The Royal Navy, Ruler of the Seas

The Royal Navy Patrols the West Coast

Punitive Expeditions

Nakoaktok warrior wearing armour made of rope, 1915

Caption: Nakoaktok warrior wearing armour made of rope, 1915

In 1850, following the murder of three seamen who had deserted, the gunboat HMS Daphne arrived at the northern end of Vancouver Island searching for the guilty parties. They were Newittys, and they were awaiting the British on Normand Island and opened fire on them. The British in turn shelled the area and landed to destroy the Newittys' dwellings and canoes. This was enough for the Newittys to turn over the mutilated corpses of the three seamen. Further north, the Haida in the Queen Charlotte Islands were busy in 1851, not for the first time, pillaging and torching an American merchant ship, the Susan Sturgis. Fortunately, the crew, who had been taken and placed in slavery, were rescued when the Hudson's Bay Company paid their ransom. The British, fearing a diplomatic incident with the Americans, sent the frigate HMS Thetis to patrol the islands, along with a paddle-wheel steamboat, the HMS Virago, commanded by Captain James Charles Prevost, to conduct an investigation. It was met by armed Haida, who were expecting an attack. The atmosphere relaxed somewhat when they understood that the British wanted to punish those who had committed the crime and not to make war on their nation. Their chief, Eda'nsa, impressed the British officers with his quick mind. He understood immediately that it would be impossible to resist their warships and that there were benefits to be gained from ongoing cooperation with the powerful English. The guilty were identified. Because no murders had been committed, Prevost opted for moderation, demanding restitution of the stolen goods and their word that the crimes would not be repeated, assuring everyone that they would become loyal subjects of "King George."

The killing of a Scottish shepherd near Victoria by a few Cowichans and Nanaimos in November 1852 led Governor Douglas to organize an expedition to capture the killers. In January 1853, 110 seamen, 20 naval infantry soldiers and 20 Victoria Voltigeurs arrived at the Cowichan settlement and took the guilty men, immediately trying and hanging them. This same forceful response was used three years later when a colonist was killed by a chief. To counter any resistance by the approximately 1,400 Amerindian warriors, 437 officers, seamen and naval infantry soldiers, as well as 18 Voltigeurs, appeared in the Cowichan Valley. With this show of strength, the Amerindians turned over the troublemakers, who were once again tried and hanged on the spot.