Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interesting Reading "The Private Journal of Captain G. H. Richards"

I was doing some spring cleaning and I came across my copies of  Raincoast Chronicles. I used to read the Raincoast Chronicles and enjoyed all of them. The Raincoast Chronicles are still in publication and if you are interested in personal perspectives and interesting depictions of the life in BC in the past,  I would recommend them to you.  Harbour Publishing has 17 titles listed for the Raincast Chronicles

For another, what I think would be an interesting read, about early BC history I recommend
The Private Journal of Captain G. H. Richards, The Vancouver Island Survey (1860-1852) written by Linda Dorricott and Deidre Cullon  published by Ronsdale Press

(Ronsdale Press, founded in 1988, is a literary publishing house, based in Vancouver, and dedicated to publishing books from across Canada, books that give Canadians new insights into themselves and their country. Ronsdale publishes fiction, poetry, regional history, biography and autobiography, books of ideas about Canada, as well as children’s books.)

The following is from the website about the journal. The journal provides a unique and personal view of the aboriginal, colonial, nautical and natural history of Vancouver Island. Richards is revealed as a man of immense energy and diplomacy; the descriptions of the First Nations he encounters are remarkably unbiased for the time and his keen observations are a portal into the social and political life of Vancouver Island during these formative years of the colony. The journal will appeal to historians, anthropologists, sailors, meteorologists and the general reading public alike"

The Private Journal of Captain G.H. Richards  a Book Review, which agrees with my assessment
Edited by Linda Dorricott and Deidre Cullon Ronsdale, 270 pp., $21.95
Capt. George Henry Richards played a key role in our early history; he was in charge of the crew that surveyed and charted the entire coastline of Vancouver Island.

Richards has not, however, achieved the fame enjoyed by those who did similar work - men such as Capt. George Vancouver, Col Richard Clement Moody of the Royal Engineers, and surveyor Joseph Despard Pemberton.

That oversight might be corrected with the publication of The Private Journal of Captain G.H. Richards, a book made possible through the efforts of Nanaimo residents Linda Dorricott and Deidre Cullon.

This book includes a transcript of the journal Richards kept in 1860, 1861 and 1862, when he and his crew were using HMS Plumper and HMS Hecate to explore as much of the Island's shoreline as they could.

The original journal is in England, in the hands of one of Richards' descendants. In 2006, Dorricott and Cullon obtained a copy of the Richards journal.

Along with the transcription, their book includes excerpts from the journals of John Gowlland, the second master, as well as photographs and reproductions of charts.

Richards wrote about much more than his work, so this book includes observations on everything from the weather to a visit to San Francisco, to the social conditions of the day.

He was a witness to one of the Island's greatest tragedies of the 19th century - the smallpox epidemic that devastated the First Nations population, village by village, from one end of the Island to the other.

In June 1862, for example, Richards was at Fort Rupert, on the northern tip of the Island. There he found the grave of "a young Tyhee girl" who had died in Victoria and had been brought back to her home.

"We found the smallpox raging here among the natives, who were much subdued and terrified by it," Richards wrote. "Sixteen cases had occurred up to today, five of them had proved fatal."
He said that the village was deserted, with the inhabitants spreading out to avoid contact with each other. Hunting and fishing had ended.

A few days later, in Nanaimo, Richards found that all of the natives had been removed from the village because of fear of the disease.

By the time the smallpox epidemic ended, almost every aboriginal on the Island had been hit.
About 30 per cent of them died. It was a terrible toll among a population which had almost no immunity.

The transcript of the journal compiled by Richards has been produced with care, and it includes his abbreviations and peculiar spellings.

While that helps to preserve the historical record, a transcript of a 150-yearold document can often be frustrating, since it lacks the context that would make it understandable.

That's why the editors used Gowlland's work - it adds information to complete the story. They also have included annotations which ensure that readers are able to follow the tale told by Richards - a tale that was probably never meant for publication.

The Richards journal adds to our appreciation of early Vancouver Island history. After a century and a half, it's safe to say one thing about this book: It's about time.

The reviewer is the acting editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist and author of The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this book from cover to cover. Of the many journals from this era that I have read this one appeals to me because Captain Richards narrative is so human. Most other journals are quite dry and I find it difficult to relate to the experience they are documenting. One fine example is his comment of Tuesday, April 24 1860 where he writes:
    "I have just been driven off deck by the children squalling - the night being still - ship 150 yards from the bank we hear them plainly - they remind me of my own. I can't detect any difference in the notes."
    I can tell you that you will not find that kind of comment in any journal written for the Admiralty.
    A wonderful read and a welcomed selection for my library.