Robert Brown and the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition
216 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Jan 1989
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Release Date:01 Oct 2007

Robert Brown and the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition

Edited by John Hayman
UBC Press

Robert Brown, a twenty-one-year-old Scotsman, arrived on Vancouver Island in 1863 for the purpose of collecting seeds, roots, and plants for the Botanical Association of Edinburgh. Relations with his employer quickly deteriorated, however, and when the opportunity arose in 1864 to head the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, Brown eagerly accepted the position as its commander.

During the four and a half months of the expedition, Brown kept a journal which is published here for the first time. It is remarkable for its record of life on Vancouver Island over a century ago and its description of the island's pristine wilderness as well as for its proposals for future economic development. The accounts of agricultural settlements at Cowichan, Chemainus, and Comox and of the coal-mining town of Nanaimo are among the earliest available.

The Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition did not venture north of Comox, but it crossed the island at several points, often by new routes, and in the process left its mark by giving place names to several locations. The expedition's most celebrated achievement was the discovery of gold at Leech River, named after the second-in-command, which resulted in a short but sensational gold rush.

Robert Brown was exceptionally interested in the way of life of the native people. His entries on land reserve policies and on the failure to settle land claims are especially pertinent today. Excerpts from his related writings, among them one of the earliest records of a potlatch (at Alberni) and a collection of Indian myths and legends display an appreciation unusual at that time.

Most of the known drawings of the expedition by Frederick Whymper, the travelling artist, are included in the book and give a contemporary view of many of the sites the expedition encountered. A checklist of Brown's other writings on the northwest coast completes the book.

Recovers Robert Brown from relative obscurity and establishes him as an important British Columbia explorer and ethnographer ... an important contribution to the early history of Vancouver Island. Tina Loo, The Beaver
Valuable as a primary source of information on Vancouver Island when it was still in its pristine state ... meticulously prepared and should be part of any large collection of B.C. history. Fred Faulkes, BCLA Reporter
An attractive volume, carefully edited a deserving of a wide readership. Too few books of substance have been published about Vancouver Island. This one is a significant addition. Clarence Karr, BC Studies
John Hayman is an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Victoria.

Illustrations and Maps



1 The Land We Live In

2 Journal of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition

3 A Guest at a Potlatch

4 A Collection of Indian Myths and Legends

Appendix 1: Published Writings by Robert Brown Relating to the Northwest Coast

Appendix 2: The Drawings of Frederick Whymper


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