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William Downie papers relating to exploration of British Columbia

 Collection
Call Number: WA MSS S-2490

Scope and Contents

The William Downie Papers Relating to Exploration of British Columbia consist of diaries, correspondence, writings, printed works, photographs, and other material that document William Downie's life, interest, and travels in the Northwest during the 1850s and 1860s. The papers offer evidence of early exploration and mining in British Columbia, particularly in the Quesnel Forks area, one of the oldest mining camps in the Cariboo district. Downie's interest in, and encounters with, British Columbia's indigenous inhabitants are also recorded.

Series I. Diaries is comprised of seven manuscript diaries that document Downie's travels in British Columbia and the Northwest. The earliest volume, recorded in an 1856 Union Diary, was mainly kept by Downie during the summer and early fall of 1858 while in Nanaimo. A diary dated 1859 Sept 10 to Sept 20 relates an exploratory canoe journey along the Skeena River, with comments about geography, mining prospects, Indian traveling companions, and local Indian customs. Loose notes from 1860 Apr 16 to Apr 20 relate a Nass River prospecting trip, and record impressions of William Duncan and his mission at Fort Stimpson as well as descriptions of several Indian village. These notes, originally discovered in the 1859 diary, are foldered separately.

A bound volume, titled "Family Register", bears an inscription to Downie from James Duneau, 1860 Jan 3. The volume contains Downie's dated diary entries from January to November 1860, as well as two sketched maps: one of the "South Channel" and Kitimat Village; another of Pitt Island and Gull Island. The diary entries, which record Downie's traveling arrangements and his observations, are written from Victoria, Fort Rupert, Fort Simpson, Nasse, Bellacoola, Knight's Inlet, and other British Columbia sites.

Two diaries from 1861 Jul 4 to Aug 9 describe Downie's and Alexander McDonald's joint exploration of British Columbia's interior, beginning at Bute Inlet and following the Homathko River, in an unnsuccessful search for a route that would link the Pacific coast to the Fraser River. A printed 1866 diary completed in manuscript records Downie's stay in Portland, his steamer voyage to San Francisco and return to Oregon, and his subsequent travels through Washington State and B.C.'s Okanagan Valley. The latter part of the diary records difficult working conditions at Wild Horse Creek in the East Kootenays where Downie set up camp to mine gold alongside Chinese miners.

Series II. Correspondence consists of 8 letters to and from friends, officials, and business associates, documenting Downie's mining and business interests, his political opinions, and his relationship with the Canadian government as an independent explorer and a participant in British Columbia's gold mining industry. A letter from the editor of Downie's memoir, Chris M. Waage, describes work on the volume.

Series III. Writings and Other Papers includes manuscript documents concerning placer mining in British Columbia, infrastructure of the Queen Charlotte Island mines, an 1870 duel involving a member of the Know Nothing party in Downieville, California, and the Pioneer Association of B.C. A manuscript map of property leased in 1881 by the Quesnelle Mining Company, showing the site of a proposed dam on the Quesnelle River, and a manuscript ledger (528 p.) with most entries dated 1863 are present.

Series IV. Printed Works consists primarily of materials concerning British Columbia and the province's mining industry.

Series V. Visual Materials is organized into three subseries: Drawings, Photographs, and Postcards. The Photograph subseries includes photographs of individual Native Americans, including one indigenous youth in a military uniform, as well as a portrait of a group prepared for potlatch, and a portrait of William Downie.

The 2006 Addition (Box 4) consists of correspondence, photographs and printed material relating to William Downie and the Downie family.

Dates

  • 1858-circa 1906

Creator

Physical Description

3.43 linear ft. (4 boxes) + 1 broadside

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The William Downie Papers Relating to Exploration of British Columbia are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Kenneth R. Graham, 2003 and 2004. Gift of Graham C. Boettcher and Lindsay A. Boettcher, 2005 addition. Gift of Graham C. Boettcher, 2006 addition.

Extent

3.43 Linear Feet ((4 boxes) + 1 broadside folder)

Language of Materials

English

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

https://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.downie

Overview

Papers consist of diaries, correspondence, writings, printed works, photographs, maps, and other materials that document William Downie's life, interest, and travels in the Northwest, particularly during the 1850s and 1860s. The papers offer evidence of early exploration and mining operations in British Columbia, particularly in the Quesnel Forks area by the Quesnelle Mining Company. Downie's interest and encounters with indigenous inhabitants are recorded.

WILLIAM DOWNIE (1819-1894)

William Downie was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1819. He worked as sailor before joining the Gold Rush in San Francisco in 1849. He mined near Sacramento and along the Yuba River in California, in British Columbia (where he studied Canadian Indians and made reports to the Canadian government about the topography of the land around the Skeena River and the British Columbia coastline), and in Panama. He founded the California town of Downieville, California's first state capitol. A volume of his reminiscences, Hunting for Gold, was published in 1893 by the California Publishing Company in San Francisco. He died in San Francisco in 1894.

Processing Information

The William Downie Papers Relating to Exploration of British Columbia were processed in 2004. An addition to the papers was accessioned in 2005. Folders for the additional materials were added (Folders 9-26) and interfiled as appropriate. Alphabetical qualifiers were used to indicate where materials were interfiled among the original eight numbered folders. An addition to the papers was accessioned in 2006 (Box 4).
Title
Guide to the William Downie Papers Relating to Exploration of British Columbia
Author
by Kathleen T. Burns
Date
July 2006
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977

Location

121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.