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Coal fever land rush

March 18, 2014

As indicated in the previous post, it would appear that coal can grip men’s minds in a worse way than gold.

The discovery of coal by Captain George Henry Richards during a survey of Burrard Inlet in 1859 aroused “coal fever” in the imaginations of some local businessmen, prompting the much written about exploration of the coal measures undertaken by Robert Burnaby and company.

Burnaby was part of a syndicate seeking to secure the property for a mine, but as they had no clear knowledge of where the deposits lay and had yet to explore, they had decided to cast a very wide net and forestall competing land claims.

WD Gosset - Treasurer of the Colony of British Columbia - 1859Burnaby, along with JJ Southgate and others of the group, made it known they would like 3000 acres.

WD Gosset,  Treasurer of British Columbia—a talented man, and the one  personage of the early days in the Colony who attracted the best quotes, and was the most quotable—was sure to offer an expert opinion, once he caught wind of the scheme.

To the Acting Colonial Secretary:

  Treasury, British Columbia
July 21, 1859
Mr Southgate has just informed me that a few persons with whom he is associated have made a proposal to the Government to work the Coal, known to exist in large quantities between Burrards inlet and the Fraser River, and that they request a grant of 3000 acres.
So exorbitant a request was I should think never heard of in the annals of the Collieries, and it is lest, by the specious pleadings of the Petitioners, His Excellency might be mislead to regard the proposition as deserving ratification, that I venture, respectfully, to implore that no such sacrifice of the future interests of this Colony may be made.
As a Geologist I would most respectfully, but firmly protest against it; as a former Surveyor-General; as a Treasurer.

As it happened, the coal was not worth mining anyway. Three thousand acres is three times the size of Stanley Park and would have made them owners of all of what is now downtown Vancouver.

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