Probably like me, you are surprised to discover, many of the locals in Nanaimo and even Cedar have never heard of DeCourcy Island. Imagine if you will, how they must have thought, if at all, about DeCourcy in 1873. As evidenced in the documents I have found, many thought….” Mudge, Gabriola, DeCourcy… All the same place, those islands out there….” They use the names interchangeably.
The Government of Canada passed the Dominion Lands Act in 1872. It provided the legal authority under which the Crown granted lands to individuals, colonization companies, the Hudson’s Bay Company, railway construction, municipalities and religious groups. The act devised specific homestead policies to encourage the settlement of the West. Any man or woman (if she was the sole head of the family) over the age of 21 was eligible for a grant for a 165-acre plot of land. Policy varied over time but most eligible homesteaders who paid a $10 administrative fee were given three years to build a residence and clear at least 30 acres for farming. Once the authorities decided progress had been made, the settler received patent for ownership of the land.
The first land grant for DeCourcy Island was issued to Robert Burrell on the 27th of October 1873. I don’t know how he found DeCourcy. I like to think he was on a sternwheeler returning from Barkerville, travelling from New Westminster to Victoria with a stop in Nanaimo. I picture him passing through Dodd’s Narrows and thinking much like many of us… “I’d like to live there…. Own my own land, build a little house, maybe get me some sheep and have a good life away from the hustle bustle of city life.”
Everything I can find out about Mr. Burrell indicates he was a good guy. A man who anticipated that Barkerville, during the wild and crazy days of the gold rush was vulnerable to fire. The kind of man who would chase a thief, 678 miles to recover stolen money for his bank. His nautical skills perhaps could have been better, but everyone seems to have liked and respected him.
Burrell was from Glasgow. He first appears in ??? historical records in the Victoria City directory as he rose through the administration of the Bank of British North America. There are records of mine claims in Barkerville during the Cariboo Gold Rush when he was posted as the Manager of the Bank.
I found an example of Burrell’s correspondence with the daughter of Kenneth McKenzie, the Manager of Craigflower farm in the BC Archives. Burrell’s love I suspect was unrequited by McKenzie’s daughter Dorothea (Dottie) while his friendship with her sister continued. At that time, he was the Manager of the Barkerville branch of The Bank of British North America.
Bank of British North America Barkerville July 22, 1865
My dear Miss McKenzie,
I received your kind long letter of 1st and I assure you that I have to thank you for it very much indeed as I thought from your long silence that I had some way or other offended you all and felt very melancholy on the subject. I hope you will like your new residence—it is a beautiful situation and you will be quite near the strawberries and at the same time I can sense you will very much regret leaving Craigflower after the many happy days you have passed there.
I was very much shocked to hear of poor Simpsons death, he looked so strong and healthy while in Vancouver. I often envied his lot but certainly never expected his career would have been cut off so suddenly. It must have been a sad blow to his parents—the last letter I had from him was dated Glasgow—he was then on his way to the highlands on a pedestrian excursion.
I see you keep the run of all our old naval friends. I wonder if D. Turnbull saw my young brother in Glasgow. I sent him that small nugget day pin I used to wear by Turnbull but have not yet heard its fate, do thank Mr. Blair for me for the large bundle of papers he was so kind as to send me they are really a great treat and I feel deeply indebted to him. I would have written to him on this occasion, but it is so late tonight and I have to be up at five o’clock tomorrow morning with a heavy day’s work before me that I do not feel equal to the task.
This is Sunday night and on the opposite side of the street there are no less than three hurdy Gurdy or dancing houses in full blast. Two of them are occupied by German dancing girls—four in each and the third by squaws.
Just now the “Silver Lakes Varsovianna” is ringing in my ears and the noise and music is carried on every night till four sometimes six in the morning. If I am at all out of sorts I find it quite impossible to sleep. The “King of the Cannibal Islands” has just struck out—fancy such a place—
There are two or three places of worship on the creek but they ae all closed—There has not been a clergyman on the creek of any denomination since last year and I really think they are better away as they could do no good.
I was delighted to see in the papers that Mrs. Watson had another little girl. I hope she is as strong and healthy as your namesake. Remember me kindly to her and Mr. Watson the first time you see them. I often think of the jolly times we used to have.
This is a frightful place for a soft man like me. I feel this want of ladies’ society so much and our dear old pal romping Dottie of course. I have forgiven her and would have written her long ago had it not been for your long silence. Who is her beau now? I suppose Goody is growing like a poplar. I expect to find a great change in her by the time I get back to V.I. I am doing very well for the Bank this year my shipment of dust tomorrow is very large. I am almost afraid too large and will be very glad to hear of its safe arrival at Victoria.
How is Burley? Does he like the bank yet or does he still wish his time was up. I hear from Lawson that he is improving very much, and I received last mail a copy of our account written by him which was got up in a very businesslike and creditable manner.
It has been raining dreadfully all day, but the rain is good for mining— There goes “Lucy Long” – and I like it better than the hot days which oppress me very much. I think after the severe winter one experienced how it would be quite dangerous to go to a tropical climate. I board now at the French Hotel at Richfield and walk up and down about half a mile oft twice sometimes three times a day – “Sultans Polka” and the ‘Edinburg Quadrilles”- for at the same time from the White __________ and often stay up there all evening playing quoits or whist. What a frightful din. I must stop.
With my kindest regards to Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie not forgetting the youngsters.
Yours very Sincerely,
Isobel Bescoby mentions Burrell in her book Society in Cariboo during the Gold Rush (P 199)
There was apparently no thought of organized protection against fire. Individual miners and storekeepers may have equipped themselves with leather fire-buckets. By 1867, having already suffered a depletion of their material goods, a few Caribooites under Robert Burrell and John Buie, fire wardens, collected $676 in aid of Barkerville fire brigade. Most of the inhabitants, however, felt that Cariboo was a charmed community, protected by God against fire and all other dangers, and therefore no precautions against destruction by fire were taken in that year. A little over a year later, on September 16, 1868, the whole “metropolis of Cariboo was destroyed by a fire originating in a saloon where a “hurdy” dancing girl was ironing.
In 1871, Burrell had moved back to Victoria and was the interim Manager of the Bank of British North America. An article appeared in the Victoria British Colonist on November 28, 1871 (page 3) which tells a remarkable tale.
Forgery and Successful Pursuit
Robt. Burrell, Esq, of the Bank of British North America, returned from a trip to Idaho yesterday. The trip was made under the following extraordinary of circumstances. About six weeks ago James Huarey stole a check on the Bank of British North America for $1600 from W. C. Anderson at Yale, forged Anderson’s endorsement and was paid the amount at the Bank in this city. On discovery of the fraud the Bank obtained an extradition warrant from our Government. In the meantime, Huarey had taken flight to the United States. Mr. Burrell, of the Bank of B.N.A., went in pursuit with the warrant and overtook the rogue at Salmon River, Idaho. Finding, to take proper legal steps to bring Huarey back to British Columbia, it would be necessary to go to Boise City which would involve a great deal of time and cause a heavy expense which the Government would scarcely refund, Mr. Burrell thought it best to take back the $1600 with $300 additional for expenses, and leave the swindler to escape unwhipt of justice as he might.
Every Clint Eastwood movie I have every watched prompts my imagination as to how Burrell convinced Huarey to repay the money with a 300.00 fee for his trouble, no less. He must have been quite the guy…
In 1873 Burrell left the bank and applied for the land grant on DeCourcy Island. He brought with him 100 sheep to start his farm. A long career with the Bank and years living through the Cariboo Gold Rush could not have been very profitable. The sheep were bought on account with a butcher in Victoria. It was announced in the Victoria British Colonist, Burrell drowned while rowing from Nanaimo harbour to DeCourcy Island just three months after moving here.
December 21, 1873 (page 3)
Reported Drowning. The star Emma arrived from Nanaimo yesterday morning bringing intelligence of the supposed drowning of Mr. Robert Burrell, near Nanaimo last Wednesday night. Mr. Burrell had established a stock ranch on DeCourcy Island, about 8 miles from Nanaimo, and started in a small row boat for home on Wednesday about 1 o’clock. On Friday morning several articles which Mr. Burrell is known to have had in the boat were found on the beach about 1 1/2 miles from town. From this it is feared that the boat was capsized, and Mr. Burrell drowned on Wednesday night. An Indian woman who lives near the point thinks she heard some person shouting that evening. When the Emma sailed a party had gone to DeCourcy Island to ascertain if the missing man had reached there. Mr. Burrell is well known and liked throughout the Province. He was for a long time Manager of the Bank of British North America’s business on William Creek.
Burrell died without a will. When his estate was probate essentially the sheep were returned to the butcher and there were no other assets.
Supreme Court of British Columbia in Probate
Re: the goods of Robert Burrell deceased
I Thomas L. Fawcett of Nanaimo British Columbia Government agent make oath and say
That Robert Burrell of Mudge Island left Nanaimo on the 17th of Dec. last about 4 o’clock pm in a small white -hall boat for the purpose of going to Mudge Island a distance of about 10 miles from Nanaimo. I saw him a short time before he started.
On Friday the 19th of December Mr. Marcius Ros, the person with whom the said Robert Burrell was living came to me to tell me that the said Robert Burrell had not arrived at home and he further informed me that he had seen the mast and sail of the boat and a bag of provisions, letters and papers belonging to the said Robert Burrell, which had been washed on shore at Jacks Point, and the next day he came to Nanaimo and informed me that he had found the boat in which the said Robert Burrell left Nanaimo, bottom upwards.
And I firmly believe that the said Robert Burrell was drowned between the dates of the 17th and 18th December altho his body has not yet been discovered. The said Robert Burrell had 100 sheep on an island which require immediate attention.
Sworn before me at Nanaimo this 8th day of January 1874.
____________- B Spalding
In the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Probate
Re the goods of Robert Burrell deceased intestate
I John Stafford of Government Street, Victoria, Butcher make oath and say
That Robert Burrell late of Gabriola Island is firstly and truly indebted to me in the sum of four hundred seventy-two dollars for some sheep sold by me to him and which were to be paid for on arrival at his farm. The said sheep were each up from Victoria on the first day of December last.
That to the best of my knowledge information and belief the value of the estate to be administered by me is under the value of the Five hundred dollars.
That I will file a true account of the effects of the said deceased on or before the 24th day of April 1874 and a true account of my administration ship of this on or before the twelfth day of January 1875.
I will pay the debts of the deceased as far as the property extends and the law binds.
Sworn at the city of Victoria the 12th day of January AD 1874 before me
In probate in the goods of Robert Burrell Deceased Intestate Affidavit of John Stafford
In the Supreme Court of British Columbia
Know all _________ by these ____ that we John Safford of the City of Victoria Province of British Columbia, Butcher, Joseph Levy of the said city, restaurant keeper and Thomas Shadbolt of the said city, druggist are held and firmly bound with Charles Edward Pooley Registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia (or to the Registrar for the time being of the said Court in the sum of one thousand dollars for which payment well and truly to be made to the said Charles Edward Pooley or to such Registrar for the time being we do ________- each of us doth bind ourselves and each of us and the heirs executors and administrators of us and each of us jointly and severally firmly by these ________ sealed with our seals and dated the 12th day of January AD 1874.
Whereas by order of this court of the 12th day of January AD 1874 it is ordered that letters of administration of the personal estate effects and credits of Robert Burrell of Gabriola Island deceased be granted to the said John Stafford on his giving security for the due administration thereof and whereas the said John Stafford hath sworn that to the _______________ best of his knowledge information and belief the said personal estate effects and credits are under the value of five hundred dollars.
Now the conditions of the above written John Stafford shall exhibit unto this to wit a true and perfect inventory of all the personal estate effects and credits of the deceased which shall come into his possession or of any other person by his order for his use on or before the 12 day of April AD1874 and shall well and duly administer the same according to law and render to this a court a true and just account of his administration ship, on or before the 12th day of January AD 1875. There this bond shall be said and of none effect but otherwise shall remain in full force
Signed sealed and delivered by the above
Joseph Levy and Thomas Shadbolt in the presence of E.W. Harrison at- Victoria. B.C