently loved Victoria so much that some thought she would never leave! She was often spotted wandering along Government Street.
Another famous visitor was Winston Churchill, who came in 1929 and planted a tree in Beacon Hill Park.
Members of the British Monarchy are always visiting Victoria. In 1919 the then Prince of Wales came here after WWI and in 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited prior to WWII. In more recent years, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, Prince William, and the Duchess Cambridge with Prince George and Princess Charlotte have graced our shores.
But one man is seldom remembered when we discuss our famous visitors.
That man is Rudyard Kipling, who made three visits to Victoria (in 1889, 1892, and 1907) and included it in his poem “Song of the Cities”:
From East to West the circling word has passed,
Till West is East beside our land-locked blue;
From East to West the tested chain holds fast,
The well-forged link rings true!
Here’s more about the British poet and novelist:
Kipling loved to travel the world, but his time in Victoria, British Columbia, made a special impression on him.
For instance, while staying at the Oak Bay Hotel, he wrote a poem (unpublished) after a "night out" with John Virtue, the proprietor of the Oak Bay Hotel where he stayed in 1907. The first verse of that poem reads:
Judging from Kipling's description of coming back to his room later that night, he must have been a little the worse for wear after a good night out!
In 1908 he wrote his famous description of the city for Collier's weekly magazine in 1908 (vol. 41):
Kipling continued to travel the world for years and published many more books, poems, and short stories before his death in 1936 at age 70.
He received various honorary degrees and awards, some of which he declined, but he did accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He was the first English writer to receive this award.
The pallbearers at his funeral included UK Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, an admiral, and a general.
He is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in London. In Victoria, we still have an apartment building in Oak Bay named for him: the Rudyard Kipling.
Did you know about Kipling’s visits to Victoria? And do you agree with his description of our fine city?
Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
If you enjoyed reading about Kipling, check out this post about another historical figure who chose a significantly different line of work.
Many love themes run throughout my historical family saga series, The McBride Chronicles, set mainly in British Columbia, Canada, and taking place from the 1830s to present day.
While researching romance during those years, I discovered, for instance, that in the Victorian Era (1837–1901), there was a great deal of formal courting. In the upper classes, it was almost an art form.
A gentleman interested in a certain lady could not simply start up a conversation with her at a social event without a formal introduction. And it would be some time before it was considered appropriate to speak to her or for them to be seen together.
After they had been formally introduced at an event, the gentleman would present his card to her if he was interested and wished to escort the lady home. At the end of the evening, the lady looked over the cards she had received and then chose who would be her escort. She would then notify the lucky man by giving him her card in return.
Actual courting only took place in the young lady’s home and always with a chaperone close by, usually her parents. Eventually the courting might progress to the front porch. Any marriage proposal would usually be handwritten, after the gentlemen had first approached the lady’s father.
Fun Historical Tidbits
Here are some more facts I discovered about romance and courtship throughout history:
Love in the 19th Century
But, as I also discovered, not all courting couples adhered to the traditions of their time in history. I decided to portray some such characters in The McBride Chronicles, so I created relationships and love between different classes, women who risked their reputation for love, and love affairs during times of war, when men and women lived only for the moment.
In the 19th century, even the love affair between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was far from ordinary or conventional. She had to propose to him because of their stations in life.
There was a great love between them, despite their frequent quarrels during the marriage. When Albert died at a young age, Victoria went into deep sorrow and mourned him for the remainder of her life.
My own grandparents, Ernest Coulson and Annie Letitia Barber (their wedding in 1898 seen below), had a traditional courtship and were apparently a very loving couple who raised six children.
But judging from their wedding picture, the celebration looked to be rather a sombre affair!
I must admit I regret how love and courtship has changed over the years—even since the 1960s and 1970s when I was young.
Relationships between partners today are more informal. Many choose to live together and have children without the benefit of traditional marriage.
But who am I to judge? Everyone should do what works for them—as long as love is present. Love is really all that matters.
Please leave a comment below and let me know your views about love and romance in the 21st century as opposed to days gone by. I would love to hear from you.
Prohibition days certainly encouraged “rum-running” and “bootlegging,” and many became very proficient at the game.
But how could a once-honest cop possibly turn into an infamous bootlegger?
I love discovering characters from the past that were just a little different from the rest. Crossing the line of respectability made them that much more intriguing.
And such a man was Roy Olmstead from Seattle.
He was born on a farm in Nebraska in 1886 and was raised by good farming folk to become an upright citizen. In 1907, he joined the Seattle Police Force, following in the footsteps of his older brother.
And by 1910 he had been promoted to sergeant.
In 1916 Washington joined the “dry" states as a result of prohibition, and a year later, Joe Warren was appointed Seattle chief of police. He soon noticed Olmstead’s diligent work and squeaky clean record so by 1919 had appointed him to lieutenant.
Although not officially working on the “dry squad” himself, Olmstead soon became very familiar with the way bootleggers operated as they plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Vancouver Island. Many of them made money while others continued to just make mistakes so they were caught. Olmstead realized where they went wrong and was convinced he would do much better at the game.
So he began to operate his own small bootlegging business, believing that working on the other side of the law would be a piece of cake! Unfortunately, he too made mistakes and was soon caught, fined, and eventually dismissed from the police force.
That didn’t bother him, because he had wanted to go into the bootlegging business full time anyway. Eventually he became one of the largest bootlegging operators and employers in the Puget Sound.
By 1924, his operation was so successful that he was able to wholesale liquor to numerous clients, many of whom were Seattle’s elite and even some police officers who turned a blind eye to what he was doing.
At the height of his career as a bootlegger, Olmstead’s organization alone was delivering 200 cases of Canadian liquor into the Seattle area daily, and he was grossing $200,000 a month. He owned a fleet of vessels and had purchased a farm outside town to store the contraband goods.
Strangely, he never allowed his men to carry guns. He believed it was better to lose a shipment rather than lose a man’s life. This was quite a departure from other bootleggers at the time and certainly contrasts today’s views of owning guns in the US.
But soon Olmstead was caught, and his operation came to an end. On January 19, 1925, Roy and his second wife, Elise, were both arrested.
Elise Olmstead (using the name “Aunt Vivian”) had been broadcasting children’s bedtime stories over a radio transmitter from one of the bedrooms in their elegant home. In point of fact she was really sending out coded messages to rum-running vehicles!
Many in Olmstead’s organization were also arrested and two of his vehicles, the Eva B and the Three Deuces were seized and over 700 cases of liquor and 240 cases of contraband goods were confiscated.
Olmstead’s Trial became one of the largest and most controversial in US history. Olmstead was sentenced to four years in the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and fined $8,000. His wife, Elise, and seven other defendants were acquitted.
Having studied the law well and with his wife’s help from the outside, Olmstead made frequent appeals to the higher courts during his incarceration, and in February of 1928, the Supreme Court heard the famous Olmstead v. United States case. His lawyers claimed that wiretapping set up by the Prohibition Bureau was illegal.
In May of 1931, Olmstead was finally released from prison, and on Christmas Day 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted Roy Olmstread a full pardon, restoring all his constitutional rights plus canceling the $8,000 fine and another $2,288 in court fees.
A CHANGED MAN
By then Olmstead was a changed man. While in prison, he had embraced the Christian Science faith and now believed that liquor was a curse!
Following his release, he made a living as a furniture salesman and his wife divorced him, maybe finding him less appealing as an honest man. He began to visit prisoners in the King County Jail, preaching to them about the evils of drink! He even became a Sunday school teacher, and many alcoholics were released into his custody for counseling.
Roy Olmstead the “good cop” had returned. You can read more of his story in my book Legends, Liars and Lawbreakers.
But what, I wonder, happened to all those rum-running boats? Two of them (the Eva B and the Three Deuces) were seized by customs officials during the 1920s. During WWII, George E. Murry was the officer in charge of a boat called the Zev, which he believed had once belonged to Olmstead. The Zev had been confiscated by the US Coast Guard Reserve and later put into service by them based in Elliott Bay in Seattle.
There were a fleet of other boats that had once plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Does anyone have any information about what happened to any of them?
If so, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.