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Sir George Simpson: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Sir George Simpson

Final Draft Recd 1/26/50

SIMPSON, SIR GEORGE

(b. Lock Broom, Ross-shire, Scotland; knighted
1841; d. 1860, Lachine, Canada.)
The student of history who attempts to write s the story of George
Simpson is confronted at the outset with controversy and contradiction.
As with the cat who disclaimed knowledge of the canary, there are too
many feathers left around, pieces of evidence waiting for a [: ] cohesive
agent, surmises which may be rational enough today only to be disproved
with the next volume or so released by the Hudson's Bay Company archives.
In addition to this, however deeply he probes, however carefully he ex–
amines, the net result is not a biography of Simpson but a history of the
Company during the period of Simpson's connection with it.
George Simpson was born in 1787, according to Douglas MacKay who had
Company records at his disposal; in 1792, according to the Dictionary of
National Biography
, a date used by some other writers as well. His father
was George Simpson, his mother unnamed, and he was brought up by a kins–
woman who saw to it that he had a good education. In 1809, he became a
clerk in the firm of Graham, Simpson and Wedderburn, of which his uncle
Geddes was a partner, engaged in the West Indies trade. The Wedderburn
of the firm took the name of Andrew Colvile by Royal License in 1814 and,
on his own holdings and as brother-in-law of the Earl of Selkirk, became
influential in the affairs of the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1820, when not
only Company profit but very existence was [: ] threatened, Colvile per–
suaded George to enter its overseas employ as clerk, a relatively insig–
nificant position. In less than a year of his arrival, he was in charge
of a large part of the Company domain and in less than six years he was
Governor-in-Chief of Rupert's Land, a position he held unchallenged for
the thirty seven years until his death.
To understand the crucial period at which he entered Company affairs,

George Simpson

it is necessary briefly to summarize its history. Largely due to the
explorations of Medart Chouart and Pierre Esprit Radisson [q.v.], by
1669 knowledge of the fur country around Hudson Bay had become known
to the English court and, on May 2, 1670, Charles II granted a charter
to "The Governor and Company of Adventures of England trading into
Hudson's Bay." The area was named Rupert's Land in honor of Prince
Rupert, cousin of King Charles and shareholder in the new concern. The
shareholders were to be "true and absolute Lordes and Proprietors" of
the Bay and of all the lands drained by waters flowing into it. "Adven–
turers" in the 17th Century meant what we would call "risk capitalists."
The proprietors recruited their labor force mainly from Scotland and the
Orkney Islands, and prudently stayed at home to issue their instructions
and collect their dividends. On a modern map, their "true and absolute"
territory would cover the provinces of Quebec and Ontario north of the
Laurentians, the whole of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the southern half of
Alberta and the southeast corner of Northwest Territories.
One of the conditions of the charter, that the Company should conduct
explorations for a northwest passage, would also concede it the entire
north coast. This provision, however, was not acted upon for nearly two
hundred years. The Company found it profitable to cling to York Factory
and Churchill on the Bay where rivers gave access to the vast southern
interior and to which Indians from the interior could bring their furs.
The beaver was established as the unit of currency with Company sticks,
or "made beaver," the coin of the realm at the posts.
To the south, the French were clustered along the St. Lawrence River
and the English monopoly meant little to them. Even less did it mean to
the Canadians when, by the Peace Treaty of 1763, the Seven Years' War was
ended and that section of the country became English.

George Simpson

During the American Revolution and in the years following it, the
ranks of the Canadians were augmented by British loyalists who entered
from northern New York. Several fur companies were formed but were
eventually united into the North West Company, locally owned, locally
operated in which the management and the trappers were partners. They
called themselves the Nor'Westers and were called "The Master Pedlars"
by the men of the Bay.
Company employees were bound by London instructions to remain at
their posts and await the summer arrival of the Indians. The "Pedlars"
were not so hampered and before long their traders were calling at
Indian villages, laden with goods, or intercepting parties along the
trade routes. The Company therefore found itself forced to penetrate
the interior and follow the same practices. Cutthroat competition,
introduction of alcohol, demoralized the Indian, and, because for li–
quor the Indians would hunt in and out of season, borrow from one com–
pany and fail to repay, the entire trade of both was threatened with ruin.
Company dividends had always been uneven, ranging from 50% down to
8% with years when there were no dividends at all. One such period was
1809-1814 and for many years thereafter they hovered at 4%.
In 1810, in London, Lord Selkirk began acquiring stock in the Com–
pany and by May, 1811, he and his friends had acquired some £35,000 of
the total of £105,000. A general court of the proprietors was called
for May 30 and the proposal was made that Selkirk and his followers
purchase a tract of land on the Red River for establishment of a settle–
ment. At the meeting some £45,000 worth of stock was represented and,
when the vote was taken, representatives of nearly £30,000 of the stock
were in favor of the Selkirk proposal. Andrew Wedderburn (not yet having
changed his name to Colvile), with nearly £4,500 stock, was a Selkirk
supporter.

George Simpson

Since agricultural settlements and the fur trade cannot occupy the
same area at the same time, it was to be expected that the Nor'Westers
would oppose Selkirk. Hastily Alexander Mackenzie [q.v.], and others
began purchasing stock, but their investment, garnered within forty eight
hours of the meeting, represented less than £2,500.
The Red River Settlement is a separate story. Its mishaps, its trage–
dies and catastrophes had it an impact on life in Rupert's Land forever
after but cannot be told here.
Returning to the strictly trade struggles between the fur companies,
by 1820 both companies were in financial straits and were faced with the
choice of union or ruin. Because the Hudson's Bay Company had behind it
the legality of a charter, although that legality was being challenged,
and because it had a managerial structure in London, its name was retained
at the union agreement which was signed March 26, 1821. Forty shares were
set aside for field officers, sub-divided into eighty five shares, two for
each chief factor and one for each chief trader. The clerks, whose ranks
Simpson was joining, were paid small salaries and, on the average, waited
fourteen years before promotion to chief trader. Simpson, coming as a
clerk, had already escaped the still lowlier status of a five year term
as apprentice clerk.
The country was divided into Departments, of which the Northern was the
largest and most important, embracing the area between the Arctic Ocean
on the north, the United States on the south, Hudson Bay on the east, and
the Pacific Ocean on the west. The Southern Department extended from
James Bay southward to Upper and Lower Canada. "Departments such as these,"
says Merk, "were principalities."
They were not destined to be departmentalized for long. William Williams,
at the time of union, was given the post of Governor; later the command was
divided, to Williams going the Southern and Montreal sections, to Simpson

George Simpson

the vastly larger Northern Department. In 1826, Williams was recalled
to England and Simpson was given complete charge.
The selection of a young and relatively untried man for so import–
ant a post was startling to Simpson's contemporaries and has been a
cause for speculation ever since. Some advance the theory that he had
not been involved in the always storng and often bloody struggles be–
tween the former enemies and thus was acceptable to both sides. Others
call it the happy combination of the man and the moment. This writer,
however, discards both theories.
For the first theory, the most casual reading of Simpson's "Journal
of Occurrences" will reveal that he was indeed involved in the trade war.
One of the occurrences took place at Fort Wedderburn in October, 1820,
and involved the arrest by Simpson of Simon McGillivray, whose connections
were high in the councils of the Nor' Westers. His detention in jail be–
came a cause celebre throughout the entire country.
Simpson, naturally, did not make the arrest himself. He had no power
to do so. While discussions between him and McGillivray were in progress,
Mr. Grignon, "a Contstable for the District of Montreal. . . unexpectedly
arrived." On learning the circumstances of the case (the beating of James
Taylor, a Hudson's Bay employee, by George Linton, employed by the North
West Company), Grignon informed Simpson "that he had a Warrant in his pos–
session against said Simon McGillivray and would by virtue of that instru–
ment apprehend him." The interesting part of this story is recorded in
Rich's footnote to the Journal which points out that Grignon was also a
clerk in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company and the very one of whom
Simpson had earlier complained that he could neither read nor write!
McGillivray was arrested "in the Kings name," the Hudson's Bay Company
servants assisting the constable when the Nor' Westers resisted. On
Octorber 23, Nor'Wester George Keith wrote Simpson demanding McGillivray's

George Simpson

immediate release. Simpson piously replied that the Company had nothing
to do with the case. "A Contstable of the District of Montreal did how–
ever apprehend and now detains him by virtue of a Warrant in his posses–
sion, and some of the people belonging to this establishment being called
upon to assist him in the Kings name, they necessarily complied."
The answer did not satisfy Keith. "That a Contstable of the District
of Montreal should arrest a person in the Indian Territories of British
America and detain him as a Prisoner, except in cases of the highest crim–
inality of which Mr. Simon McGillivray, Junr. is perfectly innocent, is
certainly an absolute mockery of all Law and Justice." In return Simpson
advised Keith to refer to Grignon for any further information. The con–
tents of Keith's letter "have been communicated to him" and he was satis–
fied with the legality of the proceedings.
The "happy combination of the man and the moment" theory fares even
worse when scrutinized closely. We have seen that Simpson entered the
Company as a clerk in 1820, an upgrading before he left London since he
skipped the apprenticeship period. The prospects of the ordinary employee
are well described by Pinkerton.
"The system of selecting apprentice clerks was given much thought in
London but it received far more careful attention in Canada. The train–
ing was long. The contract called for five years with a payment of
twenty pounds the first year, twenty five the second, thirty the third
and then two raises of ten pounds each. If the apprentice had displayed
the necessary qualifications, he was reengaged for three years at seventy
five pounds a year and at the end of eight years in the service received
one hundred pounds. He was then capable of taking charge of a post or
to be accountant. A chief tradership was open to him, and was won on

George Simpson

merit, as was the ultimate goal, a chief factorship."
In 1825, when, according to this slide rule of promotion, apprentice
clerks with the same length of service were receiving £50 per annum, and
full-fledged clerks £75, Simpson wrote the directors thanking them for
his £500 bonus and the increase in his salary of £200 a year.
This writer, therefore, concludes that at the time he left England, os–
tensibley as a clerk, he really was an investigator with wide powers of
discretion, secure in the knowledge of what was ahead for him. He had, it
is true, no fur trade experience. He didn't need it. The clerks, the
traders, the factors, through their weedings out and slow promotions, had
that. He did have counting house experience and that flair for business
which equipped him to deal with profits and the ways by which they could
be increased or dissipated and, before leaving London, he must have dis–
played enough of that single-minded devotion to the Company which became
his outstanding characteristic to convince the directors that here was
the man on whom they could absolutely rely.
How else can one explain that of all the employees, from Governor Wil–
liams down, he was the only one free to put his recommendations into force
without waiting for London approval? For instance, at one post he found
Indians whose credit had been over-extended and who were saddled with debts
they could not possibly repay. Immediately he reduced the indebtedness by
one half and future credit by one quarter. At another, he found "Sandwich
Islanders," through a literal interpretation of Company rules, receiving
the £17 per annum minimum wage of a laborer, although they had formerly
been working for their board and keep. Since they were not fitted to do
the heavy work of laborers, the situation was causing dissatisfaction
among the laboring force. He immediately reduced the islanders' wages to
£10 per annum and everyone was satisfied. There were many other on-the–
spot decisions affecting Company finances and policies which no other em-

George Simpson

ployee would have dared to make. He even advised the London office to
be sure undesibrables in the North West Company were weeded out at any
future union of the two companies "otherways the reputation of the Honble.
Hudson's Bay Coy. will suffer an indelible stain."
If one accepts this premise, it becomes reasonable that, after a few
months as clerk at Red River, Governor Williams "entrusted" Simpson with
charge of the Athabasca Division, a territory with many posts and their
factors and traders and clerks. From that point his record is one of
constant travel and, until 1833 when the Company bought him a house at
Lachine, he had no fixed place of residence.
On July 30, 1820, he began the journal of his first journey at Rock
Depot and concluded it June 19, 1821 at Norway House. During his tour of
Athabasca posts he proved his ability to master the discomforts of local
methods of travel but his suggested improvements of business methods are
so rudimentary that they must have made the shareholders squirm.
While the equipment of the Nor'Westers was in excellent condition, Com–
pany canoes were in a "crazy state" with no materials to patch them. He
suggests sheds to protect canoes from the elements and to permit repairs
during unfavorable weather. Where natives near a post depend on fisheries
for their food supply, twine should be stocked to repair their nets.
Fine goods should be boxed to prevent damage by wet. Goods should be
plainly labeled and packaged separately for each post. He found them
"higledy pigledy," making it necessary to open all packages at each post
to find its particular assignment. Employee contracts should be made in–
land during the winter and for a period of at least two, and preferably
three years. At that time they were made in summer when brigades were
ready to start and "when they find that we absolutely require their services,
they take advantage of their market." Cargoes should include goods on

George Simpson

which voyageurs would want to spend money. This would reabsorb their wages.
He also, then and elsewhere, found padded payrolls with children between
the ages of six and ten, drawing laborer's wages and men, among them
"Contstable Grignon," in responsible positions though they could neither
read nor write.
Passengers who took up cargo space particularly incurred his wrath.
This he promised to correct forthwith and it was one of his few failures
for he was forced to conclude that many employees were more concerned
with family affairs than with those of the Company. Some of the seasoned
factors, on the other hand, encouraged clerks and hunters to take their
families with them for wives and children were a stabilizing influence
on the men, while the wives, native women, made themselves useful in the
matter of camp making and cookery. Simpson, however, thought well
enough of his theory that pressure of company business postponed his own
thoughts of marriage for seven years.
He was not, however, without certain connubial comforts. The early
custom among Company employees was to take to themselves native women for,
until they reached chief factorship, none could afford a wife of his own
nationality. Many of these unions were permanent but, whether in matri–
mony or not, the upbringing of the children depended upon the sense of
responsibility felt by the father. One of the reforms carried out by
Simpson was the placing of financial responsibility, if not parental,
squarely upon the father and once he assumed management, no employee was
permitted to leave or retire from Company service without making adequate provision
for his offspring.
On his Athabasca circuit, while at Fort Wedderburn, the scene of his
encounter with Simon McGillivray, Jr., he met and found acceptable

George Simpson

Margaret, the half-breed daughter of George Taylor, captain of the Company
schooner at York Factory, whom he took to himself without benefit of matri–
mony in 1820. His children by [: ] this union, Maria, George, James and John,
were made Christian by baptism, and were watched over with such fatherly
care as his travels permitted, but, in spite of the efforts of the clergy
to unite co-habiting couples in holy Matrimony, no service was ever per–
formed. Maria was sent to Scotland to be educated and the boys were given
posts with the Company but did not distinguish themselves.
The astonishing vitality of Simpson was apparent to the Nor'Westers but
his executive ability seems to have escaped them. Willard Wenzel, who
spent most of his time in the Athabasca and Mackenzie districts as a win–
tering partner, writes on March 26, 1821, "Mr. Simpson, a gentleman from
England last spring, superintends their [the Hudson's Bay Company] busi–
ness. His being a stranger, and reputedly a gentlemanly man, will not create
much alarm, nor do I presume him formidable as an Indian trader."
After the first journey was concluded, Simpson kept in touch with the
posts by letters written in a conciliatory tone but all on the theme
"'tis Furs we now want, and it is by the number of packs alone that the
Govr and Committee can judge of the talents and merit of the Trader."
All were urged to "strain every nerve to stand high in their opinion."
During the period of Simpson's governorship, several expeditions were
searching for the North West Passage. His concern with them, however,
appears to be in direct ratio to the demands they made upon the Company.
On January 26, 1821, he wrote Robert McVicar, Chief Trader at Great Slave
Lake, "The Committee are anxious to render every facility and assistance
to the 'Discovery Expedition' consistent with the safety of their Trade,
but that is not to be sacrificed on any consideration." He particularly
resented the attitude of George Back, then a midshipman on the First

George Simpson

Franklin expedition. "That Gentleman seems to think that every thing
must give way to his demands. . . altho' the Company are anxious to
meet the views of those Gentlemen, their necessities are a very secondary
consideration of our own difficulties." His own whirlwind travels made
him contemptuous of Franklin. "The Officer who commands the party has
not the physical powers required for the labor of moderate Voyaging in
this country; he must have three meals p diem, Tea is indispensible, and
with the utmost exertion he cannot walk above eight miles in one day."
When, as said, on March 26, 1821 the rival fur companies were united
by Deed Poll, Simpson was assigned the job of reorganization. During
this period he is described by his [: ] contemporaries as affable,
pleasant, politic, and he did make every effort to win friends. The
long canoe route of the Nor'Westers from Montreal was discontinued. Com–
pany headquarters was moved from Fort William on Lake Superior to Norway
House, just above the north end of Lake Winnipeg. York Factory was re–
duced to the status of a shipping depot. Duplicate or unprofitable posts
were moved or abandoned.
Between 1821 and 1825, he reduced the number of employees from 1983
to 827; wages were cut in half; the transportation system was reorganized.
He was well aware of the deleterious effect of liquor upon the Indians and
steps were taken to curtail its use. However, like Back's necessities,
Indian welfare was subordinated to Company business. There were tribes
which preferred their own mode of life and for whom beads and blankets
had no appeal. The Plain Indians, who supplied pemmican, for example,
were "a bold independent race, Dress entirely in skins and with them To–
bacco and Spirits are the principle commodities; a Quart of Mixed Liquor
will at all times procure more Pounded Meat and Grease than a Bale of
Cloth, indeed our whole profit in that Trade is upon those articles."

George Simpson

He hopes that in its work of reform, the Committee will take this into
consideration and not make premature decisions.
During this period also the regular yearly councils of chief factors
were held during the summer season. Theoretically, in council the fac–
tors had the power to regulate trade, discipline [: ] employees, re–
commend promotions and retirements. By a two thirds vote, they could
even override the Governor. Nowhere else was Simpson's talent s as a
politician so well displayed. Affable, conciliatory, purposefully de–
termined to be fair, he managed to set faction against faction and to
learn from each the plans of the other. In 1822, for instance, he
thwarted the plan of what he called "indolent inactive Chief Factors on
both sides to form a party for the purpose of keeping each other in their
'snug and comfortable' places & have things their own way." His report,
made to Andrew Colvil l e on September 5, won a letter from Colvile ex–
pressing pleasure at the proceedings and with Simpson's "correct view."
Season Little by season little , Council members learned that actually they had
little authority. Their decisions were subject to London approval and,
since Simpson represented London, it became apparent that proposals con–
trary to his would have small chance of success while his proposals,
whether they agreed or not, were more than likely to be translated into
instructions. A case in point is that of John Haldane, one of two chief
factors in the Columbia Department on the Pacific Coast. On September 5,
1822, Simpson named him as one of those most active in the plan to keep
"indolent" men in soft berths, and suggested he would be more useful in
the Southern Department. On March 10, 1823, the London Committee removed
him from the Columbia and put him in charge of posts on Lake Superior.
During Council meetings, Simpson continued affable and friendly. He
continued to ask advice and took it when it suited him which led at least
one of the factors to conclude that [: ] opinions were asked merely to

George Simpson

gratify curiosity.
By the latter part of 1823, reorganization of the Athabasca Division
was well enough in hand to let Simpson hope that he might return [: ] home
to be married. Colvile, however, frankly wrote him that reorganization
of the Columbia Department was his next concern and that a wife at that
[: ] stage would only be an embarrassment to him. He therefore duti–
fully turned his attention to the west.
The New Caledonia and Columbia River posts had been established by the
North West Company which, following the failure of John Jacob Astor's
"Astoria" in 1812, enjoyed practically uncontested trade. Astoria, renamed
Fort George, was the chief post, with others at the present sites of Spokane
and Walla Walla.
The area in question, that of the Columbia River, lay north of the Span–
ish boundary of California and south of the Russian boundary of Alaska and
was claimed by both Britain and the United States. Under a ten year agree–
ment, due to expire in 1828, any citizens of the United States were free to
trade but, by agreement between the British Government and the Hudson's Bay
Company, employees of the latter were the only British traders permitted.
The Honourable Company in London knew little of the vast territory they
had gained by the union. The one thing they did know, however, naturally
made them uneasy. In spite of the North West Company's near monopoly, it
had failed to make a profit from the area and, since no records on the sub–
ject have come to light, no certain reasons can be advanced. There was,
of course, competition from American trading ships but, as Simpson found
on his arrival, this alone did not explain the situation.
From the point of view of London, the boundary question was sure to be
settled eventually and occupation by their established posts would be a
strong point in favor of Britain. They therefore advised Simpson, in a
letter dated February 1822, that "if by any improved arrangement the loss

George Simpson

can be reduced to a small sum, it is worth a serious consideration, whether
it may not be good policy to hold possession of that country with a view to
protecting the more valuable districts to the North of it." They also felt
that the honor of the Company would be compromised by withdrawal from an
area in which it held exclusive privilege.
Simpson left York Factory August 15, 1824 and, in October, at the forks
of Spokane River he met Chief Trader Peter Skene Ogden and Clerk John Work
who reported that on the coast the Company affairs were going as usual.
This could not have reassured Simpson, armed as he was with information that
the department was mismanaged and neglected. And so it proved to be.
The Snake River post was in charge of Alexander Ross, whom he character–
ized as "a self sufficient empty headed man." He offered future development
of the area to Ogden, who accepted, and sent Ross to Red River as a school
teacher. Ross afterwards became Sheriff of the colony and his books about
the settlement are quite critical of the Company.
In the Spokane District, he found that while the country offered the best
of fare, since the land was suited for farming and the streams had an abundance
of fish, the people had such an "extraordinary predeliction for European pro–
visions" that two or three extra boats per s season were needed to carry them.
The same was true at Thompson's River and Nez Perces [Walla Walla]. Trans–
port of these luxuries required the hiring of thirty five to forty extra
men. In spite of protests, he advised the traders to hoard their present
stocks as future supplies of delicacies would be scanty.
At Fort George he reported "an appearance of grandeur and consequence
which does not become an Indian trading post." Everything was on an extended
scale expect the trade. [It will be remembered, however, that the Nor'Westers
did not build Fort George. It was part of the dream of an American citizen,
John Jacob Astor, with whose operations the war of 1812 had interfered.]

George Simpson

Shelves were loaded with useless items which would never bring in furs.
Finding that during the past three years, trade goods, provisions and
luxuries had averaged 645 pieces (of 90 lbs. each), and that 462 of these
were provisions and luxuries, he reduced the complement to 200 pieces
which must cover everything.
The Columbia Department fascinated Simpson. The richness of the land
and its potential bounty, its possibilities for development so long ne–
glected, were a challenge. On March 16, 1825, he wrote: "I can scarcely
account for the extraordinary interest I have taken in its affairs, the
subject engrosses my attention almost to the exclusion of every other,
in fact the business of this side has become my hobby and however painful
dangerous and harrassing the duty may be I do not know any circumstance
that would give me more real satisfaction and pleasure than the Honble
Committee's authority to take a complete survey of and personally super–
intend the extension and organization of their Trade on this Coast for
12 or 18 Months and if they do so I undertake to make its commerce more
valuable to them than that of either of the Factories in Rupert's Land."
One of the most urgent pieces of business confronting Simpson and
Chief Factor John McLoughlin at Fort George was that the site of the fort
did not serve the Company interests. Both realized that, whatever the
boundary settlement, the fort would be on the American side and a site
less open to dispute was needed. After bitter arguments between the two
men, Simpson preferring a more northerly retreat to Fraser River, and
McLoughlin insisting on the north bank of the Columbia. Simpson, in this
case, was right for the boundary, when settled, did not have the Columbia
as the dividing line. He had sent out an expedition to survey possibili–
ties on the Fraser which returned with an unfavorable report.

George Simpson

Simpson temporized (in 1828 Fort Langley, near the mouth of the Fraser
was erected) and Belle Vue, 90 miles up the Columbia, McLoughlin's choice,
was decided upon. On March 19, 1825, the new establishment was in shape
for dedication. At sunrise, Simpson "mustered all the people to hoist the
Flag Staff of the new Establishment and in presence of the Gentlemen,
Servants, Chiefs & Indians I Baptized it by breaking a Bottle of Rum on
the Flag Staff and repeating the following words in a loud voice, 'In
behalf of the Honble Hudson's Bay [: ] Coy I hereby name this Establishment
Fort Vancouver God Save King George the 4th' with three cheers. . . The
object of naming it after that distinguished navigator is to identify our
claim to the Soil and Trade with his discovery of the River and Coast on
behalf of Gt Britain. If the Honble Committee however do not approve the
Name it can be altered."
The site today is part of Vancouver, Washington. The [: ] writer
recommends Hussey for a scholarly yet lively presentation.
In 1829, Simpson was back at Norway house where he met on June 22 with the Northern
Council, and by the middle of August at Moose Factory where he met with the
Southern Council. Everything was cleared to his satisfaction and he then
embarked for England. "There can be no mistake about it now," says Morton,
"He was a Governor in search of a wife."
In 1830, he married his cousin, Frances Ramsay Simpson, daughter of his
uncle Geddes, who was presumably not the girl he had dreamed of in 1823
for at that time Frances was only eleven years old. She was eighteen when
they were married. He was, depending on which authority one takes, ferty
forty three or thirty eight years old. A proper settlement was made on
Margaret Taylor and she married one Amable Hogue.
The affair, however, had repercussions for Simpson's setting aside of
Margaret cast by inference reflections on those who had duly married half–
breed wives, some of whom, as in the case of the wife of James Douglas,
became Ladies on the knighthood of their husbands.

George Simpson

Of Frances and her life we know nothing except that she was gentle, amiable,
and, quite soon after her arrival, sickly. She bore the Governor three
children, one of whom died in infancy. It is an interesting commentary that,
while we know the names of Margaret Taylor's children, that Marie, the eldest,
was educated in Scotland, and that the boys were given opportunities with
the Company, though they did not distinguish themselves in the service,
there is as yet no published information on the children of Frances.
Simpson presumably loved his wife though he himself says that she en–
dured the nine months' illness before the birth of her first child "in
utter loneliness."
The effects of reorganization were not long in making themselves felt.
On April 12, 1827, John Siveright, ex-Nor'Wester, clerk at Coulounge, wrote Hargrave: "From
what I have seen Gov'r Simpson is as you say the real Gentleman & man of
business. The Canada business is undergoing a thorough reform greatly for
the interest of the Company. No change here yet, but it will come in
due course."
A chastened factor at New Caledonia, William Connelly, writes, on
February 28, 1829, that his shipment from Canada has not been received
but he suffers no inconvenience "as nothing can be less required here than
fine clothes — and I cannot conceive what Crotched lured me when I sent
the order for them." He expects to become a wonderful economist in time.
Alexander Ross, erstwhile manager at Snake River, now Sheriff at Red
River, writes on December 18, 1830: "The Gov. has been quite busy since
his arrival, several things have been on the carpet & among others, the
Colony old debts. They have been demanded with the voice of a whirlwind. . .
with slim regard to the people's abilities & conveniences."
About this time Simpson began to think of the hitherto unexplored
country above Upper Canada, called Ungava at the time and now part of

George Simpson

Labrador. He had heard that Moravian missionaries were planning to es–
tablish posts in the area in which fur trade and mission activities were
to be combined. Accordingly, to "ameliorate the condition of the natives,"
he sent John McLean, who had been in Company employ some ten years, to
Ungava in 1831 with instructions to establish a post. The mistake of im–
ported luxuries was not to be repeated here for McLean was instructed,
both en route and at the post, to live off the country. McLean established
Fort Chino, made many fine journeys and later became one of Simpson's most
bitter critics. His opinions and grievances are aired in a book, " Notes
on a Twenty-five Year's Service in the Hudson's Bay Territory
, published
in London in 1849 after he had left the service.
It will be remembered that at the annual Councils matters of finances
were discussed. This was important to factors and traders who received no
salaries and depended on dividends from their shares. It is true that the
dividends were computed, as were the stockholders', on an over-all profit
but, just as the manager of a present-day chain store branch wants to know
how he stands in comparison with other branches, so did the factors and
traders want the same information. By 1831, however, this information was
withheld. Siveright, by then a chief trader, on April 27, writes Harg [: ] ave,
"As regards Com'y affairs all is mystery at Lachine. I was not even told
if there was apparent profit or loss on F. Coulounge Outfit, last season.
Our Friend Cummings [then chief trader at Mingan on the Gulf of St. Lawrence]
hints as much as if it was the same with him." Over-all Company dividend
in 1830 was 10% and a 10% bonus was paid. The same was the case in 1831.
Duncan Finlayson, brother-in-law of Mrs. Simpson and chief factor at
Fort Vancouver, March 10, 1832, indicated a wry acceptance of the new
order of things. He asks for a supply of the proper forms for reporting
on orders to England but cannily seeks to check on the universality of

George Simpson

austerity measures by inquiring politely the daily or weekly allowance of
"provisions and luxuries" to officers' families at York Factory.
In 1835, "Standing Rules and Regulations" were issued providing, among
other things, that furs killed by, or in the possession of Company officers
and servants were Company property; that dogs, cattle, horses could not be
purchased on private accounts; that clerks and servants might purchase horses
which were necessary in the pursuit of their duties but on removal or re–
tirement must re-sell them to the Company. The amount of personal baggage
was severely curtailed and factors were held personally liable for goods
damaged through carelessness in transit.
Of Rule 19, "That no Gentleman be permitted in future to deviate from
the number and classification of people determined on in Council to be
employed in the business of the District," Donald Ross, chief trader since
1829 and in charge of Norway House for many years, writes Hargrave, February 1836,
"Chief factors grumble and growl in private but in Council are 'mute as
Lambs' — indeed some of our standing Rules of last season appear to me of a
very extraordinary nature and those who consented to them may [: ] well be
accused of not understanding their own just rights or interests — I allude
more particularly to the resolve which authorises the accountant to charge
sums of money to individual accounts without any value received — this in
my humble belief is an authority that even a Governor does not possess —
I understand that I figure under this resolve already on account of the extra
wages of the fishermen employed in the District — you will of course have
to bear me company this year as you have engaged Anderson as a Bowsman when
no Bowsman was required, never mind, it is only £2.
On April 17, 1835, Chief Trader James McMillan, from Lake of Two Mountains, complains
that orders are so strict that not even newspapers may be carried to the
posts. "This is carrying things to rather a pitch that can hardly be agree-

George Simpson

able to poor fellows in the country who wish for news." As in the case
of women and children taking up cargo space, this ruling was seldom obeyed.
The factors and traders were great readers, exchanged books and newspapers
and managed to keep themselves fairly well informed on world affairs.
Edward Smith, Chief Factor, on December 28, from Fort Chipewyan re–
ports, "We are cliped and shorn of every thing." He mentions that freight
charges have been increased 5% and can see no reason for it since improved
methods of transportation must have reduced costs.
John Rowand, at Edmonton, on December 29, is sarcastic about the re–
fusal to ship him blankets and says it is a pity that the neat piles
should "be tutchd or deranged." However, if the Company officers could
watch the trading ways of the Americans they might change their minds.
In 1834, the dividend was 10% with no bonus; in 1835, 10% and 5%
bonus.
Furs continued to dwindle and in 1840 the regulations were even more
drastic. Rowand, on July 8, complains, "you made a bad law here depriv–
ing a man of a little sugar & charging for what he takes 25 per ct. more —
all these new laws is far from being advantages." In 1839, dividends and
bonus totaled 23%, and in 1840 15%.
Things unknown to the factors and traders, with all their knowledge
of happenings in the British Isles, were influencing development of the
Company policies. One of the most important was , the development in
France in 1839 , of a silk hat to take the place of the hitherto standard
beaver. Imports of beaver to the continent [: ] dwindled quickly upon this
quirk of fashion. For another thing, equally unknown to those north of
the border, Simpson, in a valiant effort to stem the tide of American
pioneers, sent brigades into the fur countries to denude them, and thus,
as he misread the minds of homesteaders, make them less attractive.

George Simpson

Among the Americans of whom we have record, one brigade met with Kit
Carson and traveled with him to the Sacramento River. Others penetrated
deep into Colorado, still others into Missouri. North of the border,
factors were placed on quota in many areas, with dismissal the penalty
for buying more than their allotment. To pacify the Officers, however,
a premium was placed on small furs, other than beaver, that the Indians
might bring in.
In 1841, Simpson was in London where he was knighted by Queen Vic–
toria in January. He arrived back at Rupert's Land in March to begin his
journey around the world two months later. Much of 1841 was spent
traveling across the country and his eyes were turned steadily south.
His economy measures were still in effect and still stringent. On August 17,
Donald Ross wrote Hargrave from Norway House complaining that luxuries have
been cut off from the interior as well as the west coast. Says Ross, "as
for cutting off fineries , you will never make a profit by that , take my word
for it — unless you can prove that it is cheaper for us to pay our people
in cash than in goods."
During these years, several Arctic expeditions had left Great Britain,
most of them searching for the North West Passage or for missing Passage
searchers. In 1837, the directors decided to send out an expedition under
Company auspices. M a cKay says the Company was tired of the brief words of
gratitude in the inevitable book. M a cKay and others regard as a considera–
tion the fact that the Company charter would be up for renewal in a few
short years and a good show of exploration would be highly desirable.
The men chosen for this venture were Thomas Simpson, cousin of George,
and Peter Warren Dease, a seasoned factor. The story of Thomas is told at
length elsewhere in this Encyclopedia . He had come to Rupert's Land in
1829, partly on the urging of his cousin, partly because his half-brother
Aemilius and his brother Alexander were employed in the fur trade, but

George Simpson

mainly because his funds would not permit him to become a doctor of medicine,
which was the career of his choice, nor could he compatibly finance the in–
terval between graduation from divinity school and a rectorship, which was
the family choice for him. He accepted the post of secretary to the Governor
and traveled frequently with him. His journeys between 1836 and 1839 closed
an important gap in the knowledge of the northern American coast. He was
prepared to continue his exploratory work but was recalled by the Governor
for reasons which have not yet come to light. Both on his own initiative
and at the Governor's request, he was en route to England when he met an
untimely end. His lack of success with his cousin in the furtherance of
northern work may well have been because George had turned his eyes southward.
As said, the Oregon boundary had not been determined and both the United
States and Britain were operating under an agreement signed in 1818, due to
expire in 1828 and renewed in that year for another ten year period. This
was political temporizing and both nations knew it. Eventually the question
must be settled.
In the meantime, however, occupation by citizens of either country would
further that country's claim. Spurred on by the Foreign Office in London and
by his own ambitions for the Company, Simpson ordered the establishment of
Fort Vancouver [now Vancouver, Washington] on the north bank of the Columbia,
and made it more than a fur-trading post. Here he developed agriculture and,
in 1839, formed the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary corpora–
tion in which some of the London directors and most of the Rupert's Land
officers held shares.
In the same year, 1839, on April 15, the Taar of Russia had sanctioned
withdrawal of the Russian American Company from California. Relations be-

George Simpson

between the Company and the Russians were amicable, once Company exploratory
parties had been dislodged by gunboats from encroachments on Russian territory,
and, later, a business-like lease had been signed. In 1840, the Company con–
tracted to supply the Russian post at Sitka, and the Russians offered their
California properties for $30,000. The offer was declined and was later ac–
cepted by Captain John Sutter. The Company shortly afterwards established
its own post at Yerba Buena, on San Francisco Bay, with William Glen Ray, a
son-in-law of John McLoughlin, Chief of the Columbia Division, in charge.
Ray's political activities were such as to arouse the suspicion of
Thomas O. Larkin, U.S. Consul at Monterey, and became the subject of corre–
spondence between Larkin and James Buchanan, then Secretary of State. He
had first supported the cause of the Californians against Mexico, had changed
his mind and supported the Mexican governor, Micheltorena, against the Cali–
fornians, and when Micheltorena lost, Ray shot himself. The post was closed
and was not reopened.
In May, 1841, Simpson started his journey around the world, traveling
across Canada, spending a month at Red River and, in general, maintaining a
fast pace. He traveled in a style which had become his trademark — in the
lead canoe, with the Company pennant flying, its rampant beavers proclaiming
"Pro Pelle Cutem" [Skin for Skin]. Piper and buglers provided each landing
with color, dash and eclat. Thus he had always traveled, with voyageurs
picked for appearance, endurance and speed. Boats stopped at the last bend
in the river, where the crew would change from toil stained clothes to regalia,
and Simpson to his dark suit, black stock, white collar and beaver hat.
He arrived at Fort Vancouver on August 26, and, with James Douglas, made
"a flying visit" around the coast as far as Sitka. No mention is made of
what transpired at Sitka, and their reappearance at Vancouver on September 15
led Charles Ross to comment that the Governor "is a most indefatigable
man — but I'm sorry to perceive that he seems to be breaking down. A

George Simpson

little rest I think would now do him no harm, and probably he himself
begins to think so too."
The Governor, however, was not minded to rest. Leaving the Company
territories, both those held and hoped for, he journeyed via the Cowlitz
into California waters. Here he disapproved of every settlement he
visited, except Santa Barbara. In San Franciso, for instance, a naturally
lazy population was further corrupted by the bounty of Providence, by a
superabundance of cattle and horses, "by the readiness, in short, with
which idleness can find both [: ] subsistence and recreation."
At Sonoma, where they tried to do their best for him, he carped be–
cause the only tolerable furniture in his quarters was imported from
the Sandwich Islands. "This was California all over — the richest and
most influential individual in a professedly civilized settlement obliged
to borrow the means of sitting from savages." [It is only fair to inject
here that when the Governor reached the Sandwich Islands, he found the
natives not so savage.]
At Santa Barbara, Simpson found things more to his liking because,
"among all the settlements as distinguished from the rascally pueblos,
Santa Barbara possesses the double advantage of being both the oldest and
the most aristocratic." What he meant by aristocratic he explains in the
next [: ] sentence or two. The houses are well built, maintained, and
kept in order, and labor is hired to keep them so.
In Monterey, he met Francis Ermatinger, an employee spying for the
Company in the disguise of a Spanish Don. Ermatinger reported faithfully
on conditions in northern California through which he had traveled
extensively.
Analyzing conditions throughout the former Spanish colonies, Simpson
concluded: "There appears to be reasonable room for doubting whether

George Simpson

their independence has not cost them more than it is worth in an anarchy,
which, inherent as it seems to be in every man's mind, threatens to be as
durable as it is general. . . In truth, the emancipation of Spanish America
has been an unmixed good to the English races alone, for on them it has
conferred, not only the monopoly of the trade, but also, through such
monopoly, the virtual sovereignty of the country and of its adjacent oceans."
The English race, therefore, was destined "to add this fair and fertile
[: ] province to its possessions on the continent — possessions which,
during the last eighty years, have grown with unexampled rapidity. . .
[: ]
"The only doubt is, whether California is to fall to the British or the
Americans. The latter, whether one looks at their seizure of Texas or at
their pretensions to the Oregon, have clearly the advantage in an unscrupulous
choice of weapons, being altogether too ready to forget that the fulfilment
of even the most palpable decrees of Providence will not justify in man the
employment of unrighteous means."
England, however, had at her disposal righteous means of acquiring the
territory "without either force or fraud, without either the violence of
marauders or the effrontery of diplomats." Briefly, the Republic of Mexico
owed British subjects a debt of more than fifty million dollars. "By assum–
ing a share of this debt, on consideration of being put in possession of
California, England would at once relieve the republic and benefit the
creditors, while the Californians themselves would eagerly prefer this course
to the only possible alternative of seeing their country follow in the wake
of Texas."
Later, however, he was to change his mind. The Californians were in such
anxiety over possible annexation by the United States that the more presence
of a British cruiser and its offer of protection would secure the area to
England without financial or other consideration.

George Simpson

In February 1842, the Cowlitz reached Honolulu where Simpson paid his
respects to the native and foreign dignitaries and repaired to the house
which Mr. Pelly, the Company agent, had prepared for him. He abandoned his
diary entries and concentrated upon a study of the inhabitants and of con–
ditions throughout the islands.
At that time Great Britain, France and the United States had recognized
the sovereignty of the islands, making them secure against foreign interfer–
ence except, comments Simpson, "that from their position and the inexperience
of their rulers, they are peculiarly liable to come into collision with the
very powers that have guaranteed their independence." The white and half–
breed populations were increasing and already demanding changes in the con–
stitution drawn for the native people but which they did not feel was ap–
plicable to them. "Under that instrument," comments Simpson, "nearly all
authority is vested, either directly or indirectly, in the king; and he is
the very individual in the group who has the greatest interest in keeping
the foreigners in good humour, as being those from whom he derives the most
productive portions of his revenue." The position of the British consul
was particularly delicate since the native authorities were "known to be a
good deal under the irresponsible influence of American advisers."
Simpson had a solution for that problem, too. The first step was to
exercise great care in the selection of a consul, choosing a man who knew
how "to unite the gentle in tone with the firm in action." The second step
was to keep up national prestige. Visits of ships of war might easily "be
so regulated as always to hang over the heads of all whom it might concern."
Although Simpson's Narrative was not published in until 1847, rumors
of his opinions, both as to California and the Sandwich Islands, began to
spread throughout the United States. The Navy sent out its own investigator,
Archibald H. Gillespie, who, although a Marine officer, traveled in civilian

George Simpson

dress. Simpson's indoctrination of Mr. Pelly to be prepared for anything
presumably was taking effect for Gillespie, on April 15, 1846, reported to
the Secretary of the Navy from Honolulu that their Company construction
program was considerably larger than the trade warranted. He considered
this expansion singular in view of the fact that most imports for from these
warehouses would come from Oregon and the boundary question had not yet
been settled. Pelly he characterized as "shrewd and politic," disliking
Americans and cultivating native authorities by flattery.
At the end of March, 1842, the Cowlitz left Honolulu and headed for
Russian America, reaching New Archangel on April 16, where Simpson was
hospitably received by Governor Etienne Etholin. Here, at last, he was
back in the fur trade environment. Etholin had placed a house at his dis–
posal but, finding that the vessel in which he was to proceed to Okhotsk
would not sail until much later than he had expected, Simpson decided to
visit the Company post established at Stikine on land leased from the Russians.
Etholin placed a Russian vessel at his disposal to pilot the Cowlitz
and on April 23, both vessels reached Stikine. From the sea, they noted
that both Russian and British flags were flying at half mast which aroused
great apprehension. On landing, Simpson found complete demoralization.
John McLoughlin, Jr., in charge of the post, had been murdered five days
earlier by a Canadian, Urbain Heroux. The leaderless employees were in a
state of almost complete insubordination. Outside the fort, two thousand
Indians were waiting to take possession of it and its stores, including
its ammunition, with which they could have endangered every other post.
The presence of two vessels, however, effectively stopped these plans.
Simpson talked with the native leaders who assured him that the attack on
the fort was the idea of some rash youths and contrary to the advice of
their elders. They promised good conduct thereafter. Simpson took Heroux
prisoner but the problem then was what to do with him. Canada's jurisdic-

George Simpson

tion did not extend into Russian America, but there was no operative Russian
[: ] tribunal and even if there had been, he was by no means sure that
"they would take any cognisance of a crime that did not concern them." He
therefore determined to take Heroux with him on the Cowlitz .
Order was restored to the Stikine post and the establishment was placed
in charge of a Mr. Dodd, chief mate of the Cowlitz , with "one Blenkinsop"
as assistant. The latter, "though merely a common sailor, was of regular
habits and possessed a good education."
Simpson's Narrative does not describe the fate of Heroux. Presumably
he brought him to New Archangel and turned him over to the Russian authori–
ties for later [: ] the two met at the Hot Baths w h ere Heroux was a prisoner
at large.
The Cowlitz and the Russian ship returned to Sitka which they reached
on Saturday, April 30, Cowlitz time. However, Russian America was on Russian time
and the day and date were Sunday, April 18. Since the party would thenceforward be
traveling on the days of the Russian calendar, Simpson adopts it for his own
reminding British readers that they can arrive at their own time merely by
adding twelve days.
The difference in this case, however, was more than a more twelve days.
Sunday, April 18, was Easter Sunday, no matter what those on the Cowlitz
thought about it, and the ceremonial Russian observance was new to a Simpson
who, in the early days and some not so early, of his governorship had resist–
ed the advent of missionaries of any faith because they interfered with work
on Sunday. He joined in the Sunday prayers and on those of Monday and Tuesday.
He attended services in which lasted three hours in churches which had no
pews. He ran the gantlet of kissing which followed the joyous "Christ has
risen," and made the appropriate reply, "Yes, surely, He has risen." Some
of the kisses were pleasant enough but there were those which were not. In
short, by Wednesday he was relieved and pleased that normal business opera-

George Simpson

tions could be resumed.
He then made the rounds of the establishment, conducted by an American
named Moore who was in the Russian employ. The practised eye of the account–
ant becomes evident. "For the amount of business done, the men, as well as
officers, appear to be unnecessarily numerous." Sitka is "pre-eminently the
most wretched and most dirty" of all the places he has seen. Governor
Etholin, "whose whole management does him infinite credit, sees the evil, and
is introducing many improvements which, when completed, will materially pro–
mote the comfort and welfare of the lower classes."
On the credit side of the ledger, he approved the machine shop established
by Moore and the natives who ran it under his training, and the hospital which,
in its appointments, would "do no disgrace to England."
He journeyed to the hot springs baths some twenty miles north of New
Archangel and found a convalescent settlement, with cottages neat and snug.
Here, as said, he met Heroux, murderer of John McLoughlin, Jr. but walking
about on his own but "as secure as fetters and manacles could have rendered
him" since escape was almost impossible.
Returning to New Archangel, he found several vessels taking in cargo and
making preparations for their respective voyages. He counted thirteen ships,
steamers, barques, brigs and schooners. "The bustle, in fact, was sufficient
to have done credit to a third-rate seaport in the civilized world." Again
the mind of the accountant asserts itself. Why should so limited a business
require so many vessels? He asked and found the answer. In Russian America,
posts were widely scattered and the season was short.
One Russian practice won his unqualified approval. "By the regulations
of the Russian American Company, every nautical officer has an allowance for
the table, a captain receiving fifty roubles a month, and a mate twenty-five.
This system , might, I think, be introduced, with very great advantage, into
the commercial marine generally. At present, a skipper is hospitable at his

George Simpson

owner's cost. . . but, if the host had to supply everything [: ] himself out
of a limited sum, he would waste less of the ship's time in convivial enter–
tainments."
During his stay, he and Etholin, recognizing the implications of the
McLoughlin, Jr. affair in which drink had been a factor, signed a compact that
neither company would use spirituous liquors as an article of native trade.
On May 9, Simpson's party left New Archangel on the Russian ship Alexander
and, after a voyage of twenty seven days, entered the Sea of Okhotsk. Some
days later they were able to land at the Russian post of Okhotsk where Captain
Colovin, of the Russian Navy, in charge of the post, received them hospitably.
On June 27, they left Okhotsk for their cross-country journey to St. Petersburg.
They were escorted to Yakutsk by a guide named Jacob, and were accompanied by
a Cossack and three Yakuts.
On this stretch, Simpson's flair for speedy travel met a sharp setback
for the pace, he soon learned, depended upon the rate of the slowest horse.
Relays of fresh horses were waiting for them along the way and they were
everywhere received hospitably. Whole villages turning out for their welcome.
By horseback, carriage and boat, their route took them from Yakutsk to
Irkutsk to Ekaterinsburg, Vladimir, Moscow and St. Petersburg, a distance
of about 7,000 miles accomplished in ninety one days. From St. Petersburg
they proceeded to Hamburg and London, which they reached December 31, 1842.
The entire journey had taken nineteen months and twenty six days.
Simpson's Narrative is disappointing in its entries for the Siberian
section for he does not discuss conditions with the meticulous attention to
detail given the Californians and the Sandwich Islanders. This is under–
standable for both the Company and the British Government were concerned
with conditions on the American coast where lay their possessions and prospects.
They had neither in Siberia.

George Simpson

It is conceded that world changes in the first half of the twentieth
century have been epochal. They were equally rapid, though not global,
in the first half of the nineteenth and the most spectacular were contained
within the North American continent. When Simpson had seen Vancouver Island
in 1828, he had not considered it especially important, except as a remote
bastion. At that time, the British Government was prepared to settle the
Oregon boundary question at the Columbia River, the southern shore to the
United States, the northern to the British. Simpson, accordingly, moved
Fort George and re-named it Fort Vancouver, placing it on the north bank,
making it, as we have seen, an agricultural establishment as well as a fur
post. His agreement with the Russian American Company to supply Sitka
effectively closed the door to competition of American trading ships.
Coupled with the ruthless exploitation of fur-bearers in what might eventually
be disputed area, he succeeded in retaining the Company monopoly and in
holding control in Company hands, and by all means in his power, he sought
to strengthen the British Foreign Office to insist upon the Columbia
River boundary.
The forces which defeated Simpson were those beyond his control. The
Machine Age was coming into the every day life of United States citizens.
Twenty years after the union of steam and water, steamships were on nearly
every lake and river, outmoding slower means of navigation, even the fastest
of canoes. Then came the railroads which made simple American migration to
the middle west, and from the middle west, the pioneers and their covered
wagons pressed onward, soon to be followed by ribbons of rail.
There had been early traders at Rainy Lake and Pembina, south of the
border, at the time of and after the union and, starting in 1836 Simpson
had paid them a subsidy of £300 per annum not to buy from Company natives
or half breeds. This kept the profit-producing personnel in control of

George Simpson

the Company on which they depended for trapping equipment and other supplies.
But, with the advent of steam, which brought new and more aggressive
competition, with steamboats plying the Mississippi, this control could not
endure. As in the earlier struggles with the North West Company, the entire
trade was undermined. Natives obtained credit from the Company against
their catch of furs but brought the catch to Pembina [in North Dakota, at
the International Boundary] where they could obtain better values in trade
goods and the whiskey which the Company by that time had denied them.
Stringent control regulations were established but, like the Prohibition
Amendment to be adopted in the next century in the United States, they did
more harm than good, and the London Board, on April 3, 1846, declared that
the regulations were "too artificial to be carried into practice and are
also, in some respects, erroneous in principle." Much milder rules were
put into the books.
Bad as this situation was, the Oregon situation was worse. Here was
not the mere question of trader vying with trader, but with two countries,
which had already fought two wars with each other, American settlers had
pushed westward to the Columbia and, in 1844, were attempting to form a
government of their own. Of the 3,000 population, not more than a third
were British. A legislature was formed, judges, [: ] magistrates and a
sheriff were chosen.
In the same year, James K. Polk, Democratic candidate, was elected
president, largely upon the slogan "Fifty-four forty or fight," i.e., the
Pacific coast to the Russian boundary, or war. Arbitration was proposed
by the British Government but was refused, the United States being private–
ly agreeable to accepting its first demands of a boundary at the 49th
parallel. The choice, then, was really the 49th parallel or else.
Simpson was called in on deliberations. He was in favor of the "or
else" but it soon became evident that a war over the Oregon boundary would

George Simpson

[: ] not be confined to that area but would involve the entire border.
Says Morton: "It [a war] could have brought nothing but disaster. . .
The British North American colonies were but sparsely settled and wholly
[: ] isolated the one from the other — trackless forested ranges between the
maritime colonies and Canada; a thousand miles of mountains and morasses
between Canada and the diminutive Red River Settlement, both areas without
access to the sea in winter; another thousand miles of practically unin–
habited prairie to the Rockies; and but a few bands of fur-traders in the
inaccessible Pacific Slope."
The Foreign Office accepted the 49th parallel, and the Treaty of
Oregon was signed in 1846.
Simpson had done everything possible, by keeping the British Govern–
ment informed, and it was not his fault that the [: ] Company had to
withdraw from the Columbia. As a master strategist, he had established
Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island and made it the main base of operations.
He had visions of a whaling trade, which did not develop. He did recog–
nize that, while the claims of the United States to the 49th parallel
boundary had no basis in history, citizens . the United States [: ] were the ones
who would furnish the population, and, from past knowledge, there was no
telling where their colonies would spread.
England sent Richard Blanchard out as governor of Vancouver Island
but, with the Company eontrolling all trade and employment, his stay was
short and James Douglas, factor at Fort Victoria, took over his duties.
Although George Simpson did not live to see the Company relinquish
its monopoly, he saw the spirit of the times chipping away at the fur
empire, sometimes chipping away in chunks. Not only did the process arise
with the land-hungry Americans. In Toronto capitalists were pressing for
union of Rupert's Land with Canada. After the union of the Hudson's Bay

George Simpson

and the North West Companies, the Ottawa-Lake Superior canoe route was
discontinued and no satisfactory alternative was developed. On the other
hand, there was regular communication between Red River and St. Paul and
from St. Paul to points east, west, and south. Simpson, himself, took
advantage of lower costs by routing some shipments via New Orleans. When
the U.S. Postal Service reached northern Minnesota, it was also used by
residents of Fort Garry.
The Oregon Boundary had taught Canadians that such services could
lead to political consequences, and the Toronto Board of Trade appealed
to the British Government to establish its own postal and telegraphic
services to British Columbia. In 1858, a service was begun which con–
nected Toronto and Fort Garry. Geared as it was to dog team and canoe,
it could not compete with the American route and was abandoned.
In the Far West, an even more potent factor was at work. At the
time of its establishment, Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island was con–
sidered by Simpson and others to be sufficiently far north to be beyond
the temptation of American settlers but, in 1858, rumors of gold on the
Fraser River brought hordes of gold seekers to the area. Tent cities
sprang up, the Company post was pressed for food and equipment. Sailors
deserted their ships, trappers gave up their hunts, and even Company
clerks joined the rush.
The Fraser strike did not have the permanence of that around Nome
but, taken as part of the whole, it also served to point up Company de–
pendence on a way of life that was fast disappearing.
The Company's charter was to come up for renewal in 1858, this time
with an important difference. Not only in Canada were there Canadians
who resented the barrier of Company lands to their expansion but sentiment
in England had begun to turn against far-flung monopolies. Within the
Parliament itself had come realization that if the United States had

George Simpson

chosen to fight rather than compromise on the Oregon Boundary question,
no defense could be made of Rupert's Land. So, in 1857, a full dress
inquiry was conducted . by a Select Committee of the House of Commons.
Henry Labouchere, secretary of state for the colonies, was chairman.
Other members were: Sir John Packington, secretary of state for war [: ]
[: ] and formerly secretary of state for the colonies; Lord
John Russell, who had been Prime Minister from 1840 to 1851; Lord Stanley,
member of the House for nearly thirty years; William Ewart Gladstone, re–
cently Chancellor of the Exchequer; Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, later
to be Chancellor of the Exchequer for Gladstone; John Arthur Roebuck, a
lawyer committed to policies of free trade. The printed evidence occupies
over five hundred pages.
Simpson, naturally, testified on behalf of the Company, declaring in
his zeal that the entire coast of British Columbia was unsuited to settle–
ment, that in the valley of the Saskatchewan only a "mere slip of land" on
the right bank of Rainy River could be cultivated. Such testimony is hard
to credit as the belief of an honest man but Simpson was unquestionably
giving the results of his own observations and MacKay points out that the
present large wheat areas of the prairie provinces were made possible only
when, much later, early ripening grains were developed. The Governor was
embarrassed when confronted with some of the lusher descriptions in his
Narrative and patently evaded the issues. Considering the crisp style of
his own letters, there are grounds for belief that the Narrative was worked
over by ghost writers and that the finished product did not reflect his own
opinions. Other than points where the question was one of settlements vs.
the fur trade, his testimony was clear and furnished valuable information.
The Governor returned to Lachine and, in the spring of 1859, he brought
up the question of retirement in a letter to the London Governor, H. H.
Berens. There was before him the necessity of a trip to the Pacific Coast

George Simpson

where, due among other things to the Fraser gold rush, things were in there was con–
fusion, but Simpson had to write Governor H. H. Berens in London that he
was not equal to the task. "In February next I shall have completed Forty
years Service with the Hudson's Bay Compy., I trust creditably to myself
and advantageously to the concern." During that time, Company affairs had
been his first consideration but now he must rest. "Moreover, I am unwill–
ing to hold an appointment, when I cannot descharge its duties to my own
satisfaction. I shall therefore make way for some younger man, who I trust
may serve the Compy. as zealously and conscientously as I have done."
His health was poor during the winter but by the spring of 1859, he
started on his usual journey to Norway House to hold the annual Council,
not by canoe with its picked crew of voyageurs but by train to St. Paul.
Arriving there, however, he felt unequal to going on and returned to La–
chine, where he began to wind up some of his business affairs.
In 1860 came the news that the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was
to visit Canada and in his honor the old days of the company were to be
revived. Simpson placed his home on Isle Dorval, three miles upstream from
Lachine, at the reception committee's [: ] disposal, and was co-host with
Sir Fenwick Williams, commander of the Montreal troops. At dinner the
Prince sat between them.
Earls, dukes, bishops, generals, admirals and dignitaries of lesser
rank were present and all turned out in the late afternoon to admire the
canoe fleet paddling in full panoply around the island to music of the
Royal Canadian Rifles' band. Later they embarked, the Prince in the lead
canoe which bore the royal standard, the others following close behind it.
Sir George was one of those who personally directed fleet movements.
This was his last public appearance. Three days later, on September 1,
1860, he was stricken with apoplexy and died on September 7. His body was

George Simpson

taken by train to Montreal and, on September 11, he was buried with honors
in Mount Royal Cemetary.
Some authorities consider that during his later years Simpson fully
realized the changing times and was prepared to accept the changes or com–
promise with them. His letter offering to make way for a younger man, how
ever, indicated that he did not for he was apparently seeing a successor
in his position . whose duties and responsibilities would be about the same
as his had been.
The spirit of the times and world events, however, were having their
impact upon the fur empire. Civil war in the United States, England un–
officially favoring the South, Russia the North, made the future of North
America wholly unpredictable. British Columbia had been made a crown
colony in 1858 but had no connection with Upper and Lower Canada on the
Atlantic seaboard, and there was acute dissatisfaction with the large wedge
of Rupert's Land which separated them and cut off their possibilities for
trade . with each other.
In London, the parliamentary inquiry of 1857 had opened the eyes of
British capitalists to opportunities which would be theirs once the charter
was abolished. "And," says Mackay, "in the gloomy board room of Hudson's
Bay House, London, with its age-blackened furniture and portraits, the
Governor and Committee sat tight and waited."
The intricacies of politics and policies, of play and counter-play
are not part of the Simpson story. Suffice it to say that in less than
ten years after his death, the Honourable Company yielded its feudal pro–
prietorship of Rupert's Land and Canada, as we now know it, had its beginning.

George Simpson

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BANCROFT, HUBERT HOWE, The Wor k s of. Vol. XXXII. History of British Columbia,
1792-1887. San Francisce, 1887

BRYCE, REV. GEORGE, D.D. Mackenzie, Selkirk, Simpson. The Makers of Canada, v.9
Terento, 1905.

CALIFORNIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY

v. xii 1933 The Russian Withdrawal from California. Clarence John DuFour.

v. xvii 1938 Gillespie and the conquest of California. With introduction by
George Walcott Ames, Jr.

v. xviii 1939 Proposals for the Colonization of California by England. Lester G.
Engelson.

v. xix 1940 The Origin of the Gillespie Mission. John Adam Hussey.

v. xxii 1943 Fur Brigade to the Bonaventura. Edited by Alice Bay Maloney.

GLAZEBROOK, G. P. deT. A History of Transportation in Canada. Foreword by H. A.
Innis. Toronto, 1938.

THE HARGRAVE CORRESPONDENCE, 1821-1843. Edited with Intreduction and Notes by
G. T. deGlazebrook. Toronto, 1938.

HUSSEY, JOHN ADAM, Preliminary Survey of the History and Physical Structure of
Fort Vancouver. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Region Four, n.d.

MACKAY, DOUGLAS, The Honourable Company. Indianapolis and New York, 1936.

PECK, ANNE MERRIMAN, The Pageant of Canadian History. New York and Toronto, 1943.

PINKERTON, ROBERT E., Hudson's Bay Company. New York, copyright 1931.

SIMPSON, GEORGE Journal of Occurrences in the Athabasca Department, 1820 and 1821.
Toronto, 1938.

_____ Narrative of a Journey Round the World during the years 1841 and 1842.
London 1847.

______ Fur Trade and Empire. George Simpson's Journal. Edited with an Introduction
by Frederick Merk. Cambridge, 1931.

George Simpson Bibliography 2

SIMPSON, ALEXANDER, Life and Travels of Thomas Simpson. London, 1845.

SIMPSON, THOMAS, Narrative of Discoveries on the North Coast of America.
London, 1843.

SKINNER, CONSTANCE LINDSAY, Discoverers of Oregon: A Chronicle of the
Fur Trade. Chronicles of America Series, Vol. 22, 1921.

STEFANSSON, VILHJALMUR, Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic. New York, 1938.

Genevieve N. Shipman
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