University acquires first known account of B.C. by an English woman

Susannah Weynton's journal is the earliest known original account of B.C. written by a woman. UBC Library

In the age of clicking, liking, and swiping, nothing brings nostalgia like handwritten journals. But sometimes, they bring more than that, they give us a rare glimpse of history.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired a journal by Susannah Weynton, the wife of the master of the Hudson’s Bay Company supply ship Cowlitz, Captain Alexander John Weynton.

Her journal is the earliest known original account of B.C. written by a woman.

“This journal is a gift to all Canadians,” said Jean Barman, expert on B.C. history and professor in UBC’s department of educational studies, in a release. “Weynton’s pithy descriptions of Vancouver Island and Fort Langley in 1850, the earliest known to survive by an English woman, remind us of our long history of many peoples coming together in diverse ways.”

Susannah wrote the journal during her voyage on board travelling from London to the Pacific Northwest via Cape Horn and Hawaii, and back to London. The account dates from Aug. 4, 1849 to Mar. 22, 1851. In it, she documented her observations on the weather encountered, places visited, and people met. As well as, agriculture and the natural beauties of the area.

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Her journal includes stories about her four-month stay in B.C., most specifically, the time she spent on Vancouver Island at Fort Victoria and Fort Rupert and on the mainland at Fort Langley between March and July 1850. She also noted meeting Indigenous peoples, and Governor James Douglas and his family. The account ends before the ship reaches port in England on April 26, 1851, as she gives birth on board the ship.

It is followed by the partial journal of Susannah’s sister, Clarissa Hack, during a voyage travelling from London to Sydney, Australia, in the company of Susannah, Captain Weynton and their child. Clarissa’s journal pages date from March 8, 1852 to June 21, 1852, whereas the ship arrived in Sydney on July 9, 1852.

The volume also includes a handwritten prayer, unsigned but presumably transcribed by one of the two sisters.

“This journal is a window into another time in B.C., providing another tool for teachers, students and the community to learn about the rich history of this province,” said Katherine Kalsbeek, head of Rare Books and Special Collections, in a release. “We are thankful for the amazing support we received to bring this journal to the UBC Library.”

The journal was purchased with the support of several donors, including the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Movable Cultural Property grant program, the Victoria Historical Society, the Sue and Keith Mew Family Foundation, Dr. Wallace B. Chung and Professor Barry Gough.

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The public can view the journal in person by booking a tour of UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collection or click here to view the digitized version.

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