ANDERSON, James (1812-1867)




Author Tags: 1850-1900, Early B.C., Essentials 2010, Gold, Poetry, Publishing

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The first poetry book printed in British Columbia was written by James Anderson, since dubbed the “Robert Service of the Cariboo gold rush.”

Born in Perthshire, Scotland, in either 1838 or 1839, Anderson sought his fortune in the Cariboo in 1863, but he never struck it rich. Concurrent with his activities in the Cariboo Glee Club, Anderson issued a weekly newspaper with a friend that contained lyrical materials about the mining life. Much of his writing was ostensibly addressed to someone back in Scotland named Sawnee, or Sawney, explaining life in the gold fields, but it is not known whether such a person was real or an artistic contrivance. Read aloud in coffee saloons, Anderson’s poetry contained references to the great Barkerville fire of 1868 and legendary characters such as Cariboo Cameron. James Anderson left the Cariboo in 1871 and returned to live on one of his father’s properties in Fifeshire.

Anderson first published parts of his Sawney’s Letters in the Cariboo Sentinel in 1865 and 1866. It was printed as a separate folder on June 22, 1868, known for archival purposes as Sawney’s Letters; or Cariboo Rhymes from 1864-1868. No copy of this original 1868 version advertised in the Cariboo Sentinel has been found. A second edition printed in 1868 is worth approximately $2,500. A third, enlarged edition of Cameron’s booklet appeared in 1869 under the title Sawney’s Letters and Cariboo Songs. A fourth and larger edition at 49 pages was published in 1895 by W.S. Johnston & Company of Toronto. A mimeographed version of the 1868 version was printed in 1950 by the Bibliographical Society of Canada titled simply Sawney’s Letters with an introduction by William Kaye Lamb. In 1960, Lamb and Michael R. Booth contributed the text for a new version of Sawney’s Letters, or Cariboo Rhymes published in the British Columbia Library Quarterly. Sawney’s Letters and Cariboo Rhymes was issued by the Barkerville Restoration Advisory Committee, printed in Victoria, in 1962, with an introduction by Willard E. Ireland.

It is possible James Anderson’s work was originally printed on the first printing press brought into British Columbia, but this is a matter of some debate. Some believe the first B.C. printing press was originally sent to San Francisco from Paris by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, then sent to Victoria in 1858 to publish the Vancouver Island Gazette and a French newspaper that folded after two issues. Roman Catholic Bishop Demers then sold the press to Amor De Cosmos, who published the British Colonist with it. In 1863, De Cosmos sold it to George Wallace, who had it shipped to Williams Creek in pieces on the backs of men, before the Cariboo Wagon Road was built. He sold his operation after one year to Allan and Lambert. Robert Halloway became the next owner and operator in 1868, running the print shop in Barkerville until the great fire. Supposedly he moved it to Richfield. After the Cariboo Sentinel closed, the printing press was used in Kamloops and Yale for Interior papers. In 1887, the press went to the Sisters of St. Anne in Kamloops, who later placed it in the St. Ann’s Academy Museum in Victoria.


FULL ENTRY:

The first poetry book printed in British Columbia was written by James Anderson, since dubbed the 'Robert Service of the Cariboo gold rush' for tourism purposes but otherwise little-known. Anderson was born into an well-established family in Perthshire, Scotland in either 1839 or 1838. He married in 1860, had a son in 1861 and came to seek his fortune in the gold rush in 1863. He was a partner in the Prairie Flower Co. and Ayrshire Lass on Lightning Creek but he never struck it rich. Instead he became active in theatricals and concerts and was a candidate for the Cariboo Mining Board. Concurrent with his activities in the Cariboo Glee Club, Anderson issued a weekly newspaper with a friend that contained lyrical materials about the mining life. Anderson's poetry was read aloud in coffee saloons and also as part of the presentations of the Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Association. Much of his poetry and songs was ostensibly addressed to someone back in Scotland named Sawnee, explaining life in the gold fields. It's not known whether such a person was real or an artistic contrivance. Anderson's work contains references to the great Barkerville fire of 1868 and characters such as Cariboo Cameron. James Anderson left the Cariboo in November, 1871 and returned to Scotland to live on one of his father’s properties in Fifeshire. He later moved to England where he died in 1923.

It has been suggested that James Anderson's work was printed on the first printing press brought into British Columbia, but this is a matter of some debate. It has been recorded by some writers that the first B.C. printing press was sent to San Francisco from Paris by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and was one of the first presses used in British North America. It was sent to Victoria in 1858 to publish the Vancouver Island Gazette and a French newspaper that folded after two issues. Roman Catholic Bishop Demers then sold the press to Amor De Cosmos, who published the British Colonist with it. In 1863, De Cosmos sold it to George Wallace, who had it shipped to Williams Creek in pieces on the backs of men, before the Cariboo Wagon Road was built. He sold the paper after one year's profit of $3,500 to Allan and Lambert. Robert Halloway became the next owner/operator in 1868, running the print shop in Barkerville until the great fire. Supposedly he moved it to Richfield until the paper closed in 1875. After the Cariboo Sentinel closed, the press was used in Kamloops and Yale for Interior papers. In 1887, the press went to the Sisters of St. Anne in Kamloops, who later placed it in the Victoria Convent Museum, where it is today.

Here's a sample of Anderson's writing:

Dear Sawney - I sit doon to write
A screed to you by candle light,
An answer to your friendly letter,
I ne'er had ane that pleased me better.
Your letter came by the Express,
Eight shillin's carriage - naethin' less.
You'll think this awfu' - 'tis, nae doot -
(A dram's twa shillin's here-aboot);
I'm sure if Tamie Ha' - the buddy
Was here wi' his three legged cuddy
He hauls abent him wi a tether,
He'd beat the Express, faith a'thegithe -
To speak o't in the truest way
'Tis Barnard's Cariboo Delay.

A folk music duo consisting of Cathryn Wellner and historian Richard Wright have been among those who have put some of James Anderson's lyrics to music and recorded his songs.

BOOKS:

Anderson first published parts of his Sawney's Letters in the Cariboo Sentinel in 1865 and 1866. It was first printed as a separate folder on June 22, 1868, known for archival purposes as Sawney's Letters; or Cariboo Rhymes from 1864-1868. No copy of this original 1868 version advertised in the Cariboo Sentinel has been found. A second edition version printed in 1868 is worth approximately $2,500. A third, enlarged edition of Cameron's booklet appeared in 1869 under the title Sawney's Letters and Cariboo Songs. A fourth and larger edition at 49 pages was published in 1895 by W.S. Johnston & Company of Toronto. A mimeographed version of the 1868 version was printed in 1950 with an introduction by William Kaye Lamb, titled simply Sawney's Letters (Toronto, Bibliographical Society of Canada. In 1960, Lamb and Michael R. Booth contributed text for a new version of Sawney's Letters, or Cariboo Rhymes published in the British Columbia Library Quarterly. Sawney's Letters and Cariboo Rhymes was issued by the Barkerville Restoration Advisory Committee, printed in Victoria, in 1962, with an introduction by Willard E. Ireland.

[BCBW 2010]