p. 2266 JOINT
SIR GEORGE SIMPSON TO THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE.
HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY'S HEAD OFFICE RECORDS.
Copy.Hudson's Bay House,
Lachine, 16th Nov., 1848.
|To : His Excellency, The Right Honourable, The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Governor General of British North America, &c., &c.|
I have the honour to acknowledge Colonel Bruce's letter of 11th inst., forwarding to me, by your Lordship's direction, printed copies of two letters reflecting on the conduct of the Hudson's Bay Company, addressed to your Lordship by a person of the name of Kennedy, intimating your intention of forwarding those letters, in accordance with the author's request, to the Secretary of State, and at the same time expressing your willingness to transmit any observations upon them which I may have to offer.
I feel greatly obliged to your Lordship for the opportunity thus afforded me of, I trust, being enabled to remove any impression unfavourable to the Company and their management, which the various grave charges advanced by Mr. Kennedy might have left in your mind, had they remained unanswered. Before noticing the charges in question, it may be proper, as your Lordship appears to know nothing of the author, to state that Mr. Kennedy was a clerk in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company between the years 1833 and 1846, during which time he was stationed, for the first five years at one of the Company's posts in the Ottawa River, and for the remaining eight years at one or other of their posts on the coast and in the interior country of Labrador, and that he is the uncle of Alex. Kennedy Isbister of Landon [sic] (both being half-breed natives of Hudson's Bay), who last year brought charges against the Company in a memorial addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which was sent to your Lordship to be reported upon.
The charges made by Kennedy, I have no hesitation in saying, are the result of a conspiracy against the Company to which both he and Isbister are parties ; as will be seen by the connexion which exists between them,
as exhibited in the accompanying letters from both those persons to Dr. Rowand, dated respectively 3rd July and 11th January, 1848 (marked “A”). In enlisting the newspapers in the cause, Kennedy, it will be seen, is but following up the plan of agitation recommended by Isbister to be adopted in Canada, for the purpose, to use his own words : “of over-throwing the “Company,” and it is very probable he will before long follow up the further suggestion of Isbister to “fish up retired servants of the Company” with a view to aid your Lordship in prosecuting your enquiry into the Company's Management, well known that, in so extensive a service, there must be many malcontents, arising from a variety of cause.
I beg to hand, for your Lordship's information, extracts from several letters addressed to me by Mr. Kennedy during a period of six years, say from 1841 to 1846 (marked “B”), wherein he expresses the deepest gratitude, both to the Company and myself for the kindness and favour he and his family have experienced at our hands and lauding the “admirable regulations” of the “venerable Company” in terms most fulsome. At length, however, in 1846, when refused by me on the part of the Company an advance of £2,000 for the purpose of prosecuting a trade on the coast of Labrador in opposition to the Moravian Missionaries, as will be seen by his letters of 22nd and 24th September, and my reply of 13th November, 1846 (marked “ C ”), he then, when out of the Company, seems for the first time, to have discovered that our management was in strict keeping with the Satanic motto of “Pro pelle cutem,” and forthwith takes up arms, in connexion with his nephew Isbister, against the “benefactors” of himself and family, “the honour of whose service” he felt bound on the 28th August, 1884, to maintain “to the day of his death.”
I shall now proceed to notice the charges, in the order in which they occur, in Mr. Kennedy's letters.
From the manner in which Mr. Kennedy speaks of a murder which he says was committed near the post of Nascopie by one Indian on another (the particulars of which did not reach me until three days ago), he evidently wishes it to be inferred that liquor is a staple article of our commerce with
the Natives. This is not the fact ; as since the termination of the competition between the North West and Hudson's Bay Company, in 1821, liquor has been altogether in disuse through a great portion of Rupert's Land, and of the Indian territory held under license from the Crown, nor, as far as my knowledge goes, is liquor ever made a medium of barter for furs in other parts of these territories being only given in small quantities as an encouragement to supply our establishments with provisions and leather
articles absolutely indispensable to our existence, and which could not otherwise be obtained, or as a “treat” to Indians over and above the prices paid for furs in those districts of country where competition in trade continues, without which the furs would, and I need scarcely add, very frequently do, fall into other hands. I have great satisfaction in saying that there is
very little abuse of liquor in any part of the country, the quantity imported rendering such quite impossible as a general rule ; and no better proof can be given of this than that for the District of Ungava in which Mr. Kennedy was stationed for several years, I find on reference to the outfits that for the use of our officers and servants and the whites and Indians with whom we had dealings, the whole quantity supplied for three years' consumption was 201 gallons of Whiskey, 20 gallons of Brandy, and 42 gallons of Wine : viz. :
In 1840. .. . . .. .129gallonsWhiskey.
In 1841. .. .. .. .None.
In 1842. .. .. .. .72gallonsWhiskey.
In speaking of the murder in question, Mr. Kennedy informs your Lordship that the Company's representative (meaning myself) “was told of it by him but took no notice of it.”And he further says that “in a private letter to me he gave it as one among other reasons “for leaving the service.”
The only allusion Kennedy ever made to this murder was under date 28th August, 1844—four years by his own shewing after it had happened—and then incidentally in the following words : “I take the liberty of giving an instance, it is that of giving rum to Indians, by which, while in soundest health they not infrequently lose their lives, an instance of which it has been my painful lot to witness” (see Paper B.N. 4). On reading this paragraph the impression on my mind was that this case might have occurred in the midst of the settlements on the Ottawa river (where Kennedy had been stationed for five years) as I know that there Indians had access to liquor at every village and lumbering establishment. But from information I received three days ago from a person who was upon the spot I, for the first time, learnt the following particulars of the case referred to that two Indians, while under the influence of liquor obtained at a post in the interior of Labrador, had, while crossing a lake, quarrelled and fought in the canoes, and that one of the unfortunate men had fallen in the conflict. But had even I been acquainted with the whole circumstances of the case, I could not have taken any cognizance of the matter, the murder having been committed within the jurisdiction of Newfoundland, where the Company have no exclusive rights of trade, but merely as one in the crowd of traders and settlers in that part of the Country, the only difference between the Company and the others, as. regards our commercial dealings, being, that our means and better organization enable us to conduct our business on a more systematic and extended scale, penetrating to parts of the Country, which, to many others, are inaccessible.
With reference to the same story, Mr. Kennedy goes on to say he afterwards had charge of the same post, near which the murder was committed, and that his first care was to do away entirely with the use of
intoxicating liquors, which is very creditable to him, as showing his desire to carry out the Company's regulations which he has quoted, but he goes on further to say that the attempt was “crushed in the birth,” being told that if he persisted in it, he would abide by the consequences. Such intimation from any one of whom Mr. Kennedy could have stood in awe I am satisfied he never had certainly not from the Board of Direction in England, nor from the councils in the country, nor from myself, and to those authorities alone was he amenable.
Mr Kennedy next stated that a number of Indians had died in the neighbourhood of Nascopie, and quotes letters which he says he has received from that part of the country in confirmation of that melancholy fact It is perfectly possible Mr. Kennedy may have received such information, although I am not at all satisfied from his mere assertion that such was the fact. I have since the publication of Kennedy's letter learnt, in personal intercourse with Mr. Nourse, the gentleman superintending the affairs of that district, who arrived here about eight days ago, that there was some loss of life in that quarter, not arising, however, from the want of ammunition, but from the scarcity of game and the utter inability of the Company's people to afford the means of subsistence. Any one acquainted with the Moravian country and trade must be aware that the means of subsistence are at times very precarious, being dependent on the character of the seasons, the movements of game, the take of fish, and other causes beyond the control of man, it being impossible to raise agricultural produce or to convey inland imported supplies. Starvation, though not attended with all the horrors Mr. Kennedy describes, is of frequent occurrence in every part of the world, and occasionally among officers and servants of the Company as well as the natives. I myself, have been driven to the necessity of eating horse and dog flesh and other viands prohibited in the Mosaic code, and so have most of the gentlemen in our service ; on one occasion, within my recollection, twenty-seven of the Company's servants died of starvation in one encampment. These are melancholy facts, but what remedy is to be devised ? They are evils inseparable from the nature of the service. I have no doubt Mr. Kennedy would like very much to be appointed a Commissioner to investigate the Company's affairs, but I do not see that his investigation could be of any benefit in mitigating the rigour of the climate or rendering the means of subsistence more plentiful, and from the attitude he has assumed it may be inferred that his report would not bear the character of strict truth or impartiality.
Mr. Kennedy commences his second letter to your Lordship by bringing as a grave charge against the Company that twenty-two Indian families were encouraged to remove from one part of the country to another, without provision being made for them ; but he does not, because he cannot, state in words, the inference which he evidently wishes should be drawn from this statement, viz.: that those twenty-two families were, in consequence of
such want of preparation exposed to an unusual degree of privation. On the contrary, by the extracts from Mr. Nourse's letter to me of 25th Sept.,
1843, and from Mr. Kennedy's letters of 16th January and 25th August, 1843 (marked “D”), you will perceive that the Indians passed the winter without any complaint being made that they endured privation ; so far from it that they altogether neglected fur hunting in order to proceed to a part of the country where deer were abundant. A narrative of the facts of the case will be sufficient to remove the implied censure on the Company.
The country bordering on Hudson's Bay known as the East Main Coast, more especially about Big River, having been closely hunted for many years, had become so much impoverished in game, that the Indians were subjected to privation. About the same time reports reached me, representing the Ungava Country, which was then new to us, as very rich in fur bearing animals, and abounding with deer, but so thinly inhabited that we could not benefit by the advantages it presented. As this promising region adjoined that occupied by the Big River Indians, it occurred to me that those natives by migrating thither might not only greatly improve their own condition and resources, but also promote the Company's interests. I therefore requested the gentleman in charge of the East Main Coast to represent the case to the Indians, but in reply I learnt they were disinclined to quit their own lands. In my letter to Mr. Miles dated 14th April, 1848 (marked, “E”), referring to this subject, I requested him to offer further inducement to the Indians,in the shape of a large premium on their hunts, but this offer had not the desired effect. Intimation was sent to Mr. McLean, the gentleman then in charge of Ungava district (see my letter to him of 1st March, 1840, marked “E”), of what had been done in reference to the removal of these Indians.
In 1843, the Indians, without any previous notice of their intention, proceeded to the Ungava Country. Mr. Kennedy, who had charge of Nascopie, one of the interior posts of that district, appears to have been taken by surprise by their arrival, and so also was Mr. Nourse, the gentleman then in charge of the district, who was at Esquimaux Bay, 300 miles distant. When apprised thereof by Kennedy, Mr. Nourse under date 25th September, 1843 (marked “D”), reported to me the arrival of the Indians, and suggested the establishment of a post for their special accommodation, and an increase to the outfit in order to supply their wants ; both of which suggestions I complied with in my letter to Mr. Nourse dated 1st March, 1844 (marked “F”). If Mr. Nourse did not fall in with Mr. Kennedy's application for an additional supply of ammunition, etc., I can assert, without fear of contradiction, that it was because he had not the means to do so when the application was made ; and even if he had had the supplies, the transport whereof, a distance of 300 miles, through a rugged country in the winter season would have been almost impracticable.
I have the honour to be,
Most obedient and humble servant,