- Victoria, 1862
I imagine that the beer flowed freely and that the talk at the John Bull that day was of cricket. Boasting, wagering, swaggering, Allan Harris, publican, gambler, and cricketer, had challenged the owner of the rival Royal Oak pub to a match—winner to get a champagne dinner. The locals read of the challenge in the British Colonist on the morning of 21 October 1862, as the newspaper got caught up in rivalry and revelry while also promoting horse races to take place at Beacon Hill near the cricket pitch a few weeks later. Yet, beneath the hail-fellow-well-met joviality, two other short notices in the paper that day and the day prior suggest that the gaiety of the residents of Victoria, the capital of the colony of Vancouver Island, was compensating for a guilty conscience and a dirty secret. The big news was not published, only hinted at.
A popular TV series has coined the term "the empire of cricket," observing that British colonists worldwide took the game with them, and it was certainly true in Victoria (Morris 281; Empire of Cricket). The first cricket bats arrived on Vancouver Island in 1849 with Walter Calquhoun Grant, often called the first settler. However, one suspects the bats did not get much use among Grant's eight workmen and the dozen or so mixed-blood, Hawaiian, and French-Canadian employees at the nearest settlement, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post fifty kilometres away (Anderson).
Founded as a fur-trade depot only six years before Grant's arrival, the trading post went through a rapid succession of names: Fort Camosun, Fort Albert, and, finally, Fort Victoria—a name that indicated the colonists' faith that this was to be the seed of a major city, which would ultimately reflect back the glory of their young Queen and so be fit to carry her name (Pethick 71). By the time Grant left in 1850, the fur-trade post had already become the capital of a new colony, and he donated his cricket bats to the school in Victoria (Anderson). [End Page 35]
Cricket became important to the British inhabitants of Fort Victoria in 1858, when gold was discovered on the nearby Fraser River, and tens of thousands of Europeans and Americans swarmed the fort and turned it into a boom town. While the rush of 1858 faded quickly, more sustainable discoveries along the tributaries led to growing exports of gold through 1862. Because Victoria was the closest port to the mines, the town grew into a small city. Cricket, here as elsewhere, was more than a diversion. In the face of a largely non-British population, including American filibusters, and amid cries for annexation, the "manly game" of cricket became a way of solidifying the British settlers, the ostensible rulers; of staking out an identity distinct from the Americans; and of claiming "English" space (Pugh, Gibbons, and Adams). Cricket symbolized civilization. The line between those who played, or at least knew and followed, cricket and those who did not was a line of demarcation between the rulers and the ruled. When played by gentlemen, the game epitomized fairness and decency, so much so that the expression "not cricket" came to mean "unjust" or "indecent".
The names of the pubs and the newspaper, the choice of games, and the identification of the city with the monarch all testify to the ardent desire of these Pacific Britons to maintain ties to the empire as well as to their profound insecurity about whether their efforts were succeeding. They had good reason to be insecure. Only a minority of the colonists were British, while the vast majority of the population in this British colony belonged to three different aboriginal groups.
In the spring of 1862, the indigenous population of the colony numbered perhaps ten to twelve thousand. By October, perhaps only half that number survived (Boyd 229), and the reason why was hinted at in a passing reference in the British Colonist immediately above the cricket challenge: "Small-pox was raging among the Indians at the mouth of the [Stikine] river" ("Additional from Stickeen").
Although the Stikine River is...