The Reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken
358 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Dec 1975

The Reminiscences of Doctor John Sebastian Helmcken

UBC Press

The Reminiscences, now held in the Provincial Archives of British Columbia, have a special significance for readers of provincial and federal Canadian history. Helmcken's is a unique account of the way social and economic conditions were actually felt and experienced in B.C. at the time of Confederation. Together with his personal diary ofthe Ottawa negotiations, edited by Willard E. Ireland and included here, the memoirs are the most complete and intimate record available of how Canada secured a foothold on the Pacific.

Born and brought up in Whitechapel in East London, Helmcken worked his way through apprenticeships as a chemist and a medical pupil before gaining admission to Guy's Hospital to complete his training. The accounts he gives of working class family life and of the great economic and social disadvantages he had to confront in order to become a doctor make this volume of memoirs not only a valuable historical document, but also an autobiography with considerable human interest.

In 1850 John Sebastian Helmcken arrived in Fort Victoria - at that time still a fortified trading post - to take up the position of Hudson's Bay Company doctor. British Columbia was then in the midst of rapid change: the fur trade was in decline, the gold rush was soon to begin, and the first phase of genuine European settlement was just getting under way.

In 1856 Helmcken entered what was to be a political life lasting fifteen years and served as Speaker in the first Legislative Assembly. This section of the Reminiscences is filled with vivid and often humorous descriptions of the personalities and everyday life of Victoria and British Columbia from the 1850's to the 1870's.

In 1870 Helmcken secured his place in the history of Canada and British Columbia by accepting the task, together with Sir Joseph Trutchand R.W.W. Carrall, of negotiating British Columbia's entry into Canada.

Dorothy Blakey Smith, formerly an Associate Professorof English at the University of British Columbia and more recently onthe staff of the Provincial Archives, is the editor of "TheJournal of Arthur Thomas Bushby, 1858-1859," James Douglas inCalifornia, 1841, and Lady Franklin Visits the Pacific Northwest. Shehas also written a short biography of James Douglas for the CanadianLives series and has contributed numerous articles to the Dictionary ofCanadian Biography.



Introduction / W. Kaye Lamb

A Note on the Text Chronology

The Reminiscences Bibliographical Note


1. A Note on the Helmcken Family

2. "A Reminiscence of 1850" "In the EarlyFifties" "Fort Rupert in 1850" "The FirstLegislature"

3. "Helmcken's Diary of the ConfederationNegotiations" / Willard E. Ireland


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