The Royal Navy, Ruler of the Seas

The Pig War

Wandering Pig Triggers Armed Confrontation

In 1859 a harmless incident almost caused a new war between the United States and Great Britain. San Juan Island was part of the territory disputed in determining the border. On June 15, 1859, an American farmer shot and killed a pig that had come to feed on his field of potatoes on the island. But the pig was British, and it belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company; this led to an incredible series of false rumours and unfounded accusations that inflamed American opinion.

On July 18 American General W. S. Harney, giving credence to the rumours that British seamen had mistreated American citizens, and believing that San Juan Island was an important strategic point, sent a regular infantry detachment. When he heard the news, Governor Douglas called for assistance from the Royal Navy, and at the end of July the American soldiers stationed on the island saw the frigate HMS Tribune and its 31 cannon appear, followed soon afterwards by the corvette HMS Satellite with 21 cannon. "The Pig War" was about to be declared! The arrival of an American ship with reinforcements led to a confrontation that was defused only with the providential arrival of instructions from Governor Douglas allowing the Royal Navy to let the American troops disembark. Captain Geoffrey Hornby of the HMS Tribune did what he could to calm Governor Douglas and Captain George Pickett, 122 commander of the American troops, and to keep the incident from degenerating into a war. He had the full approval of his superior, Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes, who arrived in Victoria on August 5 from Valparaiso on board the HMS Ganges, an 84-cannon vessel.