David Thompson’s Narrative 1784-1812.

The second edition of 1962 has a new Introduction, followed by Tyrrell’s original “David Thompson’s Itinerary in North-Western Americana, 1785-1812.” From the outset of this new Introduction, Glover is critical of the critics of the HBC, for example Hearne, Thompson, and Umfreville, as well as of the hagiographers of those traders and authors, e.g. even Tryrell could sink to writing that Thompson bore continuously “the white flower of the blameless life”, and lesser men wrote still worse stuff” (p. xii). Grover is a stylish and provocative writer, and few escape his ascerbic pen.

p. xvi-xvii, apropos Umfreville: This was Edward Umfreville, a man in whom the virtues of sobriety, industry and hardihood were blended with a quarrelsomeness so vindictive as to make it impossible for anyone to get on with him in his own day or for any historian to trust his unsupported word in our day.

p. xxxvii, in a letter of 1 June, 1797, from Thompson to Joseph Colen of the HBC, covering some of Thompsons grievances against the Company, he: … goes on to complain that “before you went to England I had always a Letter and Books from the Co., since then neither the one nor the other, and I have been put the whole winter to the greatest inconvenience for want of a Nautical Almanac”; and from this point on it degenerates for its last ten lines or so into something very close to personal abuse.

p. xxxxviii, Thompson wrote a second letter that day to the whole Council at York Factory concerning books and instruments, : just as he was quitting the HCB for the North West Co.”


As I am now in the employ of the N.W. Co. from Canada you may perhaps not think it consistent with your Duty to send my Books, Mathematical Instruments &c&c to Cumberland House, should this be the case you will please to reship them for England: tho I must confess I am utterly at a loss to know how the reading of books for observing the Motions of the heavenly Bodies can be detrimental to the Interest of the Honble Hudson’s Bay Company — :

… it is natural to conclude that these were new books and instruments which Thompson had ordered from London, for if they were not, it is hard to see to whom they could be reshipped in London. His pauper mother would have scant use for second-hand articles of this kind; but London tradesmen could accept unopened parcels of goods which could not be delivered. Thirdly, “the reading of Books” occupied a good deal of Thompson’s time whenever it could be done; for one observes his gratitude for books lent him at Churchill by William Jefferson, the deputy governor, and by Prince, the sloopmaster, and how “among them were several on history and animated Nature, these where what I paid most attention to as the most instructive”; also his comment on the intellectual barrenness of Cumberland House — “here again no book, not even a bible”; and outside Thompson’s own records Alexander Henry is found in 180 making up a canoe load of “23 packs and one bundle of Mr. Thompson’s books”. At that point Thompson would seem to have had many books and the number lying waiting for him at York Factory in 1797 may easily have been bulky for, at a £60 salary, we would well afford them. Fourthly, such an order of books and instruments must have been delivered at York on the 1796 ship the latest date at which it could have arrived if it was already there when Thompson wrote about it on 1 June, 1797. It is also evident that it had not been sent on to Thompson with Malcolm Ross in 1796 and his language shows he was bitter at not having received it.

p. 55, while Thompson was at Cumberland House: At the latter end of August [1788]Mr. Tomison came with the canoes and goods and left three men and myself to trade and pass the winter, for at this time this house had a valuable trade of about twenty five packs of fine furrs, each of ninety pounds weight. In the beginning of October two canoes arrived from York Factory, bringing Messs Philip Turnor, Hudson and Isham, the former to survey the country to the west end of Athabasca Lake with Mr. Hudson for his assistant, the latter to take his [Hudson’s] place as a furr trader. This was a fortunate arrival for me, as Mr. Turnor was well versed in mathematics, was one of the compilers of the nautical Almanacs and a practical astronomer. Under him I regained my mathematical education and during the winter became his only assistant and thus learned practical astronomy under an excellent master of the science. Mr. Hudson unfortunately for himself was too fond of an idle life, became dropsical and soon died.