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Esquimalt has a rich naval history going back to when Her Majesty's ships of war rounded Cape Flattery and entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the tense spring and summer of 1846, the year in which the Oregon Boundary Dispute boiled over. The sailing frigate, H .M.S. Fisgard, 1,069 tons, mounting 42 guns, came first under the command of Captain John Alexander Duntze. A fine picture she would make against the background of the snow crowned Olympics. Running before a following wind from the Pacific, every sail drawing full, her frigate lines smooth and graceful as a gull's, her sharp bow cutting a silver streak in the blue-green waters of the Strait, as she headed toward Port Discovery. The Fisgard dropped anchor at Port Discovery on April 30th. From May 5th to 13th, she was anchored near Fort Victoria taking on supplies. On May 13th, she sailed for Admiralty Inlet where she remained near Fort Nisqually until October. From there her officers could keep in close touch, via the overland Cowlitz route, with affairs at Fort Vancouver. One small vessel with steam as well as sail patrolled these waters during the summers of 1846, '47 and '48, H.M. steam vessel Cormorant, a paddle-sloop of 300 horse-power. Commander George Thomas Gordon, described by Rear-Admiral Sir George Francis Seymour, the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Station, as "one of the best steam officers in Her Majesty's service," commanded the Cormorant.
Admiral Seymour had sent her to act as a tender to the naval sailing ships in the North Pacific. In the strong tides and variable winds of these waters, her services for towing were invaluable. "you are to obtain," ran one of Admiral Seymour's instructions to Captain Duntze, "every information in your power as soon as possible after your arrival. whether the Coals which are represented to abound on the Northern part of Vancouver's Island can be collected in sufficient quantity to afford a Supply for Steam Fuel, and respecting the Provisions which the Hudson's Bay Company may have the means of affording to your Ship's Company." The Cormorant was dispatched, late in the summer, to Beaver Harbor to report on the coal deposits there. In his report to Captain Duntze, Commander Gordon mentioned "The difficult and dangerous navigation of Sir George Seymour's Narrows." This is the first use of the name, since shortened to Seymour Narrows, of this well-known rapid with its tidal race and Ripple Rock of ill repute. On June 24th, two surveying ships arrived off Cape Flattery. They were the barque, H.M.S. Herald, in command of Captain Henry Kellett, C.B., R.N., accompanied by a smaller vessel, the brig, H.M.S. Pandora,, Lieutenant Commander James Wood. The Cormorant took them in tow and according to Berthold Seemann, the naturalist aboard the Herald, "lugged us up about sixty or seventy miles, until we had passed Port Victoria. Our knowledge of the place not extending beyond Vancouver's information, we did not know where to look for the Hudson's Bay Company's settlement." The Cormorant was herself a new arrival at Port Discovery and Captain Gordon had not visited the Fort. tucked away in Victoria's inner harbour.
The three ships anchored for the night in Cordova Bay. Next day, the Cormorant towed the Herald and the Pandora. back to an anchorage near Fort Victoria. Seemann wrote delightfully of Fort Victoria as he found it, the beauty of the country around it and the success of its farming activities. Of the Songhees Indian village he wrote: "On the opposite side of the harbor is a large native village; the distance across is only 400 yards, and canoes keep up a constant communication between it and the fort. Certain supplies to the chiefs keep them in good humor with their intruding visitors." He was not impressed by Victoria Harbor but of Esquimalt Harbor he wrote: "Although the entrance of the latter is less than a quarter of a mile wide, yet the depth of water is so convenient that there would be no difficulty in warping a vessel in, and then the most perfect little harbor opens out. The first bay on the right hand going in is sheltered from every wind, and has a depth from five to seven fathoms within a hundred yards of the shore. Victoria may be the farm, but Esquimalt will be the trading port. At present, however, subsistence being the chief object, Victoria no doubt is the most advantageous site for the settlement." The Herald and Pandora. had been charting the west coasts of South and Central America. Their summer occupation of surveying the adjacent harbors of Victoria, Esquimalt and Sooke, with their green, forest-clad shores would be a refreshing interlude.
The Herald, under the command of her distinguished Captain, Henry Kellett, surveyed Sooke Harbor, not altogether to his own satisfaction owing to persistent fogs in August. He intended to return in 1848 but instead was ordered to the Arctic to search for the ill-fated Sir John Franklin Expedition by way of Bering Strait. The Herald spent the summers of 1848, 49 and 50 iii this fruitless search.
The first hydrographic survey of Esquimalt Harbor was commenced in the summer of 1846 by Lieutenant Commander James Wood in the Pandora, assisted by Robert M. Inskip, naval instructor, in H.M.S. Fisgard. Aboard the Fisgard were fourteen young midshipmen. A small school building was erected for them at Fort Nisqually while their ship was anchored there. This building was popularly known among the junior officers as "the castle of indolence." To give practical instruction to his pupils, Mr. Inskip set the midshipmen to work surveying Esquimalt Harbor. They made several surveys under his expert supervision. No doubt the results of their work were useful to Lieutenant-Commander Wood who had only two officers in the Pandora qualified to assist him. The association with the Fisgard was evidently a happy one for we find on Wood's chart of Esquimalt Harbor, published in 1848 by the Admiralty, all the points and islands around the harbor named after the officers of the Fisgard. The rocky island in the harbor's mouth was named Fisgard Island after the ship.
The lighthouse on the island with its unique iron stairway was built in 1859-60 by the Imperial Government. James Douglas, then Governor of the two Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, had previously carried on a lengthy correspondence with Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Secretary of State for the Colonies, urging the erection of this lighthouse and the one on Race Rocks. · The headland on the right 'as you enter the harbor was given the name of the Captain of the Fisgard, Captain Duntze, and is known as Duntze Head. It was on Duntze Head that the first naval buildings were erected on the first land to be reserved for naval purposes on Vancouver Island. Duntze Head is today the site of H.M.C. Dockyard, Esquimalt, with the original reserve of seven acres increased to sixty-one and a half acres. With the Captain's name on the right, the name of the First Lieutenant, John Rashleigh Rodd, was given to Rodd Hill and Rodd Point on the left of the entrance to the Harbor.
On Rodd Hill and Point there is now a military establishment. Should Edward Wollaston Lang, R.N., 4th Lieutenant of the Fisgard, come back like Rip Van Winkle, he would not recognize the peaceful, forest-fringed basin that was given his name. Today Lang Cove, the most easterly tip of Esquimalt Harbor, echoes and re-echoes to the crash and clang of metal striking metal, to the rat-a-tat-tat of the riveting gun. Strange lights glow, weird welding lights flash and flare, the lights of a modern shipbuilding plant. This is Yarrows Limited, No. 1 Yard. Across the bay on the northern shore of Constance Cove, stands Yarrows No. II Yard built in 1941 to increase production. Down the launching ways of these two yards during World War II slipped a steady procession of cargo vessels and corvettes, frigates and trans~ port ferries. A fleet of corvettes and frigates, well and truly built, was a fitting contribution to the defeat of the Hun from the shipbuilders of Esquimalt Harbor, safe anchorage for corvettes and frigates in the days of sail. Other places in our harbor given the names of officers of the Fisgard are Cole Island, formerly the naval magazine, named after Edmund Picoti Cole, master; Dyke Point, named after Charles Dyke, 2nd Lieutenant; Paterson Point, after George Yates Paterson, 3rd Lieutenant; Ashe Head, after Edward David Ashe, 5th Lieu-tenant; and Richards Island, after Lieutenant Fleetwood John Richards, Royal Marines, H.M.S. Fisgard.
Dunn's Nook was given the name of Thomas Russell Dunn, M.D., R.N., surgeon aboard the Fisgard, who some years later became Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets and Honorary Physician to Queen Victoria. Inskip Island was named after Robert Mills, naval instructor. On returning to England, he took Holy Orders and became a naval chaplain as well as instructor. When appointed to H.M.S. Victory at Portsmouth, he took a keen interest in working out a new system of training for naval cadets which led to the establishment of the training ship, H.M.S. Illustrious, and afterwards to the well-known Britannia. Skinner's Cove, the present site of the Dominion Graving Dock, one of the largest drydocks in the world, was named by Captain George Henry Richards of H.M. survey vessel, Plumper, when he re-surveyed Esquimalt Harbor in 1858.
Between the two surveys Constance Cove Farm had been established by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company on the shores of the little bay and Thomas James Skinner placed in charge. Usage gave his name to the cove and Captain Richards placed it on his chart of Esquimalt Harbor. On the copy of Lieutenant-Commander Wood's chart i'n the Provincial Archives are marked two additions to the original chart. Three buildings marked "Naval Hospital" are shown on Duntze Head and one building, "Engineers' Barracks," near the head of Skinner's Cove. The Crimean War with the ill-fated attack of the combined British and French fleets, in 1854, on the Russian port of Petropavlovski on the Kamchatkan Peninsula, led to the small beginnings of a naval shore establishment at Esquimalt. From that defeat two hundred badly wounded men had to be taken all the way to San .Francisco to reach a hospital. Three ships of the British squadron, the President, the Pique and the Virago had called at Esquimalt but found no hospital there. A second assault was planned for the following year by Rear-Admiral Henry William Bruce, recently appointed Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Station, flying his flag in H.M.S. Monarch.
On 14th February, 1855, Admiral Bruce wrote to Governor Douglas requesting him "to provide a building upon the arrival of the Squadron, that may service as a temporary Hospital for the sick and wounded: the want of which was seriously felt last year." Governor Douglas promptly reserved seven acres on Duntze Head for naval purposes and had three sturdy wooden hutments, 50 feet by 30 feet, built at a cost of about 1000, for use as a naval hospital. The buildings were not needed when the time came. The combined fleets found Petropavlovski, though strongly fortified, deserted by the Russians. There was no attack, were no wounded, and only one sailor with scurvy to be placed in hospital, when H.M.S. Brisk arrived at Esquimalt from Petropavlovski and Sitka in July, followed by the Dido and the Trincomalee.
In late August the flagship, H.M.S. Monarch, arrived with Admiral Bruce who had called at San Francisco before coming to Esquimalt. From San Francisco Admiral Bruce wrote to Governor Douglas expressing his appreciation and adding "it will be most satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government to find that the young Colony under your charge can be made so serviceable to Her Majesty's Ships in time of need." The other addition to Wood's Chart, the huts of the Royal Engineers, shown on the point between Lang Cove and Skinner's Cove, belonged to a detachment of officers, non-commissioned officers and men, some seventy in and under Lieutenant-Colonel John Summerfield Hawkins. R.E. They were sent out in 1858 to survey the western section of the boundary between British and American territory. They arrived in Esquimalt Harbour on July 12th, in the sailing corvette, H.M.S. Havannah. They completed their survey in 1862 and left for England in April. Their huts and ten acres of land were transferred to the Navy for hospital purposes. These ten acres and more are now covered by the buildings of the Royal Canadian Naval Barracks, H.M.C.S. Naden. Naval activity in our neighborhood diminished with the signing of the Oregon Treaty in June, 1846, making the 49th Parallel the Boundary Line.
H.M.S. Constance arrived in 1848. She was the latest word in sailing frigates, 2,132 tons, 50 guns, with a complement of 500 officers and men, commanded by Captain George ·William Courtenay, R.N. On June 24th, Captain Courtenay sailed the Constance into Esquimalt Harbor and dropped anchor. She was the first naval ship to make this harbor her base. She was joined on August 11th by the. Pandora .. Lieutenant-Commander Wood had returned alone to complete his survey of Esquimalt Harbor. He gave the name, Constance Cove, to the bay where the Constance and the Pandora. lay anchored side by side. The arrival of the Constance was most opportune. Trouble was brewing with some Indians encamped near Fort Victoria. Finlayson was glad to accept Captain Courtenay's offer of assistance.
A large party of sailors and marines was landed at the Fort. Salutes were exchanged and various evolutions and warlike maneuvers performed. "This display of arms from the Constance," wrote Finlayson in his reminiscences, "had a good effect on the natives, as they were evidently afraid to pick any quarrels with us for some time afterwards." Captain Courtenay's reports and letters were full of local color. In a letter to the British Consul at Honolulu, Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands), dated September 12, 1848, on board H.M.S. Constance, "at sea," he wrote:- "I had a long passage, 26 days, from Honolulu to Port Esquimalt, but I luckily had a fine day & fair wind to enter the strait of Juan de Fucca, & found my port without difficulty. The Hudson's Bay Company's Settlement of Fort Victoria is only three miles from Esquimalt, so that we got our daily supplies of Beef without much trouble. The Company have 300 acres under tillage there, and a dairy farm of 80 Cows, together with numerous other cattle & 24 brood Mares, the whole under the superintendence of a Civil but hard Scot, named Finlaison.
Finlayson who has about 30 people of all descriptions under him. They are likewise building a Saw Mill at the head of Port Esquimalt which will be ready for work at the end of the year." When Esquimalt laid out and named her streets, a place of honor was given to Constance Avenue next to Admirals., Road. Captain Courtenay's name had been given to a street in Victoria. The naval ship of the year 1849 was the frigate, H.M.S. Inconstant. She was sent north under the command of Captain John Shepherd by the Commander-in-Chief, Rear-Admiral Phipps Hornby. A midshipman aboard the Inconstant, Richard Charles Mayne, later 2nd Lieutenant of H.M.S. Plumper, became closely associated with the early life of this colony and wrote a fascinating book about it called "Four Years In British Columbia and Vancouver Island." The paddle-sloop, H.M.S. Driver, Commander Charles Richardson Johnson, brought Richard Blanshard, first Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, from Panama to Fort Victoria in 1850.
The Driver was the second naval steamship on this station. Since no residence had been provided for the Governor he was forced to live aboard the sloop for several weeks. In 1850 and 1851 the frigate, Daedalus, was based at Esquimalt, commanded by Captain George Greville Wellesley. This frigate took Governor Blanshard, in October 1850, to Fort Rupert to investigate the murder of three white men by the savage Nahwitti Indians. The first flagship to anchor in Esquimalt Harbor was H.M.S. Portland, a frigate of 50 guns, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral of the Blue Fairfax Moresby, Commander- in-Chief, Pacific Station, from 1850 to 1853. The Portland, accompanied by the Daphne, sailed into the harbor on June 27th, 1851. Admiral Moresby had come from South American waters to protect the interests of British settlers.
In May, 1852, Captain Augustus Leopold Kuper brought H.M.S. Thetis to anchor in Esquimalt Harbor. The gunnery lieutenant, John Moresby, third son of the Commander-in-Chief, later an admiral, described in his book, "Two Admirals," the making of Old Esquimalt Road by sailors from the Thetis. He wrote:- "It did not take us long to realize that in bad weather communication with the fort was risky by water, for an officer and two men lost their lives in a rough sea and the floating kelp which entangles swimmers along the shore. It was, therefore, resolved to break a road through the forest, and the novel task was tackled with enthusiasm. Axes sent their echoes ringing down the glades; mighty trees fell. We macadamised the track after a fashion, and from henceforth by this road (now traversed by electric cars) we had easy access to Victoria." The Thetis, like the Constance, performed many useful services to the Colony during her two years' commission at Esquimalt. Captain Courtenay of the Constance and Captain Kuper of the Thetis stand out vividly amongst the naval officers who brought to this faraway, lonely, British settlement the power and protection of the Royal Navy.