DUNN, John




Author Tags: 1800-1850, Forts and Fur, Haida Gwaii

In 1832, naval apprentice John Dunn arrived on the Pacific Coast aboard the Ganymede with fellow apprentice George B. Roberts. Although he was not a lively journal writer, he took a keen interest in the variety of commerce practised by the Hudson’s Bay Company from the Columbia River to Fort Simpson, as documented by Richard Somerset Mackie in Trading Beyond the Mountains.

Dunn described Fort Vancouver as “the grand emporium of the Company’s trade, west of the Rocky Mountains; as well as within the Oregon territory, as beyond it, from California to Kamschatka.” He also provided the following description of how Aboriginal women prepared salmon for cooperage near Fort George.

“Mode of Curing Salmon. As soon as a cargo of Salmon is caught, the natives bring it to the trading post in their canoes. A number of Indian women are employed by the traders, seated on the beach, with knives, ready to cut up the fish. The salmon are counted from each Indian, for which a ticket is given for the quantity, large or small. After the whole of the salmon are landed, the Indians congregate round the trading shop for their payment, and receive ammunition, baize, tobacco, buttons, etc.

“The women employed by the trader commence cutting out the backbones, and cut off the heads of the salmon. They are then taken to the salter, and placed in a large hogshead, with a quantity of course salt. They remain there for several days, until they become quite firm. The pickle produced from these is boiled in a large copper kettle; and the blood, which floats by the boiling process to the top, is skimmed off, leaving the pickle perfectly clear.

“The salmon are then taken from the hogshead and packed in tierces [casks], with a little more salt; the tierces are then headed up, and laid upon their bilge, or widest part, leaving the bung-hole open; the pickle is next poured in, until the tierce becomes full; a circle of clay, about four inches high, is then made round the bung-hole; into which the oil from the salmon rises. This oil is skimmed off; and, according as the salmon imbibes the pickle, more pickle is poured in, so as to keep the liquid sufficiently on the surface, and afford facility for skimming off the oil.

“After the oil ceases to rise to the circle around the bung-hole, the salmon is then supposed to be sufficiently prepared; the clay circle is cleared away and the hole is bunged up. Salmon, so cured, will keep good for three years.”

John Dunn also described the lumber industry on the Columbia River where mostly Kanaka labourers were employed sawing up to 3,000 square feet of Douglas fir per day, “regularly shipped for the Sandwich Islands, and other foreign parts.” Having visited the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1836, Dunn recorded, in 1839, that cultivation of pototoes, introduced to the Haida between 1800 and 1815, had resulted in substantial annual exports to Fort Simpson on the mainland. “I have known from five to eight hundred bushels traded in one season from these Indians at Fort Simpson,” he wrote. In addition, Dunn observed the rearing of sheep for the wool trade by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company and pronounced that, by 1844, the Hudson’s Bay Company had established “a vast and complex machinery of internal and coasting commerce.”

Twice stationed at Fort McLoughlin, he recorded that mostly Tsimshian were used as slaves by the northern tribes and the Bella Bella frequently served as middle men in the coastal slave trade. Although the HBC was not directly complicit, he noted, “These slaves, in barter, fetch a larger price to the northward than they do to the south; and are sold by the Nass tribe to the various inland tribes, for furs. These furs they again sell to the white traders for blankets, and other articles of use or luxury.” Dunn concluded his journal, written in support of British claims to the Oregon Territory, by avowing the need for more missionaries.”

BOOKS:

Dunn, John. History of the Oregon Territory and British North American Fur Trade: With an Account of the Habits and Customs of the Principal Native Tribes on the Northern Continent (London: Edwards and Hughes, 1844).

[BCBW 2006] "Forts and Fur" "QCI"