In Search of the Magnetic North: a Soldier-Surveyor’s Letters from the North-West 1843-1844.

Overland scientific expedition in mid 1840s written by a staunch Anglican gentleman, concerned about the spiritual welfare of natives but fairly bigoted about it.

p. 3: I take very little personal equipment, it can be better got at their posts—a few red flannel shirts etc—none of the common sort—a change of clothes, a few books, Gun and fish tackle, and a most excellent equipment of Instruments, amounting to a dozen, for various uses.

p. 18: It is a great regret to me that our Sundays are not distinguished from other days in any way, except that I read the service as we go along to my N.C. officer.

p. 23: As a general rule I carry a very tolerable load for a Bourgeois (so the voyageurs call the gentlemen), Gun, Baromr Desk, haversack with books, Etc—and have to make myself useful, if time is to be saved, by cutting wood, lighting the fire, and so on, while they get on with the work.

p. 27: There is a missionary (Wesleyan) at the village, not doing much however, for he can only speak through an interpreter, and there are great difficulties in inducing these wilder Indians to accept Xtianity or to send their children to school. Not the least of these arises from the rivalry between Church of England, Church of Rome, Wesleyans and Baptists, all of whom have missionaries in the country, and the Indians are quite acute enough to take advantage of their divisions.

p. 36: I forgot to mention that Sir Geo. S[impson]. Lent me on starting Cottrell’s Siberia , which disappointed me; from a man who had led rather a dissipated life, I expected a light sketchy work, full of anecdotes and lively remarks; the only thing lively about it is his running fire at that unfortunate Captain Jesse, which is rather impertinent than otherwise. Moreover there are some very badly written passages….

p. 37: Unfortunately I forgot to provide myself with a French dictionary and grammar, so while I am daily speaking if possible worse and worse French by learning their patois, I cannot take the opportunity of increasing my stock of words and phrases.

p. 41, at York Factory: The schoolmaster was brought out from England and seemed rather above par. He certainly had more refinements and comforts about him than any man else in the settlement. I was introduced to only one of the three clergy, Mr. Cochrane, a man much respected, zealous out of the pulpit, in fact a good man, unhappily however the quintessence of dullness and badness as a preacher. Never did I hear his equal. What a pity it is that there should be such an idea as that men of the most inferior talents are good enough for the Colonial Church….

p. 50, at Norway House: The school children amounting to 60 were soon got together although it was seven o’clock in the evening, and we heard them read and spell and sing in Indian and English. They are Crees, their language a pretty one; the astonishing thing was to hear them repeat long exercises, such as the creed, sing hymns, read the Testament etc. in English: not one word of which any of them understood. The missionary wishes to prepare the way for their learning the language but I think goes too far…, in fact the teacher who is a Chipewyan Indian seems to have the same sort of pride in their proficiency that a bird fancier has in an ingenious collection of piping bullfinches.

p. 69, at Lake Athabaska: Time passes very rapidly and to me agreeably enough, I borrowed a few books at Norway H. and found some here. These, with chess, fill up the short time to be disposed of out of the observatory….

p. 71ff, passage on the “neglected and churchless state of this part of the world.”

p. 89, at Fort Chipewyan: They [the inmates of the Fort] have few resources, few books, yet they seldom complain of dullness. A sort of dreamy inactivity takes the place of other enjoyments, and prevents them from feeling what to one brought from other habits would be the supreme of dullness.

p. 99-100, at Fort Simpson: Mr. Ross at Norway House very judiciously opened the two small boxes sent out by the vessel of last year, and sent me in by the winter express a few of the most portable articles, a Nautical Almanac, Annuaire, Report British Association, letters &c. much to my pleasure and surprise. The Report, I thought rather less interesting than usual….

p. 107, 29 March 1844 at Fort Simpson: My dear Anna, Of all possible books, what would you suppose to be the very last one might meet with in this corner of the world. I think London’s Cyclopedia of Villa and Farm Architecture is one of the last. Yet here I found it, fresh and new.

p. 111: With a few solid books few situations would be better adapted for study and reflection that that of a ‘winterer’ in this country. ‘The world forgetting, by the world forgot’ he has just enough of occupation to relieve the mind, and nothing to hinder study for the remainder of his time….

p. 147, interesting passage on missions and schools: The most obvious way to make Christians of the rising generation of halfbreeds would be to establish a Sunday School, conducted by the trader himself, at every Fort—but one might as well propose to found a Greek professorship at every Fort. [As usual he is apprehensive of R.C. dominance.]

p. 158: Who have I to thank for Grant’s Lectures ? I suppose you [his brother Anthony]. I have been reading them with great interest.