Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Voyages of Captain Douglas

A period of active maritime trade, with Haida Gwaii as one of its most important focal points, had now been ushered in. It probably reached its peak about the turn of the century. In 1792 when Captain Vancouver was engaged in his surveys in these northern waters, he made a list no fewer than twenty-one vessels trading between the North-west Coast and China. Many of these vessels certainly visited and traded around the islands. In 1788 Captain William Douglas arrived from China by way of the Sandwich Islands in the "Iphigenia" and brought supplies to the famous John Meares, owner of the "Iphigenia," then at Nootka. From here Douglas was sent to explore and trade about the west coast of Haida Gwaii, at the same time that Captain Robert Funter, in the "North West America," went to trade along the east coast. This little vessel built by Meare's at Nootka was the first built on the North-west Coast of America. On this trip, Douglas rounded Rose Point, the extreme northern tip of Graham Island, and named it thus after George Rose, M.P., a political friend of William Pitt. Rose had shown great interest in Captain Dixon's voyage to the Pacific coast and had, with other notable visitors, gone on board the "Queen Charlotte" to wish its commander all success on his venture. On Captain Vancouver's chart, Rose Point appears as Punta Ymbisible, a name he probably took from a chart he had been given by Jacinto Caamano at Nootka. The Haidas called the peculiar and dangerous point, with its long, shallow reef, Naikoon, meaning "Long Nose," a particularly suitable name.

Douglas, at this time, had also named the entrance to Masset Inlet, McIntyre's Bay; the passage between North and Graham Islands, Cox's Channel (later to be called Parry's Passage); and a small bay on the south side of North Island, Beal's Harbour. He is supposed to have stayed a week in Parry Passage. Indeed, he and his crew are usually considered to have been the first white men to actually set food on Haida Gwaii.

Meare's lengthly work, "Voyage made in the years 1788 and 1789 from China to the North West Coast of America," gives the account of Douglas' experiences while in Parry Passage. Since the author was later to learn an unenviable reputation as a historian, because of his exaggeration and violent partisanship in the Spanish-British quarrel over Nootka, his work must be read with discretion. Nevertheless, it gives an interesting, if not wholly accurate, description of this first landing of white men on the shores of the northern islands. While at anchor near the village of a chief whom he calls Blakow-Coneehaw (Gannyaa), Douglas exchanged assurances of friendship and even went ashore. The account of Meares is as follows:

"In the afternoon Captain Douglas took the long-boat and ran acrofs the channel, to an ifland which lay between the fhip and the village of Tatanee, and invited the chief to be of the party ; who, having feen him pull up the wild parfley and eat it, he was fo attentive as to order a large quantity of it, with fome falmon, to be fent on board every morning. "

While the "Iphigenia" lay at anchor in Henslung Cove (to-day known as Bruin Bay), trade was brisk. As the ship's whole stock of iron was expended, the crew began to cut up hatch bars and chain plates. Later in Cox's Channel the Haida again bartered their furs, this time accepting "coats, jackets, trowsers, pots, kettles, frying pans, wash hand basons, and whatever articles of a similar nature could be procured, either from the officers or the men."

Before leaving the village of Tatanee, Captain Douglas had noticed a small plot of cultivated ground; therefore, he gave the villagers some beans and planted a few himself. Of this incident Meares hopefully remarks:

". . . Captain Douglas himself planted fome beans, and gave the natives a quantity for the fame ufeful purpofe ; and there is little doubt but that excellent and wholefome vegetable, at this time, forms an article of luxury in the village of Tatanee. This people, indeed, were fo fond of the cookery practifed on board the Iphigenia, that they very frequently refufed to traffic with their fkins, till they had been taken down to the cabin, and regaled with a previous entertainment."

It is interesting to note now the tradtion of this first landing of Europeans on the shores of their islands survived among the Haida people. Many years later, George Dawson, making his geological survey of the islands for the Dominion Government in 1878, met and questioned Chief Edenshaw [It-in sa]. When asked if he knew the name of the first white man the Haidas had seen Edensaw gave the name of "Douglas," very well pronounced. The old chief, who died in 1894 at the age of 94, admitted he thought white man had appeared before Douglas but he did not know their names. There seems little doubt that the memory of the name of Douglas had been perpetuated in the tribe because of a ceremony whereby he and Blakow-Coneehaw had exchanged names. The event is thus recorded in Meares' "Journal":--

"At five o'clock they dropped the bower anchor in twenty-five fathoms water, about four miles from the fhore, and two from a fmall barren, rocky ifland, which happened to prove the refidence of a chief, named Blakow-Coneehaw (Gannyaa), whom Captain Douglas had feen on the coaft in his laft voyage. —He came immediately on board, and welcomed the arrival of the fhip with a fong, to which two hundred of his people formed a chorus of the moft pleafing melody—When the voices ceafed, he paid Captain Douglas the compliment of exchanging names with him, after the manner of the chiefs of the Sandwich Iflands. "

next --> The Boston Traders