ESQUIMALT DOCKYARD’S FIRST BUILDINGS

Madge Wolfenden

British Columbia Historical Quarterly

July 1946

 

               The three frame structures built during the Crimean War at Duntze Head, on Esquimalt Harbour, by Governor Douglas in answer to Admiral Bruce’s request for temporary hospital accommodation for his squadron, have, for many years, been a source of much interest to students and others. The following notes and photographs have been gathered together recently, and are now presented in completion of the story of the “Crimean huts,” as they have been popularly designated.

From time to time in the pages of this Quarterly, and else where, reference has been made to their raison d’être, their structure, their uses, and their final disposal,[1] but, for the sake of clarity, it has been thought helpful to reiterate briefly the story of their building and the changes through which they passed.

Upon receiving Admiral Bruce’s instructions on May 7, 1855, Douglas lost no time in causing the hospital buildings to be commenced, thereby taking the first step towards the establishment of a naval base, which he had been advocating for the previous two years. By June 13 he was able to report to the Home Government:

I was induced . . . to commence the erection of airy and roomy buildings in a healthy and convenient locality . . . the buildings will be habitable by the end of this month.“[2]

Four months later, by which time they had been completed, he described them as follows:

The hospital consists of three buildings, a centre and two wings, each 50 feet long by 30 feet wide, and 12 feet from floor to ceiling. The windows are large and the ventilation perfect. The centre building contains a Kitchen, operating room, dispensary, and Surgeon’s apartments; the wings contain the sick wards and will accommodate 100 patients. . . [3]

In the same communication Douglas mentions the fact that the hospital was “well adapted for the purpose intended and otherwise a valuable property which . . . may be sold, at any time for the full sum it has cost.”

Admiral Bruce, who had only a very temporary building or rented premises in mind when he first wrote to Douglas, was disturbed to find that the hospital had cost nearly £1,000, and expressed the opinion that this was considerably more than the British Government would be willing to pay. Douglas had fore seen that a dispute over costs would arise, and presented his case with such logic and firmness that the Admiralty finally paid up in 1857. The same year he handed the buildings over to Captain Prevost, of H.M.S. Satellite, who took charge of them in the Admiralty’s name. But although they thus became possessed of buildings there, it was not until June 29, 1865, that the Shore Establishment of Esquimalt was formally authorized by the Admiralty.

In the meantime, the buildings had been put to good use, one becoming a storeroom, whilst the second remained a hospital. Towards the end of 1858 part of the third building was adapted as a draughting-room for the use of the officers of H.M. surveying ship Plumper, and in 1859 Assistant-Surgeon Samuel Camp bell, who was in charge of the hospital, made his residence there.

 In order to avoid repetition, and with the object of communicating all that is known about these historic buildings, the details of their service have been listed in an appendix.

Two of them, as is well known, survived until 1936 and 1939 respectively. The fate of the third building after the group ceased to be used as a hospital remained a mystery until recently, when the following letter furnished the clue that enabled the writer to solve the riddle.

New Westminster. 10 Novr. 1863[4]

Sir, I have the honor to forward herewith Plan & Elevation for converting one of the vacant Log Buildings at the Old Hospital Point Esquimalt into a moderate [modern?] residence for Admiral Commanding on this Station. You will observe it consists of removing a few partitions, altering Windows & Doors, and adding a new portion at the end. It also provides a Kitchen, Store room, &c. I have also thought it as well to design an upper Storey for further extension of accommodation some future day. Mr. White[5] lately discharged from the Royal E(ngineers) the very intelligent N.C.O. who waited on you is now establishing himself as a Builder & Architect. He designed these adaptations and would be a suitable person to undertake the construction.

I have, &c.,

sigd. R. C. Moody

Col. Comdg.

Rear Admiral

 J Kingcome

Comdr.-in-Chief Pacific Squadron &c., &c., &c.,

 

The next step in unravelling the history of building No. 3 was to discover whether Colonel Moody’s suggestion was ever carried out, and, if possible, when the alterations were made.

 In an album of photographs taken by Frederick Daily between the years 1867 and 1870 is one showing these three buildings side by side; the most southerly building of the three is in the process of conversion to a dwelling-house with a second story.

Another photograph album, kept by Commander H. W. Mist whilst in command of H.M.S. Sparrowhawk on the Esquimalt Station from 1868 to 1872, shows the dwelling complete, with dormer windows in the roof.

 The evidence of these photographs, dated as they are with fair precision, would seem to indicate that although Colonel Moody’s letter was written in the autumn of 1863, the alterations to the building were not effected until 1867 at the earliest. His second suggestion, namely, that building No. 3 should become a residence for the Admiral, was apparently never acted upon, for we know that Admiral Hastings, who was in command of the Esquimalt Station from 1867 until 1869, lived at “Maple bank,” a house built on Hudson’s Bay Company property near the Indian Reserve on the opposite side of the harbour. It is also fairly certain that Admiral Denman also lived at “Maple bank” even previous to that time, when it was known as “Dallas Bank.”

The first naval storekeeper to be appointed to Esquimalt was Paymaster Sidney John Spark, R.N., who took over his duties at the Dockyard late in 1865. Research has not revealed whether he used the residence in question, but it is surmised that during the latter part of his appointment he did so.

Paymaster Spark was succeeded in 1873 by James Henry Innes. Mr. Innes, who, with his wife and seven children travelled from England to Victoria, found upon arrival that the house in which he was expected to live was not sufficiently commodious for his numerous family.[6] 

Mrs. W. E. Scott, of Ganges Harbour, Saltspring Island, who is the only surviving member of the Innes family in British Columbia, has been most helpful in identifying her father’s house and office in the photographs, and in relating interesting details concerning her childhood days spent at Duntze Head. Mrs. Scott relates that the family boarded with Mrs. H. B. Ella, on Fort Street, while more and necessary alterations were made to their house. The Innes family lived in the converted “Crimean” building until 1885, when plans for a bigger and more suitable house for the Storekeeper were put into execution. These plans resulted in the building of the brick house[7] adjoining the site of the three original huts, with its front door facing north instead of west. To obtain the necessary space for the brick house it was expedient to demolish the former dwelling-house, consequently the Storekeeper and his family were obliged to find other quarters in the interval. They occupied the house lately vacated by the Dockyard Engineer, the most northerly one of the group as shown in the accompanying photographs, and designated building No. 1.

Owing to the fact that the correspondence between the naval authorities at Esquimalt and the Home Government was removed at the time of the withdrawal of the Imperial forces from this coast, many interesting facts concerning the Dockyard and its development by necessity remain obscure. The photographs and the documents to which reference has been made are all to be found in the Provincial Archives.

MADGE WOLFENDEN.

 

 

 

APPENDIX

(Certain details not found in the above-mentioned general references were obtained from a Report contained in Commodore C. Goodrich’s letter to the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia, dated January 20, 1905 (British Columbia Executive Papers 1905/8).)

[1] J. F. Parry, Sketch of the History of the Naval Establishment at Esquimalt, reprinted in Victoria Times, February 19, 1906. F. V. Longstaff, Esquimalt Naval Base, Victoria, 1941, p. 20. W. K. Lamb, “Correspondence Relating to the Establishment of a Naval Base at Esquimalt, 1851—57,” in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, VI. (1942), p. 278. Donald C. Davidson, “The War Scare of 1854,” in British Columbia Historical Quarterly, V. (1941), pp. 249—251.

[2] Douglas to Grey, June 13, 1855

[3] Douglas to Barclay, October 10,1855.

[4] Royal Engineers. Correspondence Outward. July—November, 1863.

[5] Corporal John C. White was the artist who painted the well-known water-colour of New Westminster’s 24th of May celebration in 1865, photo graphic copies of which have frequently been reproduced.

[6] Ella C. Scott to M. Wolfenden, February 5, 1946.

[7] This house since 1936 has been the residence of the Senior Naval Officer, R.C.N., of Esquimalt station.

BUILDING No. 1.

 This building was first used as a store and provision room for the hospital from 1856 until 1859, when it became a hospital ward. From 1862, when the hospital was transferred to Skinner Cove, it apparently was vacant. Presumably from 1871 until 1879, when another residence was built, it was used by the Chief Engineer of the Dockyard. After 1885 and until 1910 it served as a double residence for the Chief Boatswain and Carpenter of the dockyard; in 1891 it was added to. From 1910 and until 1914 the Chief Clerk of the Naval Stores Officer lived in part of it, the other part remaining vacant. During World War I. the building became the office of H.M.C.S. Shearwater Shore Establishment. The rear section, originally kitchens, was condemned in 1917 and torn down. The main portion of the building stood empty after the conclusion of hostilities and until 1936, when it was demolished.

BUILDING No. 2.

From 1856 until 1862 this was the Naval Hospital proper. In 1865, when Paymaster S. J. Spark was appointed Paymaster-in-Charge of Victualling Stores, it became his office and continued as the office of the Naval Storekeeper until the withdrawal of the Imperial forces in 1905. Quarters were also provided in it for the Commander-in-Chief Pacific Coast, when ashore. Alterations were effected in 1901. From 1905 onwards, it was the office of the Naval Agent, and later of the Superintendent of the Dockyard. In 1913 it was in use as the general office of the Dockyard Civilian staff, and during World War I it was enlarged to accommodate a larger staff. Though condemned in 1936 because of the ravages of dry-rot, it was not finally demolished until 1939.

BUILDING No. 3.

 This building seems to have remained unused until 1858, when it was converted into a drawing office for the use of the officers of H.M.S. Plumper. Upon Doctor Campbell’s appointment to the hospital, half of it was used by him as a residence. Between 1867 and 1870 it was converted into a two-story dwelling-house for the Naval Storekeeper. Altered in 1873 to accommodate the large family of Mr. J. H. Innes, it was demolished in 1885, to make room for the brick dwelling now designated “Dockyard House.”

The earliest known view of the “Crimean Huts,” showing Building No. 2, the Hospital proper, on the left; and Building No. 3, Doctor Campbell’s residence, on the right. Building No. 1 is out of sight to the left of the picture. Date probably after 1862 when the hospital was removed to Skinner Cove. In this photograph are to be seen, from left to right, Buildings Nos. 1 and 2 which survived until 1936 and 1939; and on the extreme right, the Storekeeper’s brick house built in 1885. In this photograph all three “Crimean Huts” are to be seen. Building No. 1 on the left is the Dockyard Engineer’s house. Building No. 2 in the centre is the office, while Building No. 3 on the right has been altered for a Storekeeper’s residence. Date approximately 1870.