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WEW Williams – New Westminster – Scorpion Publisher & First Librarian

November 30, 2015

The first issue of the Scorpion, a newspaper of humor and satire, appeared at New Westminster on March 11, 1864. Publisher, editor and writer was 21-year old Welshman William Edward Wynn Williams.  A year later, after the demise of paper, Williams was appointed the first Librarian of New Westminster Public Library.

Williams’ Origin – First an Officer – Exiled to California

WEW Williams was the eldest child of David Williams of Dendraeth Castle, Merioneth. David Williams was educated at Chester as a lawyer and was later a J.P. and High Sheriff. In 1868 on his third attempt,as a Liberal, he was elected Member of Parliament for Merionethshire. He died in office in 1869.

In November 1861, at the age of 19, WE Wynn Williams received a Commission from Her Majesty as Supernumerary Lieutenant in the Royal Montgomery and Merioneth Regiment of Militia.

In 1862 he arrived in California as an exile, banished from home, reports said, either because his “habits” were “distasteful” to his parents, or because he was “endowed with a superabundance of animal spirits.”

After some time in San Francisco he came to British Columbia.

The Scorpion

Scorpion Masthead 1864Upon its debut in March 1864 the Scorpion made a great splash, winning a generous amount of acclaim.

“Our little contemporary has made a good beginning, and we doubt not if carried on with the same ability, tempered with discretion, it will receive a large share of patronage and support.” – Daily Colonist

The Scorpion was printed on the presses of the British Columbian newspaper, but that paper’s publisher, John Robson, anticipating trouble, took pains to state that it was a commercial printing contract only.

“. . .we are in no way responsible for its contents any more than we would be for the contents of a hand-bill brought to the office in the regular course of business.”

Often delightfully childish its humor, sometimes sophomoric, the Scorpion‘s sting was most evident in its satirical pieces.

Williams was fond of giving nick-names to local personalities, some easily identified, and others puzzling; some jokes obvious, while others a bit too “inside” to catch at this late date.

HP Pillow case jokeSome characters we know: Henry Pering Pellew Crease is “HP Pillow Case,” WO Hamley is “Hamlet, the Corruptor of Customs” and CS Wylde most definitely “‘Wild,” also of the Customs department. Captain John Deighton is called “Capt Freighthouse,” Captain William Irving is “Capt Crawler” and Captain Fleming “Capt. Wemming.”

(Incidentally, the Scorpion credits Amor de Cosmos with applying the rival nickname “Gassy Jack” to Capt. Deighton. This was some years before Deighton left the river and moved to Burrard Inlet, setting up the glasses for a settlement that became known as Gastown.)

No-SPAM menu

Here’s an excerpt from the Scorpion‘s review of the Bill of Fare served at a banquet held in New Westminster for the retiring Governor.

“. . ..roast pork, pork chops, stuffed pork, boiled pork, fried pork, grilled pork, pork sausages, fricassee pork, roast pigs, beans and bacon.”

Beyond the harmless jokes and silly nicknames, Williams had a flair for satirizing the antics of politicians, churchmen and the influential.

The Scorpion‘s sting evinced some equally pointed ad hominem rejoinders. Williams was called out as “an irresponsible beardless boy, without status as a citizen or character as a man.”

Crushed

The Scorpion‘s press run was of but brief duration, folding after a few months. On May 25th the Chronicle reported that “this delectable sheet” was “dead through fright.”

The Scorpion apparently went too far by insulting Captain Irving’s family, warranting a retaliatory banishment of the Scorpion and the Columbian from his steamers — Irving did not believe Robson was not involved — and, the fatal squeeze, an extra charge on the Express company.

“Capt. Irving, of the Reliance, recently charged Dietz & Nelson $50 for carrying their express up Fraser River, because the express contained a package of Columbians.”

First Public Librarian at New Westminster

WE Wynn Williams surfaced from this ducking as Librarian of the New Westminster Public Library when the doors first opened on Aug 15, 1865.

The New Westminster Public Library was funded by the Government of British Columbia and administered by local committee. (New Westminster was then the Capital and government officials resided locally.) Williams had been recommended to Governor Seymour for employment by letter from the Colonial Office in London, dated July 1864.

On July 6th, 1865 Williams addressed a letter to the Colonial Secretary.

“I have the honor to apply to you for the office of Librarian in the proposed Public Library at New Westminster. It is hardly necessary to add that I believe myself competent to fulfill all the duties required.”

A day later he was informed he had been “selected by the committee of management to fill the appointment of Librarian & Secretary to the Public Library about to be established.” His start date was August 1st.

On Sept 4th, 1865 Williams wrote to the Colonial Secretary on behalf of the Public Library Committee, requesting “the erection of a suitable chimney, and that a large stove be placed in the centre of the Building.” Also, “that a clock be purchased for the use of the the Library.”1865 11 20 W E Wynn Williams signature

He added:

“I am further requested to apply for information as to the mode in which the Librarian’s salary now one month overdue is to be obtained.”

The stove and chimney, with necessary alterations to the woodwork, were approved, but the clock was turned down.

Just into the new year, Williams resigned his position.

“New Westminster Public Library
January 10, 1866
Sir, I have the honor to place my resignation of the office of Librarian and Secretary to the New Westminster Public Library in your hands.
If you will inform me when a meeting of the Board of Directors will be held, at which the account may be examined, I shall be much obliged to you.
I am Sir,
Yours obediently
WE Wynn Wms
Librarian”

By the time his resignation was announced Williams had departed, bound for Great Britain.

Studies Law – Prize Winning Essay

In November 1866, Williams gained admission to the Register of Gray’s Inn, and on June 7, 1869, at the age of 26,

“Mr. William Edward Wynn Williams, of Portmadoc, in the county of Carnarvon, gentleman, the eldest son of Mr. David Williams, of Dundraeth Castle, in the county of Merioneth” [was]  called to the degree of barrister-at-law by the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn.”

The Law Magazine & Review reported that on the day after his graduation, at the end of term banquet at Gray’s Inn, Wynn Williams won the annual prize for “Best Essay.”

From the Morning Post:

“Previously to dinner the annual prize, amounting to £25 (an exhibition founded by Mr. John Lee, Q.C., LL.D., late a bencher of the inn, deceased), for the best essay selected for this year upon the following subject — ‘The Defects of the Bankruptcy Laws, with a Suggestion of Remedies’ — was awarded to Mr. William Edward Wynn Williams, a student of the society.”

(The Lee Essay Prize, won by Williams in 1869, is still up for grabs. The writer of the best essay on the topic for 2016, “Does the criminal law of joint enterprise cause injustice?” will receive 1,500 English Pounds.)

Draft into Politics – A Chill Wind – Disabled

Later in the year Williams’ father, David Williams, M.P., passed away, and the young man just starting on his career in the law was courted to run for public office. From the Observer:

“We are informed that Mr. Edward Wynn Williams, eldest son of the late Mr. David Williams, M.P. for Merionethshire, has been solicited to stand as a candidate for the county formerly represented by his father.”

What Williams undertook to do in the following years we have not yet discovered, but it is likely management of the family’s interests would have been high on his agenda. Yet sometime later he found himself once again on foreign shores, with a crippling injury that had left him without the use of one leg, and employed as a clerk. What a life he led, and his relations with his family back home, are a matter of some mystery and controversy.

Suicide at San Francisco

On Wednesday, February 9, 1876 William Edward Wynn Williams committed suicide at San Francisco.

Sensational reports of the circumstances of his death appeared in the local press.

Suicide – The Scion of an Aristocratic Family Dies by His Own Hand – A Heartless Mother Repudiating and Neglecting Her Offspring Leads to Poverty, Despair and Suicide –

William Edward Wynne Williams was found dead in his room at the New Indria Lodging House, at the corner of Sacramento and Leidesdorff streets, this morning. He was seated in a chair with his legs stretched out and hands in his pantaloon pockets. In his pocket was found a vial containing a small quatitiy of morphine, and on the a table in the room were three sealed letters. . .

Of the three letters, one was addressed to the city Coroner, dated Feb. 7, a second to a colleague in his former place of employment, and a third to a friend, FW Condace, (also given as Grondace and Coudace). Mr. Condace, “intimate friend” and benefactor of Williams last testament, was likely the source of much the biographical information that appeared in the San Francisco press.

“The habits of the son and heir to the estate being distasteful to his parents, he was disinherited and consigned to exile abroad. . . .On the death of his father in 1869, he visited his home, but his mother was as inflexible as ever, and gave no welcome to the prodigal son, and during the same year he returned to San Francisco. Since then he has been employed as a copyist by Sumner, Whitney & Co.”

“The discarded son was receiving a paltry pittance of L250 per annum . .He was also a helpless cripple, have lost almost the entire use of one leg through an accident with which he met several years since. That and the non-arrival of the regular monthly draft is believed to have been the cause of his suicide.

“The references to his mother in the letter to his friend Coudace are exceedingly bitter…”

A condensed version of these reports originating at San Francisco were copied into the pages of the British Colonist. The Mainland Guardian of New Westminster merely copied the Colonist report. Reports appearing in other American papers portrayed Williams as having being “disowned as a punishment for dissoluteness” and who was dependent on money from “wealthy relatives.”

“In California he tried to get a living as a newspaper writer, but soon found that education, unaided by experience and natural ability, would not suffice.”

Such accounts do not jive with Williams’ evident talents and accomplishments.

Williams Suicide: The Reaction at Home

More sober and contradictory accounts of Williams’ suicide appeared later in English papers.

The headline in the North Wales Chronicle read:

“Sad death of a Welsh gentleman at San Francisco.”

There, Williams’ suicide was described as a “tragic and lamentable end.”

Welsh sources described letters written to his mother as “full of affection.” Only the last letter, unjustly blaming his mother for a missing remittance, expressed any bitterness. This was to be accounted for by his crippling injury and consequent addiction to morphine.

The manager of the local bank at Portmadoc stated that there was no interruption of remittances sent to Williams in San Francisco.

“Some years ago I was requested by Mrs Williams (in order to secure punctual payment) to send out on her behalf monthly drafts to her son, and these were despatched by me with the utmost regularity in the beginning of each month, including January and February last.”

 


William Edward Wynn Williams, Editor of the Scorpion in 1864 and Librarian at New Westminster in 1865, was born 1842 07 06 at Dendraeth Castle, Merionethshire, Wales and died 1876 02 09 at San Francisco,California USA

WE Wynn Williams’ younger brother Sir Osmond Williams later assumed the  mantel of their father’s legacy and was elected a Member of Parliament.

Dendraeth Castle, or Castell Deudraeth, is located near to Portmeirion, Wales, the village that was the setting of the TV series The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan.

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