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Henry George in British Columbia

October 17, 2016

The economics of Henry George have deep roots in British Columbia.  He came to  Victoria at the height of the Fraser River gold rush in the summer of 1858. His son, Henry George Jr, during a visit to BC in 1911, traced the origins of his father’s theories to the time he spent here.

Maiden Voyage of the Shubrick  – Crew Member Henry George Arrives San Francisco, May 1858

At Philadelphia in 1857, Henry George was 18 and restless. He determined to seek better prospects in Oregon and counted himself extremely lucky to be taken on as a crew member on the spanking new side-wheel steamboat, USS Shubrick, being sent out on her maiden voyage to the west coast to serve as a Lighhouse Tender.

The Shubrick was dazzling in appearance: sleek black hull and funnel offset by bright red side-wheels.  Two masted, with sails billowing in the breeze she was a graceful mover and pretty as a yacht.

Shubrick could handle herself too, fitted up with six brass guns and a nozzle capable of directing a stream of scalding water in the direction of any unwanted advances..  A  New Westminster newspaper later called her a “sloop-of-war.”

She had a very rough maiden voyage out: running into a hurricane off Florida had left her battered.

The steamer arrived at San Francisco in May 1858.  Crew member Henry George disembarked and went to visit his cousin James George, a merchant.

Henry George had signed articles for a year’s service with the Shubrick but all he had desired was to work his passage out, and he now wanted to remain ashore.

“He talked the thing over with Ellen George, James George’s wife, a warm-hearted, sympathetic woman, who showed a lively interest in the youth’s affairs. It was agreed that he should go into retirement for awhile, seeking the seclusion of a bed at her house, while she should confer with Commander De Camp, which she did.

The Commander, as a consequence, failed to notice the absence of the boy, who, after a short season of this retirement, regarded himself as free of the Shubrick and at liberty to go where he would.”

Please Give This Door A Kick – Henry George At Work For Cousin JC George in Victoria, VI.

At the time Henry George arrived in San Francisco, in May 1858, the city was abuzz with reports of gold diggings on Fraser River, far to the north.

Mining interest locally was flat, and with many others, Henry George decided to try his luck in the British Possessions. He again worked his way, crewing on a schooner sailing from San Francisco to Vancouver Island.

1859-jc-george-co-victoria-viHe arrived in Victoria in August, 1858.  

Henry’s cousin, James C George,  had preceded him and opened a provisions store on Wharf street catering to the miners.

Henry George worked at his cousin Jim’s store, sleeping on sacks of flour in his clothes.  Not wanting to let any business pass by, he hung a sign on the outside door: “Please give this door a kick.”

After a falling-out with his cousin, Henry struck out on his own, living in a tent..

There is some ambivalence as to whether Henry George did venture up the Fraser to the gold region. This experience is left out of his biographies. However,  speaking  in Victoria in 1911, Henry George Jr, said his father did make it upcountry.  If so, he would not have gotten past Langley without having paid for a $5.00 Miners’ License.

The James George family appeared ready to become a permanent residents north of the border.  They participated in public affairs and Ellen joined the local establishment church.

In November 1858, JC George bought a couple of lots—one of them a premium location—at the new town of Derby on Fraser River, established to be the Capital of British Columbia.

Things were not going so well for Henry. After the break-up with his cousin, and failing to find success in mining, he returned to San Francisco in November (incidentally, when his contract with the federal steamer Shubrick expired.)

1859-02-22-washingtons-birthday-celebration-at-victoria-jc-georgeIn the new year, JC George presented to Governor Douglas a request from American residents for permission to celebrate George Washington’s birthday, February 22nd, 1859.  The permit was denied, but American residents celebrated anyway.

At San Francisco, Henry George was taking what work he could get. While working in a rice-mill he spent his idle time reading, formulating his own theories, and writing.

In April 1859 word reached Henry that his cousin’s wife Ellen George had died at Victoria. (In BC records her name is recorded as Helen George.) JC George would return to San Francisco with his children and later remarried.

Henry George found work in the composing room of a newspaper. He worked for a time with William Bausman, late of the Victoria Gazette.

As he continued to set type, his first articles were submitted anonymously. Once he had started getting published he was unstoppable. The list of publications he contributed to was diverse, and included the Overland Monthly, edited by Bret Harte.

Henry George published his best known work, Progress & Poverty, in 1879. It was a colossal best seller, world-wide.

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