Crown, Company and Charter: Founding Vancouver Island Colony, a Chapter in Victorian Empire Making

  • Barry Morton Gough Independent scholar, Professor Emeritus of History, Wilfrid Laurier University, Adjunct Professor of History, the Royal Military College of Canada
Keywords: colonization, empire, governor, Colony of Vancouver Island, Colonial Office (Britain), Sir James Douglas, 3rd Earl Grey, Hudson's Bay Company


A unique partnership advantageous to the Hudson's Bay Company but determined by the requirements of the Colonial Office of the British government was displayed in the making of the Colony of Vancouver Island. The partnership brought together John Pelly, Governor of the Company, and the 3rd Earl Grey, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, assisted by his parliamentary undersecretary and permanent officers or associates in the Colonial Office. Aboriginal affairs, heretofore not concerned with by the historiography, receives attention as a special interest of Benjamin Hawes and Herman Merivale, both connected with the Colonial Office. The article places the subject in the enlarged literature which began with John S. Galbraith, and now includes Cain and Hopkins on "Gentlemanly capitalism" and Robinson and Gallagher on the "Imperialism of Free Trade." The article demonstrates the triumph of a situation that Cain and Hopkins might have appreciated, had they chosen to address their concerns. The Colony of Vancouver Island was a waif and stray of Imperial history. Development was deferred, and the Company's interests consolidated, apparently with the Colonial Office's reluctant support. Attention is also given to on-the-spot development and the role of James Douglas in this proto empire scheme.