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Francis Poole (active 1862-1871)

Queen Charlotte Islands : a narrative of discovery and adventure in the north pacific / by Francis Poole ; edited by John W. Lyndon. 1872

RCIN 1072087

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  • In the 1860s, the Colony of British Columbia underwent a gold rush, resulting in the mass immigration of miners and prospectors to the territory. One of these new arrivals was Francis Poole, who undertook several expeditions along the Pacific Northwest Coast on behalf of the governor of the colony, Sir James Douglas (1803-77), to prospect for new sources of gold and copper. This memoir, published in 1872, contains an account of Poole’s 1862 expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) to mine for copper.
    Poole’s expedition was also one of several that introduced smallpox to the Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest. Poole encouraged miners to venture north from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, which was in the midst of a major smallpox outbreak, to start prospecting along the coast. These workmen brought the disease with them and the resulting epidemic decimated Indigenous populations throughout the region. By the end of the following year at least 30,000 Indigenous people had died. Poole’s memoir gives an account of his actions in the Haida village at Skincuttle near Moresby Island (Gwaay Haanas - "Islands of Beauty") following the discovery of two infected people:

    My foreman and I then set fire to the Indian huts [Haida longhouses] and to the bushwood, and a fierce gale of wind beginning to blow at the same moment, the whole of Skincuttle Island was soon one sheet of flame. Not a stick would have been left on any part of it, if a dense cumulus of water, which we perceived to be gathering overhead, had not burst open of a sudden, and poured down such a flood as I never beheld, before or since, in my lifetime. The rain lasted without the slightest intermission or diminution for thirty-four hours, almost to a minute. Thus by the action of two powerful elements, did poor Skincuttle receive its purification. These incidents finally disgusted me with our pristine settlement, and calculating that there was nothing further of interest to detain us on the islet, I ordered its total evacuation.”

    Poole’s actions and similar moves by other officials led Haida and other First Nations in the Pacific Northwest to accuse the colonial government of deliberately infecting people to make it easier for them to colonise the area. The language of 'purification' used by Poole in describing the events at Skincuttle, which forcibly removed Haida from their ancestral lands, is problematic and the long-term consequences of this and similar actions that took place across Canada remain a contentious issue between Indigenous Canadians and the Canadian government to this day.


    Presented to Queen Victoria by the editor, 5 December 1871. Given to the Royal Library by Queen Victoria, 7 December 1871.

  • Bibliographic reference(s)

    Queen Victoria's Ledger 1870-78 p. 43

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