A COLOURFUL BACKDROP to the social stage in Victoria's formative years was provided by the royal governors. Royal governors had far more influence than the lieutenant-governors who succeeded them when British Columbia became part of Canada in 1871. They were representatives of the British Empire to which the Island belonged, men of good breeding, absolutely incorruptible and skilled in administration. Of the five royal governors between 1850 and 187 1 all except Richard Blanshard were men of private means to supplement their not ungenerous salaries. Their social gatherings and other semi-regal functions offset the isolation of life in a small and distant colony and gave stimulous to the modest catering, dressmaking, liquor vending and carriage businesses, besides contributing to general conviviality. Blanshard, the pecuniary exception, had a "raw deal."
He was the first Royal Governor of the Colony and arrived in Victoria on March 9, 1850 in H.M.S. Driver. Our tribute to him is Blanshard Street. This 32-year-old tall, aristocratic, but by no means robust gentleman presented his credentials at a solemn ceremony in the Fort thereby instituting British government in the Pacific Northwest. This proved to be the highlight of his governorship for Blanshard could not get his salary, a staff or even a place to live. He had to stay at first on board H.M.S. Driver. His only subjects if one excluded the servants of the Hudson's Bay Company were Captain Grant and his eight grumbling men. 41 i. Naturally melancholic on account of the malaria from which he suffered, Blanshard found nothing at Victoria to lighten his spirits.
After a time he was lodged in the Fort while a residence for him was being built on Government Street. The Hudson's Bay Company which at that time controlled all trade used to mark up 300% on cost price for groceries and other imported necessities. Blanshard found the cost of living financially embarrassing. The Colonial Office whose servant he was did not help his pecuniary position. They charged him personally with the legal expenses involved in settling a mining dispute and for his out-of-pocket expenditure in a military expedition he organized to protect an isolated settlement. Blanshard did manage to get a council set up to deal with the grievances of Grant, Langford, Staines and others. He also kept tabs on Hudson's Bay Company spending for which they were to be reimbursed on relinquishing their lease of the settlement. He left in September 1851 after 18 months here. His health had given way and his private fortune was, he wrote, "utterly insufficient for the mere cost of living here so high have prices been run up by the Hudson's Bay Company." A crowning insult ... he was asked by the Colonial Office to pay his fare home.
Douglas, who had fully expected to become first Royal Governor, succeeded Blanshard and with access to the right people in London and knowledge of local conditions, made a much better job of it. When Douglas's term of office terminated in 1864, Arthur Edward Kennedy, a generous spender succeeded him. His spending was the more welcome because of the economic gloom which followed the gold rushes. A boom city became a city of despair overnight when in 1865 the usual spring rush to the gold diggings failed to materialize. Miners had left behind large unpaid debts, overstocked retailers and warehouses bulging with unsaleable merchandise. The extent of the decline is shown by exports. They were $809,000 (including gold) for one month in 1858 and only $29,448 for the whole year of 1867. The government was heavily in debt to the Bank of British Columbia which ref used further credit and many badly needed public works had to be cancelled.
Kennedy arrived in 1 864 when economic storm clouds were already low on the horizon. But without hesitation the Assembly voted a $2,000 welcoming fiesta. Kennedy brought with him his wife and two charming daughters Georgina and Elizabeth Henrietta. These daughters had good voices which were in succeeding months to bring nostalgic tears to many eyes with their rendering of "God Save the Queen." Gun salutes, musical fanfares, naval bands, fireworks and much drinking at wayside saloons accompanied the viceregal procession from Esquimalt to Victoria, where it was discovered that by an oversight on the part of the organizers no living accommodation had been provided. The Kennedys' had to put up in the St. George Hotel on View Street. There the Germania Sing Verein, entering in the spirit of the occasion, continued to serenade the Royal Governor long after he had gone to bed. In the end, the host of the St. George yielded to this choral blackmail and invited them in to quench their not inconsiderable thirst which automatically terminated the singing.
Kennedy's first concern was to get somewhere to lay his head and entertain ... the latter being a social activity into which he was continually prodded by his active daughters. He rented temporarily "Fairfield" (now 601 Trutch Street) the home of Joseph Trutch, the Cariboo Road builder, mining promoter and astute politician. The house still stands and gives a fair idea of what was in those days considered a higher class residence, but "Fairfield" was a temporary expedient. On Rockland Hill was a dwelling known as Cary Castle. It was built by George Hunter Cary, a former Attorney-General of Vancouver Island, who sold it to Mrs. Elizabeth Miles, widow of a Hudson's Bay Company official. She resold it to the Royal Governor for $19,000. The Government then on Kennedy's urgings spent $21,000 to complete the building.
Its uncompleted state was due to the fact that George Cary, who was always in a rush, quick-witted, rheumatic and excitable, decided to build the residence before counting the cost. He nearly lost his last penny and was glad to sell it to Mrs. Miles when only one wing was completed. Both Dr. Helmcken and De Cosmos who were very anti-Establishment opposed the spending, but Kennedy, the handsome Irishman, pleased the crowds. They liked him to spend ... it meant jobs for them, and so they gave his opponents a rough time at the hustings. 43 Naturally melancholic on account of the malaria from which he suffered, Blanshard found nothing at Victoria to lighten his spirits. After a time he was lodged at the Fort while a residence for him was being built on Government Street. The Hudson's Bay Company which at that time controlled all trade used to mark up 300% on cost price for groceries and other imported necessities. Blanshard found the cost of living financially embarrassing. The Colonial Office whose servant he was did not help his pecuniary position.
They charged him personally with the legal expenses involved in settling a mining dispute and for his out-of-pocket expenditure in a military expedition he organized to protect an isolated settlement. Blanshard did manage to get a council set up to deal with the grievances of Grant, Langford, Staines and others. He also kept tabs on Hudson's Bay Company spending for which they were to be reimbursed on relinquishing their lease of the settlement. He left in September 1851 after 18 months here. His health had given way and his private fortune was, he wrote, "utterly insufficient for the mere cost of living here so high have prices been run up by the Hudson's Bay Company." A crowning insult ... he was asked by the Colonial Office to pay his fare home. Douglas, who had fully expected to become first Royal Governor, succeeded Blanshard and with access to the right people in London and knowledge of local conditions, made a much better job of it.
Women complained bitterly of the dilapidated state of their wear after Kennedy balls. A Victoria newspaper made the understatement of the year when it ref erred to the first ball ever given in the Colony as being "inconveniently crowded." Frederick Seymour, 1864-66, Royal Governor of the Mainland colony of British Columbia and later of the combined colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, was equally popular in his capital, thirsty New Westminster. His unregal appearance (he was slight, frail and bald) and equally unregal voice (squeaky and sometimes inaudible) was offset by great personal generosity. He spent freely of the taxpayers' money as well. When, much against his personal inclinations, he had to take up residence in Victoria, he spent a lot of money on Cary Castle and its cricket pitch. He was criticized by some for his free spending, but in fact the Colony was I I months in arrears with his salary and he was paying the Bank of British Columbia 18% interest on the overdraft.
Seymour felt it was a gentleman's duty to look after his servants and nothing distressed him more than having to dismiss some of them after he had taken a cut in salary to help out the Colony. In Victoria the duties of royal governors brought them into contact with what one must blushingly admit were a unique assortment of semi-educated political opportunists, many of them newcomers to the Colony. Headline-conscious, they criticized the royal governors frequently. The latter, in tum, did not pull their punches. To Royal Governor Kennedy is attributed the remark that "Victoria has two classes ... those who are convicts and those who ought to be convicts." But this remark has also been attributed to an Australian lieutenant-governor in regard to the citizens of Australia at that time. Kennedy thought legislators manipulated laws to suit their own pockets.
They could not give themselves raises, they got no pay. But they were land speculators. A case in point was when the legislators voted to abolish taxes on real estate. It transpired that many of them were in arrears with taxes on land they had bought during the boom. George Tomline Gordon, Treasurer of the Vancouver Island Colony, entered into the spirit of the times by defalcating with $3,000 of the taxpayers' money. Tall, red-headed, bearded and bewhiskered, Gordon used to boast that people were polite to him because he owed them money. The judge was less polite and awarded him three years in jail, but money talks even behind bars and Gordon disappeared from jail. At the same time by contrast a transient, Thomas Rice, got six months for stealing a fell ow roomer's coat. Frederick Seymour was very involved in the controversy as to whether the capital of the combined colonies should be in Victoria or New Westminster.
Victoria politicians mostly favored Victoria, but some who had real estate holdings in New Westminster were for the Mainland site. New Westminster land speculators and officials who had their homes in "Imperial Stumpfield" wanted the combined Parliament to be there of course. Seymour left no doubt as to his preferences. He thought Victoria only suited to be "a fishing place." He liked his New Westminster subjects and did his best to divert trade from Victoria to New Westminster. He told London that Victoria had a half-alien restless population - ill at ease with itself. He also voiced the view when certain transient merchants pressed for Confederation with Canada that "it was the expression of a disheartened community looking for change of any kind." The decision to locate Parliament here delighted most Victorians, but dismayed Seymour and New Westminster. The life cycle of royal governors in Victoria soon became fairly predictable. Fanfares and cheers on arrival ... growing criticism ... praise and sentimental tears on departure or death.
Two royal governors are buried in Victoria, namely Frederick Seymour in the Esquimalt naval cemetery and James Douglas in Ross Bay cemetery. Seymour died of dysentery off Bella Coola on January 10, 1869 while settling an Indian dispute. Kennedy - "Old Deportment" as 45 he was called behind his back, departed amidst copious weeping for a post in Hong Kong, later to die at sea off Aden. Anthony Musgrave, last of the royal governors to brighten Victoria life with Imperial tradition, held office from 1869 to I 87 I. His personal fortune was considerably increased by marriage with a connection of the wealthy American Cyrus Field. He had been Seymour's private secretary in Antigua, was talkative, intelligent and reported to have Creole blood. One of his two sisters married John Trutch, brother of the Commissioner of Lands and Works. Musgrave became a cripple after setting a precedent in having a broken leg set by a local Canadian doctor. He thereby increased his popularity with the anti-British element at the cost of his gait.
During his term of office, a few score German, Jewish and other residents signed a petition urging the United States to annex the Colony. This aroused great local furore, but Musgrave did not attach much importance to it. He said most of the petitioners were not even naturalized citizens. The petitioners didn't really wish the U.S. to annex the Colony. They were using a form of blackmail to get the British government to bail out the nearly-bankrupt community. Musgrave had to contend with the grievances of officials displaced by Confederation, and he obtained pensions for them. He also contended with the grievances of those who thought severance of close ties with Britain prejudiced their future and betrayed their loyalty. Musgrave, like the other royal governors (including Douglas) had no high opinion of agitators for Confederation. He thought they were chiefly concerned with promoting their own interests.
To Musgrave fell the unpleasant task of telling the Legislative Council that whether they liked it or not, the British government wanted the combined Vancouver Island and Mainland colonies to join up with the rest of Canada. The royal governors in their time had formidable powers. Legislative assembly members might propose ( they sat proposing in session over 3 Io days one year), but the royal governors disposed. They could withhold civil list salaries and funds from Crown land grants. The opposition they encountered rose from two differing ideas of the purpose of _government. The royal governors, echoing the Mother Country's views, wanted the Colonies to pay their way. To this end in the recession times which ruled during most of the years they were in office ( Douglas's periods of office excepted) they imposed stringent economies, cutting down on public works. The local politicians regarded government primarily as a cow to be milked.
They endeavoured to make use of the broadened franchise to blackmail the royal governors and the British Government, finding support among those suffering from poverty and those envious of the status and emoluments of British officials imported to run the Colony. The amalgamation of the two colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in I 866, the centennial of which was recently celebrated was viewed with gloom by many Victorians. A salute was fired by the Royal Navy in harbour here to mark the occasion. Douglas thought a funeral procession would have been more appropriate. Confederation with Canada in 1817 was equally a cause for regret by many of Victoria's staunchest citizens. They foresaw an unwelcome change from incorruptible British administration to the pork-barrel politics of Eastern Canada. But Victoria was given no choice.
Britain in the I 860's did not want the colonies and they had to do as she wished or risk abandonment by London and eventual absorption by the United States. The social precedents set by the royal governors have fortunately been continued by the lieutenant-governors and add greatly to Victoria's social scene. Opening of Parliament remains the most important official function. Lieutenant-governors also receive visiting royalty, heads of state and ambassadors. The annual dinner to legislators, the State Ball ( recently revived after being dropped for some years) , the New Year reception open to all male residents and the July garden party are the main social events. Invitations to the garden party are sent to those who have signed the Government House register. Many Vancouver and other out-of-town British Columbians attend all events. A list of lieutenant-governors and royal governors will be found in the appendix.