Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

teen 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 dungeon, 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 unconnected 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 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.

clearest

upon

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 Northewest 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 receiving 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 cargoes proceed by the same toilsome and perilous operations.'

Lord

Lord Selkirk, however, has no intention of entering the lists as a rival trader with the North-west Company, his grand object being that of establishing a body of industrious farmers in the interior of the Indian territories; to create an increased population, an effective police, and a regular administration of justice, than which, he says, nothing can be a greater object of dread to those who maintain a commercial monopoly by the habitual exercise of illegal violence; " and who never will be fully satisfied unless the extensive regions in the north-west of America continue in the exclusive occupation of the savage Indians, the wild beasts of the forest and themselves.'

We have strong doubts, we confess, of the policy as well as the efficacy of Lord Selkirk's plan of colonization. While we have such valuable possessions as the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon, (perhaps, politically speaking, the most valuable of all others,) almost without a population, we cannot observe without the deepest regret the tide of emigration setting so strongly to the North-westward—but leaving the consideration of this point for the present -we can discover little to be gained on the side of morality. Even the decent, quiet, sober-minded Highlander, and the welldisposed Canadian, after a few years service in the 'fur trade,' part with the innocence of their habits,' and 'return home much corrupted:' and does Lord Selkirk suppose that the discharged soldiers from Meuron's regiment will preserve their innocence!' that they will sit down quietly where he may choose to fix them, labouring, in the sweat of their brows, merely to gain a subsistence? Placed, as they must necessarily be till a population has been created, far beyond any market to receive their surplus produce, and scattered, as they would take especial care to be, at a wide distance from each other, is there not every reason to apprehend that they would quit the plough and the spade to engage in the ‘fur trade ??this alone, according to Lord Selkirk's maxim, would at once convert their innocence into brutal ferocity, and render them fit associates for the subjects of the back settlements of a neighbouring state. Like the inhabitants of Pittsburgh, they would soon learn to hunt Indians during the shooting season, and scalp them for their profit or their amusement.

But if England cannot profit from the colonization of these remote regions, it may not be amiss to consider what advantage she is likely to derive from their produce. The whole concern of the • fur trade,' which has occasioned the disgraceful proceedings here stated, never exceeds, by Lord Selkirk's account, 300,0001.-'a branch of commerce which gives occasion to the exportation of 40 or 50,0001. of British manufactures,'-and in which three ships are employed! Even this miserable trade, according to Lord

Selkirk,

Selkirk, is verging rapidly towards its ruin. The system of the North-west Company, he says, is to obtain a great immediate return of furs, without any regard to its permanent continuance, and with this view a war of extermination is waged against all the valuable fur-bearing animals; the beaver, the most valuable of them, will, he tells us, in no long period of time, be nearly extirpated by the 'gigantic system of poaching carried on by the North-west Company. It may be so; though we confess our fears incline rather towards the extermination of the Indians, than of the “furbearing animals;' the former are confessedly disappearing in a rapid progression, while the latter will, from that circumstance, as rapidly increase. The enumeration of one year's supply to the North-west Company, as given by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, will afford some estimate of the number and kind of animals annually destroyed. They are as follows:-Skins of the beaver, 106,000; the bear, 2,100; the fox, 5,500; the otter, 4,600; the musquash, 17,000; the marten, 32,000; the mink, 1800; the lynx, 6,000; the wolverine, 600; the fisher, 1,650; the raccoon, 100; the wolf, 3,800; the elk, 700; the deer 1,950. By doubling those numbers in order to take in the consumption of the native Indians, those lost and destroyed on the passage, and those exported by the Hudson's Bay Company, we shall perhaps come pretty nearly to the actual number destroyed every year : nor is there any thing very surprizing in this great slaughter, when we consider what quantities of game are consumed even in well peopled countries, without the smallest risk of extirpating the breed. The only remarkable feature here is the vast multitudes of various animals to be found within the cold and apparently barreu regions of the Arctic circle. Mons. Jeremie, once governor of Fort Bourbon, (now York,) says, that when the rein-deer are driven out of the thickets by the clouds of mosquitoes which, on the return of summer darken the air, they fly to the shores of Hudson's Bay, in herds of ten thousand, scouring across these bleak and naked plains, untrodden perhaps by ten human beings in the course of as many years.

We learn from the same authority, fully corroborated by the testimony of travellers, that the flocks of geese and swans, of cranes, cormorants, bustards, pelicans and ducks are so numerous as to obscure the sky, and so noisy, in rising from the ground, as to deafen the byestauders. M. Jeremie, and his garrison of eighty men, caught and consumed, in one winter, ninety thousand white partridges, and twenty-five thousand hares. The rein-deer are the most numerous of the larger animals, but elks, bears, buffaloes, the musk ox and the moose deer are all abundant. Nor are the waters less productive. The sea and the straits are amply stocked with the whale and the narwal, the grampus, the seal, and the sea-horse

the

the lakes and rivers with salmon, sturgeon, trout, pike, and carp; so successfully are animals enabled to struggle against every inconvenience of soil or climate, and to increase and multiply, and replenish the earth,' when undisturbed by the presence of man. As far however as the beaver is concerned, Lord Selkirk's apprehensions may not be unfounded. His haunts are known, and his habitation, constructed with such wonderful industry and skill, is easily discovered : most of the others have a retreat beyond the Teach of man.

In taking leave of Lord Selkirk, we shall just observe, that his "Sketch of the Fur Trade' is in no respect equal, as to information, to the History of that trade, by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Its character, indeed, is less that of a history, than of a Bill of Indictment against the North-west Company—an angry attack on the provincial administration of justice and a panegyric on the Hudson's Bay Company. The points at issue between the conflicting parties are matters not for us to intermeddle with; we have no desire to prejudice or prejudge the case of either ; but we cannot join in the praise ascribed to the Hudson's Bay Company, whose only merits (if they have any) are, at any rate, of the negative kind. Their total disregard of every object for which they obtained, and have now held, a Royal Charter for nearly one hundred and fifty years, entitles them to any thing but praise. The great leading feature on which their petition for an exclusive charter was grounded, the discovery of a North-west Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, has not only been totally neglected, but, unless they have been grossly calumniated, thwarted by every means in their power. The examination of the work, whose title stands at the head of this article, will lead to a few observations on their conduct in this respect.

The Spaniards cannot disavow the name of Maldonado, as they have done that of Fuente. It has been registered with applause by their most authentic bibliographers; and consecrated, as it were, by assigning to it the best port in their possessions on the east side of South America: nor can they deny the existence of the journal of such a voyage, as the one in question; having sent so recently as 1789, the corvettes la Discubierta et l'Atravida, under the orders of Malaspina, to examine the passages and inlets, which might be found to break the continuity of the line of coast of North-west America, between 539 and 60° of N. latitude; in order to discover the strait by which Laurent Ferrer Maldonado was supposed to bave passed in 1588, from the coast of Labrador to the Great Ocean. That this was the main object of the expedition appears from a letter of a friend of Malaspina, employed on the voyage, which was seen by Amo

« AnteriorContinuar »