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beggarly hovels, bespeaking a degree of poverty, seldom to be met with in other parts of America ;-these habitations are usually occupied by the families of Voyageurs employed in the north-west.
· The number of Voyageurs in the service of the North-west Company cannot be less than 2,000. Their nominal wages are from 301. to 601., some as high as 80l., or even 1001.—the average cannot be less than 401., and is probably higher; so that the sum-total of wages must be 80 or 90,0001. The gross return of their trade seldom exceeds 150,0001., and when the cost of trading goods, and all the expenses of the concern are taken into consideration, it must be very evident that the Company could never afford, out of this sum, to pay such an amount of wages. To obviate this difficulty their servants receive goods, the real value of which cannot be accurately known without a reference to the books of the Company; but in the opinion of persons of the best general information, the prime cost of the goods so employed cannot exceed 10,0001. sterling. From one article a judgment may be formed of the rest—spirits are sold to the servants of the Company in the interior, at the rate of eight dollars per quart, which cost the Company little more than one dollar per gallon at Montreal; so that when a servant becomes addicted to drinking spirits (no very uncommon case) it is an easy matter to add 101. or 201. to his nominal wages.'--p.39, 40.
If such be the treatment of their own servants, that which is experienced by the Indians, it may readily be imagined, is not likely to be of a more just or levient description. Lord Selkirk says that the instances are numerous of Indians being plundered of their property, and of personal violence being exercised towards them, for no offence but that of having presumed to trade with others, who offered them a better price for their furs; that though this is generally done under some pretence of debt, instances are common of the most brutal and atrocious violence, when no such pretence could be alleged. One of these we shall give.
“In the year 1796 one of the gentlemen of the North-west Company had been killed near Cumberland House, by a particular band of Indians. From the timid character of the Indians in that quarter, and the insults to which they have been in the habit of continually submitting, it is more than probable that they must have been driven to this act of desperation by some extraordinary provocation. However that might be, it was thought of essential consequence to the NorthWest Company that the act should not pass unpunished. One of the Indians supposed to be guilty was overtaken by a party of the Company's servants, commanded by Mr. M‘Kay, the partner in charge of the department, who, taking upon himself the office of executioner, as well as of judge and jury, levelled his gun, and shot the offender dead upon the spot. Another Indian of the same band was taken alive; a sort of mock trial was held, in which three partners of the North-west Company condemned him to death; and he was immediately hanged on a tree in the neighbourhood of the trading-post,'--p. 47.
It would be a disgusting task, says his lordship, to detail the numerous and continued acts of violence exercised in the most illegal and tyrannical manner against the wretched natives of these districts; who have, in consequence of their connection with the traders, been growing more deficient in every estimable point of character, from the time that Canada fell under the government of Great Britain. The cause of this humiliating fact, Lord Selkirk adds, can no longer be a mystery, when it is known that the management of these people has been left without controul in the hands of men,' who speculate upon the vices of their servants.'Nor must the whole blame be thrown on the wintering partners. Their principals in London are accused of having lent themselves to counteract measures which might have tended to reform the habits, and ameliorate the condition of the native Indians. The American government, it is said, by placing an effectual restraint on the sale of spirituous liquors, has succeeded in exciting a spirit of regularity and industry, formerly unknown, among the Indian tribes residing on the waters of the Ohio. When the same measure was proposed to be adopted with regard to the Indians within the British boundaries, the Hudson's Bay Company are stated to have expressed their hearty concurrence in the proposition, as equally beneficial to the native inhabitants, and to the comfort and security of all who resided among them; but the agents and partners of the North-west Company, in London, strongly opposed it; and were supported by such influence as made it necessary, at that time, to drop the further prosecution of the measure.
Lord Selkirk proceeds to shew how impossible it is to contend with the North-west Company, whose outrageous acts of violence and injustice long since drove all private competitors out of the trade; and even rendered it necessary for the New Company to form a junction with them. On this occasion Sir A. Mackenzie observes, ' after the severest struggle ever known in that part of the world, and suffering every oppression which a jealous and rival spirit could instigate; after the murder of one of our partners, the laming of another, and the narrow escape of one of our clerks, who received a bullet through his powder-horn in the execution of his duty, they were compelled to allow us a share in the trade.' Once united, however, the two parties, Lord Selkirk observes, were equally desirous of throwing a veil over the atrocities which took place during their quarrel.
We deem it unnecessary to trouble our readers with a long recital of the unjust and atrocious conduct which Lord Selkirk accuses the North-west Company of having held towards their rivals the Hudson's Bay Company. It is stamped with the same character as that of the other two Companies towards each other
before their junction. The instances related of theft, robbery, and murder, hitherto committed with impunity, render it sufficiently evident that the extensive countries occupied by the North-west Company are in a state which calls aloud for the attention of the British legislature; and that the honour of the nation cannot fail to be tarnished, if the outrages now practised be allowed to go on without effectual check or interference. As matters stand, there is scarcely a possibility of bringing an offender to justice for crimes committed within the Indian territories,' however atrocious.
The only act of the British legislature which relates to them is that of 43 Geo. III. cap. 138, commonly called the Canada Jurisdiction Act;' the countries over which its operations extend are so vaguely defined, that the persons who drew it up must, as Lord Selkirk thinks, have been ignorant of the existence of any British colony in North America, except Upper and Lower Canada. By this law all acts of violence and oppression must be tried in Montreal, a distance of three or four thousand miles from many parts of the
Indian territories,' and thither the parties must repair by an inland navigation, far more tedious and difficult than a voyage to England. At Montreal, a Canadian criminal is in the midst of his friends and connections, with his employers on the spot, anxious to defend him. • But how is it,' asks Lord Selkirk,' with the English trader, who is dragged down by this route to take his trial in a place where he is an utter stranger-in the midst of his enemies—where his employer may probably not have a correspondent to pay the'smallest attention to his interest, and where he cannot bring down a single witness for his defence, except at an enormous expense and inconvenience ?
One case only, it seems, has been brought to trial under this act, and we most heartily concur in Lord Selkirk's observation, that the whole transaction which gave rise to that trial, and the singular proceedings connected with it, are of a description scarcely to be equalled in the judicial annals of any age or country.' It is too long to extract, but the case is briefly this: In the year 1809, a party of the North-west Company, under the command of one Eneas Mac Donnel, armed with swords and pistols, assaulted and plundered an unarmed party of the Hudson's Bay Company, wounded several, and pursued them to their house, where John Mowat, a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company, whom Mac Donnel had previously struck with his sword and was preparing to strike again, shot Mac Donnel on the spot. To prevent further bloodshed, Mowat stepped forward and voluntarily surrendered himself; and it was settled that two of the Hudson's Bay servants should be taken down with him to Montreal, as witnesses in his behalf. The treatment of Mowat during eighteen months confinement at Fort William, where he was loaded with heavy irons, in a miserable dungeon about eight feet square, without window or light of any kind, is of so disgraceful and barbarous a character, as scarcely to be credited. His witnesses, who were subject to every sort of insult and indignity, were not allowed to see him when sick, till he grew dangerously ill. They « found him in a most lamentable state, his arms cut with his fetters, and his body covered with boils ;' and when at length he was brought out of his dụngeon, to be sent to Montreal, he fell down from weakness. The two witnesses who had volunteered a journey of fifteen hundred miles, were, on their arrival at Montreal, entrapped, and committed by a magistrate to the common gaol, for aiding and abetting one John Mowat in the murder of Eneas Mac Donnel,' in order to prevent any one from appearing in his favour. In this gaol they remained six months, when they, together with Mowat, were indicted for murder. The Grand Jury found a true bill against Mowat, but none against them; so that, fortunately for the accused, they became competent witnesses. The delay had, however, the advantage of procuring counsel for his defence, which it appears was highly necessary. From the extensive commercial establishment, and the limited population of Montreal, where the partners form a principal part of the society, and are connected, by marriage or consanguinity, with almost all the principal families, it may be supposed that it is not easy to find either a grand or a petty jury totally unconected with the North-west Company, and that even the bench may not be wholly free from bias: but the proceedings of the trial are so extraordinary that Lord Selkirk shall speak for himself.:
In the case of Mowat it is well known that several partners of the North-west Company were upon the grand jury which found the bill of indictment; and out of four judges, who sat upon the bench, two were nearly related to individuals of that association. In the course of the trial circumstances occurred which could not have taken place in a court of justice in England, without exciting indignation from one end of the kingdom to the other. The counsel for the prisoner was repeatedly interrupted in his cross-examination of the witnesses for the prosecution, by the judges prompting the witness, and helping him to preserve his consistency. One of these witnesses however did, on his cross-examination, acknowledge facts totally inconsistent with the evidence which he had given upon his examination in chief; and upon this, one of the judges interrupted the counsel in an angry tone, and reproached him for having made the witness contradict himself. It was with great difficulty that the advocate for the prisoner could obtain leave to address the jury on the point of law, and to explain the distinction between murder and justifiable homicide. His argument was repeatedly interrupted from the bench ; and, notwithstanding the clearest evidence that Mac Donnel began the fray in the most unprovoked and unprincipled manner, that he was engaged in an act of direct robbery, and that he was threatening the lives of Mowat and his fellow-servants at the time he was shot; it was the opinion of the bench, that the man who killed him was guilty of murder, and such was their charge to the jury. After a consultation of fifteen or sixteen hours, the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter.'-p. 103. · Mowat was sentenced to six months imprisonment, and to be branded on the hand with a hot iron! His friends endeavoured to prevail on him to petition the president of the province to have the burning on the hand remitted: the petition was drawn up, and the jury joined in the object of it; but every attempt to persuade Mowat to sign it was unavailing; he remained intlexible, declaring that he would ask no favour in a country where he had been so unjustly condemned; and he was burnt in the hand in pursuance of his sentence.
Lord Selkirk winds up the catalogue of the crimes of the Northwest Company, by contrasting them
with the honourable views, the fair dealing, and the moderation of the Hudson's Bay Company. Perhaps, however, the true point of contrast consists in the energy of the one and the apathy of the other-between the dangers, the fatigue and the sufferings from cold and hunger, endured by one set of people, and the torpid state of existence which the others drag on, not very unlike that of the cold-blooded animals by whom they are surrounded. Shut up in summer and winter within their three forts, situated on the shores of Hudson's Bay, these people, for a long time, held no other intercourse with the native Indians than re ceiving from them, at the foot of their walls, their bear skins and beaver skins, their goose quills and castoreum, at one end of a rope, and lowering down at the other their value in blankets, baubles and brandy. Of the fatigue, drudgery and activity of the servants of the North-west Company, a tolerable good notion may be formed from Sir A. Mackenzie's General History of the Fur Trade.' In treating of the indulgence, to which he thinks the Northwest Company entitled, of conducting their trade to and from the interior by the Nelson river into Hudson's Bay, he says,
• The enhanced value of the articles, and the present difficulty of transporting them, will be fully comprehended when I relate, that the tract of transport occupies an extent of from three to four thousand miles, through upwards of sixty large lakes, and numerous rivers, and that the means of transport are slight bark canoes. It must also be observed that those waters are intercepted by more than two hundred rapids, along which the articles of merchandise are chiefly carried on men's backs, and over one hundred and thirty carrying-places, from twenty-five paces to thirteen miles in length, where the canoes and cargots proceed by the same toilsome and perilous operations.'