George Robinson, Vancouver Island Pioneer


Traffic between Britain and the northern Pacific Coast was sufficient for the Hudson's Bay Company to employ one medium-sized sailing ship on regular voyages. At the time the development of the Nanaimo mine was being mooted this ship was the Norman Morison, built in 1846 at Moulmein, Burma and bought by the Company in 1848. She was barque rigged, 564 tons, 119.5" in length, 26.8' in width and 20'4" in depth. It was the last-mentioned which was her undoing, for when she was fully loaded her draft was too great for the shallow, muddy harbour at Fort Victoria. It proved necessary for her to put into Esquimalt harbour for part of her cargo to be off-loaded into smaller ships or transported to the Fort overland by a narrow, muddy trail through the forest to the harbour narrows at Limit Point, which had been bridged by the Company in 1848, and thence a short distance down the eastern shore of the harbour. Hence although she made three voyages from Britain, arriving in February 1851, June 1852 and August 1853, bringing with her some of Victoria's most famous pioneers, she was only moderately successful in the Company's business.

Hudson's Bay House was soon informed of the problem of draught. Additionally, the Company was considering the development of a British market for large-sized spars, which could be obtained in quantity near Fort Rupert. Norman Morison, by her type of construction, was not suited for transporting spars. The Company therefore decided to replace her, and cast around for a better design for their purpose.

They found what they sought in a highly successful line of ship which had been developed originally by Green & Sons of Blackwall, London, and hence were known as Blackwall Frigates. These had been proven to be fast, maneuverable and equally suitable for carrying passengers or cargo. In fact, one of their prime uses had been the transporting of convicts to Australia and the bringing back of the Colony's produce on their return voyages.

Tenders were called for construction of a ship of this type, and in July, 1853, the tender of Messrs. Money, Wigram & Sons of Blackwall was accepted. The ship, to be called Princess Royal, was to cost £10,200. In a letter to Sir George Simpson & council of the Northern Department of Rupert's Land, dated 5th April, 1854, Hudson's Bay House explained that at present there was no guaranteed market for large spars in Britain, and some doubts of profits on the outbound cargo of a ship sent to fetch them, but ". . . With a view however of testing the market here, and of being prepared for operations on a large scale should that be deemed expedient, we have, in constructing the Princess Royal, which is to replace the Norman Morison made provision for her taking in spars of a large size, with which we intend that any room there may be over and above that required for furs shall be filled up . . ."

The Princess Royal was larger than the Norman Morison, being 613 tons, 145.0' in length, 29.5' in width and 18.2' in depth.

The Norman Morison was sold by the Company in 1853. On 21st April, 1854, the Secretary of the Hudson's Bay Company in London, W.G. Smith, wrote to inform Chief Factor Douglas that the Princess Royal was to sail in May. Although there were still to be delays, arrangements for the voyage were taking their final form.

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