Daily life in Fort Victoria ca. 1850


- Susan Henderson

What was daily life like in Fort Victoria in the mid 1800s? Now you can read first-hand accounts online and find out for yourself. To mark both the 150th anniversary of the City of Victoria’s incorporation and the 50th anniversary of the University of Victoria, two exciting online additions to Victoria’s history have been launched: the Fort Victoria Journals and the Historic Cartographic Collections.

Dr. John Lutz (history) had his third-year class on historical editing help prepare the Fort Victoria Journals. Twelve students each took a part of the fort journal, transcribed it, edited it and then wrote an interpretive essay on a theme that emerged from the journal, while they learned about the process of editing historical documents. Some of their essays are part of the context section of the website.
The entire project was not completed in the 13 weeks of class time, so several students carried on afterwards as volunteers to resolve annotations and edit questions until everyone was completely confident of their transcription.

Lutz describes the daily accounts of life at the fort as “opening a time capsule and a treasure chest at the same time.” Over a thousand daily journal entries cover the critical time between May 1846 and May 1850.

Among the momentous events during this period: the Oregon Boundary Settlement was reached; Vancouver Island was established as a British colony; Fort Victoria became the Pacific headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company; and treaties were signed with the neighbouring First Nations.

Against the backdrop of momentous events, daily life also had its dramatic moments, as evidenced in the journal post for Christmas, 1848.

Monday 25th Had some frost over night. Weather alternately clear & cloudy during the day. This being Xmas it was kept accordingly & the following rations above what they usually receive were served out to the people viz: 1pt molasses, 1/2 pt rum, 6 lb fresh beef, 4 lb fresh pork & 1 lb flour. The day passed away quietly enough except that I received a severe cut on the left hand in attempting to get a knife from Thomas the interpreter, who took hold of it with the intention of stabbing some of the men in a drunken row. No other occurrence worthy of notice. [www.fortvictoriajournal.ca/1848-december.php]

Through the support of the Ike Barber Foundation, the University of Victoria Libraries, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, the Royal British Columbia Museum–British Columbia Archives, the Canadian Council of Archives and the University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre, the riches in these daily journal entries will keep historians, anthropologists, First Nations, heritage planners and genealogists busy for years as they explore these sources that have never before been available in BC.

The Historical Cartographic Collections contains three rare gems: 250 maps from the National Archives of England (1775-1870) showing the development of BC; a selection of maps, many created by the first colonial surveyor Joseph Despard Pemberton, from the 1840s to 60s showing the development of Victoria and the lower Isl#8743; and the Victoria Fire Insurance Plans map, including Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt from 1891 to 1916.

The Fort Victoria Journals 1846-1850: www.fortvictoriajournal.ca

The Historical Cartographic Collections: http://library.uvic.ca/dig/carto.html

In this story

Keywords: anniversary, history

People: John Lutz

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